Raiders of the Overreach



PC Roster:
Cramer Appleknocker, gnome cleric 9​
Jhasspok, lizardman 3/barbarian 2/fighter 4​
Khari Hammerslammer, dwarf fighter 9​
Marlo Pendragon, human sorcerer 9​
Utred "Buckets" Butterflinger, dwarf barbarian 9​

Game Session Date: 9 July 2020

- - -

"This is taking forever," grumbled Khari Hammerslammer from the back of the wagon. "How's anybody all the way out here gonna be able to help us?" It had been four days of travel through the pass around the Desolate Waste, during which time the group had seen a small village or two but not much in the way of neighboring kingdoms they might be able to sway to join the alliance to aid Greenvale.

"The Greenvale drow wouldn't have sent us on a fool's errand," pointed out Marlo. "If they thought it was worth our while to travel this distance, there's got to be potential allies out this way. Plus," she added, "Dracovania was at least this far away from Greenvale, just in the other direction."

"Seems longer," grumbled Khari. Part of the problem might have been the bleakness of the terrain, given they were skirting the edge of a vast wasteland of bare desert.

"Sea!" called Jhasspok suddenly from the back of the wagon, raising his head and opening his reptilian nostrils wide.

"See what?" asked Khari, looking around for what had piqued the lizardfolk's interest this time. Probably some new feature of the surface world that wasn't present in the Underdark, and thus was something the lifelong slave had never seen before. Khari was getting tired of explaining every new plant, animal, and insect they encountered to Jhasspok; plus, the lizardfolk frequently mixed up the stuff they'd already explained to him. Just yesterday, the foolish reptile had tried telling them he'd been stung by a daisy and it had taken Marlo several minutes to get straight in his head which one was a daisy and which one was a bee.

"I can smell the sea!" Jhasspok insisted. "Like the Bioluminescent Sea back home, but a little different."

"I wouldn't call the Overreach 'back home,' Jhasspok," chided Cramer at the front of the wagon. "With any luck, it'll just be your former home and none of us will need to ever see it again." But then the horse-drawn wagon went over a hill and sure enough, there was a sea - or possibly an ocean; Cramer had no maps of the area by which to reference - in the distance up ahead.

As the road brought them closer to the edge of the water, the slaves could see a pair of buildings by a pier stretching out into the water. There was a group of five children playing in the sand, alternately heading towards the water and running back screaming in delight up the beach as they were chased by waves. But when they noticed the horse-drawn wagon and its five inhabitants, their screams changed from delight to terror and they fled into the water.

"Land sahuagin!" one cried out in the Aquan language, grabbing a smaller child and pulling her into the waves with her. Cramer translated to the others what she'd said, having had it deciphered for him by the helm of comprehend languages he wore.

"What's a--" Jhassok began to ask, but Cramer cut him off. "You are," he said. "Or at, least they think you are."

"A sahuagin is kind of like a lizardfolk who lives in the sea," Marlo explained. "They're said to eat people. That's why they're afraid of you." Jhasspok frowned in puzzlement, trying to decide what was so inherently wrong about eating people. Sure, he wouldn't go out of his way to kill someone just because he was hungry, but if a person was already dead and their meat was just lying there not being used....

"Running into th' water like that's not very smart," Utred exclaimed. "Fool kids c'n get themselves hurt, or drowned."

A woman in gray robes exited one of the buildings, having heard the screaming. She turned to face the five strangers and her eyes suddenly went all white, the pupils seeming to fade away to nothing. Cramer recognized the effect; she was likely employing some sort of divination spell to detect whether they were evil, or undead, or perhaps magical in nature. Besides the all-white eyes, the woman's face was quite distinctive, with red, flamelike runes tattooed upon her cheeks and neck.

The woman shook her head as if waking from a trance and called out, "Please - I must speak with you! Come with me into the inn, if you will." Her eyes returned to their normal state, a deep emerald green that contrasted the red of her hair.

"What about them kids?" Utred asked.

The woman smiled. "They will be fine," she assured the dwarf. "The ocean is their natural environment."

"What's an--" began Jhasspok, but Utred cut him off. "An ocean's the same as the sea," he said. Jhasspok just nodded sagely to himself; he'd encountered multiple words meaning the same thing before, like "wolf" and "dog" or "food" and "meat."

Once inside, the woman introduced herself. "My name is Lauren," she said, which prompted the five slaves to each introduce themselves. Then Lauren explained about her tattoos.

"Some 32 years ago - I was but 5 years old at the time - an evil wizard experimented upon me. I come from a sorcerous bloodline, which prompted him to try to transmute my familial power into a source of prophetic visions."

"That's terrible!" commiserated Marlo, herself a sorcerer who drew her arcane power from her family's bloodline - which, she'd recently come to find out, included a red dragon somewhere back in her family tree. "And the tattoos - that was part of the experiment?" She also knew quite well what it was like to be tattooed against her will, as did each of her four companions, for each wore the House Jalamir emblem tattooed upon their backs.

"Yes," Lauren replied. "And the experiment was a success, for what it's worth: I am unable to cast any spells but those of the divination spell school. When I first saw you approach, I had a prophetic vision: I saw you five, quite clearly, freeing the Mithral Mage from a place of molten metal. The two dwarves looked particularly uncomfortable being there, it seemed." she said, indicating Khari and Utred. "Although our reasons for doing so are likely quite different, it seems we all have the same goal in mind. I'd like you to join with the Seekers of Eternity to help us both to achieve that goal."

"Seekers of Eternity?" Cramer asked. He'd never heard of them.

"The group to which I belong," Lauren explained. She pulled back her hair and turned her back to the group, exposing the nape of her neck to them - and the tattoo of a shattered hourglass, laying upon its side.

"We've seen that tattoo before," observed Marlo. "Remember? That fighter helping the mind flayer with his Cult of Eternal Bliss had a tattoo on the back of her neck, just like this one."

"I am unaware of this 'Cult of Eternal Bliss,'" admitted Lauren. "But the Seekers of Eternity have several different factions, all seeking the same goal - to escape the forces of death, so we may live forever. Just think of all the good we could do without the fear of death hanging over our heads our whole lives!"

"How does this Mithral Mage fit into all this?" Cramer asked. The prophecy they'd received about him was he was one way of three the Dying One could be stopped forever; apparently, he knew of some means by which to imprison the Elder God's severed head forever, in such a way even He couldn't escape. Of course, the Mithral Mage was currently imprisoned himself - in Hell no less, apparently. That didn't say much about his qualifications as a good person, although it was entirely possible he hadn't earned himself a place in Hell after death through his actions while living his life so much as having been kidnapped and imprisoned there while still alive.

"He is the founder of the Seekers of Eternity," Lauren replied. "It was his vision that first set us all on this path, to overcome Death forever."

"We're not talking liches or vampires or anything, are we?" Cramer asked warily. He had no use for the undead.

"No, no, of course not - that's not really life," Lauren replied. "Our experiments are of an alchemical nature, trying to recreate the potions of longevity that were apparently once quite common."

"Well, we're on a quest of our own," Marlo said, briefly explaining their own mission to try to gain allies against the Overreach drow army that would rise up to attack Greenvale in less than two months. "Do you think your Seekers of Eternity group could help us?"

"Very possibly," Lauren replied. "My grandfather, Arcturus, is a high-ranking member of the Seekers. We should go to him; he'd be well suited to get you the help you need - and if you're involved in freeing the Mithral Mage, I'm sure the Seekers would aid you in any way they could."

"Does he live far from here?" Khari asked. He was hoping the answer wouldn't involve another half-dozen days in the wagon explaining things to a curious Jhasspok.

"He lives in the Azure Glade," Lauren explained, which was no explanation at all to the five strangers. "It's a kingdom to the east of Durnhill, the kingdom this area - Yondall's Bay - is a part of. But Durnhill is the land of the minions of the evil wizard who cursed me with these tattoos and I fear they are still trying to hunt me down. We'd be best off skirting to Ashfall to the north of Durnhill or Ossirna to the south and heading to the Azure Glade that way. It's probably about three and a half, maybe four days of travel, all told." Khari sighed in weary acceptance.

"Do you think you could sketch us out a map?" asked Cramer.

"Certainly." That set the gnome cleric's mind at ease; he liked having maps to refer to whenever possible.

"So if we escort you to get safely to your grandfather, he'll be able to help us fight off the Overreach drow armies?" Marlo reiterated.

"I'm sure of it," Lauren replied. "The Seekers' ranks are filled with powerful wizards of all types, and quite a few clerics as well. And the Azure Glade is run by a Council of Guilds containing plenty of both." Marlo and Cramer exchanged hopeful looks; perhaps this alliance would be easier than it had seemed at first! And the greater distance would mean little to powerful spellcasters who could likely teleport their allies to Greenvale in no time at all.

At Lauren's suggestion, they decided to head south to Ossirna rather than north to Ashfall. Utred passed over his hat of disguise, suggesting Lauren wear it if she was being hunted by the minions of the evil wizard who had forcibly altered her bloodline powers to become a divinatory source. "I like makin' meself a copy of Cramer," the dwarf admitted, pointing a meaty thumb to the gnomish cleric of Fharlanghn climbing up into the driver's seat of the wagon. The children had advanced cautiously back upon the beach as the five slaves spent time inside the inn talking to Lauren, but once Jhasspok stepped back outside they went screaming back into the ocean.

"What are they, anyway?" asked Khari. "Sea sprites?"

"Merfolk children, actually," replied Lauren.

"What? Impossible!"

"They have magic belts that transform their fishlike tails into legs when on land," Lauren explained, plopping Utred's magic hat on her head and altering her appearance to become Cramer's duplicate. Her offhand comment got Jhasspok's interest, though: fish tails? He liked fish tails! He looked longingly at the children diving into the waves, not seeing any evidence of fish tails at all.

Marlo tied the customary rope around her ankle and used her boots of levitation to rise forty feet into the sky, confident that Utred would keep his end wrapped around his forearm so she wouldn't get left behind. Truffles poked out of a pocket of her robes, apparently enjoying the view. Then Cramer snapped the reins and the horse drew the wagon away from the pier. Jhasspok looked hungrily for any fish-tailed children, but they had vanished once again beneath the waves.

The next half hour passed quietly, interspersed only with the occasional query from Jhasspok. Then Marlo called down from her aerial perch: "Humanoid cloud approaching!"

Everyone looked to where she was pointing, and sure enough, a cloud was drifting down from the sky at a rather rapid pace, its form somewhat humanoid in appearance. "Do clouds normally do that?" Jhasspok asked - he seriously didn't know, as clouds were well outside his normal area of experience. There were no clouds in the Underdark.

"Definitely not!" replied Utred, pulling free his Elderwood flaming longsword and standing up in the cart, ready to leap down or fend off an attack.

The cloud shape lowered itself down to just above the level of the people in the wagon. In a wispy voice, it whispered, "Where is the spy? Hand over the spy!" It held one arm back, ready to strike if anyone tried to attack. Khari couldn't help but notice this cloud-shape was easily twice the height of a human, even a full-sized one (as Marlo was significantly shorter than the norm for her race).

Lifting his earthglide warhammer and activating its power, Khari leaped off the far side of the wagon and disappeared below the surface of the earth. He ran forward, beneath the wagon, beneath the horse, beneath the air elemental hovering before the frightened horse, and rose up behind the floating cloud-mass. He readied his weapon to strike.

Jhasspok tried a different tactic, one that made perfect sense to the lizardfolk: if this cloud person was going to try to get its nebulous hands on this "spy," he'd give it a target to focus upon. He leaped off the other side of the wagon, running away and leaping onto the nearby stump of an old tree, where he spun in place and faced the air elemental. Then, magic battleaxe in hand, he called out, "Here I am! I am the spy!" He had to stifle a hissing laugh at the cleverness of his scheme; no sense in giving away the ruse!

Cramer cast a true seeing spell, figuring the air elemental had probably been summoned by a spellcaster and wanting to ensure said spellcaster wasn't right there among them, hidden behind an invisibility spell. He looked around with his magically-enhanced sight but the only thing he saw that wasn't as it appeared was Lauren, whose true form was revealed behind her "Cramer Appleknocker knock-off" form.

Marlo lowered herself from her aerial vantage point, noting as she did so a bit of movement from further down a clearing between the trees of the forest flanking the road. One was a lithe figure in dark robes, his or her head covered in a hood that obscured any facial features. The other was more easily identifiable: a halfling woman in dark leather armor astride a riding dog. As she had a better view of the halfling, Marlo made her the target of the empowered magic missile spell she hurled and was pleased to see the apparent rogue topple from her canine mount, hitting the ground with a senseless thud. Whether she was dead or merely unconscious Marlo couldn't tell, but either way it looked like she was out of the fight for now. The sorcerer dropped onto the overhanging branch of a tree beside the road on which the group had been traveling, deeming it a suitable perch from which to continue to contribute to the combat at hand.

Khari got a surprise when he swung his warhammer at the air elemental: you can't really sneak up behind something whose "front" and "back" are readily interchangeable! His blow went wide as the air elemental easily dodged away, but so too did its counter-strike with an arm made of whirling winds.

Unseen behind a clump of trees, a water elemental - the same height as the air elemental, although sporting a broader overall build - rose up from a creek and readied itself to dive into combat with any who might approach it. At least it hoped a foe would approach, for otherwise it meant trudging up onto land and fighting from there, where it was at a distinct disadvantage.

Utred charged from the wagon to the air elemental, screaming a battle cry as he brought his flaming blade through the winds making up the elemental's airy form. But at the same time another elemental, this one made of dirt and rocks, rose up from the ground and attacked Khari from behind for the effrontery of trespassing onto its domain; never before in the earth elemental's experience had it seen a dwarf or a member of any other mortal race earth glide in the manner normally reserved for creatures from the Elemental Plane of Earth. Khari was struck on both sides of the head by a pair of massive, boulderlike fists, causing the clanging of his metal helmet to ring in his ears.

Lauren, hampered by her tattoos into only being able to cast divination spells, knew her spellcasting abilities were all but useless in a fight, so she picked up the light crossbow she kept for emergencies and fired a bolt at the air elemental. The bolt hit true, but then swirled around and around inside the elemental's body until it was flung away to the side; it was difficult to see whether the weapon had had any effect at all, for despite their particular element, these creatures didn't bleed. But the air elemental didn't seem fazed at all by the attack, ignoring the bolt completely as it slammed its wind-fists at Utred, battering the dwarven barbarian with the fury of its attacks.

Khari whirled in place and sent his warhammer slamming into the side of the earth elemental, feeling this was a more worthy foe than a creature made up entirely of air. At least he had the satisfaction of seeing clumps of dirt and rocks cascade from the elemental's body at the point of impact of the dwarven fighter's weapon.

Jhasspok, standing upon the tree stump, was puzzled as to why his brilliant scheme hadn't worked and the air elemental hadn't focused its attacks upon him. Giving a mental shrug - after all, there was so much of this surface world that didn't make sense to the lizardfolk - he sprang towards the air elemental, bringing his battleaxe crashing down into its body in an overhead swing. If the silly thing wouldn't come to Jhasspok, then Jhasspok would have to go to it.

Back behind most of the action, Carl whined at his halfling rider's unconscious form and did his best to lick Orion back to wakefulness. The robed figure, Daleth, ran over to her side and pulled two items from his robes. The first of these was a reddish gem, which he tossed to the ground and then pointed at the wagon when a Large fire elemental rose up from the shattered gem, indicating the targets the flame-beast was to attack. The second item was a potion of cure light wounds, which he unstoppered and gently poured down the halfling's throat.

Cramer cast a shield of faith spell upon Utred, firmly believing the ounce of prevention it caused - in making it that much more difficult to deal any damage to the battle-crazed barbarian - was worth the pound of cure after the fact in the form of healing spells. Marlo, in the meantime, saw the fire elemental approaching from behind the trees and realized she had an opportunity to catch both it and the earth elemental in a single lightning bolt spell, as they were so nice as to line up for her. The blast seemed to cause both elementals no small amount of pain. But off to the fire elemental's right, Marlo spotted the water elemental crawling up onto land, muttering to itself in Aquan about the indignity of having to fight on solid ground.

The earth elemental struck at Utred while the barbarian's attention was focused upon the air elemental; with a curse, he brought his Elderwood flaming longsword crashing into the rocky body of this new foe. The fire elemental moved up but was still out of range to join the fracas at once; the crackling of its flames alerted the others to its presence, however. The air elemental continued swinging its fists at Khari, another of Lauren's crossbow bolts hitting its body and being blown off to the side.

Khari took a moment to apprise the situation with the air and earth elementals. It was hard to tell with the air elemental, but the earth elemental's humanoid form was looking fairly damaged, with large divots missing from its arms, legs, and torso where he and Utred had struck it with their weapons. So, judging it to being closer to being destroyed than the air elemental, he brought his warhammer crashing into the earth-beast's side, sending dirt and pebbles flying from the force of his blow. Jhasspok was there to take up any slack in attacking the air elemental, bringing his battleaxe swinging into its body and instinctively snapping at the thing with his sharp teeth; the lizardfolk wasn't really surprised to learn that air elementals don't really taste like anything at all.

Cramer cast a spiritual weapon spell, sending the force-quarterstaff thus formed crashing into the earth elemental's head. Marlo slew the earth elemental and further damaged the fire elemental with a second lightning bolt spell; the fire elemental had taken quite a bit of damage now without having even gotten to land a blow of its own!

By now the water elemental had reached its foes and decided it wasn't going to play the fool's game by fighting these landbound foes in their own element; rather, he'd snatch one up and drag him back to be drowned in the creek. He grabbed at Khari, hoping to snatch him up and cart him away, but the fighter was too fast for him, sending his warhammer crashing into the elemental's hand and splashing it away, to soak the nearby ground. By the time the elemental had redistributed its mass to reform a new hand, the dwarf had shuffled off to the side and was out of reach. Bother!

With another roar of rage, Utred charged into the air elemental, his flaming blade cutting through its airy body to unknown effect. Lauren shot another crossbow bolt at the thing, this time targeting its head, but was unsure if the new target location had had any effect.

Orion sputtered and sat up, coughing. "I thought the spy was supposed to be traveling alone!" she complained. "Who are all those other guys?"

"I'm afraid I have no idea," Daleth replied. "But they seem to be way out of our league; I doubt if there is much more we can add to the fight. Best we report back what we know to Skevros - he may have further thoughts about how to capture this Lauren person." Their decision made, Orion crawled back up onto Carl's saddle and the trio turned about and went back the way they had come, retreating back to the Durnhill capital city.

The fire elemental brought a swinging fist crashing down upon Khari's head, leaving behind wisps of flame burning along his armor. But then the air elemental changed tactics, spinning its body into a virtual whirlwind and flying directly at Utred, Cramer, Jhasspok, and Khari in turn. It tried battering each foe and lifting them up into the air to be flung about, but while it did manage to deal some damage to the little gnome none of the heroes was lifted about as it had intended.

Khari ignored the howling winds suddenly buffeting his body and brought his warhammer swinging into the water elemental's body, causing a splash of water to go spraying out the creature's back and moisten the surrounding dirt, making small puddles of mud. But that wasn't all: there was a fish flopping around on the ground all of a sudden; with sudden amazement, Jhasspok realized the water elemental's liquid body contained a fish or two from the creek-waters in which it had been formed. This immediately made the water elemental the most interesting foe the lizardfolk had ever seen and he refocused his attention accordingly.

Cramer finished off the air elemental with a sound burst spell; he'd known there was little chance of actually stunning an elemental but he was counting on the sonic damage being enough to take it out - and he'd been quite correct. Better yet, the fire elemental was close enough to the spell's target point to likewise take some damage.

From her tree-branch perch, Marlo looked down at the remaining combatants: a fire elemental and a water elemental, each about the same size and neither one giving much of an indication of how much damage it had taken or how weak it was. So she chose her target based upon the spells she had available and cast an empowered scorching ray spell at the water elemental, realizing fire was likely a weakness to it whereas the fire elemental was most likely completely immune. She couldn't help the satisfied smirk from crossing her face when the water elemental, being hit by two separate rays of pure flame, boiled away into nothingness.

Jhasspok, in the meantime, couldn't help the satisfied smirk from crossing his reptilian muzzle when he saw the fish swimming around inside the water elemental's form were not only laying there on the ground waiting to be claimed, but had also apparently been boiled as well. Jhasspok was no purist; he was perfectly fine with eating raw fish but had no qualms against eating fish that had been cooked, as the mammals of his group seemed to prefer.

Utred dropped his longsword, the green flames extinguishing once the weapon left his grip, and pulled the greataxe from his back, realizing it was a more suitable weapon when fighting a fire elemental. His trusty axe-blade went slicing into the blazing elemental's form as the flame-beast swatted at him in turn with a massive arm. Jhasspok was close enough to the elemental to be struck by a flaming limb as well; fortunately, as his scales were engulfed in flames, there was a convenient patch of muddy earth right there to drop into. Jhasspok rolled around in the mud, dousing the flames coating his body, and grabbing up the boiled fish as long as he was right there.

Khari finished the fire elemental off shortly thereafter with a series of blows from his warhammer, the final swing extinguishing the flame-beast like a blown-out candle.

"Anybody need healing?" Cramer offered, now that the battle seemed to be over. Marlo, seeing Jhasspok's muddy form, sent him over to the creek to wash off before she'd allow him back into the wagon; that was perfectly fine with the lizardfolk, who took the opportunity to hunt down an extra fish or two while he was in there getting his scales cleaned.

Then, once Cramer had attended to everyone's wounds, the group gathered back into the wagon and the gnome sent the horse back on its way south, towards the border of Ossirna.

"Do you guys get into scrapes like this very often?" Lauren asked.

"Yeah, fairly often," Utred replied. "But we're all still alive. It'll take more than a bunch of elementals to take us out!"

- - -

This adventure took place during the same span of time where, in the "Durnhill Conscripts" campaign, Galen, Kaspar, and Syngaard were attempting to steal a copy of a book about the Mithral Mage from the Diviners' Library in the Azure Glade. During that Wednesday night session, neither Vicki nor Joey had showed up (they were off doing other things), so neither of their PCs went on that mission. And now we know why: Skevros had sent them on a mission to try to track down Lauren, aided by four one-time-use elemental gems that summoned forth Large elementals.

Incidentally, Logan wasn't pulling any punches with Orion and Daleth; while they were 4th-level at that point in time and our (current campaign) PCs are all 9th level, had we managed to kill either of them their deaths would have been canonical; in Logan's mind, a death during this adventure (and subsequent return to life via raise dead, naturally) would actually help explain why they lagged behind in level from the other three PCs. (The out-of-game explanation, or course, being than neither Dan, Harry, nor I ever missed a session of our Durnhill campaign, while Vicki and Joey were frequent absentees, especially in the beginning months.) But Marlo's empowered magic missile spell dropped Orion immediately to -3 hp, knocking her out but not killing her, and giving Daleth enough time to administer some much-needed healing in potion form.

It's entirely possible we may be seeing either or both of them in upcoming adventures in this campaign.
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PC Roster:
Cramer Appleknocker, gnome cleric 9​
Jhasspok, lizardman 3/barbarian 2/fighter 4​
Khari Hammerslammer, dwarf fighter 9​
Marlo Pendragon, human sorcerer 9​
Utred "Buckets" Butterflinger, dwarf barbarian 9​

Game Session Date: 16 July 2020

- - -

The road being traversed by the horse-drawn wagon on its southward journey was starting to look more like a trail, and at times a rather faint one at that. Progress slowed as the forest environment became more and more swampy and eventually, as the sun started to go down, the group called it a night and set up the ironsilk tent by the side of the trail - a patch of dry land large enough to accommodate the dimensions of the tent but little else. The horse was unhitched, fed, and tethered by a rope long enough to allow it some movement.

It was a relatively quiet evening. The next morning the group made a quick breakfast of trail rations and got back on their way. (Jhasspok was saddened but not entirely surprised when Lauren turned down his kind offer of a dried dung beetle; he'd figured out by now that there was probably something wrong with mammals' taste buds or something - likely to do with their ridiculously flat-tipped teeth.) Cramer took up the reins and they were off, skirting Durnhill - the kingdom from where the forces trying to capture Lauren hailed - and making for the southern kingdom of Ossirna, where Marlo would make her pitch for an alliance against the Overreach drow before heading back northeast to get to the Azure Glade, the land where Lauren's grandfather, Arcturus, was an important wizard in their Council of Guilds.

It was slow going, with several false starts and having to backtrack more than once; eventually, Jhasspok started scouting ahead and finding out in advance whether the horse and wagon would make it down a particular path or if they needed to find an alternate route. The lizardfolk was of two minds about the swampy terrain: on the one hand, it was good to be in water again, but this was like no water Jhasspok had ever seen before - it was muddy, and murky, and you couldn't see very far through it. All in all, it just served to make him homesick for the Bioluminescent Sea of the Underdark.

Jhasspok had just ambled back from scouting once again to give directions to Cramer when they heard a scream off to the side, along a different path than the one the lizardfolk had checked out. Without hesitation, Cramer pulled on the reins and sent the horse trotting down this new path, heading toward the sounds of the screams. The cleric cast a longstrider spell upon himself, anticipating the need to be able to keep up with the others once they were all on foot.

It wasn't long before the group approached the screaming woman and it became perfectly understandable why she'd been doing so: she was down on the ground, doing her best to keep a hungry manticore at bay. It was obviously trying to begin eating her before even bothering to go to all the trouble of slaying her first; she was doing everything in her power to wriggle away, but from what the group by the wagon could see she didn't appear to even have a weapon with her - or if she had, it had apparently been knocked away and was likely somewhere in the shallow marsh water.

While the others were grabbing up their weapons or bringing combat spells to the forefront of their brains, Khari Hammerslammer was looking up at the clouds - or rather, at one particularly low-hanging one which seemed to hover just above the treetops. "That's a weird-looking cloud," he observed. "I wonder why it's so low?"

"Might've been somebody she was traveling with, who escaped using gaseous form," Cramer guessed.

"What, that big of a cloud?" scoffed Khari. But Cramer was no longer paying attention to him and Khari turned his attention to the matter at hand, for the gnome was bringing the horse to a halt (no sense in letting it get eaten by the manticore - it would make for a much better meal than a scrawny human woman) and the others were jumping off the wagon. Khari did likewise, sprinting forward and taking up a defensive position, calling at the manticore to "come get some from someone who could fight back!"

Before everyone got too far away, Cramer cast a water walk spell on those of the group still within range (Khari was already too far away and Lauren was staying in the wagon as she'd been told), thinking that would at least prevent them from being dragged underwater or stepping into an unseen hole or something. Utred raced across the shallow waters, charging straight for the manticore with his greataxe out and ready. He powered a swing right at the thing's head - a surprisingly dwarven-looking head, Utred thought, ringed with a lionlike mane that looked rather like the barbarian's own unkempt hair and beard. Five magic missiles went streaking past Utred's shoulder to strike the manticore in a pattern hitting the side of his head, his shoulder, and his batlike left wing. The beast roared in pain from both attacks.

Jhasspok followed suit with a charge of his own but his was not as successful, for halfway through his sprint he was distracted by the fact his feet weren't touching the water but rather hovering an inch or so above the surface. What in the world? As a result, his swing went wide and the manticore pulled his right wing back in time to avoid Jhasspok's battleaxe altogether.

Still, the creature was bleeding profusely from Utred's deep cut and wounded by Marlo's magic missiles; snarling in fury, he lashed out with both sets of forepaws and snapped his vicious teeth at Jhasspok. Fortunately, by then the lizardfolk had overcome his surprise at the water walk effect he was experiencing for the first time in his short life and was back to paying attention to the life-or-death fight in which he was currently engaged; as a result, he was able to get his shield up in time to fend off the manticore's attacks.

And then the woman lying in the mud, apparently bleeding from having been bitten several times by the manticore, stepped purposefully to her feet, showing no signs of discomfort whatsoever...and dropped the illusory disguise making her appear like a hapless human victim of the vicious winged monster that had been savaging her. Now, her illusion abandoned, she showed herself for what she truly was: an annis hag, 8 feet of hunched crone with claws capable of ripping a victim's entire face right off its skull.

Jhasspok happened to be closest to the annis so he became the hag's first target. Striking out with her wicked claws, she ripped through the lizardfolk's scales before he even realized she was a threat, as his attention had been focused solely on the manticore and his back had been turned to her. Jhasspok hissed in pain, whirling around to face this new threat and simultaneous wondering where this tall, ugly woman had come from and what had ever happened to the younger woman the manticore had been attacking.

Following the cue of their leader that the time for subterfuge was now past, the two harpy archers dropped down out of their obscuring fog cloud spell and both shot at Cramer before flapping back up into the protective vapors. Cramer arched his back in pain as both arrows hit him between the shoulder blades, the pain of their piercing intensified by the infusion of incredible cold they shot into the little gnome's wounds.

Khari, however, hadn't yet noticed the harpies; he was rushing up to strike the manticore since the fool thing hadn't come to him. Racing through the water, splashing with every step as he was not under the effects of a water walk spell, he brought his warhammer crashing into the side of the manticore's head with every ounce of force he could muster behind it. There was a loud snap! as the weapon caved in the side of the manticore's oversize skull and the bearded beast collapsed into a heap in the shallow waters of the swamp.

Once again the harpies dropped out of their cloud and attacked, this time splitting their shots between Marlo and Cramer and hitting each with a frost arrow, for they had identified these two as potential spellcasters and wanted them out of the way first. Cramer hadn't even had time yet to try to heal the wounds from their first attack; now, it was all he could do to activate his ring of invisibility and stagger a bit away, so the harpies wouldn't know exactly where he was and would have a hard time shooting him again - and he was glad he'd had the foresight to cast the water walk spell, for by hovering just above the swamp waters he wasn't giving away his position. Marlo followed suit, casting an invisibility spell upon herself, then activating her boots of levitation to elevate herself a good 30 feet high; it had the same effect, for now the harpies would have to either guess her location or go shoot at somebody else for a while.

Utred attacked the annis with his greataxe - she was right there and his axe was better suited for ground combat; he didn't want to have to switch to a ranged weapon to try to take out one of the harpies. The hag grunted in pain as his blade struck true, but she looked to still have plenty of fight left in her. She expertly dodged Jhasspok's battleaxe, but then he did the same against her counterattack with her claws, now that he was aware of her. Khari moved away from the manticore's corpse and added his warhammer to the fight against the annis.

"Get down here and give me a hand, you cowards!" the annis called out in the Giant language, which Cramer understood perfectly well as he wore his helm of comprehend languages. The harpies reluctantly complied, dropping back down out of their fog cloud again and targeting the dwarves attacking their leader, while Cramer staggered up behind Utred and cast a magic circle against evil spell, hopefully protecting the gnome and both dwarves and maybe even the lizardfolk. It was too hard for Cramer to figure out the distances involved; he'd have to see to his own healing before he passed out....

Utred's greataxe went biting into the annis hag again, causing her to shriek with pain. Marlo cast an empowered magic missile spell at one of the harpies, since they'd conveniently stayed down out of their fog cloud for a bit and this was the first real opportunity she'd had to target one of them. (Plus, there were already a trio of her friends piled on the annis; Marlo was pretty sure between the three of them they'd be able to take her out.) Jhasspok proved Marlo's unvoiced assertion correct soon thereafter, bringing down the annis with a powerful overhand strike from his battleaxe, cutting deep into her black heart and slaying her on her feet; he barely had enough time to tug his weapon out of her corpse before she collapsed into the dark, brackish marsh waters and lay still.

Holding his breath as always when he performed this maneuver, Khari used the power of his earth glide warhammer to disappear beneath the surface of the ground, then sprinted into position before popping back up where he wanted to be: directly behind one of the harpies, who'd had to fly down low to get in her latest bow-shot against the dwarves. Cramer, still invisible, took the opportunity to activate the power of his prayer bead, casting a cure serious wounds spell upon himself. The arrows popped out of his back and back into visibility as he cast the pre-set spell from the prayer bead; fortunately, they sank below the surface of the ankle-deep water and were out of view almost immediately and the little gnome suspected neither of the harpies, in the midst of battle, had even noticed. His position was likely safe, then, which was good - he was too tired to move at the moment.

Utred spun in place and charged the second harpy as she was fitting another frost arrow from the quiver at her hip; the dwarf imagined an over-the-shoulder quiver would be problematic for a creature with the upper body of a woman but a pair of eagle's wings growing out of her shoulders. He caught her with the edge of his blade even as she scrambled to flap backwards out of range.

Marlo repeated her empowered magic missile strategy, once again targeting the harpy currently about to be struck from behind by Khari. Jhasspok attacked that same harpy; history had shown that no matter what Utred was fighting, he usually didn't need much help. Then, reeling from the lizardfolk's attack and Marlo's magic missiles, the harpy was nearly slain by Khari's unexpected attack: how in the Hell did that damned dwarf get behind her? She dropped to the ground and took an involuntary step to the side, nearly bumping into a tree, and saw she was now facing down a hulking lizardfolk and a hammer-wielding dwarf, both intent upon her death. She didn't have time to fit another arrow to her longbow, for they'd be upon her before she could wield her bow and she could only target one of the two in either case.

So she began to sing.

As ugly as the harpy might be (and make no mistake, these two harpies had been vying with their annis hag leader for the coveted "Most Hideous Inhabitant of the Sanguine Swamp" title), her song was quite captivating: a beautiful, trilling burst of music quite at odds with her bestial appearance. With any luck, she'd have the entire gang of enemies dropping out of combat and then she and her sister could pick them off at their leisure. But that wasn't how it turned out; of the five combatants, only Jhasspok's reptilian brain froze up at the beauty of the song; Utred continued his attacks upon the other harpy and Khari raised his warhammer, ready to strike.

Still, the lizardfolk's captivation at least granted the severely-wounded harpy a possible avenue of escape. Pushing past the dazed reptile - who offered no resistance and let his battleaxe hang unused at his side - she started to take to the skies. Her sister, she noted, was still fighting the other dwarf, flapping backwards to grant her enough space to shoot him with an arrow from her frost longbow. She was gaining in elevation, too, apparently having come to the same decision as her sister: that these people were far too much trouble than it was worth fighting them, especially since if they fled to the safety of the skies the troublemakers would likely soon be on their way, leaving the bodies of the manticore and the annis behind (both of whom would make perfectly acceptable, if not particularly appetizing, meals for the harpy sisters).

Cramer saw the two harpies both starting to rise higher in the air; soon they'd be too high up for the ground-based combatants to be able to reach them with their melee weapons. But the clever gnome had a solution to that problem: he cast a fly spell on Utred and called for him to fly after the retreating harpy. Utred was only too happy to comply; he found that just by willing it he was able to soar straight up at the startled harpy, whose face froze in a look of complete shock as the dwarven barbarian attacked her in her own element.

Marlo cast another empowered magic missile spell, this time splitting the targets between the two harpies; the one fleeing by Jhasspok looked to be about dead in any case so she only sent one of the five streaking her way. Both harpies died instantly, falling back into the muck of the swamp and dropping their frost longbows in the process. Utred noted where the one wielded by the harpy he'd been fighting had fallen and went to go retrieve it - he was intrigued by its ability to empower arrows with cold energy and had determined he'd be adding it to his rapidly-expanding arsenal of weapons.

Shortly after the harpies had been slain, Jhasspok snapped out of his enforced reverie and looked about in confusion. Apparently, while he'd been lost in the beauty of the harpy's song, the others had finished the combat without him. Oh well. The dwarves had snapped up the longbows the harpies had been wielding and had removed the quivers of arrows from around their waists, but Marlo and Cramer had found a bag of coins and valuable gems tied at the annis hag's belt; there was plenty enough to go around.

Jhasspok set aside his battleaxe and brought out his dagger, approaching the dead manticore. Seeing the lizardfolk's intention, Cramer called out, "Leave it, Jhasspok!"

"But meat is--" began the lizardfolk before getting cut off with a determined, "Leave it!" Cramer explained further. "We don't need the meat right now, but we do need to get through this blasted swamp while there's still daylight. Lauren thinks we can be back on solid ground in about six hours or so and I for one don't want to waste any daylight we don't have to. Come on: back to the wagon, everybody!" he called to the others. Jhasspok just shrugged and put his dagger back into its sheath at his hip.

Cramer's advice turned out to be wise, for it was nearly nightfall before the ground beneath the group returned to a more solid footing and they no longer had to push the wagon out of the mud, as they'd had to do countless times that day. They found a good spot for an overnight campsite and Cramer saw to setting up the ironsilk tent. However, while doing so he suddenly stiffened, casting his head to one side as if listening intently.

"Everything okay?" Marlo asked, hearing nothing out of the ordinary herself.

"Sending spell," Cramer explained. "From Niradi. We're to hit Ossirna and the Azure Glade, but they'll be sending other envoys to Durnhill and Ashfall. Apparently they're concerned we're too recognizable from our encounter with those elementals trying to capture Lauren."

"We do kind of stand out a bit from the crowd," Utred said, grinning.

Jhasspok didn't understand why everyone was looking at him.

- - -

Logan had intended this adventure to go much longer than it did, even though the entire setup was just one simple ambush fight, but he hadn't counted on the manticore getting a "3" on initiative and then completely whiffing all three attacks against Jhasspok - it died before it got to land a single attack. And we made much quicker work of the annis and harpy archers than he had anticipated. As it was, we were done with the entire session in just a little over an hour. (We were done before 8:00 PM, with a 6:30 start time and a good chunk of chatter as we were getting set up, as usual.) But that's the way it goes sometimes.
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I just realized there was a brief part to the last write-up I forgot to mention. Some weeks back, Vicki took Logan aside in our family room for a brief, secret discussion at the end of the session while Dan and Joey were packing up their stuff in our gaming room. Last adventure I got to find out what that was all about.

While in the swamps, before taking off after having slain the ambushers, Jhasspok was eyeing Truffles again (as he pretty much does any time the toad is in view); while on the one hand he realizes the toad is Marlo's familiar and very important to her, on the other hand he also realizes toads are a delicious part of a balanced diet. So every once in awhile when Marlo puts her toad to use, I have Jhasspok eyeing him hungrily. I've even had Jhasspok offer to allow Truffles to "ride in his mouth" and give Marlo a break from constantly carrying the toad around in her pocket.

She's never taken him up on the offer - until this particular session. Once we were out of combat and Jhasspok made his offer to let Truffles ride in his mouth, Marlo asked, "Do you really want to eat him, Jhasspok? Do you? Well then here, go ahead." And then she passed Truffles over to him.

Jhasspok took the toad in his hands, looked questioning at Marlo (trying to figure out if this was a trick or something), but when she reaffirmed the lizardfolk should eat her toad familiar he took her at her word and popped the delicious morsel into his mouth. Only it turns out Vicki had been talking to Logan earlier about how the contingency spell works, and had Marlo pay a wizard in one of the towns we'd been passing through for arcane spell scrolls containing the fire shield and contingency spells, so she could cast the contingency spell to activate a fire shield spell on Truffles if the toad ever found himself in Jhasspok's mouth.

So Jhasspok tossed Truffles into his mouth and the toad immediately burst into flame, which didn't harm it at all but burned the inside of the lizardfolk's mouth something fierce. Fortunately, they were in a swamp at the time, so Jhasspok spit him out into his hand, doused the toad in swamp water to wipe off whatever hot sauce he'd apparently been dipped into, and tried again - with the same results. (Logan allowed the fire shield spell to turn on and off throughout the normal duration of the spell, only becoming active when Truffles was actually inside Jhasspok's mouth.) Undeterred, Jhasspok tried cleaning off the toad in swamp water again - more thoroughly, this time - and popped him back into his mouth, but it was no good. Eventually, he dejectedly turned the toad back over to Marlo, who placed him back into the pocket of her robes.

Marlo tried explaining to Jhasspok that that had been the reason she hadn't let him eat Truffles all this time - because toads burst into flame as a protective measure when you try to eat them - but Jhasspok's not convinced; Marlo may not know it, but they have frogs and toads in the Underdark and Jhasspok's eaten his fair share of them in the past. He has a sneaking suspicion she's tricking him somehow with magic but isn't quite sure just how; in the meantime, he's going to wait for an opportunity to try to eat Truffles when they're both in deep enough water that the lizardfolk can pop the toad into his mouth when they're both fully submerged and see if that prevents the toad from bursting into flames. (He was only ankle-deep in the marsh waters when he tried eating Truffles this time.)

It might take some time before circumstances align themselves to give Jhasspok the opportunity, but lizardfolk are nothing if not patient.
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PC Roster:
Cramer Appleknocker, gnome cleric 9​
Jhasspok, lizardman 3/barbarian 2/fighter 4​
Khari Hammerslammer, dwarf fighter 9​
Marlo Pendragon, human sorcerer 9​
Utred "Buckets" Butterflinger, dwarf barbarian 9​

Game Session Date: 23 July 2020

- - -

The group decided on posting one member on guard detail for two-hour shifts during the night, but nothing disturbed them in their ironsilk tent. Marlo, having taken the last shift so she could get an uninterrupted block of sleep, was about to rouse the others when she found Lauren stumbling out of the interior room in which she'd been sleeping. She walked as if in a daze and as Marlo approached her, concerned, she saw Lauren's eyes were rolled up in her head, showing only the whites. The rune-tattoos on her face and body were glowing slightly.

"Are you okay?" asked Marlo, touching the other woman on the shoulder. As if awakened by the contact, Lauren snapped out of her trance and her eyes resumed their normal look, the glow of her tattoos subsiding.

"I believe there is a good possibility," the diviner replied, "that I will die today." She gave this dire prediction in a rather matter-of-fact tone, her attitude one of slight puzzlement rather than panic or terror. Cramer exited his own interior room of the tent as the two women were talking and Lauren turned to him with another prophetic statement. "Although the far lane by which you travel cares little for mortal contrivances, today it would behoove your friends' strikes to be aligned with the higher powers." Despite not yet wearing his helm of comprehend languages - he'd just crawled out of bed, after all - Cramer was immediately able to translate Lauren's statement from "prophecy-ese" into a warning he'd better prepare enough align weapon spells for everyone today, as they'd likely be fighting the forces of evil.

"But what about your impending death?" pressed Marlo, more concern for the event in her voice than was present in Lauren's.

"A scar-faced man will stand before me, as I am stabbed in the back and then shoved into a pit."

"I'll start getting my day's spells ready," Cramer announced, returning back to his interior room in the tent. The others were roused and started getting dressed. The cleric had just finished praying for his day's allotment of spells when Jhasspok and Utred heard the unmistakable clomp of booted feet approaching. "We got company!" the burly dwarf called to the others.

Sure enough, pulling back the front flap of the ironsilk tent, Utred could see a ring of armed and armored men surrounding them. If they were as evenly spaced all along the tent's perimeter as the men he could see before him, there were likely a dozen or so of them ringing their dwelling.

One of the soldiers commanded, "Come out and explain your trespass upon the lands of Ossirna."

Marlo knew that to be her cue. Stepping forward, the circlet of persuasion on her brow, she smiled pleasantly at the stern men in their armor of reddish metal. "Good morning, gentlemen," she said. "We are on our way to seek an audience with the leader of your fine land, to warn him of an impending attack upon the surface world by the drow and seek to bring him into an alliance of kingdoms eager to send the dark elves fleeing back to their Underdark holes." Cramer, hanging back unseen in his own quarters in the tent, quietly cast a detect evil spell from his day's allotment and sensed evil from the other side of the tent's outer walls. He nodded sagely to himself - it confirmed his suspicions.

"Are you from Durnhill?" demanded the soldier doing the talking for the Ossirnan forces.

"No," replied Marlo. Deciding that a full explanation of where they were all originally from would be too confusing and not relevant to the current conversation, she explained, "We are from Greenvale. We edged along the outskirts of Durnhill to get here, but we have no dealings with that kingdom, for they seek to capture one of our traveling companions." At this, Lauren stepped forward, turned about, and pulled her hair to the side, exposing the tattoo upon the back of her neck: the shattered hourglass, laying upon its side, spilling the sands of time upon the ground.

At the sight of Lauren's neck tattoo, the men visibly relaxed. "Very well," said the captain of the troop of soldiers. "If you'd like to pack up your tent, we'll escort you to the capital for your talk with our king."

The soldiers were visibly impressed with how quickly the group was able to pack up their gear, for they hadn't expected the ironsilk tent to fold itself up upon verbal command and be placed inside a bag of holding. Just that quickly, the Greenvale envoys were ready to go. Cramer took his customary seat at the front of the wagon, the others got in and, surrounded by six men in front and six men behind, they started their trek to the capital city of Ossirna.

It was a journey of several hours, but they eventually came to a stop before a grand palace. The guard captain stepped forward and explained the situation to an armored woman who had come forward from the castle as Lauren and the five heroes exited the wagon. "Welcome to Ossirna," said the guardswoman, introducing herself as Maelina. "If you will follow me, I will escort you to the king." Cramer's detect evil spell had long since expired, but he felt he could pretty much sense the no-nonsense evil coming from the female guard captain without having to rely upon any such spell - she looked like she'd decapitate any or all of them at a moment's notice, were she but given the order. He noticed they hadn't been asked to surrender their weapons before being brought inside the palace and wasn't sure if this was a good thing or a bad thing.

"Please wait here," said Maelina, opening the door to a waiting room, the tone of her voice making perfectly clear this was not a request. She indicated Lauren. "You will come with me to see King Velkis at once, concerning a private matter about the organization." Maelina wasn't aware of it, but the heroes before her were already aware of the Seekers of Eternity and their individual, bickering factions and knew immediately that was the organization of which she spoke.

Cramer, Marlo, and Utred looked helplessly between themselves. They knew this was likely a trap; judging from her stoic expression, Lauren likely knew this was a trap as well. (Khari, on the other hand, was looking around the room, disappointed that this waiting room didn't have any refreshments; a nice, frothy ale would hit the spot right about now! And Jhasspok saw a shelf of books against the wall, which led him to idly wonder if any of them might have pictures of fish in them or if they were just filled with those boring, scribbly letters which somehow made words. Neither of them had any inkling they were now inside a castle likely filled with enemies.)

There was little likelihood Marlo would be able to talk their way out of this, so she did the one thing she could think of to do: she surreptitiously dropped her toad familiar Truffles into the pocket of Lauren's robes as the diviner brushed past her to follow Maelina to meet with the king. Lauren, Marlo knew, was a sorcerer like herself, even if those tattoos covering her body channeled all of her arcane power strictly into divination magic; as such, it would not seem suspicious if she carried a familiar with her, and although Lauren had no familiar these Ossirnans were unlikely to know that. Truffles could at least be a means by which the heroes could learn what all was going on here, as the toad shared an empathic link with Marlo.

Once Maelina and Lauren had exited the waiting room, Cramer lost no time in casting align weapon spells upon each of the heroes' primary weapons, as Utred explained to Khari and Jhasspok just what they were up against here. Marlo, in the meantime, by concentrating on the link with Truffles, was getting a general feel for the local layout of the castle: Lauren hadn't been taken far, for the king was in a receiving room just a dog-leg away: out the door, to the left, and around a corner to the right. She passed on this information to her friends, wondering if they'd be taken to see the king or if they'd have to try to go rescue Lauren on their own. "We shouldn't have let her leave, not after having foreseen her own death like that," Marlo said, worried for her fellow sorceress.

"Wasn't much we could do about it," grunted Utred. "Not unless we was ready to take on their whole guard at once."

"It may come to that, I fear," added the gnome. "But if needs be, I have a teleport spell prepared. I can get us out of here if we all stick close together."

"I dunno if we're gonna be gettin' any help for Greenvale from these guys anyways," piped up Khari. "Mebbe we should just leave."

But before Cramer could reply Marlo gave a sudden cry of alarm, mirroring a cry of shock and pain from Lauren that they could hear through the closed door of the waiting room. That was all Khari needed to hear: it was apparently on! Channeling the power from his earth glide warhammer, he dropped through the floor and raced in the direction of Lauren's cries, having to pop up into the hallway because he sensed while underground there was no floor beneath him just ahead: apparently there was a lower level below where Lauren and this king were. As he turned around the corner, he saw several things all at once: Lauren was wincing in pain and blood stained her lower back, where she'd apparently just been stabbed; Maelina, with blood on the tip of her sword, had her hand upon Lauren's shoulder and was pushing her toward a ten-foot-wide pit in the floor at her feet; a scarred man with a crown upon his head sat on a throne on the other side of the pit, watching the fun with an expression of intense satisfaction.

Without slowing his momentum in the least, Khari barreled into Maelina, swinging his warhammer into her and attempting to topple her into the pit instead of Lauren. It took some doing, but the nimble guard captain managed to deflect her momentum sideways, avoiding the pit but only by dropping onto Lauren's unconscious body; the tattooed diviner had collapsed to the floor from her wound.

"Envoy of Greenvale!" called the king on the throne. "Any further attacks upon my Royal Guard will be taken as an act of war!" The disdain in his voice was palpable; he apparently didn't appreciate the fact his entertainment was being waylaid from its intended course.

Utred realized Cramer hadn't had time to cast the longstrider spell he usually cast upon himself to allow him to keep up with his much-taller companions, so the burly dwarf picked up the little gnome and carried him along as he burst through the waiting room door and raced down the hallway towards Khari. Marlo cast a fly spell upon herself from a scroll she'd purchased earlier and flew past them both, headed toward Lauren and Truffles. Jhasspok followed, trying to grab Lauren out from underneath Maelina, who was struggling to regain her footing without toppling backwards into the pit.

But just as the lizardfolk had started pulling the limp form of Lauren toward him, Maelina yanked her from Jhasspok's grasp - she was much stronger than she looked! - and tossed her over the edge of the pit. Truffles leapt from the diviner's pocket at the last moment, scrabbling across the floor in a scramble to get away from being trodden upon. Jhasspok found his eyes following the toad's path without conscious volition and had to forcibly bring his attention back to the matter at hand. Khari, from his viewpoint at the pit's edge, could see a pair of goatmen in the large room below them grab up Lauren's unconscious - hopefully not dead! - form and start to drag her away.

"Ossirna will never join in a proxy war between gods," King Velkis told the group before him, putting as much disdain as possible in the final word of his sentence. "You are free to leave if you wish - or you can try to save the traitorous bitch if you think you can manage to do so." Again, the tone of his voice betrayed the low level of confidence he had in their chances to perform that second option.

"We might just surprise you, Your Majesty," Cramer replied, putting an equal amount of disdain in his own final two words. Then he followed up with the casting of a summon monster spell, causing a celestial bison to manifest in the room below. The bison immediately charged forward, bringing his powerful horns stabbing into the closest goatman and smiting him with a blast of holy energy for good measure.

It was a good 20-foot drop into the pit below. Khari didn't want to break an ankle or anything, so he ran through the southern wall using the power of his earth glide warhammer and from there went straight down through the solid rock, exiting from an outer wall of the larger pit room below. He saw the celestial bison goring one of the goat-headed humanoids; as that one bleated in pain and terror, however, the other one continued dragging Lauren toward a large crack in the far wall - a narrow tunnel, now that Khari got a better look at it, from which reddish light spilled forth. There was a much larger goatman in the vast cavern on the other side of the tunnel, easily twice as tall as the others, working at a massive anvil with an equally massive hammer in his hand. A pool of bubbling magma separated this enormous, horned figure from the cave opening.

Utred lacked a means of making it safely down a drop of 20 feet but also lacked any worries about the dangers inherent in doing so. Dropping to the lower pit, he raced toward the nearest goatman and swung his greataxe at him, the axe-head imbued with Cramer's align weapon spell. The blade sliced deep into the goatman's flesh, severing through any protections the beast might have otherwise had.

At the sounds of battle, the Hellsmith turned from his anvil and, seeing the dwarf impeding the delivery of the virgin sacrifice he needed to forge hellsteel weapons and armor for the mortal allies in the world above, snarled in fury and marched through the shallow magma pool, his hooves feeling none of the heat and none of the hair on his shaggy legs catching fire.

Marlo scooped up Truffles from the floor and flew down into the pit below, casting a magic missile spell at the fiendish ibixian the celestial bison had just gored, which caused him to bleat involuntarily from the pain of her rapid-fire spell-strikes. Jhasspok followed Marlo down into the pit, attacking the same goatman with his spell-enhanced battleaxe once he'd landed painfully on the lower floor and hobbled over to the attack. The lizardfolk's blade pierced the ibixian's flesh, drawing a line of blood across his chest that stained his shaggy fur. These beastmen were made of stern stuff, but the heroes were beginning to whittle them down!

The ibixian whirled around to face Utred, striking at him with a hellsteel blade of his own, while the other one continued dragging Lauren into Hell. He'd gotten her through the narrow tunnel and into the larger chamber beyond.

The only Greenvale envoy still upstairs at this point, Cramer cast a fly spell upon himself and dropped down into the pit, seeing the fiendish ibixian dodge another attack from the gnome's summoned celestial bison. Then, with the grating sound of stone on stone, the pit opening above Cramer was somehow sealed off, for the ceiling above was now a solid, smooth surface. That was certainly discomforting!

It was getting crowded around the fiendish ibixian, what with Utred, Jhasspok, and a white-furred celestial bison all lined up to attack him. So Khari earth glided beneath the four, popping back up behind the oblivious goatman. However, rather than attack the unsuspecting foe - and he'd have had a good shot at him - Khari continued down the tunnel beyond, hoping to rescue Lauren before that other goatman had a chance to do anything else to her. Besides, he was sure the others could handle that first goatman. (And he was right: Utred dropped him almost immediately thereafter with another powerful blow of his greataxe.)

But then the Hellsmith waded to the edge of the lava pool and brought his unholy warhammer crashing down upon Khari Hammerslammer, who found himself getting "hammerslammed" for once. (He found he didn't like it.) Reeling from the attack, Khari almost toppled over but at the last moment found the strength within himself to stay on his feet.

Marlo empowered a magic missile spell and sent the five darts of energy blasting into the fiendish ibixian dragging Lauren; she was worried at the trail of blood the unconscious diviner was leaving behind her as she was dragged about. Jhasspok pushed past the sorcerer and sprinted through the passageway, bringing his battleaxe crashing down into the goatman's side, finally dropping him at last. Lauren's head dropped to the ground and she lay there, unmoving save for the discernible motion of her chest as she breathed - she was still alive!

Cramer flew through the narrow tunnel, realizing as he did so he was entering an entirely different plane of existence. Using his prayer bead, he cast a cure serious wounds spell upon Lauren, sealing up her stab-wound nicely.

Khari retaliated against the Hellsmith, bringing his own warhammer crashing into the side of the goatman's knee. And now the others rushed forward into battle with him, Utred swinging his greataxe into a meaty thigh. The Hellsmith responded in kind, smashing Utred with his oversize warhammer and goring him with a swipe of his curving horns. He also took a swipe at him with a smaller weapon of some kind, appearing dagger-sized in his huge hand but more the size of a longsword if Utred would have wielded it (something he swore he'd soon do - it was an intriguing-looking weapon he'd love to add to his arsenal) - but he missed. Had it struck its target, the Hellsmith knew, the foolish dwarf would have been dimensionally anchored for an hour and unable to use plane-shifting magic to escape from the plane of Hell.

Marlo sent another empowered magic missile spell blasting straight into the Hellsmith's face; at his size, ranged weapons and spells were the only way to reach him that high. The numerous attacks were starting to take their toll, enough that a final charge by Jhasspok, swinging his battleaxe for all he was worth, finally eviscerated the Hellsmith, who dropped his weapons and fell backwards into the pool of magma. Utred had the presence of mind to grab the dimensional branding iron weapon from the Hellsmith's unfeeling fingers before it too fell into the magma, from where it would likely have been unrecoverable.

"Fall back to the pit room," commanded Cramer, leading by example as he flew back to the basement level beneath the king's throne. Everyone gathered up around him, including a now-revived Lauren.

"It looks like the premonition of your death didn't come true," remarked Marlo with a smile.

"Not everything I foresee comes to pass," admitted Lauren. "I'm glad this was one of those times. But thank you," she said, looking around the group. "Thank you all."

"Hey!" cried out Khari, looking up at the ceiling and noticing its smoothness for the first time. "Where'd the hole go? How're we s'posed to get out now?"

"I can teleport us away," Cramer reassured the dwarven fighter.

"All of us?" pressed Marlo, more savvy in the ways of magic spells than the others.

"Well no, not all at once," admitted Cramer sheepishly. "I can take myself and three others."

"I will wait for the second trip if you like," offered Jhasspok.

"It's...not that easy," Cramer explained. "I can only cast the spell once at all, all day today. Anybody I leave behind I won't be able to come get until tomorrow. And I doubt the Ossirnans will let anybody left behind just sit here patiently to be picked up the next day."

"No tellin' what all might come crawling outta that pool of lava, neither," Utred observed. "This is Hell - all sorts o' devils could easily travel through lava, easy as you please."

"That's Hell over there?" Jhasspok asked, eyes wide in surprise. Nobody had told him about that! He looked around expectantly at the others. When nobody picked up on it, he asked, "Where is the metal man? Isn't there a metal man we're supposed to find in Hell? I'll go look for him!"

Marlo grabbed the lizardfolk by the shoulder as he passed to stop him. (It was a good thing her fly spell was still active or it would have been hard for her to reach.) "Hell is a really big place," she informed him. "You know all the places we've been to since coming to the surface? Hell is like that, only much, much bigger."

"It's not just that cave?" Jhasspok asked, deflated. He'd thought they were about to fulfill one of the prophecies about how to defeat that tentacle-monster-god-thing they were destined to fight.

"No, Jhasspok," Marlo confirmed.

"Let's get back to all of us getting out of here," replied Utred. "We can't be leaving anyone behind - they'd be dead before we can get back to 'em. What about the bag of holding? Could we stick some of us inside that, an' you take it with you when ye teleport away?"

"That would work," agreed Cramer. "But there's no air inside a bag of holding."

"I can hold my breath," offered Jhasspok. It wasn't a foolish suggestion, either; as a lizardfolk, he could hold his breath for quite a long time - it was one of the things that had made him so well-suited as a fisher slave. "That's one - how many more do you need?" Jhasspok had already forgotten how many people Cramer could teleport and didn't want to have to do the math to figure out how many that meant he couldn't.

"We'd need one more in the bag," Cramer mused.

"I'll go," Marlo volunteered.

"Where we gonna teleport to?" Utred asked. "Back to the wagon?"

"I'm afraid we've lost the wagon," Cramer frowned. "It's likely already been impounded - and even if it wasn't, we'd end up having to fight our way through the entire kingdom of Ossirna. Nope, better we get out of Ossirna entirely."

"But that means backtracking the way we've come!" said Marlo. "You'd need to go someplace you're already familiar with!"

"Not necessarily," interjected Lauren. She raised a hand and placed it on Cramer's forehead, then closed her eyes and concentrated. Her tattoos flared momentarily as she placed an image of the Azure Glade directly into the gnome's head: a field of unnaturally blue grass. "Focus on that image," she told the cleric. "Once we're there, I'll be able to get my bearings and we can head to my grandfather - he'll need to know of Velkis's betrayal."

"What about the horse?" Jhasspok asked.

"We're leaving him behind," Utred answered. "There's no helpin' it."

"But the meat--" the lizardfolk began, before Marlo shushed him and got him to step into the bag of holding. She took a big breath and followed suit, then Cramer closed up the bag, gathered the others around him, and said the words to his teleport spell.

Moments later, Marlo and Jhasspok were released from the extradimensional space inside the bag of holding. "The grass is all blue!" Marlo gasped, astonished at the sight.

"Where are we?" Jhasspok asked.

"We're in the Azure Glade," Cramer stated proudly.

Jhasspok was puzzled. "I thought that was four days away by wagon," he said.

"It is. It's much faster when we teleport directly there." That only confused Jhasspok further. If they could teleport, why had they bothered with horses and wagons all this time? That didn't make any sense!

"Cramer only just recently learned how to cast the teleport spell," Marlo explained, seeing the confusion on the lizardfolk's reptilian face. "As time goes on, he'll get even better at it, and be able to bring more people with him." That at least made a little sense to Jhasspok; after all, it had taken him many months to get as good at catching fish as he was, so he could imagine it might be similar with casting spells.

But Khari had an even simpler explanation. "Magic is weird," he stated.

That, at least, Jhasspok could agree with completely.

- - -

Logan deliberately seeded Lauren's "death prophecy" so we'd assume the scar-faced man was Syngaard and the back-stabber was Orion, two of our PCs from the previous/concurrent campaign, "The Durnhill Conscripts." But at least we (the players, not the current PCs) can rest easy knowing that King Velkis and Maelina will be slain by the Durnhill heroes towards the end of that campaign.

Logan was also concerned for a bit there we were going rescue Lauren before she even got dumped into the pit, given that the bulk of the adventure was planned to take place below ground, in the pit area and the pocket of Hell where the Ossirnans get their hellsteel forged. It ended up being a good thing Cramer couldn't teleport us all away at once like Dan had originally thought, before he re-read the spell description and realized he currently had a "three passenger" limit. (And he wouldn't even have had access to the teleport spell had he not been a cleric of Fharlanghn with Travel as one of his two domains.) But it all worked out.

We actually have one ibixian D&D Mini; for the other goatman, Logan used a satyr D&D Mini and for the Hellsmith he used a D&D Mini of a Large minotaur. The part of the castle we were in and the pit below he crafted using Dungeon Tiles, and assembled the Hell section using nine Paizo Flip-Tiles from a Darklands starter set he got me for Christmas last year (and which has already seen extensive use in our campaigns since.)



PC Roster:
Cramer Appleknocker, gnome cleric 9​
Jhasspok, lizardman 3/barbarian 2/fighter 4​
Khari Hammerslammer, dwarf fighter 9​
Marlo Pendragon, human sorcerer 9​
Utred "Buckets" Butterflinger, dwarf barbarian 9​

Game Session Date: 30 July 2020

- - -

The six figures stood in a field of blue grass. A city was visible about a mile away. Lauren identified it as the Guilded City, the capital of the Azure Glade, so that's where the group all headed - on foot, as they'd had to abandon their horse and wagon back in Ossirna. Fortunately, it was a nice day out and the walk was a pleasant one.

Once inside the city's boundary, Lauren led them unerringly to the Diviners Guild tower, the first floor of which was the Diviners Library. As the group entered, they heard a booming voice berating one of the young initiates to the Guild. "You have aided in the first successful theft of a book from this library in recorded history!" called out the voice, which echoed throughout the otherwise silent library.

"That sounds like Grandfather," said Lauren in a hushed tone - one more appropriate for inside a library, Marlo thought to herself. "Come on - he's this way."

She led them to a white-robed man of some sixty years or so, scowling at the sight of a young wizard in the robes of a Diviners Guild initiate being dragged off by a pair of blue-robed members of the Azure Guard, the security force among the Azure Glade's arcane-focused guilds. The young wizard's face was nearly as white as his robes, for he likely knew the dire fate awaiting him.

Arcturus's face, however, softened at the sight of his tattooed granddaughter and he beamed at her arrival. "I foresaw the likelihood of your presence today," he said, looking at the strangers she'd brought with her into his Guild's library.

"These people saved my life - on several occasions, actually. If not for them I wouldn't be here. But I must warn you of King Velkis's treachery. He tried to have me killed!"

"Come," decided Arcturus, gesturing for the others to approach. They did, and with the uttering of a few magical syllables the seven of them teleported away to Arcturus's private chambers. "We can talk undisturbed in here," he said, indicating the others were to help themselves to a decanter of wine and a series of crystal goblets he'd had laid out on a side table. Cramer was impressed with the diviner's ability to bring all seven along in the casting of a single teleport spell - so far, he'd only been able to transport himself and three others at one time. Arcturus was apparently very skilled in spellcraft to be able to handle so many at once.

"You are, then, familiar with the Seekers of Eternity?" Arcturus asked the Overreach slaves.

"We are, to some extent," admitted Cramer. "I understand that the Ossirnan king belongs to a different faction than your own?"

"That is correct. The Seekers of Eternity was originally founded by a man known as the Mithral Mage and his friend Hirek to find a cure for death - they believed they could discover the secret to immortality, so that they need never die. However, upon the disappearance of the Mithral Mage, the original group fell apart. The Seekers were refounded by a previous king of Ossirna, a man named Selvik, in order to complete the Mithral Mage's work on immortality. However, once it became known that the Mithral Mage had become a lich with an indestructible phylactery, the Seekers splintered into several different factions.

"The largest group became infatuated with the idea of becoming indestructible liches like the Mithral Mage, so they sought to free him from Hell, where he was imprisoned, that he might teach them to become as he was. Another group, seeing that one form of undeath had become an acceptable end goal, took to calling themselves the Followers of Hirek and decided vampirism was a much simpler solution; after all, the means of becoming a vampire were already well known and didn't require the preparation of a phylactery of any kind, let alone the indestructible one the Mithral Mage had somehow stumbled upon. This, naturally, was also easier in that the Followers of Hirek could advance their own agendas without having to find and free the Mithral Mage - they just needed the services of a vampire willing to sire them into vampires themselves."

"So this Hirek was a vampire?" Cramer asked.

"That was the belief, although some legends differ on that front. In any case, while I am the leader of the entire Seekers of Eternity organization as a whole, I am also the leader of the third faction, the Mithral Redeemers, which believes the Mithral Mage's descent into lichdom was accidental in nature and an incorrect path that has prevented him from carrying out his true work: finding the formula for a potion of longevity which will greatly expand the human lifetime, if not extend it indefinitely. We seek to not only find and free him from the Hell in which he has been imprisoned but also to reverse his lichdom and restore him to his full humanity, so he can get back on the original path of the Seekers.

"And that leaves the fourth and final faction, led by King Velkis of Ossirna, who have formed a religious cult that worships the Mithral Mage, although it's become apparent King Velkis seeks to somehow take over the Mithral Mage's phylactery and usurp his position as the god of their religion."

"Nice," laughed Cramer. "'Start off worshiping this guy, and then transfer your worship to me.' A good job, if you can get it."

"Quite right," agreed Arcturus. "In the past some of the other factions have attempted to undermine my authority over the Seekers, but Velkis's attempt upon my granddaughter's life - which I am indeed grateful you were able to prevent - is the first time they have physically made an attack upon us. I fear my time leading the Seekers will soon be at an end, and without me to protect the members of my own faction, I will be unable to prevent their destruction by these...lich worshipers."

Marlo had on her circlet of persuasion and figured now was as good a time as any to push her own agenda forward: getting the Azure Glade to assist in the upcoming battle against the drow forces of Overreach, who would soon be attacking Greenvale - after all, Arcturus was the one who had brought up how much he owed the heroes for saving his granddaughter. Lauren added the details of the attacks upon her in Durnhill, when four elementals had been sent to slay her and the arena slaves had fought them off. But the capper was when the details of the prophecy wherein the five arena slaves would rescue "the metal man from Hell, who would put an end to the Undying One" was revealed, for Arcturus recognized in the tale the fact that they would be instrumental in finding and rescuing the Mithral Mage, which aligned very nicely with his own goals.

"This is what I can do," offered Arcturus. "Tomorrow I will convene the Council of Guilds, the ruling body of the Azure Glade, in order to discuss your call for aid and assistance. But whatever their overall ruling, I can pledge the support of the Mithral Redeemers to your cause. I would ask, in return, that Greenvale be open to offering asylum to those members of my faction who might need to seek refuge from the other Seekers who will very well try to slay them."

"I believe that can be easily arranged," promised Marlo.

"Very well, then. I will see to it you are given room and board for the evening. Until tomorrow, then - and again, my thanks."

True to his word, Arcturus put them up for the evening in a building in the richer part of the Guilded City. "I could get used to this," Utred observed. "These Mithral Redeemers are okay!"

The next morning, Lauren led the group to the meeting hall of the Council of Guilds. They stood together in a group in the middle of a circular room, under the watchful gaze of nine members seated in alcoves above them, their chairs spaced equidistant along the perimeter of the circle. Lauren had explained the colors of the robes denoted the arcane school specialization of the Guild: diviners, as an example, wore gowns of white. The one exception was the man in gray robes, for he was no arcane spellcaster at all but the leader of the Church of Boccob, God of Knowledge. Each Guildmaster wore a mask covering his or her face, for their identities were not necessarily known to the city at large. The heroes, of course, knew the white-robed man seated above would be Arcturus.

Arcturus explained why he had called this session together, then he gave the floor over to Marlo, who made a heartfelt plea for help for the Greenvale elves, her words aided by her circlet of persuasion. After giving her speech and answering a few questions from various members of the Guild leaders, the representatives took a vote on whether or not to render aid.

The Guilds of Abjuration, Conjuration, and Divination all pledged support for Greenvale. Khari frowned that only a third of the Guild members were on their side, but Marlo seemed pleased that they'd at least gotten that many - after all, she had no idea how many members there were in each Guild, but any number of wizards being added to the Greenvale armies could only be a good thing.

The Guilds of Evocation, Necromancy, and Transmutation all voted against granting assistance to Greenvale; they had other, more pressing matters to attend to, they argued, and Greenvale was distant enough the Azure Glade was in no likely danger from the drow invasion of a land so far away.

The three other Guilds - Evocation, Illusion, and the Church of Boccob - abstained from voting one way or another. "That's three for, three against, and three undecided - now what?" asked Cramer.

The Council decided upon the following ruling: while the Azure Glade as a nation would remain neutral in the upcoming battle against the drow armies of Overreach, any who wished to aid Greenvale were welcome to do so in a mercenary capacity, making their own separate alliances with the beleaguered kingdom that did not bring the rest of the Azure Glade into any alliances or commitments. It was, Marlo admitted later to the others, more than she had hoped for.

Upon the dissolution of the meeting, Lauren led the others to a smaller building nearby. Inside were 25 robed figures, all with the Seekers of Eternity neck tattoos like Lauren's, as well as Arcturus. They wore a variety of colors of robes, indicating members of various different Guilds were willing to come to Greenvale's aid; while the white Diviners were the largest group, the heroes saw robes of every color represented save for the black Necromancers and the gray robes of the Church of Boccob.

"These are the immediate members of the Mithral Redeemers," Arcturus explained. "They will be aiding Greenvale and hiding there from those who would try to slay them. I will be staying behind with a few of my closest associates in our faction to try to recruit a few more members to your cause, but Lauren and these wizards will teleport to Greenvale directly."

"Do they know where they're going?" asked Cramer. "Teleporting in the blind..."

"They have scried upon Greenvale and will appear just outside the city gates," Arcturus explained. "We would not want them mistaken for a marauding force."

"I should probably try to send word of your impending arrival," began Cramer, suddenly realizing he did not have the means to do so currently at hand.

But then Arcturus passed him over a scroll. "It's a sending spell," he explained, smiling and adding, "There are times having a diviner at hand makes things so much easier."

Cramer cast the spell, warning T'puuli Tine of the impending arrival of the wizards from the Azure Glade and assuring him they were allies. As part of the spell's casting, he received an acknowledgment from T'puuli that the message had been received and understood. "We're good," the little gnome informed the Diviners Guild leader. At Arcturus's nod, Lauren and the 25 wizards teleported away, leaving only the six of them remaining in the building.

"Now then, I have a final favor to ask of you," he said. "There was an abjurer by the name of Dave Quillbender I was trying to recruit into the Mithral Redeemers, and due to certain events that man's life is now in jeopardy. The Lich Seekers - those wishing to follow the Mithral Mage into lichdom - are attempting to slay him and he's currently on the run. I would like you to find him and take him with you when you return to Greenvale. If you agree, I will teleport you to Dave's last known location. Having saved my granddaughter - twice! - I have full faith in your abilities to keep this man alive and slay his would-be assassins."

The heroes looked at each other for confirmation they were all behind this plan. "Sure," Cramer answered for the group.

With another group of arcane syllables, Arcturus teleported the five arena slaves to the interior of a darkened warehouse. One corner was illuminated by a series of candles, gathered around a magic circle inscribed upon the floor - in some haste, judging by the way it seemed to be scrawled; most magic circles, in both Cramer's and Marlo's experience, were assembled with much more care and precision. There were three figures standing just outside the circle: a half-orc and two human women, the women dressed in dark combat leathers and wielding unsheathed weapons; the man in full plate armor. "Any sign of him?" one whispered softly to the others.

"None," answered another. The half-orc was the closest to the heroes and the two dwarves could see quite clearly even in the flickering candlelight the shattered hourglass tattoo upon the back of his thick neck.

Fortunately, there were boxes, barrels, and crates stacked haphazardly around the room, so Cramer was fully hidden from sight. In a low tone, he started casting a bear's endurance spell upon himself, beefing his stamina before the upcoming fight, for he had no doubts these were the assassins seeking to slay Dave Quillbender.

One of the women turned her head immediately in Cramer's direction. "What was that?" she demanded, having heard his quiet voice. Squinting in the dim light, she saw piles of boxes and crates...and the unmistakable head of a lizardfolk staring right back at her. Jhasspok, at a full six feet tall, towered over the two dwarves, gnome, and the diminutive human woman with whom he traveled and had not thought to duck his head upon suddenly arriving in an unknown warehouse. As the ranger focused her attention on the reptilian face, the other slaves scattered quietly to find hiding places in the deep shadows in the murky building.

"Wh--what are you doing there?" the woman demanded, her two companions turning to see who she was addressing. They, too, were quite surprised to see a lizardfolk inside the warehouse with them.

Jhasspok knew he had to come up with a good excuse for his presence - and quickly. His reptilian brain focused immediately upon the subject of so many of the former fisher slave's thoughts.

"I cannot read the words on these crates," he said. "Can you tell me which ones contain fish?"

"Wh--what?" repeated the astonished ranger.

"I want to buy some fish," repeated Jhasspok. "Do not be concerned: I know all about how money works!"

"How'd you get in here?" demanded the half-orc.

"Through the door," Jhasspok replied, thinking it a logical answer and idly wondering where this door he was supposed to have entered through might actually be situated - he had no idea. "But getting back to the fish: where do you keep them?"

" the marketplace?" suggested the ranger, slowly realizing she was dealing with an idiot.

"Isn't this part of the marketplace?" asked Jhasspok, a look of confusion crossing his reptilian features.

"No. It isn't."

"Then where is this marketplace - the one with the fish?" Jhasspok looked around, as if it might somehow be within sight while standing inside a dark warehouse.

"Back outside, take a right, down the street a ways."

"Back outside..." echoed Jhasspok, looking around for the door. The exasperated ranger stepped forward to lead the idiot out of the building into which they were pretty sure they'd tracked down Dave Quillbender. Jhasspok stepped forward to walk beside her toward the door, mostly to allow his bulk to block the woman's view of what was behind him: the other four arena slaves hiding as best they could behind stacks of boxes.

The ranger opened the door and pointed off to the street to her right. "That way," she said, her brow furrowed in puzzlement at the lizardfolk's appearance, for from the light spilling in from the open door she saw his turtle shell shield, his spears, and the battleaxe he held gripped in his right hand. This was not a lizardman on his way to the fish market....

At about the same time, the other woman caught sight of the other Overreach slaves hiding in the shadows. She started to warn the others but Marlo beat her with the words to the spell she'd been readying - and suddenly a tangle of black tentacles rose up from the warehouse floor, entangling the black-clad woman and the armored half-orc in the back of the warehouse by the hastily-scratched magic circle.

Seeing the jig was now up (and frankly, quite amazed Jhasspok had stalled successfully for as long as he had), Utred raced across the warehouse, his greataxe out and swinging toward the ranger, who was just now coming to the realization that she and her fellow assassins were under attack. The knowledge came too late, for as she swung her swords about in a defensive posture Utred's blade was already slicing into her upper arm. Her left arm went numb and she almost dropped the short sword she held in that hand as she gritted her teeth, convinced herself that there was no pain, and pressed on with the battle at hand.

But now Khari Hammerslammer was upon her as well, his warhammer crashing into the side of her leg and almost causing her to fall to the warehouse floor. Jhasspok attacked her with his battleaxe as well, explaining to her as he did so - as if she hadn't figured it out by herself by this time - "I was lying about looking for fish."

The half-orc did his best to wrest himself free from the black, rubbery tentacles starting to crush him to death - but fell just short of success. He grunted in the effort and immediately regretted the expulsion of air, for the constricting appendages were squeezing the breath out of him and black dots were already beginning to form at the edges of his vision. To pass out now, he realized, was to die; he redoubled his efforts, to no avail.

Cramer, in the meantime, mentally triggered the freedom of movement effect that came so freely to those who served Fharlanghn, God of Travelers, and stepped boldly into the mass of writhing tentacles. They were unable to get a grasp upon him as he stepped up to the struggling woman and cast an inflict serious wounds spell upon her. There was little she could do to resist the spell; this was rather like shooting fish in a barrel (a simile the gnome was sure Jhasspok would appreciate, although then he supposed he'd have to explain what a simile was, and that there weren't actually any fish in any of the barrels...he mentally dismissed the very notion of ever using the phrase within the lizardfolk's hearing).

Faced with three foes at hand, the ranger focused her attacks on the hulking lizardfolk who she blamed for the predicament she was in. Longsword and short sword flashed out in a flurry of strikes, Jhasspok doing his best to deflect the blades with his shield but failing twice; each blade managed to pierce him once between his scales, causing twin rivulets of blood to drip down his green body. But like his black-clad foe, he had trained himself to ignore the pain of any wounds he received until after combat had been completed and the lizardfolk fought on. But the combat didn't last much longer in any case, for Utred brought the ranger down with another blow from his greataxe. At that, Jhasspok set his weapon down on the warehouse floor, grabbed the dead ranger by her ankles, and dragged her back inside the warehouse while Khari stepped up to the door. "Mornin'," he smiled to a passerby on the street before closing the door tight, keeping anyone outside from seeing what was going on inside the building.

The rogue struggled against her tentacular bondage, to no avail; she was helpless against the little gnome cleric's spell attacks and couldn't understand why the black tentacles were ignoring him as if he wasn't even there beside her.

Khari, by the warehouse door - seemingly the only entrance into or out of the building - cocked his head to the side suddenly and strained to hear what he thought he'd just heard. Yes, there it was again: the unmistakable sound of a wheezing breath. Following the sounds of heavy breathing trying to be stifled, the dwarf walked up to a barrel and pulled the lid off it. There, inside, huddled an elderly human man in orange robes. As he fit the description of the man they had been sent to protect, Khari gave him a big, bearded smile and said, "Dave Quillbender, I presume? Arcturus sent us to see to your safety. We're just finishin' up with the others who were out to kill you."

Marlo took the opportunity of two pinned and nearly helpless opponents to try out a new spell. She cast phantasmal killer at the half-orc, curious to see the result of him imagining his worst fears had come to life. But the brute's mind was stronger than the sorcerer had imagined and he shrugged off the spell's effects much more easily than he was having any success in shrugging off the tentacles that were even now crushing the very life out of him. Beside him, the rogue was having no better luck with escaping Marlo's previously-cast spell.

Cramer stepped nonchalantly out of the field of waving tentacles and cast a spiritual weapon spell as he did so. A shimmering field of energy in the shape of a quarterstaff appeared in the air above his head, striking down to crush into the rogue's head with one flat end of its length. The rogue's head snapped back, her skull crushed in and her neck snapped; her head lolled at an unnatural angle as the tentacles crushed whatever life might have remained within her.

Not wanting to miss out on any of the fun, Utred uncoiled his life-flame whip as he stepped up to the field of tentacles and sent it snapping out to strike the half-orc's face - about all that was left uncovered by tentacles by this point. As Khari remained to help Dave out of the barrel in which he'd been hiding and Jhasspok pulled the dagger from the sheath at his hip to remove the eyes from the dead ranger on the warehouse floor before him (they were a delicacy, the lizardfolk had decided, even if none of the mammals he traveled with shared his opinion), Marlo cast an empowered magic missile at the half-orc, hastening his path into death.

But then, in an act of pure desperation, the half-orc gave a hiss of effort - all the air he had to spare in creating the roar of triumph he'd attempted - and pulled himself from the grip of the ebon tentacles entwining around his body. Staggering with each hard-fought step, he pulled himself out of the field of grasping appendages, even though in the act of doing so he received another whip-slash from Utred for his efforts. Cramer redirected his spiritual quarterstaff at the assassin's head, then stepped up to the staggering brute and brought his little mace crashing into an armored kneecap. Almost dead upon his feet from the ruthless attack, Marlo surmised it wouldn't take much, at this point, to bring the oaf down and tested that theory with one of her weakest spells. The acid splash struck the half-orc in the face and he fell dead to the floor like a felled tree.

"It was a valiant effort, I'll give him that," remarked Cramer.

The group grabbed whatever looked to be of value from the trio of assassins; most of their armor and weapons looked to be magical in nature, so whatever they couldn't personally use they were sure could be put to good use by those defending Greenvale in the upcoming skirmish with the Overreach drow.

"I don't understand," Dave said to the five who had saved him from the assassins. "Why would Arcturus save me? I thought it was the Seekers of Eternity who were trying to kill me in the first place!" He pointed to the shattered hourglass symbols tattooed on the backs of the necks of the three dead assassins.

"There are different factions of the Seekers," explained Marlo. "These guys are trying to take over the Seekers as a whole and remove the faction to which Arcturus belongs." She briefly caught the elderly wizard up on what she'd been told about the various splinter groups of the Seekers of Eternity. "But in the meantime," she finished, "We need to take you to somewhere you'll be safe from any further assassination attempts."

"That sounds perfectly acceptable to me!" agreed Dave.

Cramer explained about the passenger limitations he currently had with the teleport spell and Dave agreed to ride in the bag of holding with Jhasspok. The fact the elderly mage had missed out completely on the lizardfolk's quick eyeball snack helped him not feel threatened being alone, however briefly, with a six-foot-tall lizardman. But the others opened the bag of holding mere moments after he had stepped in, and now Dave Quillbender found himself standing before the Pantheon Wall of Greenvale. "You'll be safe in here," Marlo assured him.

Once inside Greenvale, T'puuli Tine took the five arena slaves aside and explained what they'd learned about the Tarrasque soul prison since last they'd met in person. "There are two methods of activation," he said. "Smashing it releases the Tarrasque's soul permanently - and causes the creature to rampage directly to the area where the prison was shattered."

"That sounds great!" enthused Cramer. "Then let's smash the thing in the middle of the Overreach and let the big monster do our work for us!"

"Unfortunately," replied the celestial drider, "the Tarrasque's body currently lies in slumber on the other side of the world, in a land called Jakura. Smashing the soul prison doesn't simply teleport the beast to the site of its destruction, it causes the Tarrasque to head there in a direct path. Getting it to head to the Overreach from its present location will cause it to wreak a path of destruction along half the planet."

"Oh," frowned the gnome. He liked the image of the Tarrasque taking apart the entire Underdark city of Overreach, but that was certainly not the way to go about it. Plus, he needed to find Honeycomb Buzzwort and free him before any thoughts of destroying Overreach could be entertained. "So what's the second method?"

"There is an ornate ritual that can be performed to release the Tarrasque's soul and command it to action while still allowing it to be resealed inside the prison afterwards. Both methods require the relic to be in the place the Tarrasque is to be brought to."

"So even that second method brings it lumbering across the world?" asked Cramer. "What if we went to Jakura and performed the ritual there?"

"I believe it would be best not to mess with the soul prison at all," replied T'puuli. "Our main goal is not to use the Tarrasque ourselves, but to ensure the Mortal Queen is unable to use it."

"Yeah, that makes a lot more sense," agreed Marlo. "So we're going to try to steal it away from the Mortal Queen?"

"That is indeed the plan. Matron Ky'hulcressen will draw out the Mortal Queen and while she is distracted we will send you to in to infiltrate House Bel'vior to reobtain the Tarrasque soul prison."

"I like it," Cramer replied, rubbing his hands together in anticipation. Striking a blow against the drow always put him in a good mood. "When do we start?"

- - -

This ended up being another short session, since Marlo's single casting of the Evard's black tentacles did most of the work for us. But it was nice seeing the events of this adventure plugging in so seamlessly into the "Durnhill Conscripts" campaign: the poor diviner student taken away for aiding in the theft of a book from the Diviners Library was the poor schmuck Galen, Kaspar, and Syngaard had paid to remove the book for them after their own efforts failed spectacularly; that was Ashfall Dave we were saving from the assassins, grandfather to Maria Quillbender, cousin to Syngaard's dead wife. And, of course, the Durnhill conscripts slew Arcturus in the last campaign after he tried slaying their mentor Skevros in their own tavern headquarters, being brought to trial in the Azure Glade in the exact same circular courtroom our PCs found themselves in during this adventure. Running through "subsequent but concurrent" campaigns is kind of cool!
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PC Roster:
Cramer Appleknocker, gnome cleric 9​
Jhasspok, lizardman 3/barbarian 2/fighter 4​
Khari Hammerslammer, dwarf fighter 9​
Marlo Pendragon, human sorcerer 9​
Utred "Buckets" Butterflinger, dwarf barbarian 9​

Game Session Date: 6 August 2020

- - -

Returning to Greenvale, the House Jalamir arena slaves - who had not performed that actual function for some time now - prepared for their next mission by upgrading some of their equipment. Utred had his magic greataxe honed such that the blade was extra-sharp, while Cramer had the protection afforded by his amulet of natural armor enhanced. Khari had an enchantment added to his earth glide warhammer that would even further increase its ability to strike true and deal damage to those struck. Marlo placed an order for a magic ring that would allow her to walk up the sides of walls and across ceilings; it would take the wizard crafter some time to create such a ring, so she paid him in advance and was told when to return for her finished product.

Jhasspok bought a fish at the market and ate it, head and all. He'd amassed a pile of coins but not enough to do what he wanted done, so on the advice of his dwarven allies he saved his money for now. "Ye never know, this next mission could turn out t'be a lucrative one," Utred winked at the lizardfolk. He then found himself explaining that "lucrative" meant "liable to bring in a lot of money" to the puzzled reptile.

When they arrived for their pre-mission briefing, they were handed some new equipment. Each received a magical ring, which resized to perfect fit the finger upon which it was placed; more importantly, it cloaked the wearer in a nondetection spell. Cramer's shoulders unclenched as soon as he placed the ring on his finger; it was nice to know he was currently no longer able to be scried upon through his House Jalamir slave tattoo. The sunborn drow passed over three pairs of goggles of darkvision, allowing those not of dwarvish ancestry to see as well in pitch blackness as any dwarf. "You'll want to turn off your slave-light cloaks," he advised. "You will be traveling through the shadow path to House Ky'hulcressen in the Overreach and the light will attract the undead wraiths who haunt that area." Without further prompting, all five slaves extinguished the lights from their cloaks, then were led through the Plane of Shadow to the allied House for which they served as "secret double slaves" - at least according to Jhasspok.

Matron Ky'hulcressen was there to meet them, along with 20 drow mercenaries. They wore no House insignia and, the Matron explained, had belonged to various Lesser Houses that had been recently wiped out as a result of the infighting caused by the Mortal Queen's self-proclaimed ascension to the rule of all drow in Overreach.

"I believe you all know the plan," Matron Ky'hulcressen told all assembled before her. "I will openly challenge the Mortal Queen's right to rule. This will lead to a trial by combat, in which only one of us will emerge with her life. If I manage to slay her - which is unlikely - we will have put an end to her madness and restored a sense of normalcy to our city and its people. If she slays me, I will have forfeited my life but bought you the time needed to find and steal back the Tarrasque soul prison, for even if she learns of your presence during your attempt she cannot leave my formal duel challenge without forfeiting her rule. While you infiltrate the Mortal Queen's own chambers to find the relic" - here she looked at the five arena slaves - "these mercenaries will stage an attack upon House Bel'vior, making it look like another simple takeover attempt to jockey for power."

She passed over four potion vials, giving one to each of the slaves but Utred. "You, I understand, have a hat of disguise by which you can take on the appearance of a drow mercenary like these before you. The other four slaves will drink these potions of disguise self, which will have the same effect." Marlo, Cramer, Khari, and Jhasspok each dutifully downed their potion, taking on the semblance of a dark-skinned drow of their own gender; Marlo, looking around, saw a few of the drow mercenaries were female and was pleased she wouldn't stick out like a sore thumb. All drow clerics, she had seen during her time as a slave, were female but not all drow females were clerics, it seemed.

"Finally, here is a shadow key," Matron Ky'hulcressen said, handing a black key to Cramer. "Once you have obtained the Tarrasque soul prison, use it to activate a shadow walk spell attuned to the permanent gate here in our own House Pillar. It can be used but once per day." Cramer accepted the key and realized, despite his avowed hatred of all drow, he was actually feeling something very much like respect for this House Matron, who was willingly going to go start a battle to the death she likely could not win with the Mortal Queen, just to ensure her people were freed from the machinations of the House Bel'vior leader.

"Let us go," Matron Ky'hulcressen said, opening the gate and leading the group through the shadows and then over to the ceiling surrounding the House Bel'vior pillar back on the Material Plane. Marlo looked "up" and saw the Bioluminescent Sea, meaning they were upside-down under the permanent reverse gravity effect of the cavern ceiling. Her stomach churned involuntarily - she wasn't a big fan of all of this inverted gravity nonsense.

Cramer had taken the opportunity of the brief trip through the Plane of Shadows to cast some preparatory spells: longstrider, death ward, divine favor, and magic circle against evil on himself, aid on Khari, shield of faith on Utred, and a bless spell on the entire group. "Good luck," Matron Ky'hulcressen said before becoming a shadow herself as she glided back out of the Material Plane - she had a date in the combat arena with the Mortal Queen.

There were enemy drow warriors guarding access to the enormous doors to the House Bel'vior pillar, scattered in a loose arc. The allied drow mercenaries slunk away, splitting into smaller groups to meet up with other hired drow mercenaries from displaced Lesser Houses so they could make a concentrated assault upon multiple doors to the pillar at once, leaving the ten present enemies guarding this entrance for the five arena slaves to deal with. That seems about right, Utred thought to himself. We ought t'be able to take ten out ourselves.

Khari led the charge against the Bel'vior forces, although they didn't realize it until he was already upon them for he used the power of his earth glide warhammer to perform the majority of his charge below the ground, springing up from the stone to swing his weapon into the face of a startled warrior, instantly crushing his nose and sending a spray of teeth and blood flying off to the side. Hearing the sentry's cry of pain, the two personal bodyguards of the unit's leader readied their hand crossbows, looking for any sign of the enemy. But Khari had his foe blocking the others' view of him and they couldn't see Cramer either, for he had activated his ring of invisibility and followed in Khari's wake (although he stuck to above-ground travel).

But they did see Jhasspok, who leaped out from behind the small building the group had appeared beside and sprinted toward a drow warrior. The two bodyguards turned and fired at what looked to be a drow mercenary without House insignia swinging a battleaxe at one of their men. The quarrels zipped by Jhasspok's head as he ran, neither one hitting their mark. But his weapon hit his target, nearly knocking the drow warrior off his feet with the power of his blow.

The unit leader, a female drow cleric in ironsilk full plate armor, cast a bless spell over her own troops, right as Utred plucked a bead from his necklace of fireballs and hurled it into a cluster of drow warriors. One drow was burned to death almost immediately, while the exploding flames caused pain to another warrior, the cleric, and both of her bodyguards.

Another drow warrior came to the aid of the one fighting Khari, while the other five surrounded Jhasspok. But by now they were rattled, for they had a hard time hitting their foes with enough force to deal them any real harm. Marlo cast an Evard's black tentacles spell centered on the cleric - she'd long ago learned that the drow women in heavy armor were the ones you had to take out quickly - but that blasted drow spell resistance prevented any of the grasping tentacles from getting a hold on those within the spell's area of effect. Marlo let out a quite unladylike curse, fortunately from far enough away she wasn't heard, for the drow enemies would likely wonder why she swore in the slave tongue, given she looked to be a mercenary drow herself.

Khari swung his warhammer with wild abandon, and in several seconds had two drow corpses at his feet. He whooped in triumph and looked about for more enemies to slay. The bodyguards - identifiable by their better armor and weapons - were scrambling out of the writhing tentacles, moving much slower than normal as they avoided getting grabbed up, but each successfully making it to freedom without incident.

Cramer cast a spiritual weapon spell and sent the quarterstaff of pure force flying over to aid Jhasspok. The weapon conked a drow warrior on the back of the head, sending him reeling. Jhasspok was grateful for the aid, but it was perhaps not as needed as the gnome cleric had assumed, for the lizardfolk's battleaxe went cleaving through the bodies of three drow foes in a matter of seconds, slaying the trio (one not with his axe but his own snapping teeth). Jhasspok hadn't realized it before, but being surrounded by enemies meant you didn't have to move very far when swinging your weapon about! He idly wondered if he could get all of his future enemies to stand all around him like that.

The drow cleric extricated herself from the black tentacles and repositioned herself on the steps to the Pillar Gate, the entrance to House Bel'vior she was sworn to protect with her life - and those of her men. Utred saw her and decided she'd be his next target, so he grabbed up his greataxe and charged at her, his blade slicing through her armor and into her midsection. A drow warrior came running up next to her to give her what aid he could, for he had decided he'd rather face this mercenary with the greataxe than that crazy one who had just bitten out the throat of a Bel'vior soldier while cutting down two others with his battleaxe. What kind of a freak did that?

Marlo fired a scorching ray at the cleric and her nearby soldier, slaying both. Utred and Khari noticed she'd fired through her own black tentacles, which had moved out of the way of her twin rays of flame to see to her success. That was certainly strange!

The other drow didn't last very much longer, and while they were being stripped of their armor and weapons (all of which was tossed into the bag of holding Marlo carried), Utred found a key around the neck of the cleric; sure enough, it opened the doors to the gate she'd been guarding. Pulling open the massive metal doors, Utred stepped inside, the others following at his side.

There were two armed and armored female drow fighters in the large chamber just beyond and a drider filling up a side-passageway to the right. There were corridors straight ahead and off to the left as well; Cramer realized he'd need to cast his locate object spell from the scroll once they'd dealt with this wave of guardians to even find their way to where the Tarrasque soul prison was being stored.

The drider was the first to react to the sudden appearance of unknown drow mercenaries, but he sought his own safety first, casting a mage armor spell upon himself from the safety of the webs upon which he was suspended. Khari used the power of his earth glide warhammer to sink beneath the stone floor, only to pop back up behind the first fighter. As he spun to face his designated foe, he caught a glimpse of someone approaching from the corridor ahead - she looked vaguely familiar, and Khari finally realized who it was: Eri'dia Jalamir. Well, that was good; she owed them one for getting her to the safety of Greenvale when her own mother had tried slaying her, and the group could no doubt use all the help they could get.

Then there was no further time for any thoughts of the little sister to their own slavemaster, for both drow fighters had focused their weapons upon him. The dwarven fighter dodged one sword but couldn't do likewise with the other; its blade cut him in the arm, sliding between the grooves of metal by his elbow. It hurt, but Khari didn't let that bother him; he'd get healed up after they took down this wave, and maybe even sooner, for Cramer had a habit of healing up his friends when it looked like they needed it. He hadn't failed any of them yet!

Jhasspok, the largest by far of the five heroes, saw it as his duty to take down the largest of their foes. With that thought in mind, he charged at the drider, bringing his battleaxe crashing down to strike the creature's spindly legs as it reared up like a horse to try to fend off the lizardfolk's attack. Cramer redirected his spiritual quarterstaff, sending it to go aid Jhasspok against the drider, while the crafty gnome cast a silence spell on the floor by Jhasspok's feet. He'd seen the drider cast his mage armor spell earlier and didn't want it able to cast any offensive spells against any of the Jalamir slaves. At the same time, Marlo targeted the drider with a pair of empowered scorching rays, one missing the darting creature's head but the other striking him straight in the chest.

Utred charged one of the fighters, coming to a halt beside his fellow dwarf and allowing them to fight their drow enemies side by side. His greataxe cut down the foe he'd attacked and he followed up the swing with a cut into the one directly across from Khari. But by then Eri'dia had arrived, and she turned out not to be the source of aid Khari had thought, for at this closer range he could see the stitches holding her body parts together. This was one of the flesh golems her mother had created from the dismembered pieces of her regenerating body! The golem held up a fist charged with a reddish energy and swung it at Khari's head. The Hammerslammer dwarf dodged the attack, but it brought on the obvious question: what in blazes was a flesh golem of Eri'dia Jalamir doing here in House Bel'vior?

Then Khari decided it really didn't matter a whole lot: it was here trying to kill him so he was going to do the same thing right back at it. He slammed his warhammer into the side of her head, glad that this flesh golem was only the size of the nimble drow woman - he'd heard these things could be crafted to reach 7 feet tall or even larger! The remaining drow fighter focused her attention on Utred, seeing as the golem had the other dwarf's full attention now.

The drider stabbed at Jhasspok with a pair of sharp-tipped rapiers; the lizardfolk deflected one off his shield but the other pierced his scales. Jhasspok hissed in pain - that hurt! - and channeled his anger into a powerful, sideways blow with his battleaxe, cutting through the drider's torso and spilling him onto the ground at the reptile's feet. Jhasspok stepped back, ready to bring his axe down upon the thing's head, but it looked like such a maneuver was not needed - the thing was dead.

Cramer redirected his spiritual quarterstaff again, this time causing it to strike the flesh golem - but it missed. Marlo empowered another scorching ray spell and sent the twin beams of fire over at the golem, hitting with both and noticing the stitched thing was moving slower as a result of her attack. That was good to know! "Fire slows the golem down!" she called out to her friends as the hideous mockery of Eri'dia slammed a fist at Khari again; the dwarf dodged the clumsy attack with ease.

Utred's greataxe swung into the drow's side and she almost dropped her weapon as a result; she certainly dropped her guard, allowing Khari's warhammer to plow into the side of her skull, killing her instantly. The dwarf continued his hammer-swing into the flesh golem, hearing a satisfying crunch that likely meant a broken rib or two - pity the unliving thing didn't seem to feel any pain.

The drider dead, Jhasspok turned and saw the two dwarves squaring off against the flesh golem. He raced across the plaza, bringing his battleaxe to bear against their foe. (He didn't hesitate for a moment upon seeing its likeness; the dwarves were fighting it and that was all the lizardfolk needed to know - he trusted their instincts in such matters.) Cramer's spiritual weapon struck the golem in the head and surprisingly shattered to pieces, each piece disappearing before hitting the floor; it had come up against spell resistance it couldn't overcome. But he ran up, bringing his Elderwood flaming mace to bear, slamming the golem in the side of the leg and grinning as he realized the magical flames would only extend the slow effect. But that wasn't even really needed, for Marlo brought the thing down with another casting of an empowered scorching ray spell. The stitched thing that looked like Eri'dia collapsed to the ground, its body ablaze and filling the chamber with the smell of charred flesh and burnt hair.

Cramer pulled out his scroll of locate object while the dwarves grabbed weapons and armor from the slain drow fighters and the drider, tossing them hurriedly into the bag of holding Marlo held open. "It's this way!" the gnome called, pointing down the corridor from which the false Eri'dia had come.

Khari headed down the indicated hallway, ignoring two sets of stairs which led down on either side of the corridor. As he approached a set of eight statues of Lolth (four on the ground showing her in a driderlike configuration, four directly above on the ceiling showing her as a drow-headed spider), a dark-clad figure stepped out from behind them, blade in one hand and the other arm - the one pointed in Khari's direction - wielding a hand crossbow. This was also a figure the dwarf had seen before, but this time he needed no time at all to recognize it, for it was none other than Calish Jalamir, the slavemaster! Calish fired his weapon at what he thought was an enemy drow mercenary, one he'd never seen before, but Khari dodged the incoming bolt partly by dint of fact he wasn't as tall as the illusion making him look like a drow made him appear to be.

Jhasspok was right behind Khari and he too recognized Calish. But any automatic hesitation he might have once had preventing him from attacking his slavemaster had long since been burned out of the lizardfolk's brain: Calish was an enemy of the sunborn drow and needed to be killed! He brought his battleaxe slamming into the drow's side, but the slavemaster rolled at the last minute and at least avoided the sharp blade, if not the solid axe-head entirely.

Cramer ran down the corridor, activating his ring of invisibility again as he did so. Marlo cast a lightning bolt at the slavemaster and scowled as it shattered, unspent, against his inherent spell resistance. Calish backed away from Khari and Jhasspok, activating a ring of his own, and he suddenly started blinking in and out of existence in an unpredictable pattern: one moment he was there, the next he was not.

Neither Khari nor Jhasspok had ever experienced the blink spell effect at work before; with a shrug, they each pressed on with their attacks. And luck was with them both, for their weapons struck unerringly against the drow slavemaster, who was then unceremoniously knocked unconscious by a second casting of Cramer's spiritual weapon spell. This quarterstaff of pure force was not hampered by the drow's resistance to spell energy and he fell forward, knocked into instant insensibility from the blow to the back of the head.

Unsure of what to do with him - he deserved to die, but maybe the Greenvale forces could get some information out of him? - Cramer stabilized him with a cure minor wounds spell (just enough to stop him from bleeding, not enough to restore him to consciousness) and they took the time to strip him of his valuables, bind him tightly with rope, and prop him into the bag of holding such that his head and shoulders stuck out, ensuring he wouldn't suffocate to death inside the extradimensional space. That just meant Marlo couldn't close the bag up all the way and had to carry it over one shoulder, but Cramer's locate object spell was telling him they needed to get past the door behind where Calish had been taken out and the gnome was eager to get moving - no telling how long the spell would last!

Entering through the door, the room beyond looked to be a royal waiting room, with elegant furniture and elaborately-woven carpets; but of primary notice were the 20-foot-tall double doors engraved with a depiction of Lolth in her demonic spider form. The carving practically radiated evil, to the point where the heroes were hesitant to even touch the doors.

"The Tarrasque soul prison's on the other side of these doors!" Cramer said, knowing they needed to open the doors but unable to will himself to do so. In one sense stalling for time, Marlo cast a detect magic spell and examined the doors with her magically-enhanced sight. "They're magic, all right," she announced. "Some kind of...abjuration effect."

"Ensuring we can't get in!" snarled Utred, for he could feel the waves of malevolence coming off the double doors and felt, to his own shock, his own unwilling desire to simply run away.

"They can't keep me out!" muttered Khari, sinking below the surface of the stone floor. And it was true: whatever spell was messing with the heroes' minds and making it so they feared to even touch the door, it didn't prevent Khari Hammerslammer from sinking below the stone floor, advancing forward, and popping back up into the room beyond. Looking about with his darkvision, he noted this was the Mortal Queen's throne room, fortunately empty at the moment. But there were no other exits, which meant...yep, there it was: the Tarrasque soul prison was over in the corner, nestled upon a pile of bones.

Khari was torn. One part of him wanted to go grab the soul prison and dive back beneath the floor, returning with it to his friends. Another part was sure as soon as he touched it something bad would happen - surely the Mortal Queen would have put up some sort of safeguard? He should probably open the double doors and let his friends in - maybe the doors weren't trapped from the inside? (He certainly felt no hesitation in touching the metal doors, so maybe that meant the magic was focused in the Lolth carving on the other side of the doors?)

"Ah, screw it!" Khari said to himself. This was too much thinking - and thinking had never been his strong suit! Before he could be gripped with any further indecision, he pushed the doors open.

A blaring alarm spell went off as soon as he - a non-drow - touched the doors. Worse yet, it caused the pile of bones in the corner to activate, rising up as a ten-foot-tall bone golem with the Tarrasque soul prison now trapped inside a cage in the hollow of the construct's chest.

Khari spent no time on self-recrimination; time was now of the essence - there was no telling how long they had before reinforcements would show up! He raced across the room, advancing upon the vaguely humanoid bone-thing. Jhasspok was across the room in a shot, passing by the slower dwarf and swinging his battleaxe at the construct's central mass; he got a painful slam from the thing's fist for his trouble, as the bone golem's arms were as long as the lizardfolk's entire body. Jhasspok's momentum was deflected to the side, and then the thing brought its other fist crashing down on the reptile's head. Jhasspok saw stars but retained his footing, shaking his head furiously to clear it.

Cramer ran up behind Khari and Jhasspok, using his most powerful weapon: his knowledge of all things magical. "This is probably a bone golem!" he cried. "Most spells will be ineffectual against it! Our best bet is simple brute force!"

Not sure which of her spells would be the most likely to be effective against a golem of a type she'd never faced before - but she knew each golem was subject to only a small handful of spells, ignoring all others - Marlo uncoiled the life-flame whip she wore on her belt. This had two main advantages: it was a physical attack, not a spell, and it allowed the sorcerer to strike the construct from far enough away that it couldn't reach her in retaliation.

Utred was a walking arsenal of weapons but he couldn't fault Marlo's logic; he uncoiled his own life-flame whip and together they sent their weapons snapping at the bone golem, over the heads of Jhasspok and Khari. Each strike singed the bones making up the construct's vaguely humanoid form.

Khari sent his earth glide warhammer crashing into the golem's leg - it was a perfect weapon for smashing bone, although the process used to create this monstrosity had not only fused mismatched bones together but hardened them as well. Still, he was pleased to see bone chips flying off with every strike of his hammer.

Jhasspok continued swinging his battleaxe at the golem as well, and even bit at the thing when a limb got within biting range. The lizardfolk was spurred on by the realization that some of the bones used in the golem's construction still had bits of flesh hanging on to them. But after having bitten it a couple of times, Jhasspok realized that while meat was meat, this meat was far from tasty.

The bone golem, for its part, ignored the whips snapping at it and slammed the two figures immediately before it. Then Cramer crept forward and, on a hunch, cast a cure serious wounds spell on it - it might be a golem, but its build practically screamed necromancy and it was about as close to an undead thing as you could get. The ploy worked; while it was up in the air whether the healing energy had caused it any harm (it at least certainly hadn't healed it!), the creature's attacks slowed, just as fire had slowed the flesh golem made of Eri'dia Jalamir's severed parts.

Marlo and Utred continued whipping the bone golem as Jhasspok and Khari brought their melee weapons to bear. But then the bone golem changed tactics: pointing a twisted forearm at Utred, it fired off a chunk of itself. The dwarven barbarian felt a mass of bone strike him in the chest and then immediately begin to twist and reform, expanding all around him until it had formed a skin-tight bone cage around him - and one which, he saw, had rooted itself to the stone floor. The dwarf was completely immobilized. But not for long, he vowed, stoking the internal fires of his rage and pushing every last ounce of power against his bone prison, until--

Well, crap. He was still confined in the latticework of bones all around him. That hadn't worked out like he had planned at all. He struggled again, to no avail; pinned as he was in place, he had no leverage. It was frustrating, and he vented with a roar of impotent anger.

"We'll get you out!" promised Cramer, casting another cure serious wounds spell onto the bone golem, hoping once they defeated it the bone prison might crumble away to nothingness. The healing spell did seem to affect the golem, but it now redirected its attention down at the gnome cleric and slammed at him with a massive arm - an arm which was slowly growing fully back after a piece of it had been shot at Utred to bind him into place. Marlo continued whipping the golem from a safe distance, while Khari's warhammer sent individual pieces of bone flying with each strike - entire bones now, not just splinters and fragments, possibly a sign the golem was wearing down.

Such indeed was the case. Jhasspok swung his battleaxe into the golem's torso a final time and bones went flying, causing a cascade effect: as the necromantic energy binding the construct together leaked away into the ether, the bones all fell away from each other in a loose pile. The Tarrasque soul prison, now released from its own bone cage inside the golem's central mass, came rolling across the floor and Marlo quickly scooped it up. "Got it!" she cried. "Let's get out of here!"

"Hey! Wait!" cried Utred, still stuck within his bone prison. The thing hadn't crumpled apart when the bone golem was destroyed; apparently it was fastened together by a different process than that which had given the bone golem its mobility. The group hastily started hacking away at the intertwined bones imprisoning Utred, until finally they had broken away enough of it the barbarian was able to step out. "Thanks," he growled, angry he'd missed out on the end of destroying the bone golem and had had to be rescued. "But yeah, we'd better get going." The alarm spell was still blaring away and the group could hear footsteps and angry shouts rapidly approaching.

Marlo scooped her bag of holding back up - Calish Jalamir's unconscious head still poking out of the top of it - and indicated her readiness. Then Cramer pulled out the shadow key, held it out before him in the air, and twisted it as if putting it inside a lock. A rift opened up in the throne room, a rent between this reality and the Plane of Shadow, and the five heroes ran through into shadowy darkness. The rift closed up behind them, leaving the House Bel'vior guards wondering how to explain the open doors to the throne room and the pile of bones scattered in the back of the room. "Search the area!" one called. "Whoever tried breaking in here couldn't have gotten far!" It was wishful thinking on his part, for he knew the Mortal Queen would not be pleased to learn they hadn't caught whoever had invaded the sanctity of her own throne room.... With a gulp of worry, he frantically led his team exploring the nearby rooms and hallways.

The five heroes stepped through the permanent gate and back into House Ky'hulcressen. They weren't home free quite yet, but they knew it was just a walk through the shadow path back to Greenvale and all would be well. They'd retrieved the Tarrasque soul prison before the Mortal Queen had been able to divine how it worked and set the rampaging beast onto Greenvale, and even managed to snag some loot off the drow soldiers they'd slain and capture Calish Jalamir in the process. All in all, a successful mission!

- - -

And we all made it to 10th level, as a bonus.

Logan informed us after we had finished that by saving Calish's life and bringing him back to Greenvale for questioning, we inadvertently uncovered and foiled his plot to betray Matron Jalamir to House Bel'vior. It turns out the only reason he was there in the first place was he had switched teams: anticipating that the Mortal Queen would come out on top, he offered to become a member of House Bel'vior, bringing along a flesh golem made from his little sister Eri'dia as an additional enticement, but the real point of sale was an opportunity to betray Matron Jalamir and put his House under the leadership of someone more inclined to do the Mortal Queen's bidding. Offered to sell his own mother up the river, that one! Nice guy.
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...There will now be an intermission of unknown duration: this campaign is being put on indefinite hold due to the COVID-19 situation.

Here's the situation: this campaign contains five players and a DM from two families living in the same small town. Both families have been more or less quarantined at home since March, and Dan and I are already exposed to each other at work (although we take all the normal precautions: masks, hand sanitizer, social distancing, ranged temperature scans upon entering our work building, etc.), so we had decided cross-contact between two otherwise quarantined family groups was presenting no further danger to each other and continued playing through our two campaigns. And that was all fine and dandy...but next week both Harry and Joey start school.

Now granted, they'll be taking their own precautions at their respective schools, but there will now be a lot more opportunities for either one of them to pick up germs and bring them home to pass them on to their families. And I have a doubly at-risk wife at home: she's 72 years old (high risk category) with on-going medical conditions (higher risk category). So as much as we've enjoyed being able to continue on with our D&D campaigns, it's not worth risking my wife's life to keep playing. And thus our hiatus.

I'm not sure how long we'll put these campaigns on hold. We might be able to get in a game at the end of Christmas break, if it's long enough (and the two schools sync up their vacations) that we can get in a two-week quarantine period at our individual homes to ensure everyone's still doing fine and then fit in a game session towards the end. Failing that, we'll probably start up in May again, once the schools have let out for the summer.

But school starting back up is going to affect us more than just putting our D&D campaigns on hold. We're also going to have to break into two camps here at the Richards household; Logan's going to have to be the one with direct contact with my wife Mary (getting her pills, etc.) since they'll be the only ones at home while Harry's in school and I'm at work (right now, I work one week and then telework the next week), while I'll be the one in direct contact with Harry, since we'll need to limit his contact with Mary and also with Logan, as he'll be in direct contact with Mary. (Harry's school does offer an option to do classes on-line but he's not eligible as he's in a special needs program and they want the continued daily physical presence with the special education teachers.) So we've got some massive changes coming up over the horizon.

In any case, thanks for reading and hopefully I'll be in a position to continue this Story Hour before too long.




PC Roster:
Cramer Appleknocker, gnome cleric 10​
Jhasspok, lizardman 3/barbarian 3/fighter 4​
Khari Hammerslammer, dwarf fighter 10​
Marlo Pendragon, human sorcerer 10​
Utred "Buckets" Butterflinger, dwarf barbarian 10​

Game Session Date: 1 January 2021

- - -

One of the advantages of dealing with House Ky'hulcressen was they had quite a few wizards devoted solely to the creation of magic weapons and items and the upgrading in power of those already in existence. The five House Jalamir arena slaves, fresh from their mission in stealing back the Tarrasque soul prison (and snagging the traitorous slavemaster Calish Jalamir in the process), took the opportunity to have some of their weapons further enhanced. Due to direct orders from Matron Ky'hulcressen herself, their requests were dealt with immediately, even if it meant bumping pre-existing orders to be dealt with later. With the money they had left over, some of the arena slaves even purchased a few new items that looked like they'd be of aid in future combats.

To their surprise, after they left the Ky'hulcressen marketplace and returned to their temporary quarters in the drow House pillar, Matron Jalamir was there waiting for them.

“Line up,” she commanded without any further explanation. “Kneel and expose your backs.”

Jhasspok dropped immediately, a lifetime of slavery conditioning him to instant obedience. The others dropped to their knees as well, but unlike the lizardfolk they wore armor and robes that needed to be removed; Jhasspok had only to sweep his slave-light cloak over his shoulder to hang before him before he had complied with his Matron's demands.

A drow wizard approached, a male the lizardfolk thought looked familiar, although he couldn't quite place him. Cramer, glancing at the mage suspiciously from the corner of his eye as he removed his armor, recognized him at once: he was the drow in attendance when Matron Jalamir had had her daughter Eri'dia dismembered and rebuilt into a series of flesh golems before allowing her to regenerate back to her full form. The little gnome wasn't sure why the drow wizard had been brought here to the five arena slaves, but he doubted he'd like whatever was going on.

But he was quite wrong on that front, for the drow mage knelt down behind Jhasspok and, with a modified version of the erase spell, began removing the slave tattoo that had been etched upon the lizardfolk's scales shortly after he was hatched. The process took but a few minutes, then the drow wizard moved on to Marlo, removing the slave tattoo from between her shoulder blades as well. Cramer almost wept with joy as his hated tattoo was removed from his back. The dwarves were stoic, their stony faces hiding any expressions of their relief that the slave tattoos were being taken away.

Once all five had had their tattoos removed, they were allowed to put their armor and robes back on, then another attendant stepped forward and handed each of them a metal cloak pin in the shape of the House Jalamir emblem. “Prick your thumb with the pin,” Matron Jalamir commanded. “That will allow the pins to drink your blood, which in turn will ensure they can each only be used by the person to whom they belong.” She then had them attach the House pins to the left side of their slave-light cloaks.

Motioning for them to stand back up, Matron Jalamir gave a slight smile. “Congratulations,” she said. “Your days of slavery are now over; you are citizens of House Jalamir, in recognition of your loyalty and dedication.” Cramer was aghast to recognize the swell of pride in his chest at her words for what it was. Surely he wasn't actually glad to have been elevated to the equivalent of a drow! Still, he reasoned, it was good to be acknowledged as something more than a slave.

“With the slave tattoos gone, the Mortal Queen can no longer take advantage of the loophole in the law that allowed her to scry upon you,” the drow matron explained. “Drow law prohibits scrying upon citizens of other Houses, so if she tries to do so we will have legal leverage against her.”

"Then...what are our duties, if we are no longer slaves, Matron?" asked Marlo hesitantly.

"Your duties will be roughly the same, attending to the needs of the House. However, you will be paid for your services in real coin, not the slave tokens to which you have been accustomed." That didn't seem like such a big difference to Jhasspok, replacing one type of money with another type of money. But the dwarves seemed impressed, so the lizardfolk assumed this was a good thing.

"To that end," continued Matron Jalamir, "in the morning you will report to the Jalamir fishing shore for your next assignment. House Falmakyorl has been performing naval maneuvers in the Bioluminescent Sea outside the confines of the vast cavern housing the Eight Great Pillars of Overreach, and with most of their House pulled away elsewhere, a pair of threats have entered the cavern through the Sea Gates in their absence. Reports from the fishing slaves are that a pair of scrags have moved into the area as well as a swarm of abysseels. The eels seem to drag their victims into the ruins of the city below, while the scrags stay closer to shore to avoid the spirits of the unquiet dead. You will deal with both threats." With that, the House Matron dismissed the newly-sanctified citizens to rest up for their next day's mission.

"What's an abysseel?" Marlo asked Jhasspok, assuming the lizardfolk's five years as a fisher slave would have made him an expert on the local aquatic wildlife.

"I don't know," Jhasspok admitted.

"And what's this about city ruins on the sea floor?" Cramer wanted to know. Jhasspok had no answers for him, either, as the waters below the Eight Great Pillars were very deep and his job as a fisher slave had kept him to the shallower waters, where the bulk of the fish swam.

"Here's another stupid question," Utred said. "If the Mortal Queen's about to attack the surface world - Greenvale in particular - what's she doin' havin' the Overreach Navy goin' out on maneuvers? It's not like they're likely to be of much use in a surface raid - Greenvale's not next to any bodies of water!" Nobody had any answer to that question, either, but trying to figure out the Mortal Queen's thought processes was a fool's game in any case. But Cramer at least had heard about scrags: they were aquatic trolls, capable of regeneration and susceptible to both fire and acid.

"That won't help us underwater, will it?" pointed out Marlo.

"More than you'd expect," Cramer answered. "Your scorching ray and fireball spells, for instance - they can both be cast underwater, you just don't get open flames out of them, more like scalding steam. But they'll be just as effective underwater in killing scrags."

"I wonder what scrag meat tastes like," wondered Jhasspok aloud, gaining him a slightly disturbed frown from Marlo. Her scowl only intensified when Cramer pointed out that Jhasspok could take a bite out of a scrag and then take that exact same bite again shortly thereafter once the creature had regenerated its wound. The concept intrigued the lizardfolk greatly: meat that grew back! This was something he wanted to try out for himself!

The next morning, the group assembled at the Jalamir fishing shore as commanded and decided to interview the fisher slaves to gather what information they could before braving the dangers of the Bioluminescent Sea. The slaves warned the abysseels had an electric bite, so Cramer shuffled his spell preparations accordingly: he'd not only need to provide the ability to breathe underwater to the members of the group, but also shield them from electricity damage. After finishing his prayers, he cast a longstrider spell upon himself, then cast resist energy spells on the entire group. He was about to do the same with a water breathing spell, but Marlo cut him off. "Don't bother casting it on me," she advised. "My ioun stone allows me to survive without air."

"And I can hold my breath," added Jhasspok.

"Okay, you're exempt," Cramer acknowledged to Marlo, casting the water breathing spell on just the four males. "But you're getting one anyway, Jhasspok. No telling how long we'll be underwater - no need for you to have to keep heading back to the surface for more air. Okay then, let's go."

Jhasspok needed no further prompting. With a splash, he leaped into the water and started swimming, glad to be fully immersed in the sea where he had spent so much of the first five years of his life. The others stepped into the water more hesitantly, it being a more alien environment to them. Cramer and the dwarves immediately took in deep breaths of water, letting the magic of the gnome's spell work so they'd be able to talk while submerged. Jhasspok, not trusting the magic, kept his mouth clamped shut, well aware he could hold his breath for at least eight solid minutes; he'd start breathing underwater only when he absolutely needed to.

"Lead on, Jhasspok," suggested Marlo. The fisher slaves having explained to the five citizens the areas where they'd seen the scrags before, Jhasspok figured the marine trolls preferred a depth of about 50 feet. Even at that depth, the bioluminescent plankton that suffused the Underdark sea and gave it its name allowed for an almost normal range of vision for the landbound adventurers and it wasn't long before they spotted a pair of large, humanoid forms swimming their way from the open sea in the center of the vast cavern's waters. Of the five, only Jhasspok was waterborne, the other four standing on the surface of the sloping sea bottom, among various coral formations and fronds of plant life.

The scrags were as Cramer had described them the day before: possessing powerful, muscular bodies with webbing between their fingers and toes, the main difference between their terrestrial cousins being the lack of the standard troll's ridiculously-long nose. The two approached the five side by side, grinning evil grins filled with rows of sharp teeth like those of a shark.

Utred rushed forward, charging with his greataxe and bringing it crashing into the side of the first scrag. Greenish blood seeped from the wound, making a small cloud around the combatants. With a flick of his powerful tail, Jhasspok was there above the dwarven barbarian's head, bringing his own battleaxe crashing down upon the scrag's head. Khari raced forward as well, but he was a much slower sprinter than his barbaric fellow dwarf and hadn't even made it to his target when Cramer suddenly appeared before the scrag Utred and Jhasspok were fighting, arriving courtesy of a dimension door spell. But as the second scrag was still somewhat off by himself, Marlo targeted him for her first underwater fireball spell. It worked as Cramer had assured her it would; while there were no flames, a burst of scalding bubbles erupted around the marine troll, causing it to cry out in unexpected pain.

The first scrag bent forward and bit at Utred, while the second one retaliated against its scalding by lashing out at the closest target: Jhasspok. The lizardfolk's scales were raked by a set of powerful claws and the scrag's horrible mouth closed down on Jhasspok's shield arm; only the fact that its sharklike teeth had the shield pinned partly in its mouth prevented the foul beast from biting completely through the reptile's arm. A cloud of Jhasspok's red blood added to the green from the first scrag's wounds.

Recalling Cramer's recommendation, Utred pulled out his Elderwood flaming longsword and stabbed it straight into the chest of the marine troll towering above him. It hissed as the sword went in and was pulled out, and Utred was pleased to see the wound he had inflicted was not healing over, as the one from his and Jhasspok's axes were already starting to do.

Testing a theory, Khari activated the power of his earthglide warhammer and disappeared beneath the surface of the seabed floor, only to pop back up behind the scalded scrag, slamming his weapon into the back of the sea-beast's left knee. Jhasspok, in the meantime, had freed his shield arm from that scrag - its inarticulate cry of pain from Khari's attack certainly helped on that front! - and switched back to his original target, the scrag fighting Utred. He brought his battleaxe crashing down on its skull and he chopped right through it, causing the massive sea troll to crash in a lifeless heap before Utred. As the lizardfolk understood it, that didn't mean the scrag was really dead, but he was sure one of the others could permanently slay it with fire or acid. But before that, Jhasspok took advantage of the opportunity and bit off a hunk of flesh from the back of the scrag's calf, chewing it briefly and swallowing it almost whole. Then he made a face of disapproval; scrag meat, he'd learned, wasn't anywhere near as succulent as fish flesh: it was stringy and had an unpleasant taste that would make it a definite last resort, to be eaten only if there weren't any other meats available. How disappointing! When Cramer pulled out his Elderwood flaming mace and started smashing it repeatedly into the dead scrag to prevent it from regenerating, Jhasspok didn't even care that it meant his "bite" would no longer grow back - one bite had been quite enough!

Marlo cast another fireball at the remaining scrag and this time it saw who had been responsible for both blasts of scalding pain. It headed straight for her with a look of absolute hatred on its horrid face, but only got a few strokes before it collapsed to the seabed floor, dropped by a warhammer swing from Khari as it passed above him. It lay there motionless for a brief moment, causing Khari to believe he might have slain it, before it raised itself up on its arms and stood back up, its skin blistered and unhealing from the sorceress's spells. But before it could attack, Utred was upon it, slaying it permanently with the glowing green heat from his Elderwood flaming longsword. Just to be sure, those with flaming weapons applied them liberally to the corpses of the two scrags until they were sure neither would rise again.

"Well, that's the first threat taken care of," observed Cramer. "Now we just gotta find those abysseels."

But that wasn't a problem at all, for the abysseels found them almost immediately, no doubt drawn by the scent of blood in the area. Five of the creatures swam up, each of their thin bodies longer than Jhasspok was tall (even taking the lizardfolk's tail into account). Utred was the first to spot them and warned the others, switching back to his trusty greataxe as they approached since he had the time to spare. They spread out, each apparently choosing a separate victim for themselves. Utred readied his weapon and gave it a powerful swing directly into the creature's head as it swam up to bite him and the blow cleaved the creature's skull in twain. It collapsed to the sea floor before the dwarf as the other abysseels dashed forward to try to bite their intended prey. As the group had been warned, electricity flashed in the teeth of the giant eels, but the protective spells Cramer had cast upon the group protected them fully.

Marlo sent a magic missile spell darting into the one coming for her and it was enough to slay the beast. The others had no particular difficulty in slaying the eels trying to eat them, either. "That was a lot easier than the scrags!" Khari said. "So, I guess we're done here."

But that announcement was premature, for another five abysseels came slithering up from the same direction as the first five had come. Marlo caught sight of them and warned the others. This time, even though there were five eels attacking five adventurers, they changed up their tactics: two of them converged upon Cramer and two others targeted Utred while the fifth hung back, apparently just observing. But this second batch didn't last much longer than the first set; Utred slew two in a row with one mighty swing of his greataxe, cleaving through the bodies of the two trying to bite him. Khari and Jhasspok stepped forward to help slay the pair attacking the gnome, and Marlo sent another magic missile spell to take care of the "observer" eel. "Weird," she said.

"This is even weirder," Cramer pointed out, looking at the tail of one of the slain eels. It had teeth marks upon it; upon further examination, so did all of the others, including those of the first wave the group had fought. Marlo gave the tails a lengthy examination, noting their ragged edges, as if there had been more flesh behind the eels' bodies that had been ripped away. She also spent some time peering into the eels' mouths, noting the placement of the sharp teeth and then going back to look at their tails again. "It doesn't make a whole lot of sense," she told the others, "but I think these guys all bit their own tails off!"

"What? Why?" demanded Cramer.

"The tooth placement matches," argued Marlo, demonstrating how one dead eel, with a slightly dislodged tooth that stuck forward ahead of the others in that particular eel's mouth, matched up with the bite marks on its tail - where one tooth mark was placed forward of the others.

"That doesn't make a whole lot of sense," agreed Cramer, stroking his beard in thought.

"Maybe they just taste good," suggested Jhasspok, testing his own theory by taking a bite out of the side of the nearest abysseel corpse. That was more like it! Abysseels, Jhasspok decided, tasted much better than scrags did. And with that, he had the problem solved to his own personal satisfaction: the eels probably ate the rest of their own tails because they tasted so good. But then that thought led to another one and Jhasspok found himself wondering what lizardfolk flesh tasted like. His brow furrowed as he contemplated the tip of his own tail.

"I wonder if there are any more of them," Khari wondered aloud.

"I don't know," Cramer admitted, "but since they both came from the same direction, we'd better head that way and find out. Remember, these things have shown a tendency to drag their prey back to those underground city ruins Matron Jalamir told us about yesterday."

"So we're going into a haunted underwater city?" asked Khari. "On purpose?"

"We should be okay," assured Cramer, casting hide from undead spells on each of the adventurers and explaining how they worked: simple undead, like skeletons and zombies, shouldn't be able to even tell the adventurers were standing right there in front of them. "Just don't attack them - or even touch them - and we should be fine. Remember, we're there for the eels, not any undead!"

Jhasspok led the way, swimming just over the surface of the dropping seabed floor as he knew the others, weighed down by their armor, preferred walking. But they kept going down further and further, until the lizardfolk was much deeper than he'd even been in the Bioluminescent Sea. Even at these depths, though, visibility was normal; if you didn't know you were this deep you'd never have guessed it.

Sure enough, eventually the group encountered the ruins of buildings ahead, some of them merely vague forms covered in plant growths and others piles of collapsed stone. But there were figures walking around on the sea floor between the buildings, going on with their lives as if nothing was different from the centuries previous when this had undoubtedly been a city above the sea.

"What are they?" Marlo wanted to know.

"Ghosts, I'd imagine," Cramer speculated. "Drow ghosts from who knows how long ago?" Cramer's hide from undead spells seemed to work against these translucent figures, who gave the adventurers no heed.

"I'll go look for any more eels," offered Jhasspok, swimming above the city for a top-down view. He promised if he saw any he'd come back to tell the others before engaging them in battle. "And don't mess around with the ghosts!" Cramer reinforced. Khari offered to look below the city by earthgliding below the ruins, using the power of his hammer. "Just be careful," the gnome said, not wanting the dwarven fighter to pop up from the floor bottom straight into a ghost or anything.

Khari didn't have any luck, and having to pop back up above the surface of the solid stone every so often to get a breath of water (which still kind of creeped him out when he thought about it) didn't help matters much. After a cursory exploration in the immediate vicinity of his friends, he returned with a negative report. "It'll take forever looking for eel-caves that way," he admitted. "We'd better wait for Jhasspok."

Jhasspok was having no better luck in finding stray eels, but he did swim over quite a large swath of the city ruins and saw quite a few oblivious ghosts going about their business below him. One ghost, though, stopped what he was doing and looked straight up at Jhasspok as he swam by overhead. Jhasspok noticed his attention and was somewhat surprised when the figure rose up from the seabed floor to approach him. Even though his body was see-through, the lizardfolk noted his drowish features, and when he started speaking Jhasspok recognized the drow language being spoken, even though he himself only knew the "slave tongue" Cramer and the others referred to as "Common." Not knowing what else to do, and careful not to touch the ghost (like Cramer had said not to do), Jhasspok spun about and swam back the way he had come. The ghostly drow wizard, under the effects of a fly spell, followed.

Dropping back among his friends, Jhasspok pointed to the ghost and said merely, "He followed me here. I didn't touch him!" The ghost dropped down beside Jhasspok and continued his verbal inquiries, which only Cramer, wearing his magical helmet that allowed him to understand all spoken tongues, could understand.

"What's he saying?" Marlo wanted to know.

"He doesn't recognize our House insignia and is asking where we're from," Cramer answered.

The gnome cleric held up a hand in a "wait a minute" gesture and cast a quick tongues spell before answering the ghost. "We are from House Jalamir, a...much newer House than the ones you are accustomed to," he said. Then, wanting to get back to their primary mission, he asked the ghost if they had seen any eels nesting around their city.

"A what?" the gnome asked when the ghost answered his question. "What's that?" he followed up with.

"What's he saying?" interrupted Marlo, eager to find out what the ghost had been saying.

Cramer turned to the others. "He says an eel has made a lair in his home, and it's grown the rest of its body into a deep hydra that's now too big to leave. It's been biting off its own heads and sending them out to fetch food for it. Those 'abysseels' we've been fighting? Those are deep hydra heads!"

"We need to slay the hydra then," reasoned Utred. "Tell the ghost we'll take care of it for him if he'll show us where it is."

Cramer did as asked and the ghost led the group through the city; none of the other ghosts seemed to notice their appearance among them, going about their otherworldly business as if they were still alive after all these centuries. Finally, the undead drow wizard pointed to a collapsed building straight ahead, a massive pile of stone with a single opening visible, a passageway about ten feet tall and half of that wide. Normally, the interior would have been sheathed in pitch darkness at this depth, but the ever-present bioluminescent algae illuminated the place like the most well-lit of terrestrial dwellings.

Utred wasted no time; he charged into the collapsed building at full speed, his greataxe out and ready to slice into the first creature he met within. But the deep hydra turned from around a corner and attacked the dwarven barbarian at range. Utred had a mere moment to see his enormous foe before it struck: ten eellike heads on thin, long necks opened their teeth-filled mouths and ten blasts of lightning erupted from them, striking the dwarf in one massive jolt of electricity that quickly overcame the magical protection he'd received from Cramer before entering the Bioluminescent Sea. The hair stuck out from the top of his head and his beard bristled out in all directions as the electricity surged through his body.

And then, to make matters worse, five more "abysseels" - each a previously-bitten-off head and neck from the multiheaded hydra - swam up behind the parent creature, swimming up to attack those who would defile its new lair. Utred's greataxe slashed out and suddenly there were only four abysseels in the ruin's interior.

Getting a glimpse of the creature Utred was facing inside the ruins, Khari sunk below the surface of the stone bottom of the fallen city and resurfaced over by the back of the hydra, between its right rear leg and its thrashing tail. He slammed his weapon into the hydra's hip, causing it to hiss in pain. Jhasspok, in the meantime, took advantage of his aquatic maneuverability and swam over Utred's head, making a beeline for one of the hydra's still-connected heads. His battleaxe sliced completely through the thing's neck, releasing it from the hydra's body. But before it could spin about and bite him, the lizardfolk had the presence of mind to swing at the newly-formed abysseel with his battleaxe and sliced through its skull. It sank to the floor of the ruins, leaving the hydra with only nine heads - for now.

Cramer stepped up and allowed Fharlanghn's healing energies flow through his fingertips and into Utred's body, healing him of a goodly chunk of the damage he'd taken from the deep hydra's concentrated breath weapons. Marlo cast an empowered scorching ray over their heads at the deep hydra, targeting its body as she feared slaying a head might only cause two more to grow back in its place - and not wanting to create any more of these abysseels in the process in any case. Utred saw how little the hydra liked being hit by the fire-based spell and yanked a bead from his necklace of fireballs, tossing it at the front of the creature's body as well. The blast took out one of the four remaining free-swimming abysseels as well as dealing the other three eels and the main creature considerable harm.

In swift retaliation, the deep hydra darted out with its remaining nine heads, three each concentrating on Jhasspok, Khari, and Utred, the only combatants within immediate reach. The three remaining abysseels each focused their attacks on Utred, perhaps realizing the amount of damage the furious dwarf could dish out with his greataxe. But the adventurers pressed on with their attacks, Khari with his earthglide warhammer, Jhasspok with his battleaxe, and Utred with his greataxe, although they stopped attacking the creature's heads and necks and focused their weapons upon the great beast's body. Cramer, in the meantime, stepped forward and cast an inflict moderate wounds spell on one of the abysseels, slaying it outright.

Marlo empowered a fireball spell and set it off such that it exploded into two of the three remaining abysseels and the front of the deep hydra. The blast of superheated steam took down everything it hit, leaving only a sole abysseel remaining - which Utred handily finished off with his greataxe. Upon the destruction of all of the invaders to his home, the ghost of the drow wizard floated through the wall, took a look around, and fired off a question to Cramer, the only one capable of understanding him. The gnome heard the question, "Are you by any chance 'the Dark Champions?'" through the translation properties of his magical helm.

"We have been referred to as such in a prophecy or two," admitted the gnome, speaking Drow through his still-active tongues spell.

"I recall a tablet, looted from some duergar ruins, that had a message for the Dark Champions," replied the drow ghost. "Although the place has been smashed up a bit since the Mad Queen brought the destruction of Lolth upon our city," he said, waving his hands about to encompass the crumbled remains of his once-proud dwelling and the ruins of the ancient city surrounding it, "the tablet came through the destruction mostly unscathed. The message reads, 'The long road shall lead you where you need to be; shortcuts will cut short the lives of the innocent.' And there's a strange symbol at the bottom. Here: see for yourself." Leading the gnome to a stone tablet off to one side of the ruins, far away from the deep hydra's corpse, the ghost pointed to it. The rune at the bottom of the tablet might have been strange to the ancient drow ghost, but Cramer immediately recognized it as the holy symbol of Fharlanghn.

"Tell me of this Mad Queen," Cramer asked the ghost.

"This was centuries ago," the ghost advised. "The Mad Queen proclaimed herself a living avatar of Lolth, which apparently did not sit well with the Demon Queen of Spiders. Lolth sent an earthquake rending the wall of our great cavern apart, letting in the Bioluminescent Sea to wipe out our entire city. Such is the way the Spider-Goddess deals with great hubris."

And that's probably why the Overreach Houses haven't had a Queen in the centuries since, reasoned Cramer. Until this Mortal Queen elevated herself to such a position. I wonder if she knows how dangerous a game she's playing?

"We done here?" Utred asked, eager to get back to solid ground and fresh air if there was no longer any need for them to stick around breathing water. He wasn't sure how long the water breathing spell would last, but he didn't want to be still underwater breathing the stuff when it wore off!

"We're done here," agreed Cramer and indicated for Jhasspok to lead them back to the surface.

- - -

This was a blast to play through, especially since it was our first session in this campaign since August! It took us all a while to get back into the groove; more than one of the players was scanning through their equipment lists to recall what all their PCs had on them. Logan had us guessing with those "abysseels," and the deep hydra was an inspired creation.

And for the first time in this campaign, we started up around noon instead of our normal 6:30 PM. As a result, we had an opportunity to go through a second adventure in the same game session.
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Not for long, though. I have another writeup to do for this campaign and we're going to go through another short adventure tomorrow night, then that'll be it until May or June, when Harry and Joey finish their semester of school and we go through the obligatory two-week quarantine period before our gaming sessions start back up for the summer. So, two more writeups to come.




PC Roster:
Cramer Appleknocker, gnome cleric 10
Jhasspok, lizardman 3/barbarian 3/fighter 4
Khari Hammerslammer, dwarf fighter 10
Marlo Pendragon, human sorcerer 10
Utred "Buckets" Butterflinger, dwarf barbarian 10​

Game Session Date: 1 January 2021

- - -

The five newly-appointed citizens of Overreach were not particularly surprised to be summoned for another mission - they had no misperceptions that their elevation from slave status to full citizenship had any bearing on the fact they were still expected to do what the drow told them to do - but they were admittedly surprised to find out they had been summoned directly by Matron Jalamir herself. They geared up and soon stood before the drow matriarch of their Noble House.

"I have been interrogating Calish," she said without preamble, fully aware that the five former slaves were well-acquainted with her son, who until recently had been the slavemaster in charge of their care. They, in fact, had been the ones to bring him in to House Jalamir after he had defected to House Bel'vior, believing the Mortal Queen to be the likely victor in any Overreach civil war that might erupt between the various factions of the city. "I have found out some disturbing news."

None of the five dared interrupt her but rather waited for her to continue at her own pace. "He has told House Bel'vior the location of the Writhing Gate." She let that sink in for a moment, for the hidden illithid teleportation device was located two days away from the city of Overreach and had been a powerful tool in allowing Jalamir slaves to perform raids upon the surface world. None of the other Houses had such a device under their control; it was one of the reasons House Jalamir had risen to be the third-most powerful House in the city.

"As a result," Matron Jalamir continued, "House Bel'vior plans to sacrifice N'zorthal in a ritual near the Writhing Gate, to summon a powerful avatar of Lolth to fight on their behalf during the upcoming war. All attempts to scry upon N'zorthal have failed, and his last known location was at the Writhing Gate, attempting to repair it." Again, the five new citizens knew this wasn't entirely true, for there was nothing wrong with the Writhing Gate; N'zorthal had used that as an excuse to remain by the illithid artifact. In fact, the group was fairly certain Matron Jalamir wasn't even aware of the Writhing Gate's true nature: that it derived its power from the Dying One, an illithid Elder God who had been nearly slain by Wee Jas, Goddess of Magic and Death, or that the writhing tentacles that gave the gate its name were actually ten of the hundred tentacles of the Dying One. But they had been forbidden to pass on such information by N'zorthal and the group had no doubt in the mind flayer's ability to read their minds and learn of their treachery if they spoke of the device or the Dying One.

"We know very little about the specifics of the avatar-summoning ritual, so N'zorthal must be rescued from the ritual and kept alive thereafter - we don't know if his death at any point after the ritual begins might summon the avatar of Lolth." Cramer's face drained of blood as he realized they were about to be sent to rescue the mind flayer from being sacrificed to Lolth. As N'zorthal served House Jalamir as its Administer of Discipline, the mind flayer had eaten the gnome cleric's brain three times in a row as punishment for disobedience immediately after their first mission and the gnome had harbored a deep hatred for the illithid thereafter.

"We will leave for the Writhing Gate at once, Matron," replied Marlo, likewise anticipating their current mission's parameters. Matron Jalamir nodded once, dismissing her troops.

"This is just great!" grumbled Utred once well out of earshot. "We have to risk our necks to save a guy we don't really wanna save in the first place!"

"It's not like we have a whole lot of choice about the matter," growled Cramer. "I sure wouldn't mind letting N'zorthal get bumped off, but not if it means having an avatar of Lolth running around! That kind of problem we definitely don't need!"

"It's funny, but I wouldn't be surprised if summoning an avatar of Lolth is a direct result of us stealing back the Tarrasque soul prison from the Mortal Queen," observed Marlo. "If she can't have a giant, reptilian monster stomping around smashing her enemies, she'll have an image of her demon-goddess doing the same."

"Yeah, real funny," grumbled Cramer.

The group gathered up their travel gear and headed out of the city. Fortunately, they'd made this trip several times before and it was a relatively straight shot through the Underdark tunnels, with not too many opportunities to get lost. This was also a relatively unused section of tunnels, so they managed to make the trip without encountering any of the various dangers one might expect to run into in the lightless realms below the earth.

However, on the second day when they recognized they were coming close to the Writhing Gate chamber, they slowed their pace and Marlo and Cramer started casting the normal preparatory spells they preferred to have in place right before leaping into combat. They could hear chanting coming from the chamber ahead so it sounded like the ceremony had already started, but that also meant the participants would likely not be able to hear the sounds of the gnomish cleric and the human sorcerer casting their own spells. Cramer cast magic circle against evil, death ward, and true seeing spells upon himself and an aid spell upon Khari. Marlo used five charges from her new wand and covered each of the five former slaves with an invisibility spell. Then, unable to be seen without magical assistance, they sped forward to the chamber ahead.

The Writhing Gate was in the back end of the cavern; immediately before it, a magic circle had been carved into the stone floor and its circumference ringed with various mystical runes and glyphs. N'zorthal was held down in the center of the circle by a quartet of undead skeletons grasping his limbs, but the mind flayer was motionless but for the steady movement of his chest, indicating he was still breathing - so the sacrifice had not yet been carried through. Armed and armored drow also ringed the circle, likely guardians to ensure the ceremony was not interrupted before its completion. And in the back stood two female drow spellcasters, one an obvious cleric of Lolth and the other appearing to be a sorceress.

"Jhasspok, you head straight for the two women in the back and kill them," Cramer whispered to the lizardfolk, realizing he'd otherwise just deal with whoever was closest and the cleric wanted the spellcasters out of the picture as quickly as possible. As the gnome gave his orders, a slight rippling effect on the stone floor beside him indicated Khari had just used his earthglide warhammer to travel below the cavern; the dwarven fighter popped back into visibility as he popped up from the floor along the side of the magic circle, smashing the skeleton that had been holding onto N'zorthal's left ankle. The skeleton's bones exploded into shards by the force of the dwarf's blow. Khari suddenly found himself being attacked by three drow warriors, but he held his own against them.

And then Cramer struck what was to turn out to be a lethal blow to the ritual's success. Choosing a point on the floor halfway between the two drow spellcasters, he cast a silence spell and the chanting the two had been doing suddenly ceased. Utred charged straight ahead, ignoring the skeletons and drow warriors and heading for the drow sorceress. His greataxe swung in a powerful arc as the invisibility spell dissipated from Utred's form, giving the startled spellcaster just enough time to step back enough that the blow wasn't immediately lethal. She turned and fled at once, running full-bore for the Writhing Gate, seeking primarily to escape the radius of the silence spell preventing her from further chanting and spellcasting herself, but fleeing from Utred also very high on her list of reasons.

Jhasspok sprinted forward parallel to Utred, leaping over a skeleton holding N'zorthal because it wasn't his target: the drow cleric was. His battleaxe drew blood as he too popped back into view and the spellcaster staggered back a step, trying not to fall over from the blow. She retaliated at once with her own weapon, a fiendish-looking scourge whose ends came whipping towards the lizardfolk, but he successfully blocked the attack with his shield.

With three foes suddenly seeming to materialize around the magic circle, the skeletons swarmed Utred and Jhasspok, whose axes were kept busy chopping the animated undead into pieces. Then Marlo became visible as well as she cast an Evard's black tentacles spell that encompassed the three drow warriors attacking Khari and two tougher drow fighters moving up behind them to come to the defense of the ritual participants. Their attacks all ceased as they were forced to direct their attention against the pitch-black appendages squeezing the very life from their bodies.

The lone drow warrior not being crushed by Marlo's spell raced up to stab at Khari with his sword, but the dwarf brought him down with one blow of his warhammer and then cleaved the weapon-head into one of his compatriots bound at the edge of the writhing tentacles. Both drow died within seconds of each other. One of the other drow pinned by the tentacles managed to wriggle free, but the magical attack had unnerved him and instead of doing his duty to the Mortal Queen and fighting off her enemies, he turned and tried to flee for his life. Of course, there was only one way out of the cavern - the way the heroes had entered - but fortunately they were mostly further into the chamber. If he could just make it around the field of tentacles without anyone noticing him....

Cramer finally popped back to visibility as he cast a spiritual weapon in the direction of the drow sorceress, back over by the Writhing Gate. The shimmering field of force took on the appearance of a quarterstaff and slammed down at the drow spellcaster, whacking her on the side of the head and sending her reeling. And by then Utred had chased her down as well, his greataxe thirsting for her blood. She cast a greater invisibility spell and stifled a sigh of relief when she stepped to the side and Utred was no longer sure exactly where she might be - unaware that Cramer saw her exact location just fine with his active true seeing spell.

Jhasspok continued attacking the drow cleric as the remaining skeletons tried entering the fray, their bony claws ineffectual against the lizardfolk's thick scales. From across the chamber, Marlo cast an empowered scorching ray and the streams of flame went streaking over to the drow cleric as well - but only one of them managed to successfully strike its target. The cleric, clearly in pain, rapidly stepped backwards and was pleased when the sounds of combat all around her suddenly became audible all at once - she had just stepped outside the area of effect of the gnome's silence spell! With great relief she cast a cure critical wounds spell on herself, healing a good chunk of the damage she'd sustained thus far.

With a roar of determination, one of the drow fighters - a personal bodyguard of the cleric - ripped free from the black tentacles winding around him and positioned himself between his mistress and the rampaging lizardfolk eager to slay her. His sword came slashing at Jhasspok, but the reptile's shield blocked the blow. Khari slew another of the pinned drow warriors within reach, leaving the others - too far into the tentacle mass to be able to reach - to be crushed by the spell's effects. Meanwhile, the one free warrior continued his stealthy approach around the tentacle mass, waiting for the opportunity to make his dash for freedom. He looked around, saw nobody, and made his break - only to have Khari suddenly rise up from the stone floor before him, for the dwarf had seen his dash for freedom at the last moment and earthglided below the tentacle-mass to cut him off. One swing of his dwarven warhammer was all it took to take the cowardly drow warrior out of the fight.

Cramer sent his spiritual quarterstaff slamming down at the astonished drow sorceress - who had been sure she was safe beneath the greater invisibility spell she'd cast upon herself - and then channeled a burst of positive energy through his holy symbol, blasting the remaining undead skeletons to dust. Utred, seeing the spiritual quarterstaff strike true, swung his axe at the area where he believed the sorceress must be and got lucky, his blade slicing through her abdomen and spilling coils of intestines out onto the floor at her feet. She fell over, dead, returning to visibility in the process.

Jhasspok, with single-minded determination, dodged past the drow bodyguard - even though that meant taking a hit from his greatsword - to get to his primary target, the drow cleric Cramer had assigned him to kill. He hit, and his attack caused her quite a bit of pain, but not as much pain as Marlo's subsequent follow-on empowered scorching ray spell caused, this time hitting her target with all three rays of flame. But the drow cleric had already committed to casting an inflict serious wounds spell on the lizardfolk and saw through with that attack. Jhasspok hissed in pain at the spellcaster's touch, then again as the fighter's greatsword went slicing into his flesh, parting scales with the power of the sword's swing. But then Cramer redirected his spiritual quarterstaff over to the wounded cleric, dropping her at last. Figuring the others could deal with any clean-up operations by this point, the cleric went over to check on N'zorthal, just to make sure he was still alive.

Jhasspok did finally finish off the drow bodyguard, getting his battleaxe past his defenses and then surprising him by ripping his throat out with his sharp teeth. Idly, the lizardfolk wondered why so many of his enemies forgot he was capable of such a maneuver; it wasn't like his mouthful of sharp teeth were hidden or anything.

Cramer cast a healing spell or two on the unconscious mind flayer, waking up the hated Administer of Discipline. Greatly weakened by the ordeal, the mind flayer helped himself to a few of the brains of the fallen drow, picking through them to feast on those who were still tenuously clinging to life, for N'zorthal greatly preferred eating brains out of the skulls of still-living prey.

"The Mortal Queen isn't going to like this at all," observed Khari once Marlo dismissed her Evard's black tentacles spell, those still in its multilimbed embrace long since having been slain.

"That's kind of the point," Cramer replied.

"Yeah, but remember: without our slave tattoos she can't have scried upon us, so with any luck she won't know who it was who stopped her ceremony," added Marlo. "And the anti-scrying measures they put into place to prevent us from scrying on the ritual will hopefully have also prevented her from watching us butcher her forces."

<You no longer have slave tattoos?> asked N'zorthal telepathically while slurping down the contents of a drow's skull.

"Yeah, there have been a few changes since you last saw us," replied Cramer. "Let's go: we'll fill you in on the way back to Overreach."

- - -

After we finished the adventure, Logan informed us that on the two-day trip back, Cramer will receive a sending spell from Lauren, saying they are needed back in Greenvale. It's apparently time for our PCs to uphold our end of the bargain and free the Mithral Mage from Dwarven Hell. Next adventure: "A Bad Day to Be a Dwarf."

And we all leveled up, so we're now at 11th level. It'll all be downhill from here!



PC Roster:
Cramer Appleknocker, gnome cleric 11​
Jhasspok, lizardman 3/barbarian 3/fighter 5​
Khari Hammerslammer, dwarf fighter 11​
Marlo Pendragon, human sorcerer 11​
Utred "Buckets" Butterflinger, dwarf barbarian 11​

Game Session Date: 6 January 2021

- - -

Lauren had sent Cramer a sending spell during the trek back to Overreach with N'zorthal, informing him that the preparations had been made to allow the five new citizens of House Jalamir to fulfill their part of the agreement: to enter Dwarven Hell and rescue the Mithral Mage, the man the various factions of the Seekers of Eternity venerated, either as the original founder of their organization or, in the case of one sect, as a god. "That's something you're not asked to do every day," the gnome cleric remarked, "rescue a god from Hell."

"Not much of a god if he can't find his own way out of Hell," Utred remarked.

"Yeah, well, Lauren's grandfather Arcturus doesn't believe any of that business about him being a god," pointed out Marlo. "He's just a wizard, although apparently a pretty powerful one."

"Not just a wizard, though - he's also a lich," reminded Cramer. "Accidental or not, he's undead and we'd best be careful dealing with him."

Almost immediately upon their return to Overreach they parted ways with the mind flayer Administer of Discipline and headed over to House Ky'hulcressen, where they were sent through the Plane of Shadows via the permanent shadow gate and ended back in the surface city of Greenvale. There they were met and brought before a group of Mithral Redeemers - the faction of the Seekers to which Arcturus belonged - and shown the preparations on which they had been working so diligently.

"It's...a metal lobster," Khari said, his brows furrowed in confusion. "Are we supposed to take it with us or something?"

"It will actually be taking you with it," replied one of the wizards who had been working on the device. "I take it you're not familiar with the Apparatus of Kwalish?" None of the five was familiar with the term. The wizard explained the lobster-shaped contraption before them was patterned after an underwater exploratory device originally created by the wizard Kwalish. "We've made some modifications," he said proudly. "It has several contingency spells loaded onto it, which will automatically trigger at the appropriate times. It has a Mordenkainen's magnificent mansion spell keyed to its interior, so despite its external size all five of you will fit within - two of you will pilot the vehicle while the other three remain inside the interior mansion. It has energy immunity - attuned to fire, of course - to activate when it comes in contact with the liquid mithral, and a--"

"Wait a minute," interrupted Cramer. "Did you say 'liquid mithral?'"

"Yes, of course. There's an irregular planar gate that activates in a mine in the Baator's Breath Mountains, occasionally linking this world with Dwarven Hell. Molten mithral often flows through the rift between the worlds when the planar gate is opened. In any case, as I was saying, it has a find the path spell that will show the pilots the location of the Mithral Mage once you enter Dwarven Hell, an Otiluke's resilient sphere to encapsulate the area where the Mithral Mage is imprisoned, and a wish spell to remove the molten mithral from within the confines of the resilient sphere, allowing you to exit the Apparatus and free him. Once this has been activated, you will have 26 minutes to free the Mithral Mage and escape before the resilient sphere collapses and the liquid mithral sea falls back upon you."

"So how will we get this device to the Baator's Breath Mountains?" asked Marlo. It looked too big and bulky to put onto a cart and she couldn't imagine them "walking" it to the mountains on its lobster legs.

"Once you're all inside, the Apparatus of Kwalish will be teleported to Ashfall - the kingdom where the mithral mine is located - and then it will ethereal jaunt to the designated mine. There you will remain, ethereally, until you see the dwarven miners fleeing from an opening rift, at which time you will return to the Material Plane and scuttle into the rift to the Mithral Sea of Dwarven Hell."

"So that's how we get to Dwarven Hell to free the Mithral Mage," Cramer repeated. "How do we get back out? Wait for another rift?"

"No, that's a little weirder," replied the wizard. Cramer raised his eyebrows in disbelief, as so far this whole scheme seemed pretty weird. "Normally, the Mithral Sea is warded against all forms of teleportation, including those of extraplanar means, but Lauren clearly foresaw Marlo using a scrolll of plane shift to escape in her vision, so that's how you'll be escaping after you free the Mithral Mage." He handed a scroll tube to the sorceress, who opened it and began studying its contents with a read magic spell, to make sure it was what it was supposed to be and that she'd be able to use it correctly when the time came.

"So, I assume everything's ready for us to depart?" asked the gnome.

"Ready when you are," the wizard agreed.

"I'll want to prepare my spells first," Cramer replied, closing his eyes and clearing his mind for his daily prayers to Fharlanghn. Surprisingly, as he made his selections of which spells he thought would be the most advantageous for the mission, he felt a gently mental tugging towards a spell he had never asked to receive before. However, not wanting to go against Fharlanghn's wishes, he added a magic circle against chaos spell to his mental repertoire.

"Who's driving?" asked Utred as the back "hatch" - by the lobster's tail - was opened and the group started piling inside.

"Marlo and I, as usual," the gnome replied.

"This is likely gonna be a bit different than steering a horse and wagon," Khari pointed out.

"No arguments there," Cramer said. "But the normal interior is somewhat cramped, and Marlo and I take up the least amount of room." It was true, too - the little gnome and the rather small human were the shortest of the group, especially when compared to the burly dwarves and the hulking lizardfolk. "You three settle into the Mordenkainen's magnificent mansion - we'll handle it from out here." Utred shrugged and led the other two into the extradimensional space off to the side of the Apparatus interior. Only once they were inside did Cramer admit to his copilot, "Like I'd trust any of that lot to get us to where we need to go!"

Inside the extradimensional rooms, there were no complaints from Jhasspok or the dwarves, for the mansion was stocked with delicious food and all manners of comfortable furniture. "We ought to travel like this all the time!" enthused Khari, chewing on a cold chicken leg. He proffered another to Jhasspok, explaining it away as "skyfish." The lizardfolk asked no further questions, devoting his full attention to the meal before him.

Getting into the Mithral Sea went exactly as planned, although Marlo and Cramer saw the occasional glimpses of dwarven faces twisted into grimaces of extraordinary pain through their forward viewports. "It's a layer of Hell, remember," Cramer reminded the sorceress. "They all no doubt earned this afterlife."

"It's still horrible," Marlo remarked, her own face twisted in a grimace of distaste.

Through the magic of the find the path spell, steering the Apparatus of Kwalish in the right direction was no more difficult than following the trail of glowing arrows showing which way to go. They traversed countless passageways and submerged tunnels, eventually dropping down into a crater at the bottom of the Mithral Sea. The string of magical arrow signs vanished once the craft touched bottom, leading Cramer to announce, "We must be here." Sure enough, more of the automatic spells started kicking in, forming an Otiluke's resilient sphere around the entire crater and the molten mithral flowing upwards to escape the bubble of air now surrounding their magical craft.

After shooing the other three out of the Mordenkainen's magical mansion - and grabbing a couple of chicken legs for herself and Cramer, who missed out on the free food thus far - Marlo cast a new spell she'd only recently mastered. <Can you hear me okay?> she thought to the others.

"Aaaah!" cried Jhasspok suddenly, holding the sides of his temples between his clawed hands. "A voice in my head!"

<That's just me, Jhasspok - it's Marlo! I cast a Rary's telepathic bond spell on us all - now we can send telepathic messages to each other without anyone else hearing.>

<You're coming in loud and clear,> announced Cramer, then began casting detect undead and magic vestment spells upon himself and align weapon spells upon Khari's earthglide warhammer, Jhasspok's battleaxe, and Utred's greataxe.

<I can hear you, too,> replied Utred.

<Yeah, me too,> Khari thought over the link.

"Okay, time's a-wastin'," Cramer told the others, unsealing the hatch.

Khari was the first of the group to step out into Dwarven Hell. Although the wish spell had removed most of the molten metal, there were still pools of the stuff around, including two of considerable size. As the others stepped out of the craft, the Hammerslammer dwarf looked around at the crater's interior, seeing perfectly well with his darkvision. There wasn't much to see - not at first, in any case. But as he stepped between the two largest pools of liquid mithral, a massive form surged up from the pool to his right, forming a flaming body of only the most rudimentary humanoid build. A flaming fist came crashing down at the dwarf, but Khari dodged around the blow and swung his warhammer into the burning fires of the creature's hand.

In a flash, Jhasspok was at the dwarf's side, adding his own weapon to the fray. But the reptile was unable to avoid the hellfire elemental's attack and the blow left singed and blackening scales all along Jhasspok's side where he'd been struck.

With the advantage of seeing ahead of time what he'd be facing and the combat expertise to realize which of his many weapons would be the best approach against this enemy, Utred loaded an arrow into his frost longbow and sent it flying up at the hellfire elemental's head, well above the heads of Jhasspok and Khari. Unfortunately, he saw the arrow incinerate almost immediately upon contact and couldn't be entirely sure if the frost damage from his cold-infused arrow had even done any good against the towering beast. Frowning, he put the longbow away and pulled out his trusty greataxe.

The massive elemental swung both its fists above its towering head and brought them down upon Jhasspok. The lizardfolk tried in vain to block the blow with his shield but the elemental was too big for such a strategy to have much of an effect. Most of Jhasspok's scales were now blackened and sizzling, their tips burning like embers. And then, with another roar of flames, a second towering elemental rose up out of the other pool.

Marlo instinctively cast an invisibility spell upon herself and decided to let "the boys" handle the combat while she worried about their primary mission: finding the Mithral Mage. Despite her human eyesight, there was enough light in the air-filled crater from the two blazing hellfire elementals for her to see just fine. And sure enough: there was a cave opening in the side of the crater wall just ahead, past the two pools of molten mithral from which the elementals had risen.

Cramer stepped forward behind Jhasspok and touched him on the tail, imbuing the lizardfolk with a protection from fire spell that would hopefully prevent him from being fried to a crisp there on the spot. Khari, beside the reptile, kept swinging his warhammer at the blazing foe, wishing he could reach more than the creature's extremities when it brought its long arms down to strike at one of them here on the ground. But standing in the middle of a pool of molten mithral was a pretty effective way of ensuring nobody got too close. Jhasspok was in the same position, but he kept swinging his battleaxe for all he was worth, determined to rid Dwarven Hell of this particular fire elemental at least.

Utred took it upon himself to take care of the second elemental. Charging at full speed with a dwarven battle-roar on his lips, he took a hit from the flaming beast before he could bring his greataxe to bear, but when he did he felt he had managed to deal the creature a fair bit of damage, even if it was difficult to see actual wounds on a body composed of flames. The creature retaliated against the dwarven barbarian, while the other one divided its attacks between Jhasspok and Khari - likely the only thing keeping the lizardfolk alive at this point.

Marlo, still exploring invisibly, added a magic circle against evil on the list of spells currently active upon her person. She took the long way around the second hellfire elemental, skirting all the way around its pool of liquid metal. Cramer cast the very same spell upon Khari, realizing their close proximity meant the spell would effectively cover himself, the dwarf, and the lizardfolk as well. The three front-line combatants continued their assault upon the two hellfire elementals, while they in turn sent their flaming fists crashing down upon these living intruders upon the surface of Dwarven Hell. Jhasspok dropped to one knee from this latest attack and Cramer belatedly realized if he didn't apply some healing to the lizardfolk soon he was likely to be slain.

But then an attack came from an unexpected vector. Marlo, seeing how poorly the melee was going, popped back into visibility as she cast a lightning bolt spell that went crashing through the forms of both hellfire elementals. They roared in pain, the sudden assault causing the first elemental to explode in a gout of flame and disappear from view, its fires apparently extinguished forever. That gave Cramer the opening he needed to dart forward and cast a much-needed heal spell upon Jhasspok, who seriously looked to be on his last legs. The positive energy revitalized the lizardfolk at once, as the singed scales started falling from him like leaves from a wind-blasted tree, leaving fresh, new scales gleaming in their place.

But combat wasn't yet over. The hellfire elemental they'd been fighting having been slain, Khari and Jhasspok rushed over by Utred to help the barbarian deal with the one he'd been taking on by himself. Together, the three of them weakened the elemental enough that Marlo was able to slay it with another lightning bolt spell. "You guys okay?" she asked, but they were pretty much all too busy at this point swigging down healing potions to answer.

Advancing forward towards the cave, Cramer's detect undead spell suddenly "pinged," letting him know there were undead within range. "I think the Mithral Mage is in there!" he told the others. Utred scooped up the diminutive gnome from behind him and transferred him to the barbarian's back, a combat stance they'd used many times in the past - allowing Cramer to take advantage of the dwarven barbarian's greatly enhanced speed while for his part Utred barely even felt the added weigh he was carrying.

Sure enough, there in the cave was the Mithral Mage - or what the group assumed was him, given it was a shiny, gleaming skeleton encased in chains: thick, metal chains which were clamped not only around the skeleton's neck and wrists but also went through his rib cage. But standing before the metal skeleton was a dwarven form wearing reddish hellsteel armor, wielding a flaming hellsteel greataxe. Besides the armor, he wore a metal collar the same color and style as the chains imprisoning the Mithral Mage.

Khari went rushing in, whacking the half-fiend dwarf in the side of the head with his warhammer. Jhasspok followed suit with his battleaxe, taking a retaliatory strike from the dwarf's weapon as he passed by him, trying to open a spot for Utred to rush in, so they could attack the guardian from three sides. Utred failed to disappoint, rushing into the open area and bringing Cramer along for the ride. Rushed by three enemies, the half-fiend dwarf took a step off to the side and brought forth an unholy blight down upon all four of the men; Marlo was still safely outside the cave entrance, in the much bigger crater opening. Not surprisingly, the good-hearted Khari suffered the worst of the group from the guardian's magical assault.

Marlo activated her boots of levitation rising up into the air just high enough to fire an empowered lightning bolt over the heads of her friends and strike only the half-fiend dwarf. Cramer, however, was concentrating on his detect undead spell and was practically staggered by the feedback he got when he focused directly upon the Mithral Mage. There was absolutely no doubt in the gnome's mind the skeletal lich was undead - he was the most powerful form of undead the cleric had ever encountered!

Khari brought the dwarven defender down with a series of blows from his warhammer, giving the fallen guardian a good blow to the head once he was down just to be safe. Then they moved forward to examine the cave's prisoner.

The silvery flames burning in the otherwise hollow eye sockets of the Mithral Mage "blinked" once in surprise at it exclaimed, "You're not my brother's champions!"

"Brother?" asked Cramer. "Uh, no idea about that. We're here to rescue you, though, because you play an important role in a prophecy." He briefly explained about the Dying One and how "the metal man from Hell" was one possible way of preventing the Dying One from returning to his full power and destroying the world.

"By all means - I have no wish for this world to be destroyed!" exclaimed the Mithral Mage. "I have some things that will need to be taken care of, but I will gladly aid you in defeating this Dying One in exchange for freeing me!"

Unfortunately, freeing the Mithral Mage from his chains turned out to be rather difficult, for the group had no way to destroy the enchanted chains binding the metal lich. "You'd have thought Lauren might have foreseen this!" grumbled Cramer.

"There is another way," pointed out the Mithral Mage.

"Yeah? How?" snapped the gnome cleric, well aware that time was passing quickly and pretty soon the whole crater would be once again flooded with molten mithral - and if they hadn't freed the prisoner by then, their chances were nil in getting this part of the prophecy completed.

"Kill me," replied the Mithral Mage. Upon seeing Marlo's querulous look, he stated simply, "I'm a lich. Slay me and my soul will return to my phylactery - which is safely on the Material Plane, not upon this dreary level of Hell. Within a week, I'll have reformed my body, and then we can be safely about our joint business." And, he thought to himself, I won't have to get involved in their schemes unless they track me down again. This talk about the severed head of an illithid Elder God having survived a decapitation from Wee Jas was, he supposed, technically possible - but highly improbable. With luck, he'd be able to research the veracity of these strange people's claims on his own before deciding on whether or not to take part in their crazy schemes.

<Guys?> Cramer asked over the telepathic link. <What do you think? Can we trust him?>

"Aaaah!" cried Jhasspok, once again startled to hear a voice in his head from out of nowhere. The Mithral Mage turned his head to look quizzically at the lizardfolk, but no explanation was forthcoming.

<I got nothin' better to suggest,> pointed out Utred.

<Time's running out,> added Marlo.

"Okay," agreed the gnome cleric. "Guys: kill him."

It took a bevy of physical attacks and combat spells to bring down the Mithral Mage, but for his part he just stood there and took it. Eventually, his skull fell backwards and the silvery flames from his eye sockets went out, his mithral-coated skeleton collapsing in a pile with the enchanted adamantine chains binding him in place. "Pity we can't take any of this with us," remarked Utred. "Mithral and adamantine - they're both worth plenty!"

"Yeah, well so are our hides!" replied Cramer from the barbarian's back. "Come on - let's get out of here!" Utred complied, but not before bending over the slain half-fiend dwarf's body and grabbing up his flaming hellsteel greataxe. "What are you planning on doing with that?" the cleric asked. "Don't you have enough weapons already?" The barbarian stifled a chuckle; "enough weapons" - what a crazy concept!

Jhasspok raced over to where they had battled the hellfire elementals and retrieved one of his own sloughed-off scales. Then, succumbing to intense curiosity, he bit into it, wondering what he might taste like. He was disappointed; apparently he tasted dry and burned.

"Are you quite through?" Marlo asked, unrolling her plane shift spell scroll.

"Wait, are we just abandoning the lobster thing here?" asked Khari, looking worriedly at the Apparatus of Kwalish.

"No choice," Marlo answered. "It's far too big for me to take with us. The wizards are well aware this was a one-way mission for their vehicle, and that they'd never see it again."

"Bummer," Khari sighed, thinking about the rest of the banquet lying untouched inside. Those had been good chicken legs!

Marlo began reading the words from her scroll when Cramer got the frantic sensation that he absolutely needed to cast a magic circle against chaos spell upon himself - and immediately! He rattled off the words to the spell, finishing it up just as Marlo's spell took effect. A burst of energy exploded around the heroes and their bodies slipped out of Dwarven Hell...

...but instead of returning to the Material Plane as Marlo had expected, they were in a strange land, filled with sights that staggered the imagination. Colored smoke drifted listlessly across the sky, occasionally breaking up into sharp-paned shards before flapping off into nothingness. The ground beneath them was spongy and rippled softly of its own accord, rising and lowering the heroes as if they were each on separate ships at sea. A flash of blue lightning exploded up from a mountain in the distance, before the mountain lost its cohesion and drifted off in a cloud of brightly-colored bubbles, each changing through a variety of hues in rapid succession before popping.

"Where are we?" asked Jhasspok, looking around in puzzlement. He knew the surface world was very different from the Underdark where he'd been hatched and raised, but this was completely different even by "surface world" standards.

Marlo just shook her head, not knowing how to answer the lizardfolk. "Somewhere far away," she said, her voice barely a whisper as she added, "in some far...Far Realm...."

- - -

And that's where we left off, not only for this gaming session but for the next few months. Harry and Joey will be out of school sometime in May or early June, so we'll be able to pick up our two campaigns then. But right now the supposition is that the only reason Marlo was even able to successfully cast a plane shift spell that allowed the heroes to exit Dwarven Hell was due to deific support from the Dying One, her secret patron. There's a very good chance that Marlo's status as a secret worshiper of the Dying One may come out into the open in the next adventure; all of the players are of course well aware of the secret but none of the other PCs know. Either way, it looks like the next session is going to be "a bad day to be Marlo Pendragon!"
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PC Roster:
Cramer Appleknocker, gnome cleric 11​
Jhasspok, lizardman 3/barbarian 3/fighter 5​
Khari Hammerslammer, dwarf fighter 11​
Marlo Pendragon, human sorcerer 11​
Utred "Buckets" Butterflinger, dwarf barbarian 11​

Game Session Date: 9 June 2021

- - -

Instinctively, the five heroes took a step back, surprised at the strangeness of the world around them. Their surroundings seemed to wobble in place before finally settling down to a terrain that at first looked somewhat normal, if you didn't examine it too closely....

Whereas mere moments ago they'd been on a level of Dwarven Hell, they were now standing up to their ankles in a mist-covered swamp. This was fine by Jhasspok; he preferred standing in a swamp over dealing with all the heat and molten metal of Dwarven Hell. But there was something wrong with the background in the distance, something that just didn't make sense to the easily-puzzled lizardfolk. He tried shaking his head to see if that would make any difference, but it didn't.

Beside him, Marlo and Cramer were likewise examining their surroundings. They could tell this Far Realm was broken up into multiple layers, and that these layers each had slightly different terrain, some of it overlapping like the Ethereal Plane overlapped with the Material Plane. To their left, the ankle-deep waters of the swamp changed suddenly to the waters of a much deeper lake; just beyond that, the water was now magma instead. To their immediate right, the local terrain was a tree-filled forest; beyond that, some sort of fractal plane that gave you a headache if you stared at it too long. But having studied (to some extent, in any case) extraplanar lore, both spellcasters realized you could simply "will" yourself to an adjacent planar layer, in the same manner you could choose to "fall" in any direction when upon the Elemental Plane of Air. What they didn't realize was this wasn't knowledge shared by their lizardfolk companion or either of their two dwarven friends.

"What in the blazin' Hell?" demanded Utred, looking around him. "How'd we end up here?"

"I'm not entirely sure," admitted Cramer, "but it's essential that you all stay in close proximity to me. I have a magic circle against chaos spell centered on me - step too far away and you'll be battered by the pure chaos energy of this place."

"An' then what?' asked Khari, gripping his warhammer and looking about for enemies on this strange world.

"Your mind...breaks, and you end up crazy," the gnome cleric answered. "Jhasspok? Did you hear me? Don't get too far away from me, okay?"

"Okay," Jhasspok answered, ready to do exactly as requested. This place was too strange for his liking and he had every intention of sticking close to the only ones who could get him back to the safety of the Underdark...heck, he'd even take the "normal" strangeness of the surface world, at this point!

"Well, I'm makin' sure you stick close to me," Utred said, scooping Cramer up from behind and lifting him up to ride on his shoulders. It was a maneuver the two had done plenty of times in the past, giving the height-challenged Cramer a better vantage point (and a quicker movement rate), while the burly dwarven barbarian hardly even noticed the extra weight provided by the little gnome.

"What's that?" Marlo asked, pointing straight ahead of them, more than a little bit of worry in her voice. Looking at where she indicated, the group saw a "V" of the foggy mists parting as something approached them through the shallow water. "It's heading straight for us!" the sorceress added, ready to activate her boots of levitation if it came down to it, but concerned that she didn't want to rise up too far away from the protection of Cramer's spell.

"Hey!" Jhasspok called out as the approaching creature raised itself up above the mists. "It's a glittering mouther!" Oddly, although the lizardfolk had fallen under the sway of one of these creatures back in the remains of Cramer Appleknocker's home town of Grover's Comb, he was actually kind of glad to see the creature approach - it was, in his mind, something somewhat reminiscent of home.

"'Gibbering,'" Cramer automatically corrected, then frowned to himself in puzzlement, for while this creature had every appearance of being a gibbering mouther - an amorphous, shapeless blob of matter whose outer surface was covered in random eyes and mouths - this one had one very distinctive difference to the creatures they'd fought in Grover's Comb: it wasn't gibbering! Instead, it opened its various mouth one at a time and each spit out a single word, forming sentences seemingly created in a committee.

"Hello," one mouth said, followed immediately by a bevy of others: "We..." "Have..." "Been..." "Waiting..." "For..." "You...."

"How is this possible?" Marlo wanted to know. They hadn't even known they'd be shunted here after escaping from Dwarven Hell; the plane shift scroll she'd read aloud was to have taken them back to the Material Plane, not here!

But the creature - which Cramer soon dubbed the "chatting mouther" - ignored her question, telling her what it had intended to say instead. "Follow..." "Us..." "To..." "Place..." "Of..." "Sanctuary...."

The heroes looked at each other and Cramer, atop Utred's shoulders, shrugged. "It's not like we've got any better options," he reasoned, and there was little argument against that. "Lead on, buddy!"

The many-eyed abomination led the group back the way it had come through the swamps, taking care not to cross any of the boundaries to any of the adjacent layers. Trudging through the ankle-deep waters of the swamp, they eventually approached a thick slab of stone, the end pointing at them containing a door of sorts and then extending for some 40 feet or so, attaining a height of about 10 feet for most of its length. Marlo couldn't help making the comparison: it reminded her of nothing so much as a giant, petrified tentacle.

The chatting mouther reformed some of its mass into a pair of pseudopods and manipulated open the door-hatch, oozing its way inside. Marlo was the first to follow it, but her entry took a sudden halt when she heard their guide start to mutter to itself. "Hungry..." admitted one mouth, and the sentiment was echoed first by another mouth, then several more, until the thing was whispering, mumbling, shouting, and murmuring, "Hungry...hungry...HUNGRY!" Marlo made short work of dashing back outside into the ankle-deep waters of the swamp to rejoin the others.

"Get ready," she warned. "I think it's reverting to type!"

Utred gripped his greataxe and took up position on one side of the open hatch; Khari followed suit on the other side, gripping his warhammer. And then out splorched the gibbering mouther, striking at Utred with six newly-formed pseudopods, the mouths at the end of each snapping at him. Of the six only one managed to latch onto the dwarven barbarian, but Utred suppressed a shriek when the mouth biting him suddenly vomited forth four illithid tentacles, which wrapped around his arm and pulled him closer, the tentacles reaching out for his brain. Both dwarves retaliated immediately, striking the abomination with their weapons. Cramer leaned forward and brought his mace crashing down upon the nearest tentacle, but its metal head seemed to bounce off the creature's rubbery hide. Jhasspok strode forward with his battleaxe ready to strike but he got there too late, for Marlo took it out with an empowered scorching ray spell.

"Let's drag that thing all the way out of there," she suggested, and Jhasspok was happy enough to do at least that much - plus, a gibbering mouther had an abundance of tasty eyes to sample!

Once everybody trundled inside the petrified tentacle and Khari pulled the hatch shut, the group heaved a collective sigh of relief, for they were all overcome with an overwhelming sense of safety. "Just where are we?" Utred wanted to know, as Cramer climbed back down off the dwarf's shoulders. He could easily see the interior had five stone shaped "cots" along one wall, two sized for dwarves and one for an even smaller gnome; apparently their gibbering mouther host was quite sincere about them having been expected.

"Let's see what this has to say about it," Marlo suggested, walking to the back of the hollow structure, where she saw - by the light of the group's slave-light cloaks - a stone-shaped desk, upon which sat five headbands, a book, and a scroll. Unrolling the scroll, she passed on what it had to say.

"This first part is a spell of some sort," she said, reading the notation beneath the spell-runes: "'The gnome will find the path to where he needs to be tomorrow.'" Then, after that, was an explanation of how the headbands worked; while not magical, each held a chip of stone from the petrified tentacle that, when worn against the forehead, protected the wearer from the insanity-inducing effects of the chaotic plane.

Opening the book next, she was surprised to see instead of writing, the "words" consisted of a series of raised bumps; this, she realized, was "Quiddith," a touch-language used by the mind flayers. She asked to borrow Cramer's helm of comprehend languages and he passed it over, the magical helm automatically resizing to fit the human's head. "What's it say?" Cramer demanded, and Marlo held up a hand while she perused a few pages first.

Finally, after a quick skimming, she passed on the gist of what the book had to say. "It's about the Dying One," she said. "When he was beheaded by Wee Jas, his cult of followers 'anchored' his head to our world, Shadreth, with ten anchors."

"Ten, huh?" asked the gnome. "I'll bet it's no coincidence that there are ten tentacles making up the Writhing Gate!"

"The anchors," Marlo continued, reading ahead, "are to open a gate for the 'reborn' Uboros to escape the Far Realm. Apparently only seven anchors are needed for that task, but the energy released would split Shadreth apart. Using all 10 anchors will allow the energy to disperse safely." None of this talk made any sense to Jhasspok; he settled down on the largest bunk and rifled through his leather satchel, looking for a dried dung beetle - he was pretty sure he still had a few such provisions left, and past history already told him there was no point in offering to share his snack with the others because they always turned him down.

"Due to the prophecies foretelling the world's destruction at Uboros' rebirth, the author of this book went to investigate the anchors," Marlo continued. She read ahead; the book listed the anchor points for all ten locations, but the translated names were meaningless to her without the proper context. However, it did lead her to come up with a slightly different supposition about the anchors: it was entirely possible that there were in fact ten Writhing Gates - that actually made a lot of sense, for the Dying One was said to have 100 tentacles, and the Writhing Gate with which the group was familiar sported 10 fit!

Continuing on, Marlo relayed that the author found one of the anchors was broken - again, this made perfect sense if the petrified structure in which the heroes now found themselves was one of the Dying One's severed tentacles - so he headed into the Far Realm to find the cause. And that was where the book left off. "Weird," was all Utred had to say about the matter.

Marlo returned the helm to Cramer and let him read it over for himself. But their jointly-agreed-upon plan was to spend the night in their petrified sanctuary, so Cramer and Marlo would have a full complement of spells in the morning before they wandered back out into the Far Realm. Cramer cast a read magic spell, examined the scroll, and confirmed it was a find the path spell. Then it was lights out and time to rest up.

The next morning, after Cramer had prayed to his god for his spells, the five heroes donned their headbands and stepped back outside into the strangeness of the Far Realm. The nearby "bands" of planar layers were still there, with a forest on one side and a lake on the other, with ankle-deep swamp in the middle zone. "Me boot's're gonna get ruined in this water," grumbled Khari.

"That's why I don't wear any," Jhasspok answered. Khari almost pointed out the lizardfolk didn't in fact wear any clothes, unless you counted his slave-light cloak, but that was more for illumination than protection from the weather or concerns about nudity. But then he thought better of engaging the lizardfolk in any lengthy conversation, turned to Cramer, and asked when he was going to cast the find the path spell so they could all get out of this strange place.

"Doing so now," Cramer promised, unrolling the scroll and letting the word inscribed in the prayer roll off his tongue. "Got it!" he said. "Anybody else see the arrows pointing which way to go?" Nobody did. "Then you'll all need to follow me," he said, casting a longstrider spell so he wouldn't slow down the rest of the group. But then Utred scooped him up and plopped him back up on his shoulders again.

Marlo cast a Rary's telepathic bond spell, informed everyone telepathically that she had done so, and once again Jhasspok was practically startled out of his scaly hide at the sudden, unexpected voice in his head. <It's just me, Jhasspok!> Marlo chided the lizardfolk as the dwarves took the lead and Cramer gave Utred telepathic instructions on which way to go. Jhasspok couldn't help it; he flinched every time anybody "spoke" over the shared mental link. That was something he'd likely never get used to.

It wasn't long during their trek to wherever it was "the gnome needed to be" according to the scroll's author that they heard the trumpeting of a number of elephantine trunks coming from somewhere off to the right - the "forest" area on the other side of a planar layer. It sounded like a herd of elephants was approaching! But when the source of the trumpeting was finally made clear, it was a much smaller number of creatures suddenly coming into view. In point of fact, it was merely one, although the Cthulephant was a rather large beast in and of itself. However, the great number of rubbery trunks splitting off from the front of its head wasn't the only strange thing about it, for it seemed to glide through the trees, passing through them like a ghost. "Um, incorporeal elephant approaching!" Cramer warned the others, in case they had missed it.

Utred hadn't missed it. Upon its sudden appearance, the dwarven barbarian picked up his speed, running as fast as he could in the direction the gnome cleric had told him the arrows were pointing. Utred wasn't afraid of combat with anything, but this Far Realm place creeped him out and he didn't trust any of the local inhabitants - what he wouldn't give to be back home already and fighting some drow or something!

Jhasspok could easily run as fast as the dwarven barbarian but to do so would mean to leave Marlo and Khari behind and he wasn't willing to do that. Instead, he ran just far enough to be in the multi-trunked creature's path, then stood his ground with his battleaxe raised, ready to strike out at it if it continued its approach. Khari opted to follow his fellow dwarf in flight from the great beast.

But the lizardfolk's blade wasn't the first weapon to strike the Cthulephant's flank - that honor went to the spiritual quarterstaff Cramer caused to blink into existence and slam down at the massive pachyderm. Cramer saw the edges of the beast wavering and realized it likely took up more than the standard three dimensions, likely existing in a fourth and possibly even fifth dimension.

Marlo hit the beast with an empowered scorching ray spell. It bellowed in pain, trumpeting wildly through a dozen or more separate trunks. Then it struck out at the nearest target: Jhasspok, who swung his blade at the beast and struck it a solid blow before being snatched up and pulled not only into a multi-trunk grapple but also - in some extradimensional manner the lizardfolk couldn't even begin to understand - being sent over to the next layer with his foe, such that the Cthulephant stood waist deep in the waters of the lake while still standing on the border between the forest layer and the swamp layer.

Seeing as they were going to have to fight this beast anyhow, Utred shifted course and sprinted at the Cthulephant, his greataxe slashing at a powerful trunk. But he was snatched up by several other equally-powerful trunks, bringing Cramer along for the ride with him. The dwarf and gnome found themselves fighting off the beast while solidly in the forest layer. Cramer bent down and touched a trunk, channeling an inflict critical wounds spell directly at the creature's flesh - and learned right then and there the elephantine horror enjoyed some sort of spell resistance, for the cleric's spell did absolutely nothing to it.

Despite having been grabbed around the waist by a pair of trunks, Jhasspok's hands were still free and he brought his battleaxe swinging down into the nest of trunks. Khari used the power of his earthglide warhammer to drop down below the surface of the forest and only rise back up when he was underneath the great beast. Then, standing to his full height underneath the thing's belly, he swung for all he was worth. Marlo sent another empowered scorching ray spell crashing into the beast's side, where her gouts of flame wouldn't hit any of her trunk-entangled friends.

The Cthulephant pulled Jhasspok into the lava layer and released him, expecting the painful lizardfolk to plummet to his immediate death. But Jhasspok was having none of that; he clamped down hard with his teeth onto the base of a trunk and held on, his mouth filling with the Cthulephant's blood. He didn't have to hold on for very long, either, for the ongoing attacks from his friends soon brought the monster down, falling over onto his side and crushing Khari with its massive body over in the forest layer. Jhasspok scrambled up onto the creature's head, a temporary island of safety in a pool of magma. He looked over at the next layer, and there was the Cthulephant floating in the lake, and just beyond it was lying in the fog-covered mists of the swamp, and even further back the many-trunked abomination was lying on the forest floor, with a bruised and battered Khari climbing out from underneath the massive beast. Jhasspok hadn't been aware there had been so many of the beasts attacking all at once!

<Will yourself back over here!> Marlo called to Jhasspok over the telepathic link, causing the lizardfolk to cry out on shock and surprise again at the voice yelling inside his head. But it soon became apparent to Marlo and Cramer that not everyone knew about all of the planar traits of the Far Realm and coached Jhasspok on how to "blink" over from the magma layer to the swamp layer by simply envisioning the transfer and willing it to happen. The lizardfolk finally made it through this new maneuver, and not a moment too soon for the Cthulephant slowly sank below the bubbling pool of magma. The group once now back together on the same layer, Cramer directed Utred forward, following the arrows only the cleric could see.

Eventually, the swamp gave way to a chasm, with a structure of shifting patterns surrounding the gaping maw of the open space before them. Jutting out from this stone building was a simple hallway, square in cross-section, 10 feet to a side, and some 50 feet long. "The arrows are pointing us straight through that hallway," Cramer said, and that was all Utred needed to hear. He moved forward into the open hallway, Cramer still perched on his shoulders.

There were fine spider webs within the dark hallway, only now being lit by the slave-light cloaks the heroes wore. But as Utred stepped deeper within the structure, he saw the skittering swarms of spiders clumped ahead of him, one group on the ceiling and another on a side wall. Not liking having to deal with entire swarms of small critters - they were hard to fight with a greataxe - the dwarf plucked a bead from his necklace of fireballs and tossed it between the two swarms, engulfing them in the subsequent explosion of flames. As expected, the blast fried quite a few of the spiders into crispy corpses, but the dwarf was surprised that these dead spiders didn't fall down from the ceiling to the floor below but rather stayed in place on the ceiling and wall. Odd!

The remaining spiders surged forward, those on the ceiling flipping over to the opposite wall and then swarming over Utred, up his body, and onto Cramer as well, biting with venom-laced mouths that the gnome was astonished to see actually held teeth, like no terrestrial spider he'd ever seen. Cramer reached into his pack and pulled out a potion of neutralize poison, knowing it could be vital in counteracting the effects of whatever venom surged through these spiders' bodies. He passed a second vial down to Utred but the dwarf was busy scraping spiders off his body with both hands, so the gnome tucked it between the straps of the dwarf's pack, the top of which Cramer was sitting upon.

Jhasspok was also frustrated at facing a whole bunch of little enemies instead of one big one, but he swapped weapons, setting aside his trusty battleaxe and using his flaming spear not so much to stab at individual spiders but to wave the tip around and try to burn up as many of the creatures as he could. Khari pulled out and activated his flaming burst longsword and followed the lizardfolk's lead. Scorched spiders fell away from the bodies of Utred and Cramer, falling to the floor. Marlo left the boys to deal with those spiders that had already made it as far as they did and concentrated on those far enough away to take down with another of her empowered scorching ray spells, burning them into blackened husks.

But before the group moved on they noticed they had all been moving sideways. This became especially noticeable when Jhasspok, over on the right-hand side, suddenly found himself standing on the rightmost wall, almost bumping heads with Utred! Marlo stood on the wall beside and behind him. Even the dead spiders on the ceiling had shifted position; they were now over on the left-hand wall, while those that had been over on the right wall were now on the ceiling! "Gravity's all flooey!" Cramer surmised. But then he urged Utred down the hall, eager to be on their way.

Utred exited the hallway and entered a strange chamber - although "strange," he realized, applied just about equally to everything he'd seen on this oddball plane! But he stood on an infinite stairway of some sort; the stairs led upward to his left, to make a turn to the right after some 40 feet or so and continuing upwards, making another upwards turn to the right after another 40 feet, and then a fourth one...which somehow ended up right back where the stairs had started, even though it was uphill the whole way. Utred followed the stairs back the other way with his eyes, confirming by going counterclockwise down the stairs you'd make a full transit and yet end up right back where you started. Weird! But at each corner there was a doorway facing the downward set of stairs...and on each of these four hallways was a much larger spider of the same type as they'd fought in the hallway behind them. At Cramer's urging, Utred drank down the potion of neutralize poison as the large pseudonatural arachnids skittered towards them, one pair heading down the stairs from the left and the other two climbing up the stairs to the right.

Two of the spiders - the closest pair - raced up to Utred and Cramer and snapped at them with their horrible, teeth-filled mouths, while the other two each scampered through a doorway at the corner of the stairs and were gone from view. But they ended up directly in the hallway, one skittering forward on the ceiling and other on one of the walls, snapping their teeth at Marlo, Khari, and Jhasspok who had yet to enter the winding stairs that encased the chasm. Their mouths likewise failed to hit their targets as the heroes instinctively stepped back from these odd-looking arachnids.

Fortunately, despite their greater size, these spiders weren't much more of a threat than the smaller versions making up the swarms the heroes had battled in the hallway - and despite their odd appearance, they died just as easily as terrestrial spiders of a similar size. Utred cut one down with his greataxe, slicing through its head in a single blow of his blade, while Jhasspok and Khari took out another one with their own weapons. Marlo killed the other one in the hallway with another of her empowered scorching ray spells, while a combination of Cramer's mace and Utred's hefty blade made short work of the last one. Then the other three heroes entered the winding stairs to join with Cramer and Utred, but not at all in the way they had imagined.

Due to the shifting gravity planes in the hallway, Jhasspok stepped out from a side wall and found himself not behind Utred and Cramer as expected but rather down the opposite set of stairs. Marlo, likewise, was on a different set of stairs; only Khari, who was on the "floor" of the corridor when he stepped through the doorway, ended up beside Utred and Cramer, who had likewise entered the stairs from the floor level. Just in case it made a difference, Marlo and Jhasspok were instructed to return the way they came, get to the floor level of the shifting hallway, and then exit back into the endless stairs. As expected, they showed up beside the others.

"Now where?" asked Khari wearily. He was getting tired of the strangeness of this Far Realm!

"This way," Cramer said, leading Utred up two flights of stairs and through the doorway at the corner. As the rest of the group started climbing clockwise around the chasm, Jhasspok went the exact opposite direction.

"This way!" Marlo called, purposefully not using the Rary's telepathic bond when she knew it would only startle the lizardfolk.

"Downhill's easier!" Jhasspok replied, and sure enough he made better time going counterclockwise than the others trudging up the stairs. And they were all apparently in the same orientation as they stood before the intended door. Cramer shrugged and sent Utred stepping through the open doorway, the others following just behind. This led to another corridor like the one they'd used to enter the stairway, only it was thankfully devoid of either spiders or webs. But on the other side of the short hallway was a sight that put everything else the heroes had seen on this Far Realm to shame.

The open doorway at the end of the hallway led to an open void. Tumbling through it was what could only be the severed head of the Dying One itself, a hundred impossibly-long tentacles spreading out from the massive head of a mind flayer. Amidst these tentacles was a small fleet of recognizably drow ships, of the type used on the Bioluminescent Sea that surrounded the drow city of Overreach, each ship encased in a bubble of some sort.

Seen only by Cramer, the otherwise invisible arrows of the find the path spell indicated the gnome was to "fall" toward one of the smaller vessels; this, apparently, was his final destination for no arrows departed from the ship. Cramer instructed the others over the telepathic link (eliciting another yelp of surprise from Jhasspok) how to direct one's personal sense of "down" such that they fell in whichever direction they chose. It took some getting used to, but the five heroes eventually managed to all fall in the appropriate directions and land upon the vessel Cramer indicated was their target.

But they noticed two things as they approached their target vessel. As they got closer and closer, a deafening silence encroached upon their telepathic bond, rendering it unusable. (Jhasspok didn't even notice its absence, but would have been perfectly fine with its loss had he been aware.) But the deck was already crowded with a score of unfamiliar figures, each as motionless as a carved statue. As the group landed upon the deck among these figures, not a one of them moved or in any way acknowledged their presence. They were apparently warriors of some sort, with thin, curving swords buckled at their waists, elaborate helmets (some of them sporting demonic visages and various horns and antlers), and strange armor seemingly made of wood in places. But their complete immobility made them seem as if they were already dead; in fact, none of the heroes could even see any of these fierce-looking warriors breathe.

"Are they statues?" asked Jhasspok. They were obviously not carved from stone, for there were too-elaborate knots holding their helmets in place and some of these frozen figures had visible facial hair; in addition, they were in full color, with brightly-colored designs on their armor. Sprouting up from the backs of some of these figures were wooden poles holding fluttering, vertical flags, but the flags were as motionless as the rest of them.

"I think these are regular people," Marlo hazarded, "but they're stuck in some sort of time stop effect." Some quick experimentation showed the heroes were unable to affect these frozen people in any way: they couldn't be lifted from their positions, or their arms pulled away from their bodies, or their helmets removed from their heads.

"What's your find the path spell telling you?" Utred asked the gnome riding on his backpack.

"The arrows lead to the cabin, where we're to wait until this ship exits the gate," Cramer replied. And then a memory came crashing into his head: the first time the group had stepped through the Writhing Gate, being teleported to the surface world on their first raiding mission, there had been a part of the transition where Cramer's mind had been contacted by the Dying One; he surmised the teleportation effect took those using the Writhing Gate temporarily into the Far Realm before depositing them at their final destination. It was entirely possible, the cleric mused, that this entire ship was passing through the Writhing Gate - or one of the ten Writhing Gates, Cramer mentally amended - and these twenty warriors were simply frozen between moments of time. The cleric climbed down from Utred's back and stepped over to the cabin at the back of the ship, with the other four following behind him.

There, they found a male drow sitting upon a throne of some type, his robes bearing the insignia of House Falmakyorl, one of the Eight Ruling Houses of the Overreach - the one in charge of the city's naval vessels, as a matter of fact. Like the foreign men standing outside, the drow seemed to be frozen in place; unlike them, he was able to move his eyes around, which he did frantically as if to attract the heroes' attention.

"Can you hear me?" Cramer asked the drow. The eye movements increased, as close as a nod of affirmation as the wizard could likely accomplish in his current state.

Marlo stepped up to him. "Look to the left for 'yes' and to the right for 'no,'" she suggested. "Can you hear us?" The drow quickly looked off to his left.

"Is this something you expected would happen?" she pressed on, and the wizard shifted his glance to the right. So he hadn't expected to be frozen like this. Marlo had also experienced a brief moment of telepathic contact with the Dying One when first using the Writhing Gate, as had Khari; Utred and Jhasspok were the only ones who hadn't been contacted. But while the sorcerer's mental contact had lasted but a brief moment - long enough for her to swear allegiance to the Dying One - this ship's transit through the Far Realm was taking much, much longer for some reason. Perhaps it had something to do with the size of whatever was being sent through the Gate? she theorized. Then she realized this was taking entirely too long, mentally chided herself for not thinking of this solution before, and cast another Rary's telepathic bond spell, this one linking her, Cramer, and Utred up with the drow wizard.

<Can you hear me?> she asked telepathically, glad not to have to deal with Jhasspok flinching at the mental communication for once.

<Praise Lolth!> the drow replied. <I thought I was going insane! I see by your insignia you're from House Jalamir - are you from one of the other ships? How is it you're not frozen like the Jakurans?> None of the heroes in the link knew what a "Jakuran" was, but they supposed it was the name for the frozen warriors out on deck.

<It apparently affects different people in different ways,> Marlo answered, ignoring the drow's first question and hoping he didn't press the issue. But the wizard was too glad to have someone to talk to, even telepathically, and he was more than happy to answer their questions, especially since he viewed them as allies to the Mortal Queen, as evidenced by the House Jalamir emblems pinned on their slave-light cloaks. In answer to their mental questions, he explained he'd been trapped immobile for what seemed like a day and a half; he'd heard from a few others that they'd experienced something similar when passing their vessels through a Writhing Gate but hadn't paid much attention until it happened to him; the soldiers (he called them "samurai") on board his vessel were from a nation called Jakura from the other side of the world; they had a reason to hate Greenvale because the turncoat drow's ironsilk production caused a drop in the desire for the silks Jakura produced and thus it was easy for Matron Bel'vior to get them to join her mock crusade.

That term caused a fresh flurry of questions, this time from Cramer. The drow wizard further explained the whole war against Greenvale was a ruse to cull the numbers of the faithful to a more manageable amount to flee the world before its destruction. After all, House Falmakyorl only had so many of these ships, and while they had long known the magical devices they created to pilot them without wind theoretically granted the ships the power of flight, it wasn't until Matron Bel'vior's Lolth-given knowledge allowed sufficient modifications that in turn permitted them to travel even farther than the sky. That, coupled with the knowledge of the Writhing Gates given freely by Calish (even though he only knew the location of the one) and the information stolen from N'zorthal (specifically, on how to work the gate and use one to find the others) allowed them to finally get their fleet somewhere where they could test out their ability to fly.

<Where is this ship headed?> Cramer asked.

<I'm to bring these samurai to an assault upon a fort north of the Elderwood, called the Crossroad Keep,> the drow replied.

<Surely you won't be bringing one of the ships responsible for bringing the loyal drow to safety into a war zone?> Marlo asked, pretending to be only concerned with protecting the spelljamming vessel that would be used as a "lifeboat" to rescue the Mortal Queen and her most loyal followers from the planet before the Dying One destroyed their world as prophesied.

<Oh, no!> agreed the drow. <I'm just to drop the samurai off and then fly back out of harm's way!>

<Good, good - excellent, in fact!> replied Marlo, continuing to play the role of a loyal follower of the Mortal Queen. But keeping her thoughts free of the Rary's telepathic bond spell, her mind was whirling with sudden realizations: the Far Realm played tricks with the passing of time and apparently more time had passed since the group departed Dwarven Hell than the one night they had thought, for it looked like the Overreach drow invasion onto the surface world was already underway!

- - -

I had some very mixed feelings about this adventure. While first of all it was great to be able to start this campaign back up again and I really enjoyed the creativity Logan came up with in the non-Euclidian aspects of the Far Realm, so much of the ongoing plot just doesn't make a lot of sense to me and it's really caused me to be concerned that the campaign's logic (which up until now has been impeccable) is falling apart. Here are my major issues:

1. The whole war upon the surface world (and Greenvale in particular) is just a ruse? Because there's only so much room on the spelljamming lifeboats? Wouldn't it make more sense for the Mortal Queen to pick however many of her most loyal subjects fit on the lifeboats and evacuate them to a new world if she's so worried about the Dying One destroying this world? I have to admit, I've really enjoyed the gradual buildup to the oncoming war; it's a bummer to find out the whole thing is just a sham.

2, It defies logic for me that the Underdark drow are even aware of a surface world country on the completely opposite side of the planet (which our previous campaign, "The Durnhill Conscripts," established was the case), let alone are allies to them.

3. There being ten Writhing Gates is a neat twist, but I'm kind of lost on the Dying One's behavior. I get that he probably isn't actively trying to destroy the world (just that passing through his own Writhing Gates back to the Material Plane with only seven "anchors" in place would destroy the world - much better if all ten were in place), but how in the world is it in his own best interests to give our PCs aid, when we're the fairly obvious prophetic figures who will slay the Dying One and thus save the world? After all, we've been depicted in prophetic murals and there can't be that many groups containing two dwarves, a human, a gnome, and a lizardfolk. You'd think an Elder God would know enough not to go out of his way to save the five people who will likely be responsible for his eventual death, even if one of them has agreed to serve him.

I have other smaller quibbles and I have to admit I was kind of grumpy at what I considered was "anime-level plot silliness" towards the end of this adventure. But I was likewise grumpy when Logan wrote an adventure that forced us to hand over the power of the tarrasque to the Mortal Queen and he managed to allow us to right that wrong a few adventures later. So I'm going to take some advice that Logan and Stuart were given when watching an anime marathon at a Gen Con some two dozen or so years ago, when the guy running the marathon was addressing the fact to the audience that Japanese anime contains some really oddball plot points from time to time: "Accept, and move on." Logan's crafted a compelling campaign thus far, and while some of these new plot points don't make a whole lot of sense to me right now, I'm just going to trust that he knows what he's doing and that he'll continue to finish off this campaign with the same level of quality that he's put into it thus far.

In the meantime, I've come up with some interesting things that a group of five heroes working against the Mortal Queen can do to an entire fleet of spelljamming vessels that will be "frozen in time" for the better part of a day....
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Lizard folk in disguise
"Accept, and move on."

I just had a very similar experience. I was the player, and the amount of plot holes and illogical behavior of the scenario outlined bugged me. But I had to take a step back and remember its a game and remind myself that we haven't seen the entire story yet.



PC Roster:
Cramer Appleknocker, gnome cleric 11​
Jhasspok, lizardman 3/barbarian 3/fighter 5​
Khari Hammerslammer, dwarf fighter 11​
Marlo Pendragon, human sorcerer 11​
Utred "Buckets" Butterflinger, dwarf barbarian 11​

Game Session Date: 23 June 2021

- - -

There were a dozen ships floating in the strange emptiness of the Far Realm, each identifiable as belonging to the dark elves of the Underdark city of Overreach, but until now Jhasspok had only ever seen them floating on the Bioluminescent Sea. Having learned how to "fall" in any direction they wanted by simply wishing it, the five former arena slaves checked out each of the vessels in turn. Of course, as soon as Cramer left the first ship - filled with human samurai from the faraway land of Jakura - his find the path spell kicked back in, showing him he was to return to that first vessel, but he had learned from telepathically "talking" with the drow pilot of that vessel, a male drow sorcerer named Dh'aeve, that these ships would remain frozen in time for another day and a half before returning to the Material Plane and having a sense of normal time return to them, so the gnome decided the exploration was worth the risk.

Five of the ships, it turned out, were manned by slaves who'd had the contagion spell cast upon them. They had drow handlers on board, keeping the slaves at bay with long, wooden prods - rather like rakes without the tines - which would be used to toss them overboard once they'd gotten into position over the areas they were to infest. Other ships were filled with drow combatants, presumably ready to strike out against the forces of Greenvale and her surface allies.

Cramer worked hard, praying over his spell selection, for while he had the ability to cast a quite wide variety of spells, there were only a small handful that could be cast during a timeless span and which would then "kick in" when the vessels returned to the Material Plane. After much deliberation, he opted for the following:
  • A symbol of fear at the front of one of the contagion ships, which in theory would cause the panicked slaves to flee back among their drow handlers, hopefully spreading their various diseases among the dark elves
  • A mark of justice upon the brows of two of the other drow "pilots" keeping their individual contagion ships afloat, triggered to cause an irrational fear of piloting a ship when they attempted to do just that (the gnome cleric hoped that might cause the ships to veer widely off course when they re-emerged in the skies above Shadeath, and possibly even plummet to their destruction if the pilots actually fled their magical helms which allowed the ships to fly in the first place)
Jhasspok came up with a means to take out the twenty samurai on the vessel on which they'd be riding home: after borrowing a bucket from Utred, he squatted over it and produced a rather large pellet of solid waste, topped with the white, foamy uric acid that made up the majority of his liquid wastes. This messy concoction was then thoroughly mixed into a paste and liberally applied over the open eyes of the twenty samurai, each frozen between moments in time and unable to be directly affected. But once they ships re-entered the Material Plane and time returned back to its normal flow, Jhasspok assured the others that the men in the "funny-looking armor" would be temporarily blinded - at least for long enough to allow the five adventurers to cut them down without much resistance.

"You're a twisted little freak sometimes, Jhasspok," Khari informed the lizardfolk.

"An' ye can keep that bucket when you're done with it," Utred advised Jhasspok. "I got plenty others - I don't really want that one back. Seriously."

As a final addition to their plans, they "fell" through the sky back to the odd structure they'd left earlier, but only to lug the slain bodies of as many of the odd spidery creatures they'd encountered and slain; to the drow, the spider was a symbol of Lolth, their primary Demon-Goddess - and Cramer assured them the "sudden appearance" (from their frame of view) of dead spiders aboard each of the drow vessels would be seen as an omen of the very worst sort. "Demoralization might count for something," the gnome cleric suggested hopefully.

"I think we're getting close to returning to normal time," Marlo observed, pointing directly in front of the floating ship of samurai. There, a black opening was forming, irising open wider and wider at a speed too slow to actually track. But the ship was lined up to enter directly into it, assuming it was big enough to encompass the vessel by the time it got that far.

"Everybody get ready!" Cramer called to the others. Khari, Jhasspok, and Utred went to the back of the main deck, directly behind the Jakuran samurai. Marlo stood behind Dh'aeve, her arcane blade out and ready to threaten the drow spellcaster if he tried anything. Cramer stood on the rooftop of the back of the ship, directly above Dh'aeve and Marlo and began casting the spells he wanted to have already affecting him when they returned to the Material Plane - which looked to be any second now, for the hole in front of the vessel was now irising open at a speed that could be seen and the ship was noticeably moving forward. He cast a longstrider spell upon himself and three shield of faith spells upon the lizardfolk and the two dwarves. Marlo cast a Rary's telepathic bond spell upon the group of five heroes. As an added precaution, the little gnome activated his ring of invisibility and faded from view.

With a lurch, the ship leaped forward and suddenly the strangeness of the Far Realm was replaced with the comfortably orthodox view of a blue sky streaked with fluffy, white clouds. There was a forest and roadways below; directly below, some hundred feet or so, was the familiar outline of the Crossroad Keep, a structure the heroes had stayed in before. But the pleasant view was interrupted by the sudden shrieks of startled samurai, who clawed at their eyes and a few of whom started retching involuntarily.

On the rooftops of the keep's buildings below, elven archers turned inwards above them and raised their bows; they'd naturally been expecting an attack from somewhere outside the keep, not directly above it. Inside the four towers at each corner of the Keep, the wizards stationed within snarled in fury, for the magical defenses had likewise been positioned for an attack to the keep's exterior, not above it. The scorching ray spells the tower's defenses could bring to bear against the enemy would only be useful if the ship would fly off to one side of the building, something it seemed unwilling to do - whatever magic allowed it to suddenly appear in the skies above were likewise keeping it from drifting off to either side.

With a grin, Khari began mowing his way through the blinded samurai directly before him, the first swing of his warhammer crushing the man's skull and the follow-up strike knocking him over the side of the floating vessel. The dwarven fighter expected to hear the man's screams as he plummeted to his death, but instead a thin, metal chain around one ankle began glowing and the samurai floated down safely to the ground below, a one-shot feather fall spell kicking in as the man left the side of the vessel. (Of course, in this case it was a moot point, for the man was already dead, his skull having been caved in despite the elaborate helmet he wore.)

Utred had planned on mowing his way through the samurai before him with his greataxe as well, but right before the ship exited the Far Realm he realized he'd be able to get a whole bunch of them with one of the beads from his necklace of fireballs. Plucking forth a bead, he threw it into the air and watched as the resulting explosion caught a full eight of the samurai in the very front of the flying vessel. The dwarven barbarian's only regret was that he'd already used up his more powerful beads, leaving behind only his weaker versions that burned up the lot of the eight Jakuran warriors but didn't manage to slay any of them outright.

Suddenly, down below on one of the rooftops of the Keep, a black-robed figure in among the rest of the elven defensive forces lowered his hood, revealing the unmistakable, four-tentacled face of N'zorthal, the illithid Administer of Discipline for House Jalamir - and, more importantly, a secret adherent of the Dying One, the mind flayer's Elder God whose tentacles made up the Writhing Gates allowing for teleportation among the world of Shadeath. Shouting his exultation telepathically to all around him, he cried, <They have arrived! The time of awakening is here! Master, take of my body and walk the world once more!>

With these words, a sudden realization overcame Cramer and Marlo. Recalling that the last time they had seen N'zorthal was when they had rescued him from an attempt by the Mortal Queen to summon an avatar to attack Greenvale, Cramer advanced his concerns over the telepathic link - once again causing Jhasspok to cry out in alarm at the sudden voice in his head - that they had only assumed it was to have been an avatar of Lolth the drow would have summoned.

<Why would the Mortal Queen summon an avatar of the Dying One?> Marlo asked over the link.

<Not sure, but no time to worry about it - that avatar's our biggest worry right now! Definitely a bigger threat than these poop-blinded samurai! Everyone: we've got to stop N'zorthal!>

Marlo slipped the arcane blade back into its sheath at her hip and stepped away from Dh'aeve. She cast an invisibility spell upon herself as she leaped over the side of the floating vessel, using her boots of levitation to slow her fall as she landed gracefully on a rooftop below. Streams of vomit streaked by her as the samurai above succumbed to having had lizardfolk wastes rubbed onto their eyeballs. Another one fell overboard as a result of his violet thrashings, the feather fall ankle bracelet lowering him down at a safe and steady pace. Unbeknownst to the heroes, this was actually Lord Shirimono, the leader of the samurai troop - a man who had been slain earlier in his own lands but returned to life by those for whom he pledged his loyalty and his service.

Khari frightened Marlo when she saw him suddenly plummet to the earth below; she'd feared he'd likewise fallen off the side of the ship and was about to meet a messy death on the ground a hundred feet below. But he had his earthglide warhammer gripped firmly in his hands, and when his body reached the ground the earth simply opened up beneath him and embraced him as it would a long-lost friend, slowing his fall and returning him unharmed to the surface above in a matter of mere seconds. Rising up from the ground with his weapon in hand, Khari Hammerslammer approached the building upon the roof of which stood N'zorthal.

Cramer called for Utred to duck down and as the barbarian bent to comply, the invisible gnome leaped off the roof at the back of the ship and landed on the dwarf's shoulders, imbuing him with a fly spell as he took his position sitting upon Utred's backpack. "Fly down to N'zorthal!" Cramer commanded.

"What about Jhasspok?" Utred called back as he pushed a blinded samurai out of his way and lifted a booted foot over the side of the vessel. Utred knew the lizardfolk weighed a ton and it was unlikely even he would be able to carry them both at one time.

Cramer answered Utred by calling out to Jhasspok, "Grab one of the samurai and leap over the side of the ship! He'll float you down to safety!" Jhasspok merely nodded his understanding, pulling his battleaxe from the back of the samurai he'd just slain. He wasn't sure why taking a samurai with him was necessary, especially not after the gnome had already shown him how to fly in the Far Realm by simply deciding which way was down, but he shrugged and accepted it as some weird way magic worked or something - there was really no making sense of it and the practical lizardfolk had long since given up trying to do so. Grabbing an enemy before leaping off the side of the ship and flying down to N'zorthal seemed like it had an extra, unnecessary step, but so be it.

Astonished at having a mind flayer appear among them, the elven archers lining the Crossroad Keep released their arrows at N'zorthal. Surprisingly, some of them actually seemed to do some damage, even as the illithid's entire body seemed to swell with an unearthly energy. Utred landed softly on a building across the way from where the mind flayer stood, the invisible cleric of Fharlanghn still perched upon his backpack. His greataxe was in his hands and he prepared himself for a flying dash across the building rooftops towards his foe.

But N'zorthal - or rather, the intellect of Uboros currently inhabiting his body - had other plans. <Come to me, we have much to discuss!> he called out to the heroes, snapping two of his facial tentacles together.

Instantly, time froze all around the heroes just as it had on the dozen Overreach ships in the Far Realm. Only the five heroes and N'zorthal were unaffected. Cramer, Utred, and Marlo each noticed an uncontrolled flinch from the mind flayer as he caused the time stop effect, as if using this much power was causing his mortal form some amount of pain. Furthermore, it looked as if the illithid's four facial tentacles were each splitting down their lengths; before long, there would be eight tentacles instead of the standard four. Cramer assumed this was merely a slow-motion transformation into the Dying One's normal full hundred tentacles sprouting from his squidlike face.

With a wave of his hand, a table and seating for six appeared in the courtyard of the Crossroad Keep. One chair was built like a throne; the illithid floated down to that seat and took it for himself. Of the other seats, four were standard chairs and the last was more of a stool - and better suited for a lizardfolk with a powerful tail jutting out behind him. <It is in your best interests to at least hear me out,> Uboros warned the heroes.

Somewhat apprehensive of taking on the avatar of an actual deity, the party hesitantly agreed to listen to what the Elder God had to say. Upon Cramer's orders, Utred flew up to the ship to go fetch Jhasspok, who was having a frustrating time trying to grab one of the samurai like Cramer had said and leap over the side of the ship - the strangely-armored man was back to being like a statue again and no matter how Jhasspok struggled he couldn't even get the samurai to budge from his current position. "Never mind, Jhasspok," Utred said, flying over to the lizardfolk and grabbing him under his arms. "Let's go see what the squid-head has to say."

Once everyone was in position - with weapons still in hand if not actively threatening the Elder God's avatar - Uboros informed them, rather nonchalantly, <Death itself is painless. Dying, however, is agony. Dying for eternities beyond unimaginable. You seek my death, and I welcome it. I can aid and guide you, if you'll but swear a pact to do your utmost to bring about my death. The death of my true form, not merely this avatar. You need not answer out loud.>

But Cramer recalled the prophecies about the Dying One's plans, especially the one about having a giant, tentacled worm eat the Dying One's brain and thus gain all of his knowledge and power for itself - a means by which Uboros was to "eat himself to become himself." Looking up at the tentacled menace before him, the little gnome asked, "What about your 'rebirth,' though?"

<Need you concern yourself about that?> the Dying One asked Cramer as a means of reply. But that wasn't all Uboros was doing - he was simultaneously having five different private mental conversations with each of the heroes, offering them all sorts of benefits if they'd only swear undying allegiance to him. Before Marlo he dangled the opportunities of nearly unlimited spellcasting power, a level far beyond that of most mortal spellcasters. To Utred he sent images of the dwarf filled to the brim with vitality, wading his way through dozens of enemies and hardly even noticing the slight wounds that made it past his defenses. Khari was treated to a similar vision of his own dwarven body rippling with muscles, swinging his earthglide warhammer with enough power to bring down a castle wall. Cramer's mental visions were similar to Marlo's with the gnome's mind opened to such an extent he'd be able to cast a far greater number of spells than any gnome cleric before him.

With Jhasspok, he didn't bother with anything more extensive than the image of the lizardfolk sitting before a vast pile of fish, more than he could ever eat in one sitting.

"But I thought you were going to destroy the world," Jhasspok argued aloud, the fact having stuck somewhere in the deep recesses of his reptilian brain. Try as he might, he couldn't see the point of having all the fish you could eat if there was no world left to live in while you were doing so.

<All things must eventually come to an end,> Uboros countered. <The question you must ask yourself is: which side do you want to be on? Surely it makes more sense to be allied with the one wielding the power to destroy a world, rather than striving futilely against him?>

"Well..." Jhasspok began, thinking how best to make his argument. But words were hard: there were so many of them and you had to string them in just the right way for them to make any sense. Then he figured out the best way to make his point, leaping from his stool and bringing his battleaxe crashing down upon the avatar's head, nearly severing a tentacle in the process - although it was possible it was just continuing the self-dividing process that was still ongoing; N'zorthal's stolen body now sported at least two dozen of the facial appendages.

Khari's intellectual capacities were about at the same level as Jhasspok's; neither was particularly known for their brilliant insights. But each well knew the importance of standing by one's friends, so when the dwarven fighter saw his lizardfolk pal engaged in a battle far, far out of his league Khari didn't hesitate for a moment before earthgliding below the ground, only to pop up behind the Elder God's throne and bring his warhammer crashing down upon his bald skull. Utred dashed forward and attacked the Elder God as well, getting in a solid blow with his greataxe. But he was brought into battle as much by the avatar's promises of personal power and his stated desire for his own true death as by the unvoiced requirements of dwarven brotherhood.

<Excellent! It has been so long since I experienced true combat!> exulted Uboros as he stood from his throne and focused his attention on Cramer, still seated across the table from him. The avatar hardly noticed as Jhasspok and the two dwarves each swung at his body with their assorted weapons, his entire mental focus centered on the massive blast of a psionic energy ray that speared across at the gnome, enveloping his body in unearthly fires. The gnome only had a split second by which to counter with his last-ditch effort - a quickened cure minor wounds spell that stoked the very last ember of life force still left in his little body after the brutal attack - and collapsed to the ground, smoke rising from his scorched form.

Marlo cast an empowered lightning bolt spell across the table at Uboros and surprised herself at how effective an attack it was. Jhasspok and Utred continued their assaults upon the avatar's form with their axes and Khari did likewise with his warhammer, until Uboros swiveled in position and blasted the Hammerslammer dwarf with the same type of energy ray that had felled Cramer. But this apparently wasn't as direct a hit, for though Khari buckled temporarily from the pain of the mental assault he still remained standing, his grip tightened on his weapon and his teeth gritted in determination.

But flakes of skin were erupting from Uboros's body as the unearthly energies of an Elder God burned their way through the mortal form of N'zorthal, a frail vessel indeed to hold such power for long. Jhasspok darted forth, slashing with his weapon and snapping with his teeth, ending up with a mouthful of ashes as the mind flayer's body burned its way all the way through and dissipated into nothingness as the Elder God's delighted cackling echoed through the heroes' minds. Upon the death of the avatar, time started flowing all around the heroes once again and astonished elven archers wondered aloud how the five heroes had suddenly made it down below into the courtyard, around a table and six seats that hadn't been there a mere moment ago. They watched in puzzlement as Marlo leaped to the side of the table, unstoppering a healing potion from her belt and lifting it to Cramer's lips, coaxing the life-giving fluid down the gnome's broken body. The meager contents of the elixir were at least enough to rise the gnome to full wakefulness, where he insisted on taking care of the rest of the business at hand.

And quite frankly, after having taken down the avatar of an illithid Elder God, slaying the remaining blinded samurai on the floating ship above was child's play.

"Is N'zorthal dead?" Cramer wanted to know, having been unconscious during the avatar's sudden demise. Marlo assured him that he had been burned to ashes from within. "Bugger," complained the gnome cleric. "I wanted to kill him myself. Oh well."

Having watched the party's progress through the magical sensors of his flying ship, Dh'aeve agreed to join their side. He had his own reasons for hating the Mortal Queen and saw the five former House Jalamir arena slaves before him as his best method of extracting his revenge against her.

"Listen up," he advised. "I think I know a way we can take down the Mortal Queen, once and for all, if you're interested."

It turned out they were.

- - -

So, some interesting things came about as a result of this adventure (and the previous one), things that the players are all aware of but not all of the PCs know about. Not surprisingly, Marlo took Uboros up on his offer and as a result her Charisma has been increased to a whopping 26! Also, when she checked on her toad familiar Truffles, who had spent the entire adventure in a pocket of her robes (as is normal for him when he's not otherwise needed), she found him covered in tentacles - apparently exposure to the otherworldly energies of the Far Realm has mutated him (as he hadn't been given a headband to ward off the effects of the plane like Marlo and the other four PCs had received), granting him the pseudonatural template.

But more of a surprise was that Utred took Uboros up on his offer as well, lured to the "dark side" by the siren call of a 26 Constitution. So we'll have to see how this plays out, as Cramer, Khari, and Jhasspok are now the only ones to have turned down the Dying One's offer, and neither of them are aware of the fact that Marlo and Utred have apparently joined up with the illithid Elder God we're prophesied to slay. At this point, I'm just hoping that they're both just trying to "play" Uboros, taking him up on his offer but betraying him at the last minute when the tentacled worm comes to "devour Uboros to become Uboros." Joey's already having second thoughts about Utred's agreement, but I cautioned him that Elder Gods generally are strict adherents to the concept of "no takesie-backsies." Now I've got Joey worried that Utred's going to start growing tentacles out of his butt or something.
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PC Roster:
Cramer Appleknocker, gnome cleric 12​
Jhasspok, lizardman 3/barbarian 3/fighter 6​
Khari Hammerslammer, dwarf fighter 12​
Marlo Pendragon, human sorcerer 12​
Utred "Buckets" Butterflinger, dwarf barbarian 12​

Game Session Date: 30 June 2021

- - -

"We're almost there," Dh'aeve told the others.

Dh'aeve Falmakyorl sat at the helm powering the spelljamming vessel and keeping it in flight. After the invasion of the surface world had ended up with some surprising reversals - not least of which was the sudden crashing of two of the flying ships filled with contagion-laden slaves when their pilots apparently abandoned their helms in mid-flight - the Mortal Queen had made some immediate changes. First of all, each vessel now required a backup pilot standing by at all times to take over the helm should something happen to the primary pilot. These ships were expensive, not easily replaced, and were the only means by which the Mortal Queen, Llolnida Alyxyra Bel'vior, would lead 300 of her most loyal followers to a new world, abandoning this one to the Dying One - whose return to the Material Plane would likely lay waste to the entire planet.

This edict applied to all drow spelljamming vessels, even the flagship, which the Mortal Queen entrusted none to pilot but herself. Standing beside her was Matron Falmakyorl, leader of the Second House of Overreach, Falmakyorl being the Noble House responsible for the Overreach Navy. Unknown to the Mortal Queen, Matron Falmakyorl was a drow purist who despised Llolnida Alyxyra Bel'vior's half-fiend nature, viewing her as unfit to be a House Matron let alone the self-professed Queen of the Drow. She was currently under a Rary's telepathic bond spell linking her to her nephew, Dh'aeve, and filling him in on everything going on in the vicinity of the flagship's magical helm. As far as the Mortal Queen was aware, Matron Falmakyorl's presence there was merely as her backup pilot should she need to replace Llolnida at the spelljamming helm; she had no idea the House Matron was equally willing to relieve her of her duties as Queen of the Drow and step into that role as well.

Dh'aeve was piloting his own ship to rendezvous with the flagship, for the Mortal Queen had summoned the entire remaining fleet to her, floating over the mountains to the northwest of hated Greenvale. The surface city of expatriate drow had survived the recent attack, in no small part due to the alliances made with their surface-world neighbors. Standing on the ship's open deck were the five former arena slaves of House Jalamir, now free citizens of Overreach's Third House and the ones responsible for many of those alliances. A small group of drow soldiers stood among them, although a veil spell cast upon the five heroes by the Archmage Xiandria Jalamir gave them each the appearance of a drow as well. The original plan was for the smaller vessel to get within boarding distance of the flagship, at which time all ten passengers would leap aboard and the real drow soldiers would keep the Mortal Queen's drow allies at bay on board the flagship's main deck while the heroes fought their way into the back room of the vessel, giving them a chance to take out the Mortal Queen as she sat at the ship's helm.

However, as Dh'aeve brought his ship into position, the heroes greatly altered the plan. Getting information directly from Matron Falmakyorl herself over the telepathic link, it seemed a much better approach was for Cramer to teleport the group directly to the Mortal Queen's helm room - that way, there would be only the Mortal Queen and her two bodyguards, her own trusted niece and nephew, to contend with - Matron Falmakyorl would be there as well, of course, but she would not raise a finger in the protection of her alleged superior. Best of all, as the helm of the flagship was in an enclosed room in the back of the vessel, nobody would see the heroes' attack but those inside the room with them.

"It'd be even better if you cast a silence spell on me," suggested Utred. "That way, none of them would be able to cast any spells."

"The Mortal Queen can't cast any spells in any case," pointed out Cramer. "Powering a spelljamming helm drains the pilot of the ability to cast spells for a full 24 hours." Dh'aeve acknowledged that this was true. "And anyway, if I cast a silence spell on you, then I can't cast the teleport spell and bring you along with, which defeats the whole purpose."

"So cast it on me after we show up in the room with her," Utred argued.

"We'll want to teleport in and hit them hard and fast before they have much of a chance to react," Marlo countered. "However...." An idea had suddenly popped into her head. She unfolded the bag of holding in which the group stored their communal property. "What if we cast the silence spell on you and then you hopped into the bag? I could hold the opening shut long enough for us to teleport over, then open it as soon as we got there and you could pop out. The silent effect would only affect the bag's interior while you were inside, so Cramer could still cast his spell to get us over there...."

"I like it!" enthused the gnome.

"But what about us?" asked the leader of the small band of drow soldiers who had planned on storming the deck of the flagship.

"New plan," Cramer informed them. "Dh'aeve pilots us into position - anywhere I can get a good view of the doors to the flagship's helm room - and then we pop over there. You guys just stay here as if we're docking and awaiting the Mortal Queen's further instructions."

"Better get to whatever spellcasting you want to do," advised Dh'aeve. "I can see the rest of the fleet ahead. And don't bother trying invisibility or anything, as the helm room's covered in a true seeing effect - your drow disguises will be suppressed while you're in there."

Marlo and Cramer each cast a magic circle against evil spell upon themselves, always a good plan when going up against drow. Marlo cast a Rary's telepathic bond spell upon the five heroes. All but Utred received a shield of faith spell, the entire quintet received the benefits of a mass bear's endurance spell, and Cramer beefed himself up with spells of spell resistance, longstrider, death ward, and righteous might, the latter spell doubling the height of the three-and-a-half-foot tall gnome until he towered even over Jhasspok.

"A giant gnome," muttered Khari. "Now I've seen everything."

As Dh'aeve brought the ship floating to a halt above and to the side of the flagship, Cramer looked down, found the doors he'd be using as a focal point for his teleport spell, and cast the silence spell on Utred as planned. The dwarven barbarian stepped into the bag of holding Marlo held open for him, taking in a deep breath before she closed the bag shut. Then she nodded at the giant gnome cleric, Cramer cast his final spell, and the five were suddenly gone from the ship.

Teleporting into the flagship's helm room, all was as Matron Falmakyorl had described it over the Rary's telepathic bond spell to her nephew: the Mortal Queen sat at the ship's helm towards the back of the room, her senses focused on the area all around the outside of her floating vessel. The Matron of the Second Noble House of Overreach stood behind her and to one side, ready to sit at the ship's helm should the Mortal Queen abandon her post. And to either side of the Mortal Queen stood her bodyguards: a female anti-paladin of Lolth, Fiovia Bel'vior, before her to her left and a duskblade, Aravian Bel'vior, before her to her right. The five heroes stood directly in front of the heavy wooden doors that led out to the flagship's upper deck surface, lined up in two rows with the hand-to-hand combatants in the front and the two spellcasters in the back.

As the drow (with the notable exception of Matron Falmakyorl) gasped in surprise and shock at the sudden appearance of the odd group, Khari took off in a charge at his nearest foe, Fiovia. Despite not being able to use the earthglide function of his magical warhammer, the weapon did just fine as a blunt instrument and the dwarven fighter sent the female drow reeling from the blow to the side of the head he gave her before she could raise any defenses.

At almost the same time, Marlo opened the bag of holding and silence suddenly engulfed the room. That, she knew, would prevent not only their enemies but also her and Cramer from casting any further spells for the duration of the fight, but they'd already cast all of the preparatory spells they wanted to have active and their drow enemies presumably had had no such warning that such preparations were necessary. Plus, the group had no idea of just what spells the Mortal Queen's bodyguards might be capable of or how dependent they might be on spellcasting in battle, whereas she and Cramer both had martial weapons they could use in a fight.

But silence wasn't the only thing spilling out from Marlo's bag of holding; with an unheard combat yell, Utred charged out of the bag and struck at the Mortal Queen with the flaming hellsteel greataxe he'd taken as a trophy from Dwarven Hell when they'd rescued the Mithral Mage. The fire from his weapon's axe-blade seemed to do little damage to the half-fiend drow, but the blade itself did plenty; Utred would have loved to hear the silent scream of pain and fury spilling from the Mortal Queen's lips at being struck down in her own imagined place of safety and power.

Jhasspok rushed at the duskblade, snapping at him with his sharp teeth as well as swinging his own battleaxe with all of his considerable strength. Seven-foot-tall Cramer followed a parallel path to Utred's, although his swing with his double-sized light mace missed the Mortal Queen's head, likely because he was unused to fighting from a position of this great height. But Llolnida was already slashing her demon-claws at Utred, who'd had the audacity to strike her divine form with a base weapon forged by devils! Her mouth opened and closed rapidly, no doubt spouting out a constant stream of Drow and Abyssal obscenities that were absorbed unvoiced by the silence effect.

Now over her initial surprise at this unexpected attack, Fiovia channeled forth the unholy power of her demon-goddess patroness and sent it flowing through her weapon, striking its blade against Khari's shoulder. The dwarf responded almost instantly with a rapid series of hammer-strikes of his own, dropping her down to one knee. Marlo finished her off with a snap of her life-flame whip, striking the drow anti-paladin in the face and causing her to fall over, well into unconsciousness.

Jhasspok continued with his unrelenting battleaxe strikes, cutting through the duskblade Aravian's armor and deep into his flesh with each strike. The drow's rapier barely scratched the lizardfolk's scales when he tried to give back as good as he had gotten. But then Utred found himself uncharacteristically impotent in battle; after his initial charge his blade seemed unable to make contact with the wily Mortal Queen, try as he might. Fortunately, Cramer was there to pick up the barbarian's unexpected slack; he got in a good couple of whacks with his mace, causing the Mortal Queen to reassess the oversized gnome as her currently most dangerous threat. She sliced at him with her demon-claws...and found herself in the same boat as Utred, missing by a large margin. Cramer just grinned down mockingly at her.

Deprived of his most recent foe, Khari charged at the Mortal Queen, striking her with his warhammer while she twisted at the helm to claw ineffectually at Cramer. Marlo's whip snapped over at the drow leader as well, but its tip struck only the air between the Mortal Queen's upraised horns. Jhasspok made quick work of the duskblade and turned to face the Mortal Queen as well. His battleaxe slashed out, slicing through the armor of the woman's right thigh. Blood pooled up at the wound.

Desperately, the Mortal Queen slashed out at the enemies surrounding her, making brief eye contact with Matron Falmakyorl, whose only contribution to the fight was to take a step to her right to get out of the way of Jhasspok's swinging tail as he spun to bring his battleaxe into an overhead swing down at Llolnida. Eventually, it was Khari's earthglide warhammer that made the killing blow and the Mortal Queen slumped off the side of the spelljamming helm. Only then did Matron Falmakyorl spring into action, kicking the body of her erstwhile leader to the side and leaping onto the helm, positioning herself in place to see to its stability before it could fall from the sky.

Marlo coiled her life-flame whip at her hip and drew her other weapon, the arcane blade. Cramer dismissed the silence effect as Marlo put her blade to good use.

"I think it's time to let the rest of them know," Cramer told Marlo, opening the double doors from the helm room.

Marlo strode regally through the open doors, pushing her way past a pair of female drow bodyguards supposedly preventing anyone from entering the helm room. They were astonished that some drow woman had made it past them - for now outside of the helm room and its true seeing effect, Marlo was once more covered in Archmage Xiandria's veil spell - but even more astonished by what she held in her hands.

Marlo didn't hold it for long, though. Tossing the decapitated head of Llolnida Alyxyra Bel'vior onto the deck, Marlo called out in a loud voice, "The so-called Mortal Queen is dead! Stand down and bow before your new queen: Matron Falmakyorl!"

Sudden new leadership wasn't anything to which the drow were unaccustomed; they acknowledged the reality of the new situation surprisingly fast. The five heroes boarded Dh'aeve's vessel and the five drow soldiers who had been on board - originally to have been an assault force - were sent to the flagship to be the voice of their new queen. In the meantime, Dh'aeve flew the heroes back to Greenvale, filling them in on some of the new queen's edicts as he piloted the ship to its destination. Apparently the members of House Bel'vior were to be reduced to slave status. And Matron Falmakyorl planned to continue the Mortal Queen's evacuation plan, only with herself as the queen of the new world they would eventually settle upon. There was still only room for 300 of the most loyal drow on the spelljamming vessels, but now "loyalty" had to be reassessed to mean those who had been loyal to House Falmakyorl, not to that half-breed abomination who had self-importantly elevated herself above all drow. And as far as having Lolth's support in all of this, the new queen's best argument was that the Demon-Queen of Spiders had allowed events to unfold as they had - and who would dare argue against that?

"Things will be tense in the Overreach for a while while the Houses fill the power vacuum left behind by the evacuated Houses," Dh'aeve surmised. "With House Bel'vior revoked and most of the House Falmakyorl leadership departing, that will likely leave House Jalamir as the strongest contender for First House." There was a good chance House Ky'hulcressen, currently the Eighth House and lowest of the Noble Houses, would be elevated in station and several of the smaller Houses would finally be able to jockey for Noble status.

That all worked fine for Cramer; with House Jalamir in charge, they'd be able to put more effort into uncovering the mysteries of the prophecies concerning the five heroes. They'd already come to the conclusion there might be a better way to prevent the end of the world rather than either of the three prophecies to which they'd already been introduced, for according to the book found in the Far Realm, of the 10 anchors (also known as Writhing Gates) that tethered the Dying One to the Material Plane, only seven were needed for him to come through. Since one gate was apparently already broken, if the group could figure out how to destroy three more gates, it wouldn't matter if a neothelid went through one of the gates and became the new Uboros, as it wouldn't be able to return to the Material Plane and therefore wouldn't be able to destroy the world.

"Good," Jhasspok agreed. "I don't want the world to be destroyed."

"And I'd just as soon not have to fight a giant worm if we don't have to," added Khari.

Unfortunately, the Greenvale scholars had no leads on where the other nine gates were located, as the illithid names for them in the book were meaningless to them. "It's like if they called Greenvale by a different name in their language, we'd know they were talking about a place by that specific name but we'd have no idea it was Greenvale they were referring to," explained one of the scholars.

"So how are going to track them down?" asked Cramer.

"Maybe we should ask a mind flayer," Jhasspok suggested.

"Jhasspok, with N'zorthal dead we don't have access to any mind flayers," Cramer chided the lizardfolk.

Jhasspok merely shrugged his scaly shoulders. "But wouldn't it be easier to find a mind flayer than to find the Writhing Gates?" he countered. "There's probably a lot more of them."

Cramer opened his mouth to argue, but then closed it as he thought. Rubbing his beard he mused, "Easier? Probably. But as for less dangerous, I don't think so. Still...."

- - -

Poor Joe's dice abandoned him after his initial attack on the Mortal Queen. And I felt bad for Logan, for he had intended us to have to fight our way past five drow bodyguards and an 11th-level evoker to even get into the helm room to fight the Mortal Queen and her niece and nephew. That was a lot of stat work that never got used. Likewise for any spell decisions he'd made for the anti-paladin and the duskblade, since our silence stratagem rendered any further spellcasting useless. But that's the way it goes sometimes, and any shortening of the adventure by cutting down the number of combat enemies we had to face was no doubt eaten up by Dan, as he took a solid 20 minutes to decide on which spells Cramer would prep for the session and then another 20 minutes or so deciding which ones to cast on us immediately before battle. (Of course, a lot of the latter was spent by Logan updating our armor classes and "floating" hit points and such on his PC tracking sheet.)

Not unexpectedly, we leveled up to 13th level at the end of this adventure, breaking a new record by only spending one adventure at 12th level. I don't think we've ever done that in any of our previous campaigns.
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PC Roster:
Cramer Appleknocker, gnome cleric 13​
Jhasspok, lizardman 3/barbarian 3/fighter 7​
Khari Hammerslammer, dwarf fighter 13​
Marlo Pendragon, human sorcerer 13​
Utred "Buckets" Butterflinger, dwarf barbarian 13​

Game Session Date: 4 August 2021

- - -

With a slap, the severed dwarven hand landed on the stone surface of the floor, drawing the attention of the figures in the room there.

"What's that?" asked Cramer, looking over at the pillar in which the Greenvale end of the Shadow Gate was situated. Looking down at the floor, he saw the severed hand and noted it held clenched in its grip a rolled-up sheet of parchment. He went to pick it up off the floor, noting the blood still dripping from the wrist; the hand had been severed recently, by the look of it. There was no one else in the room with the five adventurers but a small handful of Greenvale scholars; the hand had apparently been sent through the Shadow Gate.

Jhasspok turned to look at the hand as well, although he didn't particularly care what was on the parchment - it wasn't as if he could read any words that might be printed there, in any case - but rather was drawn by the intoxicating bouquet of the scent of fresh blood. Knowing his friends' general squeamishness about such things, he was fairly certain nobody else was going to want to eat the severed hand but him.

"What does it say?" Marlo asked as Cramer pulled the parchment from between the fingers of the severed hand. As Jhasspok had anticipated, the gnome cleric left the hand lying there on the floor and focused his attention on the writing on the sheet of paper. The lizardfolk sidled over, scooped up the discarded dwarven hand, and ambled back over to where he'd been standing. He waited until the others had gathered around Cramer before enjoying his snack, to avoid disturbing his friends at the sight of him devouring the hand - mammals could be so squeamish about such things!

"It's in Dwarven," the gnome noted. Indeed, Dwarven runes covered both sides of the sheet of paper and with his magical helm Cramer was able to read at least one side of it. "Some kind of instructions to find 'The Keeper of the Key,' whoever that is," he said. "The other side uses Dwarven runes as well, but it's magical writing - my helm can't translate that." He passed the sheet of parchment over to Marlo, who cast a read magic spell before looking over the back side of the sheet.

"Whatcha eatin'?" Khari asked the lizardfolk, after having already lost interest in whatever the piece of paper might say.

"Nothing," replied Jhasspok, swallowing down the remains of the dwarven hand, which was technically true - he wasn't eating anything right now, for he had already finished his unexpected snack. Khari shrugged to himself and looked back at the others, leaving Jhasspok to lick any last traces of blood from his scaled mouth with his forked tongue.

Marlo read aloud the translated runes: "Focus runes inward and instructions will follow."

Utred and Khari shared confused glances. "That mean anything to you?" the burly barbarian asked. Khari shrugged and shook his head. "Nah, me neither," Utred admitted. He turned to Cramer and asked, "So what does that mean?"

"I'm not quite sure," Cramer admitted. He held the parchment at arm's length and tried focusing inward, eventually crossing his eyes in concentration. Nothing happened.

Marlo tried holding the runes up to her forehead and concentrating on them. Nothing happened.

Jhasspok suggested that maybe "focusing inward" meant eating the paper the runes were printed on but nobody wanted to try his suggestion. He likewise lost interest. Eventually, Marlo and Cramer decided to leave the parchment with the scholars there in Greenvale, while they pressed on with their own agenda: finding a mind flayer who could read The Book of Uboros and hopefully translate the locations of the nine other Writhing Gates. Marlo and Cramer had both read the book but the locations meant nothing to them; the gnome had explained it was as if the illithids referred to Greenvale as "the sun-drenched city" in their writings instead of the name the sunborn drow (and other surface dwellers) called it - they could translate the words in the book but they didn't mean anything to them. Hopefully, a mind flayer could translate the locations of the other Writhing Gates so the group could see what they could do about shutting them down. In fact, of the ten total, one of them was already supposed to be destroyed, so if the heroes could destroy three more there wouldn't be enough left for the Dying One to use to return to the Material Plane, for doing so required a minimum of seven gates - and making the transition with less than all ten of the Writhing Gates would destroy the world.

And the one mind flayer ally they'd had, N'zorthal, the Administer of Discipline for House Jalamir, had given his body up as an avatar of the Dying One. The heroes had been forced to slay him while defending the Crossroad Keep during the drow invasion of the surface world. Now they needed another mind flayer, and hopefully a friendly one more interested in helping to defeat one of its own Elder Gods than eating the brains of the heroes destined to save the world from catastrophe.

Fortunately, the sunborn drow scholars of Greenvale were able to help them on their current quest. "We know of a mind flayer colony called Tardinessk," offered a drow scholar with bright green hair tied in an elegant ponytail. "It is a trek of several weeks through dark tunnels from the Overreach. However Lauren's divinations suggest a faster way to get there is to find the temple of the abandoned sun in the city of Durnhill."

"Durnhill?" asked Utred, recognizing the name. "We been there?"

"We skirted around it, mostly," Cramer replied. "But that's where we first found Lauren and saved her from that pair with all the elementals trying to kill her." He turned to Lauren, whose face was covered in the tattoos that suppressed all magic but divinations. "So there's an abandoned temple in Durnhill that will lead us to the mind flayers?" he asked. "Hopefully friendly ones?"

Lauren nodded and explained that "Durnhill" was the name not only of the entire kingdom but its major city as well. "We will teleport you about an hour's walk from the city gates," she said, "for there is some kind of magical protection preventing anyone from teleporting directly into the city itself. But I have two further bits of advice. First, beware the pale lady, for she has connections to the evil wizard responsible for the rune-marks upon my face. And second, I would have the lizardfolk wear your hat of disguise while within the city."

Utred pulled the magical hat from his pack and passed it over to Jhasspok. "Here," he said. "Make yourself look like somebody who won't attract no attention inside a mostly-human city." Jhasspok put the unwelcome head covering on the top of his head - it wriggled and altered shape to do so, to accommodate the lizardfolk's crest running down from the top of his head along his spine - and promptly took on the semblance of an ogre.

"No, too big, too scary-looking," chided Utred.

"It's a mammal," argued Jhasspok.

"Smaller," insisted Utred.

Jhasspok sighed and altered his appearance to look like a dwarf. After all, his two closest associates among the quintet of heroes were Khari and Utred, dwarves both, as neither of the three of them had any spellcasting power and relied on the more dependable power of the strength of their limbs and the deadliness of their weapons. "There," he said. The dwarves nodded their approval while Jhasspok idly swatted at the illusory beard apparently growing out from all sides of the lower half of his face. He could see it sticking out in his peripheral vision - how did his friends deal with constantly having the equivalent of a small shrub growing out of their faces? Weird!

After having been given directions to Durnhill, the group of five was teleported across the miles from Greenvale and set about on their path - just a human, a gnome, and three dwarves walking to the big city to make their fortunes, should anyone ask. They were allowed entry into the city - after Marlo advised Jhasspok to remain quiet and let her and Cramer do the talking for the group - and were soon wandering its streets, looking about for an abandoned temple of the sun. However, a shop caught Cramer's eye and he popped inside for a quick purchase.

"What's he want in there?" asked Utred, reading the sign on the door. "It looks like it sells...pets?" But Cramer was soon back out with the group, smiling to himself and carrying a sack containing his new purchases in one hand. The sack bulged and wriggled.

"Dare I ask?" Marlo inquired, but Cramer ignored her, turning to face Jhasspok instead, still magically disguised as a dwarf.

"Hey, Jhasspok, do you still want to eat Truffles?" he asked. The dwarf's eyebrows shot up as Jhasspok spun his head in eager anticipation. "Then catch!" the gnome called out, tossing a toad from his sack over at the disguised lizardfolk. Jhasspok caught the toad and popped it into his mouth, as Marlo gave a stifled scream and put her hand in the pocket of her robe, immediately reassured by the comforting touch of Truffles' tentacle-covered body.

Jhasspok was halfway through devouring his snack when he remembered what Marlo had told him months earlier about toads bursting into flame when you tried eating them. He narrowed his reptilian eyes at the sorceress, but was immediately distracted from his suspicions when Cramer tossed him another toad.

"Hey, guys?" asked Utred. "I dunno if anybody's noticed, but we're being followed. Three women, all of 'em human."

As one, the five heroes spun in place and faced their followers, not bothering with any pretense that they might not have noticed their silent pursuit. Cramer tied the top of his bag of toads to his belt, freeing both hands in case it came to a fight. Jhasspok finished his current toad snack and watched the approaching women, as Marlo cast a magic circle against evil on herself, anticipating combat.

One of the women, wearing an elaborate helmet and armor filled with right angles, called out to the group, "Come with us. We'd like you to answer some questions."

"We're perfectly willing to answer questions," answered Cramer immediately. "But I see no reason we can't answer them right here." He didn't know who these women were, but right now the odds were five-to-three in his group's favor and he wasn't sure he wanted to do anything to alter those odds, if it came down to a fight.

Another of the women, this one wearing dark robes, cast a quick spell and turned to the samurai, apparently the leader of the trio. "They don't register as evil, Mikito," she said, relaying the results of her spell. This, as well as their cooperative demeanor, was not at all congruent with Daleth and Orion's account of these five interlopers - including the lizardman pretending to be a dwarf - having attacked them and aiding in the escape of a known member of the Seekers of Eternity.

"Show us your necks," commanded Mikito, stalling for time. Then she amended her order as the three dwarves started lifting their beards: "The backs of your necks." None of them wore the tattoo of the shattered hourglass.

"Are you willing to be subjected to a zone of truth spell?" asked Anuja Graveshadow, the dark-clad cleric of Wee Jas.

Cramer lifted his arms from his sides, showing his open hands held no weapons. "Subject away!" he offered.

Anuja cast her spell and the interrogation began. The gnome and human were very forthcoming, spilling a tale about saving the world from an illithid Elder God who currently existed in the Far Realm as an enormous severed head with a hundred tentacles. The three dwarves just stood by, waiting as their two leaders told their tale. The women's brows furrowed at the strangeness of the tale being told, but Anuja concurred that they were telling the truth - or at least, she amended, the truth as they believed it to be.

"But you admit to aiding the escape of a Seeker of Eternity?" Mikito pressed.

"Who, Lauren?" Cramer asked, adding, "Young lady with runes tattooed on her face? Yes, we rescued her from an elven wizard and a halfling on a riding dog. They tried killing her, and us, lobbing elemental gems at us - one of each, as I recall."

"The water elemental had a fish in it," Jhasspok pointed out.

"What do you think?" the dark-clad cleric asked the third of the women, a light-skinned blond woman in a white dress.

"We'd better take them to Daddy," Dow suggested.

Mikito turned back to the group. "If you surrender your weapons to us and come quietly," she told them, "we will take you to our leader, Skevros, who works directly for the king. He will no doubt have further questions for you."

"Will the weapons be returned to us upon request?" countered Cramer. Upon receiving a reply to the affirmative - still under the zone of truth spell, which affected the three women as well as the five visitors from the Overreach - Cramer agreed on behalf of the group. "It might take us a while to disarm, though," he warned, looking at Utred, who was a walking arsenal of weapons.

"Wait - I have a question," interrupted Jhasspok. He spun and faced Marlo. "You lied about toads bursting into flame when you try to eat them, didn't you?" he accused. "You used some magic trick to make Truffles burn in my mouth."

Marlo sighed and shook her head in disbelief; they were being disarmed and brought before a representative of the leadership of the kingdom of Durnhill, who believed the five of them were some sort of terrorist assassins or something and in league with the Seekers of Eternity, a perfectly harmless group about which Durnhill apparently had some serious misgivings, and the foolish lizardfolk was more worried about having been tricked into not eating her familiar! "Yes, Jhasspok, I tricked you so you would stop trying to eat Truffles. You're my friend, but Truffles is also my friend and I don't want him to be eaten, any more than I'd want somebody to eat you." That at least made some sense to the lizardfolk: Marlo was apparently addle-brained enough to want to make friends with food! He actually kind of felt sorry for her now, having to cope with such a debilitating limited intelligence.

Fortunately, Dow had a bag of holding into which the assorted weapons of the five heroes (almost half of them belonging to Utred alone) could be stored for easy toting, and the three women led the group to a small tavern at the edge of the city. Utred, grumpy at having to hand over all of his weapons, had his spirits lifted at the sight of the tavern (the Enchanted Flagon, according to the sign on the door) and the prospects of getting some decent alcohol.

Once inside the tavern, the group was greeted by a tall, gaunt man introducing himself as Skevros. Cramer scowled at him and wondered why he was instinctively filled with distrust at the sight of the king's adviser. "Ah!" he suddenly called out. "I know why I don't trust you - you fit the description of the evil wizard who covered Lauren in those tattoos!"

Skevros at least had the good grace to look embarrassed. "Yes, well, in my younger days I was...somewhat of a different person for a span of time...." He pulled out a black book from a pocket in his red robes and flipped through it. "Hmmm, yes, it seems at one point I was hired by Arcturus of the Council of Guilds to perform an experiment in divinatory magic," he admitted. "I have no recollections of that span of time, but it's entirely possible I did as you claim." He turned to the group again. "Tell me," he asked, "have you ever heard of the Mithral Mage?"

"Never heard of him," Cramer answered immediately.

"Wait," pointed out Jhasspok helpfully, "wasn't that the guy we freed from Dwarven Hell?"

The zone of truth spell, having been cast out in the streets of the city, was no longer a factor and Anuja admitted to not having another such spell at the ready, but Skevros dismissed her concerns. "I think I can tell when someone is lying to me," he assured her, looking pointedly at Cramer. He then asked the group to tell their side of the tale about the attack upon Lauren, and how the group had ended up fighting off Orion and Daleth, both of whom apparently worked directly for Skevros. He also wanted full details about how - and, more importantly, why - they had freed the Mithral Mage from Dwarven Hell. Cramer, the talkative one, spun not only those tales but brought the adviser up to speed on the Dying One and the threat he posed to the entire world if he tried returning to the Material Plane using less than the full ten Writhing Gates and filled him in on the various factions within the Seekers of Eternity, pointing out how the Seekers provided with refuge in Greenvale had helped fight off a drow invasion from the Underdark. It was a tale long in the telling; fortunately, a silent barmaid named Karen provided Utred and Khari with tankards of ale with which to while away the time while Cramer talked and talked and talked.

Once Cramer had finished - and accepted an ale for himself, finding himself parched after all that discussion - Skevros agreed that at the very least the gnome believed everything he said to be true. "I shall want to do some research myself into this Dying One of yours," he admitted.

"While you're at it," suggested Marlo, "can you offer any insights into what 'focusing runes inward' might mean?" She briefly explained about the parchment they'd left with the Greenvale scholars.

Skevros mulled it over for a bit before offering, "It sounds like it might refer to psionic magic. Rather exceedingly rare, I'm afraid - I don't know a whole lot about it." Then he came to his decision. "Return their weapons to them. You are free to leave, as long as you don't cause any trouble within the city. This 'temple of the abandoned sun' you seek is the Temple of Pelor, boarded up once it was discovered it sits upon caverns leading to the Underdark." He gave them directions on how to find the temple and permission to break into it. At Utred's request, he also gave them a small keg of ale.

The group had no difficulties finding the temple, nor in pulling down the boards sealing up the front door. As described, there was an area designated as an orphanage at the rear of the building, inside which was a secret tunnel leading down into a cavern below the structure. They were greeted almost immediately by a telepathic voice inside their heads.

<It seems you are looking for one such as I?> queried the voice.

"Aaah!" cried out Jhasspok, his usual response to sudden voices in his head. But the voice belonged to an unusually tall mind flayer named C'thorlumbrox. <If you are willing and trust me, I can levitate each of you down,> the ulitharid offered.

"I've got my own way down," replied Marlo, casting a quick Rary's telepathic bond spell on the group and then stepping into the vertical shaft, using her boots of levitation to slow her descent. Khari also had his own way down, using his earthglide warhammer to tunnel through the rock and appear in the cavern at Marlo's side. The other three (Jhasspok having resumed his normal appearance now that he wasn't visible to the townspeople of Durnhill) took the ulitharid up on his offer, figuring if he meant them harm he had had ample opportunity to attack them before they were even aware of his presence.

Once everyone was gathered around the ulitharid, Jhasspok came right to the point. "We're trying to kill one of your Elder Gods," he said. "Can you help us?" Marlo just closed her eyes and silently wished the lizardfolk would leave the talking to those better equipped to do so. She could feel the beginnings on an incipient headache forming behind her temples.

<You speak of the Abomination.>

Cramer took that as a good sign that C'thorlumbrox was not a fan of the Dying One. For a third time that day, he found himself explaining the background of Uboros and what would happen if he were able to reform the rest of his body from his severed head and try to return to the Material Plane without all ten Writhing Gates functioning. "We'd like to destroy the Writhing Gates, or at least as many of them as needed to prevent the Dying One - the Abomination, that is - from even making the attempt."

Marlo handed over her copy of The Book of Uboros, showing him the passages that denoted the locations of the Writhing Gates. "We know where one of them is, in the tunnels and caverns outside the drow city of Overreach," she explained. "We need the locations of the others deciphered for us."

C'thorlumbrox scanned the pages. <It is written in an archaic form, using older names,> he advised. (In fact, if not for the weird temporal effects of the Far Realm the book would likely be so old as to crumble apart at the merest touch.) <Translating it will take some time. But I can tell you what I know of the Writhing Gates.>

Cramer and Marlo leaned forward in anticipation. Utred opened the flask of ale and he and Khari settled down for what was likely to be another long bout of exposition. Seeing their inattention but judging it an easy way to keep them from interrupting, Cramer wordlessly handed over the sack of toads and Jhasspok focused his attention on another light snack, politely offering a toad to the others and being shooed away for his efforts.

<Destroying the Writhing Gates will not be easy,> explained C'thorlumbrox. <It took a special weapon to destroy the one Writhing Gate, and the weapon was itself destroyed in the process. Unfortunately, an artifact of that power could only have been created by the Primordial Avatars - the versions of the gods that first set foot upon and created the world, and from whom most myths about the gods are born. After a Primordial Avatar disappears from the world all future avatars of that god pale in comparison. That means, of course, that such a weapon can no longer be created today.>

"But there are other of these primordial weapons that can take out a Writhing Gate?" pressed Cramer.

<It is possible; I will research the problem at hand. But such favors are not to be provided free of charge.>

"Are you going to try to eat one of our brains?" asked Jhasspok around a mouthful of toad, surprising everyone by proving he'd been paying attention to the ulitharid's mental conversation.

<Yours would not be worth eating,> C'thorlumbrox replied. Then, looking disdainfully at Khari Hammerslammer, he added, <And there is something wrong with that one's.>

"So what's the payment to be?" asked Marlo.

<There is a duergar outpost that my colony needs pacified. It would be advantageous for those not affiliated with Tardinessk to do the deed.> He gave the group directions and said he would await the party's return.

"Sure, we can handle a group of duergar for you," Cramer reassured him. "Guys! Drink up! We're off on a mission!"

"'Bout damn time!" Utred agreed, sealing the keg back up and grabbing up his greataxe.

The way to the duergar outpost started at the bottom of a deep chasm off to the side of the cavern in which C'thorlumbrox had been conversing with the former arena slaves. Now, after having been levitated down to the bottom of the chasm and following miles of a twisting passageway, the group approached the long cavern said to house the group of duergar they were to slay for the mind flayer colony. Anticipating imminent combat, Cramer advised it was time for the standard bevy of pre-combat spellcasting. Marlo said there was still plenty of duration left on the Rary's telepathic bond spell, so she left it as it was. Cramer cast a mass bear's endurance on the group, as well as his standard longstrider spell upon himself. Then, casting a detect evil spell as he did so, he stepped foot into the cavern.

He immediately noticed an evil aura emanating from, of all things, a stalagmite directly across the way from him. He puzzled on this for a mere moment before the reason became apparent, as the "stalagmite" opened its cyclopian eye and fired a strand at the little gnome, striking him in the chest. Cramer effortlessly shrugged off the roper's attempt to drain him of strength through its strand, then smirked as the tip of the adhesive appendage slipped off his armor and flopped to the ground. That was one of the many advantages of being a cleric of Fharlanghn: the ability to will into existence a freedom of movement effect that shielded him from such attempts at impeding his progress.

But now that there was an enemy at hand to deal with, Jhasspok charged - literally - into combat. Speeding past Cramer in a few long strides, the lizardfolk raced up to the roper with his battleaxe raised over his head. The roper proved to be much more maneuverable than the stalagmite it resembled, darting its trunk forward to bite at Jhasspok as he approached, but the roper got the worse end of the exchange as the reptile's axe-head buried itself in the upper part of the creature's body, near the single eye.

The sounds of clomping boots on stone brought the group's attention to the gaggle of duergar racing towards them from the far end of the cavern. The eight gray dwarves fired crossbow bolts at the only two combatants they could see thus far - Cramer and Jhasspok - splitting the targets between them. Of the barrage, Cramer was hit by only one bolt, and that was a superficial hit that barely scratched the side of his arm.

Utred raced along Jhasspok's path, ending up beside the lizardfolk, bringing his magical greataxe to bear down upon the roper. With Marlo in the way in the cramped tunnel leading into the cavern, Khari opted to earthglide through the stone beneath her, popping up off to one side of Cramer - and directly in front of a second roper standing motionlessly against the wall opposite from its fellow monstrosity. This second roper leaned forward, biting at an astonished Khari with its sharp teeth, catching the Hammerslammer dwarf in the shoulder.

Marlo stepped into the cavern and decided to do something about the duergar they had been sent here to deal with - as usual, the guys had gone full-out against the first combatants they had spotted and ignored the real reason they had come here in the first place. She summoned forth the required mystical energy and caused a circle of writhing, black tentacles to rise up from the stone cavern floor and encompass themselves around the struggling duergar. Try as they might, none of them could find release from the Evard's black tentacles spell Marlo had cast their way.

The first roper reeled in its ineffective strand and fired off two strands each at Utred, Jhasspok, and Cramer. All six struck true, but none of them was able to siphon off any physical strength from its foes, and once again the two that struck the gnome failed to find any permanent purchase. It snapped its teeth in frustration at Jhasspok, but the lizardfolk managed to scramble sideways out of its reach. The other roper had only Khari as a target, so the dwarven fighter was struck by no fewer than six strands; fortunately, as a dwarf he was built with a solid constitution and he had no trouble at all resisting the strength-draining attempts of the roper's strands. This second roper also chomped at its target in frustration and this one was much more successful in its bite attack than had been its counterpart; Khari's upper body became firmly lodged in the roper's massive mouth as teeth pierced the dwarf from front and back. The fighter's legs kicked furiously as he was lifted from the ground.

Cramer, looking at the eight duergar imprisoned by the Evard's black tentacles spell, thought they were lined up rather nicely and cast a blade barrier spell over six of the group. Flashing blades stabbed and sliced at the screaming gray dwarves as blood flew in all directions. The two duergar not caught up in this second spell's effect yelled just as loudly, redoubling their efforts to escape the squeezing tentacles before the swords came their way as well - to no avail. Marlo's spell had them all but bound and helpless.

Jhasspok swung his battleaxe at the first roper again, catching it in the side of the mouth and sending a few spiky teeth flying off to the side. Utred hit the same roper with his flaming greataxe, noticing the fire seemed particularly effective against the creature. He broadcast his findings over the telepathic link, eliciting another yelp of surprise from Jhasspok.

Khari was half inside the second roper's mouth but he was far from out of the fight and he was damn sure he wasn't going to be swallowed by the monster. He brought his warhammer crashing into the creature's throat, causing it to shake him back and forth in its mouth like a dog with a rag toy. But then Marlo, listening to Utred's advice, cast an empowered scorching ray at the first roper and just like that it was dead, the strands that had been adhered to Jhasspok and Utred falling limply to the stone floor of the cavern.

Cramer then focused his attention on the second roper, still gripping Khari in its mouth and shaking him back and forth. He cast two spells in rapid succession: a flame strike covering the two in holy fire, followed almost immediately by a quickened cure serious wounds spell on Khari, healing up some of the damage he'd just inflicted on the dwarf as an unwelcome side effect of damaging the roper. "Sorry!" the gnome called out to Khari; any verbal response the dwarven fighter might have made was absorbed in the interior of the roper's mouth.

Utred switched weapons as he crossed the cavern, striking at the second roper with his life-flame whip as he did so, causing a burn mark stripe across the roper's stonelike skin. Jhasspok sped across the cavern again, leaping over Cramer and Utred's heads as he crashed into the roper, his battleaxe just barely missing the darting creature's eye. But despite the efforts of his friends, it was Khari himself who provided the killing blow that finally finished off the roper that had been trying to eat him. As the roper crashed sideways to the ground, Khari extricated himself from its vile mouth. "It's stinky in there!" was all he had to say on the matter.

The two remaining duergar started pleading incoherently as they saw the feared Marlo Pendragon walking their way. Their pleas were not heeded; Marlo finished them off with an empowered lightning bolt spell. She then released her black tentacles, which dissolved back into the ground from which they had sprung. The group gave the entire cavern a quick perusal but there were no other duergar about, nor did the eight they'd slain have much in the way of valuables among them, just a few basic supplies stored here and there in the cavern. They did note their armor had been coated in some weird, slimy substance, apparently to fend off the ropers' strand attacks; as effective as they might have been for that purpose, they had proven entirely useless against Marlo's black tentacles.

Returning back through the twisting passageway to the bottom of the deep chasm, Marlo and Khari made their own way back up while C'thorlumbrox levitated the other three. "It's done," Cramer reported and the ulitharid bowed his appreciation.

Marlo then took the opportunity to hit the ulitharid up for what he might know about "focusing runes inward," the phrase Skevros had hinted might involve psionics. <It is indeed a psionic message,> C'thorlumbrox agreed. <Focusing runes inward refers to the way psionics, unlike arcane or divine magic, is willed into existence by mental power alone.>

Their mission accomplished for now - and C'thorlumbrox reaffirming he'd contact the group with the results of his findings about the Writhing Gate locations and how to possibly destroy them - the five heroes departed the city of Durnhill. Once well outside the city proper, Cramer was able to cast a teleport spell that returned them to Greenvale. There, they briefed the Greenvale scholars on what they'd accomplished and what they'd learned about the phrase written on the parchment.

"Hey, maybe you're secretly psionic," joked Utred to Khari. "That might be what's so wrong with your brain that even a mind flayer don't wanna eat it."

"You jest, but that's actually a distinct possibility," admitted Marlo. At her request, the parchment was returned and she handed it over to Khari. "Here, try focusing these runes inward," she suggested. Khari took the parchment, looked at the Dwarven runes inscribed on it, focused his will - and promptly passed out, spilling into a limp heap onto the floor.

"Wha' happen?" Khari asked blearily when the others had slapped him awake.

"You passed out," Cramer explained. "You know, if the 'wrongness' C'thorlumbrox mentioned about your brain is some sort of malady, it's possible a greater restoration spell might fix it. Are you willing to give it a try?"

"Sure, I suppose so," Khari shrugged.

Cramer cast the spell upon the dwarven fighter and in an instant, Khari remembered. He remembered everything.

As a wee child, Khari had first developed psionic potential. A dwarven elder had used that potential to seal the key to Brunniir inside his mind. Unfortunately, the process effectively lobotomized him, leading to his lowered intellect.

"Are you okay?" Marlo asked, concern written across her face.

"I'm fine," Khari replied, scowling. He was trying, repeatedly, to focus the runes inward and this time he received in a flash a series of images showing the way the key was to be used to gain entry to the city of Brunniir. "'Instructions will follow' - that's what the magic runes said on this parchment," Khari said, flipping the paper over. "It worked: I'm the Keeper of the Key and I know how to get us to Brunniir."

- - -

Well, it looks like we know where our PCs will likely be heading next! We've already guessed that Brunniir is the city we saw along the Path of Shadows, but now we might be able to actually do something about it.

We surprised Logan by not fighting Anuja, Mikito, and Dow and being so reasonable with them and Skevros. But we knew we were in the right and that our actions had all been warranted. (I suppose we also had a little bit of player knowledge that Skevros and company were good guys and wouldn't likely hurt us; no matter how much you try to ignore knowledge you have but your PCs do not, it's often difficult to partition that knowledge.)

So as a result of the greater restoration spell (Logan handwaved away the normal XP cost of casting the spell since it was being cast for story purposes), Khari Hammerslammer's Intelligence 5 has been permanently restored to its (apparently original, although this was unknown even to Harry) score of 12; in addition, he's gained the bonus feat "Wild Talent" from the Psionic Handbook, which will allow him to progress and gain psionic levels (in classes like psion or psychic warrior) if he so desires. Harry emphatically does not so desire, wanting to keep Khari on the path of the fighter for the full 20 levels. And that's fine with Logan, although he's a big fan of psionics overall and would no doubt like using them more in the campaign if the opportunity ever presented itself.
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PC Roster:
Cramer Appleknocker, gnome cleric 13​
Jhasspok, lizardman 3/barbarian 3/fighter 7​
Khari Hammerslammer, dwarf fighter 13​
Marlo Pendragon, human sorcerer 13​
Utred "Buckets" Butterflinger, dwarf barbarian 13​

Game Session Date: 11 August 2021

- - -

"We all know how to get to Brunniir," argued Cramer Appleknocker. "We've seen it, in the distance, when we crossed through the Path of Shadows."

"Can't go that way," insisted Khari Hammerslammer, crossing his arms across his chest and putting on his most stubborn expression. "Brunniir is under siege by all kinds of incorporeal undead - we'd never make it through them all."

"I can turn them," argued the gnome, holding up his holy symbol of Fharlanghn, God of Travel.

"Not that many, you can't," answered Khari. "Nobody could. We'd need an army of clerics."

"I assume you have another way to get us there, then?" suggested Marlo, seeing a similar look of stubbornness crossing Cramer's face. More than anything else, she wanted to prevent the two from planting themselves into their respective beliefs and refusing to budge. "What did the visions tell you?" This was a subtle reminder to Cramer that Khari had information none of the others currently possessed, put there decades ago and psionically locked away in the dwarf's head.

"We do our traveling on the Material Plane, through the Underdark tunnels, to get to where Brunniir used to sit. Then we transition to the Plane of Shadows, where the Golden City now resides."

Jhasspok was confused. "I thought we wanted to go to Brunniir, not the Golden City," he said, reptilian brows furrowed.

"Hush, Jhasspok," chided Marlo. "Brunniir is the Golden City."

"That'll takes weeks!" argued Cramer. "My way's quicker."

"Your way gets us all killed."

Cramer looked over to the others. Utred hadn't said a word but he walked over and stood beside his fellow dwarf, his burly arms crossed and his scowling face showing he too could be as stubborn as any other member of his hard-headed race. Jhasspok stood beside his two melee partners and, belatedly seeing they were both crossing their arms, did so himself. (Apparently it was now a thing they did. Good to know.)

Marlo, ever the peacemaker, offered up, "If his way is safer in the long run, and the psionic message was sent to him by someone from Brunniir - or who at least knows more about Brunniir than we do at present - it makes sense that--"

"Okay, fine!" surrendered Cramer, seeing there was no way he was going to win this argument against such a united front. "Fine! But we'll need to stock up on provisions if we're going to be traipsing around through Underdark tunnels for a week."

There were plenty of provisions to be had in the drow surface city of Greenvale; while Marlo and Cramer saw about supplying enough food for the five of them (and Jhasspok stocked up on his favorite dried insect snacks, which he was sure the others would overlook if he left the provisions entirely in their hands), Utred made sure there was likewise an ample supply of ale for the trip. Then, fully provisioned and ready to go, Khari led the party the long way through the Underdark tunnels, following the fleeting images flashing through his head.

The first day was uneventful. When it came time to make camp, Marlo cast a rope trick spell, got everyone into its extradimensional space, and then pulled up the rope behind her. Just that easy, they had a safe place to spend the night without even needing to set out guards in shifts.

It was on the second day of travel they encountered their first danger. Walking along an Underdark tunnel, the dwarves were the first to notice the vibrations coming through their feet. "Something's burrowing beneath us," Utred said.

"Something big," added Khari.

"Feels like it's heading our way," Utred said, readying his greataxe to strike at anything that might pop its head up and try to eat them. Khari held his earthglide warhammer at the ready as well and Jhasspok held his battleaxe in preparation for combat. Marlo cast an invisibility spell and used her boots to levitate nearly to the tunnel's ceiling. Cramer cast a shield of faith spell upon himself. Mentally, Utred ran through several possibilities of what might be headed their way: bulette, thoqqua, delver....

"Purple worm!" cried out Khari as the stone wall beside him exploded outwards in a hail of rock shards and shrapnel. He sent his warhammer crashing into the creature's armored head, but that only focused the great worm's attention on him as its first potential target. Its massive maw opened and a circle of sharp teeth engulfed the dwarven fighter, pulling Khari deep into the creature's mouth. Utred dashed forward, striking at the side of the worm's head with his greataxe, while Jhasspok raced across the space between them, leaping over Utred to land on the creature's head and bring his own axe-blade digging deep into the worm's armored flesh.

Inside the creature's mouth, Khari decided against trying to scramble his way back out of the huge maw, deciding he could deal just as much damage to the beast inside it as well as outside it. He let fly with his warhammer, cracking a few teeth at the root. If the fool thing was going to try to swallow him down, he'd make it pay for every inch he was dragged down its gullet!

From her position up by the tunnel's ceiling, Marlo suddenly popped back into view as she cast an empowered scorching ray spell at the massive worm. Not wanting to hit Jhasspok, who stood balanced upon its head, she aimed her streams of fire further back down the creature's length, where it first exited the hole it had burrowed through the side of the tunnel wall. And then Cramer followed suit with one of his most powerful spells, destruction. The purple worm struggled under the effects of the gnome's spell, and while it managed to avoid complete disintegration the spell's energies were enough to slay the beast entirely.

"You okay in there?" Marlo called out to Khari, wishing she'd had time to cast a Rary's telepathic bond spell before combat had begun.

Khari's response was muffled, not surprising given he was a good deal down the dead worm's gullet. "I'm okay!" he called back. Then there was no further response for some time; while everyone else waited for the dwarven fighter to exit on his own, Jhasspok took advantage of the delay to cut off a few thick strips of worm meat. He offered to cut a few extra strips for the others, but once again the silly mammals had very specific opinions about precisely which "meat" constituted "meat" and worm muscle apparently hadn't made the list. He just shook his head at their foolishness.

"You planning on coming out anytime soon?" Marlo called, wondering what was taking Khari so long. When there was no answer, she turned to Cramer. "I think he's in trouble in there!" she worried. Cramer just rolled his eyes, wondering exactly what kind a trouble a dwarven fighter could get into inside a dead worm. Succumb to acidic vapors? He begrudgingly started to climb up to the slain worm's mouth, trying to slip past its broken teeth to try to go find their missing dwarf when Khari popped his head back out. He held up a few shiny rocks. "I found some unrefined gemstones inside its innards!" he exclaimed, a proud expression on his face. Now it was Marlo's turn to shake her head in disbelief, for she couldn't imagine herself digging through a worm's intestinal tract to dig out some semiprecious stones, no matter what their inherent value might be.

The rest of that day was relatively uneventful, as was the next, and the one after that. Cramer's little legs soon got tired of all the walking, but Utred helped him out by occasionally letting him ride in the harness they'd constructed, where Cramer became just one more thing the burly dwarven barbarian wore on his back.

On the fifth day the group ran into their next living opponent. The tunnels Khari led them through had opened into a wide cavern bisected perpendicularly by a wide chasm that stretched from one end to the other. "We need to get across it," Khari informed the group.

Jhasspok looked at the width of the gap. "I can jump across it, easy," he stated, and started walking back the way he had come to give himself plenty of lead space in which to build up speed. Marlo, in the meantime, cast a fly spell on Utred from a scroll. "Stick the gnome in the harness and you can both get across," she suggested. That sounded like a fine idea to Cramer, who was always willing to let Utred do his traveling for him. Climbing onto the barbarian's shoulders and wriggling into the harness, Cramer held on tight as Utred started flying across the chasm.

And that's when he realized the chasm was much deeper than it had first appeared. While at first glance it had looked to be only about 10 feet deep, in reality it was much deeper than that - only all but the top 10 feet were filled with the amorphous body of an elder black pudding! As the dwarf and gnome flew over the chasm, an oily pseudopod darted up from the gap and struck the pair of them, burning the barbarian with its acidic touch.

Seeing their friends under attack, Khari approached the edge of the chasm and fired an arrow at the pudding with his frost longbow. The arrow was completely absorbed into the ooze's body, leaving only a slight patch of frost on its surface to show where the arrow had been swallowed up. Jhasspok started sprinting to the edge of the chasm, not to leap the gap as originally planned but to attack the fat tentacle thing engulfing Utred and Cramer. He launched himself into the air, swinging his battleaxe at the offending appendage, but by the time the lizardfolk had gotten there his friends had already escaped, courtesy of a dimension door spell the gnomish cleric cast upon the two of them. They ended back up at the cavern's entrance by Marlo, while Jhasspok found himself sinking into an enormous, sticky pool of acidic ooze. He had already sunk up to his knees when the black pudding sent a wave of its pliable body over the lizardfolk's head, engulfing him completely.

Marlo cast an empowered scorching ray spell at the enormous black pudding, burning off a few layers of its amorphous body. Utred grabbed up a bow and started shooting arrow after arrow into the pudding's body, each arrow sinking into the thing's mass to be wholly consumed. Khari followed Jhasspok's lead and leaped onto the thing's body, slamming at it with his warhammer as he sunk into it past the tops of his boots.

Having been impressed with the spell's efficacy in slaying the purple worm, Cramer cast a destruction spell at the elder black pudding. This time, the spell completely overwhelmed the ooze's physical structure and its entire body dissolved away to nothingness. Jhasspok and Khari, left behind, fell the rest of the way to the bottom of the chasm, although Khari avoided striking the bottom like Jhasspok did by activating his earthglide warhammer, sinking into the rock below and then altering course to pop back up at the top of the far side of the ledge. The outer scales had been burned from Jhasspok's body, leaving the layer beneath glistening wet and hardening in the Underdark air.

Utred still had the fly spell active, so he ferried everyone else over and the group continued their trek.

On the final day of their week-long journey, Khari eventually led them into a vast chamber, likely the very bottom of a deep chasm some hundreds of feet wide. "This is it," he said proudly, pointing to an odd stone structure just ahead, a roughly circular stone some 5 feet tall, upon which stood a smaller circle, also about 5 feet high. Growing atop these stacked circles were three stalagmites, pointing up at the unseen ceiling too far overhead for the dwarves to see even with their darkvision. "That structure leads to Brunniir," he said, knowing instinctively that the central stalagmite was the keyhole through which he could get the five of them to the Golden City.

The illumination from their slave-light cloaks flickered and dimmed as they approached the stone structure, causing a small amount of consternation to cross the faces of the heroes. Unbeknownst to them, this was the result of a bit of shadow energy seeping out from the planar gate just ahead. But Khari was too excited to finally reach their goal to worry overly about their illumination (and as a dwarf, he could rely upon his darkvision as needed), so he earthglided up the circular structure and examined the central stalagmite. Closing his eyes, he concentrated on visualizing the key into existence.

As a result, he missed the moment when the undead first appeared.

These particular undead had been hanging around the area since the moment, centuries ago, that Brunniir had first been shunted from the Material Plane to the Plane of Shadows. They were attracted by the slow leak of shadow energy that permeated from the planar gate and thus never strayed too far. The first undead to appear was a cloud of mist seemingly composed of hundreds of skulls. After having manifested into a partially-corporeal existence, it lashed out with its collective mind and sent a burst of psionic energy at the dwarf still on the cavern floor. Utred cried out in sudden pain from the psychic crush but gritted his way through the pain and avoided the horrendous damage the attack could do to those not properly shielded from it.

Jhasspok, spotting the sudden foe, leaped across the span between them in his loping gait and brought his battleaxe swinging into the misty pile of skulls. He managed to get lucky with his blade, catching the incorporeal menace at just the right time and the right angle to actually cut through some of its physical substance, causing a number of the skulls to howl out in pain. Other skulls snapped out at the lizardfolk in retaliation, their teeth catching the reptile's scales.

Then three wraiths rose up from the cavern floor, surrounding Marlo, Cramer, and Utred. They lashed out at the surprised heroes, their clawed hands passing through the physical bodies of human, gnome, and dwarf alike, to little real effect. However, Marlo shrieked in surprise at their sudden appearance and took a step back - just far enough away to cast an empowered magic missile spell at the closest wraith.

Then two more shadowy figures rose up from the ground behind Utred. One of the greater shadows struck the barbarian, draining him of a portion of his strength and fueling his rage. Utred spun in place and struck at the greater shadow with his greataxe, his blade passing through the creature's body but seeming to have affected it at least somewhat.

Cramer was surrounded by undead and had an opportunity to try to turn them away, but the blast that caller in darkness had used against Utred had the little gnome spooked. Realizing he was their only source of healing (besides a few potions the others might have on hand), he stepped away from the wraith attacking him and cast a death ward spell on himself from the relative safety of using Marlo as a human shield. Then, convinced he was no longer in danger from instant obliteration from whatever attack the cloud of misty skulls had used, he looked about to see how best he could attack the various undead plaguing his team.

Khari went charging back down from the stone platform, his earthglide warhammer swinging through the nearest shadow. But his weapon glided through the undead thing, all right - seemingly without any effect. How he hated incorporeal undead!

The caller in darkness floated away from Jhasspok and hit the lizardfolk with a psychic crush attack. Had the hulking reptile not been able to gut his way through the psionic attack, he'd have dropped instantly to the ground, bleeding out from an internal hemorrhage. But he shook his head to clear it and pressed forward with his attacks, once again taking a few bites for his efforts but luckily hitting the incorporeal cloud in just the right way to affect it with his weapon's blade and his own teeth.

Over in the other clump of combatants, the wraiths tried again with their incorporeal attacks, and this time the one attacking Marlo managed to siphon off some of her life energy; she felt a distinct coldness pass through her body, leaving her vitality drained. She backed off again and hit another wraith with an empowered magic missile spell, knowing the force energy had no chance of missing and would affect even an incorporeal foe. The shadows concentrated their attacks on the two dwarves, and Khari felt a coldness penetrate his body as a portion of the strength in his limbs was drained away.

Utred's greataxe finally took out the first of the greater shadows and he cleaved the blade into the other one. Cramer scooted out from behind Marlo and positioned himself in the middle of the clump of wraiths and shadows, casting a mass cure serious wounds spell that sent healing energy into everyone but Jhasspok and the caller in darkness. Those heroes with physical wounds were healed up, while their undead foes were eaten away by the positive energy emanating from the gnome cleric. The blast was enough to slay one of the wraiths outright.

Khari continued swinging his warhammer at the undead figures, frustrated beyond belief that it seemed to pass through them harmlessly - what was he doing wrong? Jhasspok at least seemed to be doing damage against his foe with his battleaxe, but the dwarf suspected the lizardfolk would not be able to explain what it was he was doing differently to have such an effect. Odds are, it was simply good luck on the part of the lizardfolk and bad luck on his own part.

The caller in darkness floated away from Jhasspok again and this time tried a different tactic. Eschewing its psionic crush attack which had been completely ineffectual thus far against these mortal foes, it sent a death urge directly into the lizardfolk's primitive mind. Raging at the circumstances, the lizardfolk brought his battleaxe up over his head for a powerful swing - and then brought it crashing into his own thigh, slicing through scales, muscle, and flesh and cutting deep into the bone. It was as if a simple switch had been activated in Jhasspok's head, redirecting his rage and hatred away from the cloudy mass of insubstantial skulls and into himself. He staggered from his self-inflicted wound, falling to the floor as he tried to pull the axe-head from his leg so he could attack himself again.

The wraiths continued attacking Marlo and Utred, meeting up with little success. The sorceress cast another empowered magic missile at one of the wraiths, not wanting to try a more powerful spell that could easily have no effect upon the incorporeal foe. Khari cried out as the remaining greater shadow further drained him of his strength; already the warhammer was feeling heavy in his hands and he knew with another couple of these attacks he'd no longer be able to lift its weight. Fortunately, before that could happen Utred slew the shadow, leaving no more creatures capable of such an attack still active on the battlefield.

Cramer moved closer to the downed Jhasspok and cast a mass cure medium wounds spell. The deep gash in Jhasspok's thigh sealed up and the surge of positive energy was enough to slay the caller in darkness and one of the last two remaining wraiths. Jhasspok was glad to see the floating skulls dissipate into nothingness, although he was somewhat disappointed he wasn't the one to have killed them; at least whatever temporary madness that had caused him to want to kill himself had passed. He limped up to a standing position and looked around for other foes to slay. There was just one remaining wraith, and while the dwarves swung at it with their weapons it was another spell from Cramer - a cure critical wounds he had to activate with a touch of his hand - that finished it off.

Jhasspok needed some additional healing before he could walk normally again (Utred kidded him that he'd seemingly taken the most damage all this past week from his own weapon), and then the group climbed up the stacked circular stones that Khari insisted led to Brunniir. Once again visualizing a key, the others gasped in astonishment when a glowing key did suddenly manifest in Khari's hand. He pushed the key - as incorporeal as the undead creatures they'd just defeated - into the stone of the central stalagmite and just like that, the five adventurers disappeared from the cavern.

Cramer looked about him in wonderment. There was no doubt about it: they now stood within the Golden City. "Ye made it!" cried out a hearty voice. Looking in the direction from which the voice had come, the group saw a group of dwarven guards approach them. "Then our message made it through! Come with us, we'll take ye to the Elders of the City!"

The Elders had quite a story to relay. While popular belief was that Brunniir had vanished to flee the imminent end of the world so at least they would survive the destruction of the planet, in fact they had moved the Golden City to the Plane of Shadow so they could hide it from the followers of the Dying One while they researched a way to prevent the Elder God's return and the subsequent end of the world Its return to the Material Plane would bring about. "Our greatest blacksmith was working on a weapon that could destroy the Writhing Gates that link the Dying One to the world," declared one of the Golden City's Elders. "Unfortunately, the besiegers of the city have used the instability of the Plane of Shadows to separate the workshop-vault where his work was stored from the rest of the city."

"Wait, they can do that?" asked Cramer incredulously.

"It was broken off like an iceberg calving," affirmed the Elder. "The city has been under constant attack since we brought it here to this plane, many centuries ago." Then he turned to Utred Butterflinger and looked him straight in the eye. "As the blacksmith's grandson, you should be able to open the vault. But first, you'll have to find your way to it, through a vast army of undead."

Utred blew out a breath. "Great," he said. "How soon do we begin?"

- - -

So this adventure was basically just a string of encounters - opportunities for Logan to throw some Underdark creatures at us because the timing was right. That was fine, as we all enjoyed the combats. Well...all, that is, up until that last one. Harry was getting pretty peeved that he didn't get to connect even once with any of the incorporeal undead - he rolled his d20s high enough to hit them, but then always lost the 50% miss chance when fighting incorporeal creatures with corporeal weapons. We had to point out to him that just by being there he was helping to "soak up" some attacks that, had they been focused on the rest of us, might have prevented us from winning the fight. I think his brain understood that, but his heart wanted to have inflicted even some damage on one of the wraiths or shadows. (And I can't really blame him, either - the Dice Gods are nothing if not fickle.)

And I really hated having to try to kill myself, even if it was only for one round. Stupid psionic creatures with their stupid psionic attacks! Oh, that reminds me: on that front, it looks like Logan has convinced Harry that it would be worth his while to have Khari take at least one level as a psychic warrior, since he has those free power points floating around from his bonus Wild Talent psionic feat. Apparently there's a psychic warrior power he'll be able to use three times a day that will add +2 to his weapon damage. So Khari will likely take a level of psychic warrior as soon as we hit 14th level (possibly as early as the end of the next adventure - we're pretty close), and then take fighter levels from that point on. I guess we'll see.



PC Roster:
Cramer Appleknocker, gnome cleric 13​
Jhasspok, lizardman 3/barbarian 3/fighter 7​
Khari Hammerslammer, dwarf fighter 13​
Marlo Pendragon, human sorcerer 13​
Utred "Buckets" Butterflinger, dwarf barbarian 13​

Game Session Date: 18 August 2021

- - -

The five heroes from Overreach had made it to Brunniir and the dwarven elders explained the history of the Golden City. Five centuries ago the city had been shunted to the Plane of Shadows so they could try to find a way to stop the Dying One without being found out by his cultists. The undead currently surrounding the Golden City hadn't really been an issue until 93 years ago. Fortunately, when the city had been built, the stones had incorporated a magical protection from burrowing creatures (like the purple worm the heroes had fought on their way to Brunniir): a force effect woven into each stone - which incidentally gave them the golden color responsible for the city's nickname - kept them at bay and also came in very handy in keeping incorporeal creatures from breaching the city's walls. Things went well for the next four centuries and then, some 93 years ago, the incorporeal undead on the plane started attacking the Golden City in earnest. Nobody knew who was organizing them into a unified force, but about a decade ago they started making some small progress. Still unable to breach the city, they somehow found a way to manipulate the shadowstuff of the plane itself, causing small chunks of the city's outskirts to cleave off, one building at a time. Fortunately, these attacks were sporadic, with often a span of months passing between each such occurrence. But the calved-off buildings would be drawn away from the rest of the city as the space between them was somehow increased.

Dolthran Greyale, the city's greatest blacksmith, had been in charge of working on a weapon to destroy the Writhing Gates. He died years ago, sealing his forge until his heir arrived to open it. Unfortunately, his forge had been cleaved off in the last attack - which prompted the Elders to send for the heroes in Greenvale.

"What can you tell us about this weapon?" asked Utred. "Did he finish it in time? Is it still there in his forge? What are its properties?"

"If'n 'e finished it before 'is death, it'll be locked away there in 'is vault. We c'n only hope 'e completed its construction before 'is death. As fer its nature, we c'n only tell ye a story of an incident that happened while he were still workin' on it. Somehow, Dolthran 'ad unleashed a shadowy creature upon th' city which killed dozens o' our best armed warriors before th' fool thing was finally killed - by all accounts - by a pair of two simple farmers wieldin' pitchforks. Whatever th' shadowy thing were, it seemed t' be a vital ingredient in th' weapon somehow."

"So you need us to go fetch this weapon," Cramer surmised. "How will we know where to find the forge's current location?"

"One o' our clerics'll cast a find th' path spell on ye, which'll take ye right to it, wherever it might be," the elder explained. "But that'd be but th' first task before ye: first, fetch th' weapon; second, find whatever's leadin' these undead armies an' put a stop t' them taking apart our city, one buildin' at a time ev'ry coupla months."

"You have a plan to lead us to the first part of that plan," pointed out Marlo. "Do you have any suggestions about how we might accomplish the second task?"

"As t' that, we've no ideas," admitted the elder. "But keep it in mind, while ye're out there - if ye find the leader o' these undead forces, we'd appreciate it greatly if'n ye could find a way t' take 'im out, once an' fer all. T' aid ye in yer tasks, though, we've four vials of ectoplasmic oil ye c'n apply t' some o' yer weapons." He explained this was in effect a means by which the weapons so treated would be able to affect incorporeal undead without any chances they'd simply pass through their insubstantial bodies. Cramer caught on at once: "A ghost touch effect," he explained to the others.

"Best ye rest up, now," suggested the elder, leading them to rooms where they could spend the evening. "Ye c'n set out in th' mornin', when ye're refreshed an' ready t' be about yer business."

The next morning, as promised, four vials of ectoplasmic oil were passed over to the group. Marlo agreed it made more sense for the four of them most likely to use melee weapons to get the advantages the oil brought them, as she intended to rely solely upon her spells in any combats they might face. An elderly dwarven cleric and an equally ancient-looking dwarven wizard approached the group. "Ye'd do best not broadcastin' yer locations with any illumination," the wizard advised. "This spell'll grant ye three th' vision o' a dwarf." He then cast a darkvision spell upon Marlo, Cramer, and Jhasspok.

"No slave-light cloak flames, Jhasspok," Cramer reiterated, wanting to make sure their lizardfolk companion understood the importance of keeping their illusory flames darkened while they traveled - it was obvious to the gnome but he realized it wasn't necessarily going to be obvious to the simple-minded reptile.

"Got it," Jhasspok replied. Then, looking up above the city, he asked, "Why is there a sky?" Sure enough, there was a dark sky above them with streaks of half-hearted clouds floating in the near-total darkness. "It wasn't there yesterday." The puzzled lizardfolk was pretty sure the "sky" - the big, waterless ocean which held the fireball sun in the daytime and the Really Big Pearl at night - was a surface-world thing. The Plane of Shadow had seemed to be more like the Underdark which had been his home for the vast majority of his five and a half years.

"Th' Plane o' Shadows is highly morphic in nature," the dwarven wizard replied. "At times the cavern ceilin' is dissolved into th' surroundin' stone, leavin' a visual path straight t' the surface world above. Recall, th' Plane o' Shadows is both coterminous an' coexistent with th' Material Plane."

Jhasspok looked to Utred and the dwarven barbarian translated for him. "The sky is only there sometimes," he said. Jhasspok nodded wisely. Utred was so smart!

Cramer cast his customary longstrider spell, while Marlo set the group up with a Rary's telepathic bond spell. "I'm going to talk in your head now," she told Jhasspok. Thus warned, he didn't yelp out in surprise when Marlo's voice suddenly appeared in his head. <Can everyone hear me okay?> she asked. The four males each replied in the affirmative. <Let's keep all talking over the mental link once we get outside the city,> she suggested. <We don't want to attract any unwanted attention. I'm going to cast a mage armor on each of us,> she said over the link - she'd found it was best to get Jhasspok used to the idea of using the telepathic communication mode whenever possible, because he often forgot it was active - and started to do just that.

<Don't need it,> Utred complained. <Already got plenty of armor.>

<And shadows and wraiths can pass right through it,> Marlo explained. <Mage armor is a force effect - it'll be as real to them as your normal armor.>

<Okay then, fine. Whatever.>

Cramer cast a hide from undead spell on the whole group, explaining it would keep them from being noticed by mindless undead like skeletons and zombies. <It might still work on the kinds of undead we fought before entering the Plane of Shadows yesterday, but if any one of us attacks an undead creature the spell will instantly switch off for all of us. You got that, Jhasspok? Don't attack any undead unless we're sure they can already see us.>


Marlo and Cramer each finished up by casting a magic circle against evil spell upon themselves, then the ectoplasmic oil was applied to Utred's flaming greataxe, Khari's earthglide warhammer, Jhasspok's magical battleaxe, and Cramer's Elderwood flaming heavy mace. "Okay, we're ready," Cramer told the elderly dwarven spellcasters.

The dwarven cleric then cast a find the path spell on Utred and the wizard cast a teleport spell sending the five heroes far away from the immediate vicinity of the city - far enough away they'd hopefully not be visible by the hordes of undead swarming Brunniir. They ended up at the edge of the canyon in which Brunniir sat - and directly facing a pair of undead creatures.

These undead creatures were both apparently intelligent enough to ignore Cramer's hide from undead spell, for they both turned to face the quintet of heroes. The largest of the two was easily recognizable as a dread wraith; they'd just fought off two of these creatures yesterday in the Underdark cavern where Brunniir used to sit, some five centuries long past. The other one, though, seemed like it was just a simple skeleton, although one wearing tattered robes.

<I think they see us,> Jhasspok observed, proud that he'd remembered to use his thinking-in-his-head voice instead of his speaking-out-loud voice. <Does that mean--?>

<Yes, attack them!> Cramer answered irritably, for the dread wraith had immediately lunged for Khari Hammerslammer, passing his clawed hand inside the dwarf's body where it wasn't covered by Marlo's mage armor spell. The dwarven fighter felt an unwelcomingly familiar cold sensation pass throughout his body as a portion of his very vitality was drained away. But Utred was there by his fellow dwarf's side in a moment, swinging his magic greataxe at the ghostly figure nearly twice his own size. At the same time, an empowered magic missile crashed into the dread wraith's insubstantial form as Marlo immediately assessed the situation and confirmed it was safe to attack. Khari brought his warhammer up and smashed its head into the dread wraith, actually causing it to fall back a pace or two.

Cramer cast a death ward on himself, unsure about the skeletal being standing beside the dread wraith; if it had seen him through his hide from undead spell it was no simple mindless skeleton, which meant it could very well be a lich - and there was no telling what sort of foul necromantics such a being might have at hand. Far better, in the gnome's estimation, to be safe from a magical attack that might slay him instantly than to deprive his companions of their most powerful source of healing energy.

Before Jhasspok could belatedly attack either of the undead pair, the skeletal creature - no lich, but very close: a huecuva - cast an unholy blight spell on the entire group, who were still relatively huddled up in a tight group immediately after having been teleported. As far as first salvoes went it was remarkably ineffective, with the heroes easily shrugging off the worst of the effects. Of course, it didn't help the huecuva that the spell was most effective against those with a truly good-hearted nature and of its five foes only Khari met that description.

Jhasspok barely noticed the spell's effect as he leaped forward to join in attacking the dread wraith - the bigger of the two and therefore most likely the most powerful and the one that needed to be taken down the quickest, by his reasoning. His blade, coated in the magical oil, cut through the incorporeal foe as if its body had been fully solid. The dread wraith flinched as if in pain but made no sound; it reached out to attack Utred but the barbarian easily avoided its claws. (Cramer noted again that these Shadow Plane undead seemed to have a particular hatred for dwarves, but guessed they might have been trained to focus on dwarves as they were the ones responsible for the creation of the weapon they were trying to locate.)

Marlo cast another empowered magic missile at the dread wraith as Utred and Khari continued pummeling it with their weapons. Khari's final blow was the one that took the creature out and its incorporeal body dissipated like a fine mist. Cramer stepped up behind the dwarven fighter and cast a death ward spell on him as well, thinking it might not be a bad idea to have each of the heroes thus protected against a foe with unknown spellcasting powers.

The huecuva cast a flame strike spell on the group, the fiery blast coming down from above to encompass all five heroes. Oddly, the spell had a two-layered effect this time; whereas in the past, when the group had been under the effects of the spell, the unholy flames came blasting down at them in one rush of unholy energy and then that was it, but this time there was the initial blast and then a much more powerful blast that went exploding out sideways in all directions, this second blast even encompassing the huecuva. All six combatants were rocked and jostled by the power of the explosion.

<Sorry, guys,> said Utred over the mental link. <One of my necklaces of fireballs just got taken out. The other one's fine, though.>

<That was you--?>

<Other one? What in the world are you doing with two --?>

<Are you crazy? You could easily have-->

Jhasspok ignored the simultaneous mental chiding the others were giving Utred and charged at the skeleton who had caused them so much pain, swinging his battleaxe with all his might. A bladed weapon wasn't the optimal choice in taking on a creature made of animated bone, but with enough strength behind the blow it could deal quite a punch. As the huecuva staggered backwards from the power of the attack, Marlo finished it off with a magic missile spell, judging it not worth the extra spellpower to empower it. And in that she was correct, for the creature collapsed into a pile of bones mixed in with the rotting remnants of the robe it had worn.

Cramer pulled out his staff of healing and ordered everyone to line up. <I'd better heal us all up from the damage caused by Utred's fashion accessories,> he grumbled, casting not only healing spells from his staff but also death ward spells on the other three so that each would be thus protected. Once that was done to his satisfaction, he had Utred lead them on. <The find the path spell's still intact, I hope?> he asked.

<Yep,> replied Utred. <It's this way. Let's go!>

Utred led them through several winding tunnels until they found the structure parked within a small cavern. The stone blocks of its construction glowed with the same golden light as the rest of the city of Brunniir. <The find the path spell leads right up the doors and then stops,> Utred told the others.

Marlo stepped up to the doors and cast a detect magic spell; lacking anyone in the group with any lockpicking skills or experience with mundane traps, it was the best they could do. <I'm detecting several layers of abjuration,> she said and Jhasspok didn't even bother asking what that even meant - some type of magic that was somehow different from other types of magic, he assumed, although he failed to see the necessity of breaking magic up into separate chunks. <The stones have that force effect woven into their structure, but there's also something here that probably shields the interior from being breached by teleport spells and the like.>

<Makes sense,> Cramer agreed. <Old Greyale didn't want anybody getting in to steal his superweapon.>

<There's more,> Marlo added. <It looks like someone's added an alarm spell on the door. Much more recently than the rest of the magic in the stone.>

Cramer cast a detect undead and scanned the general area, seeing nothing untoward. Jhasspok circled the entire building, making sure there was nobody hiding behind the structure. Khari went with him, examining the building for any alternate ways inside. There were none. <What do we do?> Khari asked. <We can't get into the building without triggering the alarm spell.>

<Then we trigger the alarm spell,> reasoned Utred. <We need to get that weapon.> He reached out for the pair of stone doors and they slid open sideways at his touch. Utred wasn't sure if it was because they somehow detected his bloodline or what, but it seemed like a reasonable assumption. The dwarves of Brunniir had made a big deal about his grandfather having sealed up the forge for someone of his own lineage to open.

With the doors open, everyone standing at the entrance could see inside, given their darkvision-enhanced eyesight. There was a massive anvil at the rear of the structure, and Marlo noticed something odd about it right away. <There's something on the anvil blocking the auras of magic behind it,> she told the others. <I've still got my detect magic spell up and for some reason the top of the anvil is messing up the detection.>

<That's gotta be the weapon!> Utred said, stepping forward into his grandfather's forge.

<I'll stay out here and wait for whoever cast the alarm spell to show up,> Jhasspok said. It was a remarkable feat of reasoning for the lizardfolk, who still didn't really understand the whole workings of magic. But if someone put an alarm on a door, that meant they wanted to be notified when somebody opened the door. He hefted his magic battleaxe and turned his back on the forge, looking outwards for danger.

The others stepped into the building behind Utred. As he approached the anvil, he saw off to his left a shadowy figure with arms raised and waving about; he almost attacked the creature - who looked rather like an undead shadow - until he noticed it was imprisoned inside a glass cylinder that reached from floor to ceiling and appeared only to be trying to find a way out of its prison. Convinced it couldn't hurt them - at least not yet - Utred let his greataxe hang in his grip at his side as he approached the cylinder. There were dwarven runes carved on the floor around the cylinder, inscribing a warning not to release the creature.

<That's odd,> remarked Cramer. <It's not undead.> His detect undead spell was likewise still operating and the creature's aura did not register on his magical senses. Whatever this willowy creature was, it was apparently a living being.

And then another shadowy figure appeared, this one most definitely undead, for Utred was able to see entirely through its transparent body. The dwarven barbarian flinched and raised his axe, causing Marlo to ask what was up; she apparently did not see the figure Utred saw. But Utred saw the figure just fine: it was a dwarf, with thinning hair and a beard the color of gray slate, wearing a leather apron over his clothes. The figure spoke aloud, although only Utred was able to hear the message the ghost had only for him.

<What's going on?> Cramer demanded. He'd moved over to Utred's side and now that the barbarian wasn't blocking his view he was picking up the aura of an undead creature beside the anvil, although he saw nothing.

<It's my grandfather,> Utred said, relaying the ghost's message. <He says this is the Null Axe and it's completed and ready for use. Only he says we have to destroy all of the Writhing Gates, not just the three we thought would make it impossible for the Dying One to return.>

<What? Why all ten?>

<I don't know - that's just what he said, okay?>

<Somebody's here,> came another voice over the telepathic link; it took the others a moment to realize it was Jhasspok, who normally avoided "talking" with his mind whenever possible, as he was somewhat freaked out when sudden voices sounded in his head. As a case in point, he flinched with an audible gasp from outside the dwarven forge when a sixth voice entered the telepathic conversation. <I will be needing that weapon,> the voice said. <Surrender it to me and you may live.>

Utred was having none of that nonsense. He grabbed up the Null Axe - which was wrapped in some silvery fabric and tied down such that the fabric wouldn't slip off the weapon - and stuffed it inside Marlo's bag of holding, reasoning if the weapon was in an extradimensional space the unknown enemy might have a harder time finding it, and possibly even sensing it. Then, on the off chance the enemy did know it was inside the bag, Utred figured it would be best if he held onto it rather than Marlo - better to make him the primary target than the slight human woman.

The others stepped back to the doorway and saw what Jhasspok was facing down: it was a mind flayer, but one unlike any of the others they had ever seen before. This one had the typical four standard tentacles hanging down from its face, but these were emaciated and barely half the thickness of a normal illithid's appendages. For that matter, the rest of its skin was stretched tight to the bone, giving the creature a withered appearance. It was only when Cramer stepped to the side and got a straight line of sight with the creature that he was able to sense its blazing aura of undeath.

Marlo replied for the group at large in the form of a disintegrate spell she sent blasting at the alhoon - an undead mind flayer lich, extending its life after death indefinitely that it might continue its endeavors long after the end of its own natural lifespan. However, while the beam of energy struck the illithilich without fail, it didn't manage to overcome the creature's innate resistance to spells and the disintegrate spell fizzled away without any discernible effect.

Khari was the closest of the melee combatants to the doorway and was thus the first to reach the alhoon, swinging his warhammer in an arc that went crashing into the side of the undead illithid. There was a crunching sound as the weapon hit that Khari hoped was the crushing of bones, but then there was a blur above him and there was Jhasspok, leaping over the short dwarven fighter to go crashing into the illithilich. The lizardfolk had dropped his battleaxe on the ground before leaping at the undead foe and crashed into him with arms outspread wide. As they both collapsed to the ground, Jhasspok was sure to land with his arms pinning the alhoon tightly to his body in a bear hug from which the undead thing was unable to escape, struggle as he might. The alhoon had held a jet-black staff at his side but it fell from his grasp as Jhasspok barreled into him. Pinned as he was, he had only one way to strike back at his hulking foe - and Jhasspok didn't even notice the creature's foul, necromantic touch failing to get past his death ward spell.

<Fool! Release me!> demanded the alhoon but Jhasspok paid him no heed. The illithilich wriggled back and forth and struggled to escape the lizardfolk's grasp, but it was no use - he simply did not have the physical strength to do so.

"Hold on to him tight!" Cramer called out loud, afraid of scaring the lizardfolk even momentarily by "talking" inside his head. But Jhasspok didn't let his grip on the alhoon waver and the powerful undead - with dozens of spells prepared in his undead skull just waiting to be released - was unable to cast any of them with his arms pinned to his sides. What followed was a fun-filled episode of the two dwarves carefully lining up their blows, afraid to hit the lizardfolk as the undead illithid did his best to wrest free and Jhasspok held him as firmly in place as he could, while Marlo and Cramer took turns blasting single-target spells at the alhoon and hoping to penetrate past his magical defenses. Marlo, at least, knew her empowered magic missile spells had no chance of accidentally hitting Jhasspok if the undead mind flayer moved in the wrong way. But Jhasspok held firm and avoided getting hit with friendly fire, magical or otherwise, and eventually it was a blow from a magical maul Utred had picked up somewhere along his travels that crushed in the alhoon's skull.

"You can let go of him now, Jhasspok," Cramer said once it was apparent the unholy life had departed the parchment-skinned corpse of the illithid spellcaster. "And good work." Jhasspok went back and retrieved his battleaxe while Marlo gave the thing's corpse a once-over with her detect magic spell. The staff it had dropped was a staff of shadows, and freshly made by the looks of it, which she confirmed by holding it in her hands and feeling its power coursing through the warped ebony wood. The creature also, somewhat foolishly, had a device inside a pocket of its robes that Cramer identified as likely being its phylactery, explaining that liches always had some such device capable of storing its life energy upon its apparent destruction.

"But why would it carry it around with it?" Marlo asked. "Wouldn't it make more sense to keep it hidden somewhere?"

"You never know with undead," Cramer answered. "It might have worried someone would discover its phylactery if it was hidden away. By keeping it nearby, it always knew it was safe and there was always the chance if anyone did manage to destroy it they'd simply take the phylactery thinking it was a magic necklace or something." But the gnome was taking no chances, and after several blows from Khari's warhammer and Utred's maul the metal phylactery was in several pieces.

"So now what?" asked Jhasspok, glad they were back to speaking aloud.

"No reason we can't teleport back to Brunniir," Cramer replied, motioning for everyone to bunch up together so he could cast the spell after Utred had closed his grandfather's forge back up. Once back at the Golden City, the spellcasting elder dwarves examined the alhoon's staff of shadows. "Upon th' Plane of Shadows," the dwarven wizard explained, "the spells shadow conjuration an' shadow evocation - both o' which're present in th' staff - are powerful enough t' shape the very plane itself. It were no doubt th' mind flayer lich, usin' a staff like this, which was th' cause of th' buildin's bein' caved off o' th' city."

"Then the alhoon was the one coordinating the attacks by the other undead?" hazarded Marlo.

"Very likely yes, lass. In fact, that makes perfect sense: th' lich would use up th' spells in th' staff t' steal away a buildin' from th' city, then take months to craft up a new staff. That'd explain the months-long gaps between th' attacks."

"It all fits," agreed the elder dwarven cleric.

"Then you'll probably want to hold on to this," Marlo suggested, passing over the staff of shadows. "You might be able to use it to try to re-warp the Plane of Shadows back the way it was and get some of your buildings back." The dwarven wizard thanked her and sent an aide to go fetch a suitable reward for the staff and the slaying of the alhoon. Indeed, since the illithilich had been slain the hordes of incorporeal undead surrounding the city had started wandering away. It would take some time for all of them to leave, for trying to force their way into Brunniir had likely become a force of habit by now, but eventually the city clerics would manage to drive them away and the Golden City could once again enjoy not being under constant siege.

"Well then," said Utred. "We've got the Null Axe, now all we need is the location of the other Writhing Gates and we'll be good to go!" He was ready to return to Overreach and take out the one Writhing Gate they already knew about, but Cramer cautioned him to patience. "Let's wait to hear back from C'thorlumbrox," he said. "Once we start attacking Writhing Gates, the cultists might learn what we're doing and start beefing up the defenses around the others. It might be best to wait until we know the locations of them all and make our plans then."

"Hrrmph," snorted Utred. It made sense, but patience was definitely not his strong suit. "Hey," he said suddenly, recalling his grandfather's surname. "Is 'Greyale' an actual type of ale?"

"It is," replied one of the wizard's aides. "Would ye like me t' bring ye a mug o' it?"

"A mug's a good start," Utred agreed.

- - -

So per Logan, the Null Axe functions as a masterwork greataxe except as follows: when wielded it ignores all magical defenses of the target that affects Armor Class or Damage Reduction. This includes enchanted armor, rings, etc. as well as all spells, spell-like effects and/or supernatural effects. However, the wielder has all magical effects upon their person suppressed as well. Spellcasters cannot cast spells while wielding the axe. The antimagic properties are not strong enough to prevent instantaneous effects (like a fireball spell) from affecting the wielder. Despite its antimagic nature it is treated as magic for the purpose of overcoming damage reduction that comes from extraordinary abilities.

Logan statted up the alhoon as not just a wizard, but a shadowcaster from the Tome of Magic, thinking he'd throw some new stuff at us we'd never seen before in this campaign or any of our previous other campaigns. Of course, all of those plans went up in smoke when Jhasspok successfully grappled him and prevented him from doing anything at all as the rest of the PCs whittled him down to death. Jhasspok might not be anywhere near as powerful as some of his companions, but I do enjoy playing him and he does occasionally have his moments - and this was definitely one of them.

And, in no small part due to the fact that alhoon was a CR 18 encounter, we leveled up to 14th at the end of this adventure. Marlo, Cramer, and Utred added a level of their sole classes, Jhasspok took another level of fighter, and Khari took one level of psychic warrior, the only level he intends on taking, but this gives him a +2 to damage that stacks with his Weapon Specialization and Greater Weapon Specialization, which will be nice considering he can do that three times per day for a full minute each time, which in this campaign (with sessions lasting 2-3 hours on Wednesday nights), practically guarantees "for every battle from now on." Harry's pleased with the tradeoff, even though it cost him a Base Attack Bonus that will be one number lower than his total Hit Dice for the rest of the campaign. (Welcome to my world, Khari: Jhasspok's first three levels as a lizardfolk gained him an overall +1 BAB, so I'm perpetually two numbers lower than a combat-oriented PC of my Hit Dice would be.)
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