Piratecat's Updated Story Hour! (update 4/03 and 4/06)

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Wulf Ratbane

Adventurer
Steverooo said:
What did they need to hit her sword, P-Kitty? Adamantine and Magic?

We're still under 3.0 rules at this point, I think. So Stone Bear's hands are something like +6 equivalent (counting all his Sacred Fist bonuses).

I don't know if Piratecat has yet worked out what their equivalence will be under 3.5...

Stone Bear has Improved Unarmed Strike, Eagle Claw Strike, Power Attack, Sunder (now called Improved Sunder in 3.5, which allows me to Sunder without AoO), and Improved Sunder (from Sword and Fist, which doubles sunder damage-- which I presume under 3.5 rules would be called "Greater Sunder.").

For all that, I'm not sure he's any better at sundering than Galthia. Galthia gets to ignore like 9 or 10 points of hardness, but doesn't (to my knowledge) add any extra damage. So it's a situational thing as to whose sunder is more effective.

Stone Bear also has Cleave, Great Cleave, and Cleave Asunder-- which means that I can interchangeably cleave people, weapons, or both. Theoretically I can smash a weapon and carry through into the wielder with a cleave. I could, surrounded by foes, cleave through all of their weapons and then carry on into the foes themselves... As long as whatever I hit is killed or destroyed, I can cleave the next target.

This particular aspect of the character has yet to see "screen time," but I am biding my time!

Wulf
 

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Piratecat said:
No. She used the psionic power of regression to turn back time to right before she first attacked, then (not wanting a repeat of the sword-breaking fiasco) she exited stage left.

Thus, the fight never technically occurred. The reason that some people remembered it is because, to be blunt, they made their saving throws.

But Halcyon remembers them. No doubt she'll want to settle old business once she's dealt with some of the upstarts trying to claim Imbindarla's power.

Three things coe to mind.

1. Next time she comes around she will have to be much more careful. The solar has passed along the information and Calphas should be smart enough to know that a Lawful Evil Goddess of Undeath who wants to use the dead as a personal army of conquest would be very bad.

2. Memorizing or getting a wand of true strike would be a very good idea. Someone doing nothing but casting True Strike on the Solar is probably the best way to actually do damage to a demi-god. That or smacking her over the head with V's shield and sending her to the center of the planet.

3. That Pit fiend better take notice. A standard 3.5 PF would get eaten for lunch by the Defenders. I fully expect the Pit Fiend not to offer straight up battle again like she did last time.
 

KidCthulhu

First Post
DocMoriartty said:
3. That Pit fiend better take notice. A standard 3.5 PF would get eaten for lunch by the Defenders. I fully expect the Pit Fiend not to offer straight up battle again like she did last time.

The trick with the Pit Fiend was not so much that we couldn't take her. We could. But only on the Prime. And then she'd just be back the next day, and the next, ad nauseum.

The DoD, fully primed and buffed, could take a standard issue Pit Fiend (Not that PC is going to give us anything as pedestrian as a standar Pitty). But we can't take one while carrying an undead spell load and while we're coming under daily undead attack.

Thus the desire not to start anything with our evil Yenta.
 

Thomas Hobbes

First Post
KidCthulhu said:
Thus the desire not to start anything with our evil Yenta.

Gah. Now I'm getting mental crossovers from A Shoggoth of the Roof.

"A shoggoth on the roof- sounds crazy. No, certifiably insane! But you might say that here in our little town of Arkham, Massachusetts, you might say every one of us has a Shoggoth on the roof. And I'm not speaking metaphorically."

Byakhee Byakhee fly me through space....
 

BSF

Explorer
Piratecat said:
No. She used the psionic power of regression to turn back time to right before she first attacked, then (not wanting a repeat of the sword-breaking fiasco) she exited stage left.

Thus, the fight never technically occurred. The reason that some people remembered it is because, to be blunt, they made their saving throws.

But Halcyon remembers them. No doubt she'll want to settle old business once she's dealt with some of the upstarts trying to claim Imbindarla's power.

Heh, but what if the DoD find a way to trump her politically with the greater Divinities. I know I would try to do that if I were in their place. Not sure how I would try, but I would definitely put some effort into thinking it through. :)
 

Jobu

First Post
FINALLY I can post!!!!! Sorry some of this is so late in response

Ok, first thing - thanks to those of you who would like the chance to play Tao. She is my first D&D character (EVER) and is more fun to play then any other character I've ever played. Course I'm biased. Having Cleric, Wizzie, Psion, and Druid spells, nice Attack bonus, Spell like abilities, Damage Reduction, AND a couple hit points all make for a fun character to play. Then you add in the attitude and the chaotic tendancies and you're ready to go piss some people off :)
And on that note I have a few words about Halcyon......most of which I can't say in front of Eric's Grandmother. Of all the PC's and NPC's ever in PC's game I don't know if there have been many that got up Tao's nose as much as Halcyon. When the Cave went black and white - with no gray ANYWHERE Tao actually hid on the far side of the tower roof momentarily. Trying desperately to find some chaos......something NOT LAWFUL!!! So - kicking Teliaz through the Gate was more to piss Halcyon off then to save Teliaz. I certainly look forward to a next meeting between Tao and "Her Holy Evil Stick-up the Butt" (no offense Claris).
 

Hammerhead

Explorer
KidCthulhu said:
The trick with the Pit Fiend was not so much that we couldn't take her. We could. But only on the Prime. And then she'd just be back the next day, and the next, ad nauseum.

The DoD, fully primed and buffed, could take a standard issue Pit Fiend (Not that PC is going to give us anything as pedestrian as a standar Pitty). But we can't take one while carrying an undead spell load and while we're coming under daily undead attack.

Thus the desire not to start anything with our evil Yenta.

Well, if Yenta is actually called to the prime, instead of being Astrally Projected, she can be killed. Or at least banished for a really long time, depending on your cosmology.

Anyway, couldn't Agar use a Planar Binding spell to eventually call Yenta, lock her with a Dimensional Anchor to prevent escape, and then laugh as the rest of the Defenders destroy her? Calling a devil to destroy it seems perfectly acceptable to me?
 

Piratecat

Sesquipedalian
Hammerhead said:
Anyway, couldn't Agar use a Planar Binding spell to eventually call Yenta, lock her with a Dimensional Anchor to prevent escape, and then laugh as the rest of the Defenders destroy her? Calling a devil to destroy it seems perfectly acceptable to me?

In theory that could work.

On the other hand, it's fraught with peril above and beyond the usual old humdrum "I'm going to get eaten by a lord of hell" type of danger. Pit fiends are creatures of hierarchies and law, right? And she's clearly not acting as yenta for her own health and amusement. Destroying her could easily cause more problems than it solves, especially when she doesn't necessarily seem to be gunning for the PCs otherwise. She could be anyone's friend, and her place in the puzzle isn't known.

Really, the disturbing question is: who would want to use a pit fiend as a messenger/enforcer, and why would she accede to such a job? Killing her without knowing that is a definite gamble.
 

Hammerhead

Explorer
Well sure, it's got its flaws, but as Wulf says...

"There's no problem you can't solve with a big enough pile of dead bad guys."

:) I think the Modrons are behind it all.
 

Grog

First Post
Great update as usual, Piratecat.

If you don't mind, I had a question about the part of the campaign that took place in Sigil (it doesn't seem to be covered in the early years story). I noticed that, in the Eversink portion of the story, even though there was a lot of politics and role-playing, there was also a fair amount of combat. I was wondering if the same was true in Sigil? And if so, what sort of things did the Defenders fight? For that matter, how long were the Defenders in Sigil?

Thanks!
 

KidCthulhu

First Post
Grog said:
I noticed that, in the Eversink portion of the story, even though there was a lot of politics and role-playing, there was also a fair amount of combat. I was wondering if the same was true in Sigil? And if so, what sort of things did the Defenders fight? For that matter, how long were the Defenders in Sigil?

We spend most of our time in Sigil with our heads down, trying not to meet anyone's eyes. The party is well aware that danger in Sigil is not the kind that is defeated by combat. We were pretty intimidated, to tell you the truth, and tend to be on our best behavior when in the Hive.

PKitty has the flu, on account of I brought it home to him. We spent the weekend in bed, and not in a good way. Thus, no progress was made on story hour. But I'm pretty sure the party is going to be regretting some of PC's fever dreams. He gets the wierdest ideas when he's sick.
 

Piratecat

Sesquipedalian
KidCthulhu said:
But I'm pretty sure the party is going to be regretting some of PC's fever dreams. He gets the wierdest ideas when he's sick.

Hee hee hee... tentacles.

Man, I feel crappy. Thank goodness I got a flu shot, or I'd be REALLY out of it. And who says KidCthulhu never brings me anything? To make my point, I almost didn't go to the theater for the (unfortunately sold out!) RotK yesterday. I'd have to be sick to bag out of that. :D

In Sigil, I can remember them fighting armanites (centaur-demons) in the streets of the clerk's ward. They fought a were-roach and an erinyes (the same one that originally married Alix's Dad) in the LE gatetown of Ribcage. On a later adventure they ran the heck away from warring armies in Acheron, completely avoiding my cool rakshasha dungeon filled with confusing illusions. And on Mechanus they fought a cambion enemy that they had first killed on the prime back at 4th level, and who had been waiting for them to come to the outer planes ever since; they killed him handily, poor fella. Sometimes it doesn't pay to hold grudges.
 
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Bronz Dragon

First Post
Wulf Ratbane said:
I bet that bitch would give her right arm to have another crack at us.
Only from what we've seen, she'd prolly chop the left one off too, just so she'd be symmetrical. - Bronz Dragon
 
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Piratecat

Sesquipedalian
Okay, a quick preamble: for this game I stole a page from JonRog's book. Everyone but KidCthulhu had (at least in theory; Alomir never got the email, but he caught on fast) been alerted that there were some. . . changes. . . involving their characters. Thus, they all dropped seamlessly into their new roles, and Nolin spent a lot of time trying to figure out what was going on. We even had Tao's and Palladio's players in town for extra fun.

This game ended up being one of my favorite roleplaying sessions of the entire year. I love my players.

-----------------------------------

Bent on a single purpose, the adventurers race through the underdark on the howling arms of a magical wind. They soar through beholder-blasted circular tunnels, down the crumbling rockgrinds of purple worms, between the vast webfields of spiderfolk and into the shadowy confines of forgotten ways. Mile after mile of cave and cavern pass behind them, and ever they delve deeper into the earth. They would be hopelessly lost long ago if it wasn’t for Stone Bear’s spirit guide Elder giving directions.

Moving at close to sixty miles an hour, the group roars down a bone-dry waterfall and out into a long-deserted settlement. They slow; it is cold here, and dusty structures suddenly loom over them claustrophobically. It’s not a pleasant site.

“What used to be here?” asks Nolin. “I don’t recognize the architecture, but I hate it already.”

“Hard to say,” muses Priggle as he twists his misty body. “Nothing I’ve ever met. Look at what’s left of that statuary! It doesn’t have any eyes, but it still seems to be staring at us.”

Mara purses her lips. “There’s still a faint after-image of evil. Whatever lived here was nasty enough to actually stain the buildings they lived in.”

“Well, they’re gone now,” says Stone Bear. “We need to go forward and head down.” The group follows the shaman to the lip of a wide stone well in the middle of the grotto. The darkness yawns emptily beneath them, and a fragile bone staircase spirals downwards out of sight.

“A bone stair?” asks Malachite skeptically. “It’s not undead, at least.” He leans over to look. “It just keeps going. The bone isn’t dusty, either. Do we have to go this way?” Stone Bear nods.

“I think I’ll fly in mist form instead of walking it, though.”

Velendo squints and uses the arcane vision that he permanently bonded to his own eyes with a miracle. “We all will. It’s faintly magical, but not a type I recognize. I say we go, but be careful.”

Everyone agrees, and the group dissolves back into mist before pouring over the pit’s edge and swirling downwards into the darkness. The bone stair is close to a thousand feet deep, and the Defenders eventually waft out of the bottom before racing onwards down a tunnel. It’s almost five minutes later before someone notices that Nolin is missing.

* * *

It’s a long, slow wakening. Nolin nuzzles his nose into Telay’s warm neck, treasuring her scent, and squirms deeper into the comfortable goose-down quilt. Elsewhere in the inn the rest of his friends are probably waking up too, but there’s no need to get up until Tao comes and hammers on his door. This is so much better than. . .

Adreneline crashes in like an ocean wave, and Nolin drags the covers off of his sleepily protesting lover as he sits bolt upright in the bed. His green eyes widen as he takes in his surroundings. His old room in the Roaring Manticore, the Defenders’ favorite inn back in Rampart? How had he gotten here? Last he remembered he had been. . . had been. . . there had been tunnels, and badness. . .

Bright autumn sunlight shines in from behind the shuttered windows. He can hear geese honking in their flight overhead and homey clattering from the kitchens downstairs. Beside him, Telay squints and brushes auburn hair away from her eyes as she pulls herself gracefully up onto one elbow. She has a long dagger clutched in one hand; not a trusting soul, our Telay. “Nol? What is it?”

Nolin looks down and feels her skin: warm. Not undead at all. “I had something that must have been a terrible dream. But lord, it was so detailed!”

Telay grins sympathetically from within the tangle of bedclothes. “You’re probably worried about our upcoming trip to study with the lich Hagiok. It’s dangerous, but it will be worth it for the stories we’ll get.”

That’s where I’ll get dominated and almost killed, and you’re going to get turned into undead. Nolin closes his eyes in pain before opening them to look around suspiciously. He’s been to Eversink, and he’s been into the underdark, and he’s fought ghouls innumerable. . . but suddenly not? He checks; no half-healed scars, no familiar wounds. It feels like someone has loaded him with memories that haven’t happened, just like TomTom does to the assassin Brindle in Eversink. . . The bard blinks. But that hasn’t happened yet, either!

Confused, he looks down at Telay for support, but she has other things on her mind. He shivers as her hand strokes across his chest. He can feel her skin up against his, warm and smooth, and then the tiefling’s sharp teeth nibble one finger. She’s still half-asleep, thinks Nolin, but insistent nevertheless. The bard grins. He can panic later, right? His sudden happy laughter fills the space between them, and they celebrate the new morning in the best way they know how.

Downstairs in the Roaring Manticore, Velendo scowls as he sets down his mug of tea. “Where the heck is Nolin? We’re meeting with that envoy from Eversink this morning. What’s-his-name…”

“Palladio, I think.” Mara sits against the wall with her mug of tea resting against her lips, cold eyes fixed on the staircase as she waits for Nolin to come downstairs. “As well as that Eversinkian woman we rescued in Mechanus. Shara.”

“Right,” says Velendo as he stuffs another cinnamon bun into his mouth. “You’g thinnmk. . .” He swallows. “You’d think he would have smelled the pastries. And these are delicious, Claris!” The gray-eyed pilgrim of Vindus nods her head in thanks as she walks past the table. “Well, we should probably wake Nolin and Telay up before breakfast is all gone. Malachite?” Velendo raises his voice again, and from the kitchen a tall servant leans bashfully out as he wipes his hands on his apron.

“Your holiness?”

“Take these pastries up to Sir Nolin and Mistress Telay, will you? Thanks. There we go, there’s a good man.” Velendo hands over a tray, and Malachite inclines his body in a half-bow and turns to head up the stairs.

Mara sighs.

“What’s wrong, Mara?”

“Oh, Stavros’ servant just makes me sad. I heard from my church that he had wanted to be a paladin once, but he didn’t have what it takes. Not wise enough, or bright enough, or maybe just too bitter after his family was killed. It’s just too bad, is all.” Telay’s halfling friend Agar pats Mara on the arm even as he blatantly swipes a pastry from her plate.

“It’s okay, Mara. Some people are made to be paladins, and some are made to be servants. At least he gets treated well here.”

Mara nods at the pastry disappearing down Agar’s throat. “I suppose so, Agar. By the way, you do know there are enough of those for everyone, don’t you? You don’t have to steal off of my plate.” Her voice has just a trace of friendly rebuke.

“Not once Nolin wakes up. Besides, they taste better when you filch them.” Agar grins and the paladin rolls her eyes when TomTom steals one from Velendo’s plate.

Upstairs, Malachite knocks on Nolin’s door. “Sir Nolin?”

Something that sounds like a shoe smacks against the wood inches from Malachite’s nose, and the servant recoils with a start. “Go away!” hollers Nolin from behind the door. “I’ll be down later.”

“I’ll just. . .” The servant’s face flushes with color, and he places the tray of cinnamon buns down on the floor. “I’ll just leave these out here.” He scurries away down the hall, scandalized by the sounds of merrymaking within. Malachite comes down the stairs just as Tao walks in from outside.

“Is he up?” asks Velendo.

Malachite’s tries not to stammer as he beats a retreat to the kitchen. “Yes sir. You could say that. I'm sure he’ll be down directly.”

“Nolin? What a slug-a-bed.” Tao drops into a chair and grabs some breakfast. “I love autumn. Raevynn and I had a nice walk this morning before dawn. I’ll miss this when we have to head to Eversink in the spring.”

“It will be spring there as well. You’ll just have less forest paths and more canals.” A man standing behind Tao in the doorway extends his hands outwards in a foreign sign of greeting. “Once again, I am Palladio of House Roaringbrook. I’ve brought the materials we need to go over before your diplomatic trip.”

“Oh, good. The High Magus Arcade Deltarion and his wife Lady Adrianna are outside in the courtyard. Kiri should teleport in any time now. We should be able to start in a few minutes.”

"I hope we like Eversink," comments Tao. "It'll be a nice change of pace. I just hope we don't have to get involved with local politics." Everyone agrees.

Fifteen minutes later Nolin makes his grand entrance, a half-eaten cinammon bun in one hand and his lover Telay uncharacteristically holding onto the other. He looks out onto the familiar inn room. They’d burned down this tavern at least twice in the decade before buying it themselves to use as their headquarters. Now many of his old friends were here, even TomTom and Kiri and Arcade. . . the bard shakes his head. This is wrong. He can clearly remember the battle of Mrid, and the recent confrontation with the demigoddess Halcyon, and the death of Imbindarla; there isn’t a chance that it was somehow a dream! Worst of all, he remembers that Telay should now be a vampire.

He glances up to see Mara’s deep blue eyes boring into him, and Lady Adrianna is staring oddly at Telay. Huh. Odd, but the least of his worries. Pausing on the stairs, Nolin clears his throat melodically. “Good morning, everyone. Does anyone besides myself think that we shouldn’t be here?”

Everyone looks at Nolin, and Velendo makes a grumpy noise from deep in his skinny chest. “If you mean ‘we should have finished breakfast half an hour ago and gotten to work,’ then I’d agree with you. Otherwise, I’m not sure what you’re talking about.”

Malachite comes out of the kitchen. “Sir, can I get you something to eat and drink?”

Nolin’s jaw drops. “Malchite,” he says evenly, “why are you serving food?” The tall servant looks uncomfortable.

“Because it’s my job, sir.”

At his side, Telay looks at Nolin oddly. “It’s been his job for years. Stavros hired him not long after we first met in Sigil. You know that.”

“I do? Sure.” Nolin catches her eye, and thinks again how wonderful it is to have her standing at his side. He decides to keep his mouth shut and his eyes open for a few minutes until he can figure out what’s going on.

Telay looks at him. “Are you okay?”

He nods. “I think so. I’m sort of in disbelief.”

“Nolin, come sit over here.” Mara pats the chair next to her and flashes a dazzling smile. Instead Nolin takes a seat across the long table and Telay sits next to him. The tiefling shoots Mara a smug look, and Mara scowls jealously. The bard doesn’t notice, and the group begins to discuss future plans for Eversink. Eventually, Nolin changes the subject.

“How about the White Kingdom?”

Putting down a drink, Malachite shivers. “I heard about that, Sir Nolin. I’m glad I won’t have to go. Sounds awful.”

Telay grins. “It’s the curse of being a sensate; I want to go for exactly that reason.” Across the table, Mara rolls her eyes.

“Don’t put yourself out.”

“Heh. You’d like me to not be there, wouldn’t you?” Telay leans provocatively over the table. “You’d like that. But it’s not going to happen.”

“What a. . .” whispers Adrianna, Arcade’s wife, to no one in particular. Nolin looks from woman to woman in confusion as awkward silence fills the room.

“Come on, Mara,” urges Tao as she grabs the paladin by the arm. “Let’s go for a short walk.”

“I think so.” Mara is clearly offended by something, but Nolin still isn’t sure exactly what. Telay gives them a little friendly wave as they go. The door swings shut behind them as everyone else turns to the bard.

“Don’t worry, Nolin.” Telay stretches, cat-like. “She’s just jealous. It happens.”

“Jealous? Of what?”

Velendo turns to the bard, hands spread wide as he gesticulates. “You want it out in the open? Fine, because you’re being a real jerk to her. Nolin, Mara is jealous of Telay. That’s hardly surprising, considering that you seduced her. And now you’re throwing Telay in her face.”

Nolin’s jaw drops. “I did what? I slept with her? I don’t remember!”

The beautiful paladin is framed by the window where she’s been eavesdropping, her face suffused by fury and hurt. “You don’t remember? You don’t remember?” Mara leans forward into the room in order to shout into Nolin's face. “Was I so forgettable?”

Telay takes three steps towards her, perhaps to try and calm her down, and Mara punches the tiefling in the face. It turns out that breaking hearts and breaking noses sound about the same.

* * *

The Defenders wind walk back the way they came as quickly as possible, Agar's true seeing scouring the walls for any sign of Nolin. They finally find him near the middle of the bone staircase that spirals dizzily upwards.

"Ye Gods!" yells Agar over the mindlink. "He's here, and he's still in the windwalk's mist form. But he's not conscious."

"What's wrong with him?" asks Mara from the bottom of the stairs.

Agar pauses, trying to steady his voice. "The mist is streaming from his body into the staircase itself. I think. . . I think the stair is trying to eat him."

To be continued…
 
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Jobu

First Post
LightPhoenix said:
All right, so Malachite went from being a strong-willed paladin to a meek servant, Mara went from chaste to a jealous lover, Tao and Raevynn seem more serene (and Tao is already a Divine Agent?), and Agar is a rogue now?
Tao wasn't so much serene. She took Mara outside the Inn to have a "Love Sucks" conversation...and to stop her from killing Telay. Tao and Telay have a history too......which still gets right under Nollin's nose :)
I can't explain how much FUN this run was. Watching KidC SO confused and flustered. Of course her strangeling me after the run was over was not as enjoyable.
 

jonrog1

First Post
Ah, I finally get to see how another group handled this trick. I've got an insanely evil RBDM variant I'm going to try in Dark*Matter soon ... Of course, it sounded like KidC handled things a little better than Jo, but then again, Nolin's just in the past -- Jo thought she was going crazy in REAL LIFE. Annnnd she may have been a little drunk. A little.

As always, a pleasure to read.
 

SilverLizard

First Post
Long time lurker, delurking to ask... can anyone say Red Dwarf? :D

<insert usual adulation for all PKitty's work>

<insert additional slavering praise of Jonrog's Dark*Matter story hour>

Great to see my two favourite story hours merging for a while! ;)
 

Piratecat

Sesquipedalian
This update was appended to on 1/12; if you reread it before then, you'll want to reread the last half.

-------------------------------------------------------------------

Agar takes a breath and stares down through the gloom towards Velendo. “Okay, no one panic. How do we get him out of there?”

“Well, if we just dispel the wind walk, we’ll turn him solid – but we won’t be able to travel quickly for the rest of the day.” He chews his lip. “I don’t want to save Nolin in a way that makes us too late to stop the Ivory King.”

“Well, we’ve better try something.” Galthia eyes Nolin’s disappearing body with concern. “We don’t have much time.”

YOU WILL DO NOTHING HERE. The voice is whispering, flat, expressionless.

* * *

With Tao leading Mara outside to calm down and Telay – nose healed – busy telling entertaining stories next to the bar, Velendo takes Nolin aside. “Look, I don’t know what’s wrong with you, but you need to be a lot more discreet. It’s not just Mara; if Arcade finds out about Adrianna, he’s going to literally try to kill you.”

Nolin blinks. “What about Adrianna?” Velendo’s face betrays his long-suffering exasperation.

“What, do you think we don’t know? Nolin, you must have a thing for paladins. You seduced her a few months ago, just before you put another notch on your belt with Mara. They’re both in love with you, and you’ve made it clear that Telay is the only woman you really want. How do you suppose they feel?”

Nolin gapes. “I. . . what?” He shoots a guilty look over at Arcade, laughing with TomTom as he sips a Griffin Grog across the tavern. Adrianna is also sitting at the table, and catches Nolin’s eye with a serious and unblinking stare. Nolin breaks off eye contact and turns back to Velendo. Sweat beads on his forehead.

“This so isn’t happening.” He turns to Velendo suspiciously. “What about Tao, or Claris?”

“What about them?”

“Phew. Good; even in this world, I know better than to try and seduce Tao.”

Velendo narrows his eyes. “You’re not making sense. Look, you have everything going for you here. Women seem to love you, you’ve got good friends, you’re famous and we’ve got lots of treasure. Can’t you just be happy with that? Why do you keep trying to sabotage your happiness?” Behind him, Mara and Tao reenter the tavern. Mara catches Telay’s eye and fakes going for her weapons, trying to get the bard to flinch. Nolin sees this and quietly bangs his head on the table once or twice before standing up.

* * *

“Holy cow! It talks!” Proty takes to the air as Agar backs away from the staircase.

HE IS YOUR PAYMENT FOR PASSAGE.

“What are you talking about?”

ALWAYS THIS HAS BEEN TRUE. FOR PASSAGE TO OCCUR, THE PRICE MUST BE PAID. THE PRICE IS KNOWLEDGE.

“Uh huh. So. . . what do you want to know?” Agar’s voice is hopeful and optimistically cheery.

EVERYTHING.

Mara calls up from the ground. “I’m not so sure we can help you with that.”

WE CAN NOT HAVE EVERYTHING, AT LEAST AT ONCE. BUT WE CAN HAVE MY PAYMENT.

Galthia frowns. “And that is Nolin?”

THE MOST KNOWLEDGEABLE OF THOSE WHO PASS CEASES HIS PREVIOUS EXISTENCE AND ADDS HIS MEMORY TO OURS. WE ARE STRENGHTENED AS WE LEARN. THIS IS AS IT HAS ALWAYS BEEN. IT IS WHY WE WERE CONSTRUCTED.

“Well, what if we don’t want to pay you with Nolin?”

HE IS THE PAYMENT.

“Okay, enough of this.” Velendo sounds frustrated and worried. “This thing is evil, right?”

“Oh, yeah,” confirms Mara.

“Good. Then a dispel evil should disrupt the spell and free Nolin from its control. Someone get ready to catch him if he falls.” Velendo prays, and the divine energy that his faith summons arcs into the bone staircase. The pit falls into silence.

“Well?”

Agar sounds near panic. “No change, and he’s almost gone!”

* * *

“Everyone! Pay attention! Something is wrong here.”

“You mean besides you being with this plane-hopping slut?” Mara, radiant in the sunlight, hooks a thumb at Telay and shakes her head at Nolin’s taste.

Telay smiles back at her sweetly, but there’s an evil glint in her cat-like eyes and her voice drips with treacle. “I’ve written a new song all about you, dear. Care to hear it?” The sensate reaches for her mandolin.

Nolin interrupts, voice tense with worry. “Enough! This isn’t happening, and you aren’t here. I don’t understand why, but this isn’t the world I know. Mara, I’ve never slept with you.”

Mara stands up straight, pride keeping her from losing control of her emotions. Her face flushes with color. “You wouldn’t have said that at the time.” The sunlight playing across her from the open window suddenly dims.

“No, I’m not denying this because I didn’t enjoy it.” A tiny lascivious glint sparkles in Nolin’s green eyes. “I mean it never really happened. In the real world, it’s more than a year later than it is right here. We’ve fought terrible foes, and we’re still at it. One of them must be doing this to me. I love it here, and I hate where I am in the real world. . . but where we are right now, I think it isn’t anywhere but inside my head. I can’t stay here. It wouldn’t be fair to anyone.” He looks around at his friends.

“Malachite, in the real world you’re a powerful paladin and a dedicated killer of undead. Here you’re a servant. I’ve never slept with any paladins, and Telay. . .” His eyes lock with the beautiful woman that he’s known for years. He lifts his head and juts out his jaw, perhaps to try and hide his true emotions. “You’ve been killed by something stupid I’ve done. I can’t run away from that.”

It is clear that a sudden storm has blown up outside the Manticore. As Nolin talks, a sudden storm gust rips away part of the wall. He stands in warmth, in light, surrounded by friends – and outside, the cruel storm pounds down, darkness and cold hammering into anyone fool enough to expose themselves to it. It would be death to enter.

Palladio shakes his head. “Don’t be a fool,” he whispers.

A few tears run down Nolin’s face. He takes a second to lock the image of Telay’s smile into his brain, forever burning it into his memory, and he turns his back and takes his first unsteady step away from his friends. Then another, and another after that, and none of them get any easier than the first. No one tries to stop him as he walks outside, from safety into the storm.

* * *

“We’ve got him!” screams Agar. Malachite and Galthia catch the unconscious bard before he falls to the hard ground far below. Quickly, before the bone staircase can retaliate, they flee the pit into the relatively safe tunnels beyond.

“Do we go back and destroy it?” asks Priggle.

Mara and Malachite look at one another. “No,” answers Malachite slowly. “We don’t know its capabilities or defenses. We have to stay focused on our goal.” The others reluctantly agree.

Nolin comes back to consciousness, weeping quietly.

“Nolin?” Mara puts a gentle hand on his shoulder. “Are you okay?”

“No, I’m not okay!” He lifts his head angrily, eyes full of self-loathing, and shakes off Mara’s proffered hand. “You don’t want to touch me.”

Velendo sits tiredly down on a rock. “Why? What happened to you?”

“I just got shown a vision of what I’m truly like. A petty, selfish womanizer.”

“Really.” Malachite’s voice is carefully neutral in tone.

“Yes, really.” Nolin’s tone is bitter as he drops his eyes again. “In my vision, Malachite, you were just a servant – probably because I never wanted you to be anything more than that. I had slept with multiple women and left them. I’m certainly my father’s son.” He looks up. “Mara, I slept with you and dumped you for Telay. You like me now?”

Mara’s face flushes with color. “Oh, my. Really? With me?”

“Oh, yeah. And Lady Adrianna, my best friend’s wife. And Telay.” Nolin buries his face in his hands. “I can’t do this. I’m no use to anybody.”

Malachite fights off the urge to rub his temples. With the group so close to the end, this is no time for low morale. The chain cannot afford a weak link like this, and if Nolin breaks then he’ll drag the rest of the group down with him. "This has to stop," he begins saying, loud enough only for those nearby to hear. "This has to stop."

Over Nolin’s self-pity, Galthia turns to Malachite and says “Then stop it.”

Malachite pauses for a few seconds before recognizing the truth of the statement. He’ll have to start out somewhat confrontational in order to get Nolin’s attention, and then soften up as he goes along; last time he tried this, Nolin threw a tantrum and stormed out of the room.He takes a breath and jumps in with the words that he’s been swallowing for months.

“When is this going to stop?” interrupts Malachite.

Nolin has no idea what Malachite is talking about. He looks over at him angrily, already beginning to take umbrage. “Hah. I got my lover turned into undead. I managed to turn you against me. What would you like me to stop first?”

Malachite doesn’t take the bait. “When will you see yourself like others do? Do you not see how others look at you? The way crowds hang on your voice, the way he,” he nods at Agar, “follows you? The way those kobolds picked up on your words and ran with them?

“You have within you such potential. There is a hero within you, a leader who can right wrongs and who can inspire others to greatness. But there's something holding him back, and that something *is you*. You repeatedly kick yourself for your own worthlessness. And you let yourself lapse because, well, that's all anyone expects from old worthless Nolin, and then later you recriminate yourself for what you did, proving your own worthlessness, and the cycle continues. You think you're no better than your father, so you don't have to act any different than he does. And you are so much more the man than your father is."

Nolin first sneers at the thought, but his face hold the tentative promise of redemption as he locks eyes with Malachite. “Hardly.” His voice is unsteady, uncertain.

“If you could find that source within you -- that compass -- and follow it, if you'd become what you could be, not what you've convinced yourself you are.” His voice resonates in the cave, and he spreads his arms in emphasis. “That strength would radiate out to others. The world is going to need leaders, and need heroes. A plague is coming, and the world will need people to get out the news of how to stop it. People will listen to you, if you'd just have the faith in yourself to lead them."

Malachite can see Nolin beginning to bridle, beginning to gather all the excuses he’s learned to live with. The bard is taking this as a browbeating, which isn’t how Malachite intends it, so he tries to shift gears.

“Nolin, I'm trying to *help* you. There is a terrible storm coming, and the largest raindrop this world has ever seen is about to hit the ground. I'm trying to find you shelter. The 'flame of faith' will save us, and you think you're not worthy of faith – ”

Nolin corrects Malachite. “Not to offend you, but I’ve never found any god.” He smiles wryly. “I’m not really big on faith.”

"Not everyone believes, Nolin. Many people in the Church of Aeos sit in the pews, attend services, say their 'Dawn to dusk he lights our path', and don't really have the faith."

Nolin is surprised. “Really?”

“Oh, yes.”

Velendo shifts on his rock. “That’s me you’re describing. I lived more than fifty years without real faith. Oh, sure, I believed, in the same way you believe that you’re going to have breakfast. But Calphas had other plans for me.” He risks a dirty look up at the ceiling. “When he called me, I was angry. Why me? Who was he to interfere my simple life? But he had a plan for me. Faith usually comes, Nolin, when you’re looking for it least.”

Malachite steps back in. “Many people in the churches are there not because they *have* faith, but because they're trying to find it. Or they're there to be part of the community, or they're just playing it safe. If you had some simple sign of faith, something, even if just to play it safe, it might keep you from the coming troubles.”

Nolin breaths deeply, trying to regain control. He angrily rubs his hand against his eyes as he looks across the group of his friends surrounding him. “Faith.” He considers the word. “If I have to have faith in anything, I think I could have faith in all of you. In us. And in the phoenix inside of me.”

Mara looks at him, pity in her eyes. “There are worse things to have faith in, Nolin.”

He nods and claps one hand on Agar’s shoulder before standing up. Agar’s small fingers grasp Nolin’s, and Proty flits over to cuddle against the bard’s cheek.

“Let’s get going.” He glances nervously back to where the bone staircase was, totally missing the words that Mara is silently mouthing in astonishment.

“Nolin? And me?” She shakes her head in disbelief as they get ready to move out. Next to her, Tao snickers.

To be continued. . .
 
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Piratecat

Sesquipedalian
WizarDru said:
So, exactly what did the stairs do? I guess I'm still trying to understand the price of passage. Was it to try and absorb Nolin's information by proxy, or to just occupy his mind while it worked on him? Was it devouring him, somehow, or something else?

From a mechanics standpoint, was this more of a fait accompli, or was there an actual roll involved beforehand? (neither of which is a bad approach, I'm just curious, you understand).

It was devouring him. In order to take someone, though, it had to be a voluntary choice to stay in the perfect mental world created by the staircase's intelligence. It was a little like deliberately choosing whether to pass or fail your saving throw, based on what actions who chose and how much you resisted. Nolin really settled in at first, so there wasn't too much of him left by the time the Defenders returned. Their dispel evil shook up "reality" enough for Nolin to get another choice.

When they had originally been built, thousands of years ago, the stairs just took a memory from the mind of the most knowledgeable person who descended them at any one time; it would put the memory into the head of a person who climbed the stairs. Since they were roughly a thousand feet tall, this was understandably a difficult pilgrimage - but the dwellers there could learn information that would be available in no other way, since the stairs also devoured any village wise man who was elderly and close to death.

Over time, their purpose changed a little. You know how it is; alone in the dark, no one to talk to. They can probably be excused for getting a bit eccentric.

Quick update coming right up, bringing us to the end of that gaming session.
 
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Piratecat

Sesquipedalian
The long and twisting tunnel gradually widens as it flattens, showing signs of being worked by intelligent hands. The designs carved into the rock are hideous to everyone but one particular member of the group. “Look everyone, another tentacle!”

“We saw, Agar.”

“And look how it’s attached to this carved monster’s head! Fascinating bilateral dissymetry. Not something you normally find in nature, all things considered.” He draws on his pipe in contentment and lets out a stream of fragrant smoke.

“We saw, Agar.”

“This is the work of dominated slaves,” declares Galthia. “Probably dwarven and gnomish. Definitely mind flayer architecture. Be on your guard.”

“What can we do about them?” asks Agar. “My brain is precious to me.”

Velendo harrumphs worriedly. “I’ve been worrying about this for more than a week. Protection from evil is important, as is anything that can beef up our will power. What we want is to avoid being dominated and stunned by their mind blasts.”

Galthia’s normally laconic voice is tense. “I knew fellow monks who were killed when my people attacked this illithid city years ago. If there are any mind flayers left now that the ghouls attacked them, I’m looking forward to repaying some debts.”

They fly through similar tunnels for more than fifteen minutes, Stone Bear passing on the travel directions given to him by his spirit guide. Ahead of them, the tunnel finally rises to a wide and flat ramp. At the top of the ramp is a cave opening that looks like a beaked maw – and behind that, darkness.

“Stop, everyone,” says Velendo. “We need to examine this.” The group solidifes back into solid form, and both Agar and Velendo scrutinize the door. Stone Bear joins them.

“Definitely magical,” says Velendo as he uses his arcane sight. “What are these bone bowls that have been inserted into the stone all around the opening? There must be twenty of them.”

“Skulls,” answers Galthia flatly. “Pried open skulls.”

“Oh. Right. Uck.”

“I’m seeing substantial amounts of abjuration, conjuration and necromancy magic,” reports Agar. “True seeing is telling me that this is definitely locked off from casual entry. This is psionics, so I’m not sure exactly what they’ve done to keep people out.”

“So you don’t see them?” asks Stone Bear, surprised. “Or hear them?”

“See what?”

He looks around in surprise, eye sockets shadowed. “The ghosts that are trapped in the doorway.” His raven caws uneasily, the harsh shriek startling several people.

There’s a moment of silence. “No,” says Velendo slowly, “I think it’s fair to say that we don’t see any ghosts.”

“I can detect them, though,” says Malachite. “My detection powers are working right now, and there is definitely undead there. Think the ghouls did this?”

“Or the mindflayers. Or ghoulish mindflayers; how’s that for a fun idea?”

“They’ve been bound there somehow,” says Stone Bear. “I can hear them screaming. That’s their skulls which are imbedded in the stone, and the bone is keeping the spirits in place. They won’t want to let anyone in.” He frowns. “I think they’re hungry for life energy. They don’t like us.”

Galthia takes a deep breath before stating the obvious. “They’re githzerai ghosts?”

“No. Mindflayer ghosts.”

Everyone turns to stare at the shaman. Velendo sounds incredulous. “They killed their own people for a door lock?”

Stone Bear shrugs, still feeling the hatred streaming from the entrance. “Apparently.”

Tao snorts. “Charming. I’m sick of this place. Think we can turn them now, please?”

“I doubt it,” muses Velendo. “They’d think of that. I think I know what we can do, though. I’m going to cast dispel evil on it. That should remove any evil spell holding the spirits in place. Then you folk need to turn them. All ten of us ready?”

“No.” thinks Burr-Lipp as he hops forward. “I like fighting things that bleed when I stab them. Anyways, there are twelve of us. Eleven if you don’t count Cruciel.”

Velendo frowns. “I wasn’t counting her. Who’d I miss?”

Priggle sighs.

“Oh, right. Sorry, Priggle. Let’s get this over with.” With careful timing, Velendo casts as Malachite turns – and the spirits are scattered, screaming, blasted away from the entrance portal by holy energy. From somewhere inside some sort of discordant alarm begins keening, quickly followed by another one farther away.

“Quickly, everyone!” warns Agar. “The magic is already repairing itself. We need to get through.”

Stone Bear agrees. “I don’t want to be standing right there when the spirits are dragged back.” The group rushes through into a nightmare of stone and slime.

No mindflayers are in sight. The Defenders stand at one end of a huge cavern that arcs out of sight overhead, the ground sticky beneath their feet. Near them, a hideous flesh-tree made from psionically melded living creatures has set up a terrible howl. The noise slithers into the ear, confusing and disrupting concentration. Nolin reacts by setting up a counter-melody. His rollicking song doesn’t echo in the huge space, but it strikes some chord in the near-ruined brains of the treelike flesh sculpture, and it falls silent. A similar creation farther away keeps wailing.

Nolin looks around as his song ends. “Some mindflayer thinks himself an artist and a musician. I think there are dozens of these flesh-trees, and I’m pretty sure that each one is tuned to scream at a different pitch. Music, alarm system, art and horrible torture all rolled into one. Charming.”

Tao blinks. “I can feel something trying to burrow through my mind. It’s like this whole place is alive. I hope - ” The divine agent is interrupted by her eyes glowing vibrant green, and a glorious voice cascades from her mouth.

Tao Camber, my Knight of the Horn. The time has come, for they rise up against us. Here you are needed, but in your sanctuary on the surface a horde of creatures approach the Al’Quith with torch and axe. Where will you choose to go? It is the voice of Galanna, her goddess.

Tao doesn’t even hesitate as she turns to the others. “It’s time. You can get on without me here, but I’m needed on the surface if I'm going to save my temple. They can’t burn down the holy tree, and Raevynn and our acolyte will need help.”

“Go, Tao,” says Velendo. “I won’t pretend that we’re not going to miss you horribly, but you need to do what’s best for you.” He hugs her, and many of the other Defenders follow his example. Tao specifically remembers to say goodbye to Priggle in particular.

“There’s one thing I can do before I go,” says Tao with a grin. “Wouldn’t you say that those wailing flesh-sculptures are abominations?” She brings out her rod of true nature and holds it over her head. It flashes green and gold, life energy surging out of it. When the light fades, every flesh-pillar within sight has been transformed to an actual, living tree.

Tao gives a nod of satisfaction, smiles, and dissolves into a puddle of water. In the silence that follows, Nolin slaps the side of his head.

"What?" asks Mara.

Nolin sighs in mock exasperation. "We forgot to borrow her unneeded magic items."

To be continued. . .
 
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