Ghourmand Vale (3.5 campaign)



To the Esteemed Bard, Holyrood Carp,

As you are well aware, we now have a fifth member in our little band of heroes. I felt it appropriate that I write up a song in her honor - I hope it meets with your favor.

The lyrics follow:

Who's that elven woman who's been hanging 'round the TPA?​
Nobody's seen her before, she kind of just showed up one day​
She's got some elven traits that will ensure that she is not ignored​
Like long, thick, lustrous hair and a chest that is not flat as a board​
Turns out her name is Orchid and she comes from rather far away​
Walked here for a week on foot, with a wolf to keep the foes at bay​
Showed up, delivered armor, and then thought that she'd stay a while​
The TPA was fine with that - she charmed them all with just a smile​
Orchid is a druidess and a talented one at that​
She speaks with animals so they can all just have a friendly chat​
She wildshapes to other forms (shapechanges if you prefer)​
You see an eagle in the sky? Who knows? That might just be her​
When it comes to combat, she is certain to pull her own weight​
Calls lightning bolts down from the skies, her targeting skills are first-rate​
Produces flame into her palm and throws it at her enemies​
Takes down dire wolves and vampire coffins just quick as you please​
And as for that gray wolf of hers, his formal name is Shushitan​
He faithfully follows her around, it seems that he's her biggest fan​
If you're on her good side then he's friendly as a playful mutt​
But try to hurt his mistress and you'll find his teeth clamped on your butt​
Now that Orchid's on the team, she's adventurer number five​
And her healing spells are often used to keep the rest alive​
Already in her short time here she's a proven value to the team​
Becoming an adventurer is the completion of a life-long dream​
So let's hear it for Orchid, elven druidess extraordinaire!​
She doesn't wear bespoke armor; sometimes a flower in her hair​
And while she's no Chaevaris, she's a decent shot with her longbow​
But usually it's with her spells that she engages with a foe​

Wishing you continued success with your enjoyable performances.

With Fond Regards,

Alistair Mandelberen Pastlethwaite

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PC Roster:
Ageratum Purslane, halfling rogue 8​
Alistair Mandelberen Pastlethwaite, human sorcerer 8​
Chaevaris Noarunal, elf archer 8​
Harlan Starblade, half-elf paladin 8​

NPC Roster:
Orchid, elf druid 8​

Game Session Date: 27 July 2023

- - -

The five adventurers spent the night in the stone giant quarry - more specifically, in the extradimensional house behind the door keyed to Chaevaris's magic necklace, once she placed the door incongruously along the stone wall of the quarry's interior. But after they spent the night in slumber, they found the next morning that the stone giants had spent the evening dumping the corpses of the hill giants into the combat pit and filling it back up, leaving behind no evidence of their recent intrusion into the lair of the Karkaletch Stone Giant Clan.

After talking to Blue Lichen and learning the exact location of the hill giants' former lair - the place she and an escort party of orcs and an ogre had been sent to fetch hill giant hooch for a party at the quarry - the adventurers vowed to go check it out and take care of any of the remaining invaders who had been sent there to fetch any items (perhaps treasure?) the hill giants wanted moved into their new lair, that of the stone giant quarry. According to Blue Lichen, it was about 50 minutes away on foot, shorter on horseback. So, once they'd gotten their bearings, the heroes were off to find the former hill giant lair: a single story (albeit 20-foot-high) wooden structure off in a forested area.

The dwelling wasn't difficult to find, as tall as it was. Orchid cast a barkskin spell upon herself and then wildshaped into an eagle, joining the grackle Ambrose on an aerial scouting mission around the premises. Ambrose returned to report there was just the main entrance to the building, the pair of doors that were currently both open, while four orcs scurried back and forth into and out of the building, dragging in orcish items from the sledge out front and bringing back out items belonging to the hill giants. It seemed that while the hill giants were planning on moving into the stone giant quarry on a permanent basis, the orcs were planning on moving into the giants' massive building. Their alliance, it seemed, had been a temporary one. There was an ogre standing outside the door, apparently serving as security while the orcs did all of the lugging back and forth - it was up in the air whether he'd be joining the hill giants at the quarry or remaining with the orcs when the sledge was filled up and ready to go. He was armed with a greatclub and some javelins, while the orcs wielded blades, likely falchions but difficult to identify from the distance between them and the observing heroes.

"What about hill giants?" asked Chaevaris. "Did you see any inside?" Ambrose explained there had been at least two in the back of the dwelling, although they'd been talking to someone off to the side he couldn't see.

"And no other ways in but the front door?" asked Alistair.

"Just the hole in the roof above the fire pit," replied his familiar. Alistair mused a bit. "It would be nice to seal that off somehow," he said. "Maybe we can smoke everyone out and force them to come through the front door, where we could pick them off at range." There were trees scattered here and there between where they stood and the door to the giants' building, but the sorcerer knew Chaevaris would have no trouble targeting them from this distance - some 150 feet away - and he could likewise toss magic missile spells at them from this far back with no problem or loss of efficacy. He looked around for something he could shrink and have Ambrose drop over the roof opening, until Ageratum reminded him he already had something at hand: the shrunken cloth form of the red dragon they'd slain. "You know, that should do the trick!" replied Alistair.

A plan quickly formed: Ageratum would ride with Harlan upon Nova, who would fly around in a wide arc and approach the building from the rear, flying low so the orcs wouldn't see their approach. Then they'd drop off Ageratum onto the roof, and she'd drop the cloth dragon on the edge of the hole, dispelling the shrink item spell Alistair had cast days ago and reverting the dragon corpse to its full size, blocking the hole in the roof and causing the building interior to fill up with smoke. Harlan and Nova would then land along the northern side of the building, while Orchid cast a spike growth spell covering the forty feet in front of the building, around the door. That would cause the orcs and ogre to hurt themselves if they moved, while Alistair and Chaevaris sniped at them from a safe distance, firing only when the smoke no longer rose from the roof of the building - that would be the signal to attack. The other mounts would stay far back, behind the two snipers, where they'd be safe; safer still with Ambrose and Shushitan looking after them.

Orchid flew ahead to get into position, while Ageratum climbed up behind Harlan on Nova and the celestial pegasus took to the skies. The little halfling stifled the desire to whoop aloud at the feel of flying so fast above the trees - this was something she could easily get used to! But soon enough Nova pulled up, flapping his wings furiously to stay in more or less one place above the rooftop while Ageratum took her cue and leaped quietly onto the roof. She crept over to the smoke rising up from the hole before her, unrolled the cloth Alistair had given her, and tapped it on the edge of the hole. It instantly took on the full size and shape of the slain red dragon; she was now holding the end of its tail. And sure enough, its bulk blocked off the hole almost completely, as planned.

Orchid cast her spike growth spell and was pleased to hear two of the orcs discover the hidden spikes the hard way - by stepping upon them. One froze where he stood, fearful of what was hurting his feet, while another took additional steps to get back into the dwelling, where he was glad to see the invisible spikes did not extend. But both orcs now had bloody soles and a fear of approaching the sledge. Their fear didn't last long, however, for Alistair split a magic missile spell between the two of them, two missiles striking each orc and sending them immediately into unconsciousness, the one still outside landing face-first on a series of spikes and only hurting himself even more.

Chaevaris unleashed an arrow at the ogre, causing him to roar in surprise and sudden fury. He spun about, looking for who might have shot him, just as Harlan approached from the northern side of the dwelling. Greatclub in hand to punish his attacker - not even noticing in his anger that the half-elf paladin had no bow in hand, just his flaming burst longsword - he ran up to Harlan, only to hop about in pain as the soles of his enormous feet were pierced multiple times by unseen spikes as he moved through the druid's spike growth spell's area of effect. To make matters worse, he collapsed at the end of his swing, falling unconscious to the ground at the paladin's feet, bleeding from his feet and from the arrow shaft sticking out of the side of his torso. Knowing the Blood Mirror would stabilize the ogre and that Ageratum was still up on the roof, the paladin decided to do the "cleanup" job she normally did and slit the ogre's throat with his own blade.

Inside the dwelling, the two hill giants had noticed it was darker inside the building, for there was no light coming from the ceiling. They also noticed the smoke piling up along the ceiling and started pointing and talking about it in their own guttural language with the unknown individual out of view. Outside, Orchid flew to the sledge and used it as a perch, then cast a summon swarm spell inside the giants' building, causing a swarm of bats to manifest halfway between the open front doors and the blazing fire pit inside.

The two orcs inside the building took a moment trying to kick awake the orc Alistair had laid low, and who'd managed to land inside the doorway instead of on the hidden spikes. They then stepped outside and experienced the pain of the spike growth spell for themselves. The one closest to the sledge tried shooing Orchid away, think she was nothing more than a normal bird of prey. Another magic missile spell split between the two orcs took them both out as well.

Up on the roof, Ageratum ran forward to see if she could help fight off their foes now that she'd done her job plugging up the smoke-hole. She was a bit surprised to see everyone either unconscious or dead, but figured there must be more inside and the smoke would likely force them out in the open. And as for the two hill giants inside the building, Chaevaris's keen elven eyesight allowed her to draw a bead on one of them, even though she stood 150 feet away from the open doorway. The other one gave a sudden shout and started running forward, no doubt having noticed the orcs laying sprawled on the floor and the ground outside instead of loading up the sledge as they were supposed to be doing. As the second one moved forward, Chaevaris let loose her arrow, to plunge unerringly into the hill giant's chest, causing him to decrease his speed in sudden shock - and then be swarmed by hundreds of flying bats, who bit him all over with their sharp teeth. In a matter of mere moments, he was a bloody mess, roaring in pain and fury.

But then the hidden figure stepped into view from the back of the dwelling. It was another ogre, this one also wielding a greatclub, but one seemingly crafted with great care. He ran even faster than the hill giants despite his slightly smaller stature, and headed directly for the open doorway. Orchid, still perched on the sledge, cast a produce flame spell and tossed the resulting ball of fire at the ogre but missed, and then decided discretion was the better part of valor and flapped away - she had no desire to experience getting swatted with that greatclub!

Ageratum wasn't sure what was about to pop out of the doorway - she was still up on the roof and couldn't see into the building - but she figured now would be a good time for her to cast a web spell across the building's main opening. Having used that ability from her cloak of arachnida, she immediately used another one and started walking down the sheer front wall of the building, as eager to see what she might catch in her web as any hungry spider.

Alistair was able to see the hill giant on the left barreling down the central hallway of the building, so he sent a magic missile spell flying his way, this time letting all four missiles find the same target. The spell's energy-darts had no trouble finding their way through the strands of the web spell covering the open doorway. Harlan, unable to reach the doorway without stepping into the field of hidden spikes, walked around them to an area 40 feet in front of the open doorway, and started hitting his sword against his shield, calling on the giants to come outside and face him.

The ogre barbarian charged directly into the web spell, swinging his greatclub before him, hoping to push it out of his way as he ran outside. That plan failed on two completely different fronts, for the web not only failed to break, it adhered to the greatclub and when the ogre went falling backwards, his weapon did not come with him; rather, it hung in the middle of the webbing, seemingly floating of its own accord. The hill giants then each made it to one corner of the front area, flanking the webbed open doorway between them, allowing the front walls on either side of the door to shield them from arrows and magic missile spells alike.

Orchid, still in eagle form and perched on a branch, allowed another ball of fire to manifest over an outstretched wing, ready to toss at any of the giants if they exited the building, but knowing the webbing would likely burn if she threw her fire spell at it. Inside the dwelling, the bats continued their attack upon the hill giant they'd first swarmed around, not letting up with their attacks. Ageratum walked down the wall and directly onto her web, stabbing down between her legs at the ogre on the other side, mistakenly thinking he'd been stuck to the webbing - but no, he was only in close proximity, trying and failing to extricate his weapon from the sticky strands. Her quick stabbing motion missed the ogre, but Alistair could now see him and used him as his next magic missile target, blasting him through the webs and into his barrel chest.

Since his taunts weren't getting him anywhere, Harlan whistled for his mount and Nova came flying up to land behind him. Jumping up onto the celestial pegasus's broad back, the two rose into the air again. And Chaevaris aimed another arrow at the ogre barbarian, holding her shot until she could be sure the little halfling wouldn't be in the way. The ogre barbarian allowed the rage at being denied his greatclub overcome his other sensibilities, snarling as he tried pulling it free. Off to his right, the hill giant unencumbered by bats swung his own greatclub into the webbing, trying to brush it all away with the power of his blow, but to no avail. The second hill giant staggered out of the bat swarm cloud and tried the same maneuver, with the same results; at the very least, neither hill giant got his own weapon stuck in the sticky fibers. But then the bats swarmed all over the same giant again, battering him with their leathery wings and biting him with their sharp teeth. His instinctive defensive swats crushed a few individual bats, but the overall power of the swarm was undiminished.

About this time, Orchid realized the spikes were no long really serving any useful purpose and were in fact preventing Harlan from getting into the action, so she dismissed the spike growth spell. Unable to tell the others what she'd done while in her eagle form, she merely called out in an avian cry and hoped they'd understand her likely actions. Ageratum connected her blade with the ogre's flesh on her second attempt at stabbing down between her legs while standing sideways on the webs. And then four more glowing darts of energy came flying down from over her head as Alistair cast another magic missile spell at the ogre.

Nova flew over the area where the spikes had been and Harlan bent over the side to bring his flaming longsword severing the head of one of the unconscious orcs - if he couldn't fight off a more immediate threat, he could at least ensure those they'd already downed didn't get back up. And then Chaevaris found her shot as Ageratum stepped away from the web, fearing being knocked off by any further greatclub swings from either of the giants. The archer's arrow found its mark in the ogre's chest as he tried crashing through the web, which not only didn't free his weapon or break through the web but only got himself entangled in its strands.

The southernmost hill giant tried freeing his ogre companion by striking at the web with his own weapon, but it too failed to break all the way through the tough strands, although it did rip one corner of the webbing away from the south side of the doorway. The other hill giant tried to do the same but only managed to get his own greatclub enmeshed in the sticky webbing. He staggered back from the web, cursing, and was immediately engulfed in the cloud of bats again.

Ageratum leaped back onto the webs, stabbing the ogre for all she was worth. She pierced his armor twice, and then another magic missile from 150 feet away took the fight out of the massive barbarian; he fell forward into unconsciousness, his overly-large body supported merely by the strands of Ageratum's web spell.

By then, Harlan had decided the web spell had done its job and urged Nova forward, easily slashing right through the strands with his flaming burst longsword and carrying the swing directly into a hill giant's chest. Crying out in pain, the giant backed up, putting him once again into Chaevaris's view; the archer put another arrow into his shoulder. The second giant turned and ran back as fast as he could, ducking his head to try to avoid the bats and any arrows that might be sent his way. Orchid released her concentration on the bat swarm, knowing that in so doing the swarm would shortly break up, each individual bat going its own separate way.

In fact, the bats took the opportunity to fly out of the now-shattered web spell in the doorway, heading directly for Harlan and Nova. As they surrounded the pair, the paladin urged his mount up into the air, hoping they could outmaneuver the swarm. Ageratum climbed up the side of the wall and completely dismissed the web spell, making it easier for the other heroes to enter the building and perform the necessary clean-up action. It was getting smoky in there with the chimney-hole plugged up, and the halfling smiled at the fact that it would be worse for the taller races, as the smoke rose to the top of the ceiling and slowly worked its way down - another advantage of being a halfling!

Alistair could see the hill giant Chaevaris had just shot, and he let loose with another magic missile spell; by now, he'd cast more than his normal allotment and was fueling such spellcasting with arcane energies usually reserved for more powerful spells. But he liked the fact that magic missiles never missed, so long as he could see even just an outline of the living target, and the blazing fire in the back half of the building lit the giants up rather nicely.

Nova outpaced the bats, and Harlan leaned over as they sped past the roof, grabbing up Ageratum lest she become the bats' next target. But the good-hearted paladin need not have worried, for the bats were already splitting up, each going their separate ways. But the two heroes found they were being trailed by Orchid, who flew to them and cast a healing spell to close up the numerous bat-bite wounds Nova had sustained. Harlan took care of his own wounds, using Pelor's healing energy at the touch of his own hand.

Chaevaris locked on an arrow to the second hill giant, worrying that it was getting harder to distinguish them the further they went into the back of the smoke-filled building. She got off her shot, burying the arrow up to the shaft in the hill giant's shoulder, but then the two had reached the far end of the building, where there were niches on either side that shielded them from view of the snipers. "Well, bother!" complained Alistair, who had found he rather enjoyed picking of enemies from a great range. He whistled for Zephyr and climbed up into the saddle. "Come on, Elfy!" he cried, holding out a hand as he rode past the archer. "We can't do much else from back here!" Chaevaris quickly realized the sorcerer was right and rather than go fetch her own horse, Talkacha, she took the proffered hand and pulled herself up behind the normally foolish young child. Zephyr ran forward towards the giant building, speeding into it at his master's coaxing. Chaevaris activated her boots of speed and leaped off, already placing another arrow into her bow as she ran forward, seeking either of the two hill giants who'd thus far avoided their well-earned deaths.

Surprising the archer and the sorcerer both, Nova came flying down the length of the building's interior, passing them. The bat-bitten hill giant, devoid of his greatclub, resorted to tossing a small boulder Harlan's way as he approached on his aerial steed. Orchid advanced as well and the other giant threw a rock her way, but she easy avoided it in midair. Ageratum leaped from Nova's back and threw a kobold spear at the northernmost giant, but she also missed. And then Nova surged forward, allowing Harlan to make a charge against the giant with his flaming sword, slicing through the foe's armor and burning a stripe of pain across his torso. The hill giant staggered back but retaliated, hitting the paladin with his greatclub, the blow almost throwing Harlan from Nova's back.

Over at the other back corner, the bat-bitten giant made to leap forward at Chaevaris, who shot at him as he did so and uncharacteristically missed. Orchid tossed a ball of fire down at him, catching him in his greasy hair and starting it blazing. Ageratum tried rushing past the distracted giant to stab at him from behind, and was successful to a point - she got in her stab up into the back of his knee, but not before he knocked her almost senseless with a swung fist that felt like it was going to rattle her teeth loose. And then Alistair brought him crashing senseless to floor with yet another magic missile spell, the sorcerer still astride his trusty horse.

Harlan channeled smiting energy through his blade and brought the other hill giant down with two quick strikes of his flaming burst longsword, leaping back to avoid being crushed under the suddenly limp body as the giant fell forward in a bleeding heap. Ageratum smiled, knowing what came next, and started applying her blade to the throats of those downed victims who still had the temerity to continue breathing. Then the two elven women started searching the dwelling for treasure as Harlan gave Alistair a ride on Nova to the roof, so the sorcerer could retrieve the dragon corpse with another casting of the shrink item spell.

Upon returning to the ground, the paladin and sorcerer learned that pretty much all of the treasure had already been brought out onto the sledge; the house itself held nothing of value. But the ogre barbarian had a greatclub, hide armor, and a ring all of a magical nature, according to a detect magic spell cast by Alistair. These items were stripped off the body of the massive barbarian for eventual resale back home.

"Are we ready to go?" asked Harlan, receiving nods from the other heroes. "Then let's report back to Krag about the success of our mission, and then I think it's time to head back to Ghourmand Vale." It sounded like a good idea to the others.

- - -

As expected, we all leveled up to 9th level at the conclusion of this adventure. That means we all got to pick a new feat, and Alistair got to pick three new spells; I went with cat's grace, haste, and dimension door. I can't wait to try them out!
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PC Roster:
Ageratum Purslane, halfling rogue 9​
Alistair Mandelberen Pastlethwaite, human sorcerer 9​
Chaevaris Noarunal, elf archer 9​
Harlan Starblade, half-elf paladin 9​

NPC Roster:
Orchid, elf druid 9​

Game Session Date: 9 August 2023

- - -

The heroes had been back in Ghourmand Vale for about a week, and much had changed during that time. The area was starting to see more traffic and more official presence since the control of the Vale had been affirmed. More outlying areas were looking to the Vale for support and security. The Vale, in return, was expanding its Guard and Ranger forces. Mackrel Slade increased the guard force to include a mounted infantry capable of patrolling within a day's ride of the Vale proper, while Carl Armbust of the Grange had been charged with creating and fielding a force of "Rangers" to patrol the area out to three days and provide awareness at least a week out from the Vale. That was, alas, still a work in progress.

Office hours at the Dark and Light Club brought in some rather odd characters with some sad stories and a quick referral to the newly enhanced city Guard. However, one character stood out: a trail-worn ranger climbed the stairs to the balcony of the club, opened the door, and saw Alistair sitting there working on a song. Recognizing the lanky aristocrat with the odd beliefs about halflings, Torkleson Aldershoot moved to re-introduce himself.

"Ah!" exclaimed the young sorcerer upon recognizing the halfling ranger from whom they had bought three horses many months back. "I trust you had a pleasant journey from the Fairy Lands?"

Torkleson swallowed his retort and pressed on with the spiel he was going to make; no point in antagonizing one of the people he had come to for help. "You recall the village of Cobb's Grange?" he asked. "Well, it's being subverted by outsiders and I need help to stop the corruption. They showed up months ago and are changing the very nature of the village. One or two of the townsfolk disappeared and then rumors started. Folks are being secretive and not trusting those they formerly relied on. Sounds like simple local feuds and politics, but when I saw one of the newcomers meet with a one-armed man and start talking in a language more like snakes, I got suspicious. Then, later, when I saw the same one-armed man coming out of Bungthumper's Inn after closing, I followed him just long enough to see that he had two arms, but the one that came out of his previously empty sleeve was a snake! That was enough for me to know I was in over my head." Realizing what he'd just said, the halfling paused to see if Alistair was going to comment on it, making a snide remark about how "most things were over a halfling's head," but the sorcerer didn't seem to have even noticed the opening he'd been handed. "If these late-comers are in league with some type of snake demon bent on corrupting my village, then I figured I needed to find some type of professionals to deal with them...and that's when I remembered you adventurers, who passed through our village them months back. I recalled you folks dealt with that pack of worgs about to eat my Auggie rather handily, so I figured you might be able to sort these demon thralls before they destroy the village and start on the nearby farms. What do you think? Can you help us?"

"I should say so!" declared Alistair with enthusiasm. He was rather looking forward to some excitement, for while it had been good to be back home in the Vale, if truth be told the sorcerer was yearning for a bit of adventure. "I shall fetch the others at once!" And then he walked over to the back wall, opened a door that Torkleson could have sworn hadn't been there a moment ago, and stepped inside. Moments later, he returned with the other heroes the little halfling had met before, plus another elven woman and a timber wolf. "I don't believe you've met Orchid," Alistair offered. "Orchid, this is Torkleson Aldershoot."

After the introductions were proffered, Alistair had the halfling repeat the details to the other heroes. When he was done, the sorcerer said, "Well, I seriously doubt if there are any snake gods involved; it seems like your town is being infiltrated by yuan-ti. These strangers, they were all human in appearance, yes?"

"Yeah, except for the one with a snake for an arm. I never saw any humans like that before. That's...not normal for humans, is it?"

"I should say not."

Harlan agreed they'd help out Torkleson and the group gathered up their gear for a three-day trek by horseback to Cobb's Grange. Torkleson showed the heroes his own animal companion, an eagle by the name of Badgerbane. He and Ambrose often flew ahead, scouting out the area while the others caught up on horseback - or celestial pegasusback, in the case of Harlan Starblade. By now, his warhorse Law had pretty much been handed down to Orchid, who rode upon the white equine when not herself wildshaped into an animal form of her own.

The three days of travel passed by uneventfully, with the nights spent inside the extradimensional dwelling conjured up into being each evening by the necklace Chaevaris wore. On the third day, as they were getting close to the borders of the small village, Alistair said the words to a mage armor spell, knowing the spell's duration would last him through the end of the night, for it was late afternoon already. Orchid followed suit with a longstrider spell on herself, as well as a speak with animals spell that had Shushitan wagging his tail with glee. (The wolf still didn't understand why his mistress could only sometimes remember how to speak as a lupine, but he was always glad when she talked to him in his own language.)

"Something's wrong," declared Torkleson, astride his little pony.

"What is it?" Harlan asked from the back of Nova, walking along the ground like the other mounts - those unfortunate enough not to have a fine pair of avian wings like himself.

"Badgerbane's upset - I can feel it!" The eagle had been flying ahead again and had gone for a high vantage point, allowing him to look down over the entirety of Cobb's Grange. He did a slow circle and then returned, landing on the ground beside Torkleson's pony - the bird was far too large to alight upon the ranger's arm as it might have done hand the little halfling been the size of a human. "What is it?" he asked the bird, and the eagle opened its beak and let out a long screech.

"The buildings are all on fire, and there's a sinkhole in the middle of town!" translated Orchid.

"Combat spells - we're going in now!" commanded Harlan, urging Nova forward down the road. He opted not to allow the pegasus to take flight, so the entire group could enter the town at the same time and in the same area. Orchid leaned over and touched the paladin, channeling a barkskin spell onto him to better protect him in combat - the group had learned to buff Harlan up as best they could, for he was the greatest dealer of damage with his flaming burst longsword. For his part, the paladin cast a bless spell on the group, to include Torkleson and his pony. He then cast a bull's strength spell upon himself, as Orchid touched him again and cast a bear's endurance spell upon him.

"I'm splitting off - I've got to see to my family at the ranch!" Torkleson called as he set his pony down a side-road. "You check out the town proper, and we'll meet back up when we're done!"

Alistair cast a new spell on each of the five heroes: cat's grace, making each member more dexterous - sure to be useful in combat, the sorcerer felt. He also cast a shield spell upon himself and the traditional flame arrow spell on the assembled group's ammunition, to include the small sack of "pebboulders" he passed over to Ageratum. But Orchid wasn't yet done casting spells. She placed a neutralize poison spell on both Harlan and Ageratum, feeling they, as front-line combatants, were the most likely to have to deal with yuan-ti venom. And then she said, "I'm going to try something. C'mere, Shushitan!"

The wolf loped over to his mistress as she brought Law to a momentary stop, and he placed his front paws on Orchid's leg. She then cast an animal growth spell on her timber wolf, expanding him to the size of a dire wolf, followed up by a magic fang spell. Seeing as how the wolf was getting "buffed up" for combat, Alistair offered to cast a mage armor on the wolf as well, and Orchid readily agreed. He then cast a final spell, haste, on the entire group.

Fully ready for combat - in fact, just about as ready for combat as they'd even been in their brief adventuring careers - the six heroes and their horse-sized wolf rode into town. Sure enough, the buildings were ablaze, although most were dying down, the flames down to mere embers. There was nobody about but a trio of three women in the center of the village street, gathered around what at first looked to be a sheep being cooked over a fire near the sinkhole, but closer inspection revealed it was no sheep but rather a slain halfling.

Orchid was the first to react, likely because her elven eyesight allowed her not only to pick out the halfling's features before the others had caught on to what was going on, but also the telltale sight of snake scales on the cheeks of the three women, marking them as yuan-ti. The druid responded with a flame strike spell, causing a gout of fire to crash down upon the trio, burning them instantly to a crisp in a quite fitting bit of retribution, considering they were cooking a sentient being over a fire themselves when they died. Shushitan raced forward, biting at one of the dead yuan-ti and turning her into a meal herself.

As the other heroes followed in the druid's wake, three more yuan-ti purebloods crept forward from between the husks of various burned buildings. These three were all male and came from three different directions, ensuring they wouldn't all share the same fate of instant obliteration from a single flame strike spell. They each carried a longbow with an arrow nocked and ready to fire. The one closest to Orchid raised his weapon, took aim, and fired a shot at the druid, but missed. The other two targeted Shushitan and one of the fired arrows actually managed to strike the wolf, but in his larger size his hide was much tougher than it had been and the fur much thicker, and the arrow didn't even penetrate his skin. He continued his meal, unperturbed by the attempt to slay him with an arrow.

Chaevaris rode up on Talkacha and leaped from the saddle, her own longbow out and ready. She let fly with an arrow and shot the yuan-ti farthest away right in the chest, causing him to stagger back with blood spilling from his lips. He pulled the offending shaft from his chest, but it was obvious the man was on his last legs and would likely fall over after any amount of exertion. Alistair, still astride Zephyr, shot at the other yuan-ti further back, striking him unerringly with a magic missile spell; the sorcerer was quite pleased to see he was now able to generate five such darts of blazing energy with the spell, making it as powerful as the magic missiles from his wand (which was good, as he was getting fairly low on remaining charges on his wand).

Harlan confirmed the presence of evil from the yuan-ti and charged forward on Nova, heading for the one who had shot at Orchid. His blazing sword struck the yuan-ti on the side and sprawled him into the street where he lay unmoving, unconscious but stabilized due to the presence of the Blood Mirror. Just as quickly, Ageratum was there at the paladin's side, leaping down from her pony Munson and slitting the yuan-ti's neck, dealing the snake-man an amount of physical damage the magic gemstone had no hope of overcoming.

Orchid, standing near the sinkhole, could hear the flow of water coming from below. She looked over the edge, and despite the darkening sky - it was twilight, with the sun about to go down - her elven vision allowed her to pick up the glint of slow-moving water down below, some 30 feet or so. A small river or large stream wound beneath the surface of Cobb's Grange, ironically winding rather like a snake. She picked up a pebble from the street and cast a light spell upon it, tossing it into the open sinkhole for a better view.

Shushitan looked up from his meal and saw a yuan-ti raising his longbow at the wolf. Despite not having even noticed the arrow shot at him earlier, Shushitan knew anybody aiming at him with a weapon like that was an enemy, and at his mistress's "Go get him, Shushitan!" urging, he was off like a shot, growling as he ran. The yuan-ti had the presence of mind to drop back as the slavering wolf snapped at him, and he barely avoided having a set of savage teeth clamp down upon his arm. Instinctively, he tried catching the wolf up in an animal trance, waving his hand in a pattern in the air meant to captivate the wolf's attention, but Shushitan was having none of it - with a sudden surge forward, he caught the snake-man's throat in his jaws and ripped it out, leaving him to die in the street.

That left only one combatant remaining topside, the yuan-ti Chaevaris had almost killed with one arrow. He staggered, trying to stay on his feet, as he slowly made his way toward the sinkhole. Once close enough, he leaped over the edge, no doubt wishing to allow the slow-moving currents to take him away to safety. But Chaevaris raced up to the edge of the sinkhole and from the light of Orchid's glowing pebble got enough of a bead on the wounded yuan-ti that she was able to put a second arrow straight through his head. He got his wish as the currents took him away from his enemies, but it was far too late for him to escape with his life,

Alistair sent Ambrose on a reconnaissance flight around the village, looking for survivors or additional enemies. The grackle did his aerial circuit and reported back having found neither: any survivors had apparently run for the safety of the nearby woods (or buildings outside of the town proper, like Torkleson's ranch and stables), and any remaining yuan-ti were likely down in the subterranean level below.

Harlan dismounted from Nova and instructed his celestial pegasus to round up the other mounts and keep them safe topside while the heroes went below to explore. Alistair likewise told Ambrose to keep guard over the animals, warning his master over their empathic link if they ran into any trouble, for the sorcerer feared to have his grackle come down into the subterranean darkness, where he could very easily fly into a wall and injure himself. Then he gathered the heroes together and cast another new spell: dimension door, which teleported Shushitan (with Orchid riding upon his back), Harlan, and Chaevaris down to a stone floor at the side of the winding river. He was not yet powerful enough to be able to teleport every in one shot, so he purposefully left Ageratum behind, knowing full well she could use the spider climb feature of her cloak of arachnida to walk down the side of the sinkhole and drop to the floor below. The little halfling did just that, dropping to the opposite side of the river from the others.

"Ogilvy, if you please," said Alistair, casting an unseen servant spell, to which Chaevaris handed her bullseye lantern with the permanent light stone inside its chamber. Upon direction from Alistair, Ogilvy shone the lantern all around them, illuminating the caverns for as far as possible. Orchid cast a spider climb spell upon Shushitan, telling him in his lupine language what she was doing and what he'd be able to do when she was done. She also asked him if he could smell any snakes, and he replied the whole cavern network smelled like snakes and halflings. Then the curious wolf placed his front paws upon the stone wall of the cavern, testing out the spider climb spell and finding out it worked just as Orchid had said. With his tongue lolling out of the side of his mouth, he scampered off, following the river until he veered off down a side passageway to the left, apparently a shortcut that led back to the river at a lower spot after it had turned back around at some point further downstream. Just that quickly, the horse-sized wolf was out of sight of the other adventurers.

There was a bit of movement at the edge of the lantern's illumination, and a man-sized figure stepped into view two caverns away. With a wave of his hand - the other sleeve of his robe seeming to hold only a snake instead of a human arm - the illumination diminished significantly as a deeper darkness spell effect took place. Just that quickly, he was reduced to little more than a dark shape.

But Chaevaris wasn't satisfied leaving it like that; she pulled out the special arrow from her quiver containing a piece of cloth wrapped around the arrowhead, took aim, and sent it crashing against the wall behind the yuan-ti halfblood. Upon impact, the cloth resumed its full size and shape: that of a raging bonfire, filling the back cavern with enough light for the heroes to be able to make out more than just a vague outline of their robed foe. The elven archer followed up this first shot with two more normal arrows, each imbued with Alistair's flame arrow spell, sending them straight into the yuan-ti's chest. He staggered backwards, then fell flat on his face after Alistair cast a magic missile spell at him, dropping him to the cavern floor. He was too far away from the Blood Mirror for its stabilizing effect to take hold, and his life's blood spilled from his arrow wounds onto the stone floor.

Alistair crossed the river to land by Ageratum, stepping from one projecting stone to another; Ogilvy, as an unseen servant, merely floated across the water. Harlan followed suit, jumping from rock to rock, and as he brought the Blood Mirror into range of the downed halfblood it started sealing up the worst of the snake-man's wounds. Once he got within range, he could sense the yuan-ti's aura was as tainted with evil as had been those of the purebloods topside in the halfling village. Ageratum ran across the side wall over by the halfblood, noting the two fungi in the cavern with the writhing, purple tentacles and called out a warning to her companions: "Violet fungi!"

Orchid opted to wildshape into the form of a dire bat, a better-suited form for traveling in subterranean caves and passageways. She flew up behind Ageratum, and her wolf, sensing his mistress flapping around behind him, reversed course to go follow her - he liked it when she took on animal form; sometimes they wrestled together like he used to do with his siblings as a pup. Chaevaris followed Ageratum's path in a more careful manner, her bow raised and ready to shoot should any other yuan-ti make an appearance. Alistair and Ogilvy took up the rear, the sorcerer taking out the closest violet fungus with another magic missile spell.

Harlan ran into the cavern with the downed yuan-ti halfblood and swung his sword into the side of the second violet fungus, dodging a swiping tendril as he did so. His flaming blade cut the fungus in two, slaying it instantly. Meanwhile, Ageratum had reached the unconscious yuan-ti and slit his throat, then cut off the head of the snake growing from where his left arm should be, just to be sure.

Orchid flapped her bat wings and followed the course of the winding river, turning to the south when the water did likewise. In doing so, she was moving farther ahead than her friends, and she entered a cavern to the southwest, where her dire bat echolocation picked out two rather large bodies: yuan-ti abominations! There were massive serpents with the chest and arms of a human, each wielding a massive scimitar. She cast a summon swarm spell, bringing forth a flock of bats who all went flapping around the closest of the abominations, darting in to bite at its scaly hide with their wickedly sharp teeth. Shushitan, already forgetting about the spider climb spell his mistress had imbued upon him, leaped into the river and doggy-paddled over by the southwestern cavern to be by Orchid.

Chaevaris and Alistair entered the cavern with the dead halfblood and followed a corridor south, where the sorcerer spotted another violet fungus just up ahead. But before he could get the words of another magic missile spell out of his mouth, Harlan had raced up and made short work of it with his flaming burst longsword. Ageratum joined the group and together they headed south.

The bat-swarmed abomination swung his scimitar at Orchid, but his vision was impeded by the numerous bat bodies flying all around him, and he missed by a long shot. He snapped at her with his vicious fangs, again missing, but then got in a lucky strike with his scimitar when he swung it back in her direction. But the second abomination, not in the least bit hampered by swarming bats, was able to fire off an aversion spell effect that hit the dire bat druid with full effect, causing Orchid to panic and want nothing more than to put a great deal of distance between anything even remotely looking like a serpent. She wheeled in place in the air and started flapping back out of the cavern, turning to the east once she was out and following the river again. Shushitan, thinking this must be some sort of game, followed his mistress to see what was up.

Unbeknownst to any of the heroes, there was another yuan-ti halfblood pressed up against the wall just by Harlan, using its psionic powers to make it blend seamlessly into the background. It waited until the paladin passed it by, then leaped out at Ageratum, sending a fear effect her way. Her mind froze up for but a mere moment, and then combat instincts kicked in and she slashed at the offending serpent-man with her silver short sword, slicing through an outer layer of scales and proving that it bled as red as any true human. Chaevaris, noticing the creature for the first time when it leaped out at the little halfling, sent an arrow flying into its torso, while behind her Alistair sent two scorching rays striking out at the halfblood, engulfing it in flames and causing it to drop to the stone floor of the narrow passageway. The others passed by it, Ageratum hanging about only long enough to slit its throat before it could heal up.

Harlan, in the lead, raced forward into the southwestern cavern and saw the two yuan-ti abominations Orchid had just faced. He charged one of them, swinging his flaming blade into its side and singeing its serpentine torso. It hissed in pain and darted in to bite the paladin, but Harlan blocked the attack with his shield. The other tried to attack as well but was hampered by the bats still flocking around it.

Chaevaris stepped into view and took careful aim at the abomination not obscured by flying bat bodies. Alistair stepped up beside her, careful not to bump her and ruin her concentration, and cast a scorching ray spell at the one she was targeting, as he had no desire to slay a bunch of the summoned bats that were helping to do the heroes' work for them. Both gouts of flame struck true, temporarily engulfing the abomination in a halo of fire. Then Harlan channeled holy smiting energy into his blade and brought it crashing down upon the yuan-ti while it was distracted by the burning pain from Alistair's spell, and the paladin's powerful blow knocked it deep into unconsciousness. He then spun in place and brought his flaming blade to stab into the side of the other abomination, not once but twice in rapid succession. Ageratum threw some of her kobold shortspears at the monster, but they failed to penetrate its thick, scaly hide.

Writhing in pain and waving its scimitars uselessly at the bats, the remaining abomination managed to get in a lucky strike against Harlan, one of its blades cutting him along the arm. Alistair struck it again with a magic missile spell; by this time he had long since used up his normal allotment of spells of that level of power and was dipping into spell energies usually reserved for more powerful spells, but he didn't care - he knew the magic missile spell would hurt the abomination he was targeting without dealing any damage to the swarm of bats still flying all around him and biting him with their sharp fangs. It truly was the "death of a thousand cuts" - although the really important cut was the next successful strike from Harlan's flaming burst longsword, which bit deep into the abomination's serpentine neck and caused him to collapse, unconscious and bleeding out, to the cavern floor. Quick as a wink, Ageratum was there to slit its throat - and that of its counterpart - before the Blood Mirror could prevent them from dying. The bats, no longer being held in place by Orchid's concentration on maintaining the swarm intact, broke up shortly thereafter and the individual bats all went their separate ways.

A quick perusal of the subterranean caverns revealed no further yuan-ti; the heroes assumed the problem had been fully dealt with and went back to strip the serpentine corpses of any valuables. The abomination scimitars were too big to be successfully wielded by anyone of human size, but they were of fine craftsmanship and could likely be sold for a decent price. The halfbloods also wore some fancy jewelry that looked valuable, although a detect magic spell cast by Alistair revealed no magical emanations from any of them.

Gathering back up together, the sorcerer cast another dimension door spell and returned everyone to the surface. There they remounted their various steeds and headed over to the Aldershoot ranch. they met up with Torkleson about halfway there; he had been heading back to the ruined village to inform the heroes that his wife, son, and ranch were all fine - the yuan-ti hadn't made it that far away.

They spent the night in Cobb's Grange - more accurately, inside their extradimensional dwelling like normal, but after having activated the door along the wall of a building in the village - and then started back towards Ghourmand Vale in the morning. They had hoped by then a few halfling survivors might have returned to Cobb's Grange, but if any survived the massacre they were apparently in no big hurry to return. Torkleson left signs for any that might eventually return to seek him out at his ranch, where he'd help them resettle if that was their intention. And then the heroes were off, headed back to their own "home" on the second floor of the Dark and Light Club, in Ghourmand Vale.

- - -

I got a chance to use all three of Alistair's newly-learned spells this adventure: cat's grace, haste, and dimension door. And I think Dan realized that giving us an unlimited amount of time to cast "prepping for battle" spells resulted in a few untouchable powerhouses; he may be rethinking that particular strategy in future.
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PC Roster:
Ageratum Purslane, halfling rogue 9​
Alistair Mandelberen Pastlethwaite, human sorcerer 9​
Chaevaris Noarunal, elf archer 9​
Harlan Starblade, half-elf paladin 9​

NPC Roster:
Orchid, elf druid 9​

Game Session Date: 16 August 2023

- - -

The first morning back in Ghourmand Vale after returning from Cobb's Grange, Alistair got a surprise when he opened the door of the extradimensional living quarters and stepped out onto the top floor of the Dark and Light Club, for there before him was the renowned bard Holyrood Carp, but he was bustling around in a frenzy. "I say!" called out the young sorcerer. "Whatever is going on?"

"Haven't you heard?" asked the bard. "The famed author, E. L. Grimwade, is coming here this afternoon! There's going to be a special appearance in the town square, and then a dinner here, followed by me doing a performance on stage below! I've got to get everything ready--that reminds me, you don't have any new songs ready for me, do you? I'd like to kick off the performance with some new material. And you'll join us at the dinner before the performance? Apparently, E. L. is interested in meeting up with any local adventuring bands as well as hearing any popular local songs in the areas visited. Alistair? Are you listening?"

But Alistair's mind had practically frozen upon hearing that E. L. Grimwade - the E. L. Grimwade, author of the popular "Elfy Danger Silverleaf" series of novels for young kids - was going to be showing up here in Ghourmand Vale! At last, the young nobleman was going to get a chance to meet his all-time favorite author, whose books had helped him settle into a life of adventuring when he'd been kicked out of his nobleman family, and which had filled him up with valuable adventuring lore! He couldn't wait to meet him - he imagined the author to be very much like Elfy himself, likely an elven adventurer; the stories were all so true to life that he had to have some personal, first-hand experience into the life of an adventurer. Alistair was already planning on which book he'd bring to the performance that evening to have Grimwade sign: the very first book in the series, naturally, Elfy Danger Silverleaf and the Greedy Goblins. It wasn't the best book of the series - that, in Alistair's mind, was certainly Elfy Danger Silverleaf and the Haunted House of Harrowfield Hills, which had sent thrills up and down his spine as a child and still gave him goosebumps when thinking about the scarier bits - but it was the one that set off all of his adventures to follow, and there were a lot of important facts about Elfy himself that were later expanded upon in the follow-on books.... Belatedly, Alistair realized Holyrood was talking to him.

"Alistair! Do you, or do you not, have any new songs for me?"

Alistair snapped out of it quickly. "As a matter of fact," he replied, "I have one I was working on about Elfy Danger Silverleaf himself. It isn't quite done, but I can try to finish it up this morning, if you like."

"That would be ideal!" breathed Holyrood with a sigh of relief. "Now then, I've got to make sure the Club has everything for the dinner on hand, and E. L.'s favorite brandy...." The bard bustled off downstairs to check on things in the kitchen, while Alistair returned to his rooms inside the extradimensional dwelling to fetch the parchments upon which he'd been writing his latest song. He'd do up a song that would truly make E. L. Grimwade proud! And while it took him several sheets of scratch paper and numerous rewrites, he eventually got a version of the Elfy song down he liked, and transcribed it onto a clean sheet of parchment for Holyrood. Then he went to round up the other heroes to ensure they'd all be there when E. L. Grimwade came to visit. He imagined Chaevaris in particular would enjoy meeting the mind behind Elfy Danger Silverleaf, since all of her knowledge about the fictional character came second-hand from Alistair himself - perhaps, after meeting the actual author, she'd be curious enough to try reading the books (a copy of each story published thus far sat proudly on the bookcase in the lounge area of their extradimensional home). And wouldn't it be great if she hit it off with the author himself! Alistair could think of nothing more exciting than to have E. L. Grimwade himself have a reason to stay close to the group, and dating Chaevaris ought to be a good enough reason. Or, if not Chaevaris, there was also Orchid to consider - he didn't really mind which one the elven author preferred, just as long as he had a reason to stick around.

So that afternoon, when a crowd was gathering around the town square, Alistair stood smack-dab in the middle of the front row directly before the raised platform upon which E. L. Grimwade would give a speech before heading over to the Dark and Light Club. He had his copy of Elfy Danger Silverleaf and the Greedy Goblins held protectively in both hands, and he'd sent his grackle familiar to perch upon a nearby rooftop so the bird could warn him when the coach carrying the author was approaching.

The other heroes were also in the area, but as Elfy meant very little to them, meeting the author wasn't that big of a thrill. Still, they had all agreed to be in full combat get-up, so they'd all look the part of the Trained Professional Adventurers they truly were when they had dinner with Mr. Grimwade that evening. Holyrood had dropped hints the author was looking at starting up a new series of novels about Elfy traveling through the various Outer Planes, and had apparently been interviewing those who had gone to various other planes and returned to tell the tale. Alistair thought that was an excellent idea - it would certainly be educational for him, since so far the only other planes he'd been to (that he was aware of) was that warm place with the people wearing turbans, home of the notorious Jasgund Singh, and of course the Halfling Fairylands they'd traveled through to get back home - and where they'd just avenged the ravaged town of Cobb's Grange from the yuan-ti that had all but burned it down.

Harlan was leaning against a small building twenty feet or more behind Alistair. Ageratum was also on a rooftop, but while Ambrose's perch was to the southwest of the raised speaking platform, the little halfling sat on the corner of rooftop to the southeast - it was the best way a three-foot-tall halfling would be able to see the goings-on in any case. Orchid and Shushitan stood along a fence just to the south of the Dark and Light Club, whereas Chaevaris sat perched upon her immovable rod, raised to a four-foot height in the crook of the interior corner of the Dark and Light Club's L-shaped building. This allowed her to see above the heads of the crowd, which was starting to fill up now that the author's coach was due any minute.

Chaevaris noted quite a lot of new faces, including those of a bunch of new guards hired on to help keep law and order in the city - or what passed for it, in any case. She also noticed a wizard standing back at the assembling crowd, pointing and seeming to whisper in his hands. Straining her elven hearing to their limits, she was able to hear him say, "That one - in the red robes. He's got magic about him." In those two simple sentences, the elven archer deduced two things: that the wizard was steering an accomplice towards a specific target (and she happened to notice Alistair was wearing his red robe today, no doubt the better to stand out in front of his lifelong hero), and they were likely looking to steal magic items from their victims. She looked over at Alistair to see if she could pick out who the wizard might have been guiding, and she saw a male dwarf muscle his way into position to stand next to Alistair.

"I say!" declared the young sorcerer to the dwarf at his right. "Quite a big thrill, getting to meet Mr. Grimwade, isn't it? Are you a fan of his books?" The dwarf merely shrugged and grunted, waiting for the chatty human to turn away again before seeing what all might be pilferable. Unfortunately, the wizard might have steered the dwarven thief over to this particular target but he hadn't been able to tell him just what exactly he had on his person that might be magical in nature. The fop wore a pair of magical bracers on his arms, but those would be difficult to steal without him noticing...he wore a nice-looking rapier at his belt, but that too would be awkward to make off with...ah! A finely-crafted dagger also hung from the sorcerer's belt, with a hilt exquisite-enough looking that it could very well be magical. Daggers, being lightweight, were much easier to make off with. He waited for the most opportune time, then with a quick motion lifted Alistair's masterwork silver dagger from its sheath and pocketed it up his own sleeve - and right before the unwitting target turned and looked him straight in the eye. Expecting a confrontation of some sort, the dwarf was relieved to hear the fop merely blurt out, "I think his carriage is approaching!" For indeed Alistair had felt a wave of impinging excitement rising through the link he shared with his grackle familiar.

"Yeah, well, I can't stay - gotta get to the mines for my shift!" mumbled the dwarf, moving away from his first mark of the afternoon. Another dwarf had sidled up to Harlan in an attempt to try to pilfer something off of him, but the paladin's alert posture and countenance made him distrustful that he'd be able to grab anything and get cleanly away. As it was, Harlan was using his paladin's sense of detecting evil about him to note that there was quite a lot of evil in all directions, most of it of the fairly harmless type, but disturbingly, some of it coming from a few of the new guards. And then his concentration was centered upon a pair of young women who were approaching the raised platform from the north - they'd just passed by Orchid and Shushitan. The evil emanating from their auras overpowered those of anyone else in the crowd. They were dressed as fashionable noblewomen, with gloves and matching sashes draped over their shoulders like scarves, and they walked with a regal bearing, as if they knew full well the rabble all around them were beneath their contempt.

Up on the rooftop, Ageratum had been watching the crowd and saw the wizard and dwarves, seemingly in contact with each other; there was also a guy dressed very similarly to the new guards who seemed to be part of the same team. Having worked in a Thieves Guild herself, the little halfling was fairly sure she was watching members of a new thieves guild - new to Ghourmand Vale, in any case - make their moves. It looked like one of the dwarves might have gotten something off of an inattentive Alistair, but she couldn't be sure from the angle she was looking. She decided they should have some sort of means of long-distance communication, or hand signals or something, for she knew if she just yelled down at Alistair the thieves would just vanish into the crowd - that was one of the first lessons any competent thieves guild taught its members. But as Chaevaris hopped down from her perch and deactivated the immovable rod in one quick motion, catching up with the wizard and spinning him around to face her, he wrested himself away and started running. She gave chase, but he turned a corner and when she followed - a mere few seconds behind him - he was gone, either having teleported away or rendered himself invisible. Up on the rooftop, Ageratum saw the two dwarves and the suspicious-looking fighter-type make their own exit from the crowd, apparently warned away by the wizard after he'd been spotted as their lookout.

"Here he comes!" squealed Alistair as the coach pulled around a corner and came to a stop along the right side of the raised speaking platform. The door opened and Holyrood Carp stepped out, reaching a hand up to help an elderly woman out of the coach. Alistair stretched his neck trying to see past the woman (Did E. L. Grimwade bring his mother along? - How nice, Alistair thought to himself, although he would have imagined Grimwade's mother would have been an elf, as he had always believed the author of the most famous fictional elven adventurer ever had to be an elf himself to get all of the details of Elfy's life so right), but didn't see anyone else step out of the coach. And then Carp led the woman up the steps of the platform, waved to the cheering crowd, and called out, "Ladies and Gentlemen - it is my great pleasure to introduce to you all the famous author, E. L. Grimwade!" The older woman - likely at the latter end of her fifties and fast approaching sixty years of age, if she hadn't already gotten there - waved to the crowd with one hand, clutching her pocketbook close with her other.

Alistair's jaw fell open in shock. This was E. L. Grimwade, the famous author of the Elfy Danger Silverleaf books? An old lady - an old, human lady? How could this be?

Harlan was astonished as well, but not because of the author's age, sex, or race. Rather, he was surprised at the high level of evil coming from her direction as she waved to the crowd. And there was no mistaking the fact it was coming from her, for the only one else up on the stage with her was Holyrood Carp, and the paladin knew from past experience the bardic performer was anything but evil.

One of the aristocratic women, a ravishing-looking redhead, called out, "Hey, Grimwade! You have something that doesn't belong to you, and we want it back!" Orchid, seeing the commotion, cast a speak with animals spell and asked her timber wolf companion if he smelled anything out of the ordinary. He wagged his tail at the fact that his mistress had once again suddenly remembered how to speak the wolf language, but informed her that nothing stood out as odd.

Up on the raised stage, E. L. Grimwade hadn't heard the redhead's comments and was calling out to the crowd, "Greetings! For those of you who follow the stories, you know Elfy is a wanderer, going wherever he's needed. Well, I'm pleased to inform you that there will be a new series of stories where he'll be traveling to other planes of existence. I have been traveling around myself, talking with some people who have traveled the planes themselves, as a means of doing research for these books. Why, just recently, I visited the Marquis Lorn D'Veih, a noted diabolist, at his castle in the Misty Mountains, and he has provided me with many insights about the kinds of dangers Elfy might encounter on the Lower Planes."

The other woman stepped up beside the redhead, also dressed in an aristocratic fashion. She called out to the author, "Do you remember us, E. L.?"

Alistair turned to ask the dwarf who'd been standing next to him if he had known E. L. Grimwade was a woman, but the dwarf had already vanished. But then he heard his name being mentioned by Holyrood Carp up on stage, and his attention was brought back to the figures on the raised platform. "Miss Grimwade will be spending some time in Ghourmand Vale as part of her research, talking to our local adventuring group, the Trained Professional Adventurers! Ah, here's Alistair, a member of the TPA, right here in the front row!" Alistair's eyes grew large at the thought of actually shaking hands with his favorite author: actually touching the hands that wrote down the stories that had enthralled him since he was a wee lad. "I'm very--meeting--to happy you," he stammered.

The redheaded aristocrat interrupted, storming around the corner and stepping up beside the stuttering sorcerer. "When you get a minute..." she said, frowning sternly at the elderly author. Harlan, back in the crowd, had been focusing on determining the exact sources of evil, and he now could determine the evil he sensed in E. L. Grimwade was emanating from her handbag - and it was as concentrated as the evil coming from the two aristocratic women pushing their way towards the author. He started advancing himself, pushing his way through the crowd to approach the stage. Deciding the elderly woman likely needed some protection, the paladin reached out to touch her and cast a protection from evil spell upon her.

The second aristocrat, a brunette with striking green eyes, actually hissed in irritation as Harlan cast his spell. "E.L.," she called, "you were there at Lorn's place and you took something that didn't belong to you! Now return it at once!"

"What? Preposterous!" snorted E. L. Grimwade. "I took nothing!"

"Let's not have any wild accusations!" chided Holyrood Carp, looking over at the two beautiful women. "I'm sure this is all some sort of misunderstanding." But the redhead had, by that time, gotten tired of waiting and cast a charm monster spell at E. L. Grimwade - which, thanks to Harlan's protective spell, failed miserably. But that was all Harlan needed to confirm his suspicions that neither of these women were human, and he reacted quite violently, by pulling out his flaming burst longsword and driving it into the body of the redhead. He could tell part of his thrust was impeded by skin much thicker and denser than that of a human woman, which only gave him further evidence he was dealing with a fiend.

Ageratum had seen Harlan initiate combat from up on her rooftop perch and activated her cloak of arachnida, using its spidery powers to walk down the side of the building. Fortunately, many people in the crowd were scattering due to the paladin's sword-swinging - they had no desire to get caught up in a fight - so the little halfling made better time than if she'd have had to push past unmoving bodies. She drew her human bane short sword, thinking its specific magical enhancement would be well-suited for these two human foes.

Orchid also started moving forward, casting a call lightning spell as she did so. She brought the first bolt blasting down out of the sky to strike the redhead; as Harlan's initial target, she was the only one the druid knew for sure was an enemy. However, while the bolt hit its target it failed to even cause the redhead to flinch - Orchid assumed she either had some type of resistance to spell energy or was somehow immune to electrical blasts. Shushitan was at her side, and then took off to try to bite the redhead (having seen his mistress target her with a lightning bolt, he knew she was fair game), but he snapped at her and missed as well.

However, having directly engaged the redhead in battle, Harlan, Orchid and Shushitan were all suddenly able to see the redhead as she truly was: her red hair and aristocratic features were true to form, but they could now see the raven-dark, feathered wings growing from her back. Of the three, only Harlan realized what that meant: they were fighting an erinyes devil!

Chaevaris had also noted the commotion at the front of the stage and fitted an arrow to her bow, pointing it at the redhead. She still saw the illusory form of the woman, but she trusted Harlan's instincts and had no reservations about shooting her once she was sure of a good shot. Harlan swung his sword at the red-haired erinyes and missed, which was a shame as he'd infused his blade with holy smiting energy, but he caught her on a backhand swing and brought forth blood from a gash along her arm. The dark-haired aristocrat loosened the sash from around her neck and snapped it at Holyrood, where it wrapped tightly around his ankles and brought him falling to the ground. Then, surprisingly, she willing dropped her own illusion and flapped her wings, flying up above the crowd and landing upon the roof of the Dark and Light Club. She pulled a composite bow from her back and fitted an arrow of her own to it, readying to fire at E. L. Grimwade.

Alistair cast a haste spell upon the heroes, to include Shushitan and his favorite author. "Get down!" he called to E. L. Grimwade, interposing himself between her and the two erinyes devils. He hadn't had time to cast any of his normal protective spells - mage armor and shield, primarily - but he wasn't about to let any harm come to Miss Grimwade while he was in a position to prevent it! Unbidden, Ambrose flew over to a different rooftop where he could keep an eye on the dark-haired erinyes for his master. Unnoticed, E. L. Grimwade pulled a small notebook from her pocketbook and began furiously scribbling notes.

Cursing, Carp managed to extract himself from the sash binding up his feet and flung it aside. Nearby, the redheaded erinyes had pulled out a longsword of her own and was engaging Harlan in a swordfight. Her thin blade caught the paladin across the upper shoulder, opening a wound. But then Ageratum was suddenly there, under foot, pushing Alistair out of her way as she brought her short sword striking up at the redhead, in a flanking position with Shushitan. Her blade hit her deep in the thigh muscle, and Ageratum twisted the blade for good measure as she brought it back out.

Orchid, however, was more worried about the erinyes up on the rooftop. She spun and cast a baleful polymorph spell at the devil, hoping to transform her against her will into a harmless rabbit. But again, to her chagrin, the spell had absolutely no effect. Shushitan was likewise having no luck in getting his teeth around the redhead's arm, try as he might. But the erinyes on the rooftop had felt the attempt and if nothing else it distracted her momentarily from trying to attack E. L. Grimwade; instead, she cast a charm monster spell upon Orchid, hoping to be able to trick the druid into using her spells against her own allies. Fortunately for Orchid, her willpower was strong enough to avoid the spell's effects.

Chaevaris released her arrow and it went streaking across the distance to bury itself in the redhead's side, just below where her raven-dark wing grew from her back. She cried out in pain, and her momentary distraction allowed Harlan to strike her twice in rapid succession, the first of his blows channeling Pelor's holy energy into her fiendish body. She crumpled to the ground, unconscious but stable from the proximity to the Blood Mirror.

Alistair sent a magic missile spell streaking to hit the dark-haired erinyes still up on the roof, while Holyrood took care of getting E. L. Grimwade to safety, escorting her back to the carriage off to the side of the raised platform. Ageratum stepped forward and took a moment to slit the throat of the redhead; her sword's human bane enhancement might not have been tailor-made for this situation but it handled the task just fine.

Orchid tried dropping another lightning bolt from her previously-cast spell upon the remaining erinyes, but it too failed to do anything upon striking the devil. Chaevaris nocked another arrow into place and took careful aim up at the erinyes, waiting to fire until she could do so with maximum effectiveness. Shushitan bent down over the slain redhead and ripped a hunk of flesh from her arm, noting the meat was strangely spicy.

Belatedly, Harlan cast a bless spell over the assembled heroes - usually, it was a spell he cast before combat, but then again they usually had more of a warning that combat was imminent; this time, events began without much in the way of warning. But then he staggered under the effects of an unholy blight spell cast down from the rooftop by the erinyes; looking around him, he saw she'd managed to catch the other four heroes in its vile area of effect as well. Some were affected more than others, but all five heroes - and Shushitan as well - felt some level of queasiness from the vile spell.

Alistair responded with another magic missile spell, sending five bolts of force energy streaking up at the dark-winged devil. Ageratum placed a "pebboulder" from Alistair's stash into her sling and swung it up at the erinyes, striking her in the torso and causing the pebble to revert to its full boulder size, which nearly toppled the devil over the top of the roof. Orchid cast a flame strike spell up at her and this time she managed to overcome the devil's inherent resistance to spell energy, burning her with holy fire. Chaevaris released her arrow as the devil writhed under the flame strike spell's effects, catching her in the side. And Harlan, down below, summoned his celestial pegasus from across the planes; in a heartbeat, Nova materialized in the town square and the paladin leaped up upon the broad back of his trusty aerial steed.

With a leap forward, the erinyes took to the air, flying down at Chaevaris and casting a charm monster spell upon her, but the archer's mind shrugged off the spell's intended effects. And then Alistair brought her down with another casting of the tried-but-true magic missile spell; it seemed particularly satisfying to see the arrogantly beautiful devil take a face-plant straight into the village street. Ageratum bounded over to her in a moment, lifting her by the hair with one hand while the other brought her blade slicing across the devil's throat. And just that quickly, the threat was over, and Holyrood Carp deemed it safe to allow E. L. Grimwade to exit the carriage.

The elderly author's face was flushed with excitement; to her, this had been a sort of exciting field trip. "Ma'am?" asked Harlan politely, dropping from Nova's back and stepping over to the woman. "Would it be all right if I looked inside your handbag?" Miss Grimwade handed it over without question, and the paladin reached in and pulled out a flask made of iron. "Oh my!" exclaimed the author. "I never-- I'll bet that Tickler put that in there!" She went on to explain that Tickler was the manservant of Marquis Lorn D'Veih, and that she hadn't got on well at all with the man. "I wouldn't put it past him to sneak that into my handbag just to try to get me into trouble with the Marquis," she mused. Harlan explained that the iron flask was a powerful magic item that was often used to imprison extraplanar entities and that it was currently emitting a very powerful aura of evil. He volunteered to have the Trained Professional Adventurers deal with whatever fiend was trapped within, and Miss Grimwade gave him her consent. "I should like the flask back when you're done, however, young man," she said. "I shall want to send it back to the Marquis - I don't want him thinking I stole it from him."

"The Marquis who's a noted diabolist?" asked Alistair.

"Oh, he's actually quite nice, when you get to know him," assured the author. "I'm sure he'll understand." Alistair wanted to point out that he'd apparently already sent two erinyes devils to fetch the item back from her, but he didn't want to contradict the woman whose works he adored so much.

The rest of the day's events went quite well; Miss Grimwade dined at the Dark and Light Club and then watched Holyrood's performance, which he led off with the new "Elfy Danger Silverleaf" song that Alistair had penned for him earlier that morning. The author seemed very impressed, clapping in delight along with the rest of the audience. Alistair felt like his heart would burst with pride, but he was mostly overcome with a profound sense of relief that he hadn't embarrassed himself any further after his fit of mushmouthedness upon first speaking to his favorite author. And then, after the performance was over, Holyrood used his bardic talents to determine the iron flask likely contained a vrock - a vulture demon.

"We'll want to release the vrock under controlled conditions," determined Harlan.

"The Stone Keep?" suggested Chaevaris. "We'd be surrounded by clerics and paladins." That was agreed to be the safest bet; they'd prepare spells accordingly and have everyone in a circle, ready to let loose with everything they had once the vrock was released from its iron flask prison.

"It sounds very exciting!" exclaimed Miss Grimwade. "I shall very much look forward to observing the decanting!" Try as they might, the elderly author would not be dissuaded from observing the slaying of a vicious fiend on the Material Plane, so Alistair promised they'd take every precaution to ensure her safety. They decided they'd head over to the Stone Keep in the morning, and they delivered Miss Grimwade to her rooms in the local inn, promising to pick her up before heading off to the Stone Keep.

It was only when he had put his prized copy of Elfy Danger Silverleaf and the Greedy Goblins - now inscribed on the inside front cover with a personal note from the author - back on the bookcase and returned to his bedroom to disrobe and go to sleep that Alistair noticed his masterwork silver dagger was missing from its scabbard. He sputtered in indignation, but then decided he wasn't going to worry overly about it - it had been quite a wonderful day, stolen dagger notwithstanding.

- - -

After the adventure was over, I noted how this one was on the exact opposite side of the "prepare for battle" time scale; last week, we'd had unlimited time before heading into the halfling village overrun by yuan-ti, whereas this time we had no warning at all before battle was upon us.

Dan decided he'd "handwave" the battle with the vrock, figuring that with all of the precautions we were taking the outcome was pretty much a done deal, as we'd have five PCs all with readied actions before the vrock even knew it was in combat - as well as a host of clerics and paladins as backup.
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Who's the greatest adventurer who never did live?
Elfy Danger Silverleaf!
Who always has useful advice he can give?
Elfy Danger Silverleaf!

He was born in a forest a long time ago
He's adept with the longsword, and the axe, and the bow
If you find you're in trouble, then you know where to go:
To Elfy Danger Silverleaf!

He doesn't really have an origin story
He isn't into it for the fame or the glory
And the pictures in his books aren't overly gory
Elfy Danger Silverleaf!

There's adventure and excitement on each and every page
He's a good-looking elf, and he never seems to age
He's always in control, doesn't have fits of rage
Elfy Danger Silverleaf!

He travels alone, doesn't work with a crew
He helps those in need, as great heroes do
The books are for kids, but adults like 'em, too
Elfy Danger Silverleaf!

The Silverleaf fans are uniquely devout
It's a glorious day when a new book comes out
When it finally arrives, all the fans scream and shout
Elfy Danger Silverleaf!

You simply couldn't ask for a more loyal friend
A better role model has never been penned
And every single book has a moral in the end
Elfy Danger Silverleaf!
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PC Roster:
Ageratum Purslane, halfling rogue 9​
Alistair Mandelberen Pastlethwaite, human sorcerer 9​
Chaevaris Noarunal, elf archer 9​
Harlan Starblade, half-elf paladin 9​

NPC Roster:
Orchid, elf druid 9​

Game Session Date: 25 August 2023

- - -

Returning from the Stone Keep, after dispatching the vrock imprisoned in the iron flask that had been hidden inside E. L. Grimwade's pocketbook, the group returned to the upper story of the Dark and Light Club to see the dwarven miner Kasselban Picksmart waiting for them. He was not a patient dwarf and seemed offended that the heroes weren't there waiting for him just in case he might show up. But he got down immediately to business.

"Got me a proposal fer ye," he said without preamble, not even bothering to question the appearance of an elderly human woman among their number. The author had taken out her notepad and was scribbling furiously, trying to get everything down. "We sealed up that tunnel on th' lower level, what had that rift or whatever innit, only now we figgered we'd tap into th' existing mines from a diff'rent d'rection, like. We got th' area mapped out where we wanna start th' diggin' only here's th' catch - the valley's got a band 'f trolls, what went an' ate a few o' me surveyors an' chased off th' others. So if we're t' start diggin' there, I need them trolls taken out first, like. Whaddaya say? I'll pay good coin fer th' job."

"Define 'good coin,' if you please," countered Alistair. The young nobleman had a dislike of the dwarven skinflint, knowing his desire not to spend a single copper piece that wasn't absolutely necessary. "And why haven't you taken your proposal to the new Ghourmand Vale Rangers?"

"Bah!" scoffed the old dwarf. "They wanna charge me 5,000 gold fer th' job, an' we all know full well th' trolls'll make short work o' them newbies - we might as well dip 'em all in barbecue sauce afore we send 'em out into battle. Nah, I figger you folks are th' ones fer the job, an' 4,000 gold's a much better sum in any case."

"Better for you, that is," smirked Ageratum.

"How many trolls are we looking at?" asked Harlan.

"Well, that's th' thing - not quite sure o' that," admitted Kasselban. "Th' surveyors what made it back with their skin still intact, they kin say fer sure there's at least two, prolly more."

"So are you paying 2,000 a head?" asked Alistair.

"No, I'm payin' 4,000 fer the job: take out th' dangblasted trolls, no matter how many o' them there be!"

"4,000 pieces of gold to take out two, or even four trolls, seems sufficient," admitted Alistair. "But suppose there are really eight? Or twelve? Are you still only paying 4,000 for the lot?" A fierce haggling erupted shortly thereafter, with the final determination that Kasselban would pay 4,000 pieces of gold for the slaying of the first four trolls they might encounter in the valley where he wanted to dig, with an additional 500 pieces of gold for each troll thereafter. "But I want th' job done right away!" demanded Kasselban. "I'm not gonna give you a week or more ' go hunt up as many troll heads as ye can!"

"I assure you, we will not take advantage of the arrangement we have all agreed upon," assured Harlan. "We will head out this very morning and see to your troll trouble."

"And I insist upon accompanying you," piped up Miss Grimwade. "A troll hunt - this will be most enlightening!"

"It's likely to be very dangerous," warned Orchid. "Trolls are quite vicious." But the author would not be dissuaded, and she had Alistair on her side; the devoted fan of her works found it difficult to deny the author anything. He promised to keep her safe - and he had some ideas about how they could best take the trolls down easily. So, before they went to the valley to confront the trolls - a journey of about an hour on horseback, according to Kasselban - he took the group shopping, purchasing four flasks of oil, each in a cork-stoppered glass tube, and a vast amount of firewood. With the latter, he set about building four blazing bonfires - Chaevaris and Orchid had to assist him in getting them blazing just right, as they had each had years more experience in such things - and then the sorcerer shrunk each blazing fire down to a piece of cloth with four shrink item spells. Each cloth was then rolled up and inserted into an oil flask, and the four flasks were turned over to Ageratum, the group's most accurate item flinger. (She was also given the day's small pouch of "pebboulders" - boulders that had undergone their own magical shrinking several days ago and which would regain their normal size if not used up by the end of the day in any case.)

After Miss Grimwade assured everyone she could ride a horse and promised she would stay back from danger, she was allowed to saddle up on Law, Harlan's warhorse that Orchid often rode now that he had Nova, the celestial pegasus, to serve as his aerial steed. Orchid didn't mind giving up the horse she usually rode; she simply wildshaped into an eagle and joined Ambrose in flying ahead, ensuring the way was safe, and then waiting for the others to arrive on horseback before taking wing again. And in this manner, the group made it to the valley where the troll band was said to lair.

The valley had seen better days. Many of the trees were knocked over, as if something much larger than a troll had passed that way. And great patches of grass were blackened and burned. To Orchid's practiced eye, it looked as if it has been burned by lightning, as she explained once resuming her elven form upon reaching their destination.

"There's the cave where the trolls are said to lair," pointed out Chaevaris, indicating a narrow opening in the side of a rocky hill. It was only about three feet wide but stood a good eight feet tall - just barely large enough for a troll to squeeze into.

"We'd best prep for combat," suggested Harlan. He cast a bull's strength spell upon himself and a bless spell over the assembled group. Alistair cast mage armor spells upon himself and on Miss Grimwade, a shield spell upon himself, a flame arrow spell upon the group's various ammunition, and a series of five cat's grace spells upon each of the adventurers. Orchid cast a barkskin spell upon herself and another on Harlan, a longstrider spell on herself, and then followed them up with a greater magic fang spell on herself as well.

"Wait, not on Shushitan?" Chaevaris asked, surprised.

"No, this way I can be more effective in wildshaped forms," the druid replied. But she cast a flame blade spell in the meantime, expecting to initiate combat with the trolls in her elven form.

Ageratum passed a potion over to Miss Grimwade and suggested the author drink it down. "You'll become a slow-moving cloud of gas," she explained. "You won't be able to write down any notes, but you'll be pretty much safe from anything the trolls can try to do to you," she said. "And you can deactivate it at will, but once you do so, there's no going back to gaseous form, so only do so when the threat is over."

"I shall keep all my notes up here," E. L. Grimwade promised, tapping her temple before chugging down the potion and becoming a vaporous cloud. Harlan instructed Nova to keep the animals safe, Orchid told Shushitan the same, and Alistair had Ambrose remain with them and let him know if anything tried to bother them while the adventurers went into the cave network inside the hill. And then, single file, the heroes entered the troll den - after Alistair cast a haste spell upon them all.

Orchid went first, guided by the light from her flame blade spell. The passageway split almost at once; she chose to go to the right, and found herself in a wider cavern that split off into two different directions as well. Continuing on the right-hand path, she entered another cavern and could see a vast network of linked, smaller caves off to her left. She cast a spike stones spell, sending it out as far as it would go to the west. Chaevaris moved up beside her fellow elf as she was casting her spell and saw a pair of trolls at the edge of her vision. She quickly aimed her first arrow at one of them. Ageratum walked up beside Chaevaris, but she was halfway up the wall, standing sideways due to the power of her cloak of arachnida. She held the first of what Alistair had dubbed "troll grenades" in her hand, ready to throw.

Harlan was the next to step up to the rest of the group, the fiery arrow loaded into the flaming composite longbow he had taken from the body of an erinyes devil providing him all the light he needed. With the combined light sources, even his human eyes could make out the two shapes of the trolls in the distance, and he let fly with his arrow, striking one troll in the chest. Chaevaris held her own shot, waiting for the perfect moment. Alistair came up last, and he brought the words to a scorching ray spell to his lips, but squinted into the darkness, trying to make out which shapes were trolls and which were merely stone columns, the fused pillars formed by a stalactite and a stalagmite growing together.

The first of these two trolls started to run forward and was instantly struck by Chaevaris's released arrow, the shaft burying itself up to its feathers in the massive brute's chest. It also felt pain in the bottom of its feet as it raced forward over the spike stones, but didn't let a simple thing like temporary pain stop it - trolls well knew their tough hides regenerated such paltry damage in mere moments. But before it could close with Harlan, who stood in the front of the formation, Ageratum tossed her first "troll grenade" and struck the beast head-on. The glass vial shattered, spraying oil all over the troll, while the rolled-up cloth that had been inside plopped to the cave floor - and instantly resumed it full size as a roaring bonfire. The troll exploded in flames, roaring in surprise, fury, and a great deal of pain. Alistair then launched his twin scorching rays at it, stoking the fire with two additional gouts of flame of his own. The troll collapsed onto the cavern floor, piercing itself several more times over with hard-to-see spikes growing up from the solid stone beneath it. It passed out into merciful oblivion, its oil-drenched flesh still burning merrily away.

The second troll took off to the northeast, passing through and out of the spike stones area of effect (and leaving a trail of bloody footprints behind it). It met up with two others who had been fighting among themselves over the bones and scraps of the dwarven surveyors, and upon learning there were intruders in their den, raced around the corner to approach the heroes from the north. What luck! Food that delivered itself right to their mouths!

Orchid stepped back a bit and cast a flame strike spell down upon the two closest trolls, burning them in holy fire. Chaevaris spun in place and sent three arrows in rapid succession into the body of the closest troll, one arrow catching him literally right through the eye; he collapsed onto the floor as well, unconscious but stable due to the Blood Mirror in Harlan's belt pouch. Ageratum scampered up to the ceiling - out of reach of the trolls unless they could leap higher than she imagined - and tossed a second "troll grenade" onto the other troll to have been burned up in Orchid's flame strike spell. It broke against its warty flesh, covered the area all around him in oil, and it all went up in flames when the bonfire assumed its full size and shape. The troll cried out curses in its Giant dialect.

Harlan stepped to the side where he could get a bead on this burning troll and shot another two flaming arrows into its gut, relying upon the enhanced strength granted to him by the bull's strength spell to even be able to pull the erinyes' bowstring to its full length. A third arrow went astray, shattering against a back wall. And then Alistair brought it down with another scorching ray spell.

The last remaining troll, still leaving bloody footprints from all the spikes it had trodden upon, ran forward in a sprint and leaped over the burning corpse of one of its horrid kin, landing on a patch of oil-burning flame, and ended up close to Alistair (who gave a startled bleat of terror he hoped Miss Grimwade didn't hear). But then Orchid cast a produce flame spell and tossed the small ball of fire at the approaching troll, hitting him in his belly. Chaevaris hit him twice with two more burning arrows, and then Ageratum tossed the last two remaining "troll grenades" his way. They both struck true, some of the oil splashing onto the body of one of the unconscious trolls already spread out on the cavern floor, and the dual bonfires set both bodies ablaze. All four trolls were now unconscious and burning up, with the fire likely outpacing their ability to regenerate.

Unfortunately, the heroes didn't get a chance to verify that the trolls were all done for, or that in fact these four were the only trolls to be found in the cave network, for Alistair got a sudden shiver of fear running down his spine over the empathic link he shared with his grackle familiar. "Ambrose is in trouble!" he cried, turning to race back out of the troll lair the way he'd come.

Harlan made it outside first, and he quickly noted the animals had all raced away - and also the reason for their sudden panic, for there in the valley stood a massive, multilegged lizard, its body slim and serpentine, covered in scales of an iridescent blue. A forked tongue flickered in and out of the creature's wide mouth, as it tasted the burning troll flesh in the air. It turned to face Harlan, and the paladin let fly with a flaming arrow that struck the behir in its lower throat.

Alistair was beside the paladin in a moment, casting an ice storm spell that had hailstones crashing down upon the behir and extending in a circle reaching toward the heroes. That way, thought the sorcerer, if it tries coming at us it should be slowed up by the falling hail. Sure enough, the behir tried heading towards the adventurers, its many clawed feet slipping and sliding in the spell's area of effect as it continued dropping hailstones down upon the hapless beast. It breathed in, ready to send a flash of electricity bursting from its mouth - but before it could do so, Chaevaris shot a sleep arrow at the behir, striking it in its jaw. Unfortunately for the heroes, it managed to resist the magical sleep effect of the arrow - and then also overcame Orchid's attempt to turn it into a helpless rabbit with a baleful polymorph spell - but then Ageratum sent a "pebboulder" flying at it with her sling, the pebble striking its jaw and attaining its full, boulder size upon doing so. Harlan pumped another three flaming arrows into it in rapid succession, noting offhandedly that its aura was absent the telltale presence of evil he so often found among those he fought. Alistair finally dropped the behir where it stood with another casting of scorching ray, both gouts of flame striking it without fail.

"Well, that's a relief," Ageratum said as she marched over and went to slit its throat to make sure it was dead. In doing so, she unearthed a troll arm in its gizzard. "Ew!" she cried. "This thing's been eating trolls!"

"It's probably responsible for the blackened grass, too," suggested Orchid. "Smell that ozone in the air? I think the thing shoots lightning from its mouth, like a blue dragon." But with the behir dead (and the animals rounded back up), the heroes opted to return to the troll den to ensure none of the trolls had survived their burning. They hadn't, and a full exploration of the cavern system revealed a total of six troll nests but just the four dead trolls; it was assumed the other two had been eaten by the behir, whose stomach acid would have been just as effective in overcoming the famed troll regeneration as did fire.

"It's safe to return to human form, now, Miss Grimwade," suggested Alistair to the human-shaped cloud of smoke drifting nearby. E. L. Grimwade did just that, exclaiming, "That was quite a fight! I shall have to jot down my notes while they're fresh in my mind!" And then, turning to Alistair, she said, "And you can call me Edna Louise if you like, dear. All my friends do."

Alistair almost fainted right there on the spot upon realizing the author of the Elfy Danger Silverleaf books considered him a friend. He managed to remain conscious, but his throat dried up and he was visibly weak in the knees.

Orchid volunteered to wildshape back into an eagle and fly back to tell Kasselban the job had been completed. An hour and a half later, he showed up riding a mule with another mule behind him, loaded down with their promised gold. "Hmm, not bad, not bad," he exclaimed, looking over the heroes' handiwork.

"Money well spent, I should think," commented Alistair, who had found his voice in the meantime. "When you want a job done right, sometimes you really need a group of Trained Professional Adventurers!"

- - -

This adventure was unique in that none of the monsters - four trolls and a behir - managed to even close with us, let alone cause even a single hit point of damage. The "troll grenades" worked out rather well, we all agreed. And with the money we earned, some of us finally got the amounts we'd been saving for to upgrade our equipment: Harlan's having the holy weapon property added to his +1 flaming burst longsword (maybe now would be a good time to finally give the blade a name!); Ageratum's having a ring of invisibility made for her, but as she already wears two rings she's having it made in the form of a bracelet instead; and Alistair's finally got enough money to purchase a lesser metamagic rod of maximize spell, which ought to come in rather handy in the adventures to come.
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PC Roster:
Ageratum Purslane, halfling rogue 9​
Alistair Mandelberen Pastlethwaite, human sorcerer 9​
Chaevaris Noarunal, elf archer 9​
Harlan Starblade, half-elf paladin 9​

NPC Roster:
Orchid, elf druid 9​

Game Session Date: 6 September 2023

- - -

"What do you mean, there are no farmers at the Mistbrenner Farm?" asked Alistair, thoroughly confused. "The Vale's being supplied with pork again - isn't that coming from there?"

"Well, not exactly," admitted Karl Armbust, the leader of the Guild of Farmers for Ghourmand Vale. "The pigs and the other animals that were being raised by the Mistbrenners, they've all been distributed to other local farms. But the Mistbrenner Farm, there's nobody there no more. Nobody wanted to move into the place, what with the rumors of vampires and all."

"But we slew the vampires," explained Harlan.

"Well, you know how superstitious some folks can be," replied Karl.

"So if there's nobody at the Mistbrenner Farm," reasoned Ageratum, "then there's no reason we couldn't pop over there and give it a look-see for ourselves." E. L. Grimwade had expressed an interest in touring the location, for she wanted to see for herself exactly where the Trained Professional Adventurers had taken down the vampires and the evil clerics that had been at the farm.

"Knock yourselves out," replied Karl.

The heroes agreed to take the elderly author out to see the caves beneath the farm, but they had several conditions. First of all, seeing how well the potion of gaseous form had worked for her when they had gone to take care of the troll nest, they insisted she carry another such potion on her at all times, and be ready to drink it down at the first sign of any danger. "But the place is abandoned," argued Miss Grimwade. "That nice young man said so himself."

"Abandoned places make excellent lairs for monsters new to the area," countered Chaevaris. "There's no telling what we might find out there that's moved in during the months since we were last there."

"Very well, I agree to your stipulation," assured the author.

"And you're to stay back, should there be any danger," added Alistair. He, more so than any others in their group of heroes, did not want anything to happen to the one person on the planet capable of penning more Elfy Danger Silverleaf books.

"I promise," Miss Grimwade replied.

"Very well then," agreed Harlan. "Let's gather up the horses, hit the potion shop, and then we can be on our way." The Mistbrenner Farm, he knew, was just down the road a bit from the Stone Keep - about two hours on horseback. Miss Grimwade picked up two potions of gaseous form, giving one to Ageratum as a replacement for the one the little halfling had given her at the troll lair, and then the group was on its way. Earlier that day, three of the heroes had made some major purchases of their own: Harlan had had a holy enchantment placed upon his flaming burst longsword at the Temple of Pelor, so now his trusty blade would be especially dangerous to creatures of an evil bent. Ageratum had purchased a bracelet of invisibility and wore it on her left wrist, so with a touch she could fade from view and remain unseen until she attacked a foe. And Alistair had finally saved up enough money to purchase a lesser metamagic rod of maximize spell, so three times a day he could channel a spell through the magic rod to make it as effective as possible.

The trip to the farm was uneventful, but the group had no sooner rode over by the house on the way to the barn, to stow their riding mounts, when the front door to the main farmhouse burst open and out staggered a panic-stricken man wearing overalls and screaming as if the very devils of Hell were chasing him. Harlan slipped from the saddle of his celestial pegasus Nova and approached the man, his paladin's aura of courage helping to calm the farmer. "What seems to be the trouble, sir?" he asked, hand straying to the hilt of his sword in case anything came out of the house trying to catch the frightened farmer.

"It was just a pitcher!" he exclaimed. "I was just gonna help myself to a pitcher I knew Bea had in her kitchen - they're all dead, so it's not like they'd need it, right? Only...only after I had it in my hand and turned to leave, she suddenly was just there, in front of me, her skin all pulled tight on her skull - and I could see right through her!"

"Bea Mistbrenner?" Harlan asked to be sure. In life, Bea had been an evil cleric, and the one responsible for bringing a bunch of the undead the heroes had encountered in the caverns beneath the farm - ghouls and zombies - to unholy life. "She's returned, as a ghost?"

"It was her, all right," affirmed Darlan Burmpstorn, a neighboring farmer from just down the road.

"Then you'd best return to your own home," suggested the half-elf paladin. "We'll take care of the ghost haunting this place." Still sitting astride Harlan's borrowed warhorse law, E. L. Grimwade rubbed her hands together in glee at the thought of getting to see the Trained Professional Adventurers take care of an actual ghost haunting. Darlan needed no further prompting - he was off like a shot, heading down the road.

"Nova, please lead the other mounts to the barn, and stay with them to keep them safe," the paladin asked of his aerial steed. Nova nodded his understanding and turned to lead the others to the barn. Orchid had her timber wolf Shushitan accompany them, and likewise Alistair sent his grackle familiar Ambrose off to watch over the other animals as well. In the meantime, Harlan made a complete circuit around the wooden farmhouse, concentrating on the emanations coming from within.

"Anything?" Chaevaris asked when he had made his full circuit.

"One source of evil," the paladin replied, having been able to sense that much through the wooden walls of the building. "I'd recommend we cast our battle spells at this time." He cast a bull's strength spell upon himself and a bless spell over the entire group. Alistair cast a cat's grace spell upon each of the five heroes, the granted himself and E. L. Grimwade a mage armor spell, then cast a shield spell upon himself and a flame arrow spell upon the group's assembled ammunition, the latter spell being the first spell he cast using his new metamagic wand. The flames on their ammunition would burn the hottest they could.

Orchid was still in eagle form; she'd wildshaped back in Ghourmand Vale, as she had once again allowed the author to ride Law, the horse she normally borrowed from Harlan when she was in elven form. She too did a quick circuit around the house, noting there were no open windows, but there were two chimneys. She flew up to the western chimney, dropping like a stone down the vertical shaft of bricks before flapping out of the fireplace and into the open room beyond. There, at the far end of the room, stood the ghostly figure of Bea Mistbrenner, still wearing the armor she'd been wearing when slain in the caverns below. Orchid suppressed a shiver of fear upon seeing the ghostly apparition. Screeching the words to a cure serious wounds spell, she flew directly at the ghost, hoping to channel the spell into her foe as she knew healing energy burned like acid to the undead. However, Bea's form was immaterial and the eagle passed right through it, the spell still ready and active on her talons, not yet discharged.

Chaevaris had an arrow nocked and ready to shoot, and was currently aiming in the direction of the front door. Alistair was likewise pointing his metamagic rod at the door, ready to let fly with a magic missile spell if the ghost passed through the door.

Ageratum pushed open the door, activating her bracelet and fading from view as she entered the room. She felt a trickle of fear course down her spine as she did so, no doubt a result of some ghostly attack of which she was only peripherally aware. She started climbing up the nearest wall, and not a moment too soon for Harlan soon charged right past where she'd been standing, racing towards the ghost and swinging his flaming blade her way. But just as Orchid's eagle body had passed harmlessly through Bea's undead form, so too did the paladin's sword, leaving the ghost none the worse for wear. And then, just that quickly, Bea was gone - she'd disappeared completely from sight in the passing of a heartbeat. Of course, Harlan knew full well that it simply meant the ghost had passed from the Material Plane to the Ethereal Plane, and could pop back into the physical world at any moment - and from any direction. He maneuvered himself into a corner, trying to see in all directions, awaiting an attack that didn't come.

Chaevaris and Alistair entered the house warily, likewise expecting an attack at any moment. But as the seconds passed by, the sorcerer decided he might as well cast a haste spell upon the assembled group - to include E. L. Grimwade, who had cautiously entered the room once the heroes had all done so and reported back the ghost was apparently gone. "She'll likely be back, though, so remain at the ready!" cautioned Harlan. After half a minute of impatient waiting, Alistair - who had noticed the rooms inside were sparkling clean, as if someone were still living inside the dwelling, and deducing the Mistbrenners might not even realize they were dead - started kicking ashes from the fireplace upon the freshly-swept floor. Then, for good measure, he started tipping over chairs that had been placed around the dining room table. "I say! What a dump!" he called out, hoping to antagonize Bea into remanifesting in the room, where there were five heroes ready to attack her. "If there's anybody living here, they certainly don't know how to keep a place looking nice!"

But when the ghostly attack finally came, it wasn't from Bea, but rather from her husband Lug - an evil fighter they'd slain shortly before slaying his wife, in the caverns below the farmhouse. He manifested right behind Alistair and Miss Grimwade, moaning a mournful wailing the likes of which the sorcerer had never heard before. Alistair's blood turned immediately to ice in his veins, and his nerveless fingers dropped the metamagic rod he'd been holding. Then, with a whimper of fear, he turned to his right and dashed straight back out of the open doorway. Miss Grimwade, whose mind had been powerful enough to disregard the fearfulness induced by the mournful wailing, tried to grab at the sorcerer's robes but he was too quick - his speed powered by the haste spell he'd cast upon everyone not too long ago. Chaevaris, in the corner with her bow drawn, was in no position to try to stop him, nor was she within arm's distance of his panicked flight.

Chaevaris released her arrow, which passed through Lug's insubstantial body to embed itself in the wall. Orchid flew straight at the ghost, her cure serious wounds spell still active in her talons, and she managed to discharge the positive into his ghostly form. She then dropped back into her elven form, finding the eagle's body too limiting inside the environment of a farmhouse interior. Chaevaris reloaded her bow and fired a volley of arrows into Lug's body, actually connecting with two of them; she wasn't quite sure what made the third one pass harmlessly through his body when the other two hit, but she wasn't going to take time to worry about it right then. And judging from the ghost's reaction, the arrow volley did it: when he disappeared from view, the archer got the idea it was due to his being slain rather than just simply sliding across the planes.

Alistair was still fleeing at top speed out in the yard, but Orchid thought she had a way to stop him. Casting an entangle spell around the fleeing sorcerer, she smiled in triumph as the grasses and roots sprang up to wrap around his limbs, holding him in place. That, she figured, ought to hold him in place until the ghost's fear-inducing panic had run its course. But she hadn't counted on the fact that Alistair knew the dimension door spell, the casting of which required only spoken arcane syllables. With the uttering of a magical phrase, Alistair was no longer entangled by the druid's spell; he was hundreds of feet further way, still running as fast as his legs would take him. And he could cast the dimension door spell four more times in rapid succession, at the end of which time he'd be over half a mile away.

Harlan and Ageratum had been exploring the bedroom, seeing the trap door with the ladder to the caverns below was wide open. They returned to the room where the others had been fighting Lug, but by the time they arrived the ghost had been slain. They looked around, waiting for Bea to manifest. And while it took a bit, she finally did remanifest in the central room, her face looking like a screaming skull upon which her skin had been pulled more tightly than would have been possible on a living head. Chaevaris and Miss Grimwade - who had yet to fulfill her promise to drink down her potion of gaseous form when danger appeared - both managed to choke down the fear that threatened to overcome their senses, and the archer even got off an arrow which passed harmless through the undead cleric's insubstantial body. Orchid cast a cure moderate wounds spell and tried to touch the ghost, but she also passed through her body, noting a distinct chill in the air where the ghost stood.

Harlan raced up, ready to attack Bea with his flaming sword, but by the time he got there Chaevaris had dispatched her with another flurry of flaming arrows. "Shall we get out of here?" asked Ageratum. "That's both of them dead."

"I still haven't seen the caverns where you dispatched the vampires!" argued E. L. Grimwade. But Orchid had stepped back outside (where she dismissed her entangle spell), and the others followed suit. They saw Ambrose flying off in the distance, trying to follow Alistair as best he could, although he was powered merely by the strength of his wings and Alistair kept leaping a total of 760 feet away with each casting of the dimension door spell.

"Boy, that ghost got him but good," observed Ageratum.

"It is a temporary effect," remarked Harlan. "Once it wears off, I'm sure he'll return as quickly as he can. In the meantime, we must assume the ghosts will return as well, although it takes them several days to reform their immaterial bodies after being 'slain.'"

"What do you mean?" argued Ageratum. "Chaevaris killed them both!"

"As long as whatever trigger caused them to return as ghosts is still in effect, they will return in due time," Harlan informed the little halfling.

"Well, what if us still being alive is this trigger - then what?" asked Ageratum. "Are they going to keep coming back until we're dead?"

"Maybe if there wasn't anything left for them to come back to...." suggested Orchid.

"What are you suggesting?" asked Harlan.

"We could burn down the farmhouse. Bea was keeping it all nice and clean inside as if they were still living in it...maybe if it was all ashes, they wouldn't return." Harlan agreed it was worth a shot, but at Miss Grimwade's insistence he agreed to take her down to the vampire caverns and show her around before they set fire to the buildings above.

"Hold on," hissed Chaevaris. While the others had been talking over their options, the archer had held an arrow at the ready and had been focusing her attention through the open doorway into the farmhouse. "I just heard something inside - like something being dragged across the floor."

Orchid peered inside the farmhouse but couldn't see anything. Still, just to be safe, she cast a spike growth spell that caused sharp, wooden splinters the size of thorns to stand up from the wooden floors in the majority of the farmhouse - all but the bedroom, mostly. The sudden stabbing of spikes below her caused the invisible spirit naga to cease her slithering across the floor, and she turned her head to glare at the heroes standing outside on the front lawn.

Chaevaris sent a trio of flaming arrows into the general vicinity of where she thought she'd heard the dragging noise come from. All three arrows struck true, and now the invisible naga had three flaming arrows seemingly floating in the air, giving away her general vicinity, although it did nothing to clue the heroes in as to what kind of foe they might be fighting. E. L. Grimwade still failed to drink down her potion, but in a nod to common sense she backed up behind the heroes, farther away from the farmhouse.

Ageratum slapped the bracelet on her wrist and went invisible, then entered the farmhouse and scampered up the wall, heading to the ceiling with the spider-climbing abilities granted to her by the cloak of arachnida she wore. Harlan charged the invisible naga, ignoring the spikes he trod across during his charge, and swung his flaming sword at the floating arrows. But as is often the case when fighting an invisible foe, the sword-swing missed its target. The naga, planning to attack and not wanting her exact location to be revealed when she did so, cast a displacement spell upon herself. Harlan, hearing the sibilant hissings of the spellcasting, swung again at where he thought the foe might be, but missed again. The spirit naga retreated to the corner of the room, slicing her tender belly scales on the numerous thorn-sized spikes rising up from the floor as she did so, but the paladin's sword had come uncomfortably close that last time.

Orchid cast a summon swarm spell in the whole area where the floating arrows hovered, and the naga's form was made clear by the silhouette formed by the hundreds of tiny, biting spiders covering it over her entire length. Chaevaris sent a trio of arrows flying at the naga, but while it looked like they should have all been straight on target, not a single one hit the naga (who, thanks to the displacement spell, was about two feet away from where the archer had been aiming).

Half a mile away, the panic that had overtaken Alistair's brain suddenly wore off, right after he had cast his last dimension door spell. He stopped where he stood, looked back the way he had come, and realized he'd be making the return trip on foot, with no magical assistance; even his haste spell had worn off by that time. Still, he realized the extra time it would take to get back to the others would give him plenty of time to decide what he was going to say to them after his embarrassing act of pure cowardice - and in front of Miss Edna! He wasn't sure how he would ever face his favorite author again, and started rehearsing a resignation speech; perhaps he wasn't cut out for the adventuring life after all.

Back in the farmhouse, Ageratum was up on the ceiling and was planning on casting a web spell across the area where the naga sat coiled for battle, but there seemed to be some question about whether or not the serpentine foe was really there or not - she'd watched as several of Chaevaris's arrows went straight through the outline formed by the numerous spiders without affecting the naga at all. Harlan swung again with his sword and missed, causing him to have to swallow down an almost-released curse - involving words no good-hearted paladin should ever utter aloud. Then the naga struck like a snake, hitting the paladin and releasing the ghoul touch spell she'd readied, but fortunately for Harlan he managed to avoid the spell's effects altogether. The naga had no such disinclinations against swearing, but she did it in the Draconic tongue.

Ageratum finally decided to cast her web spell and simply hope for the best. The webbing stretched from one wall to the adjoining one, covering the space in between - a space which included the naga's true location, disguised as it was by the displacement spell. But while the sticky strands impeded her movement, they did not hold her fast; she still thought she'd be able to wriggle out of the spell's effects. But the naga was still covered in spiders, and the venom from their combined bites was finally having some sort of effect, for she was starting to feel a bit weaker.

Chaevaris sent another flurry of arrows over at the naga, and this time one of them actually struck her, although it was likely by accident more than careful aiming, for the displacement spell still masked the naga's actual location a bit. Ageratum, on the ceiling, tossed a pebboulder down at the naga, but it missed. But it was Harlan, once again, who braved the spikes from the floor to swing at the naga with his holy flaming burst longsword, and the wide swings he made allowed his blade to cut into the naga without knowing her exact true location. Better yet, he accidentally cut her open at the gullet, exposing a handful of gemstones she had swallowed as a digestive aid. So he had not only slain their current foe (although the heroes still had no idea what the naga had been doing working with the ghosts of two slain humans who had been in league with vampires earlier), he had even unearthed a bit of treasure for the heroes.

After Orchid released her spider swarm and spike growth spells and a quick search of the farmhouse revealed no more enemies, Harlan led Miss Grimwade down the ladder in the bedroom to show her the cavern where they had fought and slain the vampires. A quick perusal of the belowground chambers evinced evidence that the naga had apparently been lairing down there - there was a shrine of some type manufactured of bones and dung, which Harlan vaguely recalled had a likely reference to Iuz - and the author, pleased with what she had seen, agreed to return topside. Once everyone was back outside, the heroes put all of the buildings to the flame, wishing to burn up everything on the farm to hopefully prevent the ghosts from returning.

Alistair wandered up as they were getting their animals out of the barn so they could set it ablaze as well. "Hello," he said sheepishly. "Listen, I must apologize for my behavior--"

Harlan placed a hand upon the sorcerer's shoulder. "It was a magical effect, something that could have happened to any of you. If I had been closer at hand, I may have been able to help you overcome the unnatural fear - but that's what it was, an unnatural fear: it has no bearing on your courage or your abilities as a member of our adventuring team."

The paladin's words soothed Alistair's worries like a balm, and he felt better at once. "Well then," he said, "if nobody has any objections, I'm going to cast shrink item spells upon five of these burning fires, so we can make more of those troll grenades!"

- - -

This was a less-than-enjoyable adventure, for several reasons. On my part, one failed Will save meant my PC spent the rest of the entire adventure panicked and fleeing at top speed, so he never even got to fight any of the three foes in the adventure. That pretty much sucked. There was also a bit of "rules combat" when the spirit naga had both invisibility and displacement spells active, but the elves could hear the naga's general location, and Chaevaris has some archer feats that would have helped her target the invisible foe, but Dan ruled against it out of hand. We also had some issues with how the naga's displacement spell shunted the (invisible) image of not only herself, but also several hundred spiders that had been "added to the mix" on a later round; we're pretty sure a more accurate scenario would have involved the (invisible) image of the naga displaced two feet away like normal, but the spider-covered image showing the naga's true location (that was the only reason Logan had had Orchid cast the spider swarm spell in the first place, using live spiders as a form of glitterdust or faerie fire).

Dan also ran into some problems of his own making: he had planned on having the three encounters happen in the caverns below, but then added the pitcher-stealing farmer at the last minute to entice us to enter the farmhouse (which was unnecessary, as we were already planning on using the ladder from the bedroom to get to the caverns, rather than have a 60-year-old author jump down a dry well, as we had done the first time we explored the Mistbrenner Farm), but also to telegraph that there were ghosts about. That forced him to plop Bea upstairs for us to fight, and then when she shunted to the Ethereal Plane, he actually had her spend the time necessary to go back downstairs, rouse the others and explain there were intruders upstairs, and then have them make their way upstairs to fight us. That resulted in about four rounds of nobody doing anything upstairs but hold readied actions, waiting for the ghosts to appear, which got rather boring quickly. (Vicki was ready to have our PCs leave at that point, as we were there to show E. L. Grimwade where we had fought the vampires, not expose her to the dangers of ghosts.)
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PC Roster:
Ageratum Purslane, halfling rogue 9​
Alistair Mandelberen Pastlethwaite, human sorcerer 9​
Chaevaris Noarunal, elf archer 9​
Harlan Starblade, half-elf paladin 9​

NPC Roster:
Orchid, elf druid 9​

Game Session Date: 13 September 2023

- - -

"Are you sure about this?" asked Alistair. "You do realize that the women there are...rumored to be of somewhat...ill repute. They say they even take their clothes off. For money."

"I'm well aware," reassured Edna Louise Grimwade. "And it isn't like I've never been in a burlesque club before." She smiled and leaned over conspiratorially to the young sorcerer. "I haven't always been a prim and proper old lady, you know." She winked knowingly at Alistair, who immediately blushed. "It will give me a chance to unwind from the things I've seen with your little adventuring band."

"Very well," Alistair agreed nervously. "When did you want to go to this 'Topsy-Curvy Club?'"

"No time like the present!" enthused the writer, grabbing up her pocketbook.

"Are you headed out?" asked Ageratum, seeing the two gathering up their gear. "Where to?" When Alistair told her, the little halfling just grinned. "You do realize that's the place that used to be the Wild Coast Club, right? Where we stole back Blorkane's stuff, and we saw that vampire as we were leaving."

"That's the one," remarked E. L. Grimwade. "I wanted to see another site where you've had your adventures," she explained to Alistair.

"Ah, yes, well then," sputtered Alistair, feeling better about it already. His favorite author merely wanted to see for herself the locations where some of the deeds performed by the Trained Professional Adventurers went down - that made a lot more sense!

"I'll get the others!" Ageratum announced, dashing off to fetch the rest of the adventuring team, despite Alistair's protestations - he wasn't quite sure how he was going to get a paladin of Pelor into a club where women stripped down to nearly nothing (if the stories he'd heard about such places were even remotely true). But Harlan insisted that they all come along, and in full combat gear - he saw their group as E. L. Grimwade's bodyguards for the duration of her stay and wanted to ensure nothing happened to her while she was under their watch. And her stay was coming to a rapid conclusion, for she'd announced she was about ready to return to her home shortly, in a day or two, for she was eager to start writing her next book after having seen a bit of adventuring first hand.

And so it was that the group of six found themselves walking over to the Topsy-Curvy Club: four women, a holy paladin of Pelor, and a young nobleman looking nervous at the prospect of entering such an establishment. Ageratum warned them all to keep their eyes open, for the club was rumored to be the headquarters of the new thieves guild that had sprung up after the Wild Coasters fled, seeking a new place where they could ply their ignoble trade without falling prey to undead vampires. "If we're lucky, we might even meet up with the thieves who took your silver dagger, Alistair," the halfling suggested. The sorcerer would be well and truly pleased to get his dagger back; he didn't use it very often, but it was a gift from the elven parents of the young girl they'd rescued from kobolds early in their adventuring careers, and Alistair would hate to meet up with them again and have to explain why their treasured gift was missing. To that end, he kept the dagger's leather sheath stashed inside his vest, where the missing dagger wouldn't be so noticeable as it would be if he continued wearing an empty scabbard on his belt.

By group agreement, Chaevaris, Alistair, and Harlan were the first to enter the Topsy-Curvy Club, as they were the ones who had gotten a good look at the dwarf who had stolen Alistair's dagger, the other dwarf who'd been casing Harlan but opted not to try to steal anything from the sharp-eyed holy man, and the wizard who had been leading the dwarves on to their next targets. Right before entering the building, Alistair cast hasty mage armor spells on himself and Miss Edna. Harlan stepped inside the bar and scanned the customers, but didn't recognize the dwarf who'd approached him in the crowd, although there was a different dwarf just about falling off his chair in a drunken stupor who looked somewhat similar. But then Alistair entered the bar and recognized the drunken dwarf as the one he'd been talking to in the crowd when E. L. Grimwade first appeared in Ghourmand Vale. "That's him!" he whispered over his shoulder to Chaevaris. "That's the one who stole my dagger!" He frowned in irritation at the dwarf, not only because he was a lowly thief but also because it seemed he could barely hold his liquor - here it was, the sun not even having gone down completely yet, and he was already falling-down drunk!

Harlan used his paladin training to scan the auras of the customers in the bar. He picked up low levels of evil as might be expected in such an establishment; nobody serving demon lords or sacrificing babies to Arch-Devils, just the kind of "looking out for number one" mannerisms so common in the lower districts of any city. Ageratum entered the bar next and a half-clad waitress asked her if she wanted a drink. "Sure," she replied. "You can put it on her tab." She pointed a thumb over in Miss Edna's direction; this venture had been her idea, after all.

Chaevaris, in the meantime, walked over behind the drunken dwarf, Burkin, noting he wasn't wearing any armor and didn't seem to have any weapons on him. If he were in fact a member of a thieves guild, he was a fairly poor example. She slipped her hand to her quiver, reaching for a sleep arrow with which she could stab the dwarf if he tried anything. Alistair followed, disappointed that the dwarf didn't have the silver dagger on him - he'd have liked to have caught the thief red-handed.

Just then, a wave of spell energy of some type went cascading across the bar, and the five heroes - and Miss Edna - put a hand to their brows, fighting off what seemed like a sudden headache. Somebody nearby had cast some kind of a spell at them, and while it seemed to have failed - there were no debilitative effects that any of them could see - there was also no indication of who in the bar might have cast it. Ambrose, riding upon Alistair's shoulder, squawked loudly in irritation, the grackle having likewise felt the ineffectual mental attack.

"Excuse me," said Orchid to a nearby waitress. "I would like to see the manager." The serving girl pointed a finger down the steps leading down from the bar into a long corridor of columns. "She's down there," the girl replied. Orchid nodded her thanks and started down the steps.

Harlan was still examining the auras of the customers in the bar and was focusing on where the most evil resided. He was a bit surprised to see Burkin's aura free of the taint of evil, for he was fairly certain both dwarves in the crowd had "pinged" as evil to his senses when he'd first seen the two. There were two women and one man in the bar registering slight evil in the bar area, all three of them human; dismissing them, Harlan turned to the stairs and followed Orchid. A woman's voice could be heard coming from down there: Mabel, the leader of the Topsy-Curvy Club, entertaining a rich client. "Our girls are the absolute best in the area," she boasted. "Pick one out, and see for yourself!"

Burkin, up in the bar area, had raised his head and didn't look quite as ready to pass out from overindulgence in ale as he had been a moment ago. He grabbed a passing girl, haggled a quick price, and got up to slink off in the back using a different set of stairs - only to find Chaevaris blocking his way, sleep arrow in hand (although her bow was still on her back). And then Alistair cast a touch of idiocy spell on the dwarf, hoping to addle his senses to the point where he'd be easier to interrogate. "I believe you have something that belongs to me: a silver dagger, of elven make, with an ornate design upon the blade," he accused.

"I don't got nothin' what ain't mine," Burkin slurred, dropping back into an "I'm so drunk I can barely stand" routine. Chaevaris was fairly certain the dwarf was faking it, so she stabbed him with the point of her magic arrow in a meaty thigh. She'd hoped he'd have passed out into a blissful slumber, so the group could take him outside and interrogate him at their own leisure, but he just roared, leaped up onto the table before him, scrambled across it, and ran for the door. Alistair whipped his rapier from his belt but was too slow, for the dwarf had already made it to the door to the street. But fortunately, Miss Edna was there and she snagged his ankle with her cane, causing him to face-plant into the street just outside the club. Ambrose leaped from Alistair's shoulder and flew over to Burkin, dropping a load of white poop on the dwarf's head, then flew off to the branch of a nearby tree to avoid any immediate retaliation. Burkin rose on his hands and knees, blood dripping from his nose - and immediately got another sleep arrow in the keister, this time propelled by Chaevaris's powerful composite longbow. He went down - hard - and this time didn't get back up. Alistair went over to pull him back into the club, afraid of attracting curious onlookers. But while the dwarf was definitely unconscious, he didn't appear to be sleeping. After pointing this out to Chaevaris, the archer replied, "Those sleep arrows were the worst purchase I ever made."

Down at the colonnade, Orchid and Harlan were observing a whole bunch of female employees chatting up customers and ensuring they all had drinks in their hands. A wizard with a raven perched on his shoulder approached Mabel and scowled something in her ear, but then she was also approached by a waitress from upstairs, telling her boss about the commotion going on in the bar area. But Mabel focused in on one specific detail, and gushed, "E. L. Grimwade is here? By the gods!" She went running up the stairs to go meet her favorite author, surprised to see her here in her burlesque club. The scowling wizard in dark robes stood his ground, hands clenched and staring at Harlan, who was still concentrating on evil auras. He cast a protection from evil spell upon himself, while trying not to notice how little clothing the employees of this establishment actually wore. Any strip show they might perform would likely be over in about ten seconds, he reckoned, then did his best to turn his mind from such thoughts. He didn't notice when the wizard's raven flew off from his master's shoulder and advanced further back, by another dwarf, this one wearing leather armor and sporting a short sword on his belt. They ducked further into the recesses around the far corner and departed from immediate view.

Ageratum finished her drink, set the glass aside, and surreptitiously activated her new bracelet, slinking away into invisibility. Then, using the power of her cloak of arachnida, she walked up the side wall of the stairway and headed over by Orchid and Harlan. Orchid had a baleful polymorph spell readied, in case anyone tried attacking Harlan, but it seemed as if the customers were too focused on the scantily-clad women and the women took no notice of a Pelorian paladin in full armor in their midst. But then the dark-clad wizard, Elway, stepped forward as if to confront Harlan. However, upon reaching the paladin, he brushed past him and went up the stairs in Mabel's wake.

Mabel, in the bar, had pinned E. L. Grimwade and was gushing about how much she enjoyed her stories. Edna, for her part, seemed genuinely pleased to talk to a fan and didn't even seem to notice the way Mabel was dangerously close to bursting out of her tight-fitting top. Elway entered the bar and Chaevaris, noting his approach as she helped prop Burkin against a back wall of the bar, saw something odd about his face: it was immediately recognizable as that of the wizard she had accosted in the crowd during Miss Grimwade's arrival speech, but then it changed, blurring for a moment before taking on the countenance of a similar, but definitely distinct face from that which she'd seen when he first entered the bar area. There were several perfectly valid reasons this could have happened, for the archer was well aware of the existence of such spells as disguise self and alter self, but instead she blurted out her gut feeling: "Alistair--that wizard's a doppelganger!" She voiced her suspicion in the Elven tongue, knowing full well Alistair spoke that language (if only barely passably), and not recalling that a doppelganger would be able to read her mind regardless of what language she spoke her thoughts aloud.

Chaevaris's outburst brought Harlan and Orchid (both of whom spoke fluent Elven) running back up the stairs, the paladin unsheathing his holy flaming burst longsword on the way. Even Ageratum reversed course to see what was going on upstairs, although she remained on the ceiling so as not to be jostled by anyone on the ground, for she was still invisible. When she got there, she saw Alistair butting in on Edna and Mabel's conversation to accuse her employee Burkin of having stolen his elven silver dagger, and Mabel offering her condolences but claiming ignorance of the alleged theft. "I'll have you know I'm a close personal friend of E. L. Grimwade," the sorcerer declared, hoping to throw a little weight around on the basis of the famed author's name. Edna patted Alistair's hand in an "I'll handle this, dear," manner. "Would it be possible," she asked the owner of the Topsy-Curvy Club, "for us to get a tour of your facility?"

"But of course!" gushed Mabel, only too happy to show her favorite author around. Alistair fully intended to accompany Miss Edna on the tour; he especially wanted to check out this Burkin's room, where he hoped to find his silver dagger.

"I don't think--" began Elway, but Chaevaris cut him off. "We know you're a doppelganger!" she said. "Just what kind of a scam is going on here? You know what? It doesn't matter; we just want the dagger back!"

Elway frowned at the elven archer, as if reading her mind for the truth of the matter. He was apparently satisfied by what he saw, for his manner changed abruptly. "I'm afraid we don't have your dagger. We" - and here he indicated the unconscious "Burkin" propped against the wall - "are in the employ of the new thieves guild. We impersonate individual members and make ourselves publicly seen, thus establishing an alibi should any of their activities come to light. Your dagger, if it were indeed stolen by Burkin, is no doubt with the real dwarf now."

"And he lives here? This is the new guild headquarters?" demanded Alistair.

"He and his brother Pipkin do in fact live here, but this club is in no way associated with the thieves guild," affirmed the doppelganger posed as Elway. "And we doppelgangers do not live here; our presence here is just a means of establishing an alibi for Burkin and the real Elway." Mabel's jaw had dropped open during this admission; she'd had no idea there were doppelgangers in her midst.

"Very well," said Chaevaris, believing the doppelganger. She stepped away from the unconscious "Burkin," allowing the fake "Elway" to pick him up and lift him over a shoulder. Once he had his burden in place, he nodded his appreciation at the archer and she nodded back in return. Then the two doppelgangers were out the door and gone.

"About that tour?" asked Miss Edna in a sweet, old-lady voice.

"Yes, of course," Mabel replied, glad to be about something a bit more mundane that she could handle. She led the group down the stairs, through the colonnade, and over to the stage where the dancers performed their maneuvers for the crowd. Taking them backstage, she advanced down a hallway, turning a corner once she got to an area sporting two large statues of robed figures, each about nine feet tall. "This is the room I've been renting to Burkin and Pipkin," she said, opening the door with a key she removed from her cleavage. Surprisingly, the room was all but bare, with only a pair of beds and a wooden dresser. "They've moved out all of their stuff!" she exclaimed, gasping in outrage. "And they haven't paid me last week's rent!"

They exited the empty room and stood in the narrow hallway when the real elven wizard Elway stepped out of his own nearby room, over by the two massive statues. He began combat by casting a slow spell on everybody lined up before him, but the Trained Professional Adventurers (including Ambrose) were able to shrug off the intended effects; only Mabel and Edna were affected. But now that the first attack maneuver had been implemented, it was on! "Get him!" commanded Harlan. He could tell, even at this range, that the auras of both the dark-robed wizard and his raven familiar - the latter currently perched upon one of the tall statues - reeked of evil.

Ageratum, just now getting her first good look at the elven spellcaster, immediately recognized him as someone who used to hang out with Shambles, a bumbling, low-life thief the group had run across several times now, only to see him carved up by weretigers in the market square. And Alistair called out, from the back of the line in the hallway, "I say, you blighter! Give me back my dagger!"

"Burkin's got your stupid dagger," Elway sneered at the affronted sorcerer. "He's gone, but I'll make you a deal: I'll get it back for you, in exchange for the Blood Mirror!"

Harlan chose to let his actions answer for him. Charging forward with his flaming sword high above his head, the half-elf paladin channeled Pelor's holy smiting energy into the blade and swung it into the spellcaster's body with all the strength he could muster. He could tell by the crashing of his blade upon the elf's body that the blow would normally have cut him into two had there not been some sort of magical protection in place. Harlan suspected a stoneskin spell, but there were plenty of other possible explanations at hand.

Ageratum had tagged along with the others while still invisible, and she'd been around a corner when Elway cast his slow spell, so she hadn't even been in the area of effect. Now she raced along the ceiling, getting into position behind the elven wizard before dropping silently to the floor, her magic short sword sliding quietly from its sheath at her belt. Chaevaris, who had been at the front of the hallway lineup, took a step around the corner to allow others to pass her as she loaded an arrow into her composite longbow and sighted down the shaft, lining up her target. But then Orchid let fly with her spell, and just that quickly...Elway was no longer a black-clad elven wizard, but a white-furred bunny. Nose twitching, it hopped to the side, hoping not to be noticed by all of these larger creatures who were all around it.

Alistair had just used his metamagic rod to power up a touch of idiocy spell and had transferred it to Ambrose, with the idea of having his grackle go cast it upon Elway. But Elway was no longer a threat; even his mind had taken on the standard bunny configuration, and his primary concern right now was finding something tasty to eat. But Ambrose, not wanting the spell to go to waste, took wing and flew straight at the raven familiar, Missy. Unfortunately, the raven dodged the incoming attack and the spell remained, untriggered, as latent spell energy in the grackle's talons.

Missy took wing herself and tried flying past Ambrose, and the grackle managed to collide into the raven's path and trigger the spell after all. Slightly confused by the sudden reduction in intellect, the raven flew erratically for a bit before regaining control of her flight path.

And then, suddenly, an unknown actor entered the scene - although "entered" isn't entirely accurate, for he had been there the whole time. Before attaining sudden rabbithood, Elway had given a command to his shield guardian, to cast its stored spell on anyone who attacked Elway. Dutifully, it discharged its confusion spell upon Harlan and Chaevaris, who both fell under its sway. The archer dropped her longbow and started running back the way they'd come, heading for the backstage area. Harlan just stood there, babbling quietly to himself. But surprisingly, the shield guardian did not then take advantage of this situation, for Elway had given it no further orders beyond the first, expecting to be able to command his faithful construct as events warranted - and not expecting to be turned into a bunny rabbit in the midst of combat.

Ageratum, also deprived of her intended target now that Elway was a rabbit, pulled a pebboulder from her pouch and tossed it at the shield guardian. It missed, but the attack caused her to return to full visibility. By then, Chaevaris's panicked flight brought her onto the dancing stage, where a few customers thought she was part of the show until they saw her bespoke armor covered her from neck to wrist to her feet - not much of a strip show, to say the least.

Orchid pushed her way past Mabel and Edna and cast a flame strike spell, catching Elway, Missy, and the shield guardian in her cascading flames. Alistair cast a maximized scorching ray spell at the shield guardian, catching its robes alight. But they both noticed it wasn't fighting back and decided to cease their own attacks on it, realizing if they could get the control amulet from Elway they'd be able to use it themselves.

Ambrose, however, had no intention of stopping his own battle, for he finally had a foe his own size to fight. He flew up to Missy with his claws extended like that of a raptor, and caught the raven's neck between his talons. Missy fell to the floor, unconscious, and Ambrose cawed his triumph to the rooftops.

Harlan suddenly had his own sudden confusion-spurred mental abnormality, and he dropped his flaming sword and ran after Chaevaris, fleeing at top speed. He easily caught up to her, but only because she'd stopped her own flight; with a look of incomprehension on her face, she pulled the rapier from the scabbard at her belt and attacked Harlan with it, momentarily seeing him as a deadly threat. "Is this part of the show?" asked one half-drunken customer to the man standing next to him.

"Beats me," the other man shrugged. "Can't even tell if that elf's a dude or a chick, though."

Alistair, realizing they needed to stop Chaevaris and Harlan until the confusion spell wore off, cast a haste spell upon himself, Orchid, and Ageratum. The trio raced off after their fleeing adventuring partners, and Ageratum cast a web spell that pinned them both to the floor, unable to move. "That'll hold them for a while," the little halfling said proudly. The men in the audience yelled their appreciation, which Ageratum took to be a recognition to her combat tactics, until one of them yelled, "Take off your top!" Scowling, Ageratum realized they were only glad to finally have a no-doubt-about-it female on stage, even if she was only about half as tall as a human woman. Her hand strayed to her sword - it was imbued with the human bane weapon property, making it particularly useful in the current situation, she thought to herself - until Alistair placed a hand over her own and talked her down. "Consider the source," he advised. "A Trained Professional Adventurer is so far above this riff-raff to make the combat not even worth the bother."

Sighing heavily, Ageratum returned her short sword to its sheath. "Okay, show's over!" she called to the few audience members. "Go on, beat it! Yeah, I'm talking to you - and you look like you beat it on a regular basis! Go on, get out of here, all of you!" Not finding the prospect of a halfling woman yelling at them anywhere half as interesting as one who'd be putting on a strip tease as they'd hoped, they wandered off to seek out the ministrations of the half-clad waitresses.

Eventually, the confusion spell wore off and Ageratum released her web spell. By then Orchid had retrieved their dropped weapons, and she passed them over to the chagrined pair of adventurers. "Believe me, I know the feeling," Alistair reassured them, thinking about how he'd been affected by the ghost of Lum back at the Mistbrenner farmhouse.

They consulted with Mabel who wanted nothing to do with the shield guardian, whose fires by this time had gone out and, the heroes were pleased to see, had started automatically repairing its own damages by some unknown magical means. "There's usually a magic amulet that goes along with the shield guardian," Alistair informed the others. "Elway would have been wearing it, no doubt, but it would have gotten subsumed into his body when he was turned into a rabbit."

"Oops," offered up Orchid. "Sorry."

"It's not an insurmountable obstacle," reassured the sorcerer. "Elway the bunny will revert to his normal self upon his death, and likewise with anything he was wearing at the time of his transformation."

"So you mean...?" asked the elven druid.

"I mean," replied Alistair, "that Shushitan has been a very good boy of late, and I think it's high time we rewarded him with a rabbit dinner." He had no compunctions about slaying an evil wizard who had tried to kill all of them - and who apparently was working for Jasgund Singh, if he was trying to get his hands on Harlan's Blood Mirror. But as the magic gem had prevented the bunny from dying - stabilizing him in a state of unconsciousness - he was ripe for the slaying.

At Chaevaris's suggestion, though, they waited until she could kill a real rabbit with one of her arrows, so they'd have a suitable replacement meal on hand when they let Shushitan bite into Elway's neck, slaying him and reverting him back to elven form. That would likely be the following day, though, so they got assurances from Mabel that it would be okay to leave the shield guardian where it stood for the evening.

"I suppose so - it's not hurting anything, I guess."

"I had a really lovely time," E. L. Grimwade assured her hostess. "I may pattern a character after you in my next book, if you wouldn't mind."

"Wouldn't mind? I'd be thrilled!" gushed Mabel, and that's all it took to get the housemistress's mind off of the attacks in her establishment.

- - -

So now we have a shield guardian! That'll be a welcome addition to the TPA - although now we have to figure out a name for it and decide which hero is best suited to wear the control amulet.
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The Topsy-Curvy Club is just the same as you might guess:​
There's lots of lovely ladies and they're in states of undress​
And none of them seems bothered by the position they're in​
Dancing up on stage there and exposing lots of skin​
And judging from the catcalls and the whistles from the crowd​
This is actually encouraged, not merely just allowed​
And word has it that if you have the extra coins to flow​
They'll take you to a room in back and give a private show​
They've alcoholic beverages with prices quite askew​
But you pay not just for the drinks but also for the view​
Most taverns provide cheaper drinks; you're free to go to those​
But the serving wenches working there are wearing all their clothes​
Not so at Topsy-Curvy Club: the women there have taste​
They've made their own decision: no clothes above the waist​
And as they gyrate on the stage, their bodies lithe and warm​
No customer has yet to gripe about their uniform​
The building that they're in is under brand new management​
T'was the Wild Coast Social Club - we're not sure where they went​
But they were quite exclusive: members only, and no guests​
And even if you snuck inside, you'd see no unclad breasts​
The ladies working here are all limber and statuesque​
They put on quite a show; the proper term is a burlesque​
But best to stay away if you're in any way a prude​
Or if you get your dander up at dancers in the nude​
And at the Topsy-Curvy Club, they love to throw a bash​
And everyone is welcome - long as they have the cash​
You want to host a party here? Why, they've got just the thing​
A sexy dancer on the stage, wearing a scant G-string​
They're always glad to see you, if your coin purse is quite loaded​
But when your money's gone, you'll find your welcome has eroded​
And when you're shown the door you'll be as sad as you can be​
So start to scrape together the next evening's entry fee​



PC Roster:
Ageratum Purslane, halfling rogue 9​
Alistair Mandelberen Pastlethwaite, human sorcerer 9​
Chaevaris Noarunal, elf archer 9​
Harlan Starblade, half-elf paladin 9​

NPC Roster:
Orchid, elf druid 9​

Game Session Date: 27 September 2023

- - -

The next morning found the five members of the Trained Professional Adventurers sporting hangovers from their previous night of drinking with E. L. Grimwade. The author herself seemed perfectly fine, though, as they bundled her and her luggage onto the carriage she had hired to take her to various adventuring sites. Now she was heading back to her home city to start writing about what she had seen, and incorporating it into the next "Elfy Danger Silverleaf" book.

Alistair waved bravely as his own personal hero was taken away by carriage. He was sad to see her go, but secretly glad he wouldn't be asked to attend any all-night drinking sessions in houses of ill repute, like that Topsy-Curvy Club. He idly wondered if Orchid, as a druid, knew of any hangover cures.

But then the young nobleman was jostled out of the way by a group of burly dwarves. "This'll be th' easiest coin we ever earned!" chuckled one, as they approached a group of humans wielding written contracts on individual sheets of parchment. Chaevaris followed them out of curiosity, and saw that the humans were signing on members of an expedition beneath the Lortmil Mountains, seeking out a subterranean passageway that would be quicker than going over and around the mountain peaks. The dwarves were hired on as luggers at once, while Chaevaris observed the group was still looking for a security team. "What do you think?" asked the archer to Harlan, the group's de facto leader.

"Well," replied the paladin, "with Miss Grimwade's safety no longer our responsibility, we have a free hand to go where we are needed. Certainly, I think we could sign on to keep the survey team safe." He asked the other members what they thought, and they were all for it. They therefore applied for the positions and were hired on the spot. "We leave in two days," the head surveyor explained. "We'll see you all then."

Of course, planning on what all to take on a multi-day trip is much, much easier when you have an extradimensional dwelling that weighs nothing when it's inside the magic amulet Chaevaris wore around her neck. And better yet, the dwelling came with unseen servants who prepared magically-summoned food, so that was not an issue. Did they want to bring extra vials of antitoxin, or potions of cure serious wounds, or flasks of oil? Sure, pick them up and store them inside - they're just a door activation and a pop inside the dwelling away. Their biggest decision was what not to bring - specifically, Orchid decided to leave her timber wolf Shushitan in the care of Holyrood Carp, feeling he'd not fare well in a subterranean setting for days without end. Likewise, the heroes opted not to bring along their riding mounts, although Harlan knew his celestial pegasus Nova was always but a single calling away. As for their new shield guardian, which Alistair had named Carruthers (after a particular leg-breaker in the employ of his father, who was set to deal with any intractable problems that got in the way of Lord Ambrose Pastlethwaite's desires), the group decided to bring him along, especially once they discovered that as a construct he could be placed inside their extradimensional dwelling and Chaevaris could then revert it back into her amulet and he'd still be there when the door was next summoned. (They'd learned the hard way that any living creature was "dumped out" of the extradimensional space when the archer sent it back inside her amulet - people couldn't be transported in that fashion, but apparently non-living constructs could.)

The plan, as explained by the surveyors, was to do an initial excursion two and a half days in, and then return to Ghourmand Vale for fresh supplies. Then they'd go back and try to go the rest of the way. Alistair didn't understand why they didn't want to just go for it in one fell swoop, but if that was the way they wanted to do things, the pay was the same: 1,000 pieces of gold per adventurer.

So, two days after they'd signed on, the five heroes, Ambrose, and Carruthers (the latter of which Ageratum had tried to get hired on for an additional 1,000 gold pieces, to no avail) showed up at the designated spot and met up with the four dwarven luggers and the three human surveyors. The dwarves were already burdened by heavy canvas packs containing food, water, tents, and various supplies, and even the humans carried their maps, fresh rolls of parchments, and measuring equipment. They gave confused looks at the five adventurers and how little they were carrying among themselves, but opted not to push it, although one of the dwarves was overheard grumbling that he wasn't about to share his tent and food with these greenhorns who'd probably never gone spelunking before in their lives and had no clue about what they were getting into. Chaevaris just held her tongue and smiled quietly to herself.

They made it to the opening the dwarves had discovered at the base of the Lortmil Mountains and had explored for a full half-day when the lead surveyor called for a lunch break. The dwarves started ripping into their packs, distributing hard loaves of bread and passing along a small keg of ale between themselves and their human bosses, which Chaevaris simply activated the door from her amulet onto the wall of a stone passageway and the five adventurers went inside for their meals in shifts, always ensuring there was enough of a security presence to keep their charges safe. Then they were off again, making ridiculously slow progress, for every hundred feet or so the surveyors wanted to add on to their hand-drawn maps and question the dwarves about any changes in elevation they detected.

They got to what Alistair mentally called the "crossroads cavern," for there were three additional passageways jutting off from it: straight ahead, to the left, and to the right. The heroes opted to spilt off and check out each passageway for the next hundred feet or so, to ensure there was nothing dangerous that could possibly try to sneak up on them. Chaevaris strode down the east passageway, Alistair following with his grackle familiar Ambrose perched on his shoulder and his unseen servant Ogilvy holding the archer's bullseye lantern, in which was held Ageratum's stone with the permanent light spell cast upon it. (As instructed by his master, Ambrose faced backwards so he could see behind Alistair, the better to warn him of any dangers from behind.) They saw only clumps of phosphorescent fungus, and then the passageway came to an abrupt end: there was a 40-foot-deep chasm below them, with the subterranean corridor picking back up in a tunnel directly across the chasm, some 12 feet or so away. Chaevaris had no trouble making out the cavern on the other side of the tunnel across the chasm; it looked just as deserted as the crossroads area. Her keen elven hearing also picked up the sound of running water somewhere nearby, down at the bottom of the chasm, although she couldn't pinpoint from which direction it was coming.

Harlan strode down the north passageway - the one straight ahead - by himself, his human vision enhanced by the flickering light from his flaming longsword, which he held aloft in front of him like a torch. He, too could see a 10-foot gap in the tunnel, bridging a 40-foot-deep chasm below.

Ageratum and Orchid took the passageway to the left, finding a 15-foot gap across the same chasm, although there was a branching tunnel that veered back south before closing back in upon itself, ultimately leading to a dead end. After determining there was nothing in the dead-end passageway, they stationed themself at the point where it branched off and allowed the surveyors to mark off that dead-end section on their maps.

Chaevaris tied one end of a length of rope to one of her normal arrows and shot it across the gap before slowly pulling it back toward her, hoping to get the arrow caught between two projecting rocks or something. She had no such luck; the arrow dropped over the edge of the far ledge and she pulled it back up to her. That kind of maneuver always seemed to work in the written stories about adventuring; she mentally kicked herself for reading too many of Alistair's "Elfy Danger Silverleaf" books when the young wizard was asleep.

Orchid, getting bored while the map-makers did their thing, decided to wildshape into a dire bat and do some exploring a bit further on her own. She flew over the chasm, her blindsense kicking in as she gave an ultrasonic burst from her throat and heard the echoes bounce back. There was something a bit odd coming from a passageway to the north of her current position, although she couldn't quite pinpoint what was so different. Flapping her wings, she headed off in that direction to see for herself.

Not having a means of exploring on the other side of his own tunnel, Harlan (not wanting to chance a leap across the chasm in his heavy armor) returned to the crossroads area and did a 360-degree scan for evil. He was pleased when his paladin sense reported back no signs of evil anywhere within range - and that included the four dwarves and three human surveyors. Ageratum was hanging out with them, providing a close protection. Harlan half expected that one of these days the little halfling was going to start "pinging" on his evil detection senses, so eager was she to slit the throats of downed enemies.

Once Chaevaris had explained what she had been hoping to accomplish with her arrow trick, Alistair tied the rope to her immovable rod and explained its use to Carruthers, then instructed the shield guardian - for the group had decided it made the most sense for the slightly frail sorcerer to wear the construct's control amulet - to hold the rod out over the chasm as far as he could extend his arm and hold it there. "Now we can swing over on the rope, one by one, Elfy!" Alistair beamed with pride. He had Ogilvy demonstrate the simplicity of the task by swinging over first, then the unseen servant aimed the lantern in all directions, allowing Chaevaris and Alistair to see as much as they could of the far cavern. Chaevaris followed suit almost immediately, landing lightly on her toes beside Ogilvy. Once in place at the far cavern, she could see down a passageway leading north and saw, dozens of feet away, a pair of rust monsters. Fortunately, they had their backs turned and were presently devouring some sort of metallic meal, after their feathery antennae had turned it into reddish-orange dust. So intent were they on their meal they didn't even notice the beam of light spilling over their backs. Chaevaris pulled out one of her special arrows - one of five that had one of Alistair's "shrunken bonfire" pieces of cloth adhered to the arrow-head - and took careful aim, not at either of the rust monsters but at the stretch of cavern floor between them and her, where the tunnel narrowed. She was fairly certain it would block their way as well as a full-fledged wall of fire spell.

Orchid, in dire bat form, soon discovered what her radar sense had been trying to tell her: there was a gap in the walls between the passageway she was in and the one on the other side of the open gap from where Harlan had been checking out, and in that gap, filling most of it with its cone-shaped body, was one of the most dangerous creatures in the Underdark. Knowing she could no longer speak the Common tongue while a dire bat, but also knowing she had practiced long and hard to be able to cast spells while wildshaped into animal forms, she cast a speak with animals spell and called out, "Roper!" Several passageways over, Ambrose picked up her call and called out, in Common, "Boss: Orchid's encountered a roper!"

"I say!" cried Alistair in surprise. Then, realizing what needed to be done, he yelled, "Orchid's fighting a roper! Which way did she go?" Ageratum ran forward and pointed to the sorcerer the way the wildshaped druid had gone, and Alistair started running that way. Given Harlan was nearby, there was enough light in the area for Ambrose to leap from his master's shoulder and fly over the way Ageratum was pointing, so he could be the "forward eyes" for Alistair.

By this time, though, the roper had shot a sticky strand from its body that struck Orchid in the center of her mass. A strange, tingling sensation came over the druid's bat body as the strand tried draining away her strength. "I'm caught!" she called out in the language of animals, and Ambrose once again translated for her to the others in the Common tongue.

Harlan, not sure if there was a way for him to cross the chasm over by Orchid, ran in the opposite direction. There stood Carruthers, still standing with his arm over the drop, holding the immovable rod with the rope attached. Harlan grabbed the rope and swung across, landing by Chaevaris, who was still aiming at the rust monsters, waiting for one of them to approach - she figured if she were to release the bonfire, it would be nice to catch at least one of them in its initial return-to-normal-size blast. Harlan pushed his way past the archer and found a side passageway leading towards where the roper would have to be.

Ageratum tapped her magic bracelet and faded from view. Now fully invisible, she used her cloak of arachnida to walk up the wall and cross the chasm upon the stone ceiling while Alistair was still running in her direction. He didn't really have a plan on how to cross, although there was always the dimension door spell if it came to that....

Orchid was still in midair, trying to pull herself free of the roper's strand; she very much looked like a beleaguered kite on a string. Then another pulse came down the length of the strand and this time she succumbed to it, losing about half of her physical strength in one fell swoop. At this rate, the roper would pull her in like a fish on a line in no time; already, it had dragged her 10 feet closer to it, and just below its cyclopean eye its slavering mouth opened up, revealing rows upon rows of sharp teeth, eager to tear into her flesh. Not liking that particular fate, the druid cast a flame strike spell centered on the roper.

Chaevaris, in the meantime, was getting tired of waiting for the rust monsters to finish their meal and notice the disturbances behind them. She altered her aim, no longer pointing the arrow at the narrow part of the ground between the insectile creatures and her, but focused her aim upon one of the rust monsters itself. Unfortunately, the holy flames dropping down upon the roper did it absolutely no harm (for it had a very powerful innate resistance to all types of spell energy), but it did at least burn through the strand connecting the dire bat to its temporary captor. Free once more, Orchid flapped back the way she had come, putting the curving section of a rock wall between her and the roper as she flew around a winding passageway. "It shrugs off spells!" she called out to Ambrose, who once again translated for the benefit of those who couldn't understand the shared language of animals.

Harlan was racing full speed down the corridor, and now, in the light of his flaming sword, could see the back of the roper squeezed in a crevice in the rock walls just ahead. And it was at about this time that another creature entered the scene. To the east of Carruthers' current position, there was an "island" of rock jutting up from the chasm below, and on this rock - around a corner, out of view - had been a strange creature looking like nothing so much as an oversize brain mounted upon four powerful, clawed legs. It easily leaped across the gap and landed by the shield guardian's feet; Carruthers, having been given no instructions involving intellect devourers and having no initiative of his own, merely stood there with his right arm raised to the side over the chasm, as instructed. The intellect devourer scurried on past the construct and headed for the dwarves, intending to take over one of their bodies (dwarves, it knew from past experience, made for easy targets), the better to spy upon these interlopers into the Lightless Lands Below and see why they were here.

Fortunately Ageratum, seeing Orchid had broken free of the roper's strand and was flying back in her direction, scampered back across the ceiling the way she had come and saw the brain-thing headed for the dwarves. She ran to meet it, flinging a pebboulder at it with her sling as she closed the distance. That shot missed, the boulder regaining its true size upon impact with the floor immediately before the intellect devourer, at least making it slow its pace to avoid slamming into it.

Their meal of metal flakes finished, the rust monsters spun in place, the delicious smell of metal coming from the direction of the corridor to the south, where Chaevaris stood pointing her arrow at them. They started forward eagerly, their eagerness diminished somewhat when the archer released her arrow, to have it explode at the feet of the foremost rust monster and regain its size as a blazing bonfire - a part of the Mistbrenner's blazing farmhouse, as a matter of fact. The first rust monster shrieked in pain and veered off to the west, following a side passageway that still led towards the smell of metal (and even more of it: it was now detecting Harlan's armor). The second rust monster couldn't stop its forward progress in time and ran through the flames, singeing itself a bit as it continued its advance towards Chaevaris and Ogilvy.

Alistair had returned to the crossroads chamber after hearing from his familiar that Orchid has freed herself from the roper and no longer needed rescuing, and he saw the intellect devourer scooting around the boulder Ageratum had just fired its way. "Slay that brain thing!" Alistair called out to Carruthers and the shield guardian went immediately to comply, letting go of the immovable rod (which fortunately, having already been activated, hung there in the air where it had been abandoned). The sorcerer, in the meantime, used his metamagic rod to maximize the damage potential of a magic missile spell, which he fired at the intellect devourer, striking it unerringly.

"Get away from the brain thing!" Ageratum called to the dwarves, who were having a bit of ale while the humans tended to their maps. The closest dwarf made a face showing utter disbelief, turned the corner, saw the intellect devourer headed his way, and called for his brethren to high-tail it. They backed away around a corner and scrambled for their own weapons.

The roper, by then, having been deprived of the dire bat prey it had anticipated eating, spun its cylindrical body around so it faced in the other direction. There it saw two creatures running down two separate tunnels, each one converging into a tunnel heading straight for the roper. In one tunnel was Harlan; in the other, a badly-burned rust monster. With a choice of two such fine potential meals, the roper made its selection and fired off two strands, one from either side of its body, and managed to snag both. The rust monster succumbed immediately to the strength-draining properties of the roper's strand and froze up immediately, no longer having enough control over its own muscles to fight back. Harlan, however, was made of stronger stuff and managed to avoid the draining effect - at least for now.

Chaevaris activated her boots of speed and fired off three normal arrows in rapid succession at the rust monster fast approaching her, its feelers waving hungrily before it. All three met their marks, but the stubborn beast refused to fall; wounded badly, it pressed on its advance.

Orchid flew around the corner, veering away from the intellect devourer and heading towards the roper by the center tunnel that Harlan had originally explored. Once she got the roper in sight, she cast a transmute rock to mud spell at the stone ceiling directly above the Underdark creature, causing a torrent of gloppy mud (and a bunch of chunks of stone that came along with it) dropping down upon the roper's head. Harlan then severed the strand attached to him with his holy flaming burst longsword, freeing himself. He cautiously backed around a curve of the tunnel behind him, keeping himself out of immediate view of the roper lest he get targeted again. He figured at the distance between them, he could pop back out of the corner and rush the beast before it could target him again with one of those strands, but he'd have to give the roper a moment to forget about him in the heat of battle against the others.

Carruthers had to bend over to bring his massive fists pounding down upon the intellect devourer's back, but he hit it twice, nearly knocking the feet out from beneath its brainlike body. The intellect devourer had been concentrating on casting a psionic cloud mind spell upon Alistair, but the young nobleman's mind was able to avoid the intended effects. Still trying to take over the body of one of the dwarves, the intellect devourer chased after them.

Ageratum was now directly above the intellect devourer, still upside-down on the ceiling but now perfectly visible since she'd attacked it earlier with the pebboulder. She dropped down quietly behind it and stabbed the blade of her short sword deep into its wrinkled body. It shrieked in pain - telepathically, it felt like - which brought a wide grin to the halfling's face.

The rust monster got to within striking distance of Chaevaris and then wheeled away down a side tunnel, chasing towards Harlan, whose full plate armor was too much metal to resist compared to the few bits Chaevaris wore, her own bespoke armor being composed entirely of tight-fitting vegetable matter. A waving antenna struck Harlan in the back, but fortunately the half-elf had heard the pitter-patter of its footsteps and managed to dodge to the side quickly enough that the feeler did his armor no harm. With a tug upon its strand, the roper dragged the unresisting other rust monster closer to its slavering maw.

Alistair cast another maximized magic missile spell through his metamagic rod, striking the intellect devourer right in its brain-body, only to see the spell fizzle out upon contact. "Curse the Fates!" groused the young nobleman. "The stupid thing also resists spells!" Then, seeing the surveyors peeking around the corner to see what all the yelling and fuss was about, Alistair yelled at them to get back and hide while the Trained Professional Adventurers fought off the immediate threats. They didn't need any further encouragement, slinking back the way they'd come as quickly as possible.

Chaevaris popped around the corner, an adamantine arrow nocked in her bow and ready to shoot. She aimed it at the intellect devourer - across the gap over the chasm - and let fly, watching as it hit home and struck deep. Still powered by her magic boots, she repeated the shot with a second, similar arrow, this one piercing the beast's center and sticking out the other end, slaying it instantly. Then she grabbed up a normal arrow and sent it flying into the rust monster behind her menacing Harlan, sending it deep into a shoulder. Harlan spun about and brought his holy flaming burst longsword to bear, slicing deep into the rust monster's body and slaying it before its antennae could do any permanent harm to his weapon, shield, or armor. With it dead, he breathed a sigh of relief - he'd have hated to have any of his metal items destroyed so easily!

While Ageratum checked to make sure the intellect devourer was truly dead (and finding herself slightly disappointed it had no throat to slit), Orchid advanced over by her and Carruthers while Alistair set himself on guard duty at the crossroads, making sure no other weird monsters could get to the dwarven luggers or human surveyors. The roper, by this time, had tugged the rust monster to within biting range and bent over its prey, swallowing it up in one bite. Chaevaris moved to where she could see the roper and shot another bonfire arrow at it, piercing it with the arrowhead and releasing the bonfire back to its full size and strength, the flaming wood piled all around the mud-spattered beast. Orchid cast a spike stones spell all around the roper, hoping to pierce it if it tried to move away from the flames, but she ran up against its inherent resistance to spell energy and her spike stones failed to manifest.

Realizing the danger Chaevaris had put herself in on his behalf, Harlan raised his shield before him and stepped in front of the archer, placing himself as a living shield against the roper's next strand attack - with any luck, it would only snag his shield, which he could release and then go charge the beast with his flaming sword. He cast a bull's strength spell upon himself in preparation for such a maneuver.

Alistair, knowing that direct combat spells had next to no chance of affecting the roper, decided to see how much damage Carruthers could do to it - but first he needed to get the shield guardian across the gap over the chasm, and he wasn't confident in the construct's leaping abilities. But as the guardian was nine feet tall and the gap was about a foot over that, he commanded Carruthers to walk to the edge of the tunnel, raise his hands, then tip forward, catch the other side of the tunnel (across the gap), and pull himself up. Carruthers moved to obey his new instructions. He had gotten as far as laying horizontally with his feet on one side of the chasm and his hands gripping the other side when an invisible Ageratum ran across the "shield guardian bridge" and moved herself into position to get in a surprise attack on the roper before becoming visible again. Alistair, since he could see the roper's blazing body just fine, decided to throw caution to the wind and give his metamagic rod its final dose of the day by channeling a maximized scorching ray spell through it at the roper, but once again the spell fizzled out upon contact. The nobleman sighed in disgust and stashed the rod in an inner vest pocket; it would be of no further use to him that day.

Behind him, Ogilvy disappeared, the distance between the unseen servant and the sorcerer who had summoned him into being becoming too great. Chaevaris's bullseye lantern settled onto the stone floor with a noticeable clang.

The roper crawled out of the bonfire and onto the solid stone of the cavern floor, when Ageratum suddenly popped back into visibility as her magic short sword stabbed deep into the beast's conelike body. It finished the action it had started before getting stabbed - striking Harlan with another strand, which hit him but failed to drain away any of the half-elf's strength - before Chaevaris peppered the roper with her last three bonfire arrows right in a row. It fell over, unconscious, and the heroes allowed the overly-large triple bonfire burn it to death.

With the last foe slain, the Trained Professional Adventurers took stock of the situation. Their charges were all unhurt (and the surveyors convinced hiring on the TPA had been a very wise choice on their part), while Alistair ran down his three bonfires and cast a series of three shrink item spells on them, reverting them into three separate pieces of foldable cloth that could be used again. Since he had the spell energy to do so, he went over and recovered the boulder Ageratum had thrown at the intellect devourer, reverting it to a "pebboulder" as well. Then, ensuring the surveyors had finished with the section of map they had been filling in, they advanced once again until the surveyors called for another halt so they could fill in that section of the map, and things advanced at that slow pace for the rest of the day, until they finally called it a night and set up their camp in a wide cavern.

- - -

There wasn't any treasure this time, but Dan retroactively offered up the treasure he'd forgotten to mention that the wizard Elway (from the previous adventure) had had upon him: a pair of bracers of armor +2, ring of protection +1, a wand of shield with 40 charges, and a wand of magic missiles (CL 5th) with 35 charges remaining. We decided to retroactively give the shield wand to Alistair and the magic missile wand to Ageratum, and to have sold the other wondrous items, as none of us could really use them.
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