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Raiders of the Overreach

Richards

Legend
ADVENTURE 41: ONLY DEATH AWAITS

PC Roster:
Cramer Appleknocker, gnome cleric 14​
Jhasspok, lizardman 3/barbarian 3/fighter 8​
Khari Hammerslammer, dwarf fighter 13/psychic warrior 1​
Marlo Pendragon, human sorcerer 14​
Utred "Buckets" Butterflinger, dwarf barbarian 14​

Game Session Date: 15 September 2021

- - -

After a night's rest in the city of Bruuniir (and a night on the Plane of Shadow looked pretty much like a day on the Plane of Shadow, as the group soon found out), Cramer used a combination of a plane shift spell and a teleport spell to return the group to the city of Greenvale. And there they found a rather distinctive person waiting for them, one whose presence was certainly making the inhabitants of Greenvale nervous - for it was none other than C'thorlumbrox the ulitharid, a nine-foot mind flayer who dined upon humanoid brains for his sustenance.

<I have news,> C'thorlumbrox informed the group without preamble. <The colony is still deciphering the locations of the various Writhing Gates, but one had been identified as the Temple of Thephobak.>

"And you know where this temple is?" asked Cramer.

<I know where this temple was,> the ulitharid corrected him. <Thephobak was a known illithid colony many centuries ago. If there is an active Writhing Gate in the crumbed ruins of an illithid colony, it has the highest likelihood of having a neothelid nearby. Therefore, if you do indeed have a means of destroying a Writhing Gate, that is the first one you should target.>

"What's a neo--" began Jhasspok, but Marlo had anticipated his question and answered, "Big giant worm that we're supposed to kill." Oh, that, Jhasspok thought to himself.

"And you can get us to these ruins?" pressed Cramer.

<I can teleport us to a location three days away from the fallen colony. Given the unreliability of teleporting in the Underdark, that's as close as I can guarantee safe passage. I will stay in that location and telepathically guide you from there. After you have destroyed the Writhing Gate, you can return the way you came and I can facilitate your return.>

"Okay, then," agreed the gnome. "Give us time to stock up on provisions and we'll be ready to go!"

An hour later the six figures were in the Underdark, a radius around them lit up by the illumination from their various slave-light cloaks. It made them stand out like a beacon in the otherwise lightless subterranean world, but as only the dwarves Khari and Utred had darkvision it was either announce their presence to potential enemies or have Cramer, Marlo, and Jhasspok stumble around blindly - not an option.

As promised, C'thorlumbrox imparted a mental map of the area and the winding path through the various tunnels and passageways they needed to take to get to the ruins of Thephobak directly into the heroes' minds. Then, with a hearty wave goodbye, Cramer cast a longstrider spell upon himself and the five heroes left the ulitharid behind them.

Marlo had always liked the beginning of a brand new adventure, when they had a goal in mind and were taking the first steps towards reaching it. But those first few steps, it turned out, were merely the beginning of hundreds of thousands of steps that would follow - three days of trudging through dark passageways, not knowing if the next turn would lead them into the maw of a hungry purple worm or a roper or perhaps even something worse. After five hours of walking, Marlo was muttering under her breath about the stupid Underdark background radiation making stupid teleport spells unreliable, and how much her stupid feet hurt in her stupid boots and she better not be getting a stupid blister...it was almost a relief when the group, as one, all felt some strange sensation that set their teeth on edge and the hairs on the backs of their necks (well, all except for Jhasspok, who had no hair) standing upright. Even a bout of combat would be a refreshing change of pace from the drudgery of constant trudging!

"You guys feel that?" Utred asked the others. "Kinda tingly sensation?"

"Yeah," Khari answered. "Seems familiar, somehow."

"It does," agreed the dwarven barbarian. "Kinda like when we go through our own Writhing Gate." Cramer acknowledged the similarity by casting a magic circle against evil upon himself, wondering if there were another Writhing Gate around here or - much more likely - if someone was using a Writhing Gate to teleport somewhere in the vicinity. Khari gripped his earthglide warhammer tightly, looking about him for potential enemies. Utred, magic greataxe in hand, ran forward towards where he felt the emanations coming from, scanning down two tunnels at a junction point where the cavern split off into two directions, his dwarven darkvision showing him no enemies to fight. Jhasspok had no darkvision and could only see slightly past the illumination of his slave-light cloak, but he followed in the barbarian's wake, trusting in his friend's senses. And Marlo cast her own protection from evil spell, walking towards Utred and Jhasspok. She too looked around for any foes that might be in the area, her human eyesight squinting into the darkness, but she saw nothing - although she could pick up the sweet smell of decaying flesh somewhere nearby.

And there close by the heroes, unseen in the cavern, the Observer silently watched her prey, studying where best to sink her blade and confident that her invisibility spell would prevent her from being discovered until she was ready to strike.

As such, it was the two undead rogues who made the first strike. They too had been covered in invisibility spells, which shattered as their weapons both struck home, the blades of their short swords stabbing into Marlo's unsuspecting flesh as they popped back into visibility, too late for the startled sorceress to do anything to stop their attack. She cried out in pain as the blades stabbed into her torso from either side.

Then, to add insult to injury, another figure popped into view as he fired his weapon. The undead form of a bowman suddenly stood several paces in front of Marlo and the arrow he had just fired from his bow went flying across the distance between them to bury itself in her shoulder. She grunted in pain and almost staggered to her knees as her legs started to give out.

Another undead form appeared in the cavern, this one right in front of Utred. By the looks of it, this one was a soldier of some type, a half-orc outfitted in thick plate mail armor and striking the barbarian with his bastard sword. Utred took the blow in stride, feeling the pain but shunting it away from his mind so it didn't distract him from the job needed at hand, mainly slaying these undead abominations who had suddenly appeared out of nowhere.

Cramer decided to do something about these undead; raising his holy symbol of Fharlanghn before him and channeling a blast of positive energy through it, he caused the two undead female rogues who had stabbed Marlo to flee in apparent terror. As Marlo cast a short-distance teleport spell to get away from these undead foes, the zombie women ran right past Utred in their haste to put as much distance between themselves and Cramer's holy symbol and the dwarf took the opportunities - two of them, one right after the other - to slice into their non-living flesh as they raced past him. Utred wasn't quite sure just what it was they were fighting, for their skin was rotting like a zombie's but they were just as fast as any living foes the barbarian had ever fought, and they certainly weren't shambling about like the zombies he'd dealt with before. And they were able to take much more damage than a standard zombie could, for despite the great wounds Utred inflicted upon the two corpse creatures as they ran past they were still up and running after he'd made his attacks.

Khari used the power of his warhammer to earthglide beneath the stone of the cavern, popping back up to ground level in time to swing his weapon into the back of one of the fleeing undead rogues. He could tell they had both once been human, and in fact looked very much like each other - sisters, probably, maybe even twin sisters at that. A brief flickering of familiarity tickled his brain at that notion, but he was too involved in combat to give it much thought.

Utred had turned back to face the undead half-orc, deciding he was a bigger threat than a pair of fleeing zombie girls. His greataxe cut deep into the animated corpse's plate armor, tearing through metal as easily as the undead flesh and bone beneath it. Jhasspok followed up with a blow from his own battleaxe and the animated corpse fell unmoving to the ground, the first of the casualties in this unexpected combat.

And then the final combatant entered the scene. This combatant was completely unexpected, for it was none other than Jhasspok: a second Jhasspok, identical in all respects, who swung his battleaxe in an overhead arc at the first Jhasspok. The weapon's blade missed with its first strike, but then this second Jhasspok swung it around and brought it down again and this time it hit, carving through the scales of the first lizardfolk's shoulder and down several inches until it hit bone. The injured Jhasspok hissed in pain, dodging back to forcibly yank himself away from the blade embedded in his body.

The undead ranger fired another arrow at Marlo, who fortunately was now far enough away that she had time to react, and the shaft went whizzing harmlessly past her ear without making contact. But as he was now the closest of their undead enemies to the little gnome, Cramer targeted him with a searing light spell, stepping forward as the beam of light bolted from his raised palm and started eating away at the ranger's animated corpse like acid where it struck. Then Khari wheeled and struck at the ranger with his warhammer, connecting with a solid blow to the side of the head which might have easily slain a living foe.

Utred, having had his original foe drop in a motionless heap before him, spun about to face a new foe - and was surprised to see not one but two Jhasspoks side by side, trading blows with their identical battleaxes. "Great, which one's the real Jhasspok?" Utred cried out aloud.

"I am!" replied both Jhasspoks at once, neither taking their eyes off their mirror image for a moment as their blades swung back and forth at each other. That was rather predictable, Utred thought to himself. Then sudden inspiration struck and he called out, "Look - a fish!"

"Where?" demanded one of the Jhasspoks (the heavily wounded one), turning his head to look where Utred was pointing. That settled it to Utred's satisfaction and he brought his greataxe swinging into the unwounded Jhasspok, who was now unwounded no longer. Jhasspok took the opportunity of the other lizardfolk's attention being focused on the raging dwarven barbarian to snap at his lookalike foe with his rows of sharp teeth and was surprised to find this "lizard" tasted very much like a human. Weird! But this second Jhasspok took a couple of steps backwards, out of immediate range of the two heroes, and disappeared from view.

Marlo summoned the energy within herself and sent it out through her fingertips in the form of an empowered scorching ray spell. The gouts of fire enveloped the body of the undead ranger, whose unliving corpse shot up in flames as he collapsed to the stone floor of the Underdark cavern. The fire consumed his body, providing an additional source of illumination in the cavern as it burned.

Cramer cast a true seeing spell on his eyes and in the general area where the second Jhasspok had been there now stood a human woman wearing a robe covered with eyeballs. "Guys!" he called out to the others. "Invisible enemy, about ten feet straight in front of where Utred's standing!"

Khari pointed himself in the direction indicated, sunk below the stone floor of the cavern, and popped back up to surface level swinging his earthglide warhammer; he grinned as it connected with their invisible foe, eliciting an all-too-human cry of pain in the process. Utred swung his greataxe in swooping arcs, managing to hit her at least once in the process. And then Jhasspok decided to use the same maneuver that had worked so well against the illithilich on the Plane of Shadows: dropping his battleaxe at his side, he leaped the distance between him and where the invisible person should be, arms held out wide at his sides ready to squeeze his foe into a hug and hopefully hold her still in a grapple while his friends cut her down with their weapons.

Against the illithilich, the stratagem had worked like a charm. Against this current foe it was sheer folly, for Jhasspok's flying tackle did nothing but impale himself on the end of the lizardfolkbane short sword the assassin held out before her, grinning an invisible grin as her hated foe did most of her work for her. Jhasspok ended up on the stone cavern floor as intended, but it was in a rapidly-expanding pool of his own blood and without an invisible enemy pinned in his grasp. And to make matters worse, he had thrown away his most powerful weapon, which now lay ten feet behind him as he bled out.

With unseen glee, the Observer - still cloaked in her greater invisibility spell, preventing the illusion of Jhasspok she had cast over her true form from being seen - stabbed out again with her assassin's weapon, cutting through scales, flesh, and sinew with equal ease. Jhasspok lay sprawled onto the cavern floor, if not already dead surely hanging onto life by the slimmest of threads.

All of the combat was now some distance away from Marlo, so she ran to catch up, casting a false life spell on herself as she did so, hoping it would keep her in the fight longer despite her own quite horrific wounds.

And then, to the Observer's mounting horror, that damned gnome cleric ran up and touched the dying Jhasspok on the tail, infusing the hatred reptile's body with a quickened cure serious wounds spell. She cried out in fury, then in surprise as a glowing quarterstaff suddenly materialized in the air before and slammed down towards the top of her skull. She only just barely managed to avoid its blow at the very last second. Cramer smiled quietly to himself; with his true seeing spell still active, he'd seen his spiritual weapon spell almost conk her on the head but good - and even if the first attack missed, there would be plenty of other attacks in the future, plus it diverted her attention away from Jhasspok, who for some reason seemed to be her primary target in this oddball fight. She was quite obviously alive; strange that she had partnered up with those fast-moving zombies!

Khari still couldn't see his invisible foe, but now he had a floating quarterstaff just about pointing out her location; he swung his warhammer for all it was worth and felt a solid blow hit his unseen foe with what sounded to him like the breaking of a few ribs. Utred's greataxe likewise came crashing down on the Observer, who screamed in fury at her plans being thwarted as much as from the pain of the wounds she was taking. Crawling back up onto his hands and knees, Jhasspok - who had other weapons at his disposal besides the battleaxe he had tossed aside - saw only red and let the fires of his rage guide his attack. He leaped out suddenly against his tormentor, hoping to find the soft flesh of her neck between his snapping teeth. But he had much less experience in allowing his rage to guide his instincts than Utred (who practically made a living at it) and his rage sent him sprawling onto the floor, having missed the Overseer entirely.

Marlo now found herself lined up behind Utred and the probable location of the invisible assassin. The problem was, the Observer was still invisible to Marlo and all of Cramer's vocalizations of the assassin's current location wouldn't let her target her with a magic missile. Finally, realizing Utred would probably not even notice any damage he might take from the spell attack (seriously, that dwarf never even seemed to realize he was bleeding until after the current fight was over, and Marlo had no idea how he managed to do that), the sorceress cast a lightning bolt at Utred, merely using the tough-as-nails barbarian as a guideline so as not to catch Jhasspok in the blast of electrical energy she discharged from her hand. As expected, Utred hardly even noticed when the blast of magical lightning went channeling through his body (Marlo winced out an involuntary "Sorry!" nonetheless), and only Cramer had the disheartening view of the Observer twisting her body to minimize the effects of the electrical discharge, such that it looked like she might have avoided all electrical damage from the attack.

However, despite her success in completely avoiding the lightning bolt, the Observer had her own disheartening realization to make: with the animated corpses of her companions either destroyed outright or turned by that damned cleric, there was no way she was going to be able to kill all five of her targets by herself. So, that being the case, she swore a silent oath to herself that at the very least she'd see that hand-eating lizard brought down before she died! Her lizardfolkbane short sword stabbed out again, dropping Jhasspok back into unconsciousness even if he wasn't currently quite as close to death this time as the last time she'd rendered him insensate. (And damn that gnome in any case for having saved the worthless reptile's life!)

The "damn gnome" in question infuriated the Observer even further by almost casually reaching out with a hand and channeling a cure critical wounds spell through it and into Jhasspok's battered body. The lizardfolk shook his head as he came back to consciousness and staggered to his feet, looking dazedly about for wherever his battleaxe might have gone.

Screaming in fury, the Observer's cries quickly turned into screams of pain as she was rapidly beaten down by Utred's axe, Khari's hammer, and Cramer's spiritual weapon spell. Then the gnome, seeing she was unconscious but still breathing (and in no danger of bleeding out too quickly for his purposes), used his staff of healing to bring Jhasspok back up a little closer to full health. He then turned to see to Marlo, who had suffered quite a beating herself, only to have her point behind him and cry, "Look out!"

Cramer spun about and saw the undead twins racing his way, short swords out and ready to kill him - apparently, the turning effect had worn off and they had returned to finish the job they had started. But Cramer was in the middle of something himself - namely, healing his friends - and didn't want to be bothered at the moment. He nonchalantly lifted his holy symbol in their direction and sent a blast of powerful energy through it, causing the twins to stop short, twist their faces into paroxysms of horror, and flee back the way they had come.

"Now then, where was I?" Cramer murmured aloud, "Ah yes: Marlo, would you like some healing?"

"Yes, please," Marlo replied, stepping forth to be healed by a spell from the gnome's staff.

Utred and Khari, in the meantime, had been attending to the task of tying up their prisoner with strong ropes taken from the dwarven fighter's backpack. The task was made much easier when the assassin's greater invisibility spell wore off, after which time they could see her as she truly was, for the illusion spell giving her the appearance of Jhasspok had likewise expired. "Check out the weird eyeballs!" Khari said, looking at the orbs covering her robes - some of which occasionally blinked. (Or was that just a trick of the flickering light of the flames burning the half-orc fighter's body?)

"Check out her wrists, too!" added Utred, who had been in the process of binding her hands together and had noticed the stitches encircling each wrist. And now that he gave them closer attention, the hands were not the exact shade of skin color as her arms...it looked like she'd had somebody else's hands sewn onto her own severed wrists....

And then it all clicked into place in Khari's mind. "Hey! Do you know who these people are? The same assassins who attacked us in that town, right after we met up with Cramer's parents, remember?" That's why those twin female human rogues had seemed familiar to him! (And then, almost as if the dwarf's thoughts of them had summoned them forth for a third time, the twin corpse creatures returned yet again after the effects of Cramer's second turning wore off; this time the cleric didn't bother turning them a third time but rather let Utred cut them down with his greataxe.)

"Wake her up," commanded Cramer. Jhasspok, intrigued (for he hadn't recognized the assassin from his prior interaction with her; all humans kind of looked alike to him) did just that, and the woman known only as the Observer woke up only to see the hated visage of that stupid lizardfolk staring down at her.

"So, you want to explain what all this is about?" asked Cramer. "Or do we let the lizardfolk kill you?"

"Do it," replied the Observer, lifting her head to expose her neck. "I'd prefer death to what awaits me."

"Well, then we'll withhold death until we get some answers," snarled Marlo. She was still mad at how those twins had stabbed her in the sides at the same time, bringing her much closer to death than she'd been in as long as she could remember. The twins were undead and probably didn't feel pain, but a human captive, on the other hand....

"Fair enough," sighed the Observer. "I'll tell you everything you want to know, if you promise to kill me afterwards." Jhasspok volunteered at once to do the killing.

What followed was an explanation of how the Riven Assassins Guild worked: when they accept a job, they guarantee that no retaliation against their employer will occur should the assassination attempt meet with failure. But in this case, the person who had hired the assassins to kill these particular five targets - one Llolnida Alyxyra Bel'vior, Mortal Queen of the Drow - had in fact been slain by the very targets she had paid to have killed. Therefore, if the assassins who had taken up the original job couldn't retroactively finish the task, it would be a black mark upon the Guild's reputation.

"So if I don't kill the lot of you, or die by your hands in the attempt, in three days the curse placed upon me will come into effect, and I'll be turned into one of those corpse creatures, like the others who had attacked you back in Riven. I'd be an undead monstrosity, still aware of the agony of my rotting flesh as my mortal body decomposed around me. I'd rather face the literal Hell awaiting me after death than have to go through the figurative Hell that slavery to the Guild as an undead abomination would entail. So again: kill me."

"Not so fast," Cramer said, holding back Jhasspok with a raised hand. "We have some more questions. First off: who's the head of the Riven Assassins Guild?"

"The Guild Leader is a drow woman by the name of Pellanistra Xiltyn. She's a distant cousin to Matron Bel'voir, who you killed."

"How many assassins are part of the Guild?" Cramer wanted to know next, but there he got no answer, for the Observer had no real idea; the assassins worked in their own cells of four to six members, knowing only those they reported directly to so that no captured assassin could turn in the rest of the Guild. That, unfortunately, had the ring of truth to it.

"How were you able to get here to try to kill us?" Cramer demanded next.

"In the catacombs and caves beneath the capitol of Riven, there's an area known to the Guild as the 'Writhing Chamber.' A mind flayer - you know what that is, right? - dwells within, and uses the chamber as a teleportation device of some kind, although its use had been banned since the incident in Grover's Comb. Due to the urgent nature of my mission, and the time constraints I was under, I was allowed to bypass that ban and use the chamber to ambush you guys." She snorted to herself. "For all the good it did me."

Cramer looked over to the others. "Anybody else have any questions for her?" he asked. When nobody did, he turned back to the Observer. "Anything else you want to say?"

"Nope. Let's just get it over with." Once again, she angled her head to the side, exposing as much of her neck as was possible. Then, at Cramer's nod, Jhasspok opened his mouth wide and ripped out the assassin's throat, filling his mouth with warm blood and the infrequent treat of human flesh. Marlo turned away from the sight, her face wrinkled in disgust.

"I have a question," Jhasspok offered up once he'd finished chewing and swallowing his mouthful of meat.

"Well, it's a little late now!" chided Utred. "She's not likely to answer you in her current condition!"

"No, not for her," Jhasspok explained, "for you."

"Oh. Okay then, ask away."

Jhasspok looked at the cavern floor all around him, spotting his discarded battleaxe and picking it up, then continuing to examine the stone floor. "...There really wasn't a fish, was there?" he asked.

Utred snickered to himself. "No, Jhasspok. That was just a trick to make sure which one was the real you."

The lizardfolk sighed and looked longingly over at the slain body of the Observer, who was being untied and the eye of robes stripped from her corpse. Marlo was holding it up and examining it appreciatively. Jhasspok sighed again. No fish, and he knew the others were going to make him just let all the rest of that human meat go to waste. It was a real shame.

- - -

So even though we didn't actually get to try to take down the first of the Writhing Gates in this adventure, we inadvertently found out the general location of another one. So the players all kind of think we know what the next two adventures will be about, although you never know with Logan. He managed to take us all by surprise with the sudden reappearance of the assassins we had fought back in adventure 20, "Revin It Up."

We got some cool loot off these assassins, though; Cramer ended up with a metamagic rod of silent spell; Marlo's keeping the Observer's robe of eyes, and Jhasspok now wears her bracers of armor, since hers were a +6 and his old pair was only a +4.
 

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