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

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Piratecat

Sesquipedalian
“First things first. I’ll cast magic circle of protection, and everyone should plan to stay within ten feet of me. That way our brains won’t squirt out our ears.”

“Good plan.” Priggle looks discomfited. “But I’ll have to scout ahead.”

“You’ll get one of your own, Priggle. You’re too important to lose.”

The deep gnome looks slightly mollified by this vote of confidence, and Velendo casts his spells. Agar immediately gets a horrified look on his face. “Aaah!”

“What?”

“Umm. . . I’m not sure how to tell you this, but you hear that buzzing noise in our brains? It’s some sort of mental energy that’s breaking down our protection spells.”

Velendo’s bald head snaps up. “What, already?”

The alienist nods. “Not right away, but pretty steadily. The protection from evil will be gone within a minute or two. Priggle’s is breaking down, too.” He swallows. “I can’t begin to tell you how unhappy this makes me.”

Galthia looks at him with a hint of worried humor, almost a first for the githzerai. “Oh, I can begin to tell you.”

“I better get moving.” Priggle slides into the darkness ahead. His telepathic voice whispers back, slightly crackly and hard to understand from psionic static. “I’m now about sixty feet ahead of you, heading downhill. There’s a huge cliff ahead, but the ground drops away before then. I’ll see what’s ahead.”

Priggle sneaks away, sliding through the deep shadow like a wraith. “I’ve just passed the last of the trees. The stone dips down here, and there’s a bridge with some dark fluid on either side. I can’t see into those dark holes yet but I can hear liquid. Hang on. . . Okay. The water – or whatever it is - is black, viscid and greasy; it looks like there’s tendrils in it. It sounds like blood dripping, and smells horrible. I think it's steaming a little.” His mental voice is phlegmatic, as if this sort of thing happens to him all the time.

Mara’s face twists. “Did you say tendrils?”

Agar perks up. “This gets better all the time.”

“Don’t investigate it!” Velendo is emphatic over the mindlink. “We don’t need it trying to eat you, or something horrible like that.”

Priggle’s voice becomes almost mournful as he replies. “It probably wouldn’t even like how I taste. No one ever does.” He takes a second to rethink his comment before continuing. “I’ll wait for you here while you catch up. There’s something down there near the base of the bridge. It looks like a big walking brain. Like if you took a person and replaced their flesh with brain. It has legs.”

Galthia tries to clarify. “It’s a brain shaped into the form of a humanoid?”

“Yes.”

Agar looks ill. “Wonderful.”

“Maybe we can tell it to let us pass, and that we won’t cause any more damage.”

“I’m not so sure that’ll help, Velendo.” Agar rubs his chin. “I wonder if that’s what is powering all this psionic energy.” They begin moving towards it.

“Is it a construct?” asks Mara.

Velendo thinks about it. “Maybe it’s a brain golem?” Everyone rolls their eyes at that possibility.

They move carefully forward across the sticky stone, making sure that they can’t easily get knocked into the river of fluid nearby. Ahead of them they can hear the same sort of terrible keening that had disappeared when Tao turned all of the flesh sculptures into trees. “Waaaaaaaaaaeeeeoo.” The sound skitters across the stone, burrowing into synapses and triggering headaches.

Velendo sighs. “This is horrific. This is the grossest place we’ve been.”

“You always say that.” Nolin blinks. “Hey! Are you suddenly finding it easier to see?” He looks up and sees a light source on the ceiling swaying downwards towards them. To the bard it looks almost as if a drop of clear syrup was dribbling from a pitcher – only the blob of syrup is greenish-white, the size of a large cow, and shedding a pale illumination as it dribbles downwards from the roof above.

“That’s a blob of gel-like ectoplasm,” identifies Galthia. “They can use it to kill, capture, or simply illuminate.” Mara uses her radiant knight abilities to channel the sun. Even as the sunlight bolsters the group’s armor, Agar can’t help but notice that their circle of protection is falling and their mindlink has been pierced in five or six places by inquisitive psionic feelers.

“We’re being listened to,” warns the halfling. “I can’t drop the mindlink, so just be aware that we’re compromised.”

“Let’s hope they can’t read minds through that thing,” hazards Velendo in a vain fit of optimism. “We should probably wait here and see if the bridge-thing or the ceiling-thing do anything.”

Priggle’s voice sounds wearily in their heads. “Then I’ll just stay here with the oozing ectoplasm.”

“Nah, we’re coming for you, Priggle. First, though, that damn keening is giving me a headache.” Nolin tries to counter the tuneless song that keeps getting underneath their fingernails and eyelids. He isn’t especially successful.

Velendo focuses his attention outwards and thinks over the mindlink, “I know you’re listening to this. All we want to do is pass through and not cause any more trouble.” His voice is resigned, knowing that he isn’t going to have any success. “If you just let us go, that will be best for everyone. If you launch any kind of ambush or attack, in the best case for you a lot of you are going to die. But we don’t want any of that. We just want to pass through.”

The flat response comes unexpectedly. “Greetings. You have healing magics available.”

Velendo raises his eyebrows, surprised. “Are you asking me or telling me?” Nothing. “Do you need healing?”

“Answer the question.”

“Why does it matter to you? I’d like to answer, but not if you’re going to use the information for some plot to hurt us.” He can feel something squirming around in his brain as the voice speaks; not taking residence, but there none the less.

He makes a noise in exasperation. “Answer the question,” suggests Agar at his elbow.

“Yes, I have healing magic.”

“You heal us and you may pass freely, despite what we have said before.”

“And how do I know you aren’t lying?” There is no answer. “What are you suffering from?”

The powerful mental voice tastes like aluminum in his brain. “You will see.”

“And what will you do after I heal you, assuming that I do?”

Malachite’s voice is worried as he breaks in. “Velendo, we can’t make a promise untiil we know. . .”

“I will allow you to pass freely.”

“And what then?”

“Seal the way behind you.”

Silence. Then Velendo whispers hopefully to the Defenders, “That’s not necessarily a bad thing.”

Malachite nods his head. “Not if we’re being followed. Which we are.”

Velendo thinks of the obvious loophole. “All of us? Or just me?”

“There is one amongst you who belongs to us.”

The cleric responds flatly. “No deal.”

There is a long pause. “We will consider.”

Meanwhile, Agar notices that the brainlike guardian of the bridge in psionically intertwined with the bridge itself. “Either the bridge disappears when that thing dies, or the brain golem can probably take the bridge down,” he points out in concern.

By now the shining drop of ectoplasm has descended to nearly forty feet above them, and is bouncing slightly as it sheds greenish-white light. Velendo tries to ignore it. “Well, we don’t intend to cross the bridge.” He focuses back on the mind link. “While you’re considering, what is your relationship with the forces of undead down here?”

“You have already been informed of that.”

“We've been told two different things at different times. So no, we don’t have any solid information either way.”

“Reveal.” There is an interogative in Velendo’s mind. Velendo mentally responds.

“We have some evidence that there is an elder brain who has been turned to undead, and that would lead us to believe that all the mindflayers are controlled by undead or even are undead. On the other hand, we know that the mindflayers fought against the undead, and at least one mindflayer has told us that you fought off the ghouls successfully and are now defending this area. We don’t know which report is true.”

“The infection has been contained, but must be reversed.”

“Is that what you want me to heal?”

“Indeed.”

Agar taps his finger against his chin as he muses. “An undead elder brain. . .”

Like smaller crystals off a larger chandelier, lesser blobs of solidified thought are dribbling down from the dangling blob of ectoplasm. Those smaller drops of fluid are glowing as well.

Galthia suspiciously manifests combat prescience, sensing the weak spots of the people around him, even as Velendo responds to the voice on the mindlink.

“My inclination is to help you. Our primary enemy right now, the ones we are focused on, are the undead. That is the reason that any of our number staying behind is *not* negotiable. We need them to continue fighting the undead after we leave.”

The voice is dismissive. “The undead are contained. They may not pass this way again.”

“The undead are causing other problems for other people, and those problems are our problems.”

“And that is a concern of ours?”

Velendo’s smile is humorless. “It is if you want me to heal you, yes. It seems as if everyone’s problems are intertwined with everyone else’s these days.”

“Your options are heal us and pass, or do not heal us and perish.”

“Well, we can heal you and pass, if all of us pass.” Mara’s musical voice is emphatic.

Malachite nods. “In addition, we can not guarantee that our healing will be successful until we know the nature of the malady. We will certainly attempt a cure, but we can not guarantee success.”

“Indeed.” Pause. Galthia feels something squirming around in his head, and racial memory triggers something close to panic. “You are of the slave race.”

Galthia refuses to answer. He swallows the horrible anger boiling inside of him, refusing to give in to racial instinct.

“Why have you returned here?”

“There are no slaves.”

“Untrue.” He feels it squirming around, trying to find a foothold.

His voice is measured, deceptively calm. “You might as well leave. You will find nothing to grab hold of here.”

“Do you not wish to give yourself willingly?” The mental voice sounds somewhat surprised.

“No githzerai gives himself willingly.”

“Untrue. But you are to be the exception.” It sounds amused.

Velendo’s voice has a core of iron. “He’s under my protection.” His shield thrums in accompaniment.

The mental voice is thoughtful. “If you attempt the healing, and it is unsuccessful, he will be claimed. If you attempt the healing, and it is successful, he may pass as well.”

“No deal.” Malachite’s voice is quiet.

“Then there is no deal.”

“I’m confident,” Velendo tells his companions as he shifts his shield.

“Right. We lose nothing by agreeing, comparitively speaking,” points out Agar. “We should try.” The cleric and both paladins look at him.

“If we agree, we agree. It is not my intention to betray it,” begins Velendo with some heat, but Malachite reaches out a hand to stop him.

“No, Agar’s correct. We can give our best effort. Attempting to heal it and failing is the same as not accepting the offer,” he explains. “It puts us exactly where we are now, under threat of death. We lose nothing by attempting to help.” Other than aiding something evil, he thinks to himself. But he can solve that problem after we finish with the White Kingdom, one way or the other.

A second huge glob of crystallized thought begins to coalesce on the ceiling.

Velendo takes a deep breath and addresses the unseen voice. “I suspect that there are no proofs that you can give that you will keep your word in this. I’m going to trust you anyways and simply warn you that if I heal you and it is successful, and you attempt to prevent us from leaving. . .”

“We did not want you here in the first place. You were informed that you were not allowed. You chose to break through the barriers.” It sounds slightly petulant.

“Yes. We need to pass to the other side. We need to brook as little delay as possible.” One of the little tiny crystal things hits the ground nearby and sizzles slightly; it appears to be made out of translucent fluid-filled stone, and the oozing crystal picks up the sunlight streaming from Mara and reflects it outwards. Mara catches little tiny glimpses of herself in the ectoplasm, almost as if there were thousands of mirror facets within it.

“Proceed.”


To be continued. . .
 
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Piratecat

Sesquipedalian
“So we proceed.” Velendo casts a flexible wall to make his own bridge next to the dangerous existing one, and the group slowly crosses over the chasm of fluid.

As he crosses, Galthia glances up at the looming brain-like sentinel. Doing so creates a feeling not unlike an electric shock. Reality tumbles away with a hideous lurch, and Galthia suddenly finds himself in a psionic mindscape. He is perched on the side of a huge underground mountain, arrayed for psionic battle as his flesh is stripped from him and he is reduced to a shimmering entity of willpower and purpose. Ahead of him is the huge creature that dragged him here, the loathsome essence of the brain golem: twelve or fifteen different personalities all crammed into the same body, all aligned to one fell purpose. The mark of the mindflayers is all over this creature, and Galthia senses that one of the interwoven personalities was once a githzerai.

“Oh, lovely.”

And then the brain golem attacks. It uses empathic multiplier, taking Galthia’s own thoughts and rebuilding them, bouncing them from personality to personality to personality before reflecting them back to him ten-fold. The psionic attack shatters the acumen screen he’s quickly constructing from hardened thought, and his broken defenses open him wide to any damaging power that his opponent may choose to manifest. Gasping, the monk drops from the mindscape back into reality.

“We may be about to be attacked.” His normally yellowish skin is pale.

Velendo’s face twists into a mixture of fury and fear. He demands into the mindlink, “An absolute absence of hostility is one part of this deal. Is that understood?”

“Proceed.” The sentinel takes no further offensive actions as the group nears it.

“Is that understood?” Velendo is insistent.

He gets no answer.

“I want a yes. You will not attack us. That is part of the deal!”

The voice in his head sounds like it is belaboring the obvious. “If you know this, why do you ask?”

“I don’t know. I want to hear you say it!”

A hint of superior amusement slips into the toneless voice. We know.”

An exasperated, long-suffering sigh huffs from Velendo. “How shall we pass this creature?”

“Proceed.”

One by one the Defenders cautiously slip past on either side of the brain golem, Malachite being forced to turn sideways in order to squeeze by without touching it. Behind the immobile creature the ground begins to rise into a near-vertical cliff face.

Mara pats Priggle on the back. “Priggle, check it out?” Before he can, Galthia rises upwards with levitation. He sees a series of highlands, and past these he glimpses a huge valley with dozens of giant ectoplasmic tendrils dangling above like candles from a chandelier. In the faint greenish illumination he can see a source of water to the left, and off to the right the cavern bends out of sight a quarter mile away. He seems to be standing in some sort of guard area; more than a dozen indistinct figures float slowly across the highlands, and to Galthia's eye they appear to be levitating illithids.

Below him in the huge valley is nestled an unnatural city.

Stone Bear spirit guide indicates that the correct path is forward, so the rest of the adventurers are ferried up to the rocky highlands by magic or Mara's flying warhorse Luminor. From the heights the group looks down onto the distant roofs of illithid buildings. They sport odd angles, each structure hooked and triangular and round and twisted in ways which are just not attractive. From here, the structures seem to be made from a mixture of stone and crystal fluid. One large dome seems to shine like liquid diamond.

Agar beams at the sight. “Fascinating! This is new and different!”

Mara tears her eyes away in order to give him a look. “They don’t look physically possible, do they? But they must be, because they’re down there and they clearly exist. How could it be otherwise?”

“How indeed.” Galthia leans down to whisper to Agar. “Those buildings? That’s what illithids do to your mind.”

“Eww. Less pleasant.” Still, deep inside Agar still finds this place comforting; there are no insects in sight at all, for example, and that’s a wonderful change. Proty's happy squirming echoes his mood.

From their excellent vantage point, everyone studies the area more carefully. They see liquid dribbling down into a small lake, and Priggle notices at least three illithids observing them dispassionately from hundreds of feet away. Luminescent ceiling globules dangle down over the rooftops, each slightly trembling as if actually alive.

Velendo looks at them distastefully. “Mindflayer suns.”

The heroes descend to the floor of the valley. The ground isn't fully solid. Each person trying to move sinks up to their ankles in some sort of translucent sticky fluid, and as each foot is pulled up from the sucking ground the viscous fluid freezes in place, stretched out in tiny pinnacles and strands for a moment or so before collapsing back down into the ground. Walking is somewhat like trying to navigate deep mud or fresh caramel.

Velendo lifts up one foot and examined the clear strands of fluid dripping from his boot. “Agar, can you check that and make sure the fluid isn’t doing any harm?”

Agar squints his eyes. “Wow, that is fascinating!”

“Can you stop being fascinated by it and actually do something about it!”

“Sorry. It’s some kind of incredible fluid that responds to the steps of anyone who steps in it.” He checks to see what his looks like, and is gratified that it vaguely resembles a burst of octopoidal tentacles. “Look at this! Look at it! It’s a reactive psi print that you leave behind, unique to each individual person!”

Velendo checks his. They look disturbing. As he stands there, the fluid tries to creep up his leg, so the group decides to keep moving. As they slowly proceed across the valley floor, they see dark shapes underneath the solidified ectoplasm. The shapes are a foot or two deep and may easily be rocks or even creatures, each entombed in the fluid like long-dead insects in amber. The fluid bulges in places.

“That’ll be us if we don’t keep moving.” Galthia looks around. It’s clear to him that this area has been the site of numerous fights. The githzerai can see signs of psionic residue where vast mental powers have blasted the buildings and the ground underneath it, along with more traditional signs of battle and the faint stink of ghoul.

Malachite clears his throat. “You know the theory I had that it would take just one surgical strike into the uber-brain in order to infect it with ghoulism? This may have been the vector they came through. I’ve checked; there might be ghouls, but I can’t detect them. It smells old.”

Velendo shakes his head. “Don’t trust everything you are told. This could be a trap.” Squelch, squelch. They continue towards the dome. The hum of psionics is almost constant at this point, a mental constant static that thrums in the back of everyone’s head.

The group intends to stop at the entrance to the crystal dome, but there is no obvious doorway or arch. Then the wall rips open like a wound, separating itself like a mouth with strands of fluid and crystal streaming across it. They watch the strands snap back, and by the time the group gets within thirty or forty feet there is actually a circular door there beckoning them inside.

“Amazing!” Agar’s eyes widen. Velendo’s close with evident pain, and his voice is filled with resignation.

“And that of course will close behind us. This is feeling more and more trap-like all the time. Nevertheless, no hostile actions unless they force them upon us.”

Agar waves the caution away. “This whole thing is psi-active. It responds to conscious thought on a massive scale. Incredible.” To others, however, the walls remind them more of strands of mucous and phlegm, and Mara’s stomach does a slow frontward roll.

“Proceed. We await.”

“How many are there of you?”

“We are all.”

“Ah.”

Squelch. Squelch. Half the group stays outside and the other half enters the dome, stepping into a half-darkness and onto a raised platform. Eight or more illithids float above a pit, but with no visible signal the ceiling irises open and every one of the mind flayers float silently upwards out of sight. Their huge milky eyes gleam with reflected light for just a moment before they move out of sight. Then doorway and ceiling openings both close simultaneously, and the heroes inside the dome are abruptly cut off from any allies.

There’s something in the pit before them.

Lying in a pool of psi-active mucous, glistening with its own faint greenish light, there is a 30’ long pulsing brain. Most of the right-hand side of it goes from pink to almost a greenish black, and the smell of rotting tissue is horrible. Malachite can see short grasping tentacles trying to grow out of the necrotic tissue. They twitch at the approach of life energy.

The psionic background hum drums against their ears. The brain flesh ripples, and the Defenders of Daybreak try to take in what is in front of them.

Velendo shouts mentally to the diseased elder brain. “Is it safe for me to descend and take a closer look?”

“We do not know. We will not purposefully attack you.”

With true seeing active, Agar can see an incessant battle of psionic energy flaring up along the borderline between healthy and diseased brain tissue. There is destruction and creation happening simultaneously.

Velendo has to yell over the noise in his head. “We may be able to help, but we don’t want to risk destroying the ghoulish part yet! I have to probe the extent of the damage, but I’m afraid that I will be attacked. If I am, we’ll have to defend ourselves, but we will try to minimize harm to you.”

“We accept this. It would be unwise of you to attack us.”

“I don’t want to attack you, but there’s - ”

“We are it. This is the problem.”

They see little tiny white things darting around the fluid surrounding the elder brain – a little like tiny baby trilliths. They’re mostly on the healthy side.

“I’ll say it again. There are active pseudopods flailing out from the diseased part of you - ”

“Do not let them touch you. You will cease to be of use to us.”

“What will happen if they touch me?”

“You will cease.”

Velendo rubs his temples. Galthia has a wry expression on his face as he controls his disgust. “Then you won’t be of much use to us, either.”

Agar speaks slowly, thinking hard. “If you get touched by an elder brain that is undead, it will probably just annihilate your brain.” Velendo lets out another frustrated noise, lifts his head reluctantly, and the group begins to formulate a plan.

To be continued. . .
 
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Piratecat

Sesquipedalian
A dozen strategies are discussed, including Iron body (“If it tries to eat your brain, at least it won’t get far,”) remove disease (“essential,”) and mind blank (“I wish we had this spell!”) The group weighs the risk against their chance of success as they work to determine the best way of healing the massive and quivering elder brain. Unfortunately, they're distracted somewhat by the staring corpses of githyanki and githzerai warriors that are fused into the ectoplasmic wall overhead.

“I wish I didn’t have to prod it in order to determine the damage,” worries Velendo. Small undead tentacles quiver in the rotting flesh below him.

The elder brain thunders a response. “We will attempt to control it. the flesh... has its own life.”

“How long do you think you control it?”

The tone is dismissive. “Unknown.”

Velendo makes a face. “Make a guess. You’re smart.”

“More than you know.”

“You guess you can control it more than we know?” Malachite asks rhetorically.

"Malachite," Velendo murmurs warningly. He turns his attention back to the elder brain. “We know you’re smart, you’re a giant brain. Take a guess! We’re trying to help you here.” As he speaks, the healthy portion at the top of the gelatinous pink brain begins weeping a white mucous-like fluid that dribbles down across the undead tissue. A thrumming psionic pulse like thoughts of broken glass stabs outwards.

“Owwwww!”

Heroes sway, holding their head with both hands. As they pry open watering eyes, they can see that - at least for the moment - the fluid has crystalized. The tentacles are sealed behind a rigid crystal.

"That'll do."

Velendo casts iron body and negative plane protection on himself before flying down into the fluid-filled pool. He fights through some sort of psionic defense as he moves close enough to investigate the rotting tissue. Malachite and Galthia leap down to assist, and the rest of the group readies in case of an attack.

Mara crinkles her nose as they descend into the fluid. “You’re going to jump right down into that mucous? Is that wise?” Malachite glances back at her, eyes communicating that sometimes there are only limited choices. He then refocuses his attention on the rotting brain.

The psychic tides this close to the monster are intense, each unintentional pulse threatening to sweep an unguarded mind away into the distant currents of insanity. Velendo’s poking and prodding reveal some exceptional discoveries. The cleric quickly realizes that an odd effect is occurring; there are visible ripples where the undead flesh and the living flesh repeatedly fight for dominance of the entity.

“I think the undead flesh is trying to corrupt and poison the living flesh, while the living flesh is trying to continually reheal itself.” The rippled skin shudders and twitches beside him. As he looks, the labyrinthine folds of the brain tissue try to twist themselves into screaming human faces.

Malachite’s stomach turns, but his face stays fixed in a mask of worried calm. “A positive energy burst?”

Velendo considers as he talks to himself. “Killing and regenerating the flesh might work. Clearly the main brain can heal it back. Best to chip away at it with lesser healing spells which weaken the undead portion?”

Agar raises a finger in objection. “Except we'd have to touch it.”

“I can heal from a distance,” points out Mara. “Healing should strengthen the healthy part even as it weakens the bad part.” The slurrrrrrping sound from the trembling, massive brain drowns out speech for a moment, and Mara is forced to repeat herself. “Also, I have a bow that can carry spells. We can load healing magic and cure it from a distance.”

Velendo looks at her, shocked. “You’d have to shoot it, Mara!”

She shrugs. “Yes, but one arrow won’t hurt it.”

“I’m not sure it wouldn’t consider that an attack.” He turns his thoughts to the elder brain. “Do you have a name I can use to address you?”

“We are the Master here.”

“Well, Master…”

“I won’t refer to it as that,” says Galthia flatly.

“Semantics aren’t an issue for me at the moment,” chides Velendo. “Master, would you like me to explain to you what we intend to do, or do you already know because you’re familiar with…?” There is a sucking, draining sensation as the plan is lifted whole from Velendo’s mind.

“If you do not hurt our essence, you may proceed.”

Velendo warns it. “We’re about to start to cauterize the wound. This will probably hurt. Try and fight back.”

“That is continual.”

Mara starts by channeling the sun. Healing light pours out of her and splashes onto the diseased aberration. There is an an immediate backlash as the crystalline shell starts to fracture. Tentacles pop out one by one. The psychic recoil pummels everyone, and more than one person inadvertently drops to their knees. Velendo drops back as one of the spindley tentacles swings at him, dripping pus. The undead part starts to steam, and there is a slight shrieking noise.

“What’s that?”

Velendo looks agrim. “A positive sign.” He glances over at Malachite and is horrified to see him swaying back and forth, dangling his hand and drooling slightly. His eyes are dull.

“Malachite? Malachite!”

Malachite is not sure who is talking to him, but they look sort of familiar. Someone asks “Are you thirsty?” Malachite struggles to focus his thoughts and respond. “It’s the thing.. I know this. The thing where we do it all together…”

Mara does another burst of healing sunlight. It screams and twitches. The undead end begins eeling out ganglia, in the same way a wisteria plant puts out sprouts to try and grab onto a climbing pole. The undead flesh is clearly trying to reach for other tissue.

Malachite blinks and shakes his head. “We should…” He snaps his fingers. “…do that thing where we…” He snaps his fingers again, trying to remember. It’s right on the end of his… whatever that thing in his mouth is called.

“I plan to.” Velendo hits the monster with a ranged cure serious wounds. There is squealing and hissing as bad tissue turns to oily steam. Mara heals it again. Between the two of them, the ganglia begin to shrivel. It’s soon clear that roots of diseased flesh have penetrated deep into the healthy brain tissue.

Agar holds up his familiar so that the pseudonatural ball of tentacles can see what’s happening. “What do you think, Proty?” Proty burbles happily. “You’re right, fascinating! Where else are you going to see something like this?” Proty burbles again.

Mara announces, “I’m going to touch it. I have to to remove the disease.”

“Okay, hang on.” Velendo uses a holy power to give her a powerful, temporary resistance to the next thing that attacks her. He then turns to the still-drooling Malachite and casts restoration on him.

“What are you doing!” Malachite’s head snaps up, eyes clear. “What’s going on?” Suddenly he seems normal, if somewhat subdued.

“You were drooling!”

“I wasn’t drooling!” The radiant knight burps and scratches himself. He knows that his intelligence is back to normal. He also knows that something else seems to be gone, some sort of societal reserve. . . but who needed it? Not him, that’s for sure.

Meanwhile, Mara steels herself. “Hey, big brain master! I’m going to come down and touch you to remove disease. It’s not going to hurt the healthy part of you, and hopefully –“

Malachite burps again. “Are you sure you want to touch it? Its going to screw you up.”

Mara pushes the hair out of her face and glances over at him with worry in her eyes. “How do you know that?”

“It said it would!” More quietly he grumbles, “Sometime she can be so damn slow.”

Mara doesn’t hear. “It meant the bad part!”

“They, it, we, whatever.” Malachite trails off with a dismissive shrug.

“Proceed.”

Mara jumps down into the pool of slime. Tadpoles squirm around her. Taking a breath, she touches the immense brain with a remove disease. Energy flows from her hand into it, and Velendo helps by casting a ranged healing spell into the same area. The flesh convulses violently, and there is a squeal like boiling water to accompany the horrible psionic feedback.

Dead flesh is sloughing away from the healthy tissue in chunks, large pieces of rotting pus-filled clumps dropping into the fluid. Agar is looking with true seeing, and it's clear that this is exceptionally painful for the brain. His vision reveals that even as it thrashes psionically, it trying to keep the worst of the psionic spikes away from the group.

Malachite burps again, and Velendo turns to cast heal on him. Suddenly, Malachite feels his self-esteem and manners returning. It’s an odd feeling.

Mara does another remove disease. There is horrible screaming and pulsing. The prayer is clearly burning away roots and ganglia, and a whole section of greenish-black whorls slides off into the fluid. Another healing spell from Velendo burns away more tissue.

He yells over to Mara. “How do you feel after having touched it?

Mara looks back at the old cleric. “Well, kind of gross, really, but I don’t think it did anything to me. It didn’t make my brain explode.” She moves closer to remove disease again.

Malachite’s eyes are bright. “Mara, let me give you protection from evil.” Velendo turns.

“No! Best you stay out of the fight for now. You were acting suspiciously.”

“You were drooling,” offers Mara. She touches the brain with her spell, and the psionic backlash slashes across her consciousness. Unusual thoughts bubble up as internal barriers in her mind melt away. Mara struggles for control.

She staggers back a few paces just as Velendo targets the creature with a powerful healing spell. We’re breaking away the connection, he thinks, creating a impermeable barrier between the live and dead sections of the brain. We’re separating it in such a way that they won’t kill the living elder brain. I hope.

Mara stands there for a moment before she realizes that she can probably ride on the elder brain if she wanted to. It seems so obvious all of a sudden. “I’m going to climb up on you – hold on!”

Velendo spins in horror. “Mara! No, stop!”

“I want to get on the brain!” It’s like a pony, she thinks to herself, only squishier.

Velendo is yelling himself hoarse. “Do not climb on the brain!”

Agar looks down in concern. “Do I bring her back? Proty can do that.”

Mara bridles under Velendo’s unreasonable orders. “Okay, I’ll just give it a big hug, and give it another remove disease.”

“MARA!” Velendo turns to Malachite, frantic. “What’s happening to her is what was happening to you. I don’t know how!”

“Do I send Proty?” asks Agar.

“Do that. She’s become a danger to herself.”

“No, I’m fine. I’m removing disease on him!” And riding him, she thinks. There aren’t enough horses down here. She tries to cast her prayer, but is surprised to find that she can’t; her mind just can’t grasp the force of will necessary to trigger the magical healing.

“Huh. I think it’s not working any more.” She’s now four or five feet up the side of the brain. Malachite moves toward her with the intention of casting dimension door with his cloak, just as Agar casts tentacular guidance on Proty.

Mara clambers another five feet up the side of the brain.

“MARA! Get off the brain!”

“But I’ve got to --”

“You aren’t thinking!”

I am so, too, she thinks indignantly. Giddyap.

Velendo continues. “Do not do what you think you should -- “

“You’re always telling me what to do! It always works out okay!”

Malachite reaches over to touch Mara, and slips on a surface worm smooth by constant brain rubbing. He goes face first into the slime with a sploosh. A tadpole bumps up against one eye.

Velendo clenches his jaw. “I’m not going to get distracted by this. They can handle it. I have two more healing spells left, and I need to make them count.” Galthia watches, poised to protect Velendo if anything attacks him.

“Got her!” calls Agar. “Proty, will you go get Mara? Bring her back.” Proty flies over with wriggling alacrity and fastens himself onto Mara’s back.

While Malachite is down there underwater, he decides to touch the brain and remove disease. After all, nothing happened to him last time he touched it. Unfortunately, like Mara, he can’t summon the force of mind and he surfaces with a gasp.

“It’s not working.”

“Hey, it didn’t work for me, either,” calls down Mara from her perch. “Maybe if we went over to the ghoulish part.”

It’s resisting,” insists Malachite.

“It is? It didn’t resist before!”

“It’s resisting now!”

Agar sighs. “It’s not resisting. They’re both affected.”

Velendo glances up. “By what?”

“Something is reducing their capacity to think, and a heal spell didn’t help.”

Mara frowns. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.” Then Proty uses an imbued spell to teleport her back to Galthia’s side. “Oh!”

Velendo raises his voice. “I’m planning to use a heal spell, so that it eradicates the remaining flesh without hurting the brain. The undead ridge is still active, putting out tendrils, but the rest of the flesh is dead.”

Malachite struggles to his feet. “I’ll do the burst now.”

"Good," agrees Galthia.

“No!” Velendo is almost at his wits’ end.

“Galthia says to do the burst.” His voice is sly.

“And I say not to! I’m the medic in this operation. Don’t do it.

Malachite’s voice is petulant. “He has more experience with the brain.”

“Yes. He also has more. . “ He searches for the right word. “. .bias. Don’t do it.” Velendo does one more targeted healing, afraid that Malachite might do a burst before he has a chance to finish. One more massive chunk of dead flesh splashes into the fluid. Now the exposed brain tissue is raw and reddish pink, pulsing with cores of greenish-black undead flesh. A hideous groan springs up from the brain tissue.

Mara jumps down to remove disease again, just as Velendo casts mass heal. “This might hurt,” he tells the brain, “but it will help you even as it hurts the other. Use that strength.”

The psionic pressure is intolerable as the spell takes effect. All the walls of the dome splash outwards like a popped bubble, and the group is suddenly exposed to the ceiling of the cavern. The pain from the psionic scream is horrible, but it appears that the spell has burned the last of the undead tissue away.

There’s a huge chunk missing out of the side of the brain. Malachite's mind is now clear as he does a positive energy burst. “Dawn to dusk, he lights our path.” Emerald light spreads outwards in a shimmering cascade. There is hissing and squealing from chunks of undead flesh that were still barely alive. Now all that’s left is three quarters of a pulsing brain, with liquid oozing out of the damaged areas.

Malachite does one more burst. One more bit of tissue bubbles and squirms, and then something falls out of the flesh into the pool. It looks like a length of ghoulish brain ganglia 7” or 8” long. Malachite strides over and kills it himself.

“I’m going to touch you so that it’s easier for the wound to heal.”

"Proceed."

The wounded part scabs over, and the hideous mental pain is gone. “We are free of it. We are missing part of us. Is this something you can fix?”

Velendo considers. “I’ll need fifteen minutes.”

“If we were truly successful,” explains Malachite, “this will not plague you again.” He reaches down a hand to help Mara climb out of the pus.

“We will see if we feel it regrowing. Is there anything you wish?”

“Well, we wish to be allowed to leave as we agreed.” Mara shakes fluid from her armor.

The mental voice pauses. “Two of you are linked. One moment.” There is a shot, sharp spike in the back of Mara’s and Malachite’s heads as something is drawn out of them. “Your touch on my form has broken your brains. I have fixed you.”

Velendo thrums his fingers on his shield. “Is there a way for you to stop that? I’m going to have to touch you again.”

“There is not. I will fix you if you become broken.”

“Well, that’s a consolation.” Velendo sits down on the ledge, and the elder brain turns its scrutiny on the githzerai monk.

“It appears you will not be claimed.” It sounds thoughtful. “You are aware it was your people who did this to me.”

“It is a shame that my people did not finish what they started.” Over the mindlink, everyone yells at Galthia not to provoke it. He ignores them.

“They weakened our defenses. We were no longer able to keep back the undead.”

Galthia thinks to himself, “And it’s all Nolin’s fault for inviting in the githzerai rrakma in the first place.” Out loud, he says “Next time, they will succeed.”

“Interesting you think so. Is that a promise, or a threat?”

Malachite gestures. “What’s the difference?”

“It does not matter.”

“But it does.”

“We have no time for semantics.”

Mara tries to make peace. “Right now, we both have a common enemy.”

“If you return, you will not be pleased by what you find. But that is for another time. You have been true to your word, something which we did not expect. Should that continue to be the case, we will spare you an additional unpleasantness of which you are not aware.” It quivers and pulses, but says nothing more.

Agar pats his familiar. “Good job, Proty.” There is a tentacular squirming from the pseudonatural stirge. “That’s right, little guy. Yes, you’re the real hero here.” Proty squirms in delight and lovingly wraps a pseudopod around Agar's neck.

Velendo prepares regeneration, knowing that casting it is probably going to break his brain. He hesitantly touches the flesh of the Master. When he feels something sliding up into his consciousness, attempting to sever control over his mental facilities, he focuses his will and fights it off easily.

Within a few seconds the flesh he touched begins to bubble. Then it bursts outwards, slowly taking on the same shape it had previously. As this occurs, the level of background psionic power in the room noticeably rises until there is a low-level thrumming.

“The pain is gone from us. We are restored.”

Malacihite smiles. “I killed it, so it won’t be returning.”

“Then you may pass. There may be undead on the other side of the barrier. My perceptions do not extend there.”

Velendo stretches his back. “We will offer you similar information. There are undead that pursue us. We wouldn’t want them to take you by surprise.”

“They will not be able to enter my realm.”

“We did.”

“The wards were not optimized against you. If they do, we will be ready. We have our own resources.”

“This has been a trying day.” Velendo shakes the ectoplasm off of one foot and looks around. “Come on, folks. Let’s go.”

To be continued…
 
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Piratecat

Sesquipedalian
andrew_kenrick said:
Were her thoughts spoken in game? I don't think I'd have been able to keep a straight face if I was there.

What makes you think we were keeping a straight face? The thoughts are partially Mara's in game; some of the funnier ones are an amalgam of comments made by the other players at the time.

Another example of selective editing: when the group was warning the elder brain about the undead chasing them, here is how the conversation really went:

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

Elder brain: “The wards were not optimized against you. If they do, we will be ready."

Velendo: "The undead who follow us may be particularly powerful examples of their kind. they may have abilities you haven't encountered before."

Elder brain: "Your DM had more than eight extremely powerful mind flayers statted up and ready to fight."

Piratecat: "Oh wait! I mean... I mean... uh..."

Elder Brain: We have our own resources.

(disbelieving laughter)

Piratecat (abashed): "I'm sorry, I make that mistake every once in a while. I don't know what I was thinking."

Blackjack: "Yes, the Gods move in mysterious ways."
 
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mythago

Adventurer
So is there a little sign next to the Elder Brain with a measuring stick:

YOUR INTELLIGENCE MUST BE LOWER THAN THIS TO RIDE THE BRAIN
 

Jobu

First Post
I was SOOOO sorry I missed this round. I got a call from KidC and PKitty that night - laughing hysterically about Mara riding an Elder Brain. *sigh* ....and I moved away.

BUT...............back on the surface the fun keeps a comin for our former Defenders. Picture the scene: Tao, Raevyn, Altethia (Knights of the Horn), Citadel of the Horn, angry mob of farmers and peasants with pitch forks and torches. They are coming to burn down the Citadel in revenge for Galanna killing Imbindarla and causing the death and destruction happening on the surface. Are they mind controlled? Are they going to be easily swayed? Are they going to be crispy critters really soon? Let's look at Raevyn and Tao's diplomacy skills.........wait, I'm still trying to find them.......Nope - none to speak of.
So the only question is do the Knights of the Horn start with talking or an Acid Storm? Should be interesting.
 

KidCthulhu

First Post
Next? Well, Mara and the brain pony enter the local big horse race, and are the come from behind winners. It's a tearful, feel good moment, as the beautiful paladin and the plucky brain beat out teams of much bigger horses, whose jockeys and owners all look down on them and belittle their dreams.

At the very end, as they stand triumphant in the Winners Circle, flashbulbs popping and reflecting off the giant silver trophy and Mara's tears of joy, she looks down at the brain, pats it affectionately and says "That'll do, Brain. That'll do."

I cried. It was that beautiful.
 
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Piratecat

Sesquipedalian
Just a quick update right now in the form of a vision from Agar. I'll have two or three big updates this next week, but they need more polishing. You'll see the first on Monday, then Wednesday, then Friday.

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

You are Agar. You turn away from the elder brain, and another vision crashes into your mind. This is a vision of the present, and suddenly you leave your body far behind.

As you tumble through mist, you can hear it: the whistle of arrows, the dull thump as they strike flesh, the clang of blades and a grunt of exertion. Faint voices. A scream. It echoes and repeats, starting over and over as it grows louder, and you follow the sound. You burst into the cavern, and…

You know this cave. It isn’t far from Akin’s Throat. Your group camped here one night.

You see no undead, but you can smell them, and you can hear them – grunting, snorting, drooling. You can feel them, too, an icy cold that you last felt inside the small fortress of Mridsgate.

You can see things that are alive, though. There are huge insects here, humanoid – barely - and probably intelligent: formians, the hive-minds of Mechanus. Scores of them, all twitching antennae and waving forelegs, clacking mandibles and rustling scuttle! They are armed for battle. Scattered around and throughout them are almost a score of humans of all ages, shapes, and sizes; an old skinny man stands near a wiry middle-aged woman, and just a few feet away a scarred teen-aged boy is paired with what looks like a blacksmith. Their eyes are frighteningly blank, and they all move simultaneously, as if one organism with many different bodies. Oddly, several of Nolin’s kobolds are here as well, looking terrified but resolute. This is the hivemind, psionically-linked mercenaries accidentally formed by the Defenders almost a decade ago.

Then your attention is captured by a fully human voice that you know. “You come no farther.” The woman is neither young nor old. She is short-haired and gray-eyed, and she is equipped with a pair of fighting sticks that glimmer in the darkness. You’ve met her before; she is a friend of your friends, and a holy pilgrim of Vindus, God of Vengeance. Her name is Claris.

“No farther.”
“No farther.”
“No farther.”
“No farther.”
“No farther.”
“No farther.”
“No farther.”

Her statement is echoed simultaneously by every other human mouth, and then clattered and scent-said by the formian hivemind. A few kobolds chime in near the end. The effect is eerie. A rotted, precise voice agrees.

“No farther.” You can’t see who is speaking, but the voice is high-pitched, oddly formal, and probably undead.

“You’re one of us, T’Cri,” says Arballine’s voice from the empty air. The unseen elven archer sounds like she is smirking. “I was there when Leipcik fell. What, don’t want to be on the winning side?” She pauses. “A few bugs and humans aren’t going to stop us, rodent. We have more important people to kill, even more important than a traitor. So get out of the way.

Next to Claris, you hear the high-pitched voice again, sounding barely under control. “I have my soul now, elf. You have forgotten the teaching of your elders, if ever they had the wisdom. Duty takes precedence over hunger. Your prey is fulfilling an oath to me.” Claris tilts her head and glances towards the unseen speaker, but says nothing.

Arballine laughs bitterly from the empty air. “So? You’re undead too!”

For a few seconds the cavern becomes completely silent. “Promises are more important than death. So Skrinnix the Enlightener wrote in the Tablets of Rising, and His wisdom is complete. I fight for my own cause, not for you. I would advise you to flee.”

You hear a bow twang. Claris reels back, clawing at something that you can’t see, even as the insects and humans lunge forward.

And you are dragged backwards out of the cave. The vision ends. You are back in the mindflayer city, and you know that the ghoulish assassins that are stalking you have been intercepted by allies.

But you don't know who's winning.
 

shilsen

Adventurer
Very nice.

Here's a question - how do you communicate this vision in-game? Simply describe it to everyone, do a writeup for the player concerned, handle it outside the session via email, or something else?
 

Piratecat

Sesquipedalian
For some things, I just hand him a note. This one is especially important and felt much more real, so I read it to the group. The others just got to pretend they didn't hear it.

The undead here are clearly the assassins put together to specifically kill the PCs, after they were brought back from undeath. The elven archer who feathered Mara's throat back with the necropede, the psionic shadow who strength-drained everyone back at Mridsgate. . . and they've been intercepted by a former Defender of Daybreak and her mercenaries.

As a reminder, Claris sent a circlet to Malachite as a gift while they were in Akin's Throat, and the group heard rumors that she had allied with a bunch of formians to take on undead. This was a tip of the hat to the fact that the PCs weren't the only group of powerful heroes trying to stop the White Kingdom. Sometimes it's nice to know that you have allies, even if they aren't right by your side.

More importantly, this vision told the group that T'Cri (the skaven monk who first tasked them with the White Kingdom, and who then got turned into a ghoul himself because the party took too long to leave) turned against the other ghouls when Imbindarla died and he got his soul back.

It drove the group nuts that they had no way of knowing who won.
 

Piratecat

Sesquipedalian
jaults said:
Soooo, how did the Defenders create a psionically-linked hivemind of merceneries?

Nolin's half-brother was disguised and running an elaborate scam, claiming to be a prophet and attracting his own cult. He used a psionic helm to bring people together. It provided mild empathic links between church members, making sure that they never felt alone or lonely. Heck, it even got Arcade to join.

Then the empathic murmuring intensified. The helm was intelligent and bent on creating a hivemind. One person after another snapped under the psionic urging. Nolin's brother finally panicked and stole the helm, trying to run for it, hoping that distance would help. It didn't. He appealed to the Defenders for help.

Since Arcade was under the helm's influence, I made of a sheet of handouts for him: the phrase "Join us, we are one." in a font size from 2 to 64. I cut them apart, started with the tiny font, and handed him a new one every time the psionic urging intensified. Amazingly enough he made every saving throw, but it was a near thing. We were up to font size 52 or so by the time that the mindlinked army of cult members caught up to the party. Saying "Join us, we are one" is still guaranteed to make Bandeeto scowl at me. :p

When they neutralized the influence of the helm (sealing it in iron and mithral and burying it, even as half the group tried to hold off the brainless mob without killing them), it sent everyone into temporary shock. Some people came out of the effect in a coma. Some were fine, including Arcade. And about thirty or more remained perfectly linked, one intelligence with over thirty bodies. This hivemind eventually became a mercenary group, since they worked in perfect correspondence with one another and were superb spies. They bounced in and out of the campaign in the years since, gradually losing members but increasing in average combat skill.

Nolin's brother, never one for big scenes where people want to string him up, made a fast and graceful retreat.
 

Sito

First Post
I love this scene, mostly for PCat's stated reason of letting the DOD know others are on the case (and 'cause it's a grandstand for Claris, naturally - though how is "Promises are more important than death" not her line?;) )

But it's also a terrific example of his ability to never let a thread drop while crafting the world-story. Four different loose ends come together in this vignette. For instance, it's a great peek for those who are wondering "Do we still have to worry about T'Cri?" At the same time, it shows that other forces are in motion. Actions have consequences, and both can happen off screen - you never get the "Rozencrantz and Guilderstern are Dead" feeling that NPC's are just waiting around for the DOD to enter stage right.

[fanboy] Really great storytelling [/fanboy]






------------------------------------------
Piratcat Fan Club - "Join us, we are one."
 
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Bandeeto

First Post
KidCthulhu said:
I agree with y'all. I loved this vision of T'Cri and Claris more than any other Agar has gotten.


It is indeed a great scene. And yes, I still hate "Join us. We are One."
In fact, I still have some of those pesky little slips of paper P'Cat would toss at me from time to time.

The Helm of the Hive adventure also marked the beginning of the descent into evil for Alix, our rogue. It took place almost immediately after the Academy of Flamecraft. The DoD knew the members of the hivemind weren't responsible for their actions, and we were doing our best to subdue the unfortunate fellows as harmlessly as possible, using illusions and such.

Alix had picked up a magic item that let him cast the occasional fireball, and while the rest of us were going nonlethal he launched one into the crowd, killing several. It was an omen of things to come.

Bandeeto
 
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KidCthulhu

First Post
It was also an interesting encounter for us because we were, as I remember, about 9th or 10th level. Just about that time that characters start to feel powerful and mighty. We were very full of our ability to lay down the smack, and there's PC throwing a bunch of innocents at us, any one of whom could be felled by a carelyss blow. Very sobering and very challenging. It really brought home the "great power/great responsibility" message to us. Well, to most of us.
 


Piratecat

Sesquipedalian
The trip out of the mindflayer city is horrifying. The group laboriously makes their way around an intricate labyrinth imprinted into the cavern floor. The pathway is outlined by still-conscious brains stuck upon spikes.

“These things are still thinking,” says Galthia with revulsion. “I can pick up echoes from them. Their mental energy is powering the defenses.” He worries that he can also sense trace thoughts of his closest friend, lost here on a rrakma several years before, but there's no way to be sure. I’ll be back, he vows to himself. They will pay.

Once past the labyrinth, the group moves through several rooms filled with intricate energies that part before them. They leave by walking through an opaque stone wall that suddenly becomes solid behind them. The ever-present psionic hum cuts off abruptly, and everyone collapses to the ground. They're through.

Galthia eventually gets back to his feet. “I’ll scout ahead. We need to camp, but we should know what’s nearby.” His voice soon whispers over the mindlink. “The way is blocked ahead by three kobold zombies. They each have uneaten rats on sticks, and they’re standing in front of a thin waterfall.” He pauses. “The waterfall is artificial. There’s a decanter of endless water placed up at the top, and draining down into the floor. We can’t get through the water in wind walk form.”

“Are the zombies showing any aggression?”

“No, they’re just standing there.”

“Well, come on back. We have the Flickering Needle set up. We’ll camp in the Daern’s Instant Fortress overnight, and take them on in the morning.”


Overnight, the group identifies and splits up accumulated magical treasure. One of the things that Mara claims is a vest of etheric calm, made of many kuo-toa leather straps. “It allows the calming of etheric winds,” says Agar. “If you have the vest on, you shouldn’t have to fear any ethereal storms.”

“Like the one going on right now?” Mara reaches out her hand for the leather harness. “I have armor of etherealness. This’ll be perfect!”

Nolin twitches. “Little leather cross-straps. . .” He gulps audibly and wipes some sweat from his forehead. “I’m going to go and have a little lie down.”

“It’s what kuo-toa wear! And it goes under the armor.” She wipes off kuo-toa slime from the leather and tucks it in her pack. Nolin moans, Agar takes a deep breath, and they both go back to identifying.

Other items are split up as well. One is a kuo-toa ring of drowning, which causes minute-long bubbles of water to appear atop the target’s head. “I have no open ring slots,” remarks Nolin, “but I love the idea of the ring of drowning combined with the ring of incontinence.”

“For maximum embarrassment?” asks Velendo.

“Exactly. But let’s give it to Galthia so that he has a ranged attack.” The monk looks bemused. They give troll intestine rope and a gem that seeps psychic poison to Malachite, and the Golden Torc of the Sea King to Burr-Lipp.

“I have a feeling that the kuo-toa would want that back if they knew we had it, but what the heck. What’s next, Agar?”

Agar looks at the glorious jewel-encrusted sceptre in his lap. “This is a rod of kingly attire. It can dress you in clothing worth 20,000 gold pieces once a day.”

The bard’s eyes bulge. “Yoink!” yells Nolin.

Velendo looks disgusted. “The ghouls get the best plunder from a dozen civilizations, and we get a rod that makes you dress nicely. Lucky us.”

“Be fair,” says Malachite. “Dress really nicely.”

“And all of this stuff is coated with slime,” complains Nolin as he wipes off the sceptre on an old shirt. “Clearly we need to kill some more sophisticated people.”

Velendo clears his throat. “So, how do we deal with the zombies tomorrow? Are they scout zombies or warning zombies? If we kill them, are the ghouls warned?”

Mara puts down the leather straps. “Do we know what ‘s between us and Nacreous?”

Malachite shakes his head doubtfully. “In theory, it’s smooth sailing all the way. Somewhere out there is the cavern where the ghouls were stopped hundreds of years ago. . . the place where Aleax and Morak sacrificed their lives to drop a cavern ceiling on their heads. I don’t know of anything else.”

“Assuming the White Kingdom hasn’t animated the bodies of the other former saint.” Nolin snorts, and Malachite looks up.

“They already did that.”

“You’re thinking of Saint Aleax. I’m thinking of Saint Morak, the priest of Calphas who actually brought down the ceiling and killed all of them. The dwarven ghost we met in Mrid said he was greedy. Who knows what happened to him.”

“Hey now!” objects Velendo. “He's probably working away in Haven for Calphas. No blasphemy, please.”

They consider different plans, including true seeing, prying eyes, and scouting ethereally. Then with a squeak, Agar’s eyes roll back in his head. He comes back to consciousness seconds later, but refuses to discuss his vision.

Later than night, when Priggle has gone to bed (“I know there aren’t enough beds. I’ll just sleep on the floor. It’s not like a svirfneblin is used to anything better, anyways.”), Agar talks about what he saw. “I saw Priggle in a city of bone,” he gulps, “and he was a ghoul.”

“Oh, that’s not good,” worries Mara. “We better not tell him.”

“I agree,” says Agar. “It would just distract him.” The group finally goes to bed, and their sleep is torn with nightmares. Perhaps it’s the nearness of the mindflayer city, or perhaps its what they’ve gone through, but only Priggle looks well-rested in the morning.

“Why’s everyone looking at me?” he asks suspiciously, but no one tells him of Agar’s vision. His natural paranoia makes him suspicious, though, and his craggy face is twisted by a frown as the group prepares for combat against the three kobold zombies.

Agar casts true seeing, and sneaks in with Galthia. Invisible and flying, he’s hard to detect.

“We’re four hundred yards up. The zombies have evocation magic on them, and there is a low-level illusion magic on the rats.” He checks the ethereal plane. “Yeek! There are indistinct spirits all over.”

Back near where the group camped, Mara leans against a wall whose carven tentacle design has changed shape overnight. “I don’t think the rats are inherently magical. They’re just rats impaled on a stick. Magic rats don’t exist.”

Velendo frowns as he tries to remember. “Didn’t the Torazian deathgranter Droomak have a magic rat of throwing? It was dead, and if you flung it at someone it would animate and burrow in to them. Dylrath got it, and carried it around for a long time.”

Malachite’s face twists. “And you say Dylrath had this item?”

“Yes.”

“Shocked. I’m shocked by this.” His voice is phlegmatic, not surprised in the least.

Nolin smirks. “That rat was of enchantable quality. You don’t often see a masterwork rat.”

Agar reports in again. "They’re just standing there.”

“Well, I’m bored,” announces Mara. “I’m going ethereal to scout.”

“Mara, no!” shouts Velendo, but the beautiful paladin is already gone. “Damn it.” Resignedly he waves good luck to her, and turns to the rest of the group. "Every time we make a plan, we know that we have to come up with something in ten minutes. Any longer than that, and Mara goes and does something rash."

Mara finds herself standing in a bank of clouds. She feels like she’s in the eye of a maelstrom. Moving through the clouds are the faint shapes of flitting ghosts, and she can hear moaning and crying from the spirits around her. If she squints, Mara can just barely see the shapes of her friends nearby. She takes a deep breath and moves down the tunnel.

Once she passes Agar and Galthia she drifts forward more slowly, sinking into the floor so that only her head is visible. The faint feel of the stone brushing past her almost tickles.

“Well, that’s not something you see every day,” comments Agar over the mindlink.

“What?” asks the others.

“Mara’s disembodied head just drifted by. It was emerging from the cavern floor.” He sounds fascinated.

Meanwhile Mara moves into the cavern and watches the zombies, who seem to ignore her completely. There is stacked rubble around this cavern in addition to the zombies and the waterfall. She drifts through the rubble in a corner and is shocked to discover a zombie underneath the stacked rocks. She withdraws carefully, and with her heart thudding she swoops through the wall and past the falling water.

"Well, this is a let-down." Behind the wall of water she discovers a completely empty room with a flat stone floor. The stone is slightly shinier and smoother than the walls, as is the back wall (probably blocking off a door.) They look newer than the natural stone of the cavern walls. There is 2 or 3” of water on the floor. She heads back, rematerializes, and reports on what she’s seen.

This mystifies the group. “If the zombies raise an alarm, where do they go if the room behind them is sealed off? This makes no sense. We have to get past those zombies one way or another.”

“The evocation on the zombies is probably some spell to make them explode when killed,” concludes Agar. “It seems to be linked to their animating force. Kill ‘em, and they’ll go boom. That’s my guess, anyways.”

“What about the spell on the undead rats?” Velendo makes a face.

“No idea. Maybe something like magic mouth, but there’s no way to be sure. I say we go get them.”

“It’s us against three kobold zombies,” says Nolin sarcastically. “How tough could this be?”

To be continued. . .
 
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Piratecat

Sesquipedalian
“Ready, everybody? Let’s go!”

Agar leads with a dispel magic that shatters the enchantments in the area, terminating the magic with coruscating flashes. Mara follows up by focusing her faith through her holy symbol and turning undead. The pure light of Aeos plays over them, and all three kobolds and their rats turn into dust.

Malachite blinks. “Well, that was easy. Be wary of the kobold in that pile of rubble.” They move forward in a wedge formation, weapons drawn and spells readied. Priggle nudges a pile of kobold ash with one toe before checking the walls for traps.

The group pauses by the decanter of endless water that has been sealed into stone. The water from the decanter is flowing into a small stone trough, and a slit in the bottom of the trough provides a thin waterfall over the doorway. Reluctant to stick his head through the curtain of water, Velendo warns the group and stone shapes the rock away from the decanter. It falls into his hand, the waterfall ceases, and everyone glares suspiciously into the next room.

Nothing. No movement, no sound, nothing that shows up on true seeing… nothing.

Galthia glances at the still-flowing decanter. “It’s of illithid design originally. See how it’s twisted, with carved tentacles?”

“Ooh,” says Agar, “may I see?”

“And this,” Velendo addresses Galthia as he taps his holy shield with a *tink tink*, “was once of Torazian design. I took it away from a priest of murder, and Calphas converted it to the cause of good. We shouldn’t be too quick to discard useful tools.”

“Fascinating,” says Agar as he sprays his familiar with the decanter. “But we can’t walk around with it spilling out water. Let’s try some commands.” After “off!” doesn’t work, he rattles through his languages and arcane commands. It still pours forth water that drains onto the wet floor.

“Can you tell it to stop in mindflayer?” asks Velendo.

“No,” says Agar. “Illithids only speak mentally, anyways.”

Velendo’s eyes light up. He thinks “Stop flowing!” at the decanter. Nothing happens. But Galthia has had the same idea, and he reaches out with his psionic awareness to find a rich and complex weave of thought-structures around the bottle. A slight psionic nudge and a command to cease, and the water coming from the bottle stops with a revolting gurgle. Malachite reaches over and hands the decanter to Galthia.

“Maybe you should carry the decanter, as you’re the only one who can use it.” Galthia takes it without comment.

“Darn,” complains Agar. Nolin pats him on the back, and most of the group moves out of the doorway into the room beyond. The floor is covered by a few inches of water, and the door at the far side has clearly been stone shaped out of existence. The group is cautious as they surround the door and prepare to have Priggle and Galthia smash it open. The silence is only broken by splashing, one or two witty comments and an occasional “Shhh!” from Velendo.

Priggle touches the wall and concentrates, and the veins of the earth pulse as elemental energy slide around the edges of the cave. The stone in front of the deep gnome thrums as it takes on the consistency of clay. Priggle hefts his pick, and they prepare to smash down the barrier.

He doesn’t get a chance.

At first it feels like an earthquake. There are two huge *WHOOMP!* noises that echo deafeningly through the cave, and the water-slicked stone floor begins to shake. The stone in the middle of the floor buckles upwards in two separate places, and the slabs of rock tilt crazily before splashing back down into a pit of deep water that was hidden beneath the thin stone of the floor. Defenders are thrown off their feet from the shock, three of them knocked fully into the dark and oily water. Priggle and Stone Bear are nowhere to be seen, and Velendo barely manages to clutch a section of still-stable flooring to stop himself from sinking out of sight. He turns his dripping head and sees a tangled mass of huge, rotting blue-black snake heads rising from the depths behind him. They rise from a knotlike confusion beneath the water, and there are too many to easily count.

Mara breaths out a an Aeosian prayer as she takes in the sight. “Dawn to dusk, he lights our path.” Her voice is shaky, and the stench is horrible. The water continues to boil as more and more heads emerge.

Nolin isn’t in the water, although he’s balanced on a slab of stone that is already tilting badly. The bard braces himself to cast a mass haste and a flame strike. Spellcasting in such a way that the snake heads won’t be able to attack him, he shifts his balance, and the slab of stone beneath his feet cants violently at the worst possible time. Nolin‘s yell of surprise and flailing arms are enough to disrupt the complicated magical song. As the incomplete mass haste dissipates into a flowing cloud of golden motes, Nolin yells an apology. “Auggh! Sorry, guys!” He scrambles back up the unstable flooring and tries to find a sturdier place to stand and fight.

Galthia dances nimbly across the disintegrating floor. He braces himself and pounds his fists into the swaying necks. The heads above him are easily as big as his own torso, and the necks are several feet in diameter. The monk swings five times, and not one of his blows does any damage.

“We’re worried about this thing, right?” asks Agar.

“Yes!” comes the answer from a half-dozen different people. Galthia’s voice is certainly one of them.

As Burr-Lipp leaps towards the water to rescue Stone Bear and Priggle. As he does, several of the snake heads whip out and smash into his body. He’s held upright for a few seconds as one head rips off chunks of flesh. As the head lets go, the bullywug hits the water with a limp gracelessness and a flat splash.

“Gurrblup! That hurt, and I’m completely paralyzed. I can’t move at all.”

“Can you breath underwater?” asks Velendo.

“Yes.”

“Oh, well that’s convenient,” says Galthia, still staring up at the heads above him.

Malachite snorts. “Well, he is a frog.” He takes a shuddering breath and repeats Mara’s prayer. “Heaven help us. Dawn to dusk, he lights our path.”

Agar flies up and hovers above the monsters, staring down into the tangled area where each neck merges into another in a writhing column. “I think there’s just one body down there,” he cautions. Casting defensively he fires three acid orbs into the emerging bulk of the body, hitting with each of them and the third smacking perfectly into the beast and burning downwards. The acid sizzles through layers of rotting undead flesh, leaving behind hideous boils swarming with grubs or maggots underneath the skin. Nolin and Velendo both see it, but it’s Nolin who realizes that they look horribly familiar.

“Oh, bugger. Revenant worms!” screams Nolin. “Don’t let those worms touch you!”

Agar looks down as he tries to dodge the reptilian heads beneath him. “That means nothing to me.”

With his vast knowledge of undead lore, though, Malachite easily recognizes the reference. “If they touch you, they’ll burrow into your skin and head for your heart. If you don’t burn them away, they’ll kill you and turn you into undead.” He returns to his prayers as he tries to find a stable path across the remaining flooring.

“Undead used to throw them at us back when we were trying to climb the mountain where Tovag Baragu is,” Velendo calls. The old cleric looks ill. “They’re a special gift from Imbindarla.” In terror, Nolin ignites his entire body in roaring fire before any of the revenant worms touch him.

Mara prays again before she launches her attack. “Dawn to dusk, he lights our path.” Her words happen to coincide with Malachite’s simultaneous prayer, and the cavern suddenly grows as quiet as a church. Instantly and without any spellcasting, a pulse of light comes out of her. It catches Malachite and reverberates from him back to Mara, catches Mara and reverberates again. It shimmers for a few seconds, glimmering, and then explodes outwards in a silent wave of holy sunlight.

“Oh, close your eyes!” cries Mara in surprise. The sunburst splashes against the undead flesh and the visible revenant worms start bursting into greasy smoke. All the great heads are momentarily thrown back, and a wrenching howl emits from more than a dozen seared throats. It’s the first noise that the creature has made.

“Song cue!” yells Nolin. “Spontaneous holy combustion… What was that?”

“I have no idea.” Mara blinked in surprise, and turns to an equally confused Malachite. “What just happened?”

“I don’t know,” he answers over the noise of the shrieking creature. “Was that circumstantial, or do we need to be careful not to pray in unison?” Mara just shakes her head in wonder.

Over the mindlink, Velendo asks everyone who has fallen into the pool how deep the water is. “Have you hit the bottom?” Stone Bear is still underwater and desperately trying not to sink, and Burr-Lipp is floating limply. Priggle can answer, though.

“Of course I hit the bottom, I’m heavier than water. I’m going to die down here. Wet, dark and cold. Probably a fitting end.”

Velendo bites back a comment. “But how deep is it?”

“Twenty feet, or thirty, perhaps. Not that it matters. Svirfneblin are short.”


Inspired, Velendo pulls out his newly acquired kuo-toa dust of dryness. “Be careful, everyone!” he warns. “Instead of being over 30’ of water, we’ll be over a 30’ pit.”

“We’re less likely to be killed by falling than drowning,” says Nolin.

“I have no idea how this works, but I was told it eliminates a lot of water.” Suddenly pulled from the water by the strong arms of his guardian angel, Velendo triumphantly tosses the pinch of dust into the pool – and a cubic yard of water disappears. Velendo stares at it in dismay.

“Excuse me?” asks Nolin tartly. “Exactly how many pinches of dust of suck do we have? I’d hate to use them all up at once.”

“Three,” answers Malachite. “If this was a big bathtub instead of a cavern, we’d be all set right now.”

“It’s not really what I was hoping for,” frowns Velendo as the hydra’s heads start to accurately orient on its enemies. “Oh well, so much for that.”

“Shall I fly us to safety?” asks Cruciel. “It will probably attack us if I do.”

“No. I think it’s focusing on Mara and Malachite.”

“Good point,” pipes up Agar appreciatively. “Guys, thanks for distracting it from all that acid damage I did!”

The ghoulish hydra lurches upwards, trying to break more of the floor. Seven undead heads target Mara, snapping forwards in both hunger and fury. One of them bounces squarely off her shield, two miss her entirely, and four massive heads latch on to her torse with icy-cold teeth and begin to pull. Mara feels a bit like a dog’s chew toy as she’s lifted up and almost ripped apart. Her strength drains from her, and she can feel a paralyzing cold being kept away by one of her magical rings. Four more heads target Malachite, hitting him twice. He’s picked up sideways and violently spun around, also losing strength the ghoulish spittle. Finally, two more heads turn towards Agar and make a horrible retching noise. “Horrk! Horrk! Hurrraggghhh!”

“Ohhhh, no.” The halfling tries to dive out of the way, but he’s much too slow. A wave of squirming grubs cover him and begin to burrow frantically underneath his skin. Both Agar and Proty scream.

Mara is on the opposite side of the cave and can’t see what happened to Agar, but she can see that the hydra’s wounds are beginning to heal. She groans. “It’s regenerating!”

“Damn it!” Nolin tries casting defensively again, and this time successfully manages to get off mass haste. For his next trick, Nolin targets a flame strike on top of the hydra. As the dark beast begins to rise, it’s now clear to everyone that there is a body underneath the necks – and that some of the heads were from a different monster, and were grafted on after its death. Bulging fleshsacks of grubs are on the back of the monster, attached to several of the sixteen heads so that it can vomit them forth.

“Eat hot bard!” yells Nolin. The flame strike smashes down, crackling and burning.

“Nice!” yells Malachite.

“It’s what I do, baby,” says Nolin smugly, and then he corrects himself. “Well, it’s one of the things I do. I do some other stuff, but I can’t really do that here.”

Horrified by the worms writhing into his flesh, the panicked Agar catches the sound of someone spellcasting behind him. He spins to see another kobold zombie which has crawled from the pile of rubble Mara had noticed earlier. The zombie’s eyes are glowing yellow, just like the Puppeteer’s. . . and he’s casting Mordenkainen’s disjunction.

“Oh, s**t,” says Agar.

To be continued. . .
 
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Spatula

Explorer
Very cool... but why did the group ignore the hiding kobold? Maybe the groups I game with are unusually paranoid, but IME a smart party deals with any creatures present before messing around with the scenary.
 

Piratecat

Sesquipedalian
Misdirection. Luck was definitely on the ghouls' side; the heroes were distracted by the decanter and door, and since they proved that the other kobolds weren't a threat they sort of forgot about the hidden one(s). Even better, although Mara scouted the area ethereally, she never thought to lower her eyes below the floor. If she had, she would have seen the hydra.

Just goes to show, eh? These things happen. Makes up for all the mistakes I make DMing, too.

He does have a chance, though; we house ruled Mordenkainen's Disjunction to take one full round to cast. On the other hand, literally every other party member is on the other side of the room with a giant hydra between them and Agar, and no solid floor between them. I suppose it's a bad time to be covered with revenant worms.
 
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Piratecat

Sesquipedalian
The hydra howls as Agar’s repeated acid orbs continue to sear into its flesh, and it swivels all sixteen of its heads to try and target him. Dozens of lethal revenant worms squirm and burrow into the halfling’s flesh, actually justifying his worst insect phobias. Forty feet away, a zombie containing the spirit of the Puppeteer is casting Mordenkainen’s Disjunction, and only Agar is close enough to stop him.

No pressure.

“Get them off get them off get them off. . .” The alienist cudgels his will and tries to think over the panic. He’s only going to have one chance at this, and no one else can help him in time. He could lay down a fireball at his feet. He could block the line of effect somehow. He could, he could. . . Behind him, the Puppeteer’s voice is rising to a climax as he begins to finish the spell, and the grubs are all over his body and squirming in his hair. “Got to think!” In his mind’s eye Agar scans the twitching arcane spell structures that he has already prepared that morning, looking for the perfect one that could stop the Puppeteer and rid himself of the revenant worms all at once. Amazingly enough, he finds just the thing.

As he starts casting, Agar gasps as a worm pops through the skin of his throat and burrows towards his lungs. It takes almost unnatural concentration to not cough and botch the spell, but he spends hours every day contemplating the hideous possibilities of the outer realms; surely he can finish a simple spell! The syllables trip from his tongue in a dissonant cacophany, ripping a hole towards the plane of radiance, and he blocks out distractions long enough to finish his incantation. As he does, a brilliant sunburst spreads out of the halfling.

The heat and searing radiance give him something of a sunburn, but it also instantly turns the crawling revenant worms within his body into tiny charred mounds of sizzling and blackened fat. It’s a worthwhile tradeoff. In the process, the spell blasts the spellcasting Puppeteer into rancid dust, and vaporizes a layer of flesh from the hydra. The half-formed structure of Mordenkainen’s Disjunction dissipates harmlessly.

“Auggh!” cries Velendo from across the room as his eyes boil in their sockets. “I’m blind!”

“Sorry!” Agar collapses to his knees, blinks, and looks up at the hydra. Does he still feel the acceleration of Nolin’s mass haste coursing through his body? Yes! He uses the extra time to cast chain lightning at the hydra, targeting a different head with each lightning bolt. Electricity blasts from his fingers and smacks into the beast’s body, arcs wildly, and all sixteen heads simultaneously explode. Rotted flesh showers the grotto.

“Agar, you’re my hero!” crows Nolin.

Thirty two heads begin to regrow.

Nolin swallows drily. “Agar, you’re not my hero any more.”

“I can see why,” mutters the halfling in horror.

“We’re going to have to kill the body!” cautions Galthia. He leaps onto the mass of necks and slashes down with his hand. “Target the torso, not the heads.”

“But not with electricity, damn it,” thinks Stone Bear in the water. “It travels through the water. That hurt!

“Sorry,” says Agar, but it’s not entirely clear who he’s talking to. “I think I still hurt it, anyways. I hope.” His voice is uncertain.

“The sunburst did.” Mara considers casting remove paralysis on Burr-Lipp, but the bullywug is nowhere to be seen. Instead she lays hands on herself and heals all of her wounds. Then she instinctively draws upon the power of Aeos to give everyone nearby a bonus to their defense, moves closer, and attacks the hydra’s body with her mace. She hits it twice, and takes putrescent chunks of flesh out of it with each powerful blow.

Malachite triggers a positive energy burst that fills the room with emerald light. Unable to see him with no heads, the hydra just shudders as another large layer of skin is seared away from its body. It rears its elephantine bulk up out of the water, displacing huge waves of water that slap at the people nearby. Cruciel grabs Velendo and pulls him backwards just as a massive neck stump whirls through the place he was just standing. Then Malachite releases a second positive energy burst that blasts right through the undead abomination. Revenant worms cascade into the water, and the corpse of the hydra sinks down out of sight.

The angel’s clear eyes widen. “We’ve got to get them away from those worms!” Cruciel dives into the depths to find Priggle. Velendo is blinded and can’t see the hydra’s body, but he isn’t taking any chances. He flame strikes where it was just to be sure, and a huge gout of steam and smoke rises from the blackened revenant worms as they die. Cruciel’s beautiful face surfaces next to Velendo, and she thrusts a bedraggled and disgusted svirfneblin at him before diving back down for Burr-Lipp. Stone Bear surfaces on his own, frustrated and hurt.

Cruciel looks pained as she reaches the surface a second time. “I have several of those things in me. Can you destroy them, please?” She shows her pearly skin, and the wriggling bulges that squirm inside it.

Nolin’s face twists, and he pats Velendo on the shoulder. “I’ll get it.” Nolin cuts open the angel’s skin and burns away the worms one by one, and the angel manages to almost not make any noise as she bites her perfect lower lip.

“Everyone, I’m sorry if I got a little carried away,” confesses Agar. His voice is faster than normal, still riding the edge of hysteria. “There were worms on me. I had them in front and behind and they were trying to turn me into undead and…”

“You blew up the Puppeteer,” answers Nolin. “I’m okay with that. Hey, someone should probably keep an eye on that rubble.”

“Why are you apologizing?” asks Galthia.

“It was very well done,” comes a voice from a pile of rocks.


To be continued….
 
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