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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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Richards

Legend
ADVENTURE 42: THE TEMPLE OF THEPHOBAK

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: 22 September 2021

- - -

C'thorlumbrox had said it would be another three days before the group made it by foot to the ruins of the fallen illithid colony of Thephobak - and he had been absolutely right. Fortunately, the rest of that trek had been uneventful; they'd encountered nothing dangerous in the lightless tunnels of the Underdark caverns and the telepathic map the ulitharid had provided them allowed them to continue on to their destination without any concerns about getting lost. And thus, three days after having set off, the five adventurers found themselves in Thephobak.

"Let's stop here and prepare our combat spells," suggested Cramer.

"Why?" asked Jhasspok, "Do you see something?" The lizardfolk didn't see anything, but his vision was limited to the radius of illumination provided by their slave-light cloaks. (So was Cramer's for that matter but Jhasspok had no idea if the little gnome might have done something magic to enhance his vision, the way he always cast that longstrider spell on himself the first thing in the morning so he had a better time of keeping up with those who stood a normal height and had what the lizardfolk considered to be a normal-sized stride. Spellcasters were always doing weird stuff like that.)

"No, but it makes sense if we're going to end up fighting a giant worm, it'll be here where the Writhing Gate stands."

"Do you see a giant worm?" asked Jhasspok, looking around and seeing nothing but an enormous cavern, with some of the massive stalagmites he could see in the radius of illumination apparently having been carved into dwellings, given the openings for doors and windows that hadn't been made that way naturally. For all the place looked to have been deliberately crafted into a series of buildings, none of them seemed occupied at the moment - the cavern was entirely silent but for the echoes of their own words.

"Not at the moment," conceded Cramer, "but remember what C'thorlumbrox said: if there's a neothelid anywhere around here, it's liable to be attracted to the Writhing Gate."

Jhasspok looked around again. "I don't see a Writhing Gate," he supplied.

"It's probably somewhere in the cavern," Marlo suggested. "Now hush while we prepare our spells." Jhasspok knew what that meant. He settled on his tail for balance and pulled out a dried dung beetle from his satchel. If past experience was any indicator, this could take a while.

Sure enough, Marlo took the time to cover herself in a stoneskin spell and then a magic circle against evil spell, following those two up with a Rary's telepathic bond spell upon the entire group of five. Cramer cast a different variety of spells upon himself than usual, first a magic vestment spell that he hoped would protect him from physical harm and then a spell turning spell that would hopefully keep him safe from enemy spellcasting, for while he wasn't sure what all to expect from a neothelid he was willing to bet if the Writhing Gate were active it would have at least one mind flayer around to "pilot" it, possibly more.

Marlo tested the Rary's telepathic bond spell - a process that always startled Jhasspok, who doubted he'd ever get used to people talking to him inside his own head. But this time he didn't seem like the only one startled, for everyone gave their head a shake as if trying to clear it; none of them realized it, but a mass cloud mind spell had just been successfully cast upon them.

"We ready?" Khari asked, heading into the cavern with the others following behind. Before too long, Marlo discovered (with the double-strength darkvision granted to her from her new eye of robes, a piece of loot she'd taken from the female assassin who had ambushed them days ago) a 100-foot-diameter dome ahead. <I think I might have found where our Writhing Gate is located,> she told the others over their telepathic communication network. As they got closer they could see the dome had been carved in the image of a giant illithid head, with its open mouth - between four tentacles, two along the ground and two raised in the air - forming the doorway. <Betcha anything the Writhing Gate's in there.>

<It does seem likely,> Cramer agreed.

Khari led the others inside but was instantly wary of danger. He gripped his earthglide warhammer tightly, looking around for enemies but seeing none. Just ahead of him was a raised circle of stone, the inside of which was filled with briny water, likely the location of the illithid city's elder brain, back in the days when it was still populated by mind flayers. In fact, the pool was where the illithid tadpoles would have lived; the neothelid would have started life as one of those tadpoles, then it no doubt fed on its brothers and sisters after whatever cataclysm occurred to force the mind flayers to evacuate their city.

And behind the pool of water stood the Writhing Gate, a ring of ten tentacles reaching up to the very top of the dome. The tentacles swayed and twitched every now and then, but the Gate itself didn't look like it was active. And no wonder: at the base of nine of the tentacles were the petrified illithid statues the group had seen on the Writhing Gate close to the Underdark city of Overreach, but these ones had mostly been smashed up and parts of them lie strewn in the form of rubble beside the fungal-wood growths by each tentacle that served as a chair. It looked as if someone had already attempted to take down this Writhing Gate, although the sole unoccupied seat - where the illithid "pilot" would sit - was unharmed and none of the ten tentacles looked any the worse for wear.

<I don't like it,> Khari told the others over the link. <It's too quiet - too still.> He gripped his warhammer tightly and prepared to use it against any enemy that might show up.

Marlo was also feeling uneasy for no reason she could put her finger upon, so she decided she didn't want to walk by the pool of open water in case something might jump out at her. She thus cast a teleport - sometimes a risky thing to do in the Underdark, but given she was merely relocating herself to somewhere within visual distance she figured it was probably safe. (It was.) But then something unseen brushed past her mind and also into Utred's, while staying far from the minds of the other three: <Open...open...> it said in a whispering mental voice that sounded like more than a mere suggestion, more like an out-and-out command.

Utred followed Marlo into the chamber, walking past the pool without incident. He reached over for the Null Axe, which was wrapped in its special silvery blanket inside the bag of holding the sorceress kept on behalf of the entire group. She passed the weapon over, but before the dwarven barbarian could unwrap it he caught a bit of motion up above him and happened to glance up.

That was a mistake.

Utred's eyes took in a sight his mind didn't want to acknowledge: hovering far above him was an enormous, pink-skinned worm that had to have been at least 120 feet long. Its body was currently held in a sideways arc, with its four-tentacled head looking down at the group of heroes below it. Utred felt as if it had pierced him in its gaze, although later he wouldn't be able to tell for sure whether he had seen eyes on the monster worm or not.

But Utred - by no means a coward - felt an unfamiliar terror creep over his brain and he fled back the way he had come, screaming a warning out about "The worm! The worm! It's here, above us!"

Cramer, Khari, and Jhasspok looked up at the ceiling and saw nothing out of the ordinary: a few scattered stalactites hanging down from the top of the rock cavern, but that was to be expected. Still, just to be safe, Cramer cast a magic circle against evil spell on himself.

Jhasspok (as was so often the case) had no idea what was going on. The plan, as he understood it, was to use the Null Axe to destroy the Writhing Gate and he had no idea why Utred was suddenly fleeing from his duty, screaming about a giant worm floating above them. The lizardfolk ran forward to intercept the panic-stricken dwarf, grabbing up the Null Axe as he passed. Then he made a bee-line for the Writhing Gate, not sure what had caused the normally level-headed dwarf to panic like that, but the lizardfolk was just as capable of swinging an axe as a dwarf. Jhasspok had no idea that as he sped across the stone floor he was passing underneath the coils of a levitating neothelid some 40 feet or so above him. The worm watched him pass beneath it without any apparent concern. But one thing Jhasspok did notice was that it was nice and quiet on the telepathic link set up between the five heroes. That was a welcome relief; these mammals sure liked chattering back and forth among each other all the time! (He had no idea the reason for the sudden quiet was the Null Axe in his hands blocking out all forms of magic, even the mass cloud mind effect that had been blocking the neothelid from the heroes' awareness; had Jhasspok merely looked above him he would have seen the levitating worm - but Jhasspok was on a mission and his focus was solely on the Writhing Gate before him.)

Khari was still gripping his weapon with both hands, ready to strike, and was now looking above him. He wasn't aware of it but he was looking directly at the worm and the mass cloud mind spell effect was blocking the information the dwarf's eyes were picking up from being delivered to his brain. As far as Khari Hammerslammer was aware, there was nothing above him...although he still had that odd feeling of dread. He stepped carefully and slowly into the cavern as if fearful that each step might trigger a tripwire or something.

Marlo saw nothing overhead either and decided to focus on the task at hand: taking out the Writhing Gate. There were ten slowly-moving tentacles ahead of her; she picked the one physically closest to her present position and cast a disintegrate spell at it. She knew the part of the tentacle she could see was only the tip and that the rest of the appendage - indeed, almost the entirety of the Dying One's severed head - was floating in the Far Realm and her spell would not be able to take out what was left of the Elder God, but she was hoping to at least cause the portion of that one tentacle intruding upon the Material Plane to be eaten away into nothingness. Unfortunately, the spell had no effect whatsoever; she assumed the Dying One had some powerful form of spell resistance that would allow it to ignore most spells cast upon it. If that was the case, her spells would likely be totally useless and they would have to rely upon the power of the Null Axe, which had been specifically constructed to take down the Writhing Gates.

However, Marlo's attempt had not gone unnoticed, as evidenced by the tentacle she'd targeted for disintegration lashing out and slapping her for the attempt. She reeled to the side but managed to retain her footing on the stone floor of the vast cavern.

Looking down upon the five scattered figures below it, the neothelid thought puzzled thoughts. For whatever reason, the two figures it had targeted with a command to open the Writhing Gate had failed to obey. It focused its psionic might on the one with the long hair, attempting to charm Marlo into doing its bidding, but the sorceress was able to fight off the mental attack without even being aware of the attempted intrusion into her will. Utred, in the meantime, turned about again and ran back into the cavern, following Marlo and Jhasspok. He had absolutely no idea what he should do.

Cramer cast a spell resistance spell upon himself. Either because of the sudden ability to resist spells or perhaps due to the perceived attack on Marlo and the telepathic link they currently shared, all of a sudden the mass cloud mind stopped affecting the gnome cleric and he now saw the neothelid floating above him near the cavern's ceiling.

Jhasspok stood before a tentacle in the same stance as a lumberjack about to fell a tree and swung the Null Axe at the rubbery appendage. He felt the axe blade slice its way into the tentacle and cut its way back out again, seemingly meeting almost no resistance; Jhasspok smiled to himself at the thought of how easy this was going to be! But then, to his astonishment, the tentacle before him sealed up almost immediately and was as good as new, without so much as a scar to show where the blade had cut its way through the rubbery flesh. Jhasspok's brow furrowed in puzzlement as to why this "Writhing Gate Destroyer" weapon was proving to be so ineffective against the very item it was built to destroy. He was still standing there trying to puzzle it out when the tentacle lashed out at him, smacking him on the side of the head.

Behind the confused reptile, Khari cautiously approached the Writhing Gate. He was still on full alert, his senses screaming that there was terrible danger nearby but unable to perceive exactly where it might be or how it was hiding. He was still under the full effects of the mass cloud mind spell and had no idea he was standing directly underneath the neothelid they'd been warned by C'thorlumbrox might be nearby.

Marlo still couldn't see any neothelid above her, but with Utred having warned them about it and now Cramer confirming its existence over the Rary's telepathic bond, the sorceress decided to take it on faith that such was the case. Cramer was saying it was up near the ceiling, and the ceiling was high enough that Marlo figured a fireball would surely hit the worm without also hitting any of her friends still down here at ground level. It exploded upon impact as expected, although Marlo still couldn't see if there was a worm up there and if so whether or not it had been hit by the spell.

It most certainly had - and the neothelid decided that was just about enough from this upstart spellcaster who refused to do his bidding. He retaliated against her with a mind thrust, causing her to scream in pain even though she had successfully resisted the worst of the psionic attack. But her telepathic cries over the mental link overrode the mass cloud mind spell effect and now she and Khari were also able to see the levitating neothelid floating in the air above them.

Utred raced over to Cramer, calling out for the gnome to cast a fly spell on him so he could go take the battle to the neothelid. Cramer, however, had his own ideas about the best spells to bring to bear and ignored the overeager dwarf, instead opting to cast a flame strike spell on the neothelid. A mental cry of pain washed over the telepathic bond, leading the gnome cleric to believe he'd caused the worm some amount of suffering.

Jhasspok's reptilian brain - not always the most sensible organ when it came to devising logical plans of attack - had made a series of what passed for him as logical conclusions. They went somewhat as follows:
  • The Null Axe isn't hurting the tentacles like it's supposed to.
  • There's a petrified mind flayer by each tentacle, but they're already smashed up so further smashing up likely won't do any good.
  • The wooden fungus "pilot seat" is not only not currently occupied, but looks to be fully intact.
  • Therefore, if I attack the "pilot seat" I should be able to bring down the Writhing Gate like we're supposed to.
Satisfied with the unassailable logic of his plan, the lizardfolk sprang at the unoccupied seat and brought the blade of the Null Axe crashing down upon it, breaking it nearly completely into splinters. His back was still turned to the neothelid, focused as he was at the task at hand.

Khari looked up at the neothelid, thought about getting out his magic longbow, and decided he'd rather wait until it came down to the ground to attack. His history of fighting giant monster worms was limited to the purple worm they'd fought on their way to Brunniir; as a result, he assumed it would want to come down here to ground level and try to swallow a few of them up as a meal (or at least a light snack). Marlo, on the other hand, wanted to keep the thing in the air away from them if she could, so she launched a Bigby's grasping hand spell up at the neothelid. The spell manifested just fine but couldn't get a grip onto the worm's slick body; she assumed she had failed to overcome the creature's natural defense against spells.

As Khari had anticipated, the worm started lowering itself back down to the ground, forming a coil in midair so its head was aimed at Cramer and Utred when it hit the cavern floor. But rather than try to swallow either of them up, it did quite the opposite: disgorging a wide spray of acid that coated both figures, head to toe. Utred, as was his custom, grimaced in pain but refused to give his foe the satisfaction of letting it know he'd been hurt. Cramer, on the other hand, screamed aloud at the pain as his skin bubbled and burned.

Utred charged forward at the neothelid, his greataxe out and ready to swing. But the worm's tentacles were nearly four times as long as the dwarf was tall and they swatted him aside before he'd gotten close enough to strike with his axe. That sealed it for Cramer: reaching for his most powerful spell, he let a destruction spell fly at the neothelid, realizing he probably wouldn't be able to cause the thing to be utterly destroyed but hoping to at least deal it a decent amount of damage. To his surprise, though, the spell not only made it past the neothelid's natural defenses against spells but also against any additional defenses it was able to bring to bear - and the creature vanished, its body dissolved entirely, with not a speck of living matter remaining.

Jhasspok by this time had finished his heroic attack upon the pilot seat beside one of the Writhing Gate's tentacles and was now trying to figure out why that hadn't destroyed the Gate. Then he turned his head to see why the other four had broken out into full-voiced cheers. "What's going on?" he asked as Cramer cast healing spells on himself and Utred to deal with their acid burns.

"We killed it!" Khari called out. "It's dead!"

"What's dead?" Jhasspok asked. He looked around the cavern and didn't see any dead bodies.

"The neothelid -- the giant worm!" Marlo said. And then Jhasspok understood completely: this was like the time three days ago when Utred had said there was a fish but there had been no fish; now they were claiming there was a worm but there was no worm.

"You're making that up, trying to trick me!" accused Jhasspok, eyes narrowed in disbelief.

But then Utred stopped celebrating, as a ghostly hand and arm reached out from his own body and slapped him in the forehead. Then it pointed back to the entrance to the cavern; Utred, cowed, walked away from the gate and back the way they had come. The others followed, and once they were no longer inside the domed building in the shape of a mind flayer's head, the ghost of Dolthran Greyale departed from Utred's body and spoke to the group.

"Ye've messed it up but good, ye have!" he griped.

"What do you mean?" demanded Cramer. "We killed the worm, just like in the prophecy!"

"That weren't th' prophecy!" argued Dolthran. "Only that 'the Dark Champions would stand before th' Worm,' not that ye'd kill it! We need it alive, so it can kill th' Dying One!"

"Now wait a minute," Cramer argued, "if the worm kills and eats the Dying One, he transforms into the new Uboros and the Elder God is reborn! That's certainly not what we want to have happen!"

"Ach, but it is!" argued Dolthran.

"Why would we--?" began Utred, but he was cut off by Jhasspok.

"Your axe doesn't work," he said simply, holding the Null Axe out to the one who had crafted it.

Dolthran sighed in exasperation. "Well, ye cain't expect t' take down a Writhing Gate with it now, not with th' Dying One still alive!"

"Maybe you'd better explain from the beginning," suggested Marlo.

"Aye, mebbe that's th' best fer it. Very well then, listen up. No weapon forged by mortals would ever be able t' destroy the Writhin' Gates 'cause they be part of th' Primordial Avatar of Uboros, th' first version of th' Elder God t' set foot upon th' world. All attempts t' destroy th' Gates to kill th' Elder God would fail - as ye saw. But by killing th' Elder God first, then th' Gates would no longer have their diving protections."

"But then the worm eats Uboros and becomes Uboros!" argued Cramer.

"Aye, but all studies of th' prophecies point t' there being a 20-year period 'tween th' Dark Champions standin' before th' Worm an' th' destruction o' th' world. So apparently however long it would take fer th' neothelid t' transform into th' new Uboros in the Far Realm, it'd be th' equivalent to 20 years here on th' Material Plane. So by lettin' th' neothelid 'win,' the Writhin' Gates would become vulnerable and ye'd 'ave 20 years to destroy 'em all."

Cramer fumed. "That would have been handy to know before we fought the neothelid!"

"Had me grandson not made a pact with th' evil Elder God, I'd've been able t' tell ye all this before. But since--"

"Wait, what now?" Cramer interrupted. He looked over at the burly barbarian, who was looking down at his feet in shame. "Pact?"

Utred was apparently in the belief that his boots were talking to him, because that's where he directed his answer. "I got a mental summons, He'd boost my vitality if I agreed to serve Him. It seemed like a pretty good deal, especially since I figured I could always betray him at the last minute, like."

Cramer was flabbergasted - so much so that he didn't notice Marlo also suddenly becoming very interested in the tips of her boots as well.

"So since Utred'd made 'is pact with Uboros, I couldn't tell ye the plan or else th' Dyin' One'd snuff out me grandson's soul immediately, instead o' puttin' th' slow curse on 'im like what he done now. By me possessin' me grandson, I were able t' protect Utred's mind - such as it is, the blamed fool - from bein' read an' keepin' 'is plans on betrayin' Uboros a secret. But there were no way fer me t' provide th' rest o' ye th' same protection."

"What's this about a slow curse?" asked Marlo.

"It's a mind thing," Dolthran replied. "Day by day, a piece o' Utred's mind'll be whittled away, until one day, in about two weeks' time, he'll be no more'n a mindless beast - at which time 'is body'll explode into a mass o' tentacles an' claws an' all sorts o' whatnot. A chaos beast, is what it be called, an' that ain't nothin' what can be fixed - once he turns, there'll be no turnin' 'im back."

Utred's complexion went white as the blood drained from his face. Unnoticed by the others, Marlo's face did the same. "Is there anything we can do to prevent that from happening?" the dwarven barbarian demanded. Dolthran conceded that a restoration spell cast upon Utred would delay the process. "But it won't put it off ferever," warned the dwarven ghost. "Eventually, ye'll be losin' more an' more o' yer mind each day, until a restoration spell won't be able t' catch up."

"Don't worry," Cramer reassured the dwarf. "I'll prepare a restoration spell each day until we figure this out." Marlo mumbled something at that and the cleric asked her to repeat it.

"I said, 'better make it two.'"

It took the gnome a moment to understand the meaning behind the sorceress's comment. "No!" he cried. "Not you too!"

"It was the first time we used the Writhing Gate, to go ambush that caravan for Calish," Marlo explained, her eyes starting to tear up. She closed them, not wanting to face her friends, and found she could still see them just fine through the eyes in her new magical robe - just what she didn't want at the moment. "I got the same deal as Utred: serve the Dying One and He'd reward me with a much greater ability to cast spells, or defy him and be punished. I...I opted to take the easy way out."

Cramer shook his head in disbelief. Then he looked over to the others. "Khari? Jhasspok? Anything you'd like to tell me? Now would be the time."

"Me? No, nothing!" sputtered Khari Hammerslammer, insulted at the very thought that he'd have made a bargain with the Dying One - an evil entity capable of destroying the world.

Jhasspok thought it over, then answered the question as he understood it. "Yes, I have something to tell you: I don't think there really was a worm, or I would have seen it. I think you just like to play tricks on me." Cramer sighed; if the lizardfolk was going to have a portion of his mind whittled away each day, the process would probably be complete in two days, tops, and they'd be sure to notice.

"Okay, so we shouldn't have killed the worm, but we did. Where do we go from here?" asked the gnome cleric.

"Bring the worm back to life," suggested Khari. "Are you strong enough to cast a resurrection spell?

"I am, but it wouldn't do us any good - we'd need a piece of the worm's body and I destroyed it to absolute nothingness." Jhasspok just snorted at this assertion: sure he did! "We'd need a true resurrection, but I'm not powerful enough to cast such a spell."

"So who is?" asked Khari.

Cramer thought it over. "Matron Jalamir - but I can't imagine us being able to convince her to abandon the Overreach for three days to trek out here and bring our dead worm back to life."

"A wish spell?" suggested Khari.

"We'd need a wizard or a sorcerer for that," Cramer answered.

"Isn't Marlo a sorcerer?' asked Jhasspok. He was pretty sure she was, but he was still kind of fuzzy on the different types of magic and how they all worked.

"I'm not powerful enough," Marlo told him.

"A miracle spell would work, though," theorized Cramer. "Matron Jalamir could cast that for us from the Overreach, so she wouldn't have to leave the city. But that would just cause the dead body to be brought back to where it was killed. Oh - but then I could cast a resurrection spell on it! That would work! Then we could have Marlo or Utred open the Writhing Gate and let the neothelid go get his yummy Elder God snack!"

"I destroyed the chair," Jhasspok reminded the gnome, only to have the dwarven ghost explain that the seats by each tentacle were not an intrinsic part of the Writhing Gate; they merely made a comfortable place for the pilot to sit. The nine petrified illithids, it turned out, were also just window dressing; the reason the ones at this particular Gate were already smashed up was likely to make it appear as if this Gate was already out of commission.

"What about me and Marlo turning into chaos beasts?" Utred asked.

"Well, an atonement spell would probably be a good start," Cramer mused. "I could cast it, of course, but that takes quite a toll on the caster...." He was already thinking ahead of how Marlo and Utred would both owe him one - a big one - if he cast the spell for them and how he might be able to collect on their debts.

"I've heard tell o' a Hall o' Redemption, where paladins o' old would go when they needed atonin'," suggested Dolthran.

"No offense, Cramer, but I think if I was going to atone I'd rather do it in a Church of Boccob," Marlo said. Partly this was because she had been raised to revere the God of Magic, and partly this was because even though the Rary's telepathic bond spell was no longer in effect she could read on the gnome's face quite clearly how he was planning on collecting the debt of gratitude they'd owe him if he helped them atone for their betrayal.

Eventually, though, the group came up with a cohesive plan. Cramer had a teleport spell ready and was reasonably sure he could use it to get the group back to C'thorlumbrox where they'd left him three days ago, as that location was apparently a safe place to use as an Underdark teleport destination. The ulitharid could then teleport the group back to Greenvale, where they could have Matron Ky'hulcressen cast a miracle spell on their behalf to return the neothelid's body to solid cohesiveness, if not back to life. The group - all but Utred, who could be shielded by his grandfather's ghost hiding inside his body - would need to purchase rings of mind shielding to prevent the psionic worm from reading their thoughts and learning of their scheme, then teleport back to the safe place in the Underdark and from there make the three-day trek back to Thephobak, where Cramer would cast a resurrection spell on the neothelid's corpse. Utred could open the Writhing Gate, the neothelid would go through, and when the Dying One was slain the Null Axe should be able to cut through the dead flesh of the tentacles. Plus, with any luck, the death of the Dying One would also mean the obliteration of the slow curse that had been put on Marlo and Utred since they would have engineered Uboros's death as he had desired.

And the plan worked out as anticipated. This time it was Utred who wielded the Null Axe after the ten tentacles of the Writhing Gate had turned to a grayish white and collapsed, and he had no trouble slicing them off at the bottom, chopping away at the dead flesh with relish at the thought that he'd no longer have to worry about ending his days as a chaos beast. And best of all, he still had his increased vitality, a permanent gift from the Dying One that hadn't disappeared upon the death of Uboros. Marlo was equally pleased to see her increased spellcasting ability hadn't reverted to its previous level upon the death of the Dying One. And Jhasspok was pleased that the other four hadn't been lying to him about the worm after all.

"Well that's one down, eight more to go," Utred said, wiping the sweat from his brow after having chopped away all ten tentacles.

"Better make it nine," suggested Cramer. "I know one of them was supposed to have been already destroyed, but it wouldn't hurt to check and make sure."

"Yeah," Utred agreed. "Good point."

- - -

We opted to go with Matron Ky'hulcressen (the sister of the original) instead of Matron Jalamir since she was more approachable and since we'd already done her sister favors in the past, even when we technically were slaves of House Jalamir. Matron Ky'hulcressen agreed, but we now owe her a service in the future - which is okay, as she's pretty cool for a drow.

And apparently the lesson to be taken away from this string of events is: "It's okay to go behind your adventuring companions' backs and make a secret pact with the Elder God you're all supposed to be defeating, because in the end everything will work out and you'll get to keep the awesome benefits without any penalties." Or in other words, Cramer, Khari, and Jhasspok were apparently fools to not have traded token service to the Dying One in exchange for a permanent +6 increase to the ability score of their choice. Oh well, Khari basically got that benefit in any case when his suddenly-revealed psionic nature bumped his Intelligence up from a 5 to a 12 - and he didn't have to fake-worship any illithid Elder Gods to do it, either.

And I'm probably better off that the Dying One never approached Jhasspok with an offer, as he'd have probably traded his immortal soul for a fish.
 
Last edited:

Richards

Legend
ADVENTURE 43: BACK DOWN IN REVIN TOWN

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: 29 September 2021

- - -

It was good to be back in Greenvale after so much time spent trudging around in the lightless caverns and tunnels of the Underdark. It was good to sleep in a real bed, and to eat better fare than trail rations, and to be able to shop for needed goods. The group spent quite a bit of time topside in the various magic shops - for the sunborn drow had quite a few spellcasters among their number - making new purchases and seeing to having some of their previously-existing magic items upgraded in power.

They also spent a fair bit of time among the Greenvale sages, discussing various strategies about taking down the remaining Writhing Gates. Of course, they already knew where the one House Jalamir had used was located, but that put it lower on the priority list, at least by Cramer Appleknocker's reasoning - they could always go take that one out of commission any time they wanted, or any time they needed a few days to fill. Right now, the gnome cleric was more interested in winkling out the exact location of the "Writhing Chamber" the doomed assassin known only as the Observer had said was somewhere beneath the city of Revin. And the easiest way to do that, the sages all agreed, was to have the group teleport to Revin and then use a find the path spell to lead them directly to where they needed to go.

So, after a few days of recuperating and having their magical upgrades attended to, the five adventurers gathered together and the gnome cleric of Fharlanghn cast the teleport spell that sent them instantly traversing the miles between the two cities and ending up in the city of Revin without incident. "I gotta admit, that sure beats hoofin' it by foot!" Utred enthused.

Cramer pulled out the scroll containing the find the path spell he'd purchased for this endeavor and spoke the magic syllables that activated the spell. Instantly, to his own vision - and his alone - a series of arrows appeared on the ground before him, pointing the way the group would need to go to find the Writhing Chamber. "This way," Cramer pointed, waving Utred over so he could take his customary seat upon the dwarven barbarian's backpack. Climbing up into position, he told Utred, "I'll tell you which way to go."

"You usually do," agreed Utred.

"Don't you get tired of lugging him around all the time?" demanded Marlo, looking in disdain at the lazy gnome.

"Eh, he's not that heavy," Utred commented. "Plus, I don't have the weight of all those weapons anymore, so I'm actually carrying less weight with him on me back than I was before." Utred Butterslinger was a walking arsenal and until recently he'd traveled with all sorts of weapons hanging off of his belt or strapped to his back. One of the Greenvale weaponsmiths had suggested a means of decluttering his arsenal, in the purchase of an extradimensional carrying case. Much like an oversize quiver, it was a wide leather cylinder, closed at the bottom but open at the top, with a strap that allowed the dwarf to easily sling it over his shoulder. But by placing his hand inside the extradimensional opening at the top, he could instantly grab any of the many weapons he kept stored inside and it would immediately jump to hand. Best of all, its magic "shrunk" the weapons during transit, so he could fit weapons - like his greenflame greataxe - whose bladed weapon-heads were too big to fit through the opening without magical aid. Utred called it his "weapons locker" and he was well and truly pleased with its purchase.

Cramer and Utred led the others through the winding streets of Revin, through a different section of town than the area they'd last explored the last time they were here. That had been in the market district - where they had been attacked by the Observer the first time, with her wannabe-assassin recruits. Knowing there was likely an Assassins Guild somewhere in Revin, Utred and Khari kept a wary eye out, looking in recessed doorways and alleyways between buildings, even up at the rooftops - anywhere an assassin might be lurking, waiting to get the drop on them. Bringing up the rear by a wide margin, Jhasspok was keeping an eye out, too - but he was mostly worried about the fireball sun, for despite how much Marlo and Cramer insisted it was far, far away and couldn't come to get them, the lizardfolk wasn't quite willing to take that on faith. He looked around for assassins as well, but most of his attention was spent making sure the fireball sun kept its distance.

And then, just like that, the fireball sun was gone.

Jhasspok flinched, suspecting that sun was up to something - was it shutting itself off so it could somehow try to sneak up on them? Cramer, however, was much more versed in spellcraft and immediately recognized it for what it was: a darkness spell, no doubt cast in preparation for an attack. He cast a quickened magic vestment spell upon himself as Utred pulled his greenflame greataxe from his weapons locker and sprinted forward at full speed, wanting to get himself and his gnome piggyback passenger out of the radius of darkness as quickly as possible, for if the assassins wanted them encloaked in deep shadows then the barbarian wanted them out in the sunlight that much more.

As he ran, Utred saw a leather-clad male rogue step out of the shadows of a side alley as a female rogue emerged from an opposite alleyway across the street. Utred veered to the left, racing towards the male and bringing his greataxe swinging into his chest as he got within range. The rogue dodged backwards in time to save his life but not quick enough to avoid having a horizontal rip tear through his leathers and the skin of his chest from the power of the dwarf's swing.

Inside the circle of darkness, another rogue stepped up beside Marlo and stabbed out with his blade. However, he hadn't contended on the sorceress wearing a robe of eyes and she saw him coming even though he had approached from behind, which allowed her to pivot out of the way at the last moment.

There were also two attackers stationed on the rooftop of a building to the right of the heroes. One of these wielded a longbow and sent an arrow streaking toward Cramer's head, but as he was still on Utred's backpack at the moment the dwarf's combat movements accidentally moved him out of the arrow's flight path at the last second. Cramer looked up at the archer after the arrow whizzed by his head and saw the other rooftop figure as well, a robed human, likely a wizard or cleric. The gnome cast a spell resistance spell upon himself and wriggled down off of Utred's backpack, landing nimbly on the street and rushing away from the group, trying to get himself far enough away from Utred that they couldn't both be targeted by the same fireball spell. His speed was enhanced by the longstrider spell he habitually cast upon himself each morning. But he heard footsteps coming up behind him and dared a backwards glance; the female assassin was coming after him, short sword in hand and seemingly ready to gut him.

But then another figure burst out of the radius of the darkness spell. This was Khari Hammerslammer, earthglide warhammer in hand as he ran to catch up with the woman chasing down Cramer. From what the dwarven fighter could tell, it looked like there were five assassins after them, this time all of them human. Well, they'd fought off similar odds before and prevailed!

Jhasspok had seen a glimpse of the two figures on the rooftop before the light went away and had heard the distinctive twang of an arrow being fired by one of them. He was not what anyone would call a tactician by any means - he relied upon instinct more than fully thought-out strategies - but somewhere in the back of his lizard brain he realized having two enemies out of reach was not a good thing. Thus, before he'd even had time to process the information his eyes had been telling him, Jhasspok was implementing a fix to the problem at hand. He raced diagonally ahead, towards the two-story building upon which the two snipers were standing. It was dark, so Jhasspok leaped on instinct, jumping when it seemed like the right time rather than when he could actually see the building before him. But his memory of the building's location was correct; he hit stone about halfway up the side of the structure and frantically started climbing, skittering up the building rather like a lizard. Toward the end of his climb he emerged from the hemisphere of magical darkness and soon after he pulled himself up onto the rooftop, about halfway between a robed spellcaster of some sort and a human archer.

In the street below, the male rogue flanked Khari and stabbed out with his blade, catching the dwarf in the side - but, surprisingly, the blow wasn't anywhere near as painful as Khari, who had been stabbed many times in his adventuring career, would have expected. Utred joined the conga line as he stepped into place behind the man who had just stabbed Khari, slicing into him in turn with his greataxe. Behind, in the darkness, Marlo cast an empowered shocking grasp spell and spun upon her attacker, hoping to make contact and trigger the spell hanging on her fingertips, ready for release. But he was equally nimble in the darkness and avoided the touch, leaving the untriggered spell active upon the sorceress's fingertips.

To facilitate his climb, Jhasspok had left his battleaxe hanging on his leather weapon-belt. As he scrambled to arm himself now that he was up on the rooftop against two enemies, the robed man surprised him by racing forward and slapping a hand down upon Jhasspok's arm. The lizardfolk had expected a lightning bolt or magic missile or some sort of ranged spell, but this, while activated by touch, was definitely a spell of some sort, for Jhasspok could feel pain at the site of the touch as magical venom tried flowing into his system. But Jhasspok had spent his early years as a drow slave; the experience had made him tough and able to overcome all kinds of physical punishment as needed and he gutted his way through the magic attack, causing the spell's effects to minimize and then dissipate. That did, however, make it easy for the lizardfolk to decide which of the two potential assassins should be his first target.

Marlo once again dodged a sword-strike from the assassin attacking her, who then managed to evade her second attempt at touching him and activating her empowered shocking grasp spell. The archer on the rooftop rushed over to attack Jhasspok since he was facing the human wizard who had hired him and his band, but his sword missed the reptile, who was maneuvering into place to bring the blade of his battleaxe down upon the spellcaster. The axe struck true, eliciting a cry of pain from the human wizard.

Cramer cast an inflict critical wounds spell on the female assassin and she fell to the street, unconscious and making her way towards death. Almost immediately thereafter, Khari's warhammer crashed into the side of the male assassin's head, crushing in the side of his skull. He also fell where he stood, just behind his female associate in hitting the ground but having already beaten her to lifelessness.

Marlo had had enough of this "fumble around in the dark" nonsense; despite still having an empowered shocking grasp spell waiting on her fingertips, she mentally activated her boots and levitated into the air. Once out of the hemisphere of the darkness spell's effect, she could see the others: Khari, Utred, and Cramer looking down at the two assassins they'd just dropped, while above Jhasspok was being attacked by a human archer after he'd just hit a drow spellcaster with his battleaxe. Marlo hadn't realized she was seeing through the drow's disguise self spell via the true seeing aspect of her robe of eyes and assumed Jhasspok realized he was fighting a drow. But that put her mind to ease, if she'd had any doubts about these assassins - if they had a drow among their numbers then Marlo and her companions were definitely on the side of the angels in this fight.

Up on the rooftop, the drow - still a human as far as Jhasspok could tell - stepped away and cast an invisibility spell on himself. Jhasspok snarled in fury, assuming his prey had just teleported away. He spun to the archer and snarled, "That one might have gotten away, but that just means I'll rip your throat out instead of his!" He did his best to look like a ferocious, upright dinosaur, for he knew humans and other mammals were often intimidated by his reptilian form.

But Marlo saw right through the drow spellcaster's invisibility spell; with her robe of eyes, she could see him just fine. Below her, she could hear her would-be assassin fumbling around in the dark trying to find her, to no avail.

And then, to her surprise, the archer on the rooftop gave a startled cry and leaped off the edge of the rooftop to the area inside the darkness spell below. Jhasspok was surprised his threat had had such an immediate effect, but the archer's intentions were soon shown to be based on something other than abject terror as he sprinted out of the darkness spell calling his wife's name. Ignoring the armed and armored foes all about him, he made a bee-line for the woman Cramer had downed with his inflict critical wounds spell. He brushed past the gnome in his haste and Cramer took the opportunity to cast a poison spell upon the disheveled ranger, causing him to double over in pain but still slowly make his way toward his target.

"You've lost the advantage of surprise and now you're outnumbered," Cramer pointed out. "Surrender and you can still walk out of here alive."

To his surprise, the archer took him up on the offer immediately. "Fine, yes, we surrender - just help me with her!" He pulled his dying wife to a sitting position and tried slapping her awake. Her head just lolled in his arms.

But up on the rooftop (and believing himself to be all alone, for he didn't realize the wounded drow spellcaster was merely invisible), Jhasspok hadn't heard the offer and agreement of surrender; as far as he was concerned one of his two opponents had teleported away but the other one was still within sight, down there menacing Cramer. Jhasspok raced for the side of the rooftop, kicking a foot upon the top of the crenellations there and springing across the gap to the rooftop of the next building in line, a building which happened to be beside the area where Cramer and the archer stood, the latter trying to revive another assassin to bring her back into the fray! Not spending any time wondering why the gnome cleric was allowing this, Jhasspok crossed the rooftop of this second building and leaped down upon the archer, landing on him with all of his weight behind him, snapping at his throat.

"Jhasspok, no!" cried Cramer. "They've surrendered!"

"They what?" Jhasspok echoed, confused. Still up in the air, Marlo saw the drow spellcaster cast another spell and this time disappear even from her view, for it was a dimension door spell this time. She slowly lowered herself to the ground, to find out the other rogue below her had likewise surrendered to Utred and Khari. Everyone gathered over by the archer and his wife, who he was still trying to revive.

"Okay, time to spill your guts," Cramer said. Jhasspok perked up at this, thinking maybe they were going to slay their enemies after all, but no - the gnome apparently just meant it was time for talking. And the archer had apparently taken the gnome's meaning at once, for he started explaining. Jhasspok just sighed in frustration.

"We're a band of adventurers, like yourselves," the archer said. "We were hired to take you five in - alive - to answer for your crimes."

"Crimes?" demanded Marlo. "What crimes?"

"The wizard with us, he was the one who hired us. He said you'd killed a member of his family and he wanted to take you to his sister to answer for your crimes."

An expression of confusion crossed Marlo's face. "And you took the word of a drow?" she asked.

Now it was the ranger's turn to look confused. "Drow? What drow?" Marlo explained and was surprised to learn she had been the only one to see through the spellcaster's disguise self spell. The ranger was particularly aghast, declaring vehemently that had they known they were working for a drow they'd never have taken the assignment. Cramer believed him.

The gnome fished around at his belt pouch and pulled out a potion of neutralize poison. "Here," he said, passing it over to the ranger. "You'll need this to counteract the spell I hit you with." He pulled out another flask - a potion of cure moderate wounds - and handed it over. "And this ought to revive your wife." Then he turned to the other rogue and spelled out the price of the two potions, demanding to be reimbursed. He turned out his coin purse and hurried to comply. "Sorry about your dead guy there," Cramer said, "but remember: you attacked us first." Then the two groups went their separate ways, Cramer and his friends following the still-active arrows of his find the path spell and the others carrying the dead body of their slain comrade to the nearest temple where they hoped to get him raised from the dead. If they were going to do so, though, they were going to pay for that out of their own pocket, Cramer vowed.

The arrows led the gnome down into the cellar of an abandoned building, from which they pointed through a hidden passageway into a maze of underground tunnels - not anywhere as deep as in the Underdark, but far enough away from the surface that they weren't likely to be accidentally discovered. The passageway, Marlo spotted with her exceptionally powerful robe-enhanced darkvision (she was able to see twice as far as either of the dwarves), soon opened into a larger chamber from which they could hear talking. Cramer noted this was where his arrows suddenly stopped: that was the Writhing Chamber ahead and it was occupied by forces unknown. And sure enough, a quick peek inside showed a ring of ten tentacles, although these were each splayed out unmoving upon the ground, while a pair of drow chastised a mind flayer seated in the control seat beside the tentacle in the farthest back of the chamber.

Cramer thus led the group to their logical destination: back the way they'd come, at least as far as a couple of right-angle turns in the passageways they'd traversed. "Okay," he told them, activating his slave-light cloak to a minimum setting (for he'd had them do without light sources during this underground trek, not wanting to warn anyone of their approach - the two dwarves and Marlo had been their eyes, while Cramer directed their course since the magical arrows were still visible to him even in absolute darkness and Jhasspok had followed blindly with a hand on Khari's shoulder). "Time for any prep spells we want active before we go in. We know the way now."

Marlo began by casting the traditional Rary's telepathic bond spell upon the group, followed by a magic circle against evil spell centered upon herself. Utred passed over a scroll he'd purchased in Greenvale containing the death ward spell, asking her to cast it on him. She did so, then held up her wand of invisibility. "Anybody want to stroll in there invisible?" she asked. Jhasspok and the dwarves raised their hands immediately. Marlo made them invisible and then applied the wand to herself. "Cramer?" she asked.

"Not me," the gnome replied, instead asking Utred for his hat of disguise. "I'm going in as a drow."

"A particularly short drow," Marlo pointed out as Utred plopped the hat on the gnome's head and Cramer altered his facial features and skin coloration to appear like a dark elf.

"Easily fixed," countered Cramer, casting a righteous might spell upon himself, causing him to grow in size to well within drow height standards - plus granting him a slew of combat bonuses in the bargain.

"Okay, have fun with that," Marlo replied, casting a teleport spell on the other four of them, placing them into the Writhing Chamber, about a quarter of the way around the circle of dead tentacles from the mind flayer.

"Hey there!" called a voice from the front of the chamber. It was Cramer, strolling in as bold as you please in his magical drow get-up. "I seek to join the followers of Uboros!" Unseen, Khari and Utred gripped their weapons, ready to leap into battle.

The male drow stepped forward (Marlo was able to identify him as the spellcaster on the rooftops above), speaking in the drow language. "What House are you from?" he demanded.

Fortunately, Cramer had learned the drow tongue during his time in captivity as a slave of the Overreach. "I am from House Jalamir," he answered, quite truthfully, in the language of the dark elves.

But the assassin wasn't in the least bit tricked. Turning to his sister, he said contemptuously, "It's probably the dwarf, using the hat of disguise."

That was an opening Utred couldn't resist. Sprinting forward, he popped back into visibility as he brought his greataxe swinging into the body of the drow assassin. "No, I'm right here!" he grunted with a grin on his now-visible face. Khari followed in Utred's footsteps, bringing his warhammer swinging into the female duskblade, his invisibility spell likewise vanishing during the attack. The duskblade snarled in fury at Khari's attack and stabbed at him twice with her sword of wounding, the first strike imbued with a vampiric touch spell that further drained the dwarf's vitality while increasing that of the drow.

In Jhasspok's mind, the fact that the two dwarves were in combat with the drow meant it was up to him to take on the mind flayer. But he was well aware that mind flayers could zap you with that mind blast of theirs, causing you to stand there immobile and all but insensate. Fortunately, Jhasspok had a plan to bypass that particular ability: since the illithid was seated in a chair facing forward, he'd just sneak around behind him and attack him from behind, out of the range of the potential cone of the mind blast! Well pleased with the brilliance of this plan, Jhasspok snuck around the ring of drooping tentacles until he was behind the mind flayer, then he brought his battleaxe crashing down upon the illithid, cutting into the creature's shoulder. He noted a strange thing as he popped back into visibility: the mind flayer was chained to the chair by the ankle.

And then the mind flayer demonstrated the futility of Jhasspok's cunning strategy by simply turning in place and facing the lizardfolk behind him. Fully expecting to be taken out by a mind blast, Jhasspok was surprised when the mind flayer made a simple - and quite reasonable - suggestion instead. <Why don't you focus your attention on killing the drow?> he said directly into the reptile's brain. Yes, that made perfect sense to Jhasspok!

Marlo drew her arcane blade and activated it, a blade springing out of the empty hilt at her mental command and expanding to the size of a longsword. She stabbed at the drow assassin, whose attention thus far had been focused on fighting off Utred. Cramer continued his approach, casting a blade barrier spell that started at the duskblade and continued in a straight line to the seated mind flayer. As blades suddenly materialized and started slicing and stabbing, the duskblade leaped to one side; the mind flayer had no such option and was quickly hacked to pieces, which flew about in all directions. Jhasspok snapped a couple of them out of the air - mind flayer flesh was very similar to that of octopi and squid, as he well knew - and focused his attention on the duskblade, who was on the same side of the blade barrier as the lizardfolk. She was a drow and it had been suggested that he slay the drow. Very well then: Jhasspok had his next target!

Khari activated his earthglide warhammer and burrowed a short distance under the stone floor of the chamber, popping back up behind the drow assassin and slamming him in the back with his hammer. That pushed him closer to Utred, who slew him with his greataxe and then pivoted to bring his blade slicing into the duskblade next. She was left staggering and on her last legs, but she was still alive.

Not for very much longer, though, for Jhasspok charged at her and nearly cut her in two pieces with his battleaxe. She fell to the ground, dead. And then Jhasspok locked eyes with Cramer, still in his drow appearance thanks to the magic of the hat of disguise. Jhasspok saw a drow, tightened his grip on his battleaxe, and readied himself to charge across the distance between them. Cramer saw the bloodlust in the reptile's eyes and knew Jhasspok meant to slay him.

It would have been a simple matter, at this point, to take off the hat of disguise and reveal himself as the gnome cleric Jhasspok had known since Cramer had first been captured by the drow; that would have instantly prevented the lizardfolk from wanting to kill the gnome. But it looked like combat was over, the three enemies having been slain, and Cramer was still a gnome - and gnomes liked nothing so much as a good prank. So instead, Cramer cast a spell he'd never had the occasion to use before. Mislead caused the gnome to become invisible, at the same time leaving behind an exact - but quite illusory - copy of himself in his place. Cramer merely had to take a step to the side as Jhasspok came barreling in, swinging his battleaxe for all it was worth. (Utred, seeing the impending attack and realizing the "drow" was really Cramer, went to tackle the gnome but passed right through him.) Jhasspok similarly met no resistance as his axe-blade went through the illusory drow, which Cramer caused to wince as if he'd been hurt by the lizardfolk's attack. So Jhasspok attacked again, swinging his weapon at a foe who wasn't really there, despite the evidence of the lizardfolk's eyes. Cramer had a good old time leading Jhasspok this way and that as he caused his drow duplicate to try to avoid the lizardfolk's attacks.

Marlo rolled her eyes at the gnome's silliness - and, unseen by her, each of the hundreds of eyes on her robe of eyes did likewise - and turned to do the job they had all come here to do. Casting a disintegrate spell at the nearest tentacle, she was pleased to see the dead flesh of an Elder God no longer contained any of the frightful spell resistance that made it all but impossible to affect when the Dying One had still been alive. Utred, seeing that Cramer was in no real danger (he wasn't sure how the cleric had done it, but he'd seen Jhasspok's axe go right through the drow with no effect), pulled out the Null Axe and similarly got to work, chopping the dead flesh off at the base where it rose up out of the stone floor.

By the time the tentacles had all been dealt with and the Writhing Chamber was no more, Jhasspok was just about winded and Cramer had tired of his game. He allowed the mislead spell to expire, causing the illusory drow to wink out of existence as he himself became visible once more. But by then he'd taken the hat of disguise from his head and looked like his normal self. Jhasspok looked around the chamber and saw no more drow that needed to be slain. Good! He set head of the battleaxe down on the stone floor and leaned over, catching his breath.

But now Khari had become intrigued with the possibilities. "Can I see that?" he asked Cramer. The cleric passed over the hat of disguise without comment, curious as to what the dwarven fighter had planned.

"Hey Jhasspok, over here!" called Khari. Jhasspok turned to look and there stood a drow, dressed in Khari's armor and holding his warhammer! That could only mean one thing: a drow had killed Khari and taken his stuff! Enraged, the lizardfolk crossed the room and brought his battleaxe crashing down upon the vile drow.

Only the vile drow was no longer there. Right before Jhasspok had reached him, Khari used his earthglide warhammer to slip beneath the stone floor, move about ten feet to his right, and pop back up again. "Over here!" he called, causing the lizardfolk to spin about and race his way to the attack. This went on for some time until Marlo noticed and chided the dwarf. "You're going to cause him to die of a heart attack if you don't cut out your shenanigans!"

Properly chastised, Khari rose back up from the stone floor, this time with hat in hand and looking like his own self. "Sorry, Jhasspok," he said as he passed the hat of disguise back to Cramer, who in turn gave it back to Utred. Jhasspok was a bit peeved at the prank that had been played upon him by his friends, at least until they promised to make it up to him once they got back to Greenvale by buying him as much fish as he could eat.

"Sssss sssss sssss sssss!" chuckled Jhasspok, laughing at the thought that they had no idea how much fish he could eat in one sitting, if money was not an issue.

"Well, while you guys were all clowning around, Utred and I got the mission done," pointed out Marlo, indicating the completely demolished Writhing Gate before them. There was no way anybody was even going to be able to use it again.

"And a fine job you did," agreed Cramer. "Come on: huddle up and I'll teleport us back to Greenvale."

- - -

Logan once again pulled a fast one on us: we had expected to be attacked by assassins once we returned to Revin but we hadn't expected to be attacked by a band of neutral rogues who'd been duped by their employer. (They were even using merciful weapons, which dealt nonlethal damage.) The drow assassin, it turns out, had been a cousin of the Mortal Queen and was none too pleased at the events that came about as a result of us having slain her.

We all leveled up to 15th at the end of this adventure. Khari and Jhasspok each added another level of fighter, while everyone else stuck to their normal classes.
 

Richards

Legend
ADVENTURE 44: THE CHILLING STORM

PC Roster:
Cramer Appleknocker, gnome cleric 15​
Jhasspok, lizardman 3/barbarian 3/fighter 9​
Khari Hammerslammer, dwarf fighter 14/psychic warrior 1​
Marlo Pendragon, human sorcerer 15​
Utred "Buckets" Butterflinger, dwarf barbarian 15​

Game Session Date: 6 October 2021

- - -

With a sound of displaced air, the five heroes suddenly appeared in the middle of a Greenvale park, the result of one of Cramer Appleknocker's teleport spells. Almost immediately, there was another pop as a sixth figure teleported into view with the others, almost as if he had been anticipating their arrival. This sixth figure towered over the others, for it was none other than C'thorlumbrox, the nine-foot-tall ulitharid who had been working on deciphering the illithid manuscripts the heroes had provided him.

<I have made progress,> the ulitharid told them telepathically, pulling a rolled-up scroll from his sleeve and passing it over to Jhasspok, not because the lizardfolk could read it (he couldn't) but because he was the tallest of the heroes and thus the closest in size to the towering ulitharid. Jhasspok didn't even bother unrolling it, passing it over to Cramer. The gnome walked over to a nearby picnic table, crawled up onto the bench, and unrolled the piece of parchment. It was a list of the Writhing Gates as described in the illithid work, with parenthetical notes along the right-hand side:

List of Writhing Gates
The Temple of Thephobak, the prison of the enslaved mind. (The first one destroyed)​
The Gate of Tresdazell, which waits south of the slumbering wyrm. (Beneath Riven)​
The Frozen Gate of Uozell, which watches over the world. (Somewhere in the Giant's Tundra)​
The Gate of Svusban, lying beneath the boreal forests of Luzumin. (Now a part of the Desolate Wastes)​
The Gate of Sardegon, waiting within the Isle of the Five Gods. (The main isle of Jakura)​
The Gate of Zepholekt, bearing the rift betwixt Corellon's exiled kin and Laduguer's champions. (The Writhing Gate used by House Jalamir)​
The Gate of Radravossk, which dreams of cerulean waves.​
The Gate of Rylethek, whose undulating currents call to the drowned.​
The Gate of Svulbiss, which floats adrift, unseen by those overshadowed. (Possible cloud island?)​
The Gate of Zarbugak, untamer of the wilds, lies untouched by civilized minds.​

<You have destroyed the first two,> C'thorlumbrox said. <I am confident of the general locations of the next three on the list, and you are well aware of the location of the Gate of Zepholekt. Which of those would you like to tackle next?> A brief discussion followed, with the final decision being the Frozen Gate of Uozell. "I don't want to go back into the Desolate Wastes until we know a little more about it," Cramer explained to the others. He had to remind Jhasspok that was the place whose desert sands had burned the bottoms of the lizardfolk's feet and then the reptile agreed he was in no hurry to return there, either.

"We'll want endure elements spells in place if we're going into the frozen lands," Marlo suggested. "So, shall we plan on heading out tomorrow morning?" That sounded good to everyone, as it left the rest of that day for unwinding and preparing for the next day's journey.

But fortunately, with two spellcasters in their group capable of casting the teleport spell, the next day's journey lasted all of a few seconds. Marlo focused her mind on recalling the general layout of the town of Rimesfjord and once she had a good mental image in place she cast the spell. Cramer immediately cast endure elements spells on the other members of the group, having decided to forego the spell himself - he had cold weather gear on he could use instead. He did, however, cast a moment of prescience spell on himself, knowing it would simmer there in the back of his mind until needed. And then the group headed to the large building they'd visited before, when seeking to obtain aid from the frost giant leader against the impending drow invasion.

Announcing themselves at the massive dwelling, the five were granted an audience with Queen Sigvor. "If anyone knows of the Gate you seek," she told them, "it will likely be Father Yinxirzijir Kepesk. Unfortunately, he's been rather busy plotting my assassination." This last bit of information was said with a smirk on her face, as if she found the whole thing rather funny.

"Your assassination, Majesty?" Marlo asked, wondering if she'd heard the frost giant queen correctly.

"Yes, quite - not that he has a chance of actually following through with his plans, of course. But it now occurs to me you can kill two birds with one stone: I will tell you where you can find the good Father, and then you can ask him about the location of this 'Gate of Uozell' you're looking for, as long as you kill him and his followers afterward."

"And these followers of his--" began Utred.

"Frost giants," Queen Sigvor interrupted. "You have my leave to slay them; they are traitors to their queen."

Cramer looked at the others, asking without saying a word of they were up for this (the gnome had very expressive eyebrows). Upon seeing nobody having a problem with being asked to slay evil would-be assassins, he spoke for the group: "We agree to your terms, Your Majesty."

"Very well then. They are holed up in a cathedral carved from the inside of a glacier." The frost giant queen summoned forth an image of the cathedral in question in a globe of polished ice, which served her as a crystal ball, allowing Marlo to see exactly where it was she'd be teleporting the group to next. "He quite often demands hefty donations to his temple when people seek him out for his accumulated knowledge, so be prepared to offer up a significant bribe to even get in to see him," Queen Sigvor advised. Marlo smiled at that bit of information, promising Cramer (who was querying her with his eyebrows) with a "shushing" motion of her hand that she'd explain later. Then, bowing before the frost giant queen, Marlo thanked her for her assistance and promised they'd take care of Father Yinxirzijir Kepesk and his minions for her.

"Okay, what's so funny?" Cramer demanded once they were back outside.

"It's just his demand for money makes such perfect sense," the sorceress explained. "'Yinxirzijir Kepesk' is Draconic for 'Chilling Storm.'"

"I don't get it," admitted Jhasspok.

"The guy we're being sent to kill is a dragon," Khari explained to the lizardfolk. "Dragons like to collect vast amounts of treasure."

"So do we," remarked Jhasspok.

"Yeah, well maybe we'll get to split up a dragon's treasure hoard between us after we've completed this mission!" exclaimed Utred, suddenly even more eager to find this Frozen Gate of Uozell.

"Okay, let's prepare before we head over there," Marlo suggested, casting a Rary's telepathic bond spell on the group. Cramer cast a protection from cold spell on himself, anticipating the dragon they'd be fighting in the arctic lands would be a white one. Then, voicing the arcane syllables to a teleport spell, Marlo sent the group of five heroes across the miles to stand just outside the entrance to the glacier she'd seen in Queen Sigvor's scrying sphere.

<Are we going to try to sneak in and take them by surprise?> asked Utred over the mental link.

<Not at all,> answered Marlo. <We need the location of the Frozen Gate first, remember? I'll go in, with Jhasspok as my bodyguard.> She knew gnomes and dwarves had a racial animosity with giants and feared the feeling might be mutual, so she was perfectly fine with Cramer, Khari, and Utred staying behind at first. After all, they could always rush in when combat started - or Cramer could teleport them all in, for that matter.

Marlo and Jhasspok walked boldly through the tunnel leading from the glacier's exterior to the interior of the "cathedral" - a vast cavern carved directly out of the glacier's ice. Inside was a ring of five frost giants talking amongst themselves, their conversation coming to an abrupt halt upon noticing their guests. However, with the enhanced magical vision granted her from her robe of eyes, Marlo could see the frost giant with the staff farthest back was a mere illusion - and that an invisible dragon stood at the back of the cathedral, in the northeastern corner. She could also see it was currently much larger than normal, the product of some sort of size-altering magic.

"Good day, gentlemen!" Marlo called to the others, careful not to look directly at the dragon with her own eyes as she walked directly into their midst. (The eyes on her robe aimed in the dragon's direction were doing that just fine for her in any case.) "I seek information and am willing to pay for it!"

The illusory frost giant looked down at her and spoke, which told Marlo the dragon was manipulating it somehow. "Why don't you ask the other members of your party to enter as well?" Mentally calling them forth over the link, Marlo heard them walk into the cathedral a few moments later. They stood beside Jhasspok, who had opted not to walk into a ring of frost giants; he trusted Marlo would be able to use her boots of levitation to escape them if it became necessary.

"What information do you seek?" asked the illusory frost giant elder.

"We seek the location of the Frozen Gate of Uozell," Marlo replied. "It's a ring of ten writhing tentacles rising up from the ground, with a seat - likely sized for a human, not a giant - before each tentacle. We were told you might know its location."

The illusory frost giant rubbed a hand across its chin, as if deep in thought. "I have not heard that name before," he admitted, "but I recall having seen something before that fits your description." He placed both hands upon his staff and leaned upon it, looking down upon his guests. "I will tell you where you may find this device - for a contribution of 80,000 golden coins."

Marlo didn't hesitate for a moment, but opened her bag of holding and dumped the coins held within its extradimensional interior onto the icy floor at her feet. It made a quite impressive pile, and one that caused Utred to flinch in visible pain. <Settle down!> Marlo commanded. <We'll get the money back after we've slain them all!> Then, stepping back and looking up at the illusion sitting in as the real Father Yinxirzijir Kepesk, she said, "We don't have quite that much - only around 56,000. Will that be sufficient?"

"It will suffice," the illusory frost giant elder replied (via a bit of ventriloquism from the invisible dragon in the back, who was cautiously creeping up to get a better look at the gold). "What you seek is inside Maugfjell, a mountain with a cave leading down below the permafrost." He didn't mention that he had originally intended for it to be his draconic lair, or that "Maugfjell" was Giant for "Evil Mountain." But Marlo, who spoke fluent Giant, was already aware of the meaning of the mountain's name.

"Do you have a means to scry upon it for us?" Marlo asked.

"Hmmm," mused the elder giant, back to rubbing his chin in thought. "Not immediately at hand - but I will once I have your entrails."

<'Entrails' means 'guts' - they want to kill us!"> prompted Utred over the telepathic link, figuring Jhasspok wouldn't have understood the comment or its intended meaning otherwise. But the silent nudging over the link was all Jhasspok needed to realize it was time to charge into action.

And charge he did, straight at the closest frost giant in the circle, a massive brute with an equally impressive-looking axe in hand. Jhasspok's own battleaxe came slamming into the giant's side, releasing a flow of red blood from the wound. Not quite ready to reveal to his underlings his true form, the invisible white dragon slowly creeped forward, still completely oblivious that anyone knew he was even there. And not wanting to cause anyone to panic - or reveal their knowledge by looking for the dragon - Marlo kept mum about its existence for the moment. After all, she reasoned, it was still far enough back not to be much of a threat. But she did caution the others not to bother attacking the elder giant with the staff, pointing out he was just an illusion.

Khari charged up beside Jhasspok, adding his earthglide warhammer to the combat against that particular frost giant. Marlo chose the frost giant to the right of the illusion as her target and tried something she'd never attempted before: not only empowering but also maximizing a scorching ray spell. She was disappointed when one of the three gouts of flame pouring from her outstretched hand failed to hit its target, but the other two caused her foe quite enough grief, temporarily engulfing him in flames. Enraged, he brought his axe down upon Marlo - as did the frost giant on the other side of their illusory leader. The other two took on Jhasspok and Khari, their own weapons striking true.

Utred charged into the giant attacking Jhasspok and Khari who'd yet to be targeted in battle; the dwarven barbarian liked facing fresh foes all by himself now and again. His greenflame greataxe tore into the giant's body with the full force of the barbarian's strength. And then Cramer cast a blade barrier spell that chewed through Utred's foe and extended on through the giant Marlo had set ablaze with her spell.

Bleeding heavily between his scales, Jhasspok ignored the pain of his wound and continued swinging his battleaxe into the frost giant who had struck him, snapping his predator's teeth at him as well when the opportunity warranted. Unseen by all but Marlo, the dragon advanced even closer, amused at the battle before him and still unaware that his own life was in jeopardy. Khari struck at his own foe with his warhammer, irritated that the frozen ice beneath him prevented him from earth gliding around and taking his foes by surprise.

Marlo, hurting from the axe-blows she'd received, cast a dimension door spell to instantly move over to one corner of the ice cathedral, away from the worst of the ongoing fray. But already the enemy numbers were being reduced, for the closest frost giant to Cramer died from wounds received by the numerous flashing blades flying all about in a line from his spell. The giant crashed out of the area of the spell's effect, staining the ice below him red from the blood of his countless cuts.

But while that left three frost giants battling the three front-line combatants on the heroes' side, Jhasspok was quickly taken out of the fight when one giant's axe got past his shield and carved a deep gash through his torso, chopping through several ribs and skewering the lizardfolk's right lung. The reptile collapsed to the ground, spitting blood and no longer breathing normally.

Utred finished off another frost giant with a rapid series of strikes from his greataxe as Cramer cast first a mass bear's endurance spell upon all five of the heroes, boosting their endurance and ability to take damage, followed immediately with a quickened cure moderate wounds spell on Jhasspok that reknit his ribs together and sealed up the gaping hole in his lung, muscles, and scales. The lizardfolk awoke on the cold ice of the cavern floor wondering whose blood that was in his mouth. But then he got to his feet and rejoined the combat as if nothing had happened, swiftly bringing about the demise of another of the frost giants with a rapid series of blows from his battleaxe.

Suddenly realizing he was down to one lackey, the white dragon - still invisible and using ventriloquism to cast his voice at the illusory frost giant elder so as not to give away his actual location - called out in the Draconic tongue, "Do you care to renegotiate?" Khari ignored the dragon's words (he didn't speak Draconic in any case) and attacked the sole remaining frost giant with his warhammer. Marlo finished the giant off with another empowered maximized scorching ray spell and he burned practically to a crisp beneath the onslaught of the triple blazes of flame. Only then did she deign to respond to "Father Yinxirzijir Kepesk," being sure to look at the illusory avatar he'd been using so as to prevent him from guessing she knew his exact location. "Sure, we'd be willing to renegotiate," she said, dawdling for time so Cramer could cast a mass cure serious wounds on everyone in the meantime - a spell that was seriously needed by that point. "Let's start by renegotiating the price of your fee. I'm thinking a full refund - what do you think?"

The dragon didn't answer, but that was because he was too busy scooping the pile of coins into one foreleg, held tightly against his chest, hoping to transfer them over to the rest of his hoard before these heroes figured out what was going on. <Now, Cramer!> Marlo called over the telepathic link and Cramer obliged by casting an invisibility purge spell that suddenly revealed the white dragon's location. He stood over by Jhasspok, Khari, and Utred, where he'd been eagerly watching the battle with his frost giant dupes.

Utred charged the dragon, racing forward and bringing his greenflame greataxe slicing into a leg. Jhasspok did likewise, running between the dragon's front legs and using his battleaxe to cut a line of blood through the scales along the dragon's lower neck and chest. But Yinxirzijir Kepesk ignored the pathetic axe-wielders at his feet to go take care of the more dangerous spellcasters at the front of the ice cathedral. He exhaled a cone of frost, encompassing Khari as well as Cramer and Marlo.

Khari raced forward, slamming the dragon in the upper leg with his warhammer, which was now coated in a layer of frost - as, indeed, was the dwarven fighter. Marlo cast a third empowered maximized scorching ray spell, this one burning completely through the dragon's protection from fire spell and still managing to scorch him mightily. For the first time, Yinxirzijir Kepesk realized he'd underestimated these little foes.

Utred swung at the dragon again with his greataxe as Cramer launched a destruction spell at the white-scaled beast. Sadly, the effects of the gnome's spell weren't anywhere near as effective as they had been when fighting the neothelid days before. Still, he could see the spell had at least done some damage to the white dragon and the cleric well knew that every little bit helped.

Since Yinxirzijir Kepesk had moved forward to spew its icy breath at the others, Jhasspok now found himself behind his enemy. Leery of the creature's massive tail and the damage he suspected it could do, the lizardfolk looked at the two rows of raised plates along the dragon's back - and more specifically, at the space between them. Then without further conscious thought the lizardfolk was off, sprinting up the dragon's back like a staircase, climbing up to the back of the creature's neck and ready to bring his battleaxe crashing into the back of the dragon's skull. White dragons had relatively stumpy necks; Jhasspok was reasonably sure the beast wouldn't be able to stretch his head this far back and bite at him from his present location. Swinging for all he was worth, Jhasspok heard the satisfying crunch of his blade cutting through scales and bone.

Yinxirzijir Kepesk attacked the two dwarves below him, catching Khari with a claw and a wing and Utred with the two appendages on the other side, plus a bite on top of that. Khari responded with another swing of his dwarven warhammer, cracking one of the creature's claws that had scratched at him. But then Marlo finished it off with a fourth casting of her powerfully-enhanced scorching ray spell, a particularly deadly combination for a creature living in the cold arctic lands and who was especially vulnerable to fire-based spells. Yinxirzijir Kepesk's body collapsed lifelessly to the icy floor, forcing Utred and Khari to dive out of the way to avoid being crushed and sending Jhasspok flying off the back of the dragon's neck.

"We got him!" cried Jhasspok exuberantly, and Marlo only smiled and agreed with the lizardfolk's assessment, knowing just how much of the "we" she'd been personally responsible for.

"Okay, guys: dragon's lair!" Utred reminded everyone. "His hoard's got to be around here somewhere!" And sure enough, while Marlo scooped the group's coins back into the bag of holding she carried on their behalf, the two dwarves soon unearthed the hiding place of the dragon's extensive hoard of treasure, which consisted of coins, gemstones, and quite a wide variety of magical items, no doubt either taken from those who had earlier tried to slay it or provided as payment for knowledge in the white dragon's guise as a frost giant elder.

"We still don't know where this 'Maugfjell' is," pointed out Cramer.

"True enough," agreed Marlo. "But we have a name and we have a description. Queen Sigvor might be able to identify Maugfjell's location when we go back to report our success to her."

So, once they had assured themselves they hadn't left any of the dragon's treasure behind, the group gathered together again and Marlo teleported them back to Rimefjord, where they'd hopefully find the exact location of the Frozen Gate of Uozell and they'd be able to take down the third of the Writhing Gates.

- - -

So yeah, an empowered maximized scorching ray spell is particularly painful to creatures with a vulnerability to fire - which both frost giants and white dragons have. But we're talking 162 points of fire damage each round (assuming all three scorching rays hit and, in the case of the white dragon, Marlo overcomes its spell resistance). This was definitely Marlo's fight; the rest of us just helped as best we could. And the treasure was extra nice; not all adventures are particularly treasure heavy, but it all balances out when the occasional adventure like this more than makes up for it.

Incidentally, Logan gave us C'thorlumbrox's list of Writhing Gates (without the parenthetical notes, except for the first two which by that time we'd already destroyed) at the end of our previous session and promised us a 1,000 XP bonus for each one we could figure out. We came up with the one House Jalamir had been using, the Jakuran one, the cloud island one, and the Giant's Tundra one that we'll (hopefully) be taking down next adventure.
 

Richards

Legend
ADVENTURE 45: MAUGFJELL

PC Roster:
Cramer Appleknocker, gnome cleric 15​
Jhasspok, lizardman 3/barbarian 3/fighter 9​
Khari Hammerslammer, dwarf fighter 14/psychic warrior 1​
Marlo Pendragon, human sorcerer 15​
Utred "Buckets" Butterflinger, dwarf barbarian 15​

Game Session Date: 13 October 2021

- - -

The teleport spell deposited the five heroes back in the city of Rimefjord, where they petitioned an audience with Queen Sigvor, the frost giant monarch who had given them the location of the ice cathedral where they found - and slew - her rival, the white dragon in disguise known to the other giants as Father Yinxirzijir Kepesk. Ushering the heroes into her meeting hall, Marlo passed on the news of the white dragon's death, and the deaths of the four frost giants who had been plotting her assassination.

"This is excellent news!" crooned Queen Sigvor. "I am well and truly pleased!"

"And we have also learned of the location of the Frost Gate of Uozell, Your Majesty," added Marlo. "It is located inside a place called Maugfjell. We were hoping you could tell us - or better yet, show us in your scrying sphere - where we might find this place."

"'The Evil Mountain,'" mused Queen Sigvor. "Yes, I know if it. Approach." She passed a delicate blue hand over the solid sphere of perfectly clear ice mounted on a metal pedestal and an image formed within it. Marlo examined it closely, taking in every detail until she was certain she could teleport the group to its location. It was a snow-covered mountain rising up from a small forest at its base.

"That should do us nicely, Your Majesty," Marlo said, bowing before the frost giant queen. "Once again, you have our deepest gratitude."

"The relationship between us has been beneficial for both parties," smirked the queen, thinking about how nice it was to have that bothersome dragon no longer trying to overthrown her rule.

Bowing on their way back out of the door, the heroes returned to the streets of Rimefjord. "Well," Marlo said. "I think we've got everything we need. Shall we?"

"Hold up," cautioned Cramer. "Remember, it's going to take that neothelid a good ten years to eat its way through the Dying One's brain and be reborn as the new version of the Elder God. We should rest up and tackle the Frozen Gate when we're at full power. Plus, we haven't decided what spell to load into Jhasspok's new axe."

"What?" asked the lizardfolk. "Spell? What spell?"

"That's what we need to decide," explained the gnome patiently. He went on to point out that the battleaxe they'd discovered in the dragon's hoard had not only an icy burst enchantment upon it but also one allowing spell storing. "One of us can cast a spell into your new axe and it will stay there until you decide to release it."

"I don't know how to cast spells," Jhasspok argued.

"You don't need to," Cramer replied. "You just think about releasing the spell when you swing the weapon into somebody you're fighting and the axe will do the rest." He explained its limitations as far as how powerful a spell could be loaded into the battleaxe but that just confused the lizardfolk, who didn't understand anything about spell levels; to him, magic was magic in the same way meat was meat. Marlo silenced the argument by casting a vampiric touch spell directly into the battleaxe. "There," she said. "When you're fighting someone and you really want to hurt them, just wish for the spell to be released and he'll be extra hurt and you'll even get a little bit of healing on top of the deal." That much, at least, the lizardfolk could comprehend. "Okay, thanks," he said.

Another teleport spell returned them to Greenvale and a good night's rest. Then the next morning, with Cramer and Marlo all back up to a full allotment of their daily spells (and the cleric of Fharlanghn having decided which particular spells he wanted to have on hand that day), Marlo cast the teleport spell that sent the group across an unknown number of miles in an unknown direction across the tundra and at the base of the "Evil Mountain," Maugfjell. They had arrived at the edge of the forest, in snow up to their knees (and Cramer's waist), with the snow-covered mountain rising up directly before them. Fortunately, they had all received an endure elements spell from the gnome cleric so the near-arctic temperature didn't bother them.

Utred was shielding his eyes from the sun as he peered up the slope ahead. "It's going to be a bit of a climb," he pointed out. "Too bad we don't know exactly where on this bloody mountain the cave entrance is." But before anyone could offer any suggestions or encouragement a trilling sound came from somewhere before them as a mound of snow rose up in a great wave, steadily moving away from them as the frost worm reared its front portion up from its snow-submerged hiding place. Surprisingly, Utred stood there transfixed as the others all gripped their weapons and prepared for battle - the trilling noise emanating from the worm had stunned him into temporary immobility.

With their toughest combat-monster already out of the fight, Marlo opted to go for the "big power option" right away. Casting a maximized, empowered scorching ray spell at the approaching frost worm, she smiled as all three gouts of flame struck the massive beast's body - although given the creature's size it would have been difficult for her to have missed. The worm's skin puckered and burned as the spell took its toll. Cramer, in the meantime, cast a magic circle against evil spell upon himself, even though he doubted the worm had an evil nature - it was probably just a big, dumb brute who was hungry and the five of them no doubt looked like quite a wholesome snack.

Khari charged the frost worm, frowning as he realized his earthglide warhammer wouldn't allow him to burrow beneath the frozen ground and the permafrost. His frown of irritation turned into a full-blown cry of pain as the worm's head darted down at him and the creature's insectlike mouthparts snapped closed on the dwarf, crushing the sides of both arms in a pincer motion. He managed to wriggle free and slam his hammer into the worm's side as it undulated forward across the snow-covered ground, releasing a cone of freezing frost on all but the dwarven fighter, who figured his little nip had definitely been the better part of that deal. As the front halves of each of his friends was turned white from the sudden blast of frigid air, the dwarf slammed his warhammer into the side of the frost worm again for good measure.

Jhasspok darted forward at full speed, bringing his new battleaxe to bear for the first strike with his new weapon. He slammed the axe-head into the worm's side, remembering to do as Marlo had told him and activate the spell she'd hidden inside it somehow. The vampiric touch spell was triggered, which was a good thing as the "stolen" life force did its part in healing up the wounds the lizardfolk received when the worm bent down and snapped at him with its wicked little bug-mandibles.

Utred suddenly shook his head rapidly from side to side, sending little flakes of frost flinging off in all directions. He took a moment to get his bearings: apparently he'd missed a chunk of the battle already, for Khari and Jhasspok already sported some impressive wounds and he didn't remember the worm being this close to him already. It wasn't like him to daydream during an impending combat scenario; foul magics were probably at play! This thought infuriated the dwarven barbarian and he let the fires of his rage burn, prodding him on to action.

But before Utred could even swing his greataxe, Marlo cast another powered-up version of her scorching ray spell and the frost worm exploded. That was definitely the word for it: the gouts of flame slew the frost worm almost instantly and just as quickly its frozen body broke up into icy chunks and went flying in all directions, frozen shrapnel slicing through the heroes, the trees, and everything else within about a hundred-foot radius. "Damn!" cried Utred, although whether it was anger at not having gotten to attack his foe at all or in simple amazement at the damage it was dealing out with its death throes was somewhat unclear.

"Line up," Cramer called out, casting a mass cure serious wounds spell and then grabbing up his staff of healing. Once he'd attended to the worst of the group's wounds, he cast a moment of prescience spell upon himself, something he'd fully intended to do right after they'd first arrived but the frost worm's attack had interrupted those plans. Then the group started climbing up the slope of Maugfjell.

Fortunately, the slope started off fairly gently to start with and the way wasn't that difficult, although they could see the mountainside would become much more steep not too far ahead. As they trudged through the snow, they found the occasional chunk of frozen flesh scattered about here and there. "That's not parts of the frost worm, all this far away, is it?" asked Khari. He didn't see how it could be - the explosion surely wouldn't have sent pieces of the dead worm this distance away! But the answer soon became evident, as a few of the chunks held a piece of an insectoid leg. "Polar worm," more like it," Cramer guessed. "Remorhaz, I think they're called."

"Do those explode, too?" Jhasspok asked.

"Not that I'm aware of," Cramer admitted.

"Weird," muttered Marlo. But soon thereafter all thoughts of remorhaz chunks were overcome by the sight of a cave opening just ahead, half hidden by a jutting overhang. "That might be it!" the sorceress told the others. Just in case, she cast a Rary's telepathic bond spell on the group so they could communicate silently among themselves. Then she cast a magic circle against evil spell upon herself as well, following Cramer's previous example.

The cave opening led into a narrow tunnel which soon thereafter widened out to a large cavern. To the untrained eye, this was a simple, closed cave, roughly as wide as it was deep, with little nooks and crannies along the edges and a ceiling height of about 15 feet, holding nothing more interesting than a few errant rocks. To someone wearing a robe of eyes, however, the five illusory walls were quite evident for what they were, as was the fact three of them contained an immobile, lupine form behind them, while the others contained a tunnel leading deeper into the cavern network in the back and half of a remorhaz floating within a cylinder of solid force off to the left. Marlo passed on what she saw to the others over the telepathic link they shared.

<Nobody go in,> the sorceress warned. <I want to cast a detect magic spell first.> She did so, then gave the whole area a quick scan, for her robe of eyes granted her darkvision and true seeing but she was concerned about tripping any alarm spells. Giving herself plenty of time to look around, she detected multiple magical auras in the cave: alarm spell triggers on the floor, some sort of stasis effects on the three wolves - one of which was twice the size of the other two - and not only a stasis effect but some sort of magical regeneration effect on the butchered remorhaz. <I'll bet whoever lives here tosses chunks of polar worm around the mountain to keep frost worms hanging around,> Marlo surmised. <It's an easy way to gain guardians for your lair, if you have the means to do so.>

Marlo led the others into the cavern, pointing out where the alarm triggers were located: one right as you walked in and the other back towards the hidden exit. <The second one probably activates the guard dogs,> Cramer reasoned. He noted there was a sort of "whispering" in the back of his mind as he entered the cave and the others confirmed they heard it, too - not enough to make out what was being said, just a sort of mental background noise.

<So let's set 'em off, only we'll be ready to clobber the wolves as they activate!> suggested Utred, getting back to the conversation at hand. He was all for spreading out, setting three of them against the larger rime hound while two others each took on a winter wolf single-handedly, but Khari argued it would be better to take out the bigger threat first, especially once close examination showed the four tentacles growing out of the muzzle of each wolf - these were some sort of illithid hybrids they were dealing with! Thus, everyone gathered around the rime hound - Khari even using his earthglide warhammer to burrow beneath it and position himself directly behind the unmoving wolf - before Marlo cast invisibility spells upon the group with her wand (Cramer did the same with his ring) and then used her magic boots to levitate directly above it. Cramer cast a spell resistance spell upon himself and then Marlo began the festivities by casting an empowered, maximized scorching ray spell down at the rime hound beneath her. The attack awakened the massive wolf to full mobility, just to be engulfed in flames and then have a burly dwarven barbarian bring his greenflame greataxe slicing into its skull. The rime hound had snapped out of its magical stasis only to be slain before it had a chance to react to its sudden mobility.

But the attack on the rime hound had also released the two half-illithid winter wolves out of their own magical hibernation. Loping forward, they each tried to charm one of the two figures they could see: Marlo and Utred, they only two to have attacked thus far and thus deactivate the effects of their invisibility spells. Of course, neither wolf had any idea they were both within the effects of a magic circle against evil spell, which prevented such mind manipulations from having a chance of success.

Using his earthglide warhammer to burrow beneath the slain rime hound's body and across the cavern, Khari popped back up behind one of the winter wolves and spun around to bring his weapon crashing into its back leg. Jhasspok rushed forward and brought his new battleaxe swinging down at the same foe, slicing deeply into its shoulder. In the meantime, Cramer cast a flame strike spell at the other winter wolf, and just that quickly all five adventurers were back to being visible to their foes.

Marlo judged the winter wolves weren't going to be as tough to kill as the rime hound, so she split her attacks with the next casting of her empowered, maximized scorching ray spell. One gout of flame hit Cramer's wolf, the other two streaking over to the one Jhasspok and Khari were fighting. Only one of those two gouts hit its target and as a result it still stood standing while the first wolf crumpled dead to the cavern floor. But it wasn't standing for long; Utred's greataxe saw to that.

Having dealt with the foes that might have tried attacking them from behind if the adventurers had merely bypassed them and continued deeper into the cavern network, the group proceeded to do just that, walking through the illusory wall at the back of the cavern and into another narrow tunnel. And it was while traversing this tunnel, which gradually led further down below the earth, that the heroes felt an odd sensation, one they hadn't expected to meet up with while attempting to take out a Writhing Gate: a feeling of overwhelming happiness. This was happiness spilling over into joyous glee, and it was only the magic circle against evil spells centered on the two spellcasters that kept the heroes from joining in the compulsion to share in the overwhelming sense of contentment tinged with excitement and anticipation.

<What's going on?> asked Jhasspok over the mental link, something he often forgot to do but this time almost forced upon him by the fact his reptilian muzzle was pulled back into an almost painful-looking rictus that was probably supposed to be a wide smile. The fact that it exposed the majority of his dinosaur teeth made it slightly unpleasant to look at.

<I don't know, but I don't like it,> answered Cramer, casting a spell turning spell upon himself.

They entered the next subterranean chamber and there in the back was the Frozen Gate of Uozell, a ring of ten lifeless tentacles lying limply on the cavern floor. There was a petrified mind flayer seated before nine of these immobile appendages, while the tenth held a living mind flayer - and one whose lampreylike mouth between the four facial tentacles was also open wide in delirious joy. Waves of contagious happiness emanated from him.

<It is happening!> he exclaimed directly into the minds of the others. <Right now, the Dying One is being devoured from within! Soon He will be reborn and He will return to lead us all into a new age of contentment!> A tear of joy slid from the illithid's eye and dripped down its squidlike face. Then he looked over at the unexpected heroes as if noticing them for the first time. <Who are you?> he asked telepathically. <Why have you invaded the sanctum of Saint Uozell, creator of the Frozen Gate and willing servant to Uboros?>

Cramer swallowed down a momentary rising of panic at the thought that the creator of one of the Writhing Gates was still alive - and could possibly create more of them, which would directly counteract their attempts to destroy them all before the Dying One remanifested on the Material Plane. But there was one obvious solution to that dilemma. <Kill him!> the cleric commanded to his companions.

Utred followed almost instantly - "almost" in that he first bent over to grab up the little gnome before activating the winged boots he'd retrieved from the treasure hoard of Yinxirzijir Kepesk. In the span of time it took him to cross the cavern he'd plopped the cleric onto his backpack, thinking this would get Cramer straight into the action much faster than if he relied upon his stumpy little gnome legs, even with the benefit of the longstrider spell he habitually cast upon himself each morning. Khari sped into the cavern as well, keeping the trunk of an immobile Writhing Gate tentacle between himself and the mind flayer.

But it was enough that Uozell knew the dwarf was there. He activated an inflict pain psionic spell, encompassing Utred and Cramer into the area of effect as well as Khari. The dwarves cried out in pain, whereas the gnome smiled in smug satisfaction as the psionic spell rebounded off of his spell turning spell, inflicting the same mental pain onto Uozell as he had hammered into the minds of the dwarves.

From the back of the cavern, Marlo cast an empowered, maximized scorching ray spell at the seated illithid and was disappointed to see her spell fizzle away against his inherent resistance to such magics. Jhasspok ran up to the mind flayer, either not worrying or (more likely) having forgotten about the creature's signature attack, the mind blast. Cramer distracted the illithid for a moment by activating his moment of prescience to get his dimensional anchor spell past the mind flayer's spell resistance, covering him in a greenish glow that would prevent him from being able to teleport, plane shift, or use any other such similar magics - in effect, trapping him here in this cavern unless he was going to try to simply walk out. There was no way the gnome was willing to let this "Saint Uozell" survive to create more Writhing Gates and undo all of their progress thus far! He took the opportunity to leap down off of Utred's backpack and land on the cavern floor.

Utred, in turn, pulled the Null Axe out of his weapon locker and let the silvery material encasing it fall to the ground. Then, axe in hand, he charged at Saint Uozell, the anti-magic properties of the weapon cutting through the mind flayer's magical defenses as if they weren't there. Khari earthglided beneath and behind the illithid, swinging his warhammer into the Saint's back once he popped back up to the surface.

But then Uozell retaliated with the mind blast Jhasspok had hoped wouldn't come into play. He, Utred, and Cramer were all in the area of the blast and the lizardfolk's mind froze up instantly; Cramer relied upon a feat of luck provided to him by his deity to overcome the mind blast's effects; while Utred was impervious to all such magical attacks as long as he wielded the Null Axe in his hands.

Marlo cast a disintegrate spell at Uozell, hoping to take him out once and for all, but once again her spell fizzled against his magical resistances. Cramer cast a spell as well, but rather than risk having it likewise fail against the mind flayer's spell resistance he directed it at Jhasspok; the heal spell not only cleared the lizardfolk's mental faculties (such as they were) but also sealed up the remaining wounds on his body dealt to him by the frost worm outside.

While Jhasspok was looking around him in confusion, Utred kept up a steady string of attacks with the Null Axe, cutting into Uozell's flesh with each strike. Khari likewise continued hitting the mind flayer with his warhammer, until Uozell took the risk of lowering his guard against Jhasspok (who brought his battleaxe swinging in for a quick hit) as he cast an id insinuation attack on the four males he was fighting. Cramer's still-active spell turning spell flung it away from the gnome's mind while the others fought off the mental attack the old-fashioned way, by sheer grit and determination. Then Jhasspok made the final, killing blow with his new battleaxe, slicing deep into Saint Uozell's neck and causing the nearly headless mind flayer to fall backwards, dead, upon the stone floor at the feet of one of the petrified illithids sitting before one of the dead tentacles that made up the Writhing Gate.

"'bout time!" called out Utred, turning his attention to the nearest tentacle, which he started chopping away with his Null Axe. Marlo started casting disintegrate spells at the unmoving tentacles as well, while Jhasspok took a page from the dwarven barbarian's book and used his battleaxe to chop off a tentacle from the root - although in his case it wasn't a tentacle from the Dying One but rather from the Saint of Uboros, and it was simply because he was hungry and the facial tentacle of a mind flayer was as delicious as that of a terrestrial octopus or squid.

Once the Writhing Gate had been completely disabled - for as each of the Dying One's tentacles that had powered the gate was severed, the portal to the Far Realm likewise sealed up around it - Utred used his Null Axe for one more stroke: to sever the head of Saint Uozell from his body. "Kind of appropriate, don'tcha think?" the barbarian asked the others, holding up his trophy to show it off. "He oughtta be happy - now he looks just like his master!"

"He's short a few tentacles," Khari pointed out. Jhasspok quickly finished chewing the one he'd been eating, afraid he'd be admonished for consuming their slain foe in such a manner - mammals could be so squeamish sometimes!

"Even so, bring it over here," Cramer said. When Utred handed it over, the gnome cast a gentle repose spell on it. "We should bring it back with us," he suggested.

"Ew! Whatever for?" demanded Marlo.

"I don't have one prepared today," replied the little gnome, "but tomorrow I can cast a speak with dead spell on him - maybe he can give us some pointers on finding some of the other Writhing Gates."

"Why would he want to help us?" Khari asked.

"He won't have any choice in the matter - that's how the spell works!" Cramer informed him.

And thus, the following morning, after praying to Fharlanghn for his day's spells, Cramer Appleknocker cast a speak with dead spell on the decapitated head of Saint Uozell, follower of the Dying One, and asked the following questions, receiving the following answers:

Q1: "How many more Saints are still capable of making new Writhing Gates?"​
A1: "Four."​
Q2: "How do we get to the Gate of Zarbugak?"​
A2: "By ship, to the unchartable isle."​
Q3: "How do we protect ourselves from the effects of the Desolate Wastes?"​
A3: "Death ward."​
Q4: "How many Gates are still active?"​
A4: "Nine." (This answer worried the others until Cramer explained it was a true answer as far as Uozell would know, as he wasn't aware of the group having destroyed any of the others and C'thorlumbrox had informed them one Writhing Gate was already destroyed when they started on their mission to take out all ten.)​
Q5: "Is each remaining Saint at a Gate location?"​
A5: "Yes."​
Q6: "Which Gates have Saints?"​
A6: "Svusban, Rylethek, Svulbiss, Zarbugak." (These are the ones associated with the Desolate Wastes, the calling to the drowned, the one on the cloud island, and the one on the unchartable isle.)​
Q7: "What ship will take us to the unchartable isle?"​
A7: "Any ship with a death wish."​

"Well then," said Cramer after the spell had been finished. "I guess we'll hang on to you for a bit; maybe we can chat again in a week." He then had to explain to Jhasspok that the speak with dead spell could only be used on the same dead person - or in this case, part of a dead person - once per week.

"I have a question," Jhasspok said,

"I just told you: we can't ask it any more questions for a week."

"No, I have a question for you."

"Oh, okay. Ask away."

"Can I have another one of his tentacles? He's not using them any more."

"Tell you what, Jhasspok," Utred said. "We're going to hit the Desolate Wastes Writhing Gate next. Maybe we can scare up another mind flayer Saint for you to chew on there."

That sounded like a good plan to the hungry lizardfolk.

- - -

Yeowtch! Those frost worms are deadlier when you kill them than when they're alive! Logan beefed up the standard frost worm (CR 12) to make it more of a threat to five 15th-level PCs, but Marlo's super-enhanced scorching rays are a powerful obstacle to a creature with vulnerability to fire. And the whole "sprinkled polar worm chunks" practice makes sense when you realize polar worms and frost worms hate each other and attack on sight, so seeding your Evil Mountain with polar worm chunks is a good way to get frost worms hanging around. Logan reused the pink construction paper "mini" he had made for the neothelid to stand in as the advanced frost worm.

After looking into the death ward spell (which lasts all of one minute per caster level), we've decided we're going to have to use some of our dragon treasure to have special magic items crafted that will keep us safe in the Desolate Wastes. It'll probably be a toned-down attune form spell (from Manual of the Planes that will attune our PCs' bodies to the necromantic draining effects inherent in the sands of the desert. So that's where we're headed next time, although that won't be for another month: there are three weeks worth of scheduling conflicts that will prevent us from getting in any game sessions until mid-November.
 

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