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Raiders of the Overreach



PC Roster:
Cramer Appleknocker, gnome cleric 3​
Jhasspok, lizardfolk 3​
Khari Hammerslammer, dwarf fighter 3​
Marlo Pendragon, human sorcerer 3​
Utred "Buckets" Butterflinger, dwarf barbarian 3​

Game Session Date: 15 January 2020

- - -

The elven guards led the five Jalamir slaves into a building. They were surprised to see a long table awaiting them in what was quite obviously a banquet hall; lunch was brought out for them while Tock observed everything from his perch at one end of the table. Jhasspok, puzzling over a suitable chair configuration (he eventually turned it sideways so his tail could hang off the back end without running up against the chair's back, which then served as an armrest for his left arm), was surprised to see the lunch that had been prepared for him: a wooden bucket, inside which were a pair of actual fish! And normal fish, too, with proper fins and everything - not those weird fish with legs and wings that sat on tree branches and sang.

"These are for me to eat?" Jhasspok asked. He had assumed that to be the case but didn't want to have guessed wrong.

"By all means," smiled the lead elven guard - the one with the purple hair and eyes. "Please, enjoy your meals while we talk." The other four slaves had a quite different fare, served on plates with the standard eating utensils. They tucked into their meals but before Utred started on his own plate of food he asked the elves if he could keep Jhasspok's bucket after the lizardfolk had finished with it.

"I, uh - sure, I suppose," stuttered the blue-haired elf. It wasn't a question he'd been expecting. Marlo frowned at the dwarven barbarian, wondering what his fetish about buckets was all about.

Jhasspok reached into his pouch and pulled out a slave-coin. "I will give you this square piece of metal for the fish," he offered.

"No, that's not necessary," replied the guard, smiling. Jhasspok frowned in confusion; he thought he'd finally had this "money" thing figured out but apparently it was more complicated than he had imagined.

"Before we begin our discussions in earnest," began the purple-haired elf, "I would like to point out that this entire building has a false-image anti-scrying field around it: anybody casting a scry spell - say, through your tattoos, for instance - will receive a false image of you doing something perfectly innocuous." He didn't mention the room was also covered in a zone of truth spell; if these slaves tried lying to their elven hosts, they'd know the falsehoods for what they were. Of course, that worked both ways but at least the elves were aware of the situation and could choose their words accordingly.

"You know about our tattoos?" asked Cramer. The little gnome wasn't particularly surprised, as the guards had intimated as much before ushering them in here. The fact they'd also known about the ring gate necklaces by which the mind flayer N'zorthal kept track of them also spoke volumes about how much they understood the ways of the drow of the Overreach. How they knew so much was a mystery Cramer was itching to find out.

"We know quite a bit," the guard replied. "But what we'd like to know is how much House Jalamir knows about Greenvale."

Cramer gave the question some thought. "I'm not aware of any of the drow knowing about Greenvale," he answered truthfully. "If they did, they never discussed it with us."

"We only learned about it ourselves yesterday," Khari added, chewing on a chicken leg. "The caravan people we attacked had said they were coming here, and we saw it on the map we took from them."

"May I ask about your hair?" interrupted Marlo. "It's very distinctive. I've never seen elves with blue or purple hair."

The purple-haired elf smiled again. "Some of us born in Greenvale are born with an unusual hair and eye color," he replied. "Those of us with such a trait who go on to develop magical talents often find their spell effects tend to reflect the same color. Were I a wizard, for example, my magic missiles would undoubtedly be purple." Marlo found the concept intriguing.

"May I ask how you came to the surface?" asked the purple-haired elf, returning the conversation to more important points.

"There's this thing called the Writhing Gate," began Cramer. "It's a sort of immobile teleportation circle without a set end-point; it's activated from its Underdark location by mind flayers working for the drow of Overreach, who used it to send us to the surface. At the end of our two-week scouting session it'll open back up and we'll use it to return. My understanding is that N'zorthal can program it to send us pretty much anywhere. And it's open-ended: he set it to drop us next to a caravan, but not any particular one."

"Interesting," replied the guard.

"You don't know the half of it! It looks like ten long tentacles, and that's exactly what they are - but they're just the tips of ten out a hundred or so tentacles coming from the severed head of an eldritch monstrosity called the Dying One." Cramer looked over to Marlo as he said this but the sorceress was suddenly devoting her full attention to her salad. In so doing, the gnomish cleric missed the astonished looks the two elven guards gave each other.

"Can you tell us more of this Dying One?"

"I don't know much more myself, but we met up with this blind elven prophet in the caravan we attacked and she said something about needing to finish what Wee Jas had started. I gather it was her, the Goddess of Death and Magic, who brought the Dying One to his, well, dying state. I gather he's an Elder God or something." Cramer took a bite of his food and then said, "My turn for a question: what's the connection between Greenvale and Overreach, exactly? And why do the elves of the Elderwood hate you guys so much?"

"We have covert agents inside Overreach," explained the lead guard. "They were uncovered by the Elderwood agents, who then assumed we had been working together."

"Those assassins we fought?" Marlo asked. "The fake drow?"

"Yes, they were Elderwood agents," explained the purple-haired elf.

"Pity they were really just elves with full-body tattoos making them look like drow," Cramer interjected. "I'd have been happier knowing it was actual drow we'd killed. If I had my way, I'd see all the damned drow dead!" The two guards gave each other a significant glance at that remark.

"So your agents, were they in the same get-up?" asked Utred. "Full-body tattoos making them look like drow?" The question seemed to make the purple-haired elf uncomfortable; finally, he hesitantly answered, "...No."

"Magic, then, I guess," hazarded Utred. He was a simple dwarf, "magic" was a believable answer to anything he didn't understand. But the elven guards didn't answer, allowing the barbarian to drawn his own conclusions, even if they were erroneous.

However, Cramer had picked up on the elves' evasiveness. He stared at the two elves sitting across the table from him, focusing the full powers of his concentration on the one with the blue hair. The elf returned the gnome's gaze somewhat nervously, wondering what the suspicious stare was all about. He let a hand stray unconsciously to the back of his head, running his fingers absently through his blue hair.

"Crap!" exploded Cramer, leaping down from his chair and grabbing for the mace hanging at his belt.

"What is it?" demanded Marlo, looking up from her meal at the sudden commotion.

"They're drow!" Cramer called. "It's a trap!" But despite the accusation, the two elves remained calmly sitting at the banquet table, making no sudden moves to attack. Khari looked at the elves, then back over to Cramer. "Those aren't drow," he tried explaining to his gnomish friend, trying to figure out how the little cleric could have made such an obvious mistake. "Drow have black skin, for one thing."

With a sigh and an exasperated look between each other, the two elves reached up behind their heads and pulled at something unseen. "No, Cramer is quite correct," replied the purple-haired guard. At once, the skin of the two elves darkened to an almost black color as the guards pulled away invisible ribbons they'd had in their hair like headbands. Their oddly-colored hair, however, remained the same vibrant blue and purple hues. "We are, in fact, drow - but we are not allies of the drow in Overreach. Quite the opposite, in fact."

Cramer looked from one to the other of the drow, his mace still in his hand. "You'd better explain," he suggested.

"We are 'sunborn' drow," the lead guard said. "For some reason not fully understood, drow born on the surface and exposed to the sun at birth have hair and eye colors not normally associated with the normal members of our race. We are different from normal drow in other ways as well: we do not live in the Underdark, do not worship Lolth, and do not take slaves to be sacrificed to their insane Spider-Bitch."

"Wait," interrupted Marlo. "Are you saying...Greenvale is a drow city? The whole city - drow, not elves?"

"It is indeed. Hence our prohibitions against spellcasting within the city limits: we don't want our illusions to be seen through, as the outside world believes Greenvale to be an isolated elven community." He turned to Cramer. "How did you see through our illusions without casting any spells?" he asked, clearly intrigued.

Cramer put his mace down and climbed back into his chair; it seemed his initial reaction might have been unwarranted. "Gnomes and illusions go hand in hand," he offered. "If you suspect you're looking at an illusion, sometimes that's all it takes to see through the fakery and see what's real underneath." He thought back about his statement about wishing every drow dead. "Uh, about what I said earlier..." he began.

The purple-haired drow raised a hand. "Never mind," he reassured. "It is an understandable sentiment, but one I would hope might be amended now that you are aware of our quite different offshoot of the drow race." Then he got back to the topic at hand. "As far as Overreach goes, your House Jalamir poses the greatest threat. The Writhing Gate is particularly worrisome and something we will need to deal with, in time. But in the meantime, may I guess it is not in your interests to remain House Jalamir slaves for the rest of your lives?" He saw he had the undivided attention of all five slaves. "I thought not. Well, we have the power to remove your tattoos, but to do so would be to tip off House Jalamir you had all gained your freedom - and your current master, Calish, has been known to make examples out of the friends of escaped slaves."

"Yes," confirmed Jhasspok. "I have seen him do so." Cramer's face darkened at this thought, knowing his friend and mentor Honeycomb Buzzwart would pay the price of Cramer gaining his immediate freedom.

"Therefore, I suggest an alternative plan, one which may be instrumental in Greenvale's plans to take down House Jalamir. We will alter your tattoos, removing your inhibitions against harming drow, for one thing" - and Cramer grinned broadly at this thought - "and adding in the same type of magic that currently covers this building: if any drow were to scry on you through your tattoos they would pick up a false image of you doing something innocuous." Jhasspok and Khari looked askance at each other, neither having the slightest clue what "innocuous' might mean but trusting in their friends to decide whether to go along with this deal.

"What about N'zorthal?" Marlo asked. "By now he knows we've been disconnected from his mind. He'll know something is up - and if we put those necklaces back on he'll be able to pick up our thoughts about this conversation, about any deal we make here - about everything!"

"You need have no fears on those fronts," assured the lead guard. "The same type of magic is already in play. Your mind flayer overseer is currently under the impression that you're still wearing the necklaces and all is well - you're exploring the elven city of Greenvale to see what resources we might have that Overreach could take, as instructed. The necklaces can be modified to give him false sensations even when his tentacles are touching your skin. So, what do you say?"

Cramer didn't need much time to come to a decision. "I'm in," he said.

"As am I," added Marlo.

"Yep," said Utred.

"Sure," said Khari - if it was good enough for his fellow dwarven warrior, it was good enough for him.

"I am confused," admitted Jhasspok. "We will stop being Jalamir slaves and become Greenvale slaves?"

"Not slaves, no," started Marlo but then Utred cut in; he'd become somewhat adept at explaining things to the inexperienced lizardfolk. "We're going to pretend to still be Jalamir slaves, but we'll really be secret Greenvale slaves instead. And then, when we help take down House Jalamir, we'll be all done being slaves!"

"That's not entirely--" began Marlo.

"He understands being a slave and working for a master," Utred interrupted. "Right now, that's all he understands. For now, we'll get him working for the right master and later we can get him used to the idea of freedom." He turned back to Jhasspok. "Tell them you're in," he said.

"I'm in," dutifully reported Jhasspok. Things were so much easier when somebody told him what to do! He returned his attention to the last fish still swimming around in his bucket.

The tattoos were modified that very afternoon, after which time the group was allowed to rest for the remainder of the day. The following morning, they'd been told, they would be undergoing a final test. Cramer pushed for details but was rebuffed. "I'm sure you'll do fine," he was informed. They spent the night in comfortable guest quarters.

The next morning the five were brought back to the building with the banquet hall but instead of being greeted with a lavish spread they went immediately to a set of stairs leading down. There was a small library room with bookshelves on either side and a pair of double doors at the far end. The same two guards were acting as their escorts; not having been provided their names, the slaves referred to them as "Purple" and "Blue" when discussing them amongst themselves. And despite the slaves knowing full well their status as sunborn drow, they apparently had their headbands of disguise back on for they gave all appearances of being light-skinned surface elves - no doubt because their duties involved walking through the city above where they might be seen by a visitor.

"Your trial is a rather simple one," Purple explained. "You will be locked into one of our silk farms. Your task is merely to find the silver key hidden somewhere within which will unlock the doors. Do so and you will have passed the test. I only ask that you try not to kill too many of our silk producers. If it helps, they have been trained to fear the color purple." He smiled again, causing Cramer to wonder if the fear of the color purple had anything to do with the sunborn drow's own natural hair and eye color. If so, that might not be a good sign!

Purple opened the doors and ushered the five slaves inside. "Good luck!" he called, closing the doors behind them. There was the sound of a lock being engaged. Just to be sure, Khari tried the door - it was locked, as expected.

"So what's the plan?" he asked. "If needs be, I can knock this door down with my hammer in no time flat."

"I hardly think that's the intention of this trial," chided Marlo, looking out into the cavern ahead of them. They were in a rather cramped area at present with a purple energy field of some sort immediately in front of them but just beyond it widened out into a vast cavern with tall ceilings hidden in darkness. The cavern was unlit but from the light of the slave-light cloaks the group could see the floor was covered in hundreds - if not thousands - of spiders of varying sizes, from little ones smaller than the palm of a hand to a few almost as large as Jhasspok.

"First things first," said Cramer. "Slave-light cloaks to purple." With a mental command, the illusory flames emanating from his cloak changed colors to a deep violet. The others followed suit. Then, one by one, they stepped through the field of purple energy (a permanent repel vermin spell, keeping the spiders from leaving the area) and into the vast cavern beyond.

"Look for a silver key," Khari reminded Jhasspok, stepping cautiously into the cavern, his warhammer gripped tightly in his hands. By the expression on his face, the fearless Hammerslammer dwarf was not a particular fan of spiders. Khari went right so Jhasspok went left, each exploring the edges of the vast cavern in a different direction, looking for the telltale glint of silver. Marlo followed Khari but stayed farther from the wall, extending the scope of their search. She noticed the spiders all did their best to stay out of range of the purple illumination from their cloaks.

With his dwarven darkvision, which extended far beyond the reach of the light from the cloaks, Utred saw a thick section of webbing hanging suspended from the ceiling like a stalactite towards the middle of the cavern. He pushed forward to go check it out. The spiders scurried to get out of his way but the occasional crunch from beneath his boots indicated not all of them did so successfully. As he approached, he saw the webbing was a cocoon binding somebody tightly inside. Pulling a short sword from his belt, Utred carefully cut the webbing away, revealing a drow woman with white hair - so not a sunborn drow, then. She was breathing but unconscious.

Cramer finally stepped into the cavern proper and cast a spell he thought would be particularly useful in this trial: a locate object spell. Concentrating on the image of a silver key, the gnome's gaze was directed up toward the cavern's ceiling...where he locked eyes with a creature standing upside-down on the stone ceiling. A silver key dangled from a necklace he wore around his neck. Focusing immediately on the key at first, Cramer eventually noticed the build of the creature wearing it. From the waist up he appeared to be a drow - with silver hair, well within the normal color standards of that race. From the waist down, however, his body was that of an enormous, silver spider, whose eight legs were spread out in a wide circle ensuring his firm grip on the cavern ceiling. In each hand he held a longsword.

"Erm...hello," said Cramer. "I wonder if we might borrow that key for a moment?"

T'puuli Tyne said nothing but was silently intrigued and somewhat impressed that the gnome's initial reaction to seeing a drider was to attempt negotiations rather than immediately attack. Still, he understood the party's true test was what they would do with Niradi so he walked across the ceiling towards Cramer, then scampered down the wall in a rush until he stood directly before him, longswords out and pointed in the gnome's direction.

Utred, however, had his back turned to all of this and was paying more attention to the unconscious drow woman in his arms, for he had sliced through the webbing keeping her cocoon hanging from the ceiling. And now, there at her throat, he saw what he'd at first taken for a necklace ornament: a silver key! "Guys!" he called. "I found it!" Rather than try to remove the necklace from her, he hoisted the entire cocoon and started lugging her back to the double doors.

Jhasspok had made it to the back of the cavern by then and Marlo and Khari were across the way from him when Utred called out his findings. They all turned and saw Utred hauling a cocooned form back toward the doors, which led them to seeing Cramer facing the drider. "We don't want to take it from you permanently," Cramer insisted. "We'll give it right back, that's my absolute promise to you."

"What's he trying to do?" Jhasspok asked, catching up to the dwarven barbarian.

"Get the drider to give him the key," Utred answered.

"What drider? Where? Is he behind the elf-spider thing?"

"The drider is the elf-spider thing!" hissed Utred.

With sudden realization, Jhasspok hit upon why the gnome's dealings were not meeting with success: Cramer had forgotten about money! Reaching into his pack, Jhasspok called out to the drider, "I will give you a square piece of metal for the key!" When that failed, he tried sweetening the deal by upping it to two slave-coins, then two slave-coins and a dried dung beetle snack from his personal stock. The drider just stared at the approaching lizardfolk impassively, his blades still pointed at Cramer.

"If you do not give us the key," threatened Jhasspok, "I will attack you with my sword." He pulled out his short sword, hoping to get the drider to face him and move his own two longswords away from Cramer's neck. But still the drider held off his attacks and by doing so he made Marlo hesitant to throw a magic missile his way - it seemed wrong to initiate combat against someone who had so far done them no harm.

"Very well," said T'puuli, sheathing his swords in a rapid maneuver. "This trial has been successfully completed to my satisfaction."

"Found the key," beamed Utred, nodding to the woman bound up in his arms. Then, seeing the silver key around the drider's neck, he corrected himself with, "Found two of 'em!" He set down his burden as the others approached.

"Isn't that--?" began Marlo, recognizing the unconscious drow woman before her. She couldn't dredge up her name but it was the apprentice weaver they'd rescued from the House Jalamir slave market in Overreach.

"Niradi Ky'hulcressen," supplied T'puuli while Cramer cast a healing spell on the apprentice weaver. She regained consciousness as Utred cut the rest of the web-cocoon away. "Hello again," she said to the burly dwarf.

"The true nature of your test," said T'puuli, "was what you would do to a helpless drow before you. The fact that you refused to attack me as well is merely an additional indicator of your worthiness to the task at hand."

"What exactly are you?" demanded Khari.

"I am a drider, but not one in the traditional sense. Many years ago, my mother, a traditional drow woman, fell in love with a celestial. This angered Lolth, who cursed my birth, causing me to be born in this form."

"What's a celestial?" whispered Jhasspok, looking to Utred who usually had the answers.

Utred thought about it for a moment. "A sky-fish," he answered quietly.

"Oh. Thanks," whispered Jhasspok back. That Utred sure was smart!

"My mother was from House Ky'hulcressen. They worship Eilistraee, who they believe to be the true drow goddess, and view the rest of the drow to have been kidnapped by Lolth. The surface city of Greenvale was founded by House Ky'hulcressen, as a haven for those not fully corrupted by the Spider-Bitch. Unfortunately, the Elderwood elves refuse to acknowledge any distinction between Eilistraee and Lolth, viewing all drow as inherently evil. They have slain the ambassadors we have sent out into the wider world, forcing Greenvale to hide our true nature from the rest of the surface."

"That's terrible!" commiserated Marlo.

"House Jalamir, we have determined, is our greatest threat from the Overreach, as with the Writhing Gate under their control they have become the primary source of slaves for the city and thus the greatest threat toward Greenvale's attempts at peace with the surface races. We believe, with the aid of the nearby surface kingdoms, we can coordinate an assault on House Jalamir, ending their threat to the world once and for all. To that eventual end, we will need you to act as spies against Jalamir. You must keep up the pretense of 'serving' Calish for the time being, all while actively working to overthrow the drow of Overreach."

"I'm in!" Cramer said at once and the other four all followed suit.

"So what do we do next?" asked Marlo.

"Your current mission on the surface is to explore the area and see what resources are available for plunder by House Jalamir," explained T'puuli. "While you are doing that, you can serve as Greenvale ambassadors in our stead. The local kingdoms will not automatically try to kill you, as you do not have the black skin of a drow." Discussing the matter further, the group decided against returning to the Elderwood to try to plead their case - they were already too suspicious of the Jalamir slaves wearing the magic cloaks of their own assassins; better by far to approach several of the other nearby kingdoms and convince them of Greenvale's trustworthiness. Perhaps, in the future, a coalition of allied kingdoms would have a better chance of swaying the Elderwood to their cause.

"We will give you silk to deliver to the nearest human kingdom," suggested T'puuli. "Rather than go back through the Elderwood the way you came, you can cut through the rugged landscape to go there by a more direct path. And while you're there, you'll be collecting information for Calish about the resources available in the lands above, just as you've been directed to do."

"I like it," said Cramer.

- - -

This adventure didn't go anywhere near how Logan expected, he confessed to us (after we completed the session over an hour earlier than anticipated). For one thing, he hadn't taken Dan's inherent suspiciousness into account and thus hadn't been planning on having us know the Greenvale elves were all drow until later. Then we surprised him again by not leaping into battle with the drider. (The mini had been a Christmas present; I teased him later that he'd spent much more time painting it than being able to put it to much use.)

So, not much in the way of combat this time - in fact, I think our only die rolls were initiative when we entered the cavern - oh, and Dan's Will save to see through the illusory disguises of Purple and Blue. And Logan showed Joey the Niradi Ky'hulcressen initiative card when Utred first cut her from the cocoon, but he didn't recognize her - I guess all drow women look alike to a battle-hardened dwarven barbarian!

I also want to document a fantastic pun. When T'puuli was describing how the Elderwood elves saw no difference between Lolth and Eilistraee, Dan asked, "Really? Did you show them an eilistration of what they look like?" Everyone groaned - but in my case it was at not having come up with that myself first!
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PC Roster:
Cramer Appleknocker, gnome cleric 3​
Jhasspok, lizardfolk 3​
Khari Hammerslammer, dwarf fighter 3​
Marlo Pendragon, human sorcerer 3​
Utred "Buckets" Butterflinger, dwarf barbarian 3​

Game Session Date: 22 January 2020

- - -

The wagon was loaded up with trade goods - mostly exotic-looking silks - and the sunborn drow of Greenvale gave the group directions to the human kingdom of Kravyrn, recommending they camp at the crumbling tower then head east to get to the narrowest part of the river. They even provided two hefty wooden boards, 5 feet wide and twice that long, to help the horse and wagon cross the river. Kravyrn, they were told, was northeast from the point of the river crossing.

The directions, it turned out, were spot on; the group had no difficulties in finding their way to the river, which had carved a deep gorge in the rock face of the ground, its waters a mere few inches from the top of the hardened stone on either side of it. As the group of five slaves approached, Cramer driving the wagon and Marlo riding behind him among the trade goods, with the dwarves walking to the right and Jhasspok on the left flank, they could see the river varied from 5 to 10 feet wide; the makeshift bridge they carried with them would span the waterway just fine. However, Jhasspok saw a fallen tree already crossing the span of the river, and while he knew the wagon couldn't cross over the log the lizardfolk felt it was worth checking out. A pile of rocks stood just to the right of the makeshift bridge on the far side, just before a slight hill. For a moment he saw some sort of canine muzzle peek from behind the rocks, but whatever it was it ducked back out of view and Jhasspok gave it no further thought; this crazy, topside world was filled with all sorts of unusual creatures but so far most of them (the singing, winged fish in the trees; the butterflies whose flight patterns seemed completely drunken; the ridiculous-looking "bunnies" with obnoxiously long ears and tails that looked like no tail Jhasspok had ever seen before) were completely harmless.

Racing forward and stepping onto the impromptu bridge, Jhasspok looked over the edge into the clear water, judging it to be likely about 20 feet deep. He saw his reflection in the water, but then it flinched and grew larger and belatedly Jhasspok realized it wasn't his reflection at all but another lizardfolk swimming in the river, surfacing to come check him out.

This new lizardfolk reached the surface and allowed only his eyes to protrude out of the water, a stance Jhasspok himself had used often when fishing. Then it raised its whole head out and began speaking softly and sibilantly in a language Jhasspok recognized as Draconic.

Oddly enough, Jhasspok did not speak Draconic, despite it being the traditional language of his people. But Jhasspok was not a traditional member of his race; his egg, laid on the surface world, had been taken during a surface raid by the drow and he hatched into slavery in the Underdark, where he was the only member of his race in all of the Overreach. Like every member of his race, he came into the world with an instinctive understanding of the basics of the Draconic language but he'd never had this core knowledge nurtured and it had mostly dried up from disuse. Ironically, Marlo spoke Draconic fluently, it being a popular language in which to discuss arcane matters; to Jhasspok, it was mostly gibberish, although he found he could occasionally pick up the likely meaning of a word here and there. And he did pick up a specific name, given its similarity to his own: at one point, this other lizardfolk - the only other member of his own race he'd ever seen - had mentioned someone named Jhossepok, whoever he might be.

The two lizardfolk stood transfixed, one staring down from an overturned tree at the other, mostly submerged in a river. Neither saw the canine head peer over the pile of rocks again - but Khari did and recognized it at once for what it was. "Gnoll!" he cried out. "Ambush!"

Cramer reacted by pulling back on the horse's reins to bring the wagon to a halt and casting a spiritual weapon spell which, the gnome being a cleric of Fharlanghn - God of Travelers - took on the shape of a quarterstaff. It materialized just above the gnoll's head and swung down at the beast, who saw it out of the corner of his eye at the last possible moment and ducked in time to avoid being walloped.

Utred, however, had headed over to the wagon upon seeing the river and fetched the planks of wood that would form the bridge over the swiftly-flowing river. Intent upon his task, he hadn't noticed the gnoll, nor had he heard his fellow dwarf's warning. Hefting the planks upon one burly shoulder, he continued his tuneless whistling and set about setting up the bridge for the horse and wagon to cross.

Marlo leaped down from the wagon and rushed over behind Jhasspok. She saw the other lizardfolk in the water, heard his sibilant speech, and translated what he was saying to Jhasspok. "He says his name is Khassek, you look an awful lot like the great chief Jhossepok, and he invites you to dine with him and his gnoll buddies upon the soft-skins. Hey!" Belatedly, she realized she was one of the "soft-skins" being offered up as a meal! But by then Khassek had pulled himself up onto the bank and stabbed at the small human sorcerer with his masterwork shortspear. Marlo stepped aside just in time to avoid being pierced by the spear's tip.

As one, the gnoll force showed themselves, some popping up from behind the pile of stones and others rising from their prone positions at the far side of the small hill just beyond. Three carried bows and shot at Cramer (none hit), while one raced up to Jhasspok on the log to slash at him with his battleaxe. Jhasspok wheeled to face the approaching enemy, ducking beneath the blade and slashing at the gnoll with his own masterwork short sword, likewise missing - but then clamping his reptilian jaws onto the hyena-man's arm. The gnoll howled in pain.

Khari had his warhammer out and ran up behind Khassek, flanking him with Marlo, who had likewise turned to face her attacker. The dwarf got in a decent hit with the full force of his muscles behind the swing and Marlo let loose with a pair of magic missiles, which struck the lizardfolk unerringly in the chest. He let out a hiss of pain.

Cramer followed up his spiritual weapon spell - which struck once more at its original target and missed again - with a sound burst spell, centered in the cluster of gnolls and hitting all of them. None looked particularly hurt by the sudden blast of noise, although one of the archers was momentarily stunned into immobility.

The sounds of the combat unfolding all around him muffled by the roar of the rushing river and his own whistling, and the view blocked by the rough boards he hoisted on his shoulder, Utred carefully set himself to the task of placing the planks across the span of the river, thereby creating a bridge by which the horse-drawn wagon of trade goods could easily cross. The fact he was also creating an easy way for the gnolls to reach their prey was completely lost on the dwarven barbarian.

Khassek barked orders to the gnolls in their own language and advanced again on Marlo, this time biting her on the shoulder. Hearing her cry of pain, Jhasspok whirled around from his position on the back of the tree-trunk bridge and stabbed his sword into the other reptile's side; Khassek might be a member of his own race but Marlo was a fellow slave and a friend. Khari tried bopping the reptile with his hammer again but missed.

Two more arrows went whizzing by Cramer's head, then one of the axe-wielding gnolls went racing across the bridge Utred had so nicely provided and swung at the dwarf with his battleaxe, only narrowly missing when the barbarian stood back up from his plank-placing and saw the danger fast approaching. The gnoll facing Jhasspok jumped the river span, crossing with ease - but Jhasspok's sword cut him down in mid-leap and he fell, unconscious, into the river to be swept away and likely drown.

Cramer leaped down from the wagon and ran over to Utred, who was just now realizing the entire group was in a pitched battle for their very lives. The gnome cast a shield of faith spell on himself as he scampered over to the dwarven barbarian, who pulled his own greataxe from his back and hefted it in a familiar, two-handed grip. Cramer knew well what came next: with a roar of anger, Utred brought the axe down upon the gnoll standing before him - the gnoll who suddenly found himself wishing he'd stayed on his side of the river.

Marlo pulled herself free from Khassek's teeth and took a few steps backwards, giving herself enough room to cast another magic missile spell at the lizardfolk. He was wearying mightily and feeling quite a bit of pain; nonetheless, he snapped at the human again and when Jhasspok's sword came swiping down at him again he fell to the ground and lay still. Jhasspok thought that odd for a moment, for he could have sworn his blade had missed Khassek - as indeed it had - but he swung his attention back to the tree trunk bridge before him as another gnoll approached and he suddenly had other, more pressing things to worry about. The gnoll swung his axe at Jhasspok, who deflected it off his turtle-shell shield, and then the lizardfolk stabbed the hairy beast-man in the gut with his sword. The gnoll fell off the tree-trunk bridge and into the river, to be washed away downstream with Jhasspok's first victim.

Seeing no enemies in the immediate vicinity - for he'd also assumed Jhasspok had brought down the other lizardfolk who'd been chewing on Marlo - Khari headed over to help Utred fight off his foe. But Cramer got there first, slaying the gnoll with a well-placed strike of his mace. Utred wasted no time, racing across his own bridge to charge the gnoll archers on the slight hill.

Marlo pulled her arcane blade from her belt and held it at Khassek's throat, for she had seen perfectly well that Jhasspok's blade had missed the reptile's head despite the follow-on acting job to the contrary. "Not...necessary," the lizardfolk hissed in Draconic. "Toss aside your weapon!" Marlo commanded in the same language and Khassek complied at once, rolling his shortspear away out of immediate reach.

Cramer, Khari, and Jhasspok converged upon the remaining gnoll archers, catching up to Utred who was already bringing his greataxe to bear. The gnolls didn't last long under their combined attacks. Then, while Marlo kept Khassek covered, the others went to check out the gnoll campsite, which consisted of a pair of leather tents. Inside they found considerable loot: two circlets and a chest of coins. (Marlo would later, through the use of a detect magic spell, learn one of the circlets was magical in nature; subsequent experimentation would determine it to be a circlet of persuasion.)

But then the questioning of their prisoner began. As Khassek spoke only Draconic (besides a smattering of Gnoll he'd picked up) and Marlo was the only one of the slaves who spoke that language, she was the one doing the questioning (and translating for the benefit of the other slaves). She learned the following: that Khassek had been a loyal warrior to the great chief Jhossepok, leader of the Lakewood tribe of lizardfolk. Jhossepok's mate had laid two eggs, although one of them had been destroyed under suspicious circumstances. Upon Jhossepok's death, the surviving son Jhesspak took over the tribe and eventually exiled Khassek. He was astonished to find out Jhasspok shared the name of the chief's unhatched (and supposedly destroyed) son.

"Wait," Cramer interrupted at this point. "If the egg was destroyed and never hatched, how do you know what the unborn lizardfolk's name would have been?" At this, both Jhasspok and Khassek gave the gnome questioning glances. "All in the tribe know the coming name of the hatchling inside each egg, upon its being laid," Khassek explained. "Is it not the same with your people?" Marlo explained it was not and then Jhasspok pointed out that upon being hatched, he instinctively knew not only the basics of the Draconic language but also his own name. In fact, he had trouble believing anybody could be born not already knowing their own name.

"Do you understand what happened here?" Marlo prompted the lizardfolk slave. "This Jhossepok lost an egg that would have hatched a lizardfolk named Jhasspok. Your egg was taken by the drow and you hatched in the Underdark."

"Yes," agreed Jhasspok, not understanding in the least. "So there would have been another lizardfolk out there, somewhere, with the same name as me."

"No, not another lizardfolk, Jhasspok," began Marlo. "You are--"

"Never mind," interrupted Utred. "We've wasted enough time on this. Jhasspok: if we allow this Khassek to live, would you like him to take you to this tribe of lizardfolk so you could meet up with others of your kind?"

Jhasspok's scaly brow-ridges crinkled in confusion. "Why would I--?" he began, thinking, You are others of my kind: slaves. To Jhasspok, he was a slave to the drow primarily and a lizardfolk as a distinct second.

"So, do we let this guy live?" Cramer asked, pointing to Khassek, confident the reptile wouldn't understand what he was saying. "We could give him to Jhasspok as a personal servant or something."

"What do you think, Jhasspok?" Marlo asked. "Should we let him live?" Jhasspok just shrugged. Why not? "And would you want him to travel with us? With you?" Jhasspok just shrugged again; it made little difference to him. "What does he want?" he asked Marlo. The sorcerer put the question to Khassek and was told he had no desire to travel with soft-skins but was perfectly happy with being given the gnolls to eat, their alliance having been one of mere convenience.

"Let's go," suggested Khari. They took the horse and wagon over their makeshift bridge, Utred put the wooden planks back on board the wagon, and the group headed northeast, leaving a contented Khassek taking bites out of dead gnoll flesh.

- - -

After making camp for the night, the group set off again the next morning. Around mid-morning the first village in the kingdom of Kravyrn became visible in the distance, but this was mostly because of the smoke rising ominously from several points. "That's from more than even a bonfire," observed Utred. "Burning buildings, likely. Prob'ly raiders of some type."

The dwarf's prediction was proven true some time thereafter when the five slaves and their horse-drawn wagon intersected the path of another wagon coming back from their successful raid. This wagon, however, was not drawn by a horse or pony but a creature Utred called a worg, a horse-sized wolf. On its back sat a goblin; riding on the wagon were three goblin archers; helping push the wagon were two more goblins; and by the side of the wagon strode two more goblins, the one in the back wearing an elaborate headdress of feathers and jingling beads on leather cords.

Once again Cramer pulled back on his reins, bringing the horse to a halt - he didn't want their only mode of transportation hurt in any ensuing combat. The little gnome leaped down from the wagon and scooped up a handful of pebbles from the ground, casting a magic stone spell upon them. He then strode slowly toward the goblins, wanting to close the distance between them but wary in case any of them decided to charge. He dropped the first stone into his sling as the goblin wagon likewise stopped moving, the green-skinned humanoids looking suspiciously at this new group of arrivals and weighing their likely combat capabilities. The two goblins from the back of the wagon ran around the sides to check this new group out.

Marlo cast a mage armor spell upon herself, adding slightly to the protection already afforded by the ironsilk armor she wore beneath her robes. Khari and Utred both advanced, taking up defensive positions and ready to strike out at any goblins opting to advance. But the first goblin to attack was the sorcerer in the headdress, sending a magic missile spell to hit each dwarf with one missile. One of the goblin warriors thought he could take advantage of the spell's distraction to run up to Utred and cut him down but he was quickly disabused of that notion when the barbarian's greataxe pretty much cut him into two. A second goblin warrior advanced more cautiously, while the one at the side of the wagon approached the worg, readying his blade to cut the lupine beast from the harness allowing it to pull the wagon of riches. The worg's rider was bent over, cutting away at the harness with his own blade.

All three archers suddenly stood and, having apparently precoordinated their attacks, shot an arrow at Utred. The barbarian howled in pain but let the pain fuel his rage; he saw red and was ready for a violent counterattack.

Jhasspok sped forward, leaping effortlessly over a bush as he charged the worg. At the last moment, he sent his short sword swinging not at the worg or its rider but rather the warrior trying to cut it free. The lizardfolk's blade cut a slit of blood across the goblin's midsection, but to its credit it did not fall - not yet, anyway.

Cramer, following yesterday's tactics against the gnolls, cast a sound burst spell centered on the goblin formation, once again barely dealing any actual damage but this time stunning quite a few of them - including, as it turned out, the one spellcaster among them.

Marlo rushed forward in the wagon and took up the reins abandoned by Cramer. She then sent a magic missile spell streaking into the chest of the goblin chief, astride the worg. It, too, seemed to do minimal damage - either that, or these goblins were tougher than the sorceress had been led to believe!

Khari charged the worg, realizing once it got freed from the harness it would be a major foe, capable of dishing out quite a bit of punishment with its sharp teeth - the beasts were fast, too, with the intelligence and cunning of any battle-hardened dwarf. His hammer hit the side of the beast's head, causing it to howl in pain before it bit the offending fighter in the arm. Utred charged forward as well but he delivered his blow against the worg's rider, the chief of this raiding party. The warrior off to the side was forced to stop his efforts to free the worg and he attacked Jhasspok, his blade cutting into the lizardfolk's scales. And the three archers in the wagon repositioned themselves but were apparently intent upon bringing Utred down first, for he continued to be their sole target. Two more arrows hit the barbarian but he hardly seemed to notice.

Jhasspok slew the goblin warrior he'd been fighting and moved forward toward the spellcaster; he'd learned that enemies who could cast spells could cause a lot of trouble! Cramer, still advancing cautiously, cast a spiritual weapon spell and caused the floating quarterstaff to stab down at the goblin chief's head. Sadly, it missed; Cramer decided he should probably devote a bit of practice to that particular spell, as his current success rate, over two castings, was still 0%.

Marlo cast another magic missile spell, this time at the worg since everyone else seemed to thinking bringing it down before it got loose was a top priority. Khari swung at the beast with his warhammer again, clonking the worg upside the head while Utred's axe blade hit the goblin chief, causing him to roll with the blow from the worg's back onto the ground beside it. But Utred wasn't finished; he allowed his greataxe to continue its swath of destruction by swinging it into an approaching goblin warrior, killing him in an instant.

Another goblin stepped up to attack Utred, thinking to distract the dwarf while the goblin chief sprang back to his feet and attacked Utred from surprise. Neither ploy worked; Utred avoided both blows with equal ease. But the worg sank his fangs into Khari's arm again, preventing the dwarven fighter from bringing his hammer into play with his full range of motion and thus without his full power.

More arrows were shot down from atop the wagon at Utred; he brushed them aside as if swatting flies. Jhasspok's blade dropped the goblin sorcerer, then Cramer redirected the thus-far-ineffectual spiritual weapon to attack the worg while he rushed up beside Khari and healed him with one of his scrolls. Khari managed to yank his arm free from the worg's mouth and brought his warhammer crashing down upon the beast's skull, finishing it off at last. Then he trotted away from the wagon, taking a moment to regroup and rethink his attack strategies.

Marlo decided to change her own tactics and hit the goblin chief with a ray of enfeeblement, draining some of the strength from the goblin raiders' leader. He swayed under the effects of the spell and Utred brought his mighty greataxe down upon the chief, dropping him to his knees and then staggering him further with another blow as the goblin tried to regain his footing. Utred saw the rage in the chief's eyes and thought he recognized the signs of a barbarian willing himself to greater feats of strength through the applied application of focused anger. The dwarven barbarian was ready to take the life from his foe but Cramer stole the opportunity from him, striking the goblin chief in the forehead with his first magic stone, slaying him instantly. It was Utred who roared in rage at the chief's death; he'd wanted to take the leader down!

With an impressive leap, Jhasspok launched himself up onto the top of the wagon, scattering the goblin archers but stabbing one before he could get away. The other two leaped off the wagon and sprinted away, seeing this battle as a lost cause. These being the last goblin combatants on the field of battle, what followed was a comical chase as Jhasspok and Utred sprinted after them and Cramer once again stole a kill from the dwarven barbarian with another well-placed magic stone from his sling. But the last goblin didn't get far before being brought down and then the group decided to check out the wagon full of stolen goods and see what, if anything, might be stripped from the goblins for their own use.

A detect magic spell cast by Marlo revealed the goblin chief wore a magic ring, while the sorcerer - still breathing, as it turned out, but unconscious and bleeding heavily; Cramer applied the minimal amount of healing to seal up his wounds but still keep him out - had four magic scrolls and a flesh-bound tome sealed in a silver chain. Cramer fetched some rope and bound the goblin sorcerer for later interrogation while Marlo cast a read magic spell and checked out the scrolls and tome.

The scrolls contained the spells cure moderate wounds, protection from evil, cat's grace, and bless water, likely loot from the burning village. The tome at first appeared to be blank, although a closer inspection revealed a series of raised bumps across the surface of the pages; some sort of secret writing, perhaps? Of more obvious note was the cover of the book, which looked to have been burned by the chains, although Marlo had touched the chains in opening the book and they had caused her no harm at all. More disturbingly, however, was the fact the burn scars on the flesh-bound tome seemed to be...healing themselves.

<Astounding!> exclaimed a voice in Marlo's head and she nearly screamed; she'd forgotten the ring gate necklace she wore and the illithid tentacle protruding through it, which allowed the mind flayer N'zorthal to read her mind and see what all she was up to; while the sunborn drow of Greenvale had altered the slaves' tattoos to give false readings when the slaves were scried upon and this subterfuge carried over to feeding the mind flayer disinformation through its mental link with the Overreach slaves, N'zorthal had still been made aware of the tome's presence. <I will have this tome for my own!> he declared.

Marlo noted a loose page inside the book and flipped to that page to examine it: in notes scrawled along the pages borders in the Common script, she read a warning about Uboros, "the one who devours himself to become himself, who will one day end the world."

Cramer slapped the bound goblin prisoner awake and began demanding answers about the book. Globtak, for his part, was surprised to find himself still alive, although the eventual outcome of the battle hadn't really surprised him; it had been apparent early on the goblin forces were overpowered by these five humanoids. He passed on everything he knew about the book, in broken Common.

"Found it in cave. Spend many time try to read it - it frighten me. Uboros will destroy world when reborn. There three prophecies about how stop this from happen. First: metal man from Hell imprison it forever. Two: dark champions stand against worm. If those fail, still one final hope, but it make no sense. Not understand that part."

"So what are we going to do with Globtak?" Cramer asked. Gnomes had no love for goblins and the cleric had no issues with putting an end to the sorcerer's life right here and now. But N'zorthal made their decision easy for them, by immediately opening the Writhing Gate by the goblin's side. <Feed me!> demanded the mind flayer. <Send me the goblin at once!>

Khari pulled the bound goblin sorcerer to his feet and pushed him into the Writhing Gate, as glad as Cramer to see the end to another goblin. Apparently the mind flayer wasted no time in devouring the goblin's brain, judging by the sounds of the screams emanating from the Writhing Gate - and the sensations of pleasure N'zorthal transmitted through the ring gate necklaces to the four slaves who wore them. Marlo's face wrinkled in disgust.

<Now, the tome!> demanded the illithid. Marlo, holding the tome, thought for a moment about disobeying - she had wanted to try to decipher some of the book's secret writings for herself if she could - but she realized there was no way to disobey a direct order from the mind flayer tasked with overseeing their performance during this surface raiding mission (surely the modified tattoos couldn't mask a violation of that magnitude?), so she sadly pitched it into the Writhing Gate, which vanished almost immediately thereafter.

"Now what?" asked Jhasspok, having no idea what any of that had been about.

"Now we press on with our original mission," replied Utred. "We put all of our goods into the stolen wagon, harness our horse onto it, and take everything back to the burning village. We'll prob'ly make an even better impression on 'em by returning their goods what was stolen from 'em."

It seemed as good a plan as any.

- - -

We had to skip last week's weekly session: Harry had picked up the flu from school and we'd pretty much already decided we'd only ever play a session of this campaign if all five players were able to attend.

Man, did we ever roll poorly during this session! I think pretty much everyone at the table (among the players, anyway - Logan rolled just fine) managed to strike for absolute minimum damage at least once. And that was when we managed to hit in the first place.

So, Jhasspok's prophecy has already come to pass: he had an unpleasant truth to face (he's the son of the former chief of a lizardfolk tribe which has been taken over by his brother) and had to make a decision of his own. But that decision was super-easy: Jhasspok has no intrinsic feelings of belonging to a lizardfolk tribe; this was the first time in his entire five years of life he'd even seen another lizardfolk and it felt more creepy to him than anything else. (It was just plain weird seeing someone so similar to himself - almost like a slightly-off doppelganger.) I've also decided Jhasspok has no real clue he's the one born from Jhessepok's stolen egg, either. (Nothing like a 6 Intelligence to keep you clueless!) Logan informs me, however, that Jhasspok's prophecy hasn't been completely unfolded - apparently there's still a bit more to come.

Logan also told us we're all only 510 xp from making it to 4th level, so almost undoubtedly we'll level up after the next adventure. I can hardly wait: Jhasspok's going to be a lizardfolk 3/barbarian 1 and then we'll take it from there. I intend to alternate between barbarian and ranger with some fighter levels thrown in as needed.
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PC Roster:
Cramer Appleknocker, gnome cleric 3
Jhasspok, lizardfolk 3
Khari Hammerslammer, dwarf fighter 3
Marlo Pendragon, human sorcerer 3
Utred "Buckets" Butterflinger, dwarf barbarian 3​

Game Session Date: 5 February 2020

- - -

The group arrived in Ducrest, the first village in the kingdom of Kravyrn they had seen, shortly after the villagers had put out the fires started by the goblin raiders. The Jalamir slaves were met with wary and suspicious stares at first - especially Jhasspok, who at first thought they were looking at him strangely because he'd turned the flames of his slave-light cloak green and was somewhat surprised when they still looked at him just as oddly after he'd altered the illusory flames back to their normal yellowy color. However, the villagers' glares turned to expressions of surprise and then glee once they saw the five had not only slain the last of the goblin tribe that had plagued them for decades but were also returning all of the goods the goblins had stolen (including the wagon). At that point, not even the fact the other four traveled with a hulking lizardfolk could put the Ducrest villagers off celebrating their new heroes. They insisted the five Jalamir slaves stay for free at a comfortable inn overnight and the next day the mayor's daughter Jayleen insisted upon guiding them to the capital of the kingdom of Kravyrn upon learning they were eager to speak with the king in an effort to gain his aid in helping Greenvale.

"It isn't far," insisted Jayleen, riding in the wagon beside Cramer, who was driving as usual. "And I'm sure getting an audience won't be difficult once the king learns what you have done for our village."

On the way, though, the slaves all suddenly turned their heads to the side as one, listening to a quiet voice in their ears. This time even Jhasspok heard it. "Is that N'zorthal?" he asked, well aware the illithid was capable of mental contact with the other four since the tips of his facial tentacles protruded through the ring gate necklaces they wore. But this time he too, for whatever reason, could hear the voice in his head.

"That's not him," corrected Cramer. "It's a male voice, though...."

"You are hearing voices?" gasped Jayleen, her face aglow with excitement. "It is said, on occasion, great heroes are called to the crypt to prove their valor. I'll bet that's what's happening to you!" If she had been pleased to be in the presence of those who had taken out the goblin raiders before, she was now overjoyed and had instantly become their greatest fan. "If you seek to get the king to join you in aiding Greenvale, heeding the call to Kravyrn's crypt will be even further proof of your valor and will likely go a long way to getting the king on your side!"

It was difficult to argue against that logic; as they had been warned gathering allies to aid the sunborn drow would likely be a difficult task, the slaves decided to take every advantage they could. At Cramer's urging, Jayleen directed the wagon off the main road and over to the crypt from where the mental call was likely emanating. It was a simple stone building at the back of a fenced area, to the side of which were several graves, three of them recent. Cramer brought the horse to a halt and tied the reins to the wagon, then cast a detect undead spell upon himself as the others approached the gate in the metal fence. It was unlocked and Jhasspok opened it easily. Jayleen, not having heard any mental calling in her own head, decided her place was to stay in the wagon; had she been meant to accompany the heroes on their test of valor she would have no doubt received a similar summons herself, she reasoned.

The graves were unremarkable, without any words carved onto the stone slabs serving as headstones, so the group advanced to the crypt building. The double doors were unlocked and pulled outward; entering, they saw an altar before a statue of an angelic, winged figure. Utred noticed right away the entire section of stone floor along the western wall was seamed, suggesting to the dwarven barbarian the floor might easily become a set of stairs if the trigger mechanism could be found.

Khari and Jhasspok examined the seams closely and the wall behind them but could find no activation switch or trigger. Marlo cast a detect magic spell and confirmed both the presumed stairs and the angelic statue had auras of magic. But rather than check out the statue, everyone decided to try the area around the stairs to see if they could activate them somehow from there. Once the concept had been explained to him, Jhasspok tried leaving an offering on the altar before the winged angel but apparently a dried dung beetle was not sufficient. Shrugging, the lizardfolk retrieved his spurned gift and popped it into his mouth, chewing the snack. He was almost out - good thing they'd be returning to Overreach soon!

Eventually, tired of looking along the walls and floor for something that apparently wasn't there, Cramer stepped over to the statue and gave the carved figure an appreciative look, finding a hidden button that did exactly what they had hoped: caused the individual tiled spaces to lower into the floor, creating a stairwell leading down to a lower level. This was particularly worrisome for Jhasspok and Khari, who had been standing on the tiles when they began their descent.

The only light in the lower level was that of the slave-light cloaks worn by the adventurers and a dim illumination coming from niches in the walls. A closer examination of the niches revealed each alcove held a sword whose blade was covered in glowing runes. There were piles of bone shards and dust at the bottom of each alcove, which made Cramer instantly suspicious that the shards would reform back into skeletons if they were disturbed. "Nobody touch any of the swords!" he warned.

Utred raced past his fellow dwarf and the lizardfolk who had been examining the closest niches. With his dwarven darkvision he could see the passageway continued on straight just ahead with a fork off to the right. At the end of the straight tunnel stood a set of double doors, the words carved above them indicating they guarded a treasure vault just beyond. "Odd they'd be broadcasting that information so blatantly," he muttered to himself; most dwarven treasure holds with which he was familiar took distinct pains to hide the treasure! Not trusting something so obviously fake - he was fairly certain the "treasure vault" would be a trap of some sort - he turned the corner and found a quartet of ghoulish figures in four alcoves to either side of this tunnel. Beyond the undead was another set of double doors, this one marked with the symbol of a massive sun.

Hissing in anger or hunger (or possible both), the ghoulish figures stepped out of their alcoves and turned to face Utred, who held his Elderwood flaming longsword at the ready. Khari advanced beside his fellow dwarf and readied his own weapon, a dwarven warhammer. Marlo, however, was giving the glowing swords in the wall-niches a thorough examination, careful not to disturb them or the piles of bones beneath them. Cramer came up beside the sorcerer and noted the bone piles were registering as undead to his still-active detection spell. That prompted the gnome cleric to cast a protection from evil spell upon himself.

Jhasspok had his masterwork short sword out and turned the corner, stepping up to the nearest shambling figure, noticing as he did so the terrible smell coming from their undead flesh. But before he could raise his turtle-shell shield in defense, the lead figure - a ghast - darted forward and bit the lizardfolk, causing his muscles to seize up and prevent him from moving at all. This was a new sensation for the lizardfolk and he immediately came to the realization he didn't like it one bit! He was just glad his tail helped keep him upright as he mentally tried everything he could do to get his limbs to start working again - to no avail.

The ghouls moved up from behind their leader, the first two ignoring the immobile Jhasspok as they tried to paralyze the dwarves. But Utred had other ideas, his enchanted blade slicing through the first ghoul and cleaving into the body of the second without seeming to meet any resistance. Both ghouls collapsed to the floor of the crypt at the end of Utred's blade-swing, their unliving bodies having found the true death at the barbarian's sword. The third ghoul decided it was safer to try to bite Jhasspok, who was guaranteed not to fight back, but his distraction at seeing his other two undead companions being brought down in as many seconds prevented Jhasspok from being bitten a second time.

Utred took a step forward and swung his blade down at the third ghoul, cutting into its undead flesh but failing to slay it as easily as he had its two other companions. But Khari had the situation - and his trusty warhammer - well in hand, bringing its weapon-head to crash down upon the ghoul's head. Just that quickly, three ghouls lay dead on the floor of the crypt, leaving only the more powerful ghast remaining.

Marlo's examination of the swords was enhanced by a read magic spell, allowing her to determine the glowing runes on the blades denoted some type of teleportation magic. Cramer decided to let the sorcerer do any further scrutiny on the swords; he was likely of more use fighting off the undead the others were facing. Moving up, he cast a shield of faith spell upon Utred, so far their greatest weapon in slaying these undead menaces.

The ghast bit Jhasspok again, apparently hoping to ensure the lizardfolk would stay well out of combat long enough he wouldn't even be a factor while the ghast dealt with the others. He'd have been better off dealing with Utred, though, for the dwarven barbarian sent his sword stabbing into the ghast's sickly flesh, causing the undead thing to hiss in sudden pain. The pain intensified when Marlo cast a magic missile spell his way.

Khari, seeing the ghast was being well taken care of, decided to see to Jhasspok's safety by dragging the frozen lizardfolk out of the ghast's reach; Jhasspok's tail made for a handy handle in doing so. Then, having opened up a space for himself, the dwarven fighter stepped up to where the lizardfolk had been standing and swung his warhammer at the ghast. Cramer, seeing the bite-marks oozing blood down the lizardfolk's scales, moved forward and cast a healing spell upon Jhasspok - and was promptly bitten by the ghast for his troubles. Fortunately, the cleric was able to overcome not only the paralyzation effect of the bite but also the nausea-inducing effect of the ghast's horrific stench.

The ghast turned and faced Utred, hitting the barbarian with a set of jagged claws and biting him on the arm. Utred's reaction was instant, bringing the killing blow to the fight by swinging his blade into the ghast's neck, coming a mere few inches away from decapitating the evil thing. He pulled his blade out of the creature as it fell to the crypt floor, dead beyond any doubt.

Taking only a moment to swipe the blood from his arm where the ghast had bit him, Utred advanced to the double doors holding the sun image: the holy symbol of Pelor, he realized. He could just barely hear the trickling sound of water coming from the other side. Pulling the doors open, he saw a well-lit chamber opening up before him. This was by far the biggest room they'd encountered in this crypt, well over twice the size of the entire crypt building up on the surface. Widening out just beyond the double doors (the trickling water sound came from just beneath the section of floor immediately inside the room, Utred determined - likely an underground stream), the chamber held four stone coffins on this level and another two on a raised section in the back, where the room narrowed back down to the width of the double doors. At the far end of the room, along the back wall of the raised section, stood a marble throne, upon which lounged a human woman in red robes.

The slaves slowly entered the chamber, even Jhasspok, who had finally gotten his reptilian body to do his own bidding now that the ghast's paralyzation had finally run its course. "Is she undead?" Utred asked Cramer.

"Can't tell," the cleric replied. "She's too far away to register with my detect undead spell."

"The spell's still active, though?" Utred pressed.


That was all Utred needed to hear; sheathing his sword and picking up Cramer by the waist, he carried the gnome further into the room at the barbarian's top speed. "Put me down!" Cramer complained. "She's not undead - the only undead aura I'm getting is from the coffin on her right!"

That, in turn, was all Jhasspok needed to hear. Racing forward, he sprinted all the way to the steps leading up to the raised section, leaped over the stairs, and landed on the stone lid of the coffin, hoping his weight would prevent whatever was in it from being able to get out. He then spun in place to face the others; he'd let them decide how best to proceed next.

Marlo, for her part, readied another magic missile spell, just in case the lounging woman in red decided to try anything or anybody popped out of any of the other coffins. She did notice one of the coffins in the front section (it was empty, she noted in passing) had had its lid smashed open quite some time ago, judging by the numerous cobwebs covering its shattered pieces. But the woman in red proved to be no threat at all; closer inspection showed she was unconscious, her white robes stained with blood - presumably her own. "Vampire!" warned Cramer to the others. "She's likely his latest victim." That also explained the running water at the front doors of the chamber, the gnome realized: a vampire would be unable to cross through the doors on his own. This whole chamber, he realized, was likely built to keep a vampire - or vampires? - imprisoned. Unrolling a cure light wounds scroll, he healed the woman, who blinked awake with a look of incomprehension on her face. Then, inexplicably, she began growling softly to herself.

"Vampire!" repeated Jhasspok. Well that was a relief - the lizardfolk had heard of vampires before; they were just a type of bat and bats were something with which he was very familiar, having lived all but the last dozen days or so of his life in the Underdark. Even a vampire bat big enough to fill the stone coffin beneath him wasn't likely to cause the group too much trouble, assuming it could even get out - which was unlikely, given the bulky reptile perched on the coffin lid.

A stream of mist suddenly shot out of a small hole in the side of the coffin upon which Jhasspok sat perched, squatting over its lid as if trying to hatch it. The mist coalesced into a human form, no sooner having taken on its full semblance before Marlo's readied magic missiles struck it in the chest.

"Well," said the figure, a rather handsome-looking man by the look of it, holding up a hand directing the group to cease all attacks, "I congratulate you on not setting off the trap of the empty 'treasure vault.' And you attempted to rescue the 'damsel in distress' - a good job there as well."

"Wait, what?" asked Marlo, confused. This was not how she had expected a vampire to react.

"I have no desire to kill you," reassured the vampire. "In fact, I called you here merely to talk."

"So you're responsible for the voice we all heard," reasoned Cramer, his mind racing. Did he call people to his vault to restock his food sources? Were they expected to let this undead thing drink their blood? Was he alone, or were these other coffins filled with vampires as well?

"Indeed I am," confirmed the vampire, replying to the gnome's spoken statement. "I am Kravyrn, the Duke of Oakenfield. Or I was, in life - my son later turned Oakenfield into a kingdom and named it in my honor. But I was afflicted with a curse - how or why is still unknown to me to this day - that robbed me of my heavenly reward after my death. Desiring a more pleasurable outcome than what awaited me, my son and I set up this crypt to house me when I became a vampire."

"So you're trapped here? Forever?" asked Cramer.

"In times of emergency or great import, the kings of Kravyrn over the years have sought out my council and even occasionally allowed me out of my crypt to fight for the kingdom."

"So you, what, call people to your crypt like you did to us? To serve you as food?" demanded Khari, making the same assumption Cramer had earlier entertained. The dwarven fighter didn't trust vampires, even those who spoke in a reasonable tone and seemed more eager for conversation than combat. He held his warhammer in a readied stance from which he could swing it almost instantly, if it became necessary.

"By no means," answered Kravyrn, waving a hand over to the woman still lounging on the throne. "I have all of the food I might need. A polymorph any object spell cast upon a pack of wolves has taken care of my dietary needs; the other three are currently sleeping in the coffins in the area below us, there." Here he indicated the three unsmashed stone coffins in the lower section of the chamber.

"So then why are we here?" demanded Khari, still not trusting this vampire.

"I set up an alarm spell to inform me when people of, let us say, 'prophetic note' show up in the kingdom. I believe you five are part of a prophecy concerning a great cataclysm of imminence. According to the version I have heard, you are very likely the champions of the 'sunborn,' whatever that might be."

"You know of the sunborn?" Cramer asked.

"Of the name only, not the meaning behind it."

Cramer looked at his fellow slaves, questioning without saying a word aloud whether they trusted this vampire. Seeing nobody but Khari - who still held his warhammer in a readied stance - seemed concerned about Kravyrn, the cleric pressed on. "The 'sunborn' are the elves of Greenvale - drow elves, actually, but an offshoot of drow lacking the inherent evil of the normal Underdark variety," he explained. "We are currently slaves to a House of Underdark drow, sent to the surface as raiders. But we've met up with the sunborn of Greenvale and have agreed to aid them in taking down the Underdark drow city where we have been enslaved."

"We're secret double slaves," Jhasspok offered, as if that made things any clearer.

"We were on the way to seek an audience with the king of Kravyrn, bringing him gifts of trade goods from Greenvale in an effort to gain his allegiance in helping the sunborn to take down the drow city of Overreach - where our current drow masters hold sway, and send out raiders like ourselves to snatch surface dwellers to add to their ranks of slaves. We would see that practice brought to an end."

"A noble goal," agreed Kravyrn. He pulled a pendant hanging from a chain beneath his shirt and passed it to Jhasspok. It held a glowing rune upon it. "This," Kravyrn explained, "is my personal rune, as depicted by an arcane mark spell. The common folk of my kingdom know it to be the crest of the royal family. The king, when you show it to him, will recognize it as proof of my endorsement of your goal."

"Then you think he'll help us?" Cramer asked.

"I do."

Cramer grinned widely. That was exactly what he had been hoping to hear!

- - -

As promised, we all leveled up to 4th after this adventure. Jhasspok finally got to add an actual character class - I went with barbarian - and wouldn't you know it, my dice (which had been failing me all night, as evidenced by my Fortitude save failure which had me paralyzed by the ghast and my inability to deal any damage whatsoever during the entire adventure) continued to suck as I rolled a natural "1" for Jhasspok's 1d12 hit point increase. Gah! Oh well, at least I got fast movement and rage 1/day out of the deal.

Logan informs us we'll start out next session with our meeting with the king of Kravyrn but then our initial two-week surface exploration will have come to an end and it will be time to return to the Overreach.



PC Roster:
Cramer Appleknocker, gnome cleric 4​
Jhasspok, lizardfolk 3/barbarian 1​
Khari Hammerslammer, dwarf fighter 4​
Marlo Pendragon, human sorcerer 4​
Utred "Buckets" Butterflinger, dwarf barbarian 4​

Game Session Date: 12 February 2020

- - -

King Leopold sat upon his throne, examining the odd group being ushered before him. Two were dwarves, another a gnome; each of these three bearded folk wore metal armor that looked to have seen plenty of combat use but their weapons had been left outside the throne room - although the daughter of the mayor of Ducrest (a trusted ally) vouched that they had slain the goblin raiders who had attacked the town and returned the loot the green pests had absconded with, it never hurt to be too careful. There was a woman with the three, barely taller than the dwarves, wearing an elaborate robe and a silver circlet upon her brow. She strode directly up to the king and bowed low; she would likely be doing the speaking for the group. That served the king's interests, as she was certainly the most pleasant of the five to look upon.

But the king's attention was currently focused on the fifth member, a hulking lizardfolk with thick, green scales who stood behind the others, looking around in wonder at the king's receiving chamber. Not only was King Leopold not accustomed to these lizard-people being somewhat civilized, as this one seemed to be, but he wore about his neck the symbol of Kravyrn, the king's own vampiric ancestor and valued ally of the kingdom that bore his name. As odd of a group as these five might be, they had obviously made a favorable impression upon the wily vampire. The king would certainly listen to what they had to say.

The woman introduced herself as Marlo Pendragon and then named each member of her group before explaining why they had sought an audience with King Leopold. She mentioned the elves of Greenvale and explained their importance in overthrowing an Underdark City of drow responsible for the kidnapping and slavery of the five adventurers standing before the king. She had the king's courtiers bring in samples of gifts of silk they had brought from Greenvale and explained the elves' eagerness to form an alliance with the neighboring kingdoms to help bring down the drow of the Overreach responsible for an ongoing policy of slavery for the surface folks their raiders encountered.

King Leopold raised his hand, silencing the short woman at once. "I have heard enough," he declared. "My advisers have cautioned against allying with Greenvale, arguing it would only serve to antagonize the Elderwood elves, but those elves have always seemed to me to be nothing more than arrogant bullies. In truth, I have sought a good reason to bypass their embargo of Greenvale and open relations with the city behind the mountain wall. If my ancestor Kravyrn has vouched for your plan, as I see he has, then I will be more than happy to have my kingdom join in your alliance."

"Thank you, Your Majesty," replied Marlo with a smile. "I am most pleased by your decision."

"In fact," added King Leopold, "I will begin the construction of a new road to Greenvale, bypassing altogether the Elderwood's blockade through their forest. With a safer passage, the other kingdoms should find it much easier to do business with Greenvale as well." This announcement brought smiles to the other heroes (four of them, at least; the lizardfolk snout didn't seem particularly well designed for smiling). King Leopold called for refreshments and the group toasted their new alliance with a fine red wine.

After being escorted back out of the throne room and having their weapons returned to them, the group went back to the horse and wagon they had left outside. No sooner had they boarded the wagon than N'zorthal sent a telepathic message to the four of the slaves wearing the ring gate necklaces. <Find a secluded alley where you will not be seen,> he commanded. <I will open the Writhing Gate - it is time for you to return to the Overreach.>

"D'you think he heard any of that business with the king?" whispered Khari.

"Not at all," answered Cramer. "Remember, the sunborn drow altered our tattoos and made it such that even the mind flayer's telepathic probings will get a false image of us doing something innocuous. We'll just play it cool and nobody will be any the wiser."

"You know, we have an opportunity here to drive a wedge of sorts between Calish and N'zorthal," suggested Marlo. "We can mention to Calish that the mind flayer's taken that book - he seemed to want it awfully bad, and I'll bet he doesn't even plan to mention its existence to the slavemaster." But then the Writhing Gate sprang into existence before them and the time for any such discussions were over. <Leave the horse and wagon behind,> ordered N'zorthal. <They will not be needed.>

Steeling themselves for the journey, the five Jalamir slaves stepped into the Writhing Gate. This time, knowing beforehand what was coming, they were able to close their minds against the nightmarish horrors waiting for them between the split seconds - although some of them wondered to themselves if Marlo hadn't instead opened her mind to the Dying One's mental embrace. She bore watching, that one!

As one, the slaves found themselves back in the gate chamber. N'zorthal stood from his seat at the base of the Writhing Gate and immediately set some ground rules. <Calish and House Jalamir at large do not know about the true nature of the Writhing Gate,> he informed them. <It should remain that way, for all of your sakes. The drow are also not to know about the Scriptures of Uboros. Any failure to heed my warnings will undoubtedly lead to the offender "accidentally" wearing a fake ring of regeneration during my next feeding session. Do I make myself absolutely clear?>

"Yes," muttered Cramer and the other four followed suit. So much for that idea!

<Return to me your ring gate necklaces - they are no longer needed.> The four slaves hurriedly passed over the necklaces, glad to be rid of them. N'zorthal, too, seemed pleased to have them back, as it meant being able to retract his facial tentacles from them and appear whole once more.

The trip back to the Overreach was uneventful and passed mostly in sullen and fearful silence.

Upon returning to the drow city, Calish Jalamir was there to greet his five slaves. He seemed genuinely pleased to see them. "You have done an excellent job on your first surface raid!" he exclaimed. "The information we tortured out of the Elderwood prisoners was of extraordinary value to House Jalamir! Please accept these for your hard work and exceptional effort!" He handed each slave a silk bag, inside of which were 100 slave tokens. "By the way," he added, "a guard from House Ky'hulcressen is waiting for you. Apparently they wish to reward you for having saved Niradi, their apprentice weaver, some weeks ago. You have my leave to go with him." And the slavemaster shooed them away, then turned and went about whatever other business in the city required his attention.

The Ky'hulcressen guard was a gaunt-faced warrior. He escorted the five Jalamir slaves to the markets around the Ky'hulcressen pillar - which was nearly as large as that of House Jalamir, the two Houses being close in their rankings. Looking about, it didn't take Cramer long to note an immediate difference between House Jalamir's slave-market and this one: "You use actual gold coins, not slave tokens!" the little gnome exclaimed.

"Indeed we do," the guard, who had been stone-faced and silent during the journey to the market, replied. "Now that we are inside the magical protections of the marketplace, we are free to talk. Allow me to explain the full extent of your reward: you have each been extended 4,000 pieces of gold in credit for the work you have done on our behalf. In addition, you will each be given ironsilk armor upgrades, of the type best suited to your own preferences."

"I wear no armor," Jhasspok pointed out.

"True, we would need to custom-make an ironsilk suit of armor to fit your frame..." the guard began.

"I wear no armor," Jhasspok repeated. "Nor clothing. I need only my leather harness, to hang my weapons and equipment on. Armor would hamper me when I swim and fish."

"You don't fish any more," pointed out Khari.

"No matter," answered the guard jovially. "If he doesn't wear armor, we'll see about getting him an enchanted weapon of some sort instead. But in the meantime, look about and see what you'd be interested in spending your reward upon. Once piece of advice, though: I recommend spending all of your actual gold first, and then dip into your lines of credit. If Calish finds out you still have actual coins from the surface, he'll be sure to take them from you. But he can't take away the credit our merchants will extend to you."

"Thank you," exclaimed Marlo. "That's very generous of your House."

"Remember, our House extends all the way to Greenvale," the guard replied with a wink.

Khari and Utred accompanied Jhasspok to a weaponcrafter's shop, to help him pick out his enchanted weapon. While there, one of the weaponsmiths asked to see Utred's magic longsword. "May I study this?" he asked the dwarf. "I think I may be able to recreate this particular enchantment. I promise: I will return it to you before you must return to House Jalamir." Eager to reinforce their alliance with House Ky'hulcressen, Utred readily agreed. Then he and Khari helped the lizardfolk decide upon a weapon. In the end, Jhasspok chose a magical battleaxe, enchanted to guide the wielder into striking where the blade would do the most damage.

The marketplace contained a few magic shops and the Jalamir slaves spent some of their coin there as well. Cramer and Khari each purchased a set of gauntlets of ogre power, which increased their overall strength; Jhasspok purchased something similar, but - not liking having his hands covered by gloves - he purchased a leather belt that did the same thing. Marlo bought an amulet to boost the power of her sorcerer spells, as she was the primary offensive caster among the group. Utred was intrigued by a necklace of red orbs, and when he learned each bead was a miniature fireball spell ready to be thrown it became an instant purchase for him.

And then, of course, four of the slaves were fitted out in their new ironsilk armor. Marlo, who had been wearing a set she'd taken from the corpse of a slain slave during the Festival of Blood, chose a new type of armor similar to a chain shirt, but woven of magically-hardened spider silk; it was as lightweight as a normal set of clothes and would not hamper her spellcasting in the least. Utred and Cramer went with ironsilk breastplate armor, while Khari - stubborn as ever - stuck with the ironsilk equivalent of the banded mail with which he was familiar.

Finally, their purchases made, their new armor fitted out, and after Utred had retrieved his Elderwood flame longsword, the five Jalamir slaves returned to their own quarters. But then, recalling their new bags of slave-tokens, Cramer excused himself and went to the Jalamir slave-market, intent to try out the "Punch-a-Drow" shop now that he had a full 100 tokens on which to purchase the rental of a drow slave for a full hour. "Why does he want to spend an hour with a drow slave?" asked Jhasspok, puzzled. None of the others felt up to explaining.

The next day, the slaves were awakened in their sleeping chambers - a large room partitioned off into individual stalls - by a booming, commanding female voice resonating through the House Jalamir pillar. Jhasspok recognized it immediately as the drow language, although he had no idea what the voice might be saying, not proficient in the language at all; the drow used the "slave language" exclusively when communicating to their slaves. But shortly thereafter Calish burst into the room, commanding the five to don their armor and grab their weapons: the House Jalamir pillar was under attack by one of the Lesser Houses!

Calish led the group up to the top of the pillar and from there onto the ceiling of the mile-high cavern that made up the boundary of the city of Overreach. With the permanent reverse gravity field along the ceiling, the slaves stood on the upper cavern as firmly as if they'd been standing upon solid ground. "You'll be in charge of guarding this entrance to the pillar," Calish explained, indicating the vast set of double doors from which they'd exited the enormous, stone column of House Jalamir. "The lesser slaves - those more easily expendable - have been sent to the front lines, at the edge of our territory upon the ceiling. They will keep the enemy at bay as best they can, fighting to the death. As will you all, but your task is to guard the North Gate, here. Feel free to advance upon the intruders as needed, but do not let them get past you and through the North Gate! Ensure no enemies make it into the House pillar!" Cramer got the distinct impression the drow "masters" would be particularly upset if they had to be bothered to lift a finger in their own defense. That, apparently, was what slaves were for!

"Do we know who's attacking us?" asked Utred.

"A Lesser House, hoping to elevate its ranks and possibly make it into the ranks of the Eight Ruling Noble Houses," Calish sneered. His slaves noted he didn't even bother dignifying the attacking House with their name.

"There will be drow attacking us?" Cramer pressed. "And we're allowed to kill them?" The gnome well knew the prohibitions against attacking drow built into the slave tattoos they'd all been given, but he also knew the sunborn drow of Greenvale had altered the tattoos, removing that prohibition altogether. But Calish didn't know that and the little cleric wanted to give the slavemaster the impression he believed he was still bound by the tattoo's original constraints.

"Any drow attacking House Jalamir is a fair target," Calish answered. "Now: you have your orders! Attend to your duties!" And with that, Calish Jalamir strode back inside the safety of the stone column of House Jalamir, leaving his slaves to guard the North Gate - with their very lives, if necessary. He pulled the double doors closed behind him with a resounding clang and the slaves could hear the sounds of the doors being barred from the inside.

"Well, this blows!" complained Cramer, casting a longstrider spell upon himself. "Figures they aren't going to put their own necks on the line - typical!" Marlo almost began to cast a mage armor spell upon herself - it was, at this point, a force of habit when preparing for imminent combat - but then realized her new ironsilk armor made the spell unnecessary. Then she looked over at Jhasspok, the only member of the group not wearing armor (he held his turtle shell shield, but that was it) and cast the spell on him instead.

"What is this?" Jhasspok asked, looking at his arm.

"Mage armor spell. It'll help protect you in combat."

"I'm...all shiny." It wasn't perhaps the best description, but occasionally the lizardfolk could see a glimpse of the edge of the invisible barrier surrounding him like a suit of armor as he moved his arm around, trying to catch the light in the right way.

"Focus, Jhasspok," Marlo suggested. The lizardfolk stopped marveling at his invisible force armor and looked across the area of the cavern ceiling before him. If you forget you were upside-down, with a bioluminescent Underdark sea a half mile above your head, the area looked like any normal area around a city's gates, with a few small buildings and tents nearby and a wooden stage upon which could be paraded new slaves for purchase. There were shouts and the sounds of battle some distance away, but the combatants were obscured behind obstructing buildings.

Suddenly, there was movement to the northwest, as a quartet of gnomish figures scurried around a corner and took cover. Jhasspok recognized them at once as svirfneblin, the Underdark gnomes who spent their whole lives underground - and occasionally ran afoul of the drow, often becoming slaves. This was likely the case here, with the four svirfneblin working for the unnamed Lesser House of the Overreach. Jhasspok raced forward, leaping over the slave stage platform and into an open clearing, readying his new battleaxe. The deep gnomes were hidden behind a long, low building, but from the lizardfolk's position he'd be able to see from which way they approached and attack them as they advanced.

Marlo spotted one and sent a scorching ray spell striking at the svirfneblin's head. Unfortunately, he ducked back behind the building in time and the flame spell missed its target. From beside her, Khari advanced, his dwarven warhammer ready to strike at the first svirfneblin to approach him. Cramer stepped forward as well, casting a magic weapon spell upon his mace as he did so. Utred, however, stayed in position before the North Gate, not trusting that some wizard wouldn't teleport in and try to get through the entrance to the House Jalamir column. He had his Elderwood flame longsword out, ready for action.

As one, the four svirfneblin went on the offensive. One rushed to the safety of the shadows behind a merchant tent, while the other three pulled out shortbows and fired arrows at Khari Hammerslammer. None of the arrows hit; perhaps the archers had been intimidated by the dwarven fighter's fierce glare.

Jhasspok charged the first svirfneblin, bringing his new battleaxe slamming down in an overhand swing he'd hoped would cut the deep gnome in two. But he was unaccustomed to the weapon's weight and balance and the blow fell short, the blade chopping a deep gash into the stone ceiling at the svirfneblin's feet. Marlo cast a magic missile at the foe the lizardfolk had just missed, her spell striking true - which was normal for that particular spell - but the sorceress had noted a field of energy around the svirfneblin and she realized they likely had an inherent resistance to spell energy, as was unfortunately true of so many races that lived in the Underdark. Idly, she wondered why that was so, but then decided this wasn't the time to let her mind wander from the task at hand.

With a wordless growl, Khari charged forward at the closest of the three archers, his warhammer striking the svirfneblin in the side of the head and crushing his skull instantly. Just that quickly, the Hammerslammer dwarf had struck first blood. Utred, seeing the forces before them didn't appear to have any spellcasters among them, hesitantly stepped forward - he'd make sure he only went far enough away from the North Gate that he'd still be able to return in an instant if it became necessary. Cramer, in the meantime, cast a protection from evil spell on himself; he knew his deep gnome brethren were likely not of an evil bent, merely slaves like himself, but there was good chance their drow masters would make an appearance at some point during this fight, especially if they hoped to breach House Jalamir and face the drow waiting for them within.

Two of the svirfneblin broke ranks and attacked Utred from opposite sides, hoping to flank him and take him out while he tried to defend himself from two directions at once. The concentrated attack was somewhat successful, in that one of the gnomes managed to get past the dwarven barbarian's defenses and stab him with his short sword, but if they had hoped this would take out mighty Utred they had vastly underestimated his stamina! The remaining archer shot at Cramer, missing once again.

Jhasspok continued his attack upon the svirfneblin he'd missed with his axe, and missed two more times - the little guy was certainly nimble! Marlo cast another magic missile spell at him, once more hitting true but this time having her spell fizzle out upon contact - that blasted spell resistance! But then Khari approached and swung his weapon; the svirfneblin didn't have any sort of inherent dwarven warhammer resistance, that was for sure! He crumpled to the ground, dead.

But Khari wasn't finished with his attack just yet! Swinging his warhammer around in a continuing arc, he brought it crashing down upon one of the deep gnomes flanking Utred, who at this point was focused upon the other svirfneblin and had uncharacteristically missed with his longsword strike. Cramer stepped up behind the svirfneblin fighting Khari and sent his mace crashing into the back of his foe's head, knocking him to the ground. It looked as if his chest was rising and falling with labored, ragged breathing, but it also looked as if he wouldn't be doing it for too much longer. Jhasspok, at this point frustrated with his inability to hit anyone with his new, enchanted battleaxe, decided to test whether or not the dumb thing even worked at all by attacking the unconscious svirfneblin. As his head went rolling across the ground, the lizardfolk nodded in approval and decided his axe worked just fine after all.

The remaining svirfneblin stabbed again at Utred and missed, but was then himself struck by a magic missile from Marlo. Utred finished him off with his own blade and then the group took a moment to look around to see if there were any other reinforcements heading this way.

There were: an armored, female drow rounded the corner from where the svirfneblin had come. Cramer, seeing her approach, ran up but kept his distance; he readied a sound burst spell since he could see what looked to be a duergar fast approaching as well - no sense in wasting the spell on one foe when he could unleash it on two! Once the two were close enough together the cleric released the spell, causing the pair to become momentarily stunned.

Jhasspok took full advantage of the temporary opportunity, dashing forward to attack the duergar fighter in the heavy armor. Khari and Utred stepped up to focus their attacks upon the same target; the poor duergar was unable to fend off the trio of weapons in his currently stunned state. Marlo then added insult to injury by targeting him with a scorching ray spell, hoping to take him down quickly. Cramer came to the same conclusion and cast a spiritual weapon spell which caused a quarterstaff of pure force to swing down at the hapless gray dwarf.

While the drow and duergar were still fighting off the effects of Cramer's sound burst spell, Marlo stepped forward and cast a magic missile spell at the drow woman. Khari swung his warhammer at her as well, judging the duergar to be about to fall - especially with Utred swinging his green-flamed blade into the grey dwarf's side. The drow duskblade, snapping out of it at the last moment, swung her own blade at the lizardfolk's side, getting past his shield and through his mage armor to draw blood. Jhasspok hissed in pain and returned the attack with his battleaxe - a weapon for which he was quickly getting the hang of wielding.

Cramer's spiritual weapon spell finished off the duergar - a first for the cleric's use of that particular spell! - and then the gnome heard the sound of approaching footsteps. He dropped a pebble into his sling and started swinging it about his head, building up speed. The drow duskblade fell to another of Marlo's magic missile spells. As one, the five slaves turned toward the sounds of approaching reinforcements.

Three male drow warriors rounded the corner and came into view, closing the distance - only to be attacked en masse by Khari's warhammer, Utred's longsword, and Jhasspok's battleaxe. Behind the drow males, though, stepped up a female - a cleric of Lolth, by the looks of her garb. Ignoring his sling for the moment, Cramer pointed at the approaching foes with a finger of his other hand and cast another sound burst spell centered such to get the drow - but nobody else - in its area of effect. All four drow flinched at the sudden audio blast and all were temporarily stunned save for one of the drow males.

Again taking advantage of temporarily motionless enemies, Jhasspok swung his battleaxe at one of the male drow while Marlo used her last scorching ray spell on the drow priestess. But then the dwarves finished the battle in a mere handful of seconds, Khari crushing a warrior's head in and then smashing the priestess in the face with his warhammer, all in one deadly arc of motion, while Utred's Elderwood flame longsword sliced through the abdomens of the other two male warriors in one cleaving blow. All four fell to the ground at virtually the same time.

Looking about for the next wave of enemies, the group could hear the fighting still in the distance but nothing coming their way. Cramer put the dwarves on lookout duty while the others quickly looted their slain foes. A quick detect magic spell from Marlo helped identify which items were worthy of closer scrutiny: two pairs of boots of striding and springing (which were eventually given to Utred and Khari) and a pair of masterwork hand crossbows, which Jhasspok and Utred took for their own use. Jhasspok was particularly intrigued by a weapon you actually wore on your arm like a piece of armor - strange! He'd have to practice with it - and, he realized, with his new battleaxe - until he had mastered the new forms of attack they provided.

Eventually, the sounds of battle drifted off, the attackers either driven off, slain, or the skirmishes simply moving farther away and out of earshot. Despite their willingness to enter into additional combat, neither of the five slaves dared disobey their orders, so they stayed by the North Gate, determined that no foes would enter the House Jalamir pillar through this particular entrance.

And none did; after about an hour of inactivity, the gates suddenly opened from the inside and a House Jalamir slave informed the group the battle was over. Shrugging, the group entered the stone pillar and returned to their quarters to clean up and deal with their wounds.

- - -

Well, Jhasspok's got a lot of training ahead of him with that stupid +1 battleaxe he got - my first three attack rolls were a 1, a 3, and a 2! But the hand crossbow is pretty cool - it helps that Logan, Harry, and I are all watching the "Crossbow" series (a 1980s TV show about the fictional exploits of William Tell) and a recent episode had William using a hand crossbow. Logan's dropping the "exotic" nature of the weapon, making it just another form of common ranged attack.

But the whole reason Jhasspok has a battleaxe in the first place is I decided I'm going to have to pick one weapon and make that his primary attack. I'm running a 4th-level combat specialist PC with only a +2 Base Attack Bonus (thanks a lot, three levels of just lizardfolk that granted me a whopping +1 BAB!), so I'm lagging behind Utred and Khari. The D&D Mini I'm using to represent Jhasspok is a lizardfolk wielding a turtle shell shield and what looks like a primitive hammer; I didn't want to go the warhammer route and tread into Khari's territory and my last fighter PC wielded a morningstar so I didn't want to duplicate that, either - I figured battleaxe was a good solution. So I think I'll be taking 2 levels of fighter next, just for the bonus feats - I desperately need Weapon Focus (battleaxe) to start to be able to pull my weight a little better in combat.

Incidentally, I assume cleanup after a fight on a cavern ceiling is pretty easy: you just need to fling the corpses more than 10 feet into the air, at which point they're outside the range of the reverse gravity effect and they plunge half a mile into the bioluminescent sea. Look, it's raining corpses!

We're going to miss the next two normal Wednesday sessions; I have two upcoming business trips that will take me out of the state those weeks, so we'll resume the campaign on 4 March 2020.
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PC Roster:
Cramer Appleknocker, gnome cleric 4​
Jhasspok, lizardfolk 3/barbarian 1​
Khari Hammerslammer, dwarf fighter 4​
Marlo Pendragon, human sorcerer 4​
Utred "Buckets" Butterflinger, dwarf barbarian 4​

Game Session Date: 4 March 2020

- - -

Several days after the unsuccessful attack on House Jalamir by the forces of one of the Lesser Houses, Calish strode into the slave-quarters of his quintet of combat slaves. "Gather around!" he commanded and the slaves were quick to obey. You never knew with Calish Jalamir; while he often presented a pleasant demeanor, they all knew - perhaps Cramer most of all - he was quick to anger and had a heart as black as any other drow in the Underdark city.

"First up: Payment for a job well done!" beamed the slavemaster, handing over a pouch of slave tokens to each of the five. "You will find a full hundred tokens each, a token of my pleasure for the way you held off the attackers and defended the North Gate. I trust they will be put to good use in the Slave Market as time permits."

"They certainly will," grinned Cramer Appleknocker, recalling 100 slave tokens could purchase the use of an actual drow slave for a full hour. He'd availed himself of the privilege once before and looked forward to a repeat of the experience.

"And next, a reminder of the consequences of my displeasure," added Calish in an equally-pleasant tone of voice. He reached back out through the entry door, taking a covered metal platter from a small table there in the hall. The slaves frowned, wondering what they might have done to earn Calish's displeasure and how a covered dining tray might play into the matter. But then, with a flourish, the slavemaster whipped the cover off the platter to reveal the severed head of a mind flayer - none other than N'zorthal, the House Jalamir Administer of Discipline himself.

Marlo blanched as her face drained of blood. Had Calish learned of N'zorthal's interest in the illithid book on the Dying One? Was the slavemaster an enemy of the Dying One? Did he know of the pact Marlo had made with the illithid Elder God - was this some sort of mental torment, to make her squirm before being physically tortured for having allied herself with an enemy of Calish? The breath caught in her lungs.

But all that worry was for naught. "N'zorthal," Calish explained, "needed to be shown Mother's displeasure at his recent failure."

"Failure?" repeated Marlo, while Khari tried to recall if he'd ever met Calish's mother, not recognizing the term as one the drow often used to describe Lolth, their Spider-Goddess. Cramer's eyebrows raised in delight at seeing the decapitated head of N'zorthal - that was one less enemy he'd have to tend to himself before he found a way out of this drow hellhole.

"Perhaps N'zorthal would care to explain," replied Calish, turning back to the open doorway behind him. As if on cue, four figures silently entered the room. The last three were the newest of the House Jalamir slaves: Guthier, Wulfrik, and Heather, captured by the five raiders and thrown into a life of slavery via the Writhing Gate. They spoke no words but the glares they gave said all that needed to be said: they would not soon be forgetting the ones who had cast them into this life. But leading this troop of sullen servitors was none other than N'zorthal, the Administer of Discipline, the ring of regeneration on his finger giving silent testimony as to how he still stood among the living despite the fact Calish held his decapitated head on a silver platter.

<I had been planting suggestions into the minds of the members of the Lesser Houses, getting them to start fights with more powerful Houses they could not possibly win. It was a way to force their hands before they had time to better prepare for success, since their success was not a desired end-state,> N'zorthal informed the group telepathically.

"And your failure?" prompted Calish, covering the severed head with the lid and placing it back on the table in the hallway.

<To increase the chance that my suggestions would take hold, I had to keep them open-ended and vague, which led one of the Lesser Houses to target House Jalamir for their attacks, thinking they could actually topple us and take our place. I failed to account for the possibility that we ourselves might end up under attack; I had thought those Noble Houses beneath us would have been more logical targets.>

"And one bit of fallout of the recent attack is that several of our food stores were torched in the battle," explained Calish. "It is for this reason, and this reason alone, that you slaves have been dining upon 'meat medley' these past few days." Left unsaid was the obvious fact the drow had ensured the food shortage hadn't affected any of them - the dark elves continued to dine upon the choicest viands while their slaves made do with makeshift scraps.

Marlo, whose face had begun to regain its normal coloration as she realized Calish still knew nothing about her alliance with the Dying One, now started to turn green as she deduced just what this 'meat medley' was likely comprised of. She swallowed the gorge that threatened to rise in her throat. Utred and Cramer also showed signs of discomfort at the thought they'd likely been fed the flesh of the enemy combatants who had attacked the House Jalamir pillar. But Khari and Jhasspok showed no such concerns, the dwarf because he hadn't yet figured it out and the lizardfolk because to him meat was meat.

"Fortunately," Calish continued, "N'zorthal has figured out a way to replenish our food supplies. On the surface world, there is a group of farming villages that, for some reason, suffer from bandit attacks every decade or so. You will be sent to raid several of these villages, taking what food you can; nobody should suspect anything other than they had once again been attacked by the surface bandits who already plague their homes."

"Are these three coming with us?" asked Khari Hammerslammer, indicating the three new slaves.

"Yes, but not quite in the capacity you likely envision. They will accompany you to the surface but remain behind to guard the Writhing Gate while you five secure the foodstuffs. They will also be able to help you haul the goods through the Gate. You will attack during the night, the better to ensure the Writhing Gate is not noticed, for it will remain in place on the surface during each raid, to speed the process. Any questions?"

"How many villages will we be attacking?" asked Cramer.

"As many as it takes for you to gather a sufficient quantity of goods. N'zorthal will let you know once that limit has been reached. One final thing: this is a food-gathering mission only. We already have enough mouths to feed, so there is no need to gather additional slaves at this time." He gazed absently at the three newest slaves, as if mentally determining whether they were best left alive or if their bodies would serve Overreach better as food stock for the other slaves.

"How soon will we need to start our trek to the Writhing Gate?" Utred asked.

<That will not be necessary. I have discovered a way to travel quickly to the Writhing Gate.> The mind flayer opted not to give any specifics on this new process and none of the slaves wanted to press the issue. <Gather your weapons and armor. We will leave at once.>

Once everyone was ready, the illithid did whatever new trick he had learned and he and the eight slaves were teleported to the Writhing Gate chamber. Reaching into a pocket of his robes, N'zorthal pulled out four familiar rings and slipped them over each of his facial tentacles, then passed their four counterparts - each on a thin chain, and each now with the tips of the four illithid appendages wriggling from the ring gates - and passed them over to Marlo, Cramer, Utred, and Khari. The four slaves pulled the necklaces over their heads, letting the ring gates hang over their breastbones. Once the tentacles touched the bare skin by the slaves' necks, N'zorthal had an instantaneous means of telepathic communication despite the distances that would soon be separating them.

As N'zorthal took his customary seat - one of ten along the Writhing Gate - Utred looked over at Heather, the halfling paladin of Yondalla. She had been allowed to retain her holy symbol, which hung about her neck on a silver chain, but it seemed as if the shaded portion of the cornucopia depicted on it seemed to be...writhing. The dwarven barbarian's thick eyebrows lowered in a scowl as he puzzled at this odd phenomenon - but then the Writing Gate activated and his suspicions were instantly forgotten as the ten tentacles, which had been squirming around in a random pattern, straightened out and came to a point near the ceiling, forming a cone shape.

Upon orders from the illithid, the five arena slaves turned off the illusory flames of their slave-light cloaks and all eight figures stepped forward into the Writhing Gate, to pop out just outside the first of the surface villages. There was a marketplace just ahead, with several crates and bags of various foodstuffs piled up, no doubt ready to be shipped elsewhere in the morning. It was dark out; looking up, Jhasspok saw the Really Big Pearl had been eaten away (by sky-acid, or so was the lizardfolk's firm belief) into a thin crescent shape, like one of the discarded toenails the gnome cleric left behind after his grooming.

But that wasn't the only source of illumination; a reddish glow emanated from a series of mountains just over the horizon. That puzzled Jhasspok, who had at first assumed it was the fireball sun just now leaving the sky, but in his (admittedly limited) experience on the surface world the Really Big Pearl didn't usually show up - at least not this high in the sky - until the fireball had already gone away. This surface stuff was confusing!

"Let's grab the goods and get out of here!" whispered Marlo, sneaking forward to do just that. But in the dim light she hit the edge of a small crate, causing it to topple from the stack it had been perched upon and fall to the ground with a crash. Up in a nearby watchtower, a guard spun around at the sound behind him and peered over the edge of his 15-foot-tall perch. Thinking quickly, Utred stumbled forward, pretending to be drunk. With any luck, the guard would think he was the one responsible for the noise: just another drunken dwarf out in the middle of the night. (He didn't give any thought that this particular "drunken dwarf" was bristling with weapons, no doubt causing more than a little concern in the minds of any guardsmen who might see him.) He mentally activated his slave-light cloak, causing it to blaze forth and bathe the dwarf in its radiant illumination; he had only belatedly recalled these humans didn't have darkvision like those races who lived in the Underdark. "Hey, izzair anyplace 'round 'ere where a guy c'n get a mug o' ale?" Utred asked loudly, peering up at the guard in the watchtower.

The guard's eyes bugged out at the sight of a dwarf so staggeringly drunk he didn't even know he was on fire. He raced down the ladder of the watchtower to go aid the poor fool. As he approached at his best speed - not all that fast, Utred noticed, for the man was much older than he'd have expected in a town's guardsman - Marlo cast an unseen servant spell from a scroll and had it start to lug away what looked to be bags of grain. She shouldered another such bag herself, then followed the floating bag back to the Writhing Gate, where the bags were handed over to the three newer slaves to pitch into the Writhing Gate.

Fortunately, Utred's drunken performance was enough to focus the guard's attention away from the marketplace pilfering going on behind him. Khari hefted a large crate of food onto his back and lugged it over to the Writhing Gate, while Jhasspok found, to his delight, a tray of recently-caught fish and started stuffing them into the satchel he wore in which he had recently stored his own supply of food - predominantly dried dung beetles. The goods were brought back to the Writhing Gate and transferred back to the Underdark, all while Utred led the guard away while pretending to look for an open ale shop. The elderly guardsman had been glad to see the dwarf hadn't really been on fire, but now he was trying to get him to go back home and sleep it off - with no success, for the dwarf ignored all threats of being arrested for being drunk and disorderly. Before long, the readily-apparent goods had been stolen away successfully and N'zorthal mentally signaled it was time to go to the next village. Utred, receiving the call, suddenly seemed to snap out of his drunkenness and race away at top speed - far faster than the elderly guardsman could hope to catch up. The slaves passed through the Writhing Gate and back to the Underdark. The five tentacles that had been in place just outside the first village's marketplace were gone before the puzzled guardsman got close enough to where he'd have been able to see them if they'd still been in place. He scratched his thinning hair, wondering where that crazy dwarf had gotten off to. Weird!

N'zorthal mentally recalibrated the targeting of the Writhing Gate and then the slaves were off to their next destination: another farming village in what must be around the same location, for the glow just over the nearby mountains was just as visible here as it had been at the previous one. "Is that the fireball sun?" asked Jhasspok, indicating the orange light spilling from beyond the visible peaks.

Cramer looked up at the sky, orienting himself by the stars. "Nope," he answered. "That way's north. Likely a forest fire or something. Volcano, even."

"There aren't any volcanoes on our map," recalled Marlo, referring to the map they'd taken from the two-wagon caravan they'd attacked during their first surface raid.

"There's no telling the range of the Writhing Gate," Cramer replied. "We're likely somewhere off the edges of that map - far off the edges, for all we know."

<It is irrelevant,> inserted N'zorthal into the conversation. <There is another marketplace ahead. Gather up the food readily available.>

The five arena slaves crept forth, looking for food to steal. Now that they knew to look for one, they saw a watchtower like in the previous village; the dwarves, with their darkvision, reported it was manned by an older-looking human woman with a light crossbow. "Again with the elderly guards," commented Marlo. "Weird." But, heeding the mind flayer's orders, they snuck forward into the market until they found what they'd been looking for: barrels of pickles, wheels of cheese, crates of flour and salt and sacks of oats and potatoes and turnips. Cramer, Jhasspok, and Marlo (and her still-active unseen servant spell) started gathering, lugging, and turning the stolen goods over to Heather, Wulfrik, and Guthier, while the two dwarves stealthily circled the village, looking to take out any guardsmen on patrol.

As it turned out, there was a guardsman about, patrolling on foot, and he stumbled across the others raiding the food from the market before either of the dwarves had spotted him. But Marlo took care of that problem with a shocking grasp spell that sent the man reeling. He fell face-first to the ground, and when Marlo turned him over to make sure he was still alive (she hadn't tried to kill him, merely knock him out), she was both pleased to see he was still breathing but somewhat surprised to see he was easily as old - if not older - as her own grandfather. What was with all the elderly guards?

Jhasspok decided to take out the guardswoman on duty at the watchtower, which would then give the slaves all the time they needed to strip the village bare of the food they wanted. Speeding forward with his tail held out straight behind him as a counterbalance, he practically leapt up the ladder and was standing on the platform with the surprised guard before she had had time to turn around and face him. "Drop your weapons and you live!" hissed the lizardfolk, his battleaxe raised to strike a blow if she failed to comply.

She failed to comply. Instead, screaming in terror at the dinosaur-monster in front of her, she tried raising her crossbow but Jhasspok brought his axe-head down on her. The blow failed to drop her, but she staggered back and leaned heavily on the back railing, her weapon dangling by one hand, her wounded arm no longer able to bring it to bear. But alerted by her scream, Marlo dropped the guardswoman with a magic missile spell. From his high vantage point, Jhasspok scanned the area and saw nobody else about, so he scampered back down and helped the others load the rest of the goods through the Writhing Gate. Then, like before, they all returned to the Underdark.

N'zorthal examined the pile of goods stacked up against the stone wall of the Writhing Gate's permanent Underdark location. <One more village will likely suffice for now,> he advised the slaves, retargeting the illithid teleportation structure to its next location.

Things turned out quite differently in this third village, however. For one thing, as five tentacles of the Writhing Gate manifested just outside this latest marketplace, there was a guard standing right there, mere paces away. Fortunately, her back was turned to the Writhing Gate and her attention was focused upon a robed figure standing before her, but he saw the tentacles - and eight slaves - suddenly manifest behind her. His eyes widened in surprise and fear.

Utred stepped forward, deciding he'd try his drunken act again. "Hey!" he called to the guardswoman as he stepped up beside her. "There a tavern open 'round here? I needs me some ale!"

"You--you just stepped out of tentacles!" sputtered the robed figure. The guardswoman spun and looked in awe at the five waving tentacles that must have just erupted from the ground. She gave a wordless gasp of terror.

"Tavern?" repeated Utred, hoping to capture her attention. But she ignored him; instead, she raced to the center of the town and threw a smokestick at the ground before her. A column of thick, blue smoke rose up into the sky. Realizing this was likely a signal for reinforcements, the arena slaves all decided they'd have to forego stealth this time and fight off the guards before they'd be able to successfully make off with the food they'd come to steal. Marlo began by firing a magic missile spell at the robed figure standing beside Utred; she wasn't sure what his deal was - he wasn't dressed in the same armor as the guards - but robes like that usually meant a spellcaster and Marlo knew quite well the variety of spells that might be available to an enemy spellcaster. Better to take him out quick.

Her spell didn't quite do the trick - it hit him square on, eliciting a grunt of pain and pulling his focus away from the Writhing Gate - but then Khari raced up and brought him down with a quick strike with his dwarven warhammer. The robed figure fell to the ground, dead.

Alas, there were more of these robed figures about. Another one stepped out from the shadows behind a building and tossed a pair of lesser fire orbs at the two gathered dwarves. Seeing the flaming spheres racing their way, both Utred and Khari had time to dodge successfully and the spell-spheres exploded harmlessly far behind them.

Seeing no other combatants for the moment from their vantage point - for the elderly guardswoman who had activated the smokestick had subsequently run to a wooden building, stepped through a doorway, and slammed the door shut behind her - Jhasspok and Marlo began grabbing up the crates and bags assembled in a pile before them. They were suddenly accosted by another robed figure. "What are you doing?" he hissed. "You're not supposed to raid the place until tomorrow!"

"Um--what?" sputtered Marlo.

"Tomorrow, you idiots! The ritual isn't until tomorrow!"

Marlo had no idea what he was talking about, so she responded by casting a scorching ray at him but missed; the figure retaliated with the same spell, his aimed at the hulking lizardfolk. His spell struck Jhasspok straight on, causing a hiss of pain to erupt from the lizard's throat.

Cramer cast a sound burst spell at the offending spellcaster, stunning him momentarily into motionlessness. Utred then charged at the figure, felling him with one strike of his Elderwood flaming longsword. However, another robed figure stepped forward to take the place of his fallen companion. Marlo, by this time, had gone back to the primary mission, dragging a heavy sack of oats back towards the Writhing Gate while her unseen servant did likewise with a smaller bag of potatoes. Beside her, Khari hefted a wooden crate bigger than he was onto his shoulder and started lugging it back to the Writhing Gate.

And then yet another figure seemingly stepped forward from the shadows. She wore armor, but unlike the other guards the slaves had encountered thus far this night she was not at all elderly; quite the opposite, she seemed to have seen no more than two dozen summers. She tilted her head quizzically at Utred, her brow furrowed in confusion.

Jhasspok attacked the remaining spellcaster, getting in a good hit with his magically-enhanced battleaxe. Utred charged the beautiful young guardswoman, bringing his sword in for a lateral strike to her breastbone. The woman just stood there, a smirk on her face as the green-flamed blade struck true, smashing into the exposed skin just below her neck - and had no effect whatsoever. As the dwarven barbarian's face gaped in confusion, the armored woman released her true form. In an instant, a pair of batlike wings had erupted from her back and with a mere flick of them she was airborne. A barbed whip made of reddish leather unfurled at her side, draping down almost to the ground. Then, with controlled snaps of her arm and wrist, she sent the barbed devilhide whip flashing out at Utred, carving twin lines of pain across his face. Blood dripped down his face and in his vision as he let loose the rage that had built up immediately at the touch of the infernal weapon's twin strikes.

Cramer advanced on the spellcaster walking unhurriedly towards Jhasspok, but before the gnome could get off a spell the robed figure took a step back from the lizardfolk and cast a burning hands spell encompassing both Jhasspok and Cramer. They winced at the momentary pain and from above, the winged warrior woman looked down at them, intrigued at the battle going on below her.

<That is a succubus!> called N'zorthal to the four slaves wearing the ring gate necklaces. <Grab up what you can and retreat - it's not worth facing off against a demon!> Mastering the rage that had built up inside him and was ready for release, Utred high-tailed it back toward the Writhing Gate at top speed - which wasn't, it turned out, fast enough to avoid a final snap of the devil-whip across his broad back.

The succubus frowned in confusion. For whatever reason, her inherent telepathy wasn't able to pierce the thoughts of the five strangers; there must be some type of shielding magic in place, she mused. However, the cultist's thoughts were like an open book before her: he was hoping to recruit a few more sacrifices for some ritual involving a burning gate of some type. Her whip struck out again, this time against the cultist.

Jhasspok looked up and saw the succubus strike the robed human with her oddly-spiked whip of red leather. Taking comfort that she was on the side of good - one of those "sky-fish" that Utred had explained about when describing T'Puuli Tine's celestial father to the lizardfolk, no doubt - he helped her slay her foe by bringing his battleaxe crashing down upon the cultist, followed immediately by a bite to the throat. That last one did it - the cultist didn't last long after having his throat ripped out.

The succubus looked down at the five intruders, dragging stolen goods from the marketplace. "Cease your actions!" she called to the mind-shielded thieves. "I would have an explanation as to what you are doing in this kingdom!"

Spurred on by N'zorthal's telepathic commands to retreat, the slaves ignored her and ran with their various plundered foodstuffs to the Writhing Gate, racing full-speed between the tentacles and disappearing from view. Unseen behind them, the succubus screamed in pain, grabbed her head in both hands (dropping the barbed devilhide whip in the process), and fell to the ground as the Writhing Gate disappeared from existence. Overcome by the overwhelming sense of evil emanating from the illithid transportation system - and an accidental, momentary telepathic contact with the Dying One - Serenity's last thought before passing out was, "So that's what Galen must have felt...."

Back at the Writhing Gate's Underdark home location, N'zorthal stood up from his station, signaling the slaves' excursions were finished for the night. Behind him, the ten tentacles collapsed from their forced cone shape and started wiggling around independently once again. At each of the other nine stations sat the petrified remains of a mind flayer. <That was quite unexpected,> N'zorthal admitted. <The last time House Jalamir raided Ashfall, they did not have a guardian demon watching over the place.> He looked over the evening's take, piled onto the cart the arena slaves had taken from a previous raiding mission and ready to be pulled by the animated skeleton of a horse they had likewise captured. <I believe this will suffice. You may return to Overreach with the food supplies.>

A moment later, the Writhing Gate chamber was empty save for the mind flayer and his nine petrified kin.

- - -

I knew immediately our PCs were in Ashfall when I heard about the light from the north (making the mountain range a part of the Baator's Breath Mountains) and the advanced age of the guardsmen (because all able-bodied men were up in the mountains fighting off demon excursions); furthermore, I also realized this meant this entire campaign was not only taking place in the same game world as our previous one (as Logan had told us up front it was going to be) but also during the same time frame as well! The comment about the upcoming "burning gate" ritual sealed the deal: this adventure took place just before the one in "The Durnhill Conscripts" where our PCs fought off the Cult of the Burning Gate (where, for those who have read the exploits of the previous campaign, my PC Syngaard was treacherously reduced in size by half due to the evil machinations of the halfling rogue PC, Orion - played by Vicki, who runs Marlo in this campaign). Logan even pointed out, after the fact, that this adventure title, "Raiding the Fields," was a play on "Playing the Fields," an adventure in the Durnhill campaign.

So, this opens up some interesting possibilities. Three of the Durnhill PCs were involved in every adventure of the campaign, but Orion and Daleth (played by Joey, who now runs Utred Butterflinger) were frequent no-shows in the earlier adventures, so it's entirely possible we might meet up with them at some point during this campaign without contradicting anything from the previous campaign. And it's further evidence fueling our belief that the "metal man from Hell" we might need to rescue to help defeat the Dying One is none other than Alexandros, the Mithral Mage, one of our recurring foes in the Durnhill campaign.

Of course, Logan's probably put too much faith in our ability not to metagame with the knowledge our previous PCs knew when we run these current PCs. We were all well aware our PCs were fighting Serenity the succubus there at the end. Hopefully he'll take our prior knowledge into account.
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PC Roster:
Cramer Appleknocker, gnome cleric 4​
Jhasspok, lizardman 3/barbarian 1​
Khari Hammerslammer, dwarf fighter 4​
Marlo Pendragon, human sorcerer 4​
Utred "Buckets" Butterflinger, dwarf barbarian 4​

Game Session Date: 11 March 2020

- - -

"This is stupid," grumbled Cramer. "I don't see why N'zorthal couldn't have just teleported us back to Overreach, like he teleported us to the Writhing Gate in the first place."

"Weren't you listening?" rebutted Marlo in a whisper, making sure they were out of earshot of Heather, Guthier, and Wulfrik - neither of whom had any idea about the secrets the mind flayer was keeping from the drow slavemaster. But the three newest additions to House Jalamir's slave force kept mostly to themselves, not wanting anything to do with the five raiders who had cast them into slavery. Marlo continued in a quiet voice, "He explained the Writhing Gate is 'angry' that a lesser being tried prying into its mind."

"Writhing Gate? The Dying One, you mean," countered Cramer.

"...Possibly," was all the sorceress was willing to admit on that front. "In any case, it has no problem with drawing others closer to it. But with it currently in its little sulk, I don't think I'd want to take the chance of having it teleport me back to the city when it's in a bad mood."

"So we got a two-day trek ahead of us," sighed Khari. He was just ahead of the cart of goods, pulled by the animated skeleton of a horse, and within earshot of the three new slaves.

"Two days?" gasped Guthier. "It's going to take us two days to get back to the drow city? Why don't we...you know, now might be a good time to make a break for it!"

"Don't be stupider than you already are," groused Utred. "Didn't Calish explain to you about those House Jalamir tattoos on your backs? You'd never make it - they'd hunt you down easily."

"And I daresay you wouldn't like the punishment that followed," added Cramer with a visible shiver, recalling the horrible day N'zorthal had eaten the brain straight out of the gnome's skull - three times in a row! - while Cramer wore a ring of regeneration ensuring the punishment wouldn't deprive House Jalamir of the continued manpower provided by their diminutive slave.

"Yeah, well Calish ain't gonna like it taking two days for us to show back up with all o' this food," added Khari. "I imagine he expected us to show back up, like, immediately."

"There's not a whole lot we can do about that," reasoned Marlo. "We'll just have to do like N'zorthal told us: tell Calish he's staying back to repair a malfunction in the Writhing Gate and will return as soon as he can. He probably won't like it, but what can he do?"

As it turned out, not much. The slaves had an uneventful return to the drow city of Overreach, at which time Marlo explained the situation and turned the four ring gate necklaces over to the slavemaster. Calish wasn't pleased at all to hear the news, but he quickly accepted the situation and pressed on with the new plans this set of circumstances had forced upon him. "Very well, then - it looks like any surface raiding I might have sent you on will be curtailed for the moment. That being the case, I will reassign you to new duties until such time as N'zorthal completes his repairs."

Jhasspok was thrilled with his new duties, considering they were nothing more than his old, pre-arena-slave duties: catching fish in the bioluminescent Underdark sea that surrounded the Eight Pillars of Overreach. Utred and Khari were slightly less pleased with their new assignment: given Utred's family background, it only made sense to send him to the stench kow ranch and Calish opted to send Khari along with him to learn the ins and outs of raising the shaggy rothé. Marlo and Cramer got perhaps the worst of it, though, being assigned to the fungal farms to shovel excrement onto the fungus that made up a food staple for the Underdark community. Due to the recent attack on House Jalamir, each of the five arena slaves was allowed to retain his or her armor and weapons at hand, in case of another attack. In the chaotic society of the dark elves, nothing made a more enticing target than a House that had just weathered an attack from another House and was thus not currently at its peak strength.

Two weeks passed in this fashion. Of the five, only Jhasspok seemed to be enjoying himself. And then their lives went on an entirely unexpected course as an unseen voice whispered into each slave's ear at almost the same time, "Pretend the sleep venom is taking effect when I stab you." Then, out of nowhere, a dark elf suddenly appeared before each of the five arena slaves, stabbing out with a dagger wet with what looked like poison.

Cramer and Marlo immediately noted the slight discoloration of the hair of the two drow attacking them: the gnome's assailant had white hair with a very light tint of blue, while Marlo's attacker had hair of a light pink - but which would surely look like the standard white hair of a drow from far enough away. Realizing these were likely sunborn drow from Greenvale they played along, falling prone as if succumbing to drow sleep venom; Marlo winced at the thought of falling into the dung she'd been spreading onto the fungal garden and managed to conveniently collapse between patches of the dried excrement.

Utred mastered his instinctive rage at being attacked out of the blue but allowed reason to guide his actions for once - after all, if these were enemy drow attacking them, why would they have given him a warning? He also played along, falling to the ground beside the rothé he'd been milking - careful, though, not to tip over the bucket of smelly milk he'd collected thus far. Khari played along as well despite not having done any reasoning of his own, merely trusting Utred knew what he was doing and it would be best to follow his fellow dwarf's lead.

As for Jhasspok, he fell forward into the shallow water and floated there as if unconscious, but his eyes were just above the water's surface, looking at his pretend attacker. He had felt the point of the drow's dagger blade rub up against his scales, but it hadn't been anywhere near a hard enough thrust to penetrate the lizardfolk's thick hide: this was obviously a sunborn drow, then - part of the other group of drow to which Jhasspok was a "secret double slave." He was curious to see where this subterfuge was going.

Seeing their "victims" lying motionless before them, each of the Greenvale drow pulled out a ring and placed it over a finger of the slave they'd pretended to attack. Then they explained the rings would completely shield the slaves from any scrying attempts on the part of House Jalamir and that House Ky'hulcressen had a secret mission for them. The sunborn drow then opened up a series of Shadow Gates and led each of the three groups through the Plane of Shadows to a nondescript building where they were all reunited back on the Material Plane. "Take a seat in the next room," the drow instructed, then disappeared back into the shadows of the plane of darkness.

"Hey, guys," Khari said upon seeing the others. "Fancy meeting you here. Me an' Utred was just milking a stench kow. Whatever's up, it's gotta be better'n that."

"Let's see what these sunborn drow have for us," said Cramer, opening the door and walking into a conference room, where there were two drow seated at a large table. One of the drow was Niradi Ky'hulcressen, the Apprentice Weaver the group had rescued from assassins some time ago, and the other was the purple-haired guard they'd met up in Greenvale. The slaves took seats around the table.

"It was House Dureem that attacked House Jalamir two weeks ago," Niradi explained. "For their failure, as is the way with the drow under the sway of the Spider-Bitch, Lolth obliterated their House, burning away the interior rooms of their stalactite dwelling in unholy fire." House Dureem was not one of the Eight Noble Houses of Overreach and thus did not warrant dwelling inside one of the Eight Pillars of the city - instead, their House dwelt inside one of the smaller stalactites hanging from the ceiling of the Great Cavern.

"Finding the circumstances behind the attack somewhat suspicious, House Ky'hulcressen began investigating and we believe House Dureem was somehow manipulated into their suicidal attack."

"Absolutely," agreed Cramer. "It was the mind flayer N'zorthal, House Jalamir's Administer of Discipline - he used suggestions to instigate the attack. He was punished for it, too. This came straight from Calish Jalamir's mouth."

"That is good to know," Niradi replied. "But as part of our investigation, we found eight bodies unaccounted for from House Dureem: children from the ages of 20 to 35." This puzzled Jhasspok for a moment - he was all of five years old himself and a full adult, after all - until he recalled drow aged much more slowly than other races and could live for centuries. Niradi continued, "It is no secret that House Jalamir deals in the procurement and sale of drow slaves. Although they claim all their slaves are criminals given the choice between slavery and death, only a child would be naive enough to believe life as a slave to other drow to be better than death."

"So, you think these eight drow kids are still alive, taken as slaves by House Jalamir?" reasoned Utred.

"We do. We have tracked the children down to a building within their slave goods market. However, the area they are held in is warded such that if anyone not of House Jalamir enters it will immediately alert Calish. Thus, we need you to go in and rescue them, as your slave tattoos mark you as belonging to House Jalamir."

"This building - it wouldn't be the Punch-a-Drow shop, would it?" guessed Cramer.

"Indeed. You know of it?" Cramer admitted he did, having recently spent 100 slave tokens to "rent" a drow slave for an hour, during which time he was permitted to do anything he wanted to her save for actually killing her outright. But despite Marlo's assumptions about how the gnome had spent his hour, Cramer confessed he'd merely healed the drow's prior wounds with his spells and rubbed her feet; as a cleric of Fharlanghn, the God of Travel, he well knew the importance of healthy feet. Cramer thought it would be a good way to get into the drow slave's good graces, to show her that not all non-drow were scum upon which to be heaped scorn - and if nothing else, if the drow slave refused to see the nobility of the gnome cleric it would at least probably infuriate her to have her predilections proved to be false - and that in itself would be a small victory over the drow.

"So, you want us to just walk in there and fetch the eight Dureem slaves?" Utred asked. "We'll be instantly recognized!"

"Not with these," answered Niradi, passing over a potion flask to each of the arena slaves. "These are potions of disguise self, each already tailored to give you the appearance of a drow noble of House Jalamir." She turned to Jhasspok. "And in your particular case, the illusory disguise includes a set of appropriate clothing," she added. Then she passed a second potion to Cramer. "You will also need this potion of enlarge person, to attain the correct size of the drow you'll appear to be. That way, anyone interacting with you won't wonder why their hand, say, passed right through the space where your shoulder should be." Cramer nodded appreciatively; they'd certainly put the appropriate level of thought into this mission.

"You primary goal is to rescue the eight House Dureem children," said Niradi, "although if you can rescue any of the other drow slaves it would be greatly appreciated. After all, having fallen from the Spider-Bitch's favor, these drow would be likely candidates for conversion to the worship of Eilistraee. This building is but a few minutes' walk from the Punch-a-Drow shop - which, I should point out, is referred to as the 'Forbidden Desires' brothel to its prospective clientele. You need merely lead the slaves back here and we will take it from there. They will be smuggled out of Overreach and taken to Greenvale, where they can live their lives free from the horrors of Lolth. Now then, are there any questions?"

"Do we know where the eight drow slaves are being kept?" asked Cramer.

"We believe there is an upper level in the basement above the building, but we have been unable to determine its exact layout. The slaves are likely being held there."

"Wait, a basement above the building?" asked Marlo. "I'm confused."

"Remember: we are within the reverse gravity effect on the ceiling of the Great Cavern," replied the purple-haired drow guard. "We are, right now, upside-down on the ceiling, as is the slave market of House Jalamir."

"I hate this place," grumbled the sorceress to herself.

"Do we know the strength of any security forces on hand?" asked Utred. "Numbers, weapons used - anything?"

"I'm afraid we have no concrete answers along those lines, other than you can bet there is some type of security in the place, to prevent the slaves from trying to escape." Utred grunted to himself. Going in blind, then! As the slaves began drinking down their potions, Niradi reminded them, "The drow who run this operation are wholly evil and deserving of death. Your altered slave tattoos will allow you to attack drow without repercussion."

Cramer grinned an evil grin. "I am well aware," he admitted. Then, being the only one of the five to have been inside the Punch-a-Drow shop, he led the way through the House Jalamir slave market and up to the shop's front door. "We ought to have a cover story," he informed the others - all of whom now gave every outward appearance of being drow nobles. "And Marlo, as the female of the group, you'd normally be in command; you should do all of our talking for us. Remember to sound regal and haughty."

"Got it. What's our cover story?"

"We want all of the slaves gathered together, so let's just command the proprietor to gather them up for our inspection."

"Why would we do that?" asked Khari.

Cramer gave it some thought. "House Jalamir's having a party for their upper nobles," he decided, "and they want the maximum number of pleasure slaves available. We're to bring everyone from the Forbidden Desires shop, no questions asked...and the order comes from Calish Jalamir himself!" he added with a chuckle. This sounded like a good idea to Jhasspok, who was busy imagining what a "pleasure slave" would do at a drow party. Probably serve fish, he decided, inordinately pleased at the thought of an all-you-can-eat fish party. But then the lizardfolk's mental reveries were interrupted by Marlo signaling they were about to enter the building.

A drow in studded leather armor sat behind the counter as Marlo stormed into the building, the four "drow" men trailing behind her. He looked up absently, expecting to see a prospective client interested in hiring out his wares but jumped immediately to his feet at the apparent sight of a high-ranking cleric of Lolth. "H-How may I be of service, matron?" he stammered. Over at the far side of the room, two scantily-clad drow slaves stood on display.

"Your pleasure slaves: bring them before me at once!" commanded Marlo. "All of them." The proprietor responded by ringing a bell he picked up from beneath the counter. Three more drow women entered from private rooms along the side of the building.

"Where are the others?" demanded Marlo. "Calish demands all of your pleasure slaves, even those...newly acquired."

"Others?" gulped the drow behind the counter. "Matron...these are all there all." Using the counter as cover, he secretly loaded his hand crossbow; something wasn't right here. House Jalamir was large enough he couldn't possibly be expected to recognize all of its members by sight, but he had a pretty good idea of its top members and he'd never seen any of these five before. He gave Marlo an appraising look - he'd certainly have recognized her if he'd ever seen her before, he was sure of that!

Deciding a cleric of Lolth would probably want to roughen up anyone giving her any kind of difficulty, Marlo stormed around the counter and approached the proprietor - and was immediately shot with his hand crossbow. "We're under attack!" he called to the pleasure slaves as he hurriedly reloaded his crossbow. "Get them!"

Khari reacted by dashing up to the counter and bringing his dwarven warhammer crashing down upon the drow's head. The victim of the attack managed to duck and bring his arm up instinctively to block the blow, and the audible crack indicated he'd likely broken his arm in doing so. Jhasspok had also bounded up to attack the man with his battleaxe, but his blade merely cut a deep gouge in the wooden counter in the spot where the proprietor had just moved from in dodging Khari's blow.

Reluctantly obeying their master, the pleasure slaves moved in for the attack, weaponless but scratching with their polished nails. Jhasspok felt a set of nails running harmlessly across his scales; the slave didn't seem to notice the discrepancy between the fine linen cloth her intended victim seemed to be wearing and the hardened scales of the lizardfolk hidden behind the illusion. But two of the other slaves managed to scratch Utred's face, causing him to roar in anger - not from the pain, which was minimal, but just at the affront of having been harmed by weaponless foes. Not wanting to waste any time fighting them off, he gave one a push that send her reeling across the room while the barbarian brought his Elderwood flaming longsword stabbing through the proprietor's neck, slaying him instantly. Utred noticed the magic of the potion had changed the apparent color of the flames from his sword from their normal emerald hue to a more natural orange-yellow.

Cramer, in the meantime, had approached the pleasure slave he'd rented once before and grabbed her wrists while calling for them to stop attacking. "We're here to free you!" he cried above the din. That got their attention: the women ceased their halfhearted attacks at once, having fought more from fear of disobeying their master than any real desire to enter combat on their own.

"Got something here," Utred announced as he leaped over the counter and examined the stone wall behind it. He tossed the proprietor's corpse out of the way to find the trigger mechanism, but find it he did. "Secret door," he nodded to himself. "Kids're prolly behind here."

"Do you know anything of eight drow slaves being recently brought here?" asked Cramer. The pleasure slaves admitted they did immediately, adding there was a horrid minotaur guarding the "training cave" where the kids would be indoctrinated into their new roles by the four drow "educators" responsible for their torture and eventual compliance.

"Then I think it best if you five stay in your rooms until we return with them," the gnome advised. "We will be back for you, and then we'll take all of you to freedom." The pleasure slaves were more than happy to follow the gnome's advice, Cramer's former "rental partner" having the presence of mind to lock the front door and put out a "CLOSED" sign to ensure there would be no interruptions during the rescue attempt. Cramer cast a quick healing spell on Marlo to close up the wound caused by the bolt from the proprietor's hand crossbow, then the sorceress indicated her readiness with a silent nod.

Utred led the charge into the room beyond, activating the secret door and getting in a good slash at the minotaur beyond with his Elderwood flaming longsword before the shaggy beast had fully turned around to see who was entering his domain. Jhasspok and Khari followed, each likewise bringing their weapons to bear, but it was Marlo who took the minotaur down with a magic missile spell. The poor thing was dead before it even knew why it was being attacked by a drow cleric and her four henchmen.

There was a spiral staircase in the corner, leading down. "Wait - I thought the basement was above us," said Marlo, clearly confused.

"It is," replied Utred, pointing down at the stairs leading down. "We're upside-down on the cavern ceiling, remember? Down is currently up."

"I hate this place," Marlo reiterated, her head starting to hurt from trying to visualize just exactly where in the Overreach she was.

Utred once again led the formation, heading down the stairs with the others behind him. As a dwarf, he could see perfectly fine in the pitch blackness of the spiraling tunnel but Marlo, Cramer, and Jhasspok activated their slave-light cloaks, causing differently-colored illumination to spill out all about them. After several complete turns, the stairs leading down became a ramp leading up, for at the transition point was the end of the reverse gravity effect; now the group was climbing upwards along the ramp, the "basement" level actually above the upside-down Punch-a-Drow shop as had been explained. Marlo's incipient headache began to worsen.

The spiral ramp widened at the end as it spilled into an irregularly-shaped cavern. Khari raced ahead once he saw a male drow in studded leather armor poking at the unconscious body of a drow girl with an electrified rapier, the tip of the blade making a characteristic "zap" with each poke. With a battle roar, the dwarven fighter charged at the drow ranger, bringing the head of his warhammer crashing into his ribs.

Hearing the sudden yelp from her subordinate, the leader of the slave trainers turned and saw what appeared to be an armored drow attacking her minion with a warhammer. Amazed at the audacity, she cast a Kelgor's fire bolt spell at the disguised Hammerslammer dwarf, striking him squarely in the back. But at the same time Jhasspok followed Khari's path of travel and bolted up from the ramp, cutting the ranger down with his battleaxe. He, too, looked to be a drow warrior; even his turtle shell shield had been covered by the disguise self spell to give the appearance of a metal shield holding an intricate spiderweb pattern, with the House Jalamir emblem at its center.

Two more drow trainers ran up to the two interlopers, one attacking Khari and one going for Jhasspok, each wielding an electrified rapier, with a short sword in his off hand. Neither drow managed to hit their targets, for the disguised arena slaves had had plenty of time in which to dodge the incoming blows.

Back down in the ramp, Cramer called hurriedly to Utred, "There's a spellcaster of some sort up there behind us! You go take them out of action!" And then he cast a silence spell on the dwarven barbarian, realizing the zone of silence around him wouldn't hamper him in the least - while likely having disastrous effects upon anyone trying to cast a spell with a verbal component (which the clever gnome realized was just about all of them) in his immediate vicinity. Nodding his agreement, Utred raced up the ramp and around the corner, seeing his spellcasting target for the first time: a female battle-cleric of Lolth by the look of all the spider-emblems she had embedded on her armor. Her brow furrowed in consternation as she heard no noise accompanying the barbarian's hard-soled boots on the stone of the cavern; then, as sudden realization dawned, she turned to try to flee before he could reach her - to no avail, as Utred's magic longsword cut a deep gash into her side. But she raced away from the crazed dwarf - who looked to be a high-ranking House Jalamir noble, obviously a magical disguise of some sort - and over towards Cramer, who likewise looked to be a high-ranking member of her House. She had no idea of Cramer's capabilities but her primary goal was to get outside the range of the area of effect of the silence spell obviously centered on the drow who had attacked her with the flaming longsword. She struck at Cramer with her own weapon as she approached, but missed.

Marlo cast a magic missile at the drow ranger attacking Khari and the dwarven fighter finished off his foe with a well-placed hammer strike. That was two of the males down - a full 50% of the torturers "instructing" the House Dureem children of their new roles. Jhasspok hit his own foe with his magic battleaxe, noting the cowering children lining the outer edges of the cavern. The drow ranger tried to retaliate with a strike of his own but the electrified rapier hit only the lizardfolk's disguised turtle shell shield. Marlo cast another magic missile spell at the ranger, striking him unerringly. He staggered under the impact but did not fall.

Cramer took a step backwards and cast a sound burst spell at the drow cleric, hoping to stun her into momentary motionlessness, but she was apparently made of sterner stuff. But then Utred caught up to her and struck her again with his sword, keeping her encompassed within the field of silence. Khari ran up to the cleric and struck her with his warhammer from the direct opposite side as Utred, pinning her between them.

The woman acted instinctively, knowing the two dwarves could easily kill her with their weapons and she had no effective spells she could cast without speaking aloud. But she could trigger the magical darkness effect available to all drow, dropping down (silently, thanks to Cramer's still-active silence spell centered on Utred) to her hands and knees and crawling off to the side. She knew her foes wouldn't be able to see her, even if they were, like her, a true drow; she suspected this was possibly another attack from a Lesser House trying to take advantage of House Jalamir's temporary weakness after House Dureem's suicidal attack.

Just outside the hemisphere of absolute darkness covering the center of the chamber, Jhasspok traded blows with his dark elf foe, neither seeming able to hit the other. But then Cramer hit the sole remaining drow ranger with another sound burst spell, and this time the spell was all it took to take the dark elf out of commission. That left the female cleric as the only remaining combatant and she was somewhere within the half-globe of absolute darkness. The gnome backed up until he could see both sides of the hemisphere, so he'd hopefully be able to see her when she emerged. Marlo likewise readied another magic missile spell, to cast at the drow woman once she came within view.

Utred, blind and deaf but well aware that Khari was somewhere in front of him, gave his longsword a tentative swing before him: enough to tell if the woman he'd been fighting was still in place but not enough to go stabbing into Khari if the dwarves were standing closer than the barbarian had imagined. Khari did likewise with his own weapon, poking out with the hammer's head to gauge her position rather than trying to hit her just yet. But the dwarves' tentative probes didn't matter in the least, for the cleric had the misfortune of crawling out of her own darkness effect quite literally at Marlo's feet; the sorceress took her out with her readied magic missile spell.

"That should be it," remarked Cramer, dismissing his silence spell. "Come this way," he yelled to the dwarves, knowing there was an open, spiraling ramp somewhere near them in the hemisphere of sightlessness; no sense in them falling into it and breaking their fool necks. Then he turned to the drow children they'd come to rescue. "Don't be afraid of us," he called to them. "We're here to rescue you. We'll have you all out of here in no time."

During the time the group had been waiting for the cleric to emerge from the darkness effect, Jhasspok had picked up the unconscious girl and moved her over to the far cavern wall, where she'd be less likely to be affected by any further combat. Then, as the dwarves emerged, he joined them in checking out the bodies of the drow they'd slain. The electrified rapiers were interesting, but none of the arena slaves could see themselves using them so they all opted to leave them behind.

Cramer cast a healing spell on the unconscious House Dureem girl, bringing her to full wakefulness. Then, wanting to leave some sort of message to the House Jalamir members who would at one point investigate this cavern, the gnome had one of the children help him scratch the symbol of House Dureem onto the stone floor of the cavern. "I want them to know they failed to completely eradicate your House," he told them. Then the raiders gathered all eight children together and led them back down the ramp, which halfway through the cycle turned into going up the stairs. (Marlo muttered something under her breath at that point, but none of the children could make out exactly what she said.) Then, back in the Punch-a-Drow shop proper, they gathered up the five slaves and explained what was going to happen. "Our story is that we're taking you all away to a gathering of high officials," Marlo said. "I'll lead the way and these other four will be supposed to be guarding you, so walk single file as if you're not sure what's going on and somewhat afraid. But we're really going somewhere where you'll be safe and free to live your lives as other than slaves to House Jalamir. Okay?"

Marlo was greeted with positive responses and she was pleased to see they had all mastered the "looking confused and afraid" part as she led them out of the building, through the House Jalamir slave market, and over to the meeting house where Niradi Ky'hulcressen and her purple-haired Greenvale associate awaited them. The five sunborn drow who had brought the arena slaves through the Plane of Shadows reappeared, to take the slaves to their new lives in Greenvale.

The arena slaves were taken to a secluded alleyway for the effects of their potions to wear off. When they once more looked like themselves, one of the sunborn drow returned to their sides. "You will run now, as if having escaped from your attackers. You do not know who attacked you or why they wanted you, but when you awoke - perhaps sooner than had been expected - you fled. Drop your rings as you run; I will gather them back up. Now go!"

The arena slaves ran, dropping their rings as instructed. Cramer appreciated the simplicity of the sunborn drow's plan: with Khari and Jhasspok's limited capacity for intrigue - neither was anywhere near the top end of the intellectual scale - it was best for everyone to just play dumb. And with House Dureem already having attacked House Jalamir and several other Houses likely planning similar assaults, it was completely feasible that the first strike against the Noble House might be against several of their slaves, to torture information from them about their House's weaknesses.

But Cramer knew he'd just made an important blow against the House that had made a slave of him. One day he'd be back to full freedom but if he had to remain a slave for a bit longer, it was rather fulfilling to be a "secret double slave," to use Jhasspok's term.

- - -

This session was bombarded with puns. We noticed immediately the similarity between "Dureem" and "dream" and that got the ball rolling. When we were told we had to rescue eight Dureem children, I piped up with, "The oldest one's name is Dureem Abdul Jabbar," which elicited a groan from Vicki and a demand to hear the other seven names if only to get them out of my system. Well, I didn't have seven "Dureem" pun names immediately at hand, but we did spend the night commenting on how they were all so "Dureemy" and the like. And then, at the end, when we had slain the enemies and rescued the eight Dureem slaves, I asked Logan if any of them had the ability to create ironsilk, like Niradi could, and pretended not to remember her title. Logan responded with "She's an Apprentice Weaver, and no, the slave children aren't trained in that art." Which was exactly what I had hoped he'd say, as it set me up for, "Oh, so there aren't any Dureem Weavers among them?" The look on Logan's face showed an eye-rolling dismay at my stupid pun and an equal self-abasement for not having seen that one coming. Heh heh heh - or, as Jhasspok would put it, "Ssss ssss ssss ssss ssss ssss!"

But Logan's taken to letting the puns roll by him, because he knows there's nothing he can do to put a stop to them. After all, Dan's as big of an instigator as I am - he still uses the term "Piehole Crescent" to refer to the sunborn drow's Noble House, to which we are all "secret double slaves."

We all leveled up to 5th at the end of this adventure. Everyone else is sticking with another level of their sole character class, but Jhasspok's adding a level of fighter, so he can get a bonus Weapon Focus (greataxe) feat to help him start pulling his weight a bit better in combat around here. It's kind of painful for a hulking lizardfolk to be put to shame by a pair of four-foot-tall dwarves!
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PC Roster:
Cramer Appleknocker, gnome cleric 5​
Jhasspok, lizardman 3/barbarian 1/fighter 1​
Khari Hammerslammer, dwarf fighter 5​
Marlo Pendragon, human sorcerer 5​
Utred "Buckets" Butterflinger, dwarf barbarian 5​

NPC Roster:
Eri'dia Jalamir, drow sorcerer 1​

Game Session Date: 18 March 2020

- - -

The morning began with a primal scream of rage, which woke the five sleeping arena slaves. After having been debriefed yesterday about their "abductions" and subsequent "escape" from their "unknown assailants," Calish had removed them from their temporary duties and had them return to their former slave quarters. Now they leaped up in the darkness of the room - for it was earlier than the normal time for waking and thus the slave-light torches had not been remotely activated - the non-dwarves among them grabbing for and activating their slave-light cloaks to provide some illumination. "Is everyone okay?" asked Cramer.

The scream that had awakened them all was followed by another, this one recognizably that of a woman, and seemingly caused by pain instead of rage. Hurriedly, the slaves gathered up their weapons and put on their armor, anticipating another attack upon House Jalamir. But if this was another attack it was by the most polite drow forces imaginable, for rather than their door being kicked in there was a tentative knock upon it.

Cramer, being the closest to the door, headed over to open it. Before he could get there the politeness had apparently been extinguished, for a woman's voice called out regally, "Let me in!" Looking to see the others were all armed and ready, Cramer opened the door - only to see a young female drow storm into the room, cradling her left wrist. This was someone with whom they were familiar, if not anyone they'd had any personal dealings with: Eri'dia Jalamir, youngest daughter of Matron Jalamir, the Noble House's leader, and little sister to Calish the slavemaster. Jhasspok had no idea of the personal link that existed between the two of them: it was Eri'dia who, having gotten sick by some bad clams gathered by the fisherfolk slaves, had insisted Jhasspok be sent to the arena for the Festival of Blood, having mistakenly identified him as the culprit who had gathered up the bad shellfish. (Jhasspok, however, with his aquatic maneuverability, had been solely a procurer of actual fish; after all, anybody could hunt down a clam or oyster!)

"Heal me, slave," Eri'dia commanded to Cramer, holding her broken wrist out to the little gnome. Cramer glared in dislike at being ordered about but realized no good would come of disobeying a direct order from a drow, let alone the daughter of his House's leader. "This may hurt a little," he advised her, pulling her hand out and causing her to wince in pain; the process absolutely wasn't necessary for him to apply a healing spell but he was fairly sure she wouldn't know the difference and he enjoyed making members of the haughty drow race suffer a little when he thought he could get away with it. "How did this happen?" he asked, casting a cure light wounds from one of his scrolls to deal with the injury.

"My shunaji brother," she snarled, using an obscure drow word for the end of the excretory canal. "He's all pissed that somebody stole his hard-earned drow pleasure slaves and is venting his frustration on anything and everyone he can. Just because I'm still two years away from my Ascension to Adulthood ceremony, I'm an acceptable target for his tantrums." She moved her healed wrist around, ensuring it still had full mobility after Cramer's ministrations. The thought to thank him for his handiwork never even crossed her mind.

Then, looking around at the five arena slaves, the Jalamir daughter came to an instant decision. "It would be best if Calish had something to take his mind of his missing pleasure slaves, and I'm thinking a sizable hoard of treasure would do the trick. Fortunately, I know just where we might be able to get something along those lines."

"'We,' Mistress?" asked Marlo.

"I don't plan on hanging around here for him to smack around," Eri'dia replied. "My own slaves were working in the mines and accidentally broke through a wall, into what looks to be a duergar tomb. There's no telling what all might be in there, but the duergar often put a considerable amount of treasure in their burial vaults. You're all combat fighters: you ought to be able to handle any traps they've left behind to prevent looting. Come along."

"Now?" asked Khari - he'd been hoping they might get a bite to eat before heading out. But that was apparently not to be, for such considerations were nothing to the spoiled drow royalty. "I'll even let you each keep a trinket from the tomb, if it proves to be as rich as I think it is," she said as way of enticement. Then she exited the room, expecting the five slaves to follow.

They all knew their place in the Overreach hierarchy: they followed, Cramer casting a longstrider spell upon himself to help him keep up with the other, longer-legged members of the group. Jhasspok, seeing the spellcasting and assuming it was time for such things, offered Marlo a slave token to cast a mage armor spell on him. She smiled and complied, taking the proffered token not because she needed it but because it would make the lizardfolk happy to have successfully used money. (He was still struggling with the concept.) But Marlo also studied the Jalamir noblewoman they followed; if Marlo understood drow society, two years from being an adult would put Eri'dia at 48 years old. It also explained her garb; unlike nearly all adult female drow, she was not dressed as a priestess of Lolth but rather in a loose gown of dark spider silk. Perhaps two years hence she would begin her training in the dutiful worship of the Spider-Bitch. And then Calish wouldn't dare to lay a hand on her in anger - not and be allowed to live, anyway.

A brisk stride through several side tunnels at the far edge of the Underdark city led the group to the mines, where Eri'dia unerringly took them to the newly-unearthed chamber. An elderly dwarven slave in mining gear met her there. "We've touched nothing, as per your orders, Mistress," he reported.

"Good," replied the drow. "You may get back to your duties. I and these slaves will take it from here."

"Yes, Mistress," replied the elderly dwarf, looking pleased to be able to leave the vicinity, but whether from the unknown forces potentially lurking inside the duergar tomb or the spoiled drow princess herself was difficult to pin down.

Khari approached the hole in the wall, seeing an open chamber beyond. There was no illumination in the tomb but that didn't matter to a dwarf; the Hammerslammer's darkvision allowed him to see perfectly fine nonetheless. "Four statues of duergar inside," he reported back to the others, "an' a bunch o' carved inscriptions in th' walls."

"What do they say?" demanded Eri'dia. She would never have wasted her time learning a language of the lower races.

"Sumpin' ' bout a duergar hero, name o' Rurgath Stoneaxe," Khari answered, reading the carved runes in the Dwarven language, shared by dwarves and duergar alike. He leaned into the room as far as he could to read the rest of the inscriptions without actually stepping foot into the tomb; he might not be the smartest of his people but even he knew stepping into a potentially trapped area was not a good idea. "Huh. Says here 'is greatest deed was t' cause the disappearance o' the kingdom of Brunniir." That, he knew, had happened some fifteen hundred years in the past. He pulled out his infrequently-used longbow, ready to shoot down anything that might try to approach from the tomb beyond. Seeing no obvious threats, he gave the four statues a good look-over - he wouldn't put it past the sneaky duergar to have them come to life and attack. Unfortunately, the dwarven fighter was too far away from them to be able to give them more than a cursory examination, to tell whether they were likely stationary or not.

"Well, if they're gonna attack us if we go in there, let's get 'em going!" said Utred, scrambling past his fellow dwarf and stepping into the tomb. Sure enough, Khari's fears were immediately realized: these were animated statues, part of a trap to prevent looters from advancing further into the tomb. But Utred got in the first blow with his greataxe, noting sullenly the stone statues resisted some of the strength of his swing, although he was pleased to see he at least carved a chunk of the statue free with his first strike. Khari's bow shot had less of an effect, the arrow plunking harmlessly off the statue he shot.

Marlo cast a magic missile spell into the room, hitting one of the statues in the back of the tomb as it moved closer. After some apparent internal struggle, Eri'dia did likewise, demonstrating she was not only an arcane spellcaster (as Marlo had guessed) but one with less training and experience than the human sorceress had, for while Marlo was now able to send a trio of missiles shooting forth from her fingertips, the drow could only manage one. Still, Marlo reasoned, any amount of spellpower would be welcome and if Calish's little sister was a sorceress or a wizard, at least she'd be likely to want to stay well behind the others and out of immediate harm's way. Marlo did not want to have to tell the easily-angered slavemaster they'd gotten his little sister killed, even if it was on a mission she herself had insisted upon leading.

Cramer chose to beef up one of the two dwarves already at the front lines; scrambling over the open hole in the wall, he cast a spell upon Utred and then stepped back out of reach of the approaching duergar statues. Utred grunted in appreciation of the shield of faith spell; anything that kept the dwarven barbarian in the midst of battle was very welcome!

Jhasspok leaped through the opening in the wall and rushed up to the animated statue threatening Utred. His battleaxe came swinging down in an arc that landed upon the statue's head but it was deflected by the curve of the statue's carved helmet, looking to have dealt no damage at all to the magical construct.

In a wave, the statues surged forth, three of them surrounding Utred in an arc and the fourth approaching Cramer. They struck out with the stone weapons carved in their hands. The little gnome easily avoided the blow headed his way, ducking beneath the swinging axe, but Utred couldn't ward off all three incoming attacks and one of them drew blood. That fired the flames of rage the barbarian kept just under the surface at most times, fueling the power of his attacks that much more. His own greataxe chipped further grooves into the first statue's stone form.

Switching to his trusty dwarven warhammer, Khari climbed into the tomb and attacked one of the statues targeting Utred. Marlo cast another magic missile spell at her initial target, all three blasts striking true, then held back any comments when Eri'dia followed suit again a second or two later with her own single missile of reddish energy and caused the statue to topple over, all traces of an animating spirit gone. The drow congratulated herself on having slain the construct; Marlo just rolled her eyes.

Cramer stepped back away from the construct attacking him and cast a bless spell encompassing all of the arena slaves and, after a moment's thought, the drow sorceress as well - after all, she was helping to fight their common enemies, no matter how small her own personal contribution to their collected efforts. The spell didn't help Jhasspok's next attack, though, which did no noticeable damage, but then again neither did any of the three remaining statues' follow-on strikes. Khari had a little more success with his next hammer-strike, causing a series of cracks to appear from the point of impact on the chest of the construct he hit. And then Utred finished that one off with another blow of his greataxe, leaving only half of the attacking constructs still up and about.

Marlo cast another magic missile spell at one of the two remaining statues and was a bit surprised when Eri'dia failed to follow her lead. But the drow had already used up half of her daily allotment of her most powerful spells and wisely decided to let the combat slaves take care of the rest of the animated stone warriors; they seemed to be doing fine on their own (even if she had taken care of one of the duergar statues herself).

Cramer swung his light mace at the statue stepping his way. The blow struck but didn't seem to do much damage, but then Khari gave it a good slam in the back with his warhammer. Jhasspok attacked the other one, this time managing to cut a sizable chip in the stone of the construct's shoulder. Utred's greataxe cut a much deeper groove in the thing's arm. For their parts, the animated statues fought back but had much less success in taking down the intruders in the tomb. Marlo finally finished off one of the last two with another trusty magic missile spell while Jhasspok had the satisfaction of cutting down the last one by enlarging the "wound" he'd created in the statue's shoulder with a follow-on strike that sent the crack diagonally all the way through the thing's body, causing it to fall to the tomb floor in two pieces.

And as quickly as that, there was silence in the tomb once again.

But this was apparently just the first chamber, for a heavy-looking set of stone doors to the south promised even more tomb to explore. With the lizardfolk's help, Utred shouldered the heavy doors open, revealing a set of stone steps leading down to a wide tunnel that paralleled a square opening below it to the east; the steps were twice as big as they needed to be and Utred realized they were likely scaled to the size of an enlarged duergar, for the gray dwarves were known for their invisibility and their ability to expand to twice their normal size.

"Likely more traps in here," Marlo warned, pulling the stopper from a potion vial and drinking down the liquid, activating a fly spell - she wasn't about to step foot into any of the rest of the tomb if she could help it! Eri'dia stepped up behind her and sent a dancing lights spell down the corridor ahead; the slaves noted her spell consisted of four bright red globes - the same color as the drow's eyes and her magic missiles, Cramer realized belatedly. Squinting in suspicion, Cramer stared at the woman's white hair and, sure enough, he thought he could detect a bit of red along the roots. But what did this mean? Was she a sunborn drow, perhaps even a member of House Ky'hulcressen? That seemed unlikely, given Eri'dia's status as a high-ranking member of the Noble Family of House Jalamir. Unless, the gnome mused, she was a plant, a secret infiltrator to the House? This bore some further thought, that was for sure.

"I have an invisibility purge spell ready to cast," he announced to the group. "Utred, how about giving me a ride on your back? You're the fastest among us, you could carry me further into the room that way and we could make sure we don't have any invisible duergar waiting, ready to strike."

"Sure, sounds like a plan - hop up." Cramer cast his spell and then clambered onto the dwarven barbarian's back, settling himself down upon the top of Utred's backpack.

Jhasspok strode purposefully down the stone steps and along the passageway, looking down into the lower room as he approached it. The floor was some 20 feet below him, with a step pyramid in the middle of the room holding an obelisk on its highest level and four niches carved in the north and east walls - two in each wall - inside which stood what looked to be more duergar statues. But the dancing lights spell didn't light the interiors of the niches very well, so it was hard for the lizardfolk to see much in the way of details.

Utred raced down the stairs, passing Jhasspok and making it all the way to the far corner of the platform, where it made a right-angle turn to the east along the southern edge of the square chamber. A second set of oversized stairs led down to the chamber's floor. Khari raced behind his fellow dwarf, nowhere near as fast as the speedy barbarian - even with a gnome perched on top of his backpack.

The floor the dwarves and lizardfolk had run over was apparently not trapped but Marlo decided she'd take no chances - she flew down the first stairwell and out into the open chamber as soon as she could. From her vantage point, 20 feet above the chamber's floor, she could see another two niches carved into the wall beneath the corridor to the west, each also filled with a duergar figure. But of more immediate interest were the two murals on the western wall, each a mosaic made from different-colored gemstones and precious metals. It looked like Eri'dia had been right: these duergar had buried a fortune in the tomb!

But she doubted such a treasure would be easy to gather without first dealing with the next wave of tomb guardians; no doubt these six duergar statues were also going to animate and attack. The sorceress decided to beat them to the punch and fired a scorching ray spell at one of the gray dwarf figures in a niche along the northern wall. It hit the duergar in the chest and set it ablaze.

It also caused it to animate and stagger out into the larger chamber - along with the other five the slaves had already spotted. All six - even the one on fire - raised a crossbow and aimed at the human floating 20 feet above the floor, hovering between the northern wall and the obelisk in the middle of the chamber. Six crossbow bolts went flying through the air and six crossbow bolts embedded themselves unerringly into Marlo's body, causing the sorceress to cry out in pain, pass out, and fall forward, the magic of her still-active fly spell causing her to drift slowly to the floor - and eventually into the reach of the animated figures the other slaves could now see were not statues at all but the desiccated remains of once-living duergar warriors.

Eri'dia advanced cautiously down the corridor, not sure of what to make of these undead forms in the chamber below her. She looked at Marlo's slowly drifting form without concern.

But Cramer was concerned; he leaped down off of Utred's backpack and started running back the way they'd come. He couldn't get to Marlo to apply a healing spell to her unless close enough to touch her and the way things looked there was no way he'd make it to her in time before the undead corpse creatures were upon her. So he raised his holy symbol of Fharlanghn and channeled a blast of holy power through it, sending a cone of turning energy upon the undead forms.

The creatures who had just stepped out from the niches below Cramer were the first to react; they began to flee in terror. To the gnome's surprise, his turning attempt also affected two other undead figures he hadn't even seen were there: a pair of corpse creatures hidden within the illusory obelisk at the center of the chamber. They, too, fled from the holy symbol in the gnome's hand, clambering down the steps of the pyramid in their haste to get away. Their desire to get as far away from the gnome as possible had them each ending up in the abandoned niches on the eastern wall where they cowered in place, unable to get any farther away.

Jhasspok ran down the southern stairs, as did Utred, the dwarven barbarian heading straight for the corpse creature nearest him - one which, he noted, was wearing a better set of armor than the others of its kind in the chamber. That would have been no surprise had the dwarf realized this was the animated body of none other than Rurgath Stoneaxe himself.

Khari saw a corpse creature in the chamber below him and leaped from the overlooking corridor, hoping to land on the undead thing and bring it crashing to the ground. Unfortunately, the only thing crashing to the ground was Khari himself, having missed his target completely. Fortunately, the corpse creature had already been successfully turned by Cramer and thus had no thoughts for attacking the downed dwarven fighter in its haste to flee. And over to the north of the pyramid, Marlo continued falling, her pace that of a feather; by this point she was about 10 feet above the floor, almost within range of the undead on the chamber floor below her.

Eri'dia decided to cast another magic missile spell, sending her single, red bolt of energy flashing across the chamber to strike the corpse-thing already blazing away in flames. It collapsed, destroyed by this second attack spell after having been most burned away by Marlo's scorching ray. But the drow congratulated herself on another fine kill; she was apparently destined for this line of work!

The three undead not already slain or turned by Cramer reloaded their crossbows and took aim at Khari, the closest intruder still in combat. Three bolts went flying across the chamber and three bolts went whizzing past the dwarf's ducking head - a much-preferred outcome for the fighter and a better deal than Marlo had gotten (but then what did she expect when she opted not to wear heavy armor like he did?).

Jhasspok felled a fleeing corpse creature as it raced right in front of him in its haste to get away from Cramer. The other one from the western wall niche raced to the north of the pyramid and ended up cowering in one of the eastern-wall niches, unable to get any further away from the gnome's holy symbol. But then Cramer called down to Jhasspok: "Catch me!" The lizardfolk ran to the western wall and held out his arms (momentarily dropping his battleaxe to do so), the gnome leaped off the edge of the platform, and Jhasspok caught him as easily as he would have caught a thrown fish. He set the gnome down on the floor beside him and stooped to retrieve his weapon; the cleric was already running in Marlo's direction, for she was almost within reach of the corpse creatures below her. Seeing that, Jhasspok ran over to Marlo and then caught her as well, setting her unconscious (but still breathing) form on the stone floor at his feet. He debated whether he should pull out the crossbow bolts sticking out of her body from all angles and looked to Cramer for guidance, but the cleric didn't seem concerned about that at the moment. Instead, he cast his most powerful healing spell available on the sorceress's unmoving form, and as the spell caused her wounds to seal up it had the side effect of popping the bolts out of her like watermelon seeds being spit out.

Rurgath began climbing the southern set of stairs in an attempt to maximize his distance from the gnome cleric and Utred chased after him, slamming his greataxe into the undead thing's body. Khari sent his warhammer crashing into one of the undead duergar over by Jhasspok and Cramer, while Eri'dia - still up on the wide corridor overlooking the chamber below - sent the last of her magic missiles for the day slamming into another of the remaining undead. Khari and Jhasspok found themselves under physical attack by the corpse creatures, each of the strikes of their duergar warhammers hitting true. Jhasspok retaliated with a hit from his battleaxe but while the weapon's blade bit deep it didn't seem to bother the undead creature much. He snapped at the corpse creature with a mouth filled with sharp teeth and found he didn't much care for the taste - he'd long believed "meat is meat" when it came to food, but this particular meat was no longer edible.

Rurgath made it to the corner and spun about, putting Eri'dia into his sights (the drow hesitantly cast a ray of frost spell his way but failed to hit anywhere near him), but then he was taken down by another axe-strike by Utred. Then, surprisingly, the cowering undead duergar in the eastern niche stepped completely through the stone wall of the alcove and disappeared from view, until he popped back out of the wall at the southeastern corner of the room. He began climbing up the steep steps towards Utred, forcing the dwarven barbarian to run back down the steps to intercept him - he was certainly getting a workout in this fight!

Two of the undead fell almost at the same time, one succumbing to Khari's warhammer and the other to another scorching ray spell from Marlo, back to fighting trim if not full power. Those still remaining continued their attacks upon Khari and Jhasspok - at least, until Cramer held forth his holy symbol and turned them as well. They proved to be not much of a threat after that, concerned only with fleeing the gnome cleric, and they were quickly taken down by the close-quarters combatants among the arena slaves.

With combat over, the slaves began the process of looting the bodies of the corpse creatures they'd destroyed. Eri'dia came down to the lower chamber now that it was safe to do so and examined the murals. She was clearly surprised by what she saw. The first mural showed what looked to be a mass of black tentacles rising up from the ground; the tips of several of them were a silvery color, apparently caused by the touch of a man in silver robes. The second mural had a giant, pink worm in the foreground; it had four tentacles coming out of its mouth and it faced a group of five individuals: from the looks of them, a pair of armored dwarves, a gnome, a slight human woman in robes, and a lizardfolk. They stood between the monster worm and a pair of enormous black tentacles rearing up behind them.

Brows furrowed in puzzlement, Eri'dia looked from the second mural to the five slaves gathering up weapons from the downed corpse creatures. Cramer met her gaze and looked over at the murals himself. "That's an odd coincidence," he said, hoping to dampen any theories the House Jalamir drow noble might have about the reasons their arena slaves were depicted in a mural in a duergar tomb. But he was mentally recalling the three prophecies written in the tome N'zorthal had taken from them: "The metal man reborn from Hell shall seal the Dying One in an eternal prison"; "The dark champions shall stand before the worm"; and the third one which the goblin doing the translations could make no sense of. It seemed the duergar could make no sense of the third prophecy, either, given they had left space for a third mural but never designed it.

However, Utred and Khari, using their innate dwarven sensitivities to all things related to stoneworking, discovered a hidden chamber beneath the illusory obelisk and inside were tens of thousands of gold coins and a few magic items. That served to distract Eri'dia from putting too much thought in the murals. She pulled a black handkerchief from her gown, unfolding it and placing it flat upon the stone floor. "Place the loot in there," she commanded, not bothering to do any of the grunt-work herself but watching intently to ensure none of the slaves thought to pocket a coin or two for themselves. (She did, however, honor her agreement to allow each slave to keep a "trinket" for themselves.) The slaves were amazed that the black cloth, when unfolded, had become the opening to an extradimensional space; Cramer claimed he'd heard of such things, called portable holes. The drow didn't bother validating his claims; what were the musings of a slave to one such as she?

"Do you want us to pry loose them gemstones?" asked Utred once all of the other loot had been dropped into the portable hole. Eri'dia's gaze had wandered back to the twin murals once the hidden loot from beneath the pyramid had been stashed away.

"...No. Not right now," Eri'dia answered absently - in her distraction by the images on the mosaics, she had failed to note the dwarven slave had failed to address her by her honorific. "There's no rush, after all - I think I'll have some of our House scholars and diviners study it before they get dismantled." But then her brooding ended, replaced with a more positive expression. "Besides, the coins we've unearthed will no doubt brighten Calish's outlook considerably! Come - let's get back to him at once!"

Sure enough, upon their return to Overreach and subsequent turning over of the loot they'd amassed, Calish's attitude changed from anger over his missing pleasure slaves to amazement at the riches before him. The arena slaves were casually sent away while Eri'dia basked in her brother's change of attitude.

Back in their chamber, the group discussed among themselves about the possibility of Eri'dia being a sunborn drow, a secret member of House Ky'hulcressen, or possibly even of Greenvale. (Jhasspok liked the idea of her being a "secret double drow.") But it wasn't anything they could ask her directly, in case she was firmly a House Jalamir supporter. After all, she might very well be a sunborn drow captured by House Jalamir and set in place as one of their nobility for reasons of their own. Cramer decided it would be best not to mention it to her at all (for how could they explain their own knowledge of Greenvale's biggest secret?), but to get word to House Ky'hulcressen and let them figure it out. The gnome volunteered to do just that; at his size, he was best suited for sneaking about the city.

The next day, while visiting the House Jalamir slave market (and noting the "Closed Until Further Notice" sign on the "Punch-a-Drow" shop), the arena slaves met up with a House Ky'hulcressen agent. They asked him if there had been any kidnapped sunborn drow children 48 years ago or so. The agent replied he didn't know of any such occurrence, but 48 years ago the House Jalamir Matron Mother led a surface raid herself. Since the only requirement to be a sunborn drow was to give birth on the surface while exposed to the sun, it was entirely possible Eri'dia was an accidental sunborn drow. The agent certainly had no information indicating Eri'dia was anything but completely loyal to her own House.

Curious, Cramer made sure to be in a position to walk past Eri'dia the following day while going about one of his chores, giving him the opportunity to cast a detect evil spell upon her. If, as he suspected was at least possible, she was a Greenvale ally, he'd expect she wouldn't read as evil. However, the results were inconclusive: while she certainly detected as evil by his spell, she was nowhere near the level of evil of a standard, run-of-the-mill drow. She was certainly the least evil of any member of House Jalamir the gnome's surreptitious spellcasting had yet detected.

Interesting, the gnome cleric mused to himself.

- - -

We each got a "trinket" from this adventure, as follows:
  • Cramer ended up with a lesser strand of prayer beads
  • Jhasspok took the battleaxe used by Rurgath Stoneaxe - it's a +2 variable aim battleaxe, allowing the wielder to reallocate one or two points of its overall +2 bonus from damage to the attack roll (kind of a Power Attack in reverse)
  • Khari got the +1 earth glide warhammer, which allows him to pass through solid rock or earth like an earth elemental as long as he starts and ends each round outside of such barriers
  • Marlo took an iridescent spindle ioun stone, allowing her to go without breathing if necessary
  • Utred took a +2 amulet of health, granting him a 21 Constitution and a whopping 76 hit points as a 5th-level PC! (He also got Jhasspok's hand-me-down +1 battleaxe.)

In addition, we're now close enough to 6th level that it's practically a shoo-in that we'll level up at the end of the next session.
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