Raiders of the Overreach



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 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 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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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 robe of eyes, 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: <> 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.
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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 Butterflinger 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 flaming 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 enhanced vision 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.
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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 if 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.
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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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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: 1 December 2021

- - -

It was a month of relative inactivity - at least not the frantic activity to which the adventurers had become accustomed. They had decided they'd go after the Gate of Svusban next and that meant traveling into the Desolate Wastes. But entering the Desolate Wastes was not something one did lightly, or without preparation.

To help provide such preparation, Nuriel was summoned to speak to the adventurers and the Greenvale scholars who were helping them prepare to purge the world of the remaining Writhing Gates. Nuriel was an astral deva, one of the most powerful types of celestials engaged in the never-ending war against the fiends of the Lower Depths. She was the commander of the Desolate Watch, a group the five former slaves had met up with and aided once before in the past, and she was more than happy to provide the assembled group with everything she knew about the Desolate Wastes.

"The lands now known as the Desolate Wastes is a vast desert, but it was once a lush land like the surrounding areas. However, centuries ago, the area was blessed with divine power to damage evil fiends on contact. This divine power was also infused with necromantic energies, to heal and create undead creatures filled with an innate hatred for the fiends from the Lower Planes - this is the genesis of the Undying Crusade. Of course, these necromantic energies are harmful to all living creatures to a lesser extent, such that to enter the Desolate Wastes without proper countermeasures will have detrimental effects upon you. I will thus leave you with a set of instructions for your crafters to be able to create necromantic attunement wards of whatever fashion they desire - the items can be crafted in the form of a ring, necklace, bracer...even as an ioun stone, should you so desire."

Jhasspok turned to Utred at his side. "Tell you later," the dwarf hissed, knowing full well the lizardfolk had no idea what an ioun stone was.

"As you may well know, the Baator's Breath Mountains are the location of the various breaches to the Hell dimensions. To the south, the armies of Ashfall keep the devils at bay; to the north, we have the Desolate Wastes to do the same thing. A compulsion effect causes newly-formed undead - including those whose life energies were drained by the sands of the Wastes themselves - to join the Undying Crusade. A desecrate effect further empowers the undead, keeping them in the fight as needed. Finally, a dimensional lock component, affecting all those who touch the sands, prevents the fiends from leaping from plane to plane or teleporting away."

"Um, excuse me," Cramer asked, holding his hand up hesitantly (for he felt self-conscious interrupting a member of the celestial host). "We won't have any problems teleporting to the Gate of Svusban, will we? Because it lies in the middle of the Desolate Wastes."

"Teleporting in will not be a problem," Nuriel reassured the gnome. "Teleporting back out, though, will not be possible."

Now that their cleric had opened the gate (so to speak) about interrupting Nuriel's briefing, Marlo felt confident enough to ask a question of her own. "Why is the Writhing Gate out in the middle of the Desolate Wastes in the first place?" she asked. "That doesn't seem like a very safe place to have placed it."

"Ah, but originally the Gate of Svusban was underground, like most of the other Writhing Gates," explained Nuriel. "The explosion of divine and necromantic energies that created the Desolate Wastes of the surrounding land completely destroyed the stone above that particular Writhing Gate. That had not been part of the plan, merely a coincidental a side effect. So yes, you'll be able to scry upon your target and teleport directly there."

Cramer was ready to go right then and there but the unfortunate reality that it would take weeks to craft five necromantic attunement wards to their individual specifications forced him into unhappy patience. It wasn't like he had any choice about the matter, either, for without the protective devices they wouldn't last long in the Wastes...and none of the five particularly wished to become an undead member of the Undying Crusade.

But weeks later, when the individual protective items had been crafted to the adventurers' specifications, the five were eager to set out. "Pre-combat prep spells," commanded Cramer as he cast the spells longstrider, spell resistance, moment of prescience, and spell turning upon himself, one right after the other. He then pulled out one of his wands and cast an owl's wisdom spell upon each of the five.

"What does that do?" Jhasspok asked Utred, his go-to source of information.

"Makes you wiser, toughens up your mind," replied the dwarven barbarian.

"Good idea," nodded the lizardfolk, approving of the choice of spell being cast upon him.

"See? It's workin' already," commented Utred.

Marlo cast a magic circle against evil on herself and a Rary's telepathic bond spell upon the entire group. "Jhasspok, would you like a stoneskin spell?" she asked.

"Yes, please, Marlo," replied the lizardfolk, his eyes focused steadfastly upon her midsection - specifically, the pocket of her robes where he knew Marlo's toad familiar Truffles sat. Due to the numerous tentacles growing out of the toad in all directions since their excursion into the Far Realm, Jhasspok's curiosity about how best to eat the pseudonatural toad without it turning to flames in his mouth had only grown over the months. He wondered how much Truffles' tentacles would taste like those of a mind flayer - would their smaller size have an effect on their taste?

"Okay, then, we're all ready!" Marlo declared after having cast the proffered stoneskin spell on Jhasspok. She turned to the crystal ball on display, where a sunborn drow wizard with bright red hair had concentrated on the Gate of Svusban. "Is that it?" she asked, peering at a familiar ring of collapsed tentacles amid a field of sand. As usual, there were ten illithid shapes seated one before each tentacle, with one obvious leader - this one held some sort of scythe before him - and nine other "lackeys" (or so the sorceress liked to think of them), these nine not moving at all. It was entirely possible, Marlo knew, that those nine were petrified in place like the ones in the Writhing Gate the five had used as slaves to raid the surface world for the benefit of their Overreach drow masters.

"Gather up," Marlo commanded and the other four all closed in, touching a hand to her robe of eyes. (Jhasspok's clawed hand got uncomfortably close to the pocket where Truffles sat and the sorceress slapped it for good measure; the lizardfolk decided now was not a good time for a quick snatch-and-grab.) Then, with the vocalization of an arcane spell-phrase, the five adventurers disappeared and teleported directly behind the tentacle where the scythe-wielding illithid was seated. Marlo used her boots of levitation to shoot 30 feet into the air, where she could better get a view of the surrounding area and make sure there were no other creatures in the vicinity. Of course, she didn't stop to think that when she flew 30 feet up into the air the area of effect of her 10-foot-radius magic circle against evil was yanked away from the rest of her group....

But despite having teleported in behind the one illithid Marlo had figured might have a chance of spotting them, she had failed to take into consideration there might be a completely different reason for the total immobility of the other nine mind flayers. In this case, it wasn't because they had been turned to stone, with only their minds generating part of the power to operate the Writhing Gate; rather, it was because these nine mind flayers were themselves each undead - mummies, in fact. The ones across from the circle from their leader Saint Svusban saw the heroes' arrival and Marlo's immediate flight straight up into the sky. As mummies, they focused their gazes upon the collected heroes, but their living minds - in some cases no doubt due to the owl's wisdom spells Cramer had cast upon them with his wand - were strong enough to overcome the panic many felt in the presence of undead mummies.

<Crap!> Khari called over the link. <We're not fighting one mind flayer - we're fighting ten!>

Another telepathic voice entered the minds of the five heroes at that point. It was Saint Svusban, the leader of the Writhing Gate named after him. <I thought we had an agreement,> he said directly into their minds. At the confused thoughts he picked up as a result, he added, <Aren't you part of the Undying Crusade?>

<No, we're not a bunch of undead monstrosities!> sputtered Cramer indignantly.

<Then in that case, I offer you the chance to retreat. You do not belong here.>

Jhasspok ignored all of the mental chatter and did what he had come here to do - slay the defenders of the Writhing Gate (however many that might be) so Utred could carve up the Elder God's tentacles with his Null Axe and prevent the Gate from ever working again. The lizardfolk ran forward, battleaxe in hand, and sent it crashing down upon the illithid mummy seated to the left of Saint Svusban. It was a pretty hearty blow, cutting deep into the undead thing's flesh...but at the cost of experiencing a few blows from Saint Svusban's magic scythe, whose blade was some sort of sharpened crystal. Marlo's stoneskin spell deflected a great deal of the damage but the lizardfolk was bleeding in two places at the end of his initial attack.

But then Cramer, noticing the placement of the ten illithids in a nice, symmetrical ring, used his moment of prescience to ensure he overcame the inherent illithid spell resistance as he cast a blade barrier spell such that the "wall" of force blades took the shape of a circle cutting through each of the undead mind flayers. <Heh heh heh,> he chuckled over the telepathic link, <I'm going to have to rename that spell the chum wall!> It was an apt name, too, for of the ten targets only two of them managed to leap out of the way of the manifesting blades of force energy in time, those two leaping to the center of the Writhing Gate as the other eight were chopped to pieces, with bits of undead flesh being tossed in all directions.

Khari Hammerslammer had no desire to enter the blades just so he could get in some combat himself. He stepped to the side and positioned himself between two of the limp tentacles of the Writhing Gate, knowing full well if any of the undead mind flayers tried to escape Cramer's spell it would be by exiting between the tentacles. He readied his warhammer in hand for any that might try heading out his way. Utred, seeing the logic of his fellow dwarf's strategy, stepped a few paces in the other direction and readied his own greataxe. He had the Null Axe out of what he called his "weapon locker," knowing full well that once he touched the sands of the Desolate Waste he'd no longer be able to access any of the weapons contained within its extradimensional storage space. It was wrapped in its antimagic covering and strapped to his weapon-belt with a length of rope, tied in a manner as to allow it to be easily yanked free.

Two of the illithid mummies escaped the ring of blades in the manner Utred and Khari had anticipated, but they were on the far side of the gate of Svusban and thus out of range. These two backed off and refrained from immediate combat, secure in the knowledge the necromantic sands would restore their wounds in short time, allowing them to re-enter combat as a full-strength ready reserve force. Five others stumbled out of the blade barrier, staggering through the cutting blades and ending up on the outside of the Writhing Gate, making their way to the heroes who had attacked them. The two inside Cramer's "chum wall" held their ground, looking about them for a way out of the whirling blades. Only Saint Svusban held his ground, taking the damage from the flying blades as he contemplated his next move. And sure enough, the necromantic effects of the sands of the Desolate Wastes did their thing, slowly healing up the wounds of the undead guardians.

From her aerial vantage point, Marlo cast a maximized empowered scorching ray spell down at Saint Svusban and the two closest illithid mummies to him. One of the mummies burst immediately into flame and was destroyed, while the other two were burned by the attack but not totally engulfed. Marlo could tell Saint Svusban was not even a mummy, for he moved faster than the others and was not affected as much by the power of the flames. He was in fact a corpse creature, drained of life by the Desolate Wastes and reanimated as an undead version of himself with all of the abilities he had while still alive, only now not needing to eat, breathe, or sleep.

And now Saint Svusban made his move. Stepping out of the effects of the blade barrier spell into the ring with the other two mind flayer guardians, he turned and sent a mind blast through the ring of blades and crashing into the minds of four of the heroes, for Khari was too far away from the others to have fit inside the cone of optimal impact. As far as "optical impact" went, though, Svusban was in for a big disappointment for the mind blast, which in theory could have stunned 80% of his attackers into temporary immobility, had no effect whatsoever. All four of the heroes steeled their minds against the mental onslaught and felt the mind blast wash over them to no effect.

Jhasspok finished off the mummy he'd attacked initially; it had taken too much of a bruising from the blade barrier to be in any shape to defend itself against the reptile's axe-blade. Cramer cast a searing light spell at another approaching illithid mummy, causing it to stagger at the magical onslaught and then fall apart to nothingness. Khari's warhammer and Utred's greataxe cut down two more of the mummies, leaving only a few to stagger up and try ineffectually to hit the heroes. But at least the sands were healing them back up, if slower than might have been desired.

Marlo cast a maximized fireball spell down at the trio inside the blade barrier spell, since they made such a nice grouping in there. Svusban reacted to the pain of the spell's burns with a psionic body adjustment spell, realigning the cells of his body to better overcome the damage he had sustained.

Another illithid mummy walked up from around the Writhing Gate and Jhasspok didn't hesitate to cut it down as well. There were no longer any mummies within immediate view and the lizardfolk decided he'd go clockwise around the Writhing Gate to see if there were any others he might slay. <Hold up!> called Cramer as he cast a magic circle against evil spell on Utred. <I have a spell I want to cast on your battleaxe that will be particularly deadly to the mummies!>

Khari likewise saw no enemies within reach, but that didn't mean he couldn't get to some he knew were nearby. Using the power of his earthglide warhammer to burrow beneath the sands, he popped up behind one of the mummies in the center of the blade barrier spell and sent his weapon-head crashing into the back of the undead thing's head. Utred channeled his inner rage as he activated his winged boots, flying above the blade barrier spell and dropping down low enough to send his greataxe into the head of the other illithid mummy within the ring. Their return attacks were rather feeble, neither one striking their respective dwarven foes. And already the wounds they'd received at the hands of the dwarven-crafted weapons were starting to heal up by contact with the necromantically-charged sands of the Desolate Wastes.

Marlo slew the mummy Khari had been fighting with another maximized empowered scorching ray spell, but the ray she had sent to Utred's foe missed entirely. Saint Svusban cast a psionic lion's charge spell and charged Khari with his unholy deep crystal scythe of speed...missing with each of his four swings. (It didn't help that the dwarf's dodges from the incoming blows were aided by his ability to sink partially into the sands at full speed.) One tentacle attack did strike true, though, but the illithid didn't get a good enough grip to try to pry open his skull and remove the dwarf's brain, as he would have loved to do back when he was living and required such fare for sustenance.

Cramer cast a disrupting weapon spell on Jhasspok's axe and then gave him the mental go-ahead to start running after the "ready reserve" mummies. Jhasspok needed no further encouragement, kicking up sand behind him with each stride. He brought his battleaxe back for a powerful swing and let fly with every ounce of strength he had. And the blow was a powerful one, but it did no more damage than would have been expected had the lizardfolk not waited around for Cramer's spell. (Afterwards, when Jhasspok reported there had been no discernable difference, the little gnome had opined the undead must have been more powerful than the types the spell was able to affect. Jhasspok took him at his word - for the lizard knew nothing about the intricate workings of magic - but decided next time he probably wouldn't wait around for a spell of questionable effectiveness; he'd rather rely upon the power behind his own limbs.)

Khari ran over and finished off the remaining illithid mummy within the still-active blade barrier spell, while Utred took care of Saint Svusban in a most unusual fashion. Dropping his greataxe at his side, he rushed at the spindly illithid, pinning his arms to his side and running forward to force the mind flayer back into one of the seats before a withered tentacle of the Elder God Uboros. Of course, that put them both well within the effects of the numerous whirling blades slashing through the air, but the dwarf just laughed as the spinning knives and swords slashed both him and his pinned foe. "Whaddaya think, mind flayer?" he taunted Saint Svusban, who struggled to free himself to no avail. "Who d'ya think can last longer, you or me?"

Jhasspok felled the first reserve mummy with a second blow from his battleaxe and then spun to face the second. It was brought down mere moments later with a series of brutal attacks. Then Jhasspok whipped about again, facing the Writhing Gate - whose tentacles had stopped writhing weeks ago when they'd allowed the neothelid into the planar gate to the Far Realm so it could devour the Dying One from within. Calling over the link to see if there were any more mummies to be slain and told only Saint Svusban remained and he was safely inside the blade barrier spell, the lizardfolk sat back on his tail and pulled a dried dung beetle from the pouch at his waist. He was hungry after his workout and he had earned a snack and a respite.

Marlo could only catch the occasional glimpse of Saint Svusban between the whirling blades, but it was enough to send a wave of magic missile spells down at him - maximized versions at that. Between two waves of that and Utred keeping the mind flayer corpse creature inside the ring of blades, Saint Svusban was slain before he could make any further attacks of his own. Cramer, upon being notified over the mental link that the last illithid guardian had been slain, dismissed the blade barrier spell now that the only one being carved up by it was Utred. The dwarf dropped the illithid's limp corpse to the ground and started looking to his own numerous wounds. Cramer was quick to cast healing spells his way, and at the other heroes in need of his healing touch.

Jhasspok took the opportunity to sever Saint Svusban's head from his neck with a quick blow of his axe. He held it up to Cramer; it was still mostly intact but its four facial tentacles had been hacked to pieces by the whirling blades of force energy. Still...

"I think it's still usable," Cramer pronounced and began the casting of a speak with dead spell. Utred, in the meantime, removed the Null Axe from its packaging and started slicing off the dead tentacles that made up the Writhing Gate. As each was severed near ground level, the far end dropped back into the Far Realm and the portal sealed back up, ensuring the Gate of Svusban could be used no more.

"We've got seven questions to ask him," Cramer told the others. "What do we want to know?"

After some quick discussions, the first question was, "What death wish must be present on a ship that will take us to the unchartable isle?" This was a follow-up question from an answer they'd received from the severed head of the previous illithid "Saint" they'd interrogated in such a fashion.

<Those that don't want to ever return,> came the mental answer.

"Who guards the Gate of Radravossk?" was the next question; <Those who sought eternity> was the reply. The heroes took that to mean members of the Seekers of Eternity, or at least those from one of its many sects.

The third question was the verification of a guess. "Is the Gate of Rylethek underwater?" Cramer asked, and gained affirmation that such was indeed the case.

"Who guards the Gate of Rylethek besides Saint Rylethek himself?" was the fourth question; <The other nine cultists and any others they deem necessary> was the answer - not very helpful.

Marlo had a good question: "Who is the most powerful of the remaining illithid Saints?" <Zarbugak the Mad,> replied the severed head of Saint Svusban. That prompted a logical sixth question: "What makes him the most powerful?" and the answer was merely, <He embraced the Far Realm.>

"Last question," intoned Cramer. "What are the defenses of the Gate of Sardegon?" <Unknown,> replied Svusban, <for the previous guardians were defeated.>

"Well then," said Cramer, tossing the severed head aside. It was in such bad condition Jhasspok wasn't even the least bit tempted to eat it. "It looks like we have a bit of a walk ahead of us. Which way did the scholars say we should head again?"

"That way," replied Marlo, pointing to the northwest as she finished transcribing the last words in her notebook; she wanted to be able to go over these questions and answers as needed. "We've probably got several days of travel ahead of us."

"Better get a start on, then," replied Utred and headed off in that direction.

- - -

This was a fun adventure to run through, and Dan has permanently added "chum wall" to his personal lexicon. This was our last adventure as 15th-level characters (we leveled up after the adventure concluded) and our first gaming session in this campaign in six weeks, due to a slew of scheduling difficulties. I think we were all glad to be slinging dice again.

Cramer's disrupting weapon spell only failed because the illithid mummies had one more HD than we did. Jhasspok's still not impressed.
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PC Roster:
Cramer Appleknocker, gnome cleric 16​
Jhasspok, lizardman 3/barbarian 3/fighter 10​
Khari Hammerslammer, dwarf fighter 15/psychic warrior 1​
Marlo Pendragon, human sorcerer 16​
Utred "Buckets" Butterflinger, dwarf barbarian 16​

Game Session Date: 8 December 2021

- - -

When forced to camp overnight in a desert wasteland which was constantly trying to leech the life force out of everything in the area and then reanimating the dead corpses as undead creatures, there was no way the five adventurers were going to do so without setting up a guard shift rotation. Cramer and Marlo got the first and last shifts so they could get a night's worth of uninterrupted sleep (necessary if they were going to be able to replenish their spells in the morning), so Jhasspok and the dwarves each took a shift in the middle and made do with two smaller clumps of sleep. Worse yet, since they were camping in their ironsilk tent - a large, fold-up structure with individual interior rooms - whoever was on guard duty had to actively patrol by pacing around the structure, to make sure nobody could sneak up from behind the tent. And everyone had to make sure to keep their necromantic attunement wards in place, even while sleeping, lest the sands of the Desolate Wastes desiccate them into members of the Undying Crusade. Fortunately, despite a night of worry there were no visitors to the campsite that night and the next morning's sun found the five eager to be up and on their way, for nobody wanted to spend any more time in the Desolate Wastes than was absolutely necessary.

Once on the move again, with their ironsilk tent folded up into a much smaller space than was possible without magical assistance, they had a much better way of keeping an eye out for intruders from all directions: Marlo Pendragon, wearing her robe of eyes and her boots of levitation, elevated herself as high as possible with one end of Utred's 50-foot span of silk rope tied around one ankle and the other tied to the back of the dwarven barbarian's belt. Marlo was thus pulled along for the ride much like a balloon as Utred trudged through the desert sands along with the rest of the males. From her aerial vantage point and her ability to see in all directions at once, the group had no concerns that anyone would be able to sneak up on them - with the possible exception of something burrowing up from beneath the desert sands.

"Up ahead!" Marlo called several hours into the march on a straight northwestern course. "Scorpion! Big one!" The others shielded their eyes and squinted, trying to see the threat Marlo was warning them about, but there were too many small dunes in the way. Once they crested a rise, though, the scorpion was plain to see and the sorceress had not been exaggerating: this was as big a scorpion as any of them had ever seen before in their lives, bigger than they had imagined scorpions could grow to be.

Anticipating combat, Khari activated his offensive prescience so he'd be psionically able to better place his weapon blows where they'd do the most damage. Jhasspok continued moving in the direction they'd been heading but veered off to the left side away from the group so the scorpion wouldn't be able to attack all of them at once. He held his spellstoring frost battleaxe at the ready, knowing he could discharge the shocking grasp spell Marlo had loaded into it that morning with his first strike. Cramer readied a flame strike spell, while Utred ran off to the right, mirroring Jhasspok's strategy but making sure he was closer to the scorpion than the others, making himself the logical target if the scorpion decided to attack. He held his Elderwood greenflame greataxe at the ready.

The colossal scorpion turned and started heading towards the four adventures walking in its direction, no doubt picking up their footsteps as they trudged through the sands. It might not have noticed Marlo, but even if it had there wasn't much it could do about her, as she was floating nearly 50 feet in the air.

Marlo, however, was under no such constraints. From her aerial perch, she cast a summon monster spell that caused the sands behind the massive arachnid to erupt and a rocky beast in a vaguely humanoid form rise up and bring its boulderlike fist crashing down upon the scorpion's carapace. And just that quickly, combat was on.

Apparently interested in a meal, the scorpion skittered away from the inedible earth titan and made a bee-line for Utred. As it approached, it succumbed to Cramer's readied flame strike spell but that didn't stop it from reaching Utred and snapping at him with a serrated claw. However, the burly barbarian managed to extricate himself from the pincer's grasp and cut a deep groove into the claw with his greataxe. Then Khari popped up almost directly in front of its face, having used the earthglide power of his magic warhammer to travel beneath the sands. His hammer came crashing down on the creature's head, causing a few cracks in its carapace.

Jhasspok charged at the creature as well but hadn't accounted for its quick reflexes and the lizardfolk found himself caught between the sharp edges of the scorpion's right pincer-claw. He brought his battleaxe down on the claw, discharging the shocking grasp spell but failing to free himself from the arachnid's grasp.

Then a spiritual weapon in the form of a quarterstaff appeared in the air above the scorpion and it came crashing down between its black, beady eyes. Cramer advanced slowly, not wanting to put himself into the reach of the creature's claws too soon.

Marlo sent an empowered maximized scorching ray blasting down at the scorpion and its carapace started to blister where the spell struck. Not liking have been left behind, the earth titan charged forward and brought a rocky fist crashing down upon the creature for a second time. The scorpion responded by continuing to crush Jhasspok in its right pincer while its left pincer darted out to grab up Khari before he could attack the creature's face again. Utred was surprised it had ignored him but it hadn't, actually - for he was the target of the scorpion's massive tail, which came stabbing into the barbarian's chest and injected him with its venom. The barbarian wasn't impressed; "That all you got?" he taunted. "I seen worse!" If he bothered to stop to wonder whether a colossal scorpion could understand what he was saying it wasn't at all evident.

Khari brought his earthglide warhammer crashing down upon the creature's left pincer, trying to break himself free of its grasp, to no avail. Jhasspok likewise brought his axe to bear but had no better luck. The scorpion's mouthparts opened wide, ready to devour one of its two captured morsels; it was a toss-up as to which of the two it would try to eat first.

Cramer made the decision easy for it by casting a freedom of movement spell on Khari, allowing the dwarven fighter to easily slide from the massive scorpion's claw. "You're next, Jhasspok!" the gnome promised, running over towards the beast's other pincer as Marlo sent an empowered magic missile spell crashing down upon their foe. The earth titan, no longer having to catch up to its designated target, brought both fists crashing into the scorpion's side. It hissed in pain, obviously far worse off for wear than it had been before detecting these potential sources of food.

Deciding to flee with its lizardfolk meal, the scorpion pivoted in place and started scrambling away from its tormentors. But Khari, Utred, and the summoned earth titan each had other ideas and their combined attacks brought it to an immediate halt, its massive body collapsing to the sands of the Desolate Wastes, stirring up a dust cloud. Its muscles going lax in death, Jhasspok was able to pry the pincer-claw imprisoning him open and crawl back out to relative safety.

"What was this thing's deal?" demanded Khari. "Was it undead? And if so, why was it trying to eat us?"

"Hard to say," Cramer mused, rubbing his bearded chin in thought. "Creatures like this, with exoskeletons, makes it hard to tell if it's living or undead."

"It would almost have to be undead, though," argued Khari. "Even something that size would eventually be drained of its life force, surely." Cramer just shrugged; it was a valid point, but who knew? Maybe it had adapted to life in the Desolate Wastes somehow. Stranger things had happened.

The group continued on their trek (but not until after Jhasspok had cut through the exoskeleton and carved off a hunk of meat, declaring it tasted the same as if it had just been living, and convincing Marlo to load up his battleaxe with another spell, this one a vampiric touch). It was hours later when Marlo again called down to the group that she saw something ahead.

"What do you see?" Cramer called up to her.

"It sounds weird, but...some sort of enormous tower shield, sized for a giant or a titan. I can't tell who's carrying it, though."

"Heading our way?" Utred wanted to know.

"No, going the same direction we are," Marlo called back down. "We'll probably overtake them; it looks like they're traveling much slower than we are." Once again it took the cresting of a dune before the landbound members of the group could see what Marlo had spotted from her aerial perch, and from the spikes emanating in all directions from the four humanoid creatures holding the oversize shield above them like an umbrella, the group's best guess was barbed devils. Which made some sort of sense, for the Desolate Wastes had been created by celestial intervention specifically to stop invasions from the Hell planes. Upon unilateral agreement, the group stopped calling up to Marlo and increased their speed, hoping to sneak up to within combat range before they were discovered.

Once close enough to make out there were four barbed devils holding up the massive metal shield, Khari reactivated his offensive prescience so it would be ready when needed. And then Marlo decided the group had closed to sufficient proximity for her to start the combat once again with a spell cast from the air, this time an empowered maximized lightning bolt cast directly upon the hellsteel shield each of the four devils was holding. Three of the four were jolted fiercely by the spell, the fourth lucky enough to have been able to overcome the worst of the shock by its inherent nature.

But now they were certainly aware they were under attack. Utred charged the one in the back right, chopping through a handful of spines with his Elderwood greenflame greataxe, even though a few of the fiend's spines stabbed at his hands and arms in the process. But Utred ignored the pain, the same as he'd done in scores of battles before - it was all part of the fun of combat, seeing who could dish out the most punishment and who could take it the easiest!

Jhasspok ran up to the back row of devils and slew the one Utred had already hit, then continued his weapon's swing straight into the one directly to the slain devil's left. The lizardfolk too was pierced by numerous devil-spines in doing so and despite his thick scales he was less able to ignore pain than was Utred; the lizard hissed in pain from his wounds but didn't let that stop him from continuing the combat.

Cramer cast a destruction spell at the barbed devil in the front right, slaying him immediately and causing the oversize hellsteel shield to cant over to the right, the two remaining fiends unable to support its weight by themselves. They ducked out from beneath its weight and let it fall flat to the sands behind them as they raced out from beneath it, to both pivot and attack Jhasspok. Khari rushed forward but had been too far away to reach the devils before those with longer strides had already entered combat. But even he could see the small stones orbiting each fiend's head - likely some sort of ioun stone, which was not something the dwarven fighter usually associated with devils from the Lower Planes.

Now out from beneath their protective shield, Marlo cast an empowered maximized magic missile spell at the two remaining devils, slaying the weakest-looking one (the one sporting electrical burns from her earlier spell) and causing the other a fair amount of pain. Utred brought his greataxe swinging into the sole remaining devil, chopping into it several times in rapid succession before Cramer finished it off with another destruction spell.

Post-battle examination of the huge shield as well as the ioun stones found near the bodies suggested they were used to ward off the detrimental effects of the sands so the fiends could hopefully escape through the desert to wreak havoc upon the world. "The ioun stones seem to be wards against holy energy," Marlo observed, examining them closely.

"No use to us, then," said Khari. "We ought to destroy them."

"I don't know," argued Utred. "We could give them to Matron Jalamir. She might be able to use them."

"We might be allied with her," Cramer argued, "but I don't know if I want to give her something to help ward off holy damage. If she's fighting someone who can wield holy energy, I kind of think I'd be rooting for the holy guy. I'm all for supporting Matron Jalamir against other drow matrons, but I'd still prefer we wipe out all evil drow." In the end, they buried the ioun stones in the sands and continued on their trek out of the Desolate Wastes.

The rest of the trip was uneventful, for there was little actual life in the desert sands. When the sands gave way to hard-packed dirt and then to grasses and plants, it was difficult to say who was the most elated. But teleporting was still impossible until they had purged themselves of every last grain of sand, a process which had to wait until they got back to Greenvale several days later.

- - -

Logan managed to subvert our expectations once again, because we had obviously assumed we'd be fighting various undead creatures during the trek home and that ended up not being the case at all. Logan says the Colossal scorpion we fought had developed a strange adaptation to the Desolate Wastes, basically being a living creature existing inside an undead exoskeleton. (He made up a template for such creatures, basically doubling its hit points and allowing it to be healed by the sands of the desert like any other undead. So we were fighting a 600 hp scorpion and we took it out in three rounds. Go us!)
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PC Roster:
Cramer Appleknocker, gnome cleric 16​
Jhasspok, lizardman 3/barbarian 3/fighter 10​
Khari Hammerslammer, dwarf fighter 15/psychic warrior 1​
Marlo Pendragon, human sorcerer 16​
Utred "Buckets" Butterflinger, dwarf barbarian 16​

Game Session Date: 15 December 2021

- - -

"Ah," said the man wearing the gray robes of a cleric of Boccob, God of Magic, a smile on his face as he welcomed the five former slaves of Overreach. "Are you here to answer the call for adventurers?"

Jhasspok turned his head to the side in puzzlement and then looked over to Utred - the burly dwarven barbarian usually had the answers. But this time Utred was as much in the dark as the lizardfolk. Still, he opted to agree with the man and see where this led. "Yes, yes we are," he told the elderly cleric. "I was told this was a paying job...?" Naturally, he had been told no such thing but it never hurt to throw your line in the water and see what kind of fish you could catch.

"Of course, a quite sizeable sum if I do say so myself, but well worth the cost to rid the Guilded City of the sole remaining holdouts of the Seekers of Eternity. To think how close they had come to overthrowing our entire government!"

"I know!" agreed Cramer quickly, catching onto the make-it-up-as-we-go plan to pass themselves off as adventurers answering an advertisement of some sort. All attempts to divine the location of the Gate of Radravossk having failed, the Mithral Redeemers - a good sect of the Seekers of Eternity who had allied with Greenvale - suggested the party start by going to the Guilded City to gather information closer to the source, since they had never heard of a Writhing Gate in the Azure Glade. This seemed as good of a cover story as any to the gnome cleric.

"Bless me, where are my manners? My name is Tevin," added the gray-robed man as he led his new charges to the Temple of Boccob. Cramer made the introductions as they walked. Jhasspok was surprised the man didn't seem the least bit taken aback to see a lizardman in with the other four adventurers. When they got to the Temple, they saw a small crowd of adventurers like themselves, of numerous races - although all of them seemingly mammals, Jhasspok noted sadly. They were offered refreshments and then a temple cleric began briefing the assembled group on the plan.

"We intend to wipe out the remaining Seekers of Eternity in the Azure Glade in one fell swoop. They have scattered and are in hiding, no doubt hoping to avoid detection long enough for them to find a way to regroup. To that end, you will each be given a specific target and everyone will be teleported by our spellcasters to your designated foes. We will strike at them simultaneously, so they'll all be too busy fighting for their own lives to be able to aid each other." Maps were handed out to the groups and temple clerics gathered among them to explain the individual plans. Tevin explained the color coding of the map-marks the five ex-slaves had been given. "Red stands for Transmutation; Black is for Necromancy; White is Divination; Blue stands for Evocation; and Purple is Enchantment," he explained. "You five will each be taking on one of these targets when we attack tomorrow at dawn."

"Wait, five separate targets for the five of us?" asked Khari. "So we won't be fighting together?"

"No, one on one," confirmed Tevin. "You'd do best to decide which of you is best suited against the specialist wizards you'll be taking out."

"What can you tell us about these specific targets?" Marlo asked.

Tevin explained all that they knew. The Necromancer was likely to be guarded by undead so it was decided they'd give that assignment to Cramer. The Transmuter was holed up in a golem construction lab - the biggest of the five areas they'd be attacking - so Utred was given that one; if there were additional golems guarding the wizard the dwarven barbarian was the best suited to be able to take them down and survive to tell the tale. The Evoker had a traitorous member of the Azure Guard with him - a fighter/wizard used as part of the police force in the Azure Glade - so to counter the extra firepower the group opted to send Marlo after them; after all, she had the most offensive spellcasting power of anyone in the group. The Diviner was believed to be alone; Khari was assigned to take him out. And that left Jhasspok going up against the Enchanter and his likely charmed minions.

"Wait, sending Jhasspok against someone who can charm the weak-willed? Is that really a good idea?" asked Khari. "Maybe we should switch."

"We'll set him up with a protection from evil spell," promised Cramer. "That will prevent anyone from trying to take over his mind." In a much lower voice, he added to himself, "...such as it is."

The adventurers were released with instructions to regroup at the Temple of Boccob an hour before sunrise so the priests there could prepare the focused teleportation rituals that would send each attacker to his or her designated target location and then back again after 10 minutes. There would also be a contingency added into the ritual; if any of the attack force were slain the body would be instantly teleported back to the Temple of Boccob so resurrections could be prepared.

"Seems they thought of everything," Utred commented, impressed.

"We'd best see to lodging," Cramer decided. "We'll be getting up early tomorrow."

The next day did indeed start early; earlier than anticipated for all but Cramer, who had decided to get everyone up in enough time for them all to partake in a heroes' feast before they set off to the temple. That provided each of the heroes immunity to poison and a boost to their combat abilities. Then, once they'd arrived at the temple, the spellcasters among them applied a variety of pre-combat spells before they'd be teleported to their separate locales. Cramer cast a protection from evil spell upon Utred and a magic circle against evil on himself. "I thought you were going to cast that on Jhasspok," Marlo chided; Cramer just shrugged in a "what does it matter?" gesture. Marlo then cast a magic circle against evil on Jhasspok, another on herself, and a third on Khari, then cast a stoneskin spell on everyone but Cramer, who waved her off saying he didn't need it. The sorceress then cast a Rary's telepathic bond spell on the group so they could update each other on their situations as needed. "Cramer and I can cast a teleport spell if anybody finds themselves up against more than they can handle," she told the others. (Jhasspok noted a few glances his way as she said that.) Cramer used his wand of owl's wisdom on each of the five, then cast a bevy of protective spells upon himself: death ward, longstrider, resist energy (cold), spell immunity, moment of prescience, shield of faith, invisibility purge, spell resistance, and spell turning. Then he used Utred's last purchased scroll to cast a death ward spell on the barbarian as well.

"You think that's enough to keep you safe?" taunted Khari, activating his psionic offensive prescience that would help guide his hammer-blows. "You'd think you were afraid of a simple one-on-one fight."

"It doesn't hurt to be prepared," countered the gnome cleric. But there was no time for any further comments as the teleportation effect kicked in at that moment and the whole temple of adventurers were whisked away to their individual combats.

- - -

Jhasspok materialized in an L-shaped chamber, where a full third of the room - one end of the "L" - was taken up by a massive bed. Standing by the bed was a man in purple robes: the Enchanter Jhasspok had been sent to kill. However, standing in the crook of the "L" before him were two human women, one in full plate mail armor and another in combat leathers, each wielding impressive swords. It seems the lizardfolk's arrival had not been entirely unanticipated!

"Kill him!" commanded the Enchanter and Jhasspok raised his turtle-shell shield anticipating their incoming attacks. But it was possible Fharlanghn had been looking after the lizardfolk in having Cramer cast his protection from evil spell upon Utred instead of on Jhasspok, for as the two armed women approached the humanoid reptile they slowed in confusion. "I have a spell on me that prevents people from taking over my mind," Jhasspok explained to the women as the charm person spells they had been under were temporarily suppressed. They turned in hatred at the Enchanter, who was screaming at them to slay the intruder.

"I'm supposed to kill the man in the purple robes," Jhasspok explained helpfully. "You can help me if you like." Then, realizing he needed to stick close to the women if he was going to keep their minds free, he threw his flaming spear at the Enchanter.

"We'll need to stick close together for the duration," advised the fighter clad in plate-mail, gripping her longsword. "But yeah, let's get him!"

The Enchanter cried out in pain and then retaliated by casting a greater shadow evocation spell in the form of chain lightning, targeting the lizardfolk and then arcing off to his traitorous mind-slaves. But the spell didn't stop their coordinated charge across the room and the wizard soon found himself pierced by a fighter's longsword, a rogue's short sword, and a lizardman's battleaxe, the latter of which also discharged the vampiric touch spell Marlo had loaded into it the night before. The weapons were all that were holding him up at that point; when the trio removed them the man slid down the wall to land in a heap on the floor, leaving a trail of blood along the wall in his wake. The rogue gave his head a kick for good measure. "Creep!" she snarled.

Seeing his goal had already been attained, Jhasspok opened the satchel at his hip and pulled out a dried dung beetle. He offered a snack to the two women but it turned out neither of them was hungry.

- - -

Marlo appeared in a small room with two blue-clad men: an Evoker in wizard's robes and a member of the Azure Guard wearing blue armor covered in glowing runes. She didn't hesitate a moment to cast an empowered maximized scorching ray at the pair. One ray hit each of the two but the third ray went astray. Marlo scowled at the missed opportunity to dish out additional pain.

The Azure Guard cast a lightning bolt spell at Marlo in retaliation and it was all the sorceress could do not to laugh in his face; she'd faced much more powerful spellcasters than this before! The Evoker also cast a ray spell - a polar ray if Marlo wasn't mistaken - but it also missed its target. The sorceress elevated herself close to the ceiling with her boots of levitation and sent an empowered maximized fireball spell down at her opponents. The blast had both foes crumpling dead to the ground, burned to a crisp.

<I got mine!> Marlo called over the telepathic link to her friends. <Anybody need any help?>

<Mine's already dead,> Jhasspok reported in. The rogue, after having satisfied that the Enchanter was in fact dead, was teaching Jhasspok how to play gambling games and the lizardfolk had already lost a few coins to her but was determined to do better.

<I could use a hand!> replied an exasperated-sounding Khari. Marlo said the words and teleported away, concentrating on a mental image of Khari to lead her to where she needed to be.

- - -

At first, Khari thought this task wouldn't be too difficult. He'd teleported into a square room, empty of all but the white-robed Diviner before him. However, the dwarf scowled in noting the worked stone of the floor below him; his earthglide warhammer wouldn't be able to allow him to burrow through the ground like he preferred to be able to do so. Still, how hard could it be to kill one wizard?

He found out almost immediately, for after striking his first blow the Diviner cast a time stop spell and all of a sudden he was now in the opposite corner and a greater fire elemental stood towering between him and the dwarven fighter. The massive creature of flame raised a blazing fist and brought it down towards the dwarf...only to be unable to finish the blow, due to the magic circle against evil spell Marlo had cast upon him, for it prevented summoned creatures from being able to approach the dwarf.

Khari skirted right past the elemental - knowing full well to do so meant undoing the protection against summoned creatures, but so be it - and brought his warhammer crashing down upon the Diviner again, this time with disappointing results - it seems the bugger had cast a stoneskin spell upon himself during the time stop as well. Then the white-clad wizard cast a chain lightning spell directly into Khari's bearded face. And now no longer prevented from striking her summoner's enemy, the fire elemental brought her flaming fist down upon the dwarf's helmeted head. Khari staggered back, wondering how he was going to take the two of them out by himself.

Fortunately he didn't have to, for at that time Marlo made her query across the mental link between the five adventurers. A moment later the sorceress was by his side, ready to aid her friend.

The Diviner ran past the pair of adventurers, taking hits from both the dwarf's earthglide warhammer and the sorceress's arcane blade - which by this time in her career struck like a bastard sword. He was staggered by their combined assault and decided he'd at least take out the enemy spellcaster before he fell, casting a Mordenkainen's sword before slipping into unconsciousness. But Khari dashed up and bashed in the Diviner's head with his hammer and then Marlo, realizing there was no need to stick around to fight a fire elemental whose time on the Material Plane was limited, touched Khari on the shoulder and teleported the two of them away. Jhasspok had already said he was fine and Cramer had so many spells on him he'd likely be doing just fine, so she concentrated on Utred's face as the two of them disappeared.

- - -

Utred materialized in the middle of a large, square chamber, his battle-trained senses allowing him to notice a few details at once.

There was a man in red wizard's robes on the floor across the room from him, before a set of double doors. It didn't look like he was breathing.

There were four stone statues in the corner of the room, each about nine feet tall.

The statues were moving.

That's all Utred was able to focus upon before he found himself in combat with the four stone golems. He flew straight at the nearest one, his Elderwood greenflame greataxe taking a few chunks out of it before it was able to slam him with its stone fists. Then the others were approaching, trying to pen him in.

Thoughts raced across the barbarian's mind as he battled the stone constructs. One dealt with the magic-suppressing properties of the Null Axe, and without further consideration he whipped off the protective wrapping around it at his belt and he whipped it into the body of the golem he'd been fighting. The Null Axe, embedded in the construct's chest, brought it to immediate immobility. That's one less to have to deal with right now, Utred thought to himself. Then, as much fun as tussling with three stone golems all at once sounded, he recalled the task at hand. He wasn't sure what was up with the dead wizard in red robes but there was no doubt of his status as one of the golems had trodden upon his head on its approach towards Utred. But it was certainly possible he was either a decoy or a lackey and the true target was on the other side of those doors. With that thought in mind, the barbarian activated his winged boots and flew up over the heads of the stone golems, dropping down before the doors and swinging them open - but not before having taken a few hits from the constructs as he flew above them.

On the other side of the doors stood a much smaller room, with a much smaller construct made of mithral and wood, much like a shield guardian made to human scale. It tried casting a disintegrate spell but fumbled the somatic components, the Transmuter not yet being accustomed to his new form. With two stone golems swinging their fists at his back, Utred charged the warforged Transmuter. The doorway was small enough only one stone golem could fit through it at a time, so that at least lessened the threat from behind while Utred dealt with the main target.

And then suddenly Marlo and Khari were in the smaller room with him. A grin broke across the dwarven barbarian's face as he thought about how much trouble this warforged Transmuter was in now.

Khari brought his warhammer crashing down upon the warforged's back as the Transmuter cast a second disintegrate spell at Utred, this time getting it right. To his consternation, however, the spell left the dwarf damaged but still in place; he'd gutted through the worst of the spell's effects, damn him! Utred finished him off with a series of blows from his own enchanted greataxe. Then the first stone golem through the doorway was up to Utred and slammed him with a fist.

"We ready to go?" asked Marlo.

"Need t' grab my Null Axe - it's in the other room!" Utred replied, swinging his greataxe into the stone golem before him.

"Say no more," replied Marlo and all of a sudden all three of them were back in the larger chamber, before the immobilized stone golem. Khari grabbed up the protective wrapping used to shield the Null Axe's powers during transport, ready to plop it over the weapon as soon as Utred pulled it from the construct's chest. Then, the Null Axe temporarily neutralized, Marlo cast another teleport spell, this one taking the three of them to Cramer.

- - -

By this time, Jhasspok was getting frustrated at the gambling game being taught to him by the leather-clad woman. "You were really close this time," she assured the lizardfolk as he handed over another coin. "Let's try again: now what number am I thinking about?"

Three hadn't worked earlier, and neither had seven. "Eight," Jhasspok guessed.

"Nope - pay up," said the thief, smiling.

- - -

Cramer teleported into a room filled with a pile of bodies before getting attacked by the four dread wraiths formed by the merging of their undead spirits. Fortunately, his death ward spell prevented their incorporeal touches from draining him of his life-essence; they had to content themselves with the normal physical damage their undead touch caused.

The little gnome moved over to one side of the room, instinctively wanting the protection of a solid wall on one side before realizing walls were no barrier to incorporeal souls. He took two hits in getting to his new position, but at least it allowed him to cast forth a blaze of positive energy through his upraised holy symbol of Fharlanghn. The turning attempt caused one of the dread wraiths to flee, passing through a back wall as if it wasn't even there. But the other three floated up and struck again.

Scooting over to a corner, Cramer cast a mass cure critical wounds, the spell healing up some of the damage he'd sustained thus far as well as harming the undead spirits before him. One of the dread wraiths backed off a bit, allowing the other two to glide forward to the attack.

Cramer repeated his former tactic, this time converting one of his prepared spells into a mass cure serious wounds. That healed him and hurt them, a process the gnome cleric was prepared to repeat all day if he had to - or until he ran out of spells of the appropriate level. The process repeated again, with more attacks from the incorporeal undead dealing damage to the cleric's physical form. While mentally flipping through his current spell repertoire for a good one to convert to healing energy, he came across ethereal jaunt and realized if he cast it upon himself he'd be fighting the dread wraiths on their own plane, where they'd no longer have the advantage of being incorporeal. That sounded like a good idea to the gnome so he cast the spell as normally intended upon himself.

That did indeed have the desired effect, for the dreads wraiths found it much more difficult dealing the cleric any damage now that they had to take his armor into account. It was a three-on-one battle on the Ethereal Plane there for a while, with the gnome putting his mace to good use, when Marlo teleported into the room with the two dwarves.

While they were still on the Material Plane, the new arrivals could see Cramer and the three dread wraiths and did what they could to aid their friend, even if it was inherently difficult to catch an incorporeal creature just right to actually connect with them. Still, the dwarves gave it their all, attacking with warhammer and greataxe to their best ability.

The dread wraiths quickly learned the newcomers made for much easier targets, as not all of them were shielded with death ward spells. Of the three, only Utred was so protected, as two of the dread wraiths learned to their disappointment after having targeted the barbarian. The other had gone for Khari and he managed to shrug off the worst of the life-draining attacks of his unearthly foe.

Cramer cast a flame strike spell on the entire area, confident that his spell, cast upon the Ethereal Plane, would affect the wraiths but not his friends. Marlo, realizing what tactics Cramer was using, cast her own ethereal jaunt spell upon herself and joined him.

Khari's warhammer made contact with one of the wraiths and Utred managed to finish it off with his greataxe, then swung into another nearby undead as well. The wraiths tried counterattacking, to no success. While Cramer helped the dwarves fight off the remaining two dread wraiths, Marlo decided to see what was on the other side of the door in the large chamber. Passing through it incorporeally, she saw a lich sitting at a desk, apparently unable to sense her. She backed into the larger room and finished off one wraith with a maximized magic missile while Khari polished off the other one with his warhammer.

Utred was in no mood to hold off any possible investigations; powered by his rage he burst through the door, saw the lich before him, and leaped up onto the desk as he brought his weapon's axe-head down in an overhead stroke. Cramer deactivated his ethereal jaunt spell and cast a mass cure critical wounds spell, affecting all but Marlo - who was still on the Ethereal Plane - and the lich, who was out of range. But the three male heroes all appreciated the surge of healing energy.

The lich Necromancer cast a cone of cold out at the three heroes before him, Marlo once again immune from spells being cast on an entirely different plane of existence from the one she inhabited at present. But then she popped back to the Material Plane and took the lich out with a single casting of an empowered maximized scorching ray, sending all three rays blazing into the lich's skeletal body, immolating it in an instant.

"There's bound to be a phylactery around here somewhere," Cramer advised the others. Some searching found it hidden in a crevice in the wall, in the form of a spellbook. Another spell from Marlo and it too was a blazing mass of ashes.

After a full ten minutes had passed, the adventurers were instantly teleported back to the Temple of Boccob where the various adventurers were passing on their reports and getting their pay. After the five had done likewise, they were approached by Khier, the head of the Temple of Boccob in the Azure Glade. "I believe you have need of my knowledge," he said by way of introduction.

"Can you tell us anything about a Writhing Gate hidden in the Azure Glade?" Cramer asked. He described the Writhing Gates and gave the head cleric an overview of their task in slaying the Dying One and taking out the Writhing Gates that would otherwise allow his return to the planet with catastrophic consequences.

"I have never heard of such devices," Khier admitted, before adding, "but I know of something that meets your description." He told the group something very much like a Writhing Gate had been unearthed a couple of centuries before, with all attempts to destroy it meeting in failure. "Eventually, it fell into the hands of the vampiric faction of the Seekers of Eternity," Khier explained. "As they have broken off from the rest of the Seekers, they were not involved in the attempt to overthrow our government and thus were not part of our raid this morning. But the Council of Guilds at the time worked to seal the evil away - vampires and tentacles alike. Knowing you have a means of destroying the vile thing once and for all" - and here he looked down at the Null Axe wrapped in its protective blanket at Utred's hip - "I am more than willing to guide you to its location so it can finally be dealt with."

"Excellent," grinned Cramer.

- - -

This was an interesting experiment, although Jhasspok came off the winner in the "ease of overcoming his designated target" front, given I was inadvertently given two assistants. (Among ourselves around the gaming table, we referred to the Enchanter's former mind-slaves as "Jhasspok's Angels.") I think I was an active PC for all of two rounds in the whole session, but it was fun watching everyone fight off their own targets. And despite how going from location to location made for a better way to describe it in a Story Hour, in-game we went round to round across all of the combatants in all five locations.
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PC Roster:
Cramer Appleknocker, gnome cleric 16​
Jhasspok, lizardman 3/barbarian 3/fighter 10​
Khari Hammerslammer, dwarf fighter 15/psychic warrior 1​
Marlo Pendragon, human sorcerer 16​
Utred "Buckets" Butterflinger, dwarf barbarian 16​

Game Session Date: 5 January 2022

- - -

"So what can we expect going up against vampires?" Utred asked. "Other than wanting to suck our blood, what can they do?"

"Well, they like dominating people," answered Cramer, "but as long as we each have a protection from evil spell or magic circle against evil spell up and active, that should prevent that."

"So what else?" prompted Utred.

"They're able to drain life energy not just through sucking your blood but even through mere contact," the gnome cleric continued.

"Okay, so how can we prevent that?"

"A death ward spell would do the trick."

"Can you cast death ward?"

"Yes, but only up to five per day, and that would wipe out my entire spell inventory for that level of spell. There are other spells of that level that would prove to be useful in an encounter with vampires: restoration, spell immunity, divine power...."

"There are five of us."

"I am well aware."

"But you don't want to cast five death ward spells on us."

"That wouldn't be my first choice, no."

And thus Utred, upon returning from having participated in the all-out attack against the last members of the Seekers of Eternity to have been rooted out from their hiding places after having been caught trying to infiltrate and take over the Council of Guilds in the Azure Glade, found himself plunking down a bag of coins at a magic shop where they sold scrolls. He picked up several death ward scrolls, figuring Cramer couldn't complain if the barbarian was providing him with a death ward scroll where all he had to do was cast it on Utred without interfering with his own special spell selection for the day.

But the next day Khier - the head of the Church of Boccob in the Azure Glade - led the group to the location of the sealed chamber where the Writhing Gate was said to be located. It was at the end of a series of underground tunnels beneath the city, and the door was on the other side of a bridge over a small underground stream, the perfect way to prevent vampires from being able to exit the chamber even if the sealed door were somehow broken open. "Vampires cannot cross running water," Khier explained. Jhasspok furrowed his brow trying to figure out why that might be, until Utred turned his way and said, "Magic." Ah, that explained it, then - the lizardfolk well knew that magic was weird and didn't often make a whole lot of sense.

"Let's cast our prep spells before we go in," suggested Cramer, buffing himself up with a bevy of spells intended to ensure his own protection: longstrider, moment of prescience, detect undead, death ward, and magic circle against evil. Then he used his wand to deliver an owl's wisdom spell to each of the five and used Utred's death ward scrolls to ensure there would be no vampiric energy-draining going on in the battle to come. He then voluntarily cast a protection from evil spell on Utred.

Marlo, in the meantime, was almost as busy with her own spellcasting, imbuing herself with a magic circle against evil and then casting the same spell on both Khari and Jhasspok; casting a protective stoneskin spell on the lizardfolk as well; and then the standard Rary's telepathic bond spell that linked all five of the group up in a mental communication network. Khari mentally activated his psionic offensive prescience ability, the better to guide his blows with his earthglide warhammer.

Once both spellcasters were ready, Cramer opened the door in the way Khier had shown them. There was silence from within, with only the slight trickling of the water beneath the bridge to be heard. Furthermore, there was nothing to be seen within the chamber on the other side of the door, the whole area having been covered in an unnatural darkness. However, Marlo's robe of eyes was able to pierce the darkness and she explained over the telepathic link what she saw inside: <Seven vampires: four up close, wearing plate mail and armed with swords. Three further back, possibly spellcasters.> This last was a guess on her part by the way they were not wearing armor and two of them - the males - were making strange hand gestures; unbeknownst to the sorceress, they were each casting a false life spell to boost their staying power in the battle to come.

Khari moved cautiously into the darkened room, warhammer in hand and ready to strike at whichever vampire opted to try to close in for the kill. His slave-light cloak had been activated and this allowed him to see a few feet away before the illumination was swallowed by the surrounding darkness. He got his opportunity almost immediately, as an armored vampire came in with his sword swinging; Khari dodged the blow and sent his own weapon striking sideways into the vampire's torso. But then the other three were on him, attacking from all directions, and it was more than the dwarven fighter could do to fend off all of their attacks. Sword-blades pierced his flesh, causing the blood to flow and the vampires to go crazy at the scent.

Marlo opted to remain at the open doorway and not actually enter the chamber, for from where she stood she was able to lob an empowered maximized fireball over Khari's head to explode in the back half of the chamber, right in the midst of all three vampire spellcasters. Fortunately for him, one of them was completely unharmed by the powerful blast of magical fire energy, as his spell resistance prevented the flames from even touching his body. Neither of the other two were as lucky, though, with the other male wizard having been saved solely by his fortuitous false life spell (without which he'd have been burned to a crisp at once) and the female vampire sorceress clinging to the semblance of life seemingly through sheer tenacity.

The vampire sorceress retaliated at once with a chain lightning spell directed at Marlo, which arced off to hit the other four intruders as well. Then she silently backed away from her fellow spellcasters, hoping to get out of range of any further area-of-effect spells that might be hurled their way.

Utred ignored the pain of the blast of lightning and charged; one side benefit of having been struck by a chain lightning spell was for a brief moment the barbarian had gotten to see the locations of the four armored vampires ganging up on his fellow dwarf. Charging into the darkness, he brought his flaming Elderwood greataxe down upon the form of the closest vampire, tearing a rent into the plate mail and carving into the undead flesh beneath.

Jhasspok couldn't see much beyond the feeble illumination provided by his own slave-light cloak but he followed Marlo's telepathic directions to guide him around the four vampires gathered together up front so he could reach the possibly more dangerous spellcasters in the back. He held his original magic battleaxe in hand, as his new one dealt frost damage and Cramer had advised the lizardfolk the vampires' undead flesh would make them immune to the cold damage from his newer axe. His old axe couldn't store a spell like his new one could, but overall Jhasspok didn't mind; his old battleaxe felt comfortable in his hands. He found himself face to face with one of the two vampire wizards, who hurriedly backed away from the rampaging reptile and blasted him with three gouts of flame from a scorching ray spell. The other wizard opted to cast a resist fire spell on himself, not wanting to experience another of Marlo's enhanced fireball spells.

Cramer cast a mass cure critical wounds spell on all four armored vampires and all of the heroes but Jhasspok, who was already too far into the chamber to be within range of the spell. The gnome's spell had the twin benefits of healing up the worst of the damage they'd taken from the chain lightning spell (and in Khari's case, the multiple stab wounds he'd received by being the first to engage the vampire fighters) while at the same time adversely affecting the undead flesh of the vampires, the healing energy acting more like acid to their unholy forms.

From the light of his cloak Khari could see the floor of the chamber in which he stood was made of unworked stone, so he activated his warhammer's earthglide ability and sunk into the ground, popping up directly behind one of the vampires who had been stabbing at him. He got in a good strike from his hammer before the vampire even knew he was there. And then Cramer cast a quickened searing light spell at another of the vampire fighters, the spell's energy affecting him in a manner rather pleasing to the little gnome.

The four armored vampires opted to team up two-to-one against the two dwarves in their midst. Their blades came swinging in with surprising speed and more power behind the strikes than either dwarf would have believed possible, even knowing these were undead beings before them powered by negative energy. But then Marlo helped even the odds by summoning a greater fire elemental directly behind the row of vampiric fighters. A flaming fist came crashing down upon one of the vampires, exposing its sudden presence in the best possible way. Utred's greataxe slew the first of the vampires as its attention was momentarily diverted by the massive creature of living flame behind it. Its body exploded into mist, which seemed to dissipate to nothingness in the poorly-lit chamber.

In the back of the darkened chamber - where Jhasspok could now see the tentacles of the inactive Writhing Gate lying limply on the stone cavern floor - the lizardfolk's battleaxe slew the wizard he'd been facing, the blow powered by the rage he felt at having the scorching ray spell explode up in his face mere moments before. Its body turned first to mist and then seemed to scatter away in all directions, becoming effectively nothing the lizardfolk could detect. The vampire sorceress also took the opportunity to cast a resist fire spell on herself, judging it to be the type of energy these living interlopers were most likely to use against them, if the fight thus far was any indication.

Cramer took his first steps into the darkened chamber, casting a holy aura spell on himself, Marlo, and the dwarves as he did so. Then the sole remaining vampire wizard cast a spell, not on himself but on his sorcerous companion; the enervation spell had the same effect on her as a healing spell would have on a living creature. Jhasspok didn't yet realize it, but these spellcasting vampires were making themselves harder to kill, and that was on top of their own unnatural fast healing which allowed their undead flesh to slowly regenerate any physical wounds.

But regenerating flesh only worked up to a point, as Utred demonstrated by cutting down another fighter into mist and then cleaving his weapon into the other vampire before him, slaying that one as well. The remaining fighter decided he'd take out one of the spellcasters and grappled with Cramer, which turned out to be a mistake, as the cleric of Fharlanghn simply used his innate freedom of movement ability to wriggle himself free of the undead foe's grasp. And then the vampire was himself grabbed from behind, in this case by the burning hands of a greater fire elemental. He screamed in pain as his undead flesh caught fire and he burned to death, his cries silenced as his body exploded into silent mist.

<Are they going to escape to their coffins?> Utred asked over the link.

<Don't see any coffins in here,> Cramer answered. <If they go two hours or so without reaching their coffins, they'll die permanently. We'll give the place a thorough check once we finish the rest of them off.>

Marlo cast an empowered maximized scorching ray spell at the remaining male vampire wizard and was dismayed to see him come through relatively unscathed; the sorceress realized he must have protected himself after the mega-fireball spell she'd tossed their way earlier. The vampire sorceress cast another protective spell upon herself (nervously eyeing both Jhasspok and Marlo as she did so), this time spell turning. And then Utred, fresh out of combatants in the front half of the chamber, raced to the back half, pulling out the Null Axe from his belt as he did so and starting to unwrap it. <Leave that for later!> warned Marlo over the link, <If you release the Null Axe now, it'll undo all of your protective spells!>

<Hmm,> Utred replied. <Good point.> He kept the Null Axe in its protective wrapping and stuffed in back into his belt, feeling the solid blade against the small of his back once again. Then, flaming Elderwood greataxe in hand, he looked about for his next melee combatant.

Jhasspok had found one and had charged at the second male vampire wizard, bringing his battleaxe slicing into his side. But then the wizard took a step back and cast a lightning bolt spell that surged through the reptile and also hit Utred. But the dwarven barbarian had been shielded by Cramer's holy aura spell and was completely unaffected; Jhasspok was not so protected and took the full brunt of the spell but his barbaric rage was still in place and he barely felt the pain. (That, he knew in the back of his reptilian brain, would come later when he had calmed down. At least it always had in the past.)

Cramer cast a daylight spell into the chamber, hoping to overcome the unnatural darkness and allow everyone to see normally, but the spell didn't have the intended effect. But Khari didn't need to see the whole chamber - he just charged toward the back and altered course once the undead wizard came into view. His warhammer hit the spellcaster with a resounding slam of breaking bones. The vampire stumbled, his face showing he was in an inordinate level of pain, but then Marlo made the pain all go away by casting an empowered disintegrate spell on him that blasted him to unfeeling mist.

"Head towards the back of the chamber," Marlo directed her summoned fire elemental and the creature followed its mistress's instructions. It found the last remaining vampire and sent a blazing fist crashing down upon her. The undead sorceress's resist fire spell prevented her from catching fire but did nothing against the solid blow that was landed upon her and she staggered from the onslaught. But channeling arcane power through her undead body, she brought forth a chain lightning spell, centered upon the fire elemental and arcing off to strike Jhasspok and Khari - but again, the dwarf had been protected by Cramer's holy aura spell and was not at all affected. Jhasspok, with little arcs of electricity rising up and down his body and the charred scales on his face already starting to peel away, had no idea why the dwarves were all of a sudden seemingly immune to the effects of magic.

Utred activated his winged boots and flew over in the direction the chain lightning spell had originated, finding the vampire sorceress in that fashion. He brought his greataxe crashing down upon her, slicing a deep gash in her undead flesh, before Jhasspok stormed over and brought the killing blow. She exploded into a fine mist that soon dissipated to nothingness.

<Is that all of them?> Utred called out, looking in all directions for more vampires to kill.

<That's all seven of them dead,> Marlo confirmed, being the only one who'd been able to see in the whole chamber during the entire fight (besides the vampires). She scanned the chamber in all directions. <And there are no signs of coffins anywhere.>

That was all Utred needed to hear; switching out his greataxe for the Null Axe, he began chopping away at the tentacles from the depowered Writhing Gate at their roots. As he chopped through each one, the extraplanar hole from which it emerged sealed up. Once all ten had been severed in such a fashion, the darkness effect went away as well.

"Ew!" complained Marlo, getting a close look at one of the severed tentacles. There were puncture marks all up and down its length, and a quick perusal of the other severed appendages showed they too had been likewise penetrated by vampire fangs. "Those vampires have survived all this time - all these centuries! - by sucking the blood of the Dying One!"

"No wonder they were so strong!" exclaimed Utred.

"I thought they were a little on the tough side," admitted Khari as Cramer cast a few choice healing spells on Jhasspok. The lizardfolk was busy pulling dead scales off of his face; as he'd expected, once the battle was over and he calmed down the pain had showed up in full force. He looked over to the dwarves, neither of whom had been particularly hurt in the fight with the vampires, at least not to the extent the lizardfolk had been.

"Whatcha thinking, Jhasspok?" asked the cleric as he cast the last healing spell the lizardfolk would need, by the look of things.

Jhasspok tried to organize his thoughts as he pondered why the dwarves hadn't been as beaten up by the vampires' spells as he had been. Finally, he just summed it all up with, "Magic is weird."

"To non-practitioners, it most certainly can appear to be so," agreed the gnome cheerfully. Jhasspok just grunted and decided to ask Utred what a "non-practitioner" was, if he remembered later on.

- - -

As we had pretty much expected, this was just one big fight against a group of vampiric members of a Seekers of Eternity sect who had been holed up for centuries in a Writhing Gate chamber. Of course, the fact that they'd been drinking the Dying One's blood all this time had granted them all the pseudonatural template, which we hadn't expected!

Incidentally, we did a bit of "retroactive continuity" during this session when we were looking through the Writhing Gates we still needed to take down and realized we had never dealt with the one we'd originally used, a day and a half from the Overreach. Logan decided since we had recently spent a good 3-4 weeks waiting for our protective items to be crafted (that would allow us to survive the life-draining effects of the Desolate Waste), it made sense that we'd have spent part of that time taking out that Writhing Gate, which wasn't guarded by anything in the meantime. So by the power of DM hand-waving, we deemed it to have been already accomplished.

And we gained enough XP to reach 17th level at the end of this session. So we're rapidly reaching the end of this campaign, with just another four Writhing Gates to go. And we've decided for the follow-on Wednesday night campaign, Logan will be turning the DM reins over to Dan, who'll be running us through a campaign set in Greyhawk. So Logan and I will both get to be players together for the first time in over a decade, since a few one-shot games in our local comics/game shop. (Those had been pretty pathetic one-shots, too, by the way, which led us looking for our gaming fun elsewhere; I ran Logan through a solo Champions game for a while before we started up our first D&D 3.5 campaign with Dan and his family.)



PC Roster:
Cramer Appleknocker, gnome cleric 17​
Jhasspok, lizardman 3/barbarian 3/fighter 11​
Khari Hammerslammer, dwarf fighter 16/psychic warrior 1​
Marlo Pendragon, human sorcerer 17​
Utred "Buckets" Butterflinger, dwarf barbarian 17​

Game Session Date: 12 January 2022

- - -

Skevros was not entirely pleased to see the group of five foreign adventurers enter the Enchanted Flagon, given these were the idiots responsible for having freed the Mithral Mage from Dwarven Hell. Still, his own group of adventurers - the Durnhill Conscripts - had by this time seemingly taken care of the Mithral Mage on a permanent basis, so he was willing to at least hear what they had to say.

"Yes?" he asked as they entered the room. He waved away Karen, who had stepped forward to see if any of them needed any drinks; he wanted this conversation to be short and sweet and the offer of beverages would only draw out their visit.

"We met with a cleric of Boccob named Khier, over in the Azure Glade," replied Cramer Appleknocker. "He suggested we visit you, to see what all you can tell us about Jakura."

Skevros briefly considered bringing Mikito into the conversation as she was from that far-eastern land, but again the thought of getting rid of these five as quickly as possible was foremost in his mind. "And what exact would you like to know about Jakura?" asked the king's adviser.

"We were told you had a quick means of getting us there," added Marlo.

That finally brought a smile to the adviser's frowning face; he was perfectly willing to aid these bunglers in heading over to the other side of the world. "Ah, I see," he answered. "Yes, there is a specific boulder that the Seekers of Eternity had set up as a teleport trap of sorts; the mere act of touching it sends you to the 'Forest of Ghosts' in Jakura, so named because the locals there believe the people who randomly show up there on occasion - as a result of the teleport trap - are in fact ghosts." He gave them directions on where to find the specific boulder.

"Seems easy enough," grunted Utred. "And once we're there, do you know where the Jakuran Writhing Gate might be located?"

"It's the Gate of Sardegon," Marlo added helpfully.

"Ah, no, actually - I'm afraid my knowledge of these Writhing Gates is somewhat lacking. I can tell you, however, that since Jakura is on the other side of the world it is night there when it's day here, and vice versa."

Jhasspok's reptilian brow furrowed in puzzlement. "Is that normal?" he asked Utred.

"It's magic," replied Utred, knowing perfectly well it was not but also knowing that was the one answer he could give the lizardfolk to ensure there were no additional questions about it. And he was right; Jhasspok shrugged and considered the matter sufficiently explained.

"Are we going to head out right away?" asked Khari. "Or rest up and get a fresh start in the morning?"

"The latter, I think," answered Cramer. "I think we'd best head into any potential Writhing Gate situation with a full bevy of spells at the ready." He looked back at Skevros. "Hey, I noticed there are rooms on the floor above," he began but Skevros cut him off.

"There are currently no vacancies," the red-clad wizard informed them. But then he took pity on the group and directed them to a reputable inn not far away.

The inn was nothing spectacular, but at least they allowed Jhasspok entry with sufficient vouching on the part of the others that he was intelligent enough not to damage the furniture or shred the bedding. Just to be sure, the lizardfolk slept in the corner of his room on the floor; he'd grown up sleeping on solid stone floors in the Underdark so it was no particular hardship for him. And in the morning the group took off for the boulder that would teleport them halfway across the world.

"This looks like it," Utred said when they had arrived. "I'll go first, if you like."

"Hold up - prep spells first," said Marlo, grabbing hold of the barbarian's shoulder before he took off. The sorceress cast a Rary's telepathic bond spell on everyone and a stoneskin spell on Jhasspok, while Cramer cast his traditional longstrider and moment of prescience spells on himself. Then, declaring himself ready, he suggested everyone touch the boulder at the same time. "Best if we stay together," he said.

Unfortunately, it didn't work out that way. Perhaps because of the great distances involved, each of the five adventurers ended up alone in the Forest of Ghosts. And sure enough, just as Skevros had said it was night out despite it being a bright, sunny morning back on the other side of the world. Still, the moon was out and most of the former slaves had their slave-light cloaks active and shedding illumination.

There was the sound of running water ahead and each of the five headed toward it. Sure enough, in a clearing in the forest a small, curved bridge spanned the small stream and upon it stood two women in tight-fitting robes, each carrying what looked to be a paper lantern.

Utred was the first to step into the clearing and he faced the two women, flaming Elderwood greataxe in hand. He could tell they were casting some sort of spell - he might not be a spellcaster himself but at this point he certainly knew the signs of a spell being cast - and their voices were soft, their language almost musical. The dwarf got no sense of danger from them, so he started walking in their direction, more out of curiosity than any desire to fight them. And then he found out what spell they had been casting, as their musical language abruptly switched over to the Common tongue he was used to hearing over on the other side of the world. "We are here to greet the Champions of the Dark and bring them to our temple," they said.

<Guys!> Utred called over the link. <Head over to a bridge over the stream! We got a welcoming committee of some sort!>

The others made their way through the strangest forest they'd ever seen - with trees that seemed to be made of straight pipes - and found their way to the bridge.

"We greet you," the women said when all five had been assembled. "I am Tsune," said one and "I am Kitsu" said the other. They explained divinations had warned them the five would be arriving tonight in the Forest of Ghosts and they would be instrumental in the reincarnation of their gods. They then bid the group to follow them to their temple. "There we can commune with the god-eggs," said Tsune. "They will surely inform you of whatever roles you will play in their rebirth."

But as they approached the temple the women gasped in unison. "An alarm spell has been triggered!" Kitsu explained. "The temple is under attack!"

Hurrying their pace as best they could - Marlo frowned at the impracticality of the tightness of the kimonos the women wore, which permitted them to take very tiny steps indeed - the group made it to the grounds in time to see eight hulking figures slaughtering the temple's defenses. "Oni!" cried Kitsu, aghast. The attackers were humanoid in build but each about 10 feet tall, with skin tones ranging from light blue to light green and curved horns growing out of their skulls. They wielded enormous swords with but a single slicing edge and used them to devastating effect, cutting down the temple guards with practiced ease. Already the ground was littered with half a dozen armored defenders; only five remained to fend off the eight giants.

Utred took off in a flash, barreling straight for the closest of these "oni," this one fighting a priestess of some sort who wielded a much smaller version of the giant's blade. She was holding her own, but mainly by dodging the oni's attacks, stabbing in with a quick attack of her own only when the opportunity arose. Utred got in a deep cut with his greataxe before the oni was aware of his presence, for his back had been turned to the charging dwarf. But the giant quickly shifted position so he could see both of his foes at once. "Korobokuru!" he snorted, but Utred had no idea what that even meant.

Kitsu and Tsune stopped at the edge of the temple grounds to cast spells into the melee. Unfortunately, their rebuke spells were only effective against but a single oni, but that one froze up, stunned into stopping his attack against the priestess he'd been trying to slay, allowing her to aid one of her sisters still under attack by this horde of invaders.

Khari charged the same oni Utred was fighting, changing the odds to three against one. His warhammer slammed into the oni's knee, causing him to scream in pain at the sound of shattering bone. Behind the dwarf, Cramer cast a bless spell on the assembled group, to include the priestesses he could see fighting the oni. The oni brought his katana crashing down upon Khari, but the dwarven fighter deflected the blow with his shield, grunting at the effort for the oni had a considerable amount of strength behind the blow. As for the oni, he could see these korobokuru would be much fiercer opponents than the hengeyokai who dwelled in this place and practically ignored her to concentrate on the dwarves. All around him, his oni brothers slew their opponents with practiced ease, leaving but one of the original temple guardians, as well as the five adventurers, Tsune, and Kitsu. The guardian broke ranks to report to the two shrine maidens who had met up with the newcomers at the bridge.

Jhasspok charged at the wounded oni fighting his dwarven friends, taking a hit from his oversized sword in the process - but Marlo's stoneskin spell absorbed most of that damage and the lizardfolk's battleaxe went slicing through the oni's armor to cut a gouge in his flesh.

Marlo decided to try out a new spell she'd just learned and an incendiary cloud spell encompassed the stunned oni and two of its brethren, their hengeyokai combatants having already been slain. Their flesh puckered and blistered under the heat of the spell.

Utred polished off the oni he'd been fighting and he crashed to the ground, their first kill. The shrine maidens, seeing the heroes' obviously superior combat skills, called out to them, "We will set the bodies ablaze as you kill them - otherwise they will regenerate and return to life!" And they poured oil upon the corpse of the oni Utred had just slain, setting it ablaze with their lanterns and stepping back before they were caught in the blaze.

Khari charged at another oni, dipping beneath the ground as he did so to ensure the giant wouldn't know from which way he'd be coming. Popping up from undisturbed earth, he brought his warhammer crashing down into the small of the oni's back, forcing a roar of pain from the ogre mage. Cramer picked a different oni and decided to do likewise, charging him with his flaming Elderwood heavy mace. That caused Jhasspok's scaled brow to furrow in puzzlement once again, for he knew the little gnome was capable of powerful magic and was unsure why he'd try to hold his own against a foe easily three times his own height.

Running low on temple defenders, the oni started converging on those who were still up and fighting. Cramer and Khari each found themselves fighting off two oni at once, but their childhood training fighting against giants much larger than themselves came in good stead, allowing them to effortlessly dodge the incoming strikes with the massive, curved swords.

Jhasspok raced across the field and leaped into combat with one of the oni attacking Cramer, worried about the little gnome finding himself in hand-to-hand combat - definitely not his preferred element. Once again his battleaxe drew blood.

The two mobile oni caught in Marlo's incendiary cloud spell ran out of its confines and congratulated themselves in having escaped a particularly horrible fate, but then Marlo put that horrible fate right back on the table by controlling the cloud's movement to chase right after them, engulfing them in a cloud of burning cinders once again. And the oni stunned into immobility by the shrine maidens' spell hadn't left the spell's effect at all, but continued burning up.

And Marlo wasn't done with the others just yet. She picked an oni and slew him outright with an empowered maximized scorching ray spell, certain his burning corpse wouldn't be regenerating any time soon, if what the shrine maidens had said about burning their corpses had been on track.

Utred charged one of the oni attacking Khari, cutting a deep gash across his chest. Then Khari's warhammer crushed the ogre mage's ribs and he fell to the ground, dead. The dwarves whooped in delight and looked around for the next nearest foe.

Cramer backed up out of combat range and cast a searing light spell at one of the oni but failed to overcome its inherent resistance to spells and the dweomer fizzled away to nothingness. He tried again immediately with a quickened searing light spell with the same result; the sounds of gnomish cursing could then be heard across the battlefield. If the shrine maidens understood the specifics of what he said - a surety, given their tongues spell was still active - they had the decorum not to notice.

One of the oni took a moment to look around at the specific locations of the forces arrayed against him and moved into the position where he could do the most harm. However, in doing so he came within striking distance of Jhasspox's battleaxe and the lizardfolk cut him down before he could do whatever it was he was going to do. But then another oni came to the same conclusion and stepped into position nearby, casting forth a cone of cold that encompassed all of the temple defenders. Another ogre mage vanished from sight, engulfed by an invisibility spell.

Jhasspok rushed up to attack the oni who had just cast the cone of cold spell on everyone, not sure if that was something they could all do or just this one; this one had demonstrated an ability to cast the spell, though, so Jhasspok opted to go for him first. His battleaxe made contact with his target but failed to bring him down.

Marlo followed suit - in a way - with the cold-blasting oni's tactics, taking a moment to scrutinize the battlefield and seeing a point where a fireball spell could encompass three of the oni at once. She cast the spell, tweaking it to make it both empowered and maximized and grinned as all three oni fell to the ground, dead. But then she was distracted by a movement above her, the numerous orbs on her robe of eyes allowing her to see in all directions. At the edge of her enhanced vision, a pair of female oni flew into her magical awareness and then right back out again, as they made a bee-line toward a distant mountain. The sorceress could tell they were both invisible and unable to be seen by any of the others, but an invisibility spell was useless against the magic eyes on her garment.

Of course, by this time there was but a single ogre mage left of the original eight who had attacked the temple, and he didn't last very long against Utred's rage-enhanced attacks with his greataxe. Tsune and Kitsu set fire to those whose bodies weren't already blazing from one of Marlo's spells. Then they signaled for the heroes to follow them and ran (in their tiny steps) into the temple proper. Sure enough, a quick search revealed the five god-eggs had been stolen and the master of the temple was missing; both the eggs and the master had likely been taken by the pair of invisible female oni Marlo had spotted. "The male oni were merely a distraction!" Kitsu sighed as realization sunk in.

"Do you know where the females would go?" Cramer asked the shrine maidens.

"They are known to lair in the mountains," Tsune replied.

"That's the way they were headed," Marlo confirmed.

"Then that must be your task," Kitsu said. "Tsune and I will remain behind to tend to the wounded and see about raising those who have been slain, while you five go after the female oni and retrieve the god-eggs and the master of the temple!"

"Gather up," Marlo told the others. "I can cast a greater teleport that'll get us to the mountain they were headed for. After that, we'll just have to look around to find them." Everyone converged on Marlo, reaching out to make sure all five were touching, and the sorceress cast her spell. In an instant, they were on a winding ledge leading up to the top of the mountain. The ledge widened in some areas and narrowed in others, but from what they could see it seemed to stay wide enough that falling off the side of the mountain wouldn't likely be an issue.

<We'll wanna spread out a bit so we can't all be taken at once by another cone of cold,> advised Utred as Cramer crawled up to his customary place atop the dwarven barbarian's backpack. Marlo had bent down upon arrival and was fastening one end of a silk rope to an ankle, then tied the other end to Utred's belt. "Off you go," she said, levitating up as high as she could go while the barbarian started racing up just above the sloping path around the side of the mountain peak, using his winged boots to increase his already considerable speed. The climb led him in a clockwise direction, with Marlo being towed behind and above, looking down in all directions at once.

Khari decided to take a shortcut through the interior of the mountain, using his earthglide warhammer to burrow through the solid stone and pop back out around the corner, back onto the ledge again. However, he popped out of the stone much sooner than he had expected, inadvertently discovering a hidden cave interior, with two entrances to the ledge outside, both hidden by illusory wall spells. (Utred had flown right past the nearest illusion, and Marlo was already too high in the air to have been able to see it with her magical robe-enhanced vision.) With his dwarven darkvision, Khari could see perfectly well the two oni sisters, one with blue skin and one with skin as dark as the night sky, standing at either hidden entrance. The dwarf made a frantic report of his findings over the telepathic link.

<Back! Go back the way we came!> called Cramer, giving directions to Utred while he sat upon the barbarian's backpack. <I can cast a holy aura spell on us now that we've found them, but we all need to be together!> He brought the words to the spell to the forefront of his mind, ready to begin the prayer as soon as everyone was in place.

Jhasspok couldn't see the illusory wall as anything but solid stone but he trusted his dwarven fighter friend and raced through it, surprised to see himself inside a cave facing a black-skinned ogre mage not 15 feet away. He charged at her, swinging his battleaxe into her side, and Maru gave a grunt of pain at the attack.

Marlo levitated back down to ground level and then skittered over the rock of the mountain, using her ring of spider climbing to do so. Maru backed off, throwing a fireball spell that encompassed Jhasspok, Marlo, and Khari. At the other end of the cavern, the blue-skinned Meru ran through the other illusory wall and out into the open air. From her vantage point higher up the winding ledge, she could see Utred and Cramer and cast a slow spell at the two of them. Fortunately, neither was affected.

Utred ignored the spell-attack and flew through the southern entrance, following behind Jhasspok and Marlo. While the dwarf brought his greataxe swinging into Maru's flesh, Cramer cast the holy aura spell on the assembled group, instantly increasing all of their combat capabilities considerably. Khari took immediate advantage of his upgraded status by knocking Maru into unconsciousness with a mighty blow from his warhammer. Her unmoving body was already beginning to regenerate the damage it had taken, but the dwarf judged she'd be out long enough for them to be able to concentrate their attacks on the blue oni; once both were down they could worry about setting them ablaze to prevent their return to mobility.

Seeing Maru down, Jhasspok raced out of the obscured cave entrance and back down the ledge. He turned the corner and saw Meru up ahead on the path along the mountain side and began sprinting in her direction, realizing she was too far away for him to be able to reach her before she could use a cone of cold (or who knew what other type of magic?) against him. She opted to go with a charm person spell, finding it quite appropriate to send this hulking lizard-man against those who had come after her and her sister after their theft at the temple. But surprisingly - to both Meru and Jhasspok - the lizardfolk was able to shrug the spell's effects away, concentrated as he was on reaching the female oni before she could take him out of the fight. She frowned as the reptile kept charging up the ledge towards her, then opted to fly 40 feet in the air, well out of his range.

Cramer cast a mass heal on everyone still in the cave; Jhasspok missed out again by dint of being too far away. Then Marlo decided to take care of Maru once and for all, setting her body ablaze with a scorching ray spell. Utred reactivated his winged boots and flew down the length of the cavern, passing a set of five eggs (each slightly bigger than a human head) and the body of an elderly man propped up against the back wall at the far end of the oblong chamber. Cramer clung precariously onto the barbarian's backpack, holding on for dear life. The two popped through the far illusory wall spell shielding the entrance from view and then Cramer - alerted over the telepathic link by Jhasspok about the oni's current position - found her above them and cast a destruction spell at her. The magic did its work and the oni plummeted back to the ground, her blue-skinned body getting battered by the rocks of the mountain side as she fell.

<Got her!> Cramer announced over the telepathic link.

Marlo had been following Utred's path through the cavern when she saw the eggs and the temple's master, an aged fox hengeyokai. She raced to the old man and felt no pulse at his neck; his body was already cold to the touch. Then she turned her gaze to the five eggs, lined up against the back wall. <The eggs are in here!> she informed the others and opened the bag of holding she kept in a pouch at her belt, thinking it the best way to transport the god-eggs back to the temple.

But the god-eggs had other thoughts. <KEEP YOUR DISTANCE, UNCLEAN THING!> boomed a voice over the telepathic link that for once had more than Jhasspok crying out in surprise. <WE WILL NOT BE TOUCHED BY THOSE REEKING WITH THE TAINT OF THE DESTROYER!> After a brief discussion, Khari gently lifted each egg into the bag of holding and then carried the bag until the group got back to the temple. (Nobody wanted to let Jhasspok anywhere near the god-eggs, fearing he'd eat them. They also wouldn't let him carry the body of the temple's leader, for the same reason.) So with Cramer back on the ground, Utred lifting the body of the aged temple master, and Khari holding the bag of holding, Marlo cast another greater teleport spell and the group was once more back on the temple grounds.

Tsune and Kitsu had been busy with the bodies of those slain by the oni fighters but dropped everything at the approach of the five prophesied strangers from the Forest of Ghosts. They gasped in relief as Khari opened up the bag of holding and reverently pulled each of the five god-eggs out, handing them to the shrine maidens. They were restored back to the place they'd been held, awaiting the reincarnation of the five gods of Jakura.

As for the body of the slain temple master, a speak with dead spell revealed he did not wish to return to the land of the living, feeling he had lived out his allotted span. He asked that two items be passed to the five heroes as a thanks for their assistance in seeing to the return of the god-eggs: a set of prayer beads of positive channeling and a tail-band of raptor strikes. The first item was given to Cramer; it allowed him to spontaneously convert his more powerful spells into heal and mass heal spells. The second item was obviously of no use to anyone but Jhasspok and it allowed him to make a frenzied attack when charging into battle.

But the group received one more gift before they left: a telepathic message from the nascent gods whose spirits resided in the eggs the heroes had rescued. <THAT WHICH YOU SEEK, THE GATE OF SARDEGON, IS SEALED BENEATH THE PALACE OF THE EMPEROR.>

"Well then," Cramer said to the others. "I guess we're off to see the Emperor of Jakura!"

- - -

This was an unusual session in that Joe stayed home at his house - he'd gotten behind in his homework and as a result Dan ran Utred as well as his own Cramer. Which, if nothing else, prevented Joe from being incessantly called "Unclean Thing" - a term we applied to Vicki as often as possible once Marlo had been chided by the god-eggs. But we're playing again today in our other campaign, so we'll all be sure to call Joe "Unclean Thing" as well to make up for it. (They're still getting off pretty easy, considering Marlo got a permanent +6 Charisma boost and Utred got a permanent +6 Constitution boost for agreeing to serve the Undying One, said ability score increases remaining behind after we'd gotten the Undying One killed.)
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PC Roster:
Cramer Appleknocker, gnome cleric 17​
Jhasspok, lizardman 3/barbarian 3/fighter 11​
Khari Hammerslammer, dwarf fighter 16/psychic warrior 1​
Marlo Pendragon, human sorcerer 17​
Utred "Buckets" Butterflinger, dwarf barbarian 17​

Game Session Date: 26 January 2022

- - -


The five heroes talked among themselves. It wasn't every day they could ask freely any questions they wanted of five gods, even if said gods were in the form of eggs waiting to be reborn. "They might know about the locations of the other Writhing Gates and how to get there," mused Cramer. He pulled out the notes he had written down about the ten Writhing Gates, studying them to see where they were still lacking information. Marlo and the two dwarves looked over his shoulder - rather easily, as the gnome was the shortest member of the team.

But Jhasspok - who couldn't read in any case - didn't need to study any notes to know what he wanted to ask. He was worried about two of his friends, especially about the reception they had received by the god-eggs, who didn't even want to be touched by Marlo or Utred, whom they termed "Unclean Things." Before any of the others could stop him, Jhasspok blurted out his question: "How can my friends Marlo and Utred stop being Unclean Things?" The lizardfolk didn't quite understand what all being an Unclean Thing was but it didn't sound good.

<ATONE, AND CAST AWAY THE GIFTS OF THE DYING ONE,> responded the voice of the god-eggs in the minds of the five heroes. Marlo and Utred each frowned, knowing that to cast away the gifts of the Dying One meant a significant decrease in spellcasting ability in the case of the sorceress and a major lessening of the barbarian's ability to ignore wounds in battle.

Khari was the next to ask his question. "How do we get to the Gate of Rylethek?" he asked, knowing from their notes that this Writhing Gate was supposed to be underwater somewhere. The problem was, there was a lot of "underwater" covering the planet and there was no real easy method of searching below the water in any case.

But the god-eggs had the answer to that one as well. <SEEK THE MERFOLK OF YONDALL'S BAY, FOR THEY CAN LEAD YOU TO WHERE YOU NEED TO GO.> "Yondall's Bay - we know where that is!" remarked Cramer, jotting notes in the margins of his sheet of parchment to update the information they had about the various gates.

Utred's question was of a more personal nature, based on the information he had just received as a result of Jhasspok's question. "Can I atone without losing the increased toughness I rely upon in battle to allow me to keep fighting for the benefit of the whole world and everyone on it?" the dwarven barbarian asked. He hoped by phrasing it in that fashion it might make it more palatable for him to be allowed to maintain his heightened constitution. But the answer he got was the shortest one of the bunch.


Marlo was on the same wavelength as Utred, hoping to find a way to keep the enhancements they had each received from the Dying One - by secretly agreeing to serve the illithid Elder God, even though the five of them had been prophesied to fight against Him and prevent Him from destroying the world with His return. "Just out of curiosity, what would happen if the two of us decided to remain 'Unclean Things,' as you put it?" she asked. If the only downside to maintaining her additional spellcasting power was being called names by a bunch of reincarnating gods from the other side of the world, she personally could live with that.

<YOU WILL BE MORE VULNERABLE TO CORRUPTION FROM THE OUTSIDE.> Marlo's frown only intensified, realizing "the outside" was the god-eggs' term for the Far Realm. And the numerous tentacles sprouting out of the body of her toad familiar Truffles was enough of an indicator of one potential fate of Far Realm corruption to make it less than appealing.

Finally, Cramer voiced his question. "How do we get to the Gate of Svulbiss?" he asked, zeroing in on the Writhing Gate they had determined was likely on the top of a cloud island somewhere. Similar to the problems of locating the underwater gate, finding it among all of the clouds in the skies would be problematic at best.


The heroes left the chamber in which the god-eggs had been deposited. "You are welcome to spend the night in the temple," offered Kitsu, one of the fox hengeyokai serving in the shrine. The heroes took her up on the offer, knowing they'd need to find the Gate of Sardegon in the morning, the Writhing Gate under the palace of the Emperor.

"Any ideas on how to go about getting to the Writhing Gate underneath the Emperor's throne?" asked Cramer. "I don't know if just asking nicely will be enough incentive."

"You basically have three approaches," suggested the hengeyokai Tsune. "The first is to start a revolt against the Emperor and sneak into the palace while the main force protecting it is occupied."

"I think we'll probably pass on that one," the gnome replied.

"The second option is a full-frontal assault" - and here Utred perked his head up and gave the young woman his full attention, for "full-frontal assault" were two of his favorite words strung together - "against the troops guarding the Emperor's palace. You are probably capable of overcoming his forces, but to do so would retroactively prove the Emperor's fears against outside countries and reunify Jakura against the outside world. This was the reason they joined with the forces attacking Greenvale in your part of the world."

"Not a real big plan of that option, either," Khari commented. Utred just glared at his fellow dwarf, surprised that anyone would be against a full-frontal assault - the best kind of fun!

"Your third option is to fill the role of Greenvale's envoy once more and broker a formal end to the war, with access to the Jade Door as part of the peace terms." Tsune looked at the group expectantly.

"I think I like that one best," Cramer admitted. He looked over at Marlo. "You up to being our spokeswoman again?"

"Of course," replied the sorceress, tapping her circlet of persuasion. Even without the Dying One's blessing, she had already seen to increasing her persuasiveness through magical means. "I'll need a tongues spell so I can speak to the Emperor in his own language."

"You got it," promised the gnome.

And thus it was the following morning the five heroes from halfway across the world came knocking at the door of the Jade Palace. Upon being granted entry and an audience with the Emperor, the Jakuran leader was convinced to sign a treaty ending hostilities with Greenvale. It was an easy enough decision, especially since they had been beaten back so readily upon their attack and these envoys indicated Greenvale had no desire for retribution. Granting the five strangers access to the Jade Door was also an easy concession to make, especially after the Emperor's own spellcasters confirmed the truth that the five could easily destroy the evil locked away behind the Jade Door, which was the whole reason this palace had been built where it was. Cramer was presented with the Jade Key, which felt fine in his hands; for Marlo and Utred, it seemed uncomfortably warm - perhaps another indicator that there were heretofore unseen disadvantages to the Dying One's enhancements.

With a clap of his hands, the Emperor summoned a pair of attendants who escorted the five strangers to the Jade Door, then fled for their own safety before it was opened to the evil lurking behind it. "Let's buff up," advised Cramer and Marlo cast the standard Rary's telepathic bond spell that linked the five together telepathically. She then cast three stoneskin spells on the men (other than Utred, who claimed he didn't need it), already protected herself by a similar effect from the brooch of petrified flesh she wore pinned to her robe of eyes.

<Ready?> asked Cramer over the link.

<Ready!> confirmed Marlo as Jhasspok gave a startled cry of alarm at the sudden voice in his head - he'd never get used to that spell! Then Cramer used the Jade Key and opened the door.

To his surprise, there were three people standing on the other side of the door, having been trying to pick the lock from the other side. They were all drow dressed in black leather armor, with House insignias indicating they were from a Lesser House of Overreach allied with House Bel'vior, whose most recent Matron Mother had been none other than the Mortal Queen herself. Before anyone else could react, the gnome cleric cast a quickened searing light spell at one of the drow, who dodged the ray at the last moment, followed by a flame strike spell that caused a column of holy fire to drop down from above. But of the three drow rogues standing immediately before him, two of them managed to maneuver themselves out of the way of the cascading flames and the third was entirely unaffected thanks to the inherent resistance to spells enjoyed by members of the dark elf race. Having had all of his impressive spellcasting negated entirely, Cramer dodged to the side, hiding behind the impressive bulk of Utred Butterflinger.

Utred charged forward and cut the first drow down with a solid overhand blow of his Elderwood flaming greataxe. Without missing a beat, he yanked the weapon out of the slain dark elf and sent it backhanding into his neighbor, not managing to kill the second drow but coming fairly close to finishing that particular job. Staggering back, the drow managed to fill his hands with a rapier and a short sword and went stabbing forward with both weapons against Utred. The third drow, a bit further back than the others, shot at Utred with a poisoned hand crossbow and then turned and raced down the stairs behind him, calling out in the Drow tongue to others further down the stairs. But both Marlo and Cramer understood Drow fully and translated over the telepathic link for the others: <He's saying, "The Jalamir slaves are here!">

<Nice to be recognized,> smirked Utred.

Marlo cast an empowered maximized scorching ray spell, sending two gouts of flame at the drow fighting Utred (which killed him outright) and the third chasing after the drow rogue fleeing down the stairs. Khari rushed in, saw the slope of the spiraling steps leading down, and used his earthglide warhammer to take a shortcut through the stone floor. Jhasspok had no means of taking a shortcut in that fashion and so dedicated himself to racing down the winding stairs as fast as he could go, his battleaxe held at the ready in his shield hand and his flaming spear - his go-to ranged weapon - held in his right. As soon as he saw the fleeing rogue he threw the spear with all his might, catching the drow in the shoulder and toppling him forward. The lizardfolk could hear the sounds of booted feet clambering up the stairs, some distance below him.

At the bottom of the winding stairs stood a much larger chamber, in which was the now-familiar sight of a Writhing Gate. But none of the heroes had made it far enough down to see it yet and there were no light sources down there in any case by which to see it. But sitting in one of the seats before a collapsed tentacle was a drow cleric who began the casting of a forbiddance spell. The spell took some time to cast, but she had full faith in the five drow fighters rushing up the steps to head off any threat to their leader. Her main bodyguard, an anti-paladin from her same House, cast a magic circle against good spell, unaware that the only one of the five intruders it would affect was Khari Hammerslammer.

Cramer dashed forward, his speed enhanced by the longstrider spell he had cast before entering the Jade Door, and positioned himself such that his holy aura spell could encompass all five of the heroes. Utred raced past the gnome, focused on slaying the drow rogue Jhasspok's flaming spear had sent tumbling, but by the time he reached his target the drow had regained his feet. The dwarf tried grappling with the drow but the rogue danced nimbly away, stabbing at Utred with his blades. But with the holy aura spell now in full effect, the few scant drops of blood his blade drew from Utred's skin was paid for by a permanent blindness covering the attacking drow's eyes. He cried out in alarm, but already he was too blind to see Utred's wide grin at the predicament of his current combat foe. The hapless roguee stabbed ineffectually at the barbarian, unaware he had just been targeted by Marlo with an empowered magic missile spell which had failed to penetrate his own spell resistance. But then Khari knocked him senseless with a solid blow from his dwarven warhammer and he fell to the ground, bleeding out.

Jhasspok snatched up his flaming spear on his way down the stairs and was the first to meet up with the five drow fighters running up the stairs to meet the intruders in battle. He swung at the nearest with his battleaxe as the ironsilk-clad fighter raced past the lizardfolk, catching him a good one but without enough power behind it to slay the drow outright. Then he was past the lizardfolk and it was all Jhasspok could do to keep the longswords swinging at him from all directions from penetrating his own scaly hide. Once again he was grateful for Marlo's stoneskin spell, for without it there was no way he could fight off all five of these foes by himself, even just for long enough to allow the others to catch up with him and add their own attacks to the reptile's own. On the plus side, two of the five fighters were struck blind after having attacked a foe under the protection of a holy aura spell.

The drow cleric could see the light from Jhasspok's slave-light cloak through the open doorway connecting the stairs to the Writhing Gate chamber and frantically continued her spellcasting. The drow anti-paladin cast a bull's strength spell upon himself, not in the least bit concerned for the fighters battling the enraged lizardfolk within view; that, after all, was the purpose of lesser combatants. Cramer got within sight of the drow fighters piling on Jhasspok and cast a mass inflict moderate wounds that had some effect on most of them. Utred, having activated his winged boots in order to speed even faster down the stairs, slammed into the closest of the drow fighters and let loose with his greataxe. And then Marlo appeared from the curve of the stairs, casting another maximized empowered scorching ray spell, only to curse in unladylike fury as the drow spell resistance completely negated each and every ray.

Khari took another through-the-wall shortcut and found himself directly behind one of the drow fighters attacking Jhasspok. But while that particular drow seemed to be blind, the one standing next to him wasn't - and was bringing his weapons to bear against the Hammerslammer dwarf! Activating his innate psionic abilities to boost his own attacks, Khari sent his warhammer's head crashing into the drow's side, crushing a rib or two in the swing. The five drow were now up against Jhasspok, Utred, and Khari and between the three of them they finished the dark elves rather handily, considering most of them were blind by the end of the battle.

There was now nothing keeping the intruders at bay any longer. The drow cleric continued her spellcasting, hoping to get the forbiddance spell into effect before being interrupted by the Jalamir slaves. The drow anti-paladin cast a divine favor spell upon himself and started to step forward to place himself as a living barrier against anyone trying to get to the cleric behind him.

Jhasspok was the first to enter the lightless chamber. Since he couldn't see anything inside, he did what he normally did in such circumstances: used his great speed to run straight forward, altering course when he found someone to attack. The anti-paladin was well outside the illumination from the lizardfolk's slave-light cloak, so Jhasspok soon found himself face to face against the female drow, who snarled in fury at the possibility of having to abandon her forbiddance spell due to the interruption; hopefully it wouldn't come to that! She took a step back as the lizardfolk got his bearings, facing her in the light from his magic cloak.

Cramer moved forward, still outside the Writhing Gate chamber, activating his ring of invisibility as he did so. Behind him, Utred literally flew into the room, the wings on his boots granting him extra speed. He saw the anti-paladin at once with his darkvision and angled his way, but the drow was amazingly quick and got in a couple of one-two swings with his longsword. Utred had fully expected to ignore the blows - he very rarely even noticed his battle-wounds until the fight was over - but these had a familiar life-draining aspect to them that the barbarian recognized all too well. <Guy's got a bloody sword of life stealing!> Utred warned the others over the link. But then the anti-paladin cried out as well, not because the dwarf had managed to hit him - he hadn't, not yet - but because his own attacks against the dwarf had rendered him blind. Cramer's holy aura spell was turning out to have been the best possible avenue of protection the cleric of Fharlanghn could possibly have prepared.

Marlo, standing beside Cramer, targeted the blind anti-paladin with another empowered maximized scorching ray and once again failed to penetrate the dark elf's inherent spell resistance. "I hate drow!" she cried out in frustration, not bothering to use the telepathic link to get her message across. Her verbal outburst echoed across the cavern for all to hear.

Khari, in the meantime, started running toward the anti-paladin but sank into the stone cavern floor as he did so, only to pop up behind him and send his warhammer crashing into the back of the drow's head. Further back in the cavern, Jhasspok advanced to attack the cleric and was surprised when she stopped whatever spellcasting she had been trying to do and whipped out some sort of short staff with five wiggling tentacles at one end of it. The tentacle rod missed him - which caused her to swear in the Drow language, only some of the words recognizable to the lizardfolk - and then he attacked her with fury, his blade catching her in the side, on the elbow, and on the thigh in rapid succession. Jhasspok gave it his all, especially now that he knew beyond any doubt that this was an evil drow he was fighting, for he recognized a few of those words she was cursing and no good person would ever use words like that!

The drow cleric faked a sprint in one direction and then doubled back in the other; Jhasspok managed to get in one good hit against her but then she was out of his range, fleeing to the potential safety of being at the anti-paladin's side. She had been hoping to get close enough to him to cast a mass heal spell on them both, but he was too far away; a heal spell on herself would have to suffice for now, then. She smiled as the wounds inflicted by Jhasspok's axe sealed themselves back up, restoring her to her full power. And she was now far enough away from the lizardfolk to be outside of the radius of his cloak's illumination, so he couldn't see exactly where she had gotten to.

But that didn't last long, for Cramer cast a daylight spell on a copper piece from his belt pouch and flipped it onto the stone floor, the spellcasting not actually an attack and thus preserving his current invisibility. But the entire cavern was now visible to all, not just the drow and dwarves gifted with darkvision (and Marlo, who saw quite well through the eyes of her magic robe). The sorceress dropped a hand to the gnome's shoulder and tried to dimension door the two of them into the chamber, only to find the entire room had been protected with a dimensional lock spell prohibiting such spells from working. This was definitely not Marlo's day for successful spellcasting!

Utred attacked the anti-paladin again, with the drow reaching out blindly at the dwarven barbarian and casting a corrupting hands spell at him. Khari swung his warhammer into the drow, eliciting a grunt of pain from the anti-paladin. But now that Jhasspok could see the foul-mouthed drow cleric perfectly well, he raced in a bee-line at her and used his new tail-band of the raptor to engage in a frenzy of attacks upon reaching her, his blade slicing into her flesh as he brought his mouthful of sharp teeth snapping at her neck, drawing blood.

The blind anti-paladin didn't have a whole lot of fight left in him at this point. He swung his evil blade at Utred again but the barbarian easily dodged the blow and then struck him with the full might of his own greataxe. Marlo finished him off with an empowered lightning bolt spell, crying out in surprised joy when the spell made its way through the drow's spell resistance. "Did you see that? I got him!" she cried exuberantly, once again forgoing the use of the telepathic link to hear her own words aloud.

Khari moved up to flank the drow cleric with Jhasspok, who held a chunk of her flesh in his mouth, her blood spilling out from between his teeth. She stumbled past the dwarven fighter, taking a solid whack in the side from his hammer, just so she could cast a time stop spell that she hoped would give her the advantage, now that she was facing five-against-one odds. In the scant few seconds where she was the only one capable of movement, she cast the mass heal spell she'd hoped to use earlier (overkill, but you played the hand that was dealt to you), as well as an invisibility spell on herself that she hoped would keep her safe from being targeted as she raced to the open doorway, knowing full well from past experience the dimensional lock spell wouldn't allow her to teleport out of the chamber.

But she hadn't counted on Marlo's robe of eyes. The sorceress wasn't sure how the drow spellcaster had somehow made it all the way across the chamber seemingly in a split second (for that was how things appeared to her after the drow's time stop spell had run its course), but she called out to Cramer over the telepathic link. <Cramer! She's invisible, about ten feet to your left!>

Cramer responded by casting an antimagic field spell, draining all magic in a radius around the drow cleric. Her invisibility spell was instantly suppressed, revealing her to everyone in the light of the daylight spell cast upon the gnome's copper piece. Jhasspok and the dwarves were on her in an instant, their weapons no longer magical but the sharpness of their blades and the solidity of Khari's hammer unaffected by the gnome's spell. Armed only with her tentacle rod, the cleric didn't last long against the onslaught.

"That it?" Utred called, looking around the room for more enemies to fight - there could be some hiding behind the collapsed tentacles, perhaps. But no, there was nobody else alive within the chamber but the five former slaves, so Utred unwrapped his Null Axe and got to work. Before too long all ten tentacles had been severed, their stubs withdrawing back into the Far Realm and the extraplanar holes sealing up behind them.

"Another one down!" Cramer smiled, updating his parchment of notes. "That only leaves three more to go!"

- - -

We gained enough XP for us each to level up to 18th level at the end of this adventure. And now Vicki and Joe are giving serious thought about having Cramer cast atonement spells on their PCs, it finally having been driven home that accepting gifts from the Elder God you're trying to kill is probably not a good thing. That means Marlo losing 6 points of Charisma and Utred losing 6 points of Constitution, but that probably beats sprouting tentacles all over your body, which at this point is still a distinct possibility.
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PC Roster:
Cramer Appleknocker, gnome cleric 18​
Jhasspok, lizardman 3/barbarian 3/fighter 12​
Khari Hammerslammer, dwarf fighter 17/psychic warrior 1​
Marlo Pendragon, human sorcerer 18​
Utred "Buckets" Butterflinger, dwarf barbarian 18​

Game Session Date: 2 February 2022

- - -

"Well," said Marlo nervously as her teleport spell brought her and her four companions across the miles. "Here we are."

They stood in a clearing, the ruins of ancient buildings all around them. This, according to the diviner Lauren back in Greenvale, was the entrance to the Halls of Redemption, a place where those wishing to atone for their past actions could be redeemed. And Utred and Marlo both had some atoning to do, having learned that their ill-considered bargain with the Dying One for increased personal power could have some serious consequences in the future. Having each been designated "Unclean Things" by the neophyte Jakuran gods awaiting rebirth, they wished to be forever parted from their alliance with the illithid Elder God, even if it meant giving up the additional power each had received from Uboros and which had had lingered on undiminished after His recent death.

"We'd better prepare for combat," Cramer advised, not knowing what to expect; Lauren had no details of what they might see within the Halls of Redemption, only the location of the place and that the other three adventurers would be allowed inside to aid their friends in their redemption. Marlo cast stoneskin spells upon all but herself and Cramer and then cast the traditional Rary's telepathic bond. Cramer cast his own standard spells on himself: longstrider, moment of prescience, and spell turning. Khari focused his mind and activated his offensive prescience power, the better to aid the strikes with his earthglide warhammer. "Thank you, Marlo," Jhasspok said, always grateful to be included in the protective spells that time had taught him was often that kept them all alive in their combats.

"So now what?" asked Utred. "Where exactly is this Hall?"

As if in answer to the dwarven barbarian's question, two constructs stepped out of a crumbling wall, passing through it as if it were no more substantial than a mirage. Their helmeted heads swiveled and focused on Marlo and Utred. Speaking in unison, they said, "We have been warned of your impending arrival. We shall waive the traditional challenge of entry that we will not be impaired should the retrieval of your bodies be necessary."

"Well, that's comforting!" grumbled Cramer under his breath. He was starting to wonder if maybe he shouldn't try taking his argument back up about casting atonement spells himself on the two "Unclean Things," despite Marlo's continued insistence she didn't want to be in the little gnome's debt. But the two constructs stepped aside and gestured for the group to enter the Halls of Redemption as the illusory walls hiding the entrance faded from between them. "What can we expect inside?" Cramer asked the guardians, hoping to learn as much as he could beforehand, hopefully before they went too far along a path the gnome cleric was starting to think might not have been the wisest one to follow.

"You will have to purge your inner demons," replied the two constructs in unison. "Two of you are in need of redemption, the others are encouraged to aid them as well, cleansing yourselves of your own inner demons as you do so."

The group stepped inside, the doors closing and sealing shut behind them. The entire building was one great hall, with a red carpet going down the middle to a set of empty thrones at the far end. On either side, the walls held four alcoves apiece containing full-length mirrors. Light was provided by flaming torches set in sconces at equal intervals around the hall.

But that wasn't all Marlo could see. With her robe of eyes, she saw perfectly well the invisible figure seated in one of the thrones and watching them with an expression of calm interest. "Are you in charge of this place?" Marlo asked, causing her companions to look around in confusion at who she might be addressing. "What must we do to atone?" Then, seeing her friends' confusion, she explained telepathically, <There's an invisible celestial sitting in one of the thrones. Or I assume so - he's got feathered wings, in any case.>

Her answer came back telepathically - and to all five of the adventurers at once. <I am indeed a celestial,> he explained. <I address your attention to the mirrors on the sides of the hall. You have but to step forward and look into one of the mirrors for your 'inner demon' to step forth.>

<Each of us?> asked Cramer. He didn't feel like he had any particular atoning to do.

<Each of you,> confirmed the celestial. <For the two seeking redemption, their conquest of their inner demons made flesh will provide the release they seek from their bargain with the Dying One. For the rest of you, you will have earned either knowledge or power: the answer to one question or an increase in the power of one of your weapons.>

"Okay, let's plan this out," suggested Cramer. "Marlo and Utred step in front of a mirror and activate their inner demons. Then Utred high-tails it back by me, I cast a silence spell on him, and he goes after Mirror-Marlo. That way, she won't be able to cast any spells!" The little gnome cackled in glee, thinking how easy this was going to be.

But Jhasspok was confused, admittedly not entirely an unusual state for the lizardfolk to be in. He didn't know much about magic other than all of its seemingly arbitrary restrictions made little sense to him, but he did know fighting one enemy at a time was better than fighting two. "Why would we fight both Utred and Marlo?" he asked.

"That's the whole reason we're here," scoffed Cramer, ignoring the silly lizardfolk's input. Seriously, when would the reptile ever learn to keep his mouth shut when they were strategizing? It wasn't as if his staggering reptile intellect actually provided anything of use to any conversation - and it was fortunate he usually pestered Utred for answers to his questions, as the gnome had little patience for such idiocy. "Okay, off you go," he said to Marlo and Utred, bringing the words to the silence spell to the forefront of his brain.

Utred stepped off the carpet to the right as Marlo stepped off to the left, each standing before a mirror. Their reflections warped and rippled, then took solid form as they stepped through the mirror and into the Halls of Redemption. But as they stepped forth into solid form, the others could see these were no true reflections of the original but perhaps warnings of the pair's future if redemption were not attained. The Mirror-Utred wore minimal armor but had multiple weapons hanging on his belt and a familiar greataxe gripped in his hand whose weapon-head flickered with green flames. But his body was covered with writhing tentacles and his flesh puckered out in multiple locations, each extrusion sporting an extra eye which darted back and forth, examining the area. Marlo's mirror-self was no better, for the limbs visible extending from her robes were stringy as if composed of fused-together tentacles and her head had expanded into a fleshy mass covered in a myriad of eyes. She wore no robe of eyes as the true Marlo did, but neither was she lacking in that capacity.

Utred and Marlo each gave an involuntary cry as their mirror-duplicates stepped out into reality, for they each felt the "gifts" granted by the Dying One being ripped from their bodies - and crossing the room to enhance their hideous inner demons. The tentacle-covered false Utred's already muscular body expanded in even more vitality and the glow behind the false Marlo's countless eyes increased in illumination. But despite this, Utred lurched away from his mirror-duplicate and raced to attack the fake Marlo. The real Marlo was stepping back onto the red carpeting, likely more from horror at the sight of her inner demon than anything else.

Utred's hideous duplicate raced after his original, Elderwood flaming greataxe swinging at the barbarian. Marlo stabbed at him with her arcane blade but the tentacled dwarf looked like he could take just about any amount of damage without even feeling it. Marlo knew from past experience that was certainly true for their own Utred - and this one seemed even more inured to pain! Regardless, Khari spun to face the mutant dwarf and struck him with his earthglide warhammer to little effect.

However, before Cramer could cast his silence spell or Jhasspok could bring his battleaxe to bear against Utred's inner demon, the mutated mirror-duplicate of Marlo Pendragon screamed out a wail of the banshee spell. Khari dropped his hammer and fell to the ground, clutching his ears in pain as his heart stopped. Beside him, Marlo slumped to the floor of the Hall of Redemption, slain at once by the version of herself she now feared above all else. The mutant Marlo looked over at her handiwork and likely would have smiled had her bloated face been capable of such an expression, then began fading from view, her task completed. She took several steps backwards into the mirror, fading further with each stride.

Seeing his silence spell would now serve no purpose, Cramer switched strategies and cast a shield of faith spell on Utred, hoping to buoy up his defenses against his powerhouse duplicate. He took a strike from the Utred-thing's greataxe as he cast the spell, then another as he tried scampering away to use Jhasspok as a living shield. For his part, Jhasspok gave it his all against Utred's inner demon, each blow from his greataxe slicing off a handful of those tiny tentacles that covered the dwarf's body. He also opened up rents in the mutant barbarian's flesh, causing blood to spill out from each wound, which the Utred-thing didn't even deign to notice. Instead, he focused all of his considerable anger at Utred, attacking him for all he was worth. Utred's combat training was stretched to the limit as he found himself under attack by a more powerful version of himself. He tried trading blow for blow against his mirror-duplicate, but more of the thing's axe-blows were connecting with Utred than the true dwarf's attacks were striking the inner demon. Utred let the fires of his rage burn brightly, to add fuel to his strength and determination to rid himself of this despised version of himself.

Cramer's next spell attack was an energy drain that struck the mutant dwarf and siphoned off a bit of his vitality - not that he didn't have plenty more to spare. Jhasspok continued his attacks, although it seemed like trying to fell a tree with a dagger. But for all the mirror-duplicate cared, the others might not have even been in the room with him, for his attention was focused solely on Utred Butterflinger. As his continued blows struck true, Utred was grateful to note they no longer had quite as much strength behind them; Cramer's energy drain had had some effect, in any case.

Cramer converted his most powerful spell into a mass heal, sealing up the few wounds he and Utred had received in the battle thus far. It was a tactical move on the cleric's part, not because either hero was in particularly desperate need for healing at that moment but because he knew he'd soon be bringing his own mirror-duplicate into existence and he didn't want his own twisted reflection to have access to a spell that powerful. And Utred and Jhasspok continued attacking the mirror-Utred from opposite sides, slowly cutting him down. Jhasspok finally brought down the overpowered barbarian with a final blow from his battleaxe, only to have the creature fade from view, taking his weapons with him. Utred swore aloud; he'd hoped to add his mirror-duplicate's weapons to his own already extensive collection.

"We should go," advised Jhasspok, leaning down to pick up the slain figure of Marlo. He didn't know a whole lot about magic, but he did know that of the five heroes Cramer was the only one capable of bringing Khari and Marlo back to life; if anything happened to the cleric in a subsequent fight against these mirror-duplicates, Jhasspok had no idea how they'd get everyone resurrected.

"Hold on," countered Cramer. "We came here for a reason - we should stick to the plan. We've already gotten Utred redeemed, after all."

"But Marlo is dead," Jhasspok argued. "How can we bring her inner demon back out of the mirror now? And what about Khari?"

<It would seem you have no way to complete your original goal,> interjected the celestial. <Would you continue to seek redemption for Marlo Pendragon, if such were made possible?>

"How do you mean?" demanded Utred.

<If you are determined to finish what you started, I have the means to return your two slain friends to life.>

Jhasspok didn't need any time to think it over. "Yes," he said. "Do it. We will continue the fight."

Marlo's body started to glow in Jhasspok's arms; Khari's did likewise on the floor at Utred's feet. The glow faded and the two stirred, blinking their eyes and looking about them in confusion. "What happened?" asked Khari.

Cramer filled them in and then Jhasspok started asking questions of Cramer. "If you wanted the other Marlo to be inside a silence spell, why didn't you cast it on her when she stepped out of the mirror?"

"It isn't that simple," snapped the gnome. "If you cast it on a person, there's a chance they'll be able to resist the effects. That would negate the whole point of casting the spell in the first place."

"Then why didn't you cast it on a coin and throw the coin over by the mirror? And why did you have Utred bring his double out all the way over there and Marlo bring hers out way over there, if we were going to fight them both at the same time? And why did we fight two of them at once, when we could have--"

"Okay, okay, point taken," grumbled Cramer. "Maybe we should plan how we're going to do things a little better this time." That seemed eminently practical to Jhasspok. Cramer once again took point in outlining the plan forward, only this time incorporating the lizardfolk's suggestions into his strategy. And thus it was that when Marlo stepped forward to activate her mirror-double once again, there was not only a coin with a silence spell on it on the floor at the base of the mirror but also Utred standing on one side with his Elderwood flaming greataxe poised to strike; having already called forth and defeating his own inner demon, the dwarven barbarian's reflection could do no further harm. Marlo was positioned such that she could be seen in the mirror but was just outside the radius of the silence spell so she could still cast spells while her hideous duplicate could not.

The mirror's image wavered and pulsated and the lumpy-headed, eye-filled version of Marlo stepped out of the mirror. But before Utred could even bring his axe crashing down upon her bulbous head, the real Marlo cast a maximized disintegrate spell upon her mutated duplicate. The Marlo-thing exploded silently into a fine dust.

"That's two down," crowed Cramer as if he'd been personally responsible for the deaths of both foes. "I'll go next." He stepped forward, bringing forth his own mirror-duplicate into the hall. However, he was surprised at the figure that stepped forward, for while it was indeed a gnomish cleric of Fharlanghn, rather than looking like Cramer Appleknocker it bore the semblance of Honeycomb Buzzwort, Cramer's erstwhile mentor in the church of the God of Travelers. Honeycomb wore the tight-fitting leathers of a male pleasure slave in the direct employ of the Matron Mother of House Jalamir, a role he was rumored to have been performing back in Overreach since his capture.

Utred didn't care what the gnome looked like or what he was wearing; he brought his greataxe down upon what could only be an enemy to be vanquished. After a moment's shock at the "duplicate's" appearance, Cramer cast the miracle spell he'd had prepared, using it to spoof a destruction spell he had not had the forethought to prepare that morning. However, there were other factors he hadn't taken into consideration, the first of which being he'd activated his mirror-duplicate while protected by a spell turning spell and thus the figure stepping out of the mirror was likewise so protected. Cramer's destruction spell hit the enemy gnome and a resonation field formed between the two gnomes as the spell leaped back and forth between the two of them, eventually reverberating into nothingness. Buzzwort cried out in surprise, noticed he made no noise while doing so, deduced he was in the radius of a silence spell, and then used a piece of Cramer's duplicated equipment (that the little gnome had completely forgotten about) - namely, a rod of silent spells. With it, Buzzwort erected a blade barrier straight through Jhasspok, Marlo, and Utred. Then the little mirror-gnome was off in a sprint, trying to get out of the radius of the silence spell so he could use his more powerful spells, those which could not be channeled through the metamagic rod.

But as fast as the little gnome was, Jhasspok was even faster. He charged forward out of the blade barrier spell and leaped at Buzzwort, catching the little gnome in a flurry of axe-swings and snapping at him with his mouth full of sharp teeth. However, unnoticed by the lizardfolk, a second figure emerged from the mirror behind Buzzwort, this one looking suspiciously like Jhasspok himself. This version also wore a tailband of the raptor and put it immediately to good use, ripping through Jhasspok's scales with his own battleaxe and biting at his twin with his own razor-sharp teeth.

Utred charged forward, attacking the second Jhasspok to give the original time to recover from the unexpected attack. Marlo cast a maximized disintegrate spell at Buzzwort, which didn't slay him outright as she had hoped but had him stumbling to stay upright on his feet. Khari had instinctively leaped behind the blade barrier and feared if he raced forward to help his friends he'd only bring his own mirror-duplicate into the fray, so he pulled out his frost shortbow and shot at Buzzwort. Sadly, his arrows were deflected by the whirling blades of force dancing about as part of the leather-clad gnome cleric's initial spell.

Cramer, seeing Jhasspok's many wounds, realized he needed to take out the current foes as quickly as he could. He cast a mass inflict critical wounds spell which slew Buzzwort and severely hurt the reptilian newcomer to the fight. Jhasspok slammed his battleaxe into his twin, releasing the vampiric touch spell Marlo had loaded into it the day before; the spell stripped some of the duplicate's life energy and sent it flooding into Jhasspok's body, doing a small part in healing the massive amount of damage he'd taken thus far. But the mirror-Jhasspok, true to form, had no eyes for any foe but his own twin and his battleaxe cut into Jhasspok again, undoing much of the vampiric healing he'd just employed. Fortunately, Utred was there to finish off the enemy lizardfolk on Jhasspok's behalf.

Khari circled around the blade barrier spell - somewhat irritated that the hall's worked floors made earthgliding impossible - preparing to activate his own mirror-duplicate now that the others had been dealt with. Cramer belatedly noticed how close Jhasspok was to toppling over from his many wounds and hurriedly cast a heal spell to restore him to his full health and vitality.

When the mirror-Khari stepped out of the mirror, glowing in psionic runes (for this version of Khari seemed to have devoted himself exclusively to the ways of the psychic warrior), he was almost instantly disintegrated by Marlo, who had cast another maximized version of the spell.

<Very nicely handled,> said the celestial in the throne. <Once again, teamwork and friendship find a path to success. Utred Butterflinger and Marlo Pendragon, you have both been purged of the taint of Uboros. As for the rest of you, you may ask of me a single boon: knowledge or power. Khari Hammerslammer, what is your wish?>

"Power," replied the dwarf, holding up his earthglide warhammer.

<Then so shall it be: your weapon will now strike true against ghosts and other beings without a corporeal form. Cramer Appleknocker, what is your wish.>


<Ask away.>

"Honeycomb Buzzwort - the real one, still back in Overreach - is he content with his lot in life? I had originally planned to rescue him, but I've been hearing stories he's actually kind of enjoying his current status."

<He is content - extremely so. Jhasspok, what is your wish?>

"Power, please." He held up the spell storing battleaxe he'd used in combat today.

<Then so shall it be: your weapon has been further enhanced to guide your strikes and add power to its blows. You are now free to go.> At the back of the Hall of Redemption, the doors were swinging open, seemingly of their own accord. The five turned to go.

<One last thing before you leave,> added the celestial. <Although fully purged of the taint of Uboros, none of you are fully immune to the corruption you will face on the Unchartable Isle, home to the sundered Gate of Zarbugak from which the Outside leeches into Shadreath. You have been warned.>

Now worried once again, the five heroes turned and exited the Halls of Redemption.

- - -

Man, are we ever our own worst enemies or what? That was particularly poor planning (or more properly, lack thereof) on our part, rushing into the Halls of Redemption without much of a plan. Dan almost immediately jotted down three monsters he wanted Cramer to summon and passed them to me on a scrap of paper, asking if I could whip up their stats. They were a celestial badger, a fiendish wolf, and a celestial griffon, meaning I not only needed to jot down their core stats but then apply a template on top of each of them. And I was surprised at this strategy in any case, as we were 18th level and he wanted to summon...a 6-hp celestial badger? Even the griffon wouldn't be anything more than a speed bump up against the foes we'd likely be meeting in the Halls of Redemption (and any mirror-duplicate would be focused solely on his or her "original" version to the exclusion of all other foes in any case). But I didn't feel like arguing how others should run their PCs and by the time I had finished up the stats we had Mirror-Utred in our midst and we were all rolling Fortitude saves against Mirror-Marlo's wail of the banshee. What a fiasco! Logan took pity on us and gave Khari and Marlo free true resurrection spells to get us back on track.

But Khari now has a +5 ghost touch earthglide warhammer and Jhasspok has a +5 icy burst spell storing battleaxe, so we made out okay.
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PC Roster:
Cramer Appleknocker, gnome cleric 18​
Jhasspok, lizardman 3/barbarian 3/fighter 12​
Khari Hammerslammer, dwarf fighter 17/psychic warrior 1​
Marlo Pendragon, human sorcerer 18​
Utred "Buckets" Butterflinger, dwarf barbarian 18​

Game Session Date: 9 February 2022

- - -

The sending spell didn't contain a whole lot of information - it was, after all, merely two words long - but it had recognizably been cast by Matron Jalamir, the head of the drow Noble House to which the five former slaves now belonged and it was just as long as absolutely necessary: <Return immediately.> That left no room for ambiguity, so Marlo gathered everyone together and cast a teleport spell that returned the group to the confines of the drow city of Overreach.

After having been led to an audience chamber before Matron Jalamir, the head of the Noble House explained why she had brought them here. "We have continued attempting to scry upon any remaining survivors of the now-disbanded House Bel'voir," she informed them. "Our attempts have finally borne fruit: we have discovered a group who had relied upon temporary wards against scrying and we were finally able to pick them up between applications of their anti-scrying spells." She gestured behind her and a familiar form stepped forward. It was Honeycomb Buzzwort, Cramer's friend from his surface gnomish city of Revin. "Honeycomb was present when we detected the survivors," she advised the group. "He will be able to help you home in on their present location, so they can be eliminated. I want them all slain."

Honeycomb, a fellow cleric of Fharlanghn, began casting an illusion spell that brought an image floating before the group. "It was an enormous, dark chamber, occasionally lit by brief flashes of lightning," the gnome said. "There were five drow of House Bel'vior, sitting on a ring of motionless tentacles lying spread out on the ground."

"The Writhing Gate on the cloud island!" exclaimed Cramer. "Or inside a cloud island, perhaps," he amended, recalling the fact this was inside a large cavern. He turned to Marlo. "Do you think you can teleport us there, given this image to go off of?" he asked.

Marlo examined the details of the image intently. "Yes, I think so," she finally decided.

"Then let's get our prep spells cast!" Cramer enthused, raring to go. He cast his traditional longstrider, spell turning, and moment of prescience spells on himself, then added a few new ones: spell immunity to protect him from a select group of spells, as well as a daylight spell he cast upon a copper piece, which he then placed inside an empty belt pouch. That, he knew, would be a powerful tactic when fighting the light-hating drow. Marlo, in the meantime, cast stoneskin spells on her friends, a Rary's telepathic bond spell on the whole group, and then used her wand to cast an invisibility spell on everyone but Cramer, who could do the same for himself with his magic ring. At Utred's suggestion, Cramer also cast a protection from energy spell on everyone which would shield them from electricity damage, since the barbarian was leery of being hit by lightning while inside a giant cloud. Khari activated his psionic offensive prescience power and declared himself ready for combat.

Cramer used his ring to render himself invisible and then Marlo cast the teleport spell which transported the group directly inside the ring of limp tentacles at the center of the now-inactive Writhing Gate. Despite everyone being invisible, most of the group wore their slave-light cloaks so the Writhing Gate was illuminated by light with no apparent source. There was nobody else in the immediate vicinity and Marlo used her robe of eyes to look throughout the vast chamber. <Nobody's home,> she told the others over the link.

<I'm sinking,> Jhasspok told the group, looking down at his taloned feet which were sinking slightly into the soft cloud-stuff. <This is like that white rain stuff that's cold.>

<Snow,> prompted Utred.

<Yeah, that,> Jhasspok agreed. Having had only a few experiences with snow on the surface world, it was a word which hadn't stuck in the lizardfolk's reptilian brain.

A low rumble of thunder rolled from the top of the chamber. Cramer recognized it as speech as his magic helmet automatically translated the words from their Auran origin: "More mortals to disturb us...."

Cramer translated the statement over the mental link for the benefit of the others. Marlo peered at the cavern's ceiling, some 100 feet or more above their heads. <I don't see anything up there,> she said.

<Invisible?> suggested Khari, looking up at the ceiling with his own innate darkvision and seeing nothing.

<I'd still see it if it was invisible,> Marlo replied, knowing the abilities of her magic robe. <Unless it's naturally an invisible stalker!" She had read of such creatures, who had no visible form. Still, they appeared as roiling clouds of vapor when viewed through a see invisibility or true seeing spell, and she couldn't see anything like that at all....

"We mean you no harm!" Cramer called up to the ceiling, irritated that his helm of comprehend languages and read magic did nothing to translate his own words into other tongues.

<Wait! I saw some movement up there!> Marlo warned the others. She called forth an empowered maximized fireball ready to be cast if anything came down to attack them.

<I thought we were here to kill drow,> Jhasspok interjected. <Where did the drow go?>

<Maybe the invisible thing up at the ceiling ate them,> suggested Utred. Jhasspok peered at the ceiling as best he could but couldn't see any invisible thing.

<Let's see if this brings them out of hiding,> suggested Utred, pulling the Null Axe from its protective wrapping. The anti-magic weapon immediately nullified his invisibility and everyone could see him as he started hacking the axe blade through the nearest Writhing Gate tentacle, beginning to chop it free from the cloud's bottom.

"They are enemies of Svulbiss, they must be destroyed," came the sounds of Auran from the general vicinity of the ceiling, which Cramer quickly translated for the benefit of his friends. Then two creatures came surging down from the roof of the hollow cloud-chamber and Marlo quickly realized why she hadn't been able to see them clearly before: they were air elementals whose bodies were made of nothing more than wind! These, however, were much larger than any air elemental the sorceress had ever seen before, and flashes of lightning skittered across their airy bodies and arced from their eyes as they dropped down for the attack.

As Utred was the only one of the five currently visible, he was the initial target of both of the lightning-infused elder air elementals. But on the way down Marlo's empowered maximized fireball exploded around them, which turned the sorceress visible as well. As such, both she and Utred became the initial targets of electrified fists made of whirling air. Fortunately, the protection from energy spells stripped the lightning of its threat and the stoneskin spells pretty much did the same to the punches the elementals threw at the two heroes. "That all you got?" scoffed Utred, burying the blade of his Null Axe into the root of one of the limp tentacles and pulling out his Elderwood flaming greataxe from the weapon locker on his back.

Jhasspok and Khari attacked the elemental fighting Utred, losing their own invisibility in the process. Marlo, while fighting the air elemental before her, was still able to see in all directions through her robe of eyes and noticed a male, black-skinned face pop up from the floor at the far end of the cloud-cavern. The drow was too far away for any of the others to have seen, so she warned them over the telepathic link. But the warning came too late, for as he ducked back down out of view another drow stepped up from where she had been crouching in a dip in the floor's surface, covered in wispy cloud-stuff, and cast a firestorm spell that encompassed all five of the heroes - even Cramer, who was still invisible at this point, if only because she shaped her spell to cover the area between the two elementals and he happened to be standing right there. Marlo didn't fail to notice the drow cleric had made sure not to encompass the elementals in the area of effect of her spell, leading her to believe they were allied with the drow.

Cramer pulled the copper coin from his belt pouch and flipped it in the direction of the drow spellcaster, illuminating the entire cavern with the power of his daylight spell. The female cleric and her drow fighter companion - who had just popped his head back up from the concealing layer of cloud-stuff flowing across the floor - cried out in pain and futilely tried shielding their sensitive eyes from the sudden blast of light. Cramer then cast a mass bear's endurance spell on the group, boosting their ability to take damage from their foes, for he recalled Honeycomb had seen five drow and Cramer had no doubt there were still three around here somewhere who they'd be fighting before too long.

With four foes now visible before them, the elementals struck out with their channeled-air fists, blasting a zap of electricity with each blow as they made sure each of the four interlopers felt their power. But once again the protective spells covering the heroes kept them from feeling too much of the blows' effects.

Marlo cast an empowered disintegrate spell at the elder elemental she'd been fighting, who managed to resist the worst of the spell's effects. Worse, Marlo had failed to anticipate the reach of these massive creatures, both of which pummeled her while she was casting her spell. She took a moment to take a step back, putting her out of reach of at least the air elemental primarily focused on Jhasspok and the dwarves.

Utred activated his winged boots and charged through the air in the direction Marlo told him the drow spellcaster was standing; as he got closer he was able to see his foe for himself. Jhasspok was right behind the dwarf, relying not upon any magical boots but his own long-striding legs, his tail sticking straight out behind him for balance. Activating his tail-band of the raptor, he brought his battleaxe down upon the drow cleric time and time again, while snapping at her unprotected neck with his sharp teeth. She cried out in pain as the reptile practically bowled her to the ground with the force of his attack.

Then three more drow fighters popped up from their prone hiding positions, the floor of the cavern being somewhat "hilly" and providing them with cover in the form of obscuring cloud-wisps that covered the floor like a fog. Squinting in irritation from the sudden bright light of Cramer's daylight spell, they all went after Utred, the closest to their current positions. The cleric and the first fighter to have popped his head up were still dazed by the bright light, unable to act - although in the cleric's case the inability to act may well have been because a good deal of her life's blood was flowing down her neck from the rent in her throat where Jhasspok had just ripped out a chunk of flesh.

Khari continued attacking the elder air elemental he'd been fighting along with Jhasspok and Utred - and which he was now facing alone. But he knew he couldn't earth glide through cloud-stuff and wouldn't have wished to even if it were possible - who wanted to take the chance of tunneling out through the very bottom of a cloud? - so he concentrated on taking out the foe at hand. His warhammer crashed into the elemental's body, but it was difficult to see how badly the blow had damaged a creature made of whirling air, who showed no wounds and dripped no blood. Still, the doughty dwarven fighter carried on, confident in his combat abilities and certain he'd wear this massive foe down in time.

With all five drow now visible, Cramer re-entered the visible light spectrum himself as he cast his first combat spell, an insect plague spell that sent swarms of locusts covering the dark elves as he ran forward, away from the reach of the elder air elementals. They split their attacks evenly between Khari and Marlo, one elemental focusing on each hero. Marlo took another step back and cast an empowered maximized scorching ray spell at her foe, missing with one gout of flame but the other two striking spot on. The elemental roared in pain and fury, its wide-open mouth spraying arcs of electricity.

With a battle roar, Utred brought his greataxe swinging in a sideways slice that completely severed the head from the drow cleric's damaged neck and then buried itself into the side of the skull of her closest ally. The barbarian had to tug his blade out of the drow's head as the dark elf dropped to the floor of the cloud-chamber, his dead body covered by a layer of wispy fog, as had been that of the headless spellcaster. Jhasspok swung his own axe-head into the side of another drow fighter, failing to slay him but causing him a great deal of pain as the blade cut through ironsilk armor and a rib or two. Blood spilled from the lips of the drow as he tried his best to reciprocate the attack with fingers that could no longer feel the hilt of his sword. Still covered in locusts, the wounded drow tried running sideways out of the range of the spell effect and Jhasspok was given another opportunity to cut him down - and cut him down he did, leaving only two drow fighters and the electricity-infused elder air elementals on the field of battle to oppose the five heroes.

But the two drow had seen enough to see how this battle was going to end. Dropping their weapons in unison, they backed away from the cloud of locusts and prostrated themselves on the ground, calling out "We surrender!" in the drow language which only Cramer and Marlo could understand. Jhasspok and Utred looked over at the cowering warriors, the dwarf barbarian with a look of disgust and disdain, the lizardfolk with a puzzled expression - why weren't they continuing to fight when there was always a possibility they could still pull off a win? Then they shrugged and ran back the way they'd come, to aid Marlo and Khari in fighting off the air elementals, who at least had the good grace to continue to fight.

Not that it did them any good in the long run, for up against all five heroes at once they were soon vanquished, Utred and Jhasspok each striking the killing blow to one of them. "I didn't get to kill anything!" griped Khari, after realizing the dwarven barbarian and the lizardfolk had been responsible for all the final blows against their enemies that day.

"You can go kill those two," Utred suggested, pointing over to the cowering drow fighters.

"But they've surrendered," Khari pointed out.

"Oh yeah, good point," replied Utred, wrenching his Null Axe out from the root of a Writhing Gate tentacle and handing it to his fellow dwarf. "Well then, you wanna give a go at chopping down these tentacles? No reason the fun should always go to me, just 'cause it was my grandpa what made the axe."

"Sure!" enthused Khari, stowing away his earthglide warhammer and picking up the Null Axe. He approached the nearest tentacle, held the weapon above his head, and let it come swinging down with all of his might. The dead flesh of the illithid elder god parted before the blade and in two more swings it had been severed completely the way through, the stump falling away through the floor of the cloud-chamber and the extradimensional hole through which it had emerged from the Far Realm sealing up. Khari grinned with pride and moved over to the next tentacle, wondering if he could sever it with only two blows this time.

With their dwarven fighter so engaged, Utred and Jhasspok walked over to the two drow cowards. "Matron Jalamir said we're supposed to kill them," Jhasspok pointed out.

"So she did," Utred said, decapitating one with a single blow from his magic greataxe before the prisoner could even cry out. Jhasspok clamped his teeth around the back of the other one's neck and worried him back and forth until the bones gave way and the lizardfolk had chewed completely through the drow's flesh, dropping his head beneath the covering layer of cloud-wisp.

"Is that everyone?" Cramer asked Marlo as he consulted his notes on the Gate of Svulbiss. There was supposed to have been an illithid "saint" here, the creator of this particular Writhing Gate. Marlo searched with her robe-enhanced vision and eventually unearthed a set of ten ripped-up robes that had been discarded in a depression beneath the obscuring layer of cloud cover. The robes each bore an emblem of Uboros and would easily have fit a mind flayer; Marlo theorized the drow had turned on the illithid cultists after the gates all lost power, slaying them and possibly even using them as a food source as they waited in their cloud chamber for further orders from the Mortal Queen which never came.

Still, Jhasspok agreed with at least part of their plan. "Meat is meat," he said, nodding his head approvingly.

- - -

Logan had come up with what he thought was a cool mechanic for the cloud chamber's interior: each round, it would gather up an additional 1d6 points of electrical energy and each round there would be a cumulative +10% chance from the last burst that it would discharge into a random potential victim. However, he had also included in his notes that any magical protection from electricity made you "invisible" to the discharges, and since none of us completely used up our protection from energy spells (and the drow had been similarly protected), there was nothing for the lightning to discharge into inside the chamber, so it just did so on the exterior of the cloud. We also all learned Logan has a terrible poker face, as evidenced by his horrified expression when Joe suggested his dad's PC should cast a protection from energy spell on each PC to protect them all from lightning before they teleported in.

The elder air elementals were advanced to a full 48 HD each and given 1d8 points of electricity damage to each slam, but with our various protections in place they ended up just being big bags of hit points that we gradually took down; they were unable to do much to us at all. But that's the way it goes sometimes: a DM never knows what tactics his players will (or won't) employ when he designs his adventures and all he can do is run them through them in a reasonable fashion.

We figure we're probably down to four more adventures in this campaign. We all made it to 19th level at the end of this adventure, so we'll likely be sliding into 20th right as we finish up the whole shebang.
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PC Roster:
Cramer Appleknocker, gnome cleric 19​
Jhasspok, lizardman 3/barbarian 3/fighter 13​
Khari Hammerslammer, dwarf fighter 18/psychic warrior 1​
Marlo Pendragon, human sorcerer 19​
Utred "Buckets" Butterflinger, dwarf barbarian 19​

Game Session Date: 23 February 2022

- - -

Marlo cast the spell and the five heroes teleported to the beach of Yondall's Bay, a place they had been to once before when tasked with rescuing the diviner Lauren from the people trying to kill her. It was windy, the wind whipping the hair of those who had such, which included all but Jhasspok the lizardfolk. But it did include the bearded man standing ankle-deep in the ocean's surf, clad in nothing but a kilt. His hair was dripping wet as if he'd just been swimming and he looked over at the five newcomers as if having been waiting there for them.

Marlo called over to him. "Were you expecting us?" she asked.

"Aye - it's one of the benefits of having a leader skilled in the arts of divination," replied the man. "I have been sent to fetch you and take you to her."

Jhasspok looked up and down the beach, seeing no one but themselves. There were also no recent footprints in the sand indicating where the man might have come from. "Where is she?" the puzzled reptile asked.

"Under the sea," replied the man in the kilt. "Follow me." And he turned back to the ocean, diving into an approaching wave.

Cramer cast a quick series of spells upon himself before he followed: longstrider, moment of prescience, and tongues, then cast a water breathing spell upon all five heroes. "Okay, let's go," he said, striding purposefully into the ocean. Jhasspok needed no prompting, eagerly leaping into the water; the others followed with slightly less enthusiasm. But once underwater, the lizardfolk was puzzled again almost immediately, for the kilted man had somehow lost his legs and now had the back half of an enormous fish somehow attached to his waist.

"Ssssssssssssss," hissed Jhasspok, letting a long, slow breath out of his muzzle as his eyes widened in surprise and shock. The others, walking along the ocean floor behind him, weren't sure what he was on about until he finally burst out into his more standard reptilian laughter: "Ssss ssss ssss ssss ssss ssss!"

"What's so funny?" asked Khari.

Jhasspok could only point helplessly at the merman swimming before them, making sure he wasn't moving so far ahead his guests couldn't keep up. Between snickers, Jhasspok explained, "That man! He's half human and half food!"

"That's a merman, Jhasspok," Marlo explained. "That's how they're built. They all look like that."

"Ssss ssss ssss ssss ssss ssss! Why hasn't anybody mentioned this before? Are there people who are half human, half potato? Or half human, half loaf of bread? Ssss ssss ssss ssss ssss ssss!"

"It's not polite to laugh at others," Marlo chided. "We're here because one of the questions answered for us said the merfolk of Yondall's Bay knew the location of the underwater Writhing Gate. If you make fun of the way he looks, he may not help us!"

"I'm sorry, Marlo," Jhasspok replied, properly chastised. He knew how important it was for them to be able to sever the connections between all ten of the Writhing Gates and the Material Plane, so the Dying One couldn't return to the world and destroy it in the process. They'd already taken out eight such gates, with just these last two left to go. But then he got another look at the merfolk's fish-tail and started snickering to himself again.

Fortunately, the trip wasn't very long and by the time they made it to a coral structure grown to look like ruins, Jhasspok had pretty much gotten his snickering under control. Floating at the center of this coral structure was a female covered in a white robe.

"Welcome," the woman said. "I must apologize, for the other two Diviners are busy with other duties for the village and are not available to greet you." Then a current lifted the bottom flap of her robes away from her lower body, revealing the green scales of a mermaid's fish-tail.

"Ssss ssss ssss ssss ssss ssss!"

The mermaid Diviner frowned at the group. "Is there something wrong with your...lizard?"

"Please ignore him," pleaded Cramer. "We are here because we understand you may have information about the location of an underwater Writhing Gate." He described what the gate would look like, explaining the tentacles would now be inert since the Dying One had been slain and would take a decade or two to fully reform. He also emphasized how important it was that they be allowed to take the two remaining Writhing Gates out of commission.

"I know of something fitting the description," the mermaid admitted. "However, having only just met you, I'm not sure you're entirely...trustworthy." She looked over at Jhasspok in irritation, who had both hands over his muzzle and was helplessly letting out a long, sustained "Sssssssssssssssssss" as he tried to stifle his laughter at the sight of the "food-lady."

"It really is very important," pleaded Marlo. "Is there something we can do to prove what we say?"

The Diviner thought it over. "I'll tell you what," she decided. "There is a sunken ship at the edge of town, straddling a trench. It has recently become haunted by a crew of ghosts. I would see the ghosts put to rest. Do that and I will lead you to the Gate of Rylethek."

She indicated the direction of the sunken vessel and the group headed that way, following a coral pathway more or less pointing the way. "Nice one, Jhasspok!" grumbled Cramer. "Now we're off on a fool's errand because you couldn't stop laughing at merfolk!"

"I'm sorry, Cramer," Jhasspok apologized. "But they're food people! How can they even resist eating each other's tails?" Try as they might, they couldn't get the concept of merfolk being born that way across to the lizardfolk, especially once it became apparent he had interpreted the merman's magic kilt - which allowed him to transform his fish-tail into a pair of human legs when out of the water - as the merman being able to remove his own legs somehow and slap on the back half of a fish. Jhasspok couldn't figure out where the other half of the fish was, and where the merman had put his legs in the meantime. Utred finally put the matter to an end by informing him, "It's magic, Jhasspok."

"Oh," Jhasspok said, understanding immediately - magic was weird.

They approached the trench and sure enough, there was a sundered ship sitting atop it, one half on one side of the trench and the other slightly askew on the other side, the whole thing looking as if the ship had been sitting on the bottom of the ocean floor when a giant axe had cleaved the ship in two, cutting a deep rent in the ocean floor beneath it.

<I count eight,> Marlo informed the group after having cast a Rary's telepathic bond upon them all so they could communicate amongst themselves telepathically.

<Eight what?> asked Cramer.

<Eight ghosts. Four look to be archers, the other four look to be armed only with swords, including the one up in the crow's nest.>

The men in the group peered through the clear water, trying to see what Marlo had described. <There's nobody there,> Utred observed. <And there's no crow's nest - there isn't even a mast on the ship.>

<She's looking into the Ethereal Plane with her eye of robes,> Cramer surmised. <None of the ghosts have manifested yet onto the Material Plane.>

Marlo cast stoneskin spells on the others while they decided their plan of attack. She then cast a magic circle against evil spell on herself, while Cramer cast the spells detect evil, spell turning, and death ward on himself. Utred asked the gnome to cast that latter spell on himself using one of his last three such scrolls, but when the cleric opened the waterproof scroll case the ink was washed away before he could make sense of the contents and the scroll was wasted. Marlo grabbed each of the two by their collars and used her boots of levitation to pull them back up to the surface so Cramer could cast a death ward spell on Utred using a scroll without it being destroyed in mid-casting. By the time they returned to the sea floor, Khari had activated his psionic offensive prescience and was ready for the attack.

<We still can't see what we're attacking,> Utred pointed out.

<I'll flush them out!> Jhasspok promised, darting forward through the water, powered by strokes from his reptilian tail. He swam directly over the trench, into the 10-foot gap between the two halves of the sundered vessel, up at the level of the ship's upper deck. Not wanting to miss out on any fighting, Utred activated his winged boots and flew along behind the lizardfolk. Each of the two had their primary axes out and ready for combat, as soon as any of these ghosts made themselves visible. Khari followed behind at ground level, pretty sure his earthglide warhammer would allow him to burrow beneath the seabed floor but realizing that wouldn't actually get him anywhere when the ghosts were all up on the top deck of the sunken ship. But he smiled at the thought that he'd be getting to try out the recent ghost touch enhancement to his warhammer very soon now....

<They're starting to react!"> Marlo warned over the link as four of the ghosts - the archers, who had been looking out for danger, three at the front of the ship and one at the rear - started to manifest onto the Material Plane. Four arrows went whizzing past Jhasspok and Utred, the arrowheads buzzing with jolts of electricity. One of the four actually passed harmlessly through Utred's body, leaving behind a momentary feeling of chill as it flew through him. Such, it seemed, were the vicissitudes of dealing with ethereal creatures.

Marlo targeted one of the ghosts who had yet to materialize and shot it with an empowered maximized magic missile spell, knowing full well the force effects would be able to reach into the Ethereal Plane and harm her foe. She had more powerful spells at hand, but casting any of them at a ghost meant a distinct possibility of having the spell be as useless as that arrow that had pierced Utred without actually making contact at all.

Cramer moved forward and cast a mass bear's endurance on the assembled heroes while they were all still clumped together close enough for him to catch everyone in the radius of his spell. That, he knew, would give each of the five a bit of additional "staying power" in the fight to come. Khari felt the additional power surge through his body as he climbed up the side of the ship's back half and scrambled on deck.

Just then the other four ghosts - all of them elves, just like the archers - joined the combat, phasing in from the Ethereal Plane. One swung a blade at Jhasspok's head, but the lizardfolk dodged it easily. Then he went all-out at the offending ghost, snapping his teeth at it and swinging his battleaxe back and forth through the ghost's body. Jhasspok couldn't sense any rhyme or reason to it, but about half of his attacks passed harmlessly right through the spirit while others connected as solidly as if the ghost had been fully alive. He just assumed it was some sort of weird magic effect and pressed on with the attack. At his side, Utred did likewise against another ghost who had tried attacking him with his own curved sword - a cutlass, if the barbarian wasn't mistaken.

Then the ghosts shifted their tactics, with two of the archers using a corrupting gaze against the three melee combatants on the back half of the broken ship while the other two continued firing their arrows. Fortunately for Utred, Khari, and Jhasspok, none of the attacks had any effect on them whatsoever. Then Marlo fired off another of her supercharged magic missile spells at the ghost rogue she'd been attacking, hitting it full-on in the chest.

Cramer cast two spells in rapid sequence: a blade barrier that sprang up through four of the ghosts followed almost immediately by a quickened divine power spell he cast upon himself. Two of the three ghost rogues caught in the spell's effect dodged out of the barrier while the archer and the other rogue weren't quick enough to respond in time, and as a result the force-blades chewed through their insubstantial bodies to full effect.

The first of the elven ghosts to fall was the rogue that Khari Hammerslammer had been beating upon with his ghost touch earthglide warhammer. Upon being slain, his immaterial body lost full cohesion and he dissipated like a dust cloud in a wind storm. Two other rogues stepped up and tried to flank the dwarven fighter, but Khari was having none of that.

Jhasspok took a moment to look about him and realized while the dwarves could easily deal with the ghosts fighting on the ship's deck, he was best suited to deal with the one up at the top of the ethereal mast, in the crow's nest. With a kick of his powerful legs, he leaped above the heads of the ghost rogues near him - they reacted too slowly with their blades to tag the lizardfolk as he flew past them - and used his tail to spur him higher and higher. At the level of the crow's nest, Jhasspok activated his tail-band of the raptor and went full-out dinosaur rampage on the ghost up there, snapping with his teeth and slicing madly with his battleaxe. Down below, Utred slew one ghost rogue he'd been fighting and brought his Elderwood flaming greataxe slicing into the other one nearby.

Then the archers changed their tactics again. Two of them leaped from the front half of the ship to the back half and tried using their draining touch attacks on Utred - but they had chosen their victim poorly, for the dwarven barbarian was protected by the death ward spell Cramer had cast upon him from the scroll. Another swam up to Jhasspok and managed to get past the reptile's defenses to successfully drain off some of his vitality, but he didn't lose as much as Cramer had magically enhanced in the lizardfolk's body earlier with his mass bear's endurance spell. All in all, it was a rather ineffectual attack - about as successful as the arrow the fourth archer sent whizzing past Khari's head.

The heroes were faring much better, especially Marlo, who literally couldn't miss with her maximized empowered magic missile spells. Another such casting took out one of the archers, exploding his body into a fine mist which quickly dissipated in the ocean currents. With all of the ghosts readily engaged with one or the other of the heroes, Cramer took the opportunity to crawl up onto the ship's deck.

The battle didn't last very much longer, nor did the tides turn at all in the ghosts' favor. One by one, they were taken out, either immediately by Marlo's spells or Khari's ghost touch warhammer or more slowly by the weapons of Jhasspok and Utred, whose attacks occasionally passed harmlessly through the ghostly spirits. But eventually all eight were slain, the deck empty of all enemies. The group was already starting their celebratory congratulations to each other over the telepathic link when Cramer suddenly remembered something he'd been taught about ghosts back when he was still studying at the Temple of Fharlanghn in Grover's Comb: ghosts often come back days after having been "slain" unless either whatever it was that had kept them from finding their final rest had been dealt with or a full exorcism was performed. <Guys, not so fast,> he warned them, then filled them in on his suspicions.

<I'll go check the lower hold,> offered Jhasspok, activating his slave-light cloak and swimming into the lower level of the front half of the ship, looking for anything that might have upset the ghosts. The rest of the group opted to search the back half of the ship, since that's where they were all standing at the time. While Jhasspok did a quick scan in the front and found nothing suspicious, Marlo opened the door to the captain's quarters.

That was quite illuminating - in both senses of the word - for the open doorway allowed the sunlight drifting down to the ocean floor to light up the room and it showed Marlo the three elven figures standing there, arguing. She could tell they were all three still fully on the Ethereal Plane for despite their mouths moving no sound reached her ears; her magical robe of eyes allowed her to see into the Ethereal Plane but she couldn't hear across planar boundaries. From what she could see, though, the first figure was dressed as a ship's captain; the other male was garbed in pirate's clothing, as had been the eight ghosts outside on the deck; and the woman standing between them, seemingly trying to stop them from coming to blows, was dressed in a flowing gown that accentuated her slim figure.

<Three ghosts, still ethereal,> Marlo told the others over the link as they noticed her noticing them. They could also see the other three male heroes beside Marlo, but none of them was making eye contact or indicating in any fashion that they could see the three elven ghosts as Marlo obviously could. Still, warned by the sorceress of their presence, Khari gripped his magic warhammer tight, ready to strike out at any ghosts that might manifest in the small cabin.

Jhasspok gave the rest of the front hold a thorough look before heading back towards the others, since he'd gathered the room with the three ghosts was rather small and the other four heroes were already crowded around the doorway. Utred threw caution to the wind and entered what appeared to him to be an empty room. At once, the three ghosts manifested all around the dwarven barbarian; entering the Material Plane allowed their voices to be heard - they spoke Elven, with the captain's voice picking up in mid-sentence, "--trying to mutiny while allowing vermin to board the Stormsea!" The captain wore what looked like a robe made of a thundercloud over his nautical clothing and an expression of distaste at the sight of a dwarf on his vessel.

Now that there were visible targets for his warhammer in the cabin, Khari squeezed in and brought his weapon crashing down upon the closest figure: the elven pirate ghost. Marlo cast another empowered maximized magic missile spell at the same figure, the captain's erstwhile Second Mate and leader of the attempted mutiny. Captain Lethad Stormsea started fading away, vanishing not only from the sight of Cramer and the dwarves but also of Marlo, whose magical vision reached all the way to the Ethereal Plane. Whatever he was doing, it was more than just a return to the plane from which he'd just come....

Cramer cast an ethereal jaunt spell on himself and entered the room talking, his words being translated into Elven by his still-active tongues spell. "I hope you already realize this, but your ship is broken into two pieces and lying upon the ocean floor, you're all dead, and you're probably all doomed to stay here in this undead state unless we can help put you all to rest! Now, what exactly is it that's keeping you all here?"

"I won't rest until we've wrested the ship from Lethad here and put him to the sword!" snarled the Second Mate. "Same goes for all of my men above - we've sworn to make this ship ours!"

"Well, we've already slain your men above - four archers and four with cutlasses, yes?" replied Cramer. "All dead."

"They'll rise again, and we'll take the ship then!" promised the Second Mate, stabbing a shocking rapier at Utred. "In the meantime, I'll have my vengeance upon you!" A hand crossbow fired a bolt at Utred's face, hitting the dwarf right in the eye - and passing harmlessly through his body, as was (fortunately for him) often the case when fighting immaterial foes.

Iliana Stormsea, the Stormsea's First Mate (in more ways than one, for she was married to Captain Lethad) attempted to possess Cramer's body, but the seasoned cleric was able to fight off her mental attack. Then Khari's hammer took out the Second Mate and he dissipated away to nothing in the same way his men had done on the decks outside the cabin. By this time, Jhasspok had returned to the back half of the ship and he swam over Cramer's head and fully entered the room, bringing his battleaxe crashing down upon Iliana. Utred followed suit, slashing at her with his own axe-head. Marlo hit her with a supercharged magic missile spell, causing the elven ghost to stagger in pain and then Cramer, sensing she was about at her limit, hit her with the one-two punch of a mass heal spell - which had the added benefit of closing up the various wounds he and his friends had sustained thus far as well as harming the ghost couple - followed by a quickened cure serious wounds spell guided by his moment of prescience to guarantee Iliana's death.

That left only Lethad. <What's up with the Captain?> Marlo wanted to know. <He's not on the Ethereal Plane - I can barely make him out.> Talking rapidly among themselves over the link and using their shared knowledge of arcane and divine spellcrafting, they deduced Lethad was somehow only a fragment of a soul - not the full "self" that normally became a ghost. Cramer determined an exorcism would force him to return to the Material Plane, where they would be able to take him out with Marlo's empowered maximized magic missile spells, which would automatically hit him and deal the most amount of damage to him in the quickest time.

<Do you know how to perform an exorcism?> asked Marlo.

<It's been awhile, but yes.>

That seemed to do the trick. Once forced back into manifesting, Marlo was there waiting for him and she blasted him to smithereens. "There we go!" approved Cramer. "With him gone, the other ghosts should be put to rest as well - they no longer have anyone to stop their silly mutiny!"

"What was this whole thing even about?" asked Khari, looking around the room for possible treasure and seeing nothing of interest in the cabin - although there were a few signs that someone had likely been living there recently: a real person or persons, not just ghosts. (They'd later find out the three mermaid oracles had made the ship their home until they'd been driven out by the ghosts.)

"Who knows?" answered Cramer. "Why do elf pirates do what they do? Bottom line, we cleared out the ghosts like the Diviner wanted, and now she should be willing to tell us the location of the Gate of Rylethek. Good job, guys - let's get back."

As the others walked back the way they'd come, Jhasspok swam over by Utred to ask him a question. "Diviner?" He couldn't remember who that was.

Utred thought a moment to try to recall the name Jhasspok had used for her. Oh yeah: "The 'food-lady,'" he told him.

"Oh. Her," Jhasspok replied. Then, recalling what she looked like, he couldn't help but snicker, "Ssss ssss ssss ssss ssss ssss!"

- - -

So, Logan built this whole adventure upon a back story he'd intended to use for one of the PCs in his previous campaign, "The Durnhill Conscripts." Joe, who runs Utred in this campaign, ran an elven wizard named Daleth Stormsea in that campaign and gave him almost no back story at all. So Logan had come up with something elaborate: Captain Lethad Stormsea was a noted pirate who dabbled in the arcane arts and had performed a magical ritual that was to have saved him from death when the time came; however, something went a bit wrong and when his crew mutinied and tried to kill him, he was reincarnated with no memories of his previous life. This reincarnation was, of course, Daleth Stormsea. Daleth was led to believe this "Captain Lethad" was his grandfather or something and he ended up gaining the man's "robe made of a thundercloud" towards the end of that campaign. (Now it turns out he was just reclaiming it from his former self.) But that's why Lethad's "ghost" was only part of a spirit; most of the rest of him had already been reincarnated into a new body.

None of this is known to any of the "Raiders of the Overreach" characters; I just mention it to fill in some gaps that didn't come out in the adventure itself. (Logan explained it all to us afterwards.)
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PC Roster:
Cramer Appleknocker, gnome cleric 19​
Jhasspok, lizardman 3/barbarian 3/fighter 13​
Khari Hammerslammer, dwarf fighter 18/psychic warrior 1​
Marlo Pendragon, human sorcerer 19​
Utred "Buckets" Butterflinger, dwarf barbarian 19​

Game Session Date: 27 April 2022

- - -

"And what exactly are we to do with these?" asked Utred, looking at the pair of starfish the mermaid Diviner had just handed to him. Other merfolk were distributing them to the other heroes as well, two to each. Each of the heroes was currently under the effects of a water breathing spell, allowing them to breathe and speak freely beneath the ocean.

"Place them directly on your skin," the Diviner replied. "They will provide you with protection against the crushing pressure of the lower depths." She further explained the depth adaptation starfish were a type of living magic item developed by the wizards among the merfolk tribe. "But do not take them out of the water," she warned the heroes. "We will need them back before you return to the surface."

"And we need these why?" asked Cramer, although he had a sneaking suspicion he already knew the reason. He loosened his robes and armor enough to place a starfish on each shoulder. Tightening his garments back up, his oversized shoulders made him look somewhat fiercer than his three-and-a-half-foot frame normally did. Utred plopped his on either side of his neck, where they'd be out of the way. Khari's starfish ended up on his forearms, where they gave the appearance of some exotic, undersea bracers.

"The Gate of Rylethek lies upon a ledge about 3,700 feet down from here," said the diviner, pointing down over the edge of the continental shelf by which the heroes stood. "Without proper protection you would be crushed to death before reaching your destination."

"I don't have skin," Jhasspok pointed out, holding a starfish in each hand. Marlo noticed the hungry look in the lizardfolks' eye.

"Don't eat them, Jhasspok!" she chided. "They should work attached to your scales just as well as on skin." She took them from him and spun him about, placing them high up on his back beneath his slave-light cloak. With any luck, he couldn't reach them on his own; she didn't trust the foolish reptile not to try to pry them off and take a bite if he got hungry enough. Jhasspok shrugged each shoulder in turn, trying to see if they would hinder his movements any, while Marlo applied her own starfish in a more traditional place.

"I fear your...toad will need to stay up here with us," the Diviner added, looking with mild distaste at Truffles's numerous tentacles swaying in the ocean currents. "We do not have any starfish scaled to his size." Marlo nodded her understanding and passed Truffles over to the Diviner, who hurriedly passed him on to one of the other merfolk attendants.

"It'll be dark that far down," Cramer mused. "The dwarves both have darkvision, as does Marlo with her robe of eyes, but Jhasspok and I will need a way to see in the dark."

"We have our cloaks," reminded Jhasspok, activating his own so it appeared to burst in harmless flame. He was surprised the gnome cleric would have forgotten something so basic.

"We don't want to attract the attention of every predator down there," the gnome chided. He turned to the merfolk. "Would any of your wizards be able to supply the lizard and I with a darkvision spell?" Two merfolk wizards swam forward and cast the requested spells upon the gnome and the lizardfolk. "Thank you, Food Man," Jhasspok said, deactivating the light from his cloak. The merman scowled in confusion while the other four heroes just shook their heads in disbelief. Still, at least Jhasspok had stopped laughing at the very sight of creatures with the upper torsos of humans and the lower bodies of fish, or "food" by the lizardfolk's way of thinking.

"Straight down there, huh?" asked Cramer, looking over the ledge down into darkness. "Okay, guys, buff spells." He cast a magic circle against evil spell on himself, following it up with longstrider, moment of prescience, and spell turning. Marlo cast a magic circle against evil spell upon herself, a Rary's telepathic bond spell on the whole group, and then a stoneskin on each of the others - she had a brooch of petrified flesh that performed the same function for her.

And then, as one, the group stepped over the edge of the continental shelf and dropped down into the darkness below.

The slope was fairly steep, but not too steep to make it too difficult to maneuver. Marlo kept leaping forward off into open water and letting her boots of levitation lower her down at a steady rate until she met back up with the descending cliff face. The dwarves, neither one particularly appreciating an aquatic environment, kept their faces to the cliff and scrambled down backwards, eager to get to the bottom and a solid floor once again. Cramer sat at his accustomed spot atop Utred's backpack, only facing behind the dwarf so he could get a better view of what lay before them. Jhasspok, of course, was in his element, his strong crocodilian tail sweeping back and forth as he happily swam ahead of the rest of the group, staying just close enough to the cliff wall to keep his friends in sight so they wouldn't get separated.

The magical vision provided by Marlo's robe of eyes granted her a view of twice the distance that of what her male companions could see, so she was the only one to see the crystal obelisk rising up from the seabed floor when they finally got to the bottom of the cliff. Disturbingly, the obelisk was ringed with literally dozens of undead bodies, each standing relatively motionlessly - their limbs and hair occasionally swaying in the ocean currents, but that was about it - as they stared in rapt attention at the crystal shaft before them. Marlo estimated the obelisk rose up from the seabed for a good 50 feet before tapering to a point for the last 10 feet.

After describing what she saw over the telepathic link, Marlo centered a sunburst spell at the top of the obelisk. A flash of brilliant light momentarily lit up each of the undead forms ringing the obelisk, then their bodies were disintegrated by the power of the sorceress's magical light. Darkness once again overtook the scene. Unseen even by Marlo's enhanced vision, the guardian of the Gate of Rylethek scampered out of the circle of the Writhing Gate beyond the crystal obelisk and slid over the edge of yet another cliff ledge leading further down in darkness.

<Surely those zombies weren't guarding the Writhing Gate,> interjected Khari. <They weren't much of a defense.>

<I doubt it,> Marlo agreed, walking forward past the upthrust shaft of crystal. She could see the Writhing Gate just ahead, the ring of ten dead tentacles lying motionless against the seabed floor. <There's the Gate, though - and it looks like a pile of coins and gems heaped up in the middle of it!>

<Kind of suspicious,> pointed out Utred.

<Illusion?> suggested Cramer, looking over to Marlo, whose magical vision didn't include true seeing but which enhanced her visual acuity to such an extent she was often able to tell the difference between illusory items and the real thing.

<Looks legitimate,> she said.

<I'll check it out!> offered Jhasspok, swimming forward and circling the Writhing Gate in a counterclockwise direction, the others moving slower behind him as they walked along the ocean floor. Then Utred activated his winged boots and used them to "fly" forward underwater. Cramer followed suit, casting a fly spell on himself and darting forward, leaving only Marlo and Khari walking upon the ocean floor. As Jhasspok got to the far side of the Writhing Gate he could see over the edge of the cliff, and there he saw an unusual sight: an enormous form, built like a squid but much, much larger than any squid the lizardfolk had ever seen. It clung motionlessly to the side of the cliff by the tips of several of its many tentacles, while a few others swayed around in a practiced fashion.

And then memories flooded into Jhasspok's brain: this was a kraken - in fact, this was his good friend Rylethek, who had looked after Jhasspok every time the lizardfolk went fishing underwater for the drow of the Overreach back in his fisher-slave days. Then a sudden worried thought crossed Jhasspok's mind: his friends were probably going to think his good friend Rylethek was dangerous! He'd have to make sure nobody did anything stupid, like attack the kraken for no good reason - you never could tell with these silly mammals!

Jhasspok spun around, battleaxe in hand in case he had to fight off his friends from the surface - and was immediately encompassed by an enormous hand composed of mystical force. Jhasspok struggled to free himself from the Bigby's grasping hand spell, to no avail.

<Jhasspok's just fallen victim to a charm monster spell!> Marlo warned the others over the link, after making sure her Bigby's grasping hand spell was keeping him from attacking them. <There's a kraken on the other side of the ledge!>

<Kraken?> asked Khari as he raced forward, activating his offensive prescience psionic ability now that combat seemed imminent. <What's a kraken?> The dwarf had spent most of his life in the Underdark and had never heard of such a beast.

Neither had Utred for that matter, but whatever it was it had taken out Jhasspok with a single spell - although that was easily fixed. Flying forward by the power of his winged boots, the dwarven barbarian snagged Cramer as he passed and dragged him along for the ride. As soon as they got within ten feet of the struggling lizardfolk, Cramer's magic circle against evil spell temporarily blocked the kraken's charm monster spell, leaving Jhasspok's mind - such as it was - free of outside influence. Cramer made the effect permanent by casting a protection from evil spell on the lizardfolk. <He's good!> Cramer announced over the link and Marlo allowed the giant, magical hand to open up and release Jhasspok from its grasp, then redirected it to try to grab one of the kraken's tentacles.

Jhasspok took off like a shot, battleaxe raised to deliver a crippling blow to the kraken perched over the edge of the lower cliff-side. But one of the kraken's many tentacles darted out, wrapping around the lizardfolk's waist and extending down to encompass his legs and tail. But that didn't matter to Jhasspok, for he now had a tentacle in his immediate reach and he brought his axe-blade down to cut into the kraken's flesh. Rylethek reacted by crushing the lizardfolk in his grasp, tightening its grip on him until Jhasspok hissed in pain.

Marlo levitated 30 feet or so up above the seabed floor, until she could see the kraken crushing Jhasspok. Then she cast a disintegrate spell at the aquatic monster, hoping if the spell didn't outright kill the beast it would at least deal him a considerable amount of damage. She was very much surprised to see the spell bounce right off the creature and come right back at her. I hope I haven't just killed myself! she thought miserably as the disintegrate spell started ripping apart her body. But though it was a close call, she managed to tough it through the spell, gasping at how closely she'd come to fatally falling victim to her own spellcasting. She vowed to stick to spells that couldn't be "bounced" back her own way for the rest of this fight, not sure how many such spells the kraken's spell turning spell would be able to affect.

Hearing Marlo's cries of pain over the telepathic link, Utred grabbed up Cramer again and flew up to the sorceress, releasing the cleric to cast a quickened cure critical wounds spell upon her. After having tended to the worst of Marlo's wounds, Cramer cast a divine power spell upon himself, increasing his own combat power.

Jhasspok gritted his teeth against the pain of feeling his lower half getting crushed and put all of his effort into cutting into the tentacle that was trying to squish him like a bug. Again and again his blade cut deep into the thing's rubbery flesh, but there seemed to be something preventing his weapon from dealing its normal amount of damage - and sure enough there was, for the kraken had had time to cast a stoneskin spell upon himself after having seen his sea zombies taken out in a flash of blinding light from Marlo's sunburst spell. But each of Jhasspok's axe-strikes whittled away that much more protection from the kraken's hide and eventually they would overcome it entirely.

The lizardfolk felt himself being dragged laterally through the ocean as the tentacle grasping him was repositioned to the kraken's side. This was so Rylethek could send forth a blast of freezing energy from a cone of cold spell without catching his own tentacles in the area of effect. The other four heroes were all caught in the blast, to varying effect. Marlo responded almost immediately by summoning an elder water elemental to attack the kraken from behind, its watery fists pounding into the giant cephalopod's hardened shell. Khari, meanwhile, sank into the ocean bed using the power of his earthglide warhammer and only popped back up when he was past the creature's tentacles. Then he swung his weapon directly into the kraken's mouth. Utred swam directly at the kraken as well, barely avoiding a constricting tentacle and bringing his Elderwood greenflame greataxe slicing into its flesh.

Cramer decided to cast a summoning spell of his own, calling forth a fiendish dire shark. The great fish snapped at a passing tentacle but didn't manage to deal much in the way of damage, its razor-sharp teeth not even piercing the creature's rubbery flesh.

Jhasspok continued his barrage of weapon strikes, noticing the moment when he finally overpowered the kraken's stoneskin spell, for each swing of his battleaxe now penetrated deeper into the creature's flesh. Rylethek responded by casting forth a mass suggestion spell that those attacking him drop their weapons and immediately surrender to him; he was less than pleased to see none of his attackers paid any heed to his mental command.

Marlo, still hesitant to cast any spells directly upon the kraken until she knew for certain they wouldn't bounce back to affect her, used her staff of transmutation to cast a mass enlarge person spell upon the group, doubling everyone's size. Jhasspok screamed aloud at the transformation, for that only meant the tentacle imprisoning his legs and tail gripped him that much more tightly - but it also meant all five heroes could deal out more damage with their larger frames and double-sized weapons. Khari's warhammer now crashed down upon the kraken with more force behind the blow, as Utred used his greataxe to sever the tip of a rather unusual-looking tentacle indeed; this one had some sort of band of metal around it. (Unbeknownst to the dwarven barbarian, this was actually a ring of spell turning; Marlo would be perfectly safe casting spells against the kraken now, had she only realized it.)

Enjoying his new size but still slightly irritated he was still smaller than his companions, Cramer cast a righteous might spell upon himself and finally reached the same height as Utred, the raging dwarven barbarian he occasionally used as a riding mount. The gnome gripped his mace in his hand, ready to dish out a bit of physical damage to their enemy himself.

Rylethek sent a mind blast rippling out at all five heroes, hoping to at least prevent Jhasspok's continued attacks from dealing him any further damage. He failed in that regard - Jhasspok continued his axe-strikes as if nothing had happened, and even snapped at the kraken's torn flesh with his muzzle of sharp teeth - but both dwarves froze up immediately, so the attack had at least had some benefit to the kraken.

As the elder water elemental and the fiendish dire shark continued attacking the kraken, Marlo took a chance and cast a spell at it. She knew from Cramer that a spell turning spell had a limit as to how much spell energy it could redirect back at the caster before being used up - in that fashion, it was much like a stoneskin spell - and she knew the power of the disintegrate spell she'd cast at Rylethek earlier should have used up over half of its potential power. So she reasoned if she threw a maximized disintegrate spell at it, even at worst less than half of the spell's energy would be sent back at her, with the majority affecting the kraken as anticipated. And she was fairly certain she could handle a portion of her spell's effects if it came down to that.... Steeling herself for the possibility of a sudden influx of pain, she cast the spell - and was amazed and relived to find none of the spell's energy bounced back her way. But then she was disappointed to see the damn kraken had managed to shrug off the worst of the spell's effects in any case. Still, she'd at least learned its spell turning effect was no more, so she hurriedly informed the others about her findings; Cramer would be interested to know it was now safe to target the beast with direct-fire spells.

As indeed he was. Once he'd been notified it was now safe to do so, the gnome cleric wasted no time firing off a harm spell that greatly weakened the kraken. And then Jhasspok finished it off, getting in a flurry of axe-strikes close to the creature's eye as it mistakenly moved the lizardfolk within range with its tentacle. As it died its muscles relaxed, releasing Jhasspok from its rubbery grasp. The lizardfolk staggered out from the constricting tentacle, standing awkwardly on his feet with legs that didn't seem to want to support him for a moment.

As for Rylethek, his spirit was shunted back into the crystal obelisk where the real body of Saint Rylethek - in his true illithid form - was preserved in stasis. The crystal not only kept the mind flayer's body alive without needing sustenance, it also allowed him to use a magic jar effect to project his consciousness into the bodies of those nearby. Cursing the loss of the body of the fearsome kraken, an opportunity that had been too good to pass up when the massive cephalopod entered the range of effect of the obelisk's magic jar abilities, Saint Rylethek focused his attention on the only member of the surface folk not currently protected by either a protection from evil spell or a magic circle against evil spell, both of which prevented such body-dominating magic from taking effect. Khari Hammerslammer's dwarven form was certainly not as powerful a body as that of a kraken, but beggars couldn't be choosers and it would have to do.

<Guys!> Khari called out to his friends as he felt a presence in his mind, trying to take over. <I'm under psionic attack!>

It didn't take a genius to figure out from which direction a psionic attack would be coming, given the presence of a 60-foot-tall obelisk of crystal rising up like an antenna from the seabed floor. Two castings of a maximized disintegration spell later and Marlo had blasted a hole in the side of the column, revealing the body of the illithid held within.

<Stop - you don't know what--!> began Saint Rylethek, telepathically pleading for his life before his body imploded from the water pressure all around him now that his crystalline protection had been blasted asunder.

<You okay?> Cramer asked Khari, who had felt the psionic assault stop at the same moment the illithid's body had been crushed to a bloody pulp.

<Yeah, I'm fine,> he told the gnome cleric. <And so is all of this treasure! It's real, isn't it, Marlo? Tell me it's real!>

<It's real all right,> Marlo assured him, pulling out the bag of holding so they could start transferring the kraken's treasure hoard into its extradimensional space. Utred, in the meantime, had removed the Null Axe from his back but then was faced with a dilemma: if he removed the outer wrapping which kept its powers at bay, then as soon as he started wielding it all magical effects upon him would be temporarily negated - which would include not only the water breathing spell that allowed him to breathe but also the two depth adaptation starfish on the sides of his beefy neck that were preventing him from suffering a quick and violent death like Saint Rylethek had just experienced. And yet the Null Axe was needed to chop each of the ten tentacles that made up the Writhing Gate at their root, permanently deactivating the link to the Far Realm. However, a few moments of serious thought revealed a solution: Utred pulled the special wrapping from the Null Axe and then wrapped it around the weapon's shaft so he could pick it up without actually touching it. The special anti-magic properties of the wrapping prevented the Null Axe from undoing any of his own ongoing magical effects. He started chopping away at each of the tentacles in turn and by the time he was done the others had finished stuffing the kraken's treasure into the bag of holding for transport back to the surface. Marlo folded it back up and returned it to her belt pouch.

<Alright, back up we go!> announced Cramer. Jhasspok was off like a shot, his powerful tail propelling him forward and up the side of the cliff. Utred and Cramer each still had their magical means of flying, and the barbarian pulled his fellow dwarf along as Khari climbed up the side of the cliff. Marlo used her boots of levitation to rise directly upwards and Jhasspok was more than happy to give her a gentle push closer to the cliff face as they rose in elevation above the seabed floor.

<I'll bet Truffles will be glad to see me again,> Marlo said over the link.

<I'll just bet the little fellow's enjoyed having a few moments not having to worry about Jhasspok making a meal of him,> Khari added. Jhasspok glared at Khari with a look of betrayal. How did he know? Jhasspok wondered to himself. I'll bet I can eat the toad when we're both underwater, so he won't be able to start on fire like the last time.

<Jhasspok!> scolded Marlo. <You're not eating Truffles!> Then, seeing the look of fear and incomprehension on the lizardfolk's face, she added, <The Rary's telepathic bond spell is still in effect - and you're thinking loud enough for all of us to hear!>

<Sorry, Marlo,> Jhasspok thought to the sorceress over the link, a note of dejection in his mental "voice." Stupid magic! Always messing up his plans!

<I heard that, too, Jhasspok.>

<Sorry, Marlo,> Jhasspok repeated.

- - -

It was great getting back into the game after a two-month hiatus. (One of our players was recovering from surgery.) Logan used a kraken toy that came with a "Pirates of the Caribbean" Lego-like playset he had when he was a kid as the kraken, which he had advanced to double its normal Hit Dice to make it a worthy foe against a quintet of 19th-level PCs. I also fished out (no pun intended) a shark toy that we use for Huge sharks in D&D when Dan decided he'd have Cramer summon a fiendish dire shark. (The silly thing was useless the whole adventure, though, not once making a successful bite attack against the kraken.)

The sea zombies surrounding the crystal obelisk were just there for "window dressing" - they weren't intended to be a threat to us, but in-game they were attracted by the psionic energies of the obelisk and were a handy food source for the kraken. These were "the drowned" in the adventure's title.

And now we're down to the last three adventures in this campaign, which means this will end up consisting of 58 adventures overall, pretty close to Logan's earlier 60-adventure "Durnhill Conscripts" campaign. After that, Dan will be running us through a campaign, the first one he'll have run in about 40 years.
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PC Roster:
Cramer Appleknocker, gnome cleric 19​
Jhasspok, lizardman 3/barbarian 3/fighter 13​
Khari Hammerslammer, dwarf fighter 18/psychic warrior 1​
Marlo Pendragon, human sorcerer 19​
Utred "Buckets" Butterflinger, dwarf barbarian 19​

Game Session Date: 11 May 2022

- - -

"You realize," Marlo said as the group made their way through the various magic shops of Greenvale, "if what they're saying is true, this might be our last chance to purchase anything before we end up on the Island of No Return."

"If we can't return from the Island of No Return, this might be our last chance to purchase anything, ever," pointed out Utred. "I'm thinking I'll get the protective enhancements upgraded to my tower shield."

"I'm thinking I'd do well to pick up a magic shield myself," Cramer added.

"I'm getting low on dried dung beetles," admitted Jhasspok, checking his current stock. But after having made that particular purchase, Marlo guided him into spending the rest of his money wisely, on upgrades to his own protective gear: his gloves of dexterity, belt of giant strength, and his own magic shield.

"But now what?" asked Marlo, once the group was satisfied with their individual purchases. "We still don't have a way to get to the Unchartable Isle."

"We think we have found a way," interjected one of the wizardly advisors from Greenvale, a sunborn drow with bright orange hair. "Over in the Azure Glade, there is a ship's crew willing to take you to the Uncharted Isle."

"I'm sensing a 'but'," remarked Cramer.

"...But," added the wizard, "they are death row inmates scheduled to be executed tomorrow."

"What? Then we'd better hurry!" replied Marlo and, gathering everyone together in a tight group, teleported the five over to the Azure Glade's capital city, where they made their way to the central courthouse. There they were met by a strange, metal man - a kolyarut who introduced himself as Azure Delta Sigma.

"I have been apprised of your impending arrival," admitted the construct. "You wish a stay of execution of the eight-member ship's crew who have been sentenced to death."

"That's right," affirmed Cramer Appleknocker, quickly briefing the kolyarut on the Dying One, the Writhing Gates, and the importance of ensuring the last remaining link between the illithid Elder God and the world of Shadreath was severed, preventing the destruction of the planet and everything on it.

"Irrelevant," replied Azure Delta Sigma. "The eight have been sentenced to death."

"But we're tryin' t' save the damned world!" exploded Utred.

"Irrelevant," repeated the kolyarut. "If the world is fated to be destroyed it would be illogical to attempt to alter its fate."

"But...there's a prophecy about us, too!" interjected Marlo, who then further explained how the five of them were similarly fated to save the world from the Dying One. "What makes your prophecy outrank the prophecy about us?"

"Interesting," replied the kolyarut. "Very well. You will have an opportunity to prove yourselves against the Executors of Judgment for the release of the convicts."

"What, we'll get to argue our case before them?" asked Cramer. "Like, in a courtroom and everything?"

"No. You will fight to the death against the Executors of Judgment."

"And who are they?" asked Khari.

"I am one of them," replied Azure Delta Sigma, leading them into an arena where the eight prisoners stood, four to each side wall, hanging by chains and shackles around their wrists. They were a rough-looking lot and Marlo couldn't help but notice how they leered at her with open desire. She glared at them disdainfully, but they figured they were all going to die the next morning in any case so they weren't particularly concerned with their manners.

"The other two Executors of Judgment are Beryl Omega Gamma and Cobalt Beta Tau." As the kolyarut stated each Executor's name, the individual in question stepped out into the ring from a door in the back of the sand-filled arena. The first was a hulking humanoid figure wearing full plate armor, including a tall-crested helmet, but who wielded no weapons. Nonetheless, Beryl Omega Gamma was an impressive figure; the marut stood a good 20 feet tall and while nothing could be seen of his face his eyes glowed with a reddish determination from within his helmet. The other construct was built in the form of a centaur and was an equivalent size but made entirely of metal. Its arms ended in spiked chains in place of hands.

"The fight will be to the death: you five against the three of us." Azure Delta Gamma walked over to take his place among the other two inevitables. "But any deaths in the arena - yours or ours - will be only temporary, for this battle is merely to test the rightness of your cause. You are advised to fight without mercy, for you will receive none in return. Are there any questions before we begin?"

Utred answered by slamming the flat of his axe-blade against his chest, eager for the battle to begin. Khari mentally activated his offensive prescience psionic ability, further empowering his ghost touch earthglide dwarven warhammer. Marlo cast a mass enlarge person spell on the group, instantly doubling everyone's size and increasing their strength. Cramer cast a mass bear's endurance spell on the group and a quickened divine power spell on himself. Jhasspok just looked in confusion at Utred and asked the dwarven barbarian why they were going to fight the metal people.

"They're gonna try t' kill us," Utred explained. "So we're gonna kill 'em first." Jhasspok just shrugged and gathered his battleaxe in his hands, glad that it still held the vampiric touch spell Marlo had loaded into it the day prior. He still didn't understand exactly what was going on, but both dwarves seemed to know what was happening and they were going along with it, so the lizardfolk assumed the reasoning made some sort of sense.

"Then we begin!" announced Azure Delta Sigma, stepping forward and drawing a longsword from a scabbard at his hip.

Khari rushed forward, sinking into the sands of the arena as he did so. He popped back up right before the kolyarut, swinging his earthglide warhammer which had made his underground approach possible into the inevitable's face. It resounded with a healthy "clang!" as metal struck metal.

Cramer was unsure of the inevitables' specific powers and opted to test them out a bit in a way that wouldn't involve his personal presence. Calling out the words to a summoning spell, he brought forth a trio of fiendish tyrannosaurs, one directly in front of the marut and the other two flanking the zelekhut. Jhasspok approved of Cramer's choice in combat stand-ins, for the fiendish dinosaurs were built very much like his own reptilian frame, although their heads were proportionally bigger than the lizardfolk's and their forearms ridiculously small. Still, Jhasspok only got a glimpse of them as he sped past the closest one to make a flying leap into the fray against the marut, using his tail-band of the raptor to make a dazzling array of attacks at the end of his charge.

Marlo targeted the kolyarut with an empowered maximized scorching ray, which would have done a significant amount of damage to the humanoid construct - if it hadn't fizzled away to nothingness upon coming up against the inevitable's inherent spell resistance. But while Marlo was cursing her luck, Utred was spanning the distance between himself and Azure Delta Sigma, bringing his Elderwood greenflame greataxe crashing into the kolyarut's side.

But then the inevitables made their respective counterattacks. The marut ignored the dinosaur snapping at him - realizing it was merely a summoned creature who would disappear on its own in time - and sent its fists swinging at Jhasspok, striking the lizardfolk in a deadly one-two blow. Beryl Omega Gamma's massive fists of thunder and lightning didn't just pummel the reptile's body, their magical effects caused him to go instantly deaf and blind - and just like that, Jhasspok was pretty much taken out of the combat, for while he could feel the sand beneath his feet and the battleaxe in his hands, he could no longer see his foes or hear the sounds of combat around him. And the metal foes didn't even have much of a scent to go by.

The kolyarut, under attack by a pair of dwarves, stabbed his axiomatic longsword at Utred, cutting a slight gash in the barbarian's skin that Utred hardly even seemed to notice, so caught up was he in the fight at hand. The dwarven combatant was literally seeing red, allowing his rage to rush over him and lead his efforts in the combat to the death. And at his side, Khari swung his dwarven warhammer at Azure Delta Sigma, denting his armor with the force of his blow. Then the dwarven fighter felt a gnomish touch on his back as Cramer cast a shield of faith spell upon him, granting him magical protection against physical attacks.

Behind the kolyarut and the dwarves, the zelekhut attacked one of the fiendish tyrannosaurs biting at him. They, in turn snapped their jaws - with their rows of daggerlike teeth - at the constructs, not the least bit concerned that each bite snapped off a tooth or two.

Jhasspok didn't dare use his battleaxe against the marut, not while being unable to see the location of his friends! So he dropped his weapon at his side and lunged forward with arms outspread, hoping to grab the marut up in a bear hug. But although the lizardfolk had been doubled in size by Marlo's spell he was still overshadowed by the massive marut, who had no trouble fending off Jhasspok's grappling attempts.

Marlo targeted the kolyarut with an empowered maximized magic missile spell, thinking perhaps the fact the magic missiles unerringly hit their target would allow the spell to function where the more powerful scorching ray spell had failed. Whatever the reason, the magic missiles did the trick, overcoming the kolyarut's spell resistance and striking the construct in the chest. And now that she had gotten a bit of a feel for the construct's spell resistance, she felt more willing to attempt more powerful spells in her arsenal.

But she didn't get to use her newly-found confidence against Azure Delta Sigma, for Utred's blade cut down the first - and smallest - of the three Executors of Judgment. Then he was facing off against the marut, who had abandoned Jhasspok as no longer a threat and was charging at the dwarven barbarian. His fist of thunder missed Utred entirely, but the dwarf got clocked by the marut's fist of lightning. Fortunately, while the blow had Utred seeing stars for a moment he was able to overcome the blindness from taking effect and battled on. Jhasspok bravely pressed on but had no idea the marut was no longer in front of him; he tried grappling the air before him until he bumped into the leg of one of Cramer's fiendish dinosaurs; fortunately, the lizardfolk had the sense to know the difference between the feel of solid metal and the feel of a living creature's scales and stopped himself from blindly trying to grapple the leg of a towering tyrannosaur.

The zelekhut continued focusing its attention on the dinosaur causing him the most harm, allowing Utred to focus his own attacks on the marut, Beryl Omega Gamma. Khari joined his fellow dwarf in the fight, matching his warhammer with Utred's greataxe. They each dealt the construct a significant amount of damage before Cramer destroyed the inevitable outright with a destruction spell.

The zelekhut now found itself the sole focus of a trio of fiendish dinosaurs, not at all pleased that the metal centaur was not in fact edible. Then Marlo cast a maximized disintegrate spell at the zelekhut and blew it into dust. And just like that, the arena battle was over, the five heroes not having had any losses. "Kind of brings back memories of our first arena battle, huh, Jhasspok?" the sorceress called over to the lizardfolk, who was still flailing about with his arms, seeking a foe. But shortly Jhasspok's blindness and deafness both cleared up and the wounds the heroes had sustained in battle against the inevitables started magically healing up as well.

A group of gray-clad clerics entered the arena, the markings on their robes identifying them as belonging to the Church of Boccob, God of Magic. They approached the shackled prisoners, casting marks of justice upon them to ensure their cooperation and releasing them from their chains. The leader of the clerics stepped over to the heroes and provided the group with all the knowledge that had been gleaned from the previous expeditions to the Uncharted Isle.

"There is literally an army of elementals patrolling the area around the island," the head cleric informed the group. "They prevent anyone, or anything, from leaving the area - and the area seems to have been slowly expanding for centuries, perhaps longer. As you approach the island you will be warned away by the water elementals, but they won't prevent you from approaching if you desire - they just won't let you leave again."

"So wait - this is a one-way trip?" asked Utred.

"Perhaps...unless you are able to secure the rift between the Material Plane and the Far Realm that exists somewhere on the island. It is possible that once the rift has been closed the chaotic energies that have altered the lifeforms on and around the island will allow them to revert to normal and it will be safe for you to return." He handed a sealed scroll tube to Cramer. "Do not open this until you are ready to use it. It is a scroll containing the seal portal spell and the case has been crafted to shield the scroll from the Far Realm energies permeating the island. We are concerned that if you open the scroll case too early, the energies might alter the scroll and make the spell unusable."

"Got it," said Cramer, placing the sealed scroll case into his pack.

"One of the earlier expeditions brought a scrying focus to the Uncharted Island so that future expeditions would be able to teleport there directly. However - and I cannot stress this enough - you must not use any teleportation magic of any kind while on the island. All prior attempts at teleportation have had disastrous effects, for those using such magic are sent to a random location on the Far Realm, up to 500 miles away from the rift location on that chaotic plane."

"And you know this how?" demanded Cramer.

"Divination spells, cast to find out the fates of those who went missing," replied the cleric.

"How long of a trip is it to the Uncharted Island?" asked Marlo.

"It should take your vessel no more than a month," replied the cleric. Marlo's eyes widened at the realization she'd be spending a month on board a somewhat small ship with a group of eight hardened criminals - and the only woman on board, at that. But the sailors were on their absolutely best behavior, the sorceress's powerful spellcasting abilities having made a deep and lasting impression upon them; nobody wanted to be blasted to oblivion with a disintegrate spell for a rude comment or a lingering eye. The month at sea was a long one for the sorceress, boring to the extreme.

For Jhasspok, however, it was a veritable vacation. He spent a good part of each day over the side of the vessel, swimming alongside the ship and catching a great quantity of fish, which were tossed up onto the deck to be eaten for the next meal. The lizardfolk quickly became the crew's favorite passenger; they ate much better in what would likely be their last voyage than they had in any other previous excursion.

But at the end of the fourth week they reached the edge of the elemental quarantine ring. A pair of massive waves came rushing toward the vessel, stopping just before impact and coalescing into vaguely humanoid forms. Cramer used his magical helmet to translate the elementals' warnings, spoken in their Aquan language. "Just like we've been told," he said, explaining the elementals' words to the others. "They'll let us pass, but if we do they won't let us sail back out. They'll destroy us if we make the attempt, to prevent the chaotic energies from escaping the perimeter."

"So we're going to be picking up chaotic energies?" asked Khari. "Like, we'll become chaotic creatures ourselves?"

"It's a possibility," the gnome replied. That was a sobering thought. The group had all realized this was very possibly a one-way trip but it was just sinking in the very disheartening reasons they'd be quarantined after approaching the island. Marlo and Utred, in particular, were recalling the warped versions of themselves they'd fought in the Halls of Redemption, a glimpse of their possible futures.

"I could always use my winged boots to fly back from the island without teleporting," suggested Utred. "It'd take a lot longer, but I could give it a try."

"I wouldn't recommend it," answered Marlo, using her robe of eyes to see farther than she could normally with her human eyes. There were air elementals, barely visible to human sight, flitting about in the air overhead. The quarantine ring was patrolled by more than just water elementals, it seemed.

The ship moved forward, past the guardian water elementals who let them enter. There was no turning back now.

Early the next morning the island came into view. "'Bout damn time!" snorted Utred. He'd imagined once they entered the quarantine zone the island would be right there; he hadn't planned on there still being hours of travel before they even laid eyes on the target of their month-long voyage. But as the heroes all stood at the rails looking at the island a cry rang out from the back of the ship. "Grab weapons!" came the cry. "Monster approaching aft!"

Looking back to the rear of the ship, those aboard the ship saw a pair of tentacles rising up from the waves, followed by an enormous, bulbous head. It was a giant octopus of some type, but the creature was difficult to look at directly for the creature's body and appendages seemed to flicker into and out of reality and shift around - it was like looking at the aquatic beast through a kaleidoscope and it was headache-inducing. Cramer realized even looking at such a chaotic beast could have unwanted mental consequences and cast a magic circle against chaos spell centered on himself, then climbed up onto Utred's backpack - his preferred combat location. "Stick close!" he called to the others.

Then another call came ringing out by another of the crewmembers. "Monster to the fore!" he cried, causing the heroes to spin back around and face front once again. Another creature was approaching, a massive lobster-thing with writhing tentacles hanging down from its face. It, too, was shifting around as if being viewed through a kaleidoscope. It made tracking the movement of the creature's foreclaw difficult - one moment it was in one place, the next it was elsewhere - but all of a sudden a crewman was there in the beast's serrated claws, being crushed to death.

"Don't look at them!" called Cramer to the crew. "Go below - we'll handle the monsters!" The sailors scrambled to comply, six of them making it belowdecks while the seventh was snagged up by a shifting octopus tentacle.

The ship's relatively small size worked in their favor, for Jhasspok was able to rush forward and bring his battleaxe to bear upon the mindbreaker chuul without leaving the confines of Cramer's magic circle spell. The axe came chopping up and down upon the chuul's hardened carapace, but one of the lizardfolk's strikes slipped between the dimensions and had no effect. It was frustrating trying to fight a creature who wasn't always right there in front of you!

Khari and Utred followed suit, bringing their dwarven warhammer and greataxe to bear, the heroes having jointly decided to concentrate all of their attacks against one creature at a time. Marlo stayed back, still within the magic circle against chaos, and cast a maximized disintegrate at the mindbender chuul. It managed to shrug off most of the enhanced spell's effects, although it was difficult to tell with parts of the creature's body shifting around back and forth and between dimensions. Cramer found his destruction spell to be likewise not as effective as he would have hoped, for the chuul was still up and about after he had flung the spell at it. It sent its pincers darting forward, snatching Jhasspok and Khari up off the deck - it was difficult to dodge incoming attacks when they seemed to come from multiple directions simultaneously! But neither the dwarf nor the lizardfolk seemed particularly distressed, as being caught up in a claw just meant they were directly beside the creature they intended to attack with their weapons in any case. And attack they did, Khari striking with his warhammer and cracking the creature's carapace while Jhasspok did his best to drive the blade of his battleaxe into the creature's joints, where the hardened shell was liable to be weaker.

Utred finished off the chuul with a series of deep cuts with his greataxe; upon its death its muscles relaxed, allowing its two pincer-victims to wriggle free of its embrace before it sunk to the bottom of the ocean, its body still flickering about in kaleidoscopelike fashion even in death.

Marlo was the first to switch targets, firing a maximized disintegrate spell at the mindbender octopus that had already devoured the crewman it had snatched up and was now making its way forward along the port side of the ship. Likely due to its flickering nature it also shrugged off the worst of the spell's effects, but judging solely from the increased rate of flailing of its numerous tentacles it seemed the spell had at least caused the octopus a great deal of pain. It retaliated immediately against the sorceress, swatting at her with a tentacle and wrapping it around her waist. Marlo was distressed at the close-up view her robe of eyes permitted her to see of the suckers adhering to her body along the length of tentacle wrapped around her.

Cramer cast another destruction spell at the giant octopus, with similar results: some damage, but not the instant death for which he'd been hoping. But then as one, Utred, Khari, and Jhasspok charged at the beast with their weapons raised, bringing them down in a synchronized ballet of combat prowess, blades slicing through rubbery flesh as the warhammer crashed hard against the creature's boneless head. The flurry of attacks brought the octopus to near death, so much so that Marlo was able to send the mindbending beast over the edge with a slice of her arcane blade. Like the chuul before it, the octopus collapsed in a limp heap and began sinking below the waves, Marlo barely having enough time to extract herself from its appendage before being drawn down into the deep waters with it.

The ship had been spun about during the combat and none of the heroes had any idea about what to do to get it back on its bearings, but once the ship's crew - now reduced to six men, two having been devoured by the pair of mindbending monsters - came back abovedecks they soon put the ship to rights, aiming it once again towards the Uncharted Isle.

"Be a bit of a shame this voyage coming to an end," pointed out one of the men. "Least while we was out at sea we was still alive, with plenty of fish to eat and barrels of fresh water in the hold. No telling what kinds of dangers we'll find ashore, if them sea monsters was the sorts of things the island's magic'll do to a feller!"

"Quitcher bitchin'," commanded the captain. "These folks bought us a month of life already - we'd've been hanging long since if not fer 'em! I reckon they can see us through whatever the island's got in store."

"We'll see about that," muttered Cramer to himself, standing at the front of the vessel and staring out at the Uncharted Isle, eager to see what he could of the place before they arrived.

By nightfall they were within disembarking distance to the island. The ship came to a stop as the sails were lowered and the sailors dropped anchor.

"Well," said Khari. "We're here."

- - -

I had used a "non-Euclidian" template on a hell hound several campaigns ago during an adventure involving the Far Realm; Logan wasn't sure where the template was found so he used the Mindbender template from The Book of Templates, which did pretty much the same thing. And since we were all 19th-level PCs at the time, he advanced the monsters we fought high enough to make them credible threats.

And boy, were those inevitables credible threats - especially when our dice seemed determined to betray us! And if I never have to go up against another marut in my lifetime it'll be fine with me. Dan was willing to have Cramer go "unblind and undeafen" Jhasspok, but I argued it was more important for our two spellcasters to break out the high-level spells and deal some mega-damage to our foes - especially after both Dan and Vicki had spent a couple of rounds casting some low-level prep spells because they were used to having time to do so before combat began. Not this time, guys, combat's already here and we need to take them down, the faster the better!

We all ended up at level 20 by the end of the adventure, so we'll all be as powerful as we're going to be for this campaign for our last two adventures. Harry's satisfied that Khari ended up with 11 more hit points than Jhasspok at the end of our respective adventuring careers - he enjoys beating me at stuff like that. (He was disappointed when Jhasspok finally got Improved Initiative a couple of levels ago and started giving him a run for his money on the initiative counts, at which he'd been beating me fairly regularly.)
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PC Roster:
Cramer Appleknocker, gnome cleric 20​
Jhasspok, lizardman 3/barbarian 3/fighter 14​
Khari Hammerslammer, dwarf fighter 19/psychic warrior 1​
Marlo Pendragon, human sorcerer 20​
Utred "Buckets" Butterflinger, dwarf barbarian 20​

Game Session Date: 25 May 2022

- - -

The landing craft had been lowered to the water and Jhasspok was ready to leap overboard himself, but Cramer grabbed the lizardfolk's wrist. "Hold on a minute there," the little gnome chided. "Before any of us leaves this ship, I want to cast a magic circle against chaos spell on everyone first."

"But I've been in the water lots of times on this trip," Jhasspok argued.

"Never this close to the island, though," warned Cramer. "Remember, there's a rift on the island somewhere, leaking all kinds of chaos energy into the surroundings. That's why those sea monsters we fought yesterday were so..." the gnome cast about for the proper word.

"Wonky," suggested Khari.

"Yes, quite," agreed the gnome cleric as he cast the magic circle against chaos on each of the five heroes. Once Jhasspok had received his spell and gotten the nod from the little gnome, he dove over the side of the ship and surfaced nearly a minute later, after having explored the surrounding area underwater and finding no immediate danger. The two dwarves and Cramer stepped down into the little boat and Marlo went to follow in their wake, but not before having a few words with the ship's crew. "Now remember, you're not to step foot off this ship until our return," she reminded them. "The island's likely not safe without the proper magical protection and if you get it into your heads to try to sail away and leave us stranded here, the water elementals will sink your ship rather than letting you exit the quarantine zone they've set up around the island. And," she added, her eyebrows lowering as she glared up at the criminal captain and his crew, most of whom stood a good foot taller than her, "I will not take kindly to you abandoning us. Are we understood?"

"Y-yes, ma'am," agreed the captain, knowing full well he'd receive no ribbing from his crew of hardened criminals for speaking in fear to the tiny little female in the funny robe with all the eyes painted on it. None of the crew dared get themselves on Marlo's bad side; they'd all seen only too well the kind of power she wielded.

Once the four were settled in the rowboat nobody even bothered touching the oars, for Jhasspok happily grabbed the upper edge of the boat's aft side and propelled it forward with powerful sweeps of his muscular tail. The past month had been quite a treat for the former fisher-slave, getting to swim every day and hunt for fish. He was actually going to be a little sad when this mission was over.

"Looks like some kind of encampment over there," pointed out Marlo from the front of the boat, squinting into the sunlight. "Veer us to the right, Jhasspok!" Sure enough, there looked to be a series of tents of various sizes in a tight cluster, likely the remains of a previous expedition to the island. While Cramer held a find the path spell in his mind ready to be cast, it wouldn't hurt to ask the locals if they knew of the last of the Writhing Gates. On the other hand, it also wouldn't hurt not to automatically trust that the members of the previous expedition would be of a friendly nature. "Anybody want to go into the village invisible?" she asked the group at large.

"Sure," replied Utred. Marlo cast an invisibility spell on the dwarven barbarian from her wand, while Cramer likewise activated his ring of invisibility and vanished from view. Jhasspok's steady tail-sweeps propelled the boat forward, seemingly moving of its own accord while a hammer-wielding dwarf and a human woman no taller than he was sat at the back of the small vessel.

As they approached the island, the robe of eyes she wore allowed Marlo to see the invisible gnome climb up onto his usual perch on the invisible dwarven barbarian's backpack. She could also see a pair of horses approaching from the back of the tent-village, their riders apparently having noticed the landing vessel's imminent arrival. Jhasspok brought the boat up onto the beach and Marlo and Khari stood, getting a good sight of the approaching welcoming committee.

Marlo barely stifled a shriek of surprise when the horses and their riders came into full view. Bits and pieces of their bodies had been swapped around, seemingly at random, although both horses had human heads and the riders had the heads of horses; one horse's right front leg ended in a human arm and hand, the equine limb growing out of the rider's right shoulder. And worst of all, while the riders wore no saddles there seemed to be no need for them at all, for the human bodies had merged with the horses' backs, each horse and rider now a single, mismatched creature made up of composite parts and pieces; Marlo could tell one human leg actually grew into the side of the horse's ribcage and the end of the human foot dangled out from the bottom of the horse's belly. The horrific figures were armed, wielding light crossbows and lances.

Utred activated his winged boots, rising invisibly up and out of the boat with Cramer still perched upon his backpack. He pulled his greataxe out, ready for action and well aware that his first strike would return him to full visibility. Marlo prepared to cast a maximized disintegrate spell if either of the hoofed horrors tried to attack her. Cramer, seemingly just a disembodied voice from somewhere in the air above the tents, tried communicating with the misshapen horse-men. "What are your intentions?" he called down to them. The responses he got were varied, for the swapping around of body parts apparently had made speech difficult for the merged mutants, but the gnome thought he could pick out "Join us" and "Please kill us" among the muttered replies.

Then another figure ambled out of the largest of the tents. This creature was no longer even closely humanoid in build, its pliant, rolling body an unholy mish-mash of tentacles, arms, insectoid limbs, serrated claws, and partial screaming faces, all rising up and collapsing back into the amoeboid body. Cramer immediately recognized the thing as a chaos beast, although one much larger than any he had ever heard of before. Stay away from the blob-monster! Cramer thought furiously to his friends, before realizing Marlo hadn't had time to cast the standard Rary's telepathic bond that provided the heroes a means of silent communication between themselves. But already Jhasspok was rising up from the ocean waters behind the rowboat with his battleaxe in hand, stepping towards the chaos beast with a look of determination on his reptilian face. Cramer resorted to shouting out a warning: "Don't let the blob-monster touch you, Jhasspok!" he cried down at the lizardfolk. "If it touches you it can make you into something just like it!"

Marlo sent her readied spell blasting into the chaos beast, realizing their best bet was to take the ever-shifting creature down with ranged spells and attacks. Unfortunately, the chaos beast was protected by a level of spell resistance and the maximized disintegrate spell fizzled away to nothingness. Jhasspok grabbed up his flaming shortspear and hurled it at the approaching blob with his full strength. The spear hit the creature in the center of its mass, but the monster's shifting features continued morphing and it was difficult to see if the attack had done any lasting harm. As the chaos beast oozed forward, it eventually left the shortspear behind it, the weapon having been shifted out of its body mass.

Khari mentally activated his offensive prescience and sprinted forward, moving in the opposite direction of the chaos beast, setting himself up to be able to attack the right-most horse-hybrid. The hoofed horror saw the approaching dwarf and shot at him with its crossbow; Khari saw the bolt wriggling awkwardly in his direction and ducked under it as it flew by. But the other hybrid also fired its weapon at Jhasspok and the bolt hit the lizardfolk in the shoulder, shifting upon impact to reveal itself as a thin-bodied leech which buried its ring of sharp fangs into the reptile's flesh, burrowing its head between his scales and beginning to suck up Jhasspok's blood.

Not wanting to get close enough to the chaos beast below to bring his greataxe to bear - for to do so would be to bring the barbarian well within the range of the monster's tentacles and claws - Utred uncoiled his life-flame whip and sent its tip striking rapidly again and again to snap at the chaos beast, the flames burning the blobby monster's flesh where it struck. The dwarf was now visible, hanging in the air supported by his magic boots while Cramer remained invisible sitting upon his backpack. Marlo cast a summoning spell, bringing forth a trio of massive earth elementals, although at the last moment one of the burly rock-monsters fell forward and fell through a gap into the Far Realm. Marlo never did see whatever happened to that third one but the other two flanked the hoofed horror that had just shot at Khari, their boulderlike fists crashing down upon both of its backs, the human one and the equine one. Ribs cracked under the pummeling.

Cramer suddenly became visible as he cast a destruction spell down at the chaos beast. It managed to shrug off the worst of the spell's effects but it was quite visibly affected, for some of its misshapen limbs were blasted away from the creature's central mass and they bubbled where they landed, dissolving away into nothingness. But the majority of the creature's bulk remained intact and it shambled over to Jhasspok, remaining limbs writhing as if wishing to pull the lizardfolk into its embrace, perhaps to absorb the reptile's flesh into its own wriggling form. Jhasspok, for his part, recalled Cramer's warning and skirted around the beast, heading toward the hybrid horse-thing not currently being pummeled by the earth elementals. He threw another shortspear at it, this one not enhanced with magical flames but nonetheless hitting its mark. But the monstrosity surged forward, bringing its lance to bear against the lizardfolk, who handily dodged the weapon's wicked point.

Khari skirted around the tents to make his way toward the other hoofed horror, who tried escaping the rock-fists of its attackers. Perhaps realizing its crossbow would be ineffective against the elementals' stone forms, it brought its crossbow up towards Utred and Cramer and fired its wriggling bolt at the gnome, the leech adhering to Cramer's flesh and digging in upon impact. Utred was unaware of the attack, continuing to focus his attention on the chaos beast, his life-flame whip snapping down at the creature and drawing lines of scarred pain upon its puckered flesh.

The chaos beast's slithering charge towards Jhasspok came to a shambling halt under Utred's continuing barrage of whip-snaps and Marlo sensed the creature was just about dead. She opted to save her higher-powered spells for later and cast a simple magic missile spell at the monstrosity, nodding in confirmation as the streaking bolts of energy blasted bits of flesh away from its core as each struck true. Then, as if having overcome its overall structural integrity, the chaos beast popped like a bag of half-dissolved meat and pooled upon the ground, the chunks of its horrid flesh bubbling and dissolving in the open air, releasing a stench as horrible as the vision of its pulsating body had been to those who had seen it at its full power.

The earth elementals towered over their sole target, pounding it mercilessly and eliciting humanlike cries of pain and horse-whinnies of terror. Seeing that one was pretty much being taken care of, Cramer cast a spiritual weapon spell and sent a quarterstaff of pure force energy streaking over to strike the other hoofed horror. Jhasspok by then was swinging his battleaxe into the composite being's side, each blow cutting deep into the horror's flesh. Khari charged the one being pummeled by the elementals merely because of the two remaining foes it was the closest. The mutants did their best to retaliate, one attacking Jhasspok with its lance and the other trying to stab Khari, but then Utred came to a landing and swung his greataxe into the one attacking Jhasspok and the creature was slain shortly thereafter by a maximized scorching ray spell fired off by Marlo. The earth elementals soon took care of the other one, crushing it to a pulp beneath their rugged fists.

The main combat finished, Jhasspok paid attention to the bloated leech greedily sucking his blood. Plucking the creature from his scales, Jhasspok popped it into his mouth and bit down hard with his dinosaur teeth, instantly filling his mouth with his own blood as he chewed up the rubbery flesh. Cramer had likewise pulled the leech from his own flesh and, seeing Jhasspok chewing up the other one, called out to him and tossed the leech over to him like a dog treat. Jhasspok turned his head at the sound of his name and snapped the tossed leech from mid-air, eye-ridges raising in surprise at the taste of the gnome's blood. But after he'd swallowed down the pair of after-battle treats, the lizardfolk realized he didn't feel so good. Fortunately, Cramer came over to close up the wounds the lizardfolk has sustained in battle and the gnome's heal spell also cured the reptile of the mutagenic effects eating a pair of creatures who had been bathed in chaos energy would have eventually caused. But thinking it over, Cramer cautioned the others against eating anything they encountered on the island. "Best if we stick to food we've brought ourselves, or that I call forth through spellcasting." Jhasspok patted his pouch of dried dung beetles and nodded his understanding to the little gnome.

The heroes did a quick check of the tents to make sure there weren't any other surprises waiting for them, and Marlo made an interesting discovery. "The tents are magical in nature!" she told the group, examining them under a detect magic spell. "They shield against chaos energy!" she added, surprise evident in her voice as she examined the magical auras emanating from the tents.

"Not very well," pointed out Khari, looking over at the wet spot on the ground that was all that was left of the massive chaos beast they'd just slain.

"Probably a matter of too little, too late," surmised Cramer. "By the time they realized they needed shielding against chaos magic, it had already started to take effect." But the group dismantled several of the tents and folded them up into Marlo's bag of holding. Cramer had prepared three magic circle against chaos spells for each of the five heroes, but when they all ran their course they'd need to camp out in the tents to shield them from the emanations of chaos energy leaking from the rift to the Far Realm.

"So now what?" asked Utred. "Which way do we go?"

Cramer cast a find the path spell and pointed off in the distance, climbing back onto his perch upon Utred's backpack. "That way," he said, pointing toward the center of the island, a teeming jungle of tropical plants - some of them with eyes and teeth. "I figure it'll probably take us about three days of travel. The tents will definitely help - otherwise, we'd all have to fit inside a rope trick spell each night, so we wouldn't be on the same plane of existence as the one being flooded with chaos energy. Anybody want to start growing tentacles or spare eyeballs?"

"No!" replied Utred and Marlo, each thinking back on how close they'd each come to doing just that by having foolishly agreed to serve the Dying One. Involuntarily shudders wracked their forms at the thought.

"Let's go, then," suggested Cramer. "Utred, you and Jhasspok will need to trade off leading the way; you'll need to cut us a path through the jungle when it gets too overgrown." Utred stepped forward and took the lead, greataxe in hand. The others followed behind him, snaking their way single-file through the dense jungle.

Several hours later, the jungle opened up into a clearing. "Break time," suggested Khari, flopping to the ground and taking a healthy swig from his waterskin. He didn't notice the bee that landed on his left shoulder until it spoke to him.

"Be friend?" asked the little insect. Khari looked down at the bee that had landed on his shoulder and was disturbed to see the bee, while conforming to its normal form in all other respects, had quite human-looking eyes instead of the compound eyes you'd expect to see on a bee.

Although his initial instinct was to swat the bug on his shoulder, Khari ignored the desire and answered it. "Sure," he said. "We can be friends."

"Be friend?" asked another voice from his right. Looking over to his right shoulder, he saw another bee looking up at him with its human eyes - which, disturbingly, included eyelids and eyelashes.

"We can all be friends," assured the dwarven fighter.

"Be enemy?" asked another bee, this one flying at Khari's face. It was followed by another, and another, and before he knew it the clearing was filled with a swarm of buzzing bees, each asking one or the other of the two questions the initial cadre of human-eyed insects had posed to Khari. Bowing to the inevitable, the dwarven fighter mentally reactivated his offensive prescience psionic power, readying himself for battle.

Sure enough, the swarms of bees crowding the jungle clearing were now rising up away from the heroes and forming a familiar shape in the middle of the open area in the middle of the jungle. In a matter of mere moments, the individual bees had all swarmed into a giant version, a massive insectoid form with a body at least 25 feet long.

Utred plucked a bead from his necklace of fireballs and tossed it at the Bee-hemoth. It exploded upon impact, sending scores of burned bodies falling to the jungle floor. Then Marlo followed up with a much more powerful version of the same type of attack: a meteor swarm spell that sent four flaming rocks streaking over to strike the composite creature, the meteors exploding into massive bursts of fire.

The Bee-hemoth retaliated with a breath weapon like those employed by dragons - only this one was not a cone of fire or a line of crackling lightning, but rather an explosion of individual bees. The bees swarmed out at the heroes at full speed, biting and stinging and then coalescing into a pair of individual swarms, one to the left of the group and one to the right. The heroes had faced breath weapons before, but not one which persisted after the initial attack and regrouped to attack again from either side!

Jhasspok charged forward, rushing toward the massive Bee-hemoth and leaping up at it. He had planned on landing on its broad back, between its buzzing wings, and chopping away at it with his battleaxe. He completed his assault, but with one major difference: he sank into the insectoid mass, for a giant bee-shape made up of individual normal-sized bees absolutely could not support the weight of a full-grown lizardfolk. Still, Jhasspok swung his axe around, slicing through individual bees with each pass of his weapon even as he trod dozens of them below his clawed feet.

Cramer cast a destruction spell at the Bee-hemoth, thinking to bring it down with a single spell. Unfortunately, the spell did hit a single bee of the entire swarm and to its credit slew that bee instantly - although the gestalt entity as a whole didn't even feel the loss.

Khari and Utred charged forward, striking the monster bee with their preferred weapons, while Marlo took it upon herself to take out the twin swarms left over from the breath weapon attack. A maximized fireball spell cast directly between the two swarms burned up each and every insect making up the clouds of buzzing bees. The Bee-hemoth was easily slain by the weapon-strikes of the melee combatants, their attacks slowly taking out enough of the bees there was no longer a sufficient quantity of insects remaining to merge together into their larger form. A few dozen bees scattered off in multiple directions, no longer eager for combat.

After a quick rest and the application of healing spells as needed, the group resumed their trek through the jungle. Toward the end of the duration of their third magic circle against chaos spell, Cramer had them look for a good campsite to set up the tents they'd taken from the encampment along the island's shore. They'd need to stay within the areas of protection provided by the tents if they wanted to avoid the effects of the pervasive chaos energy flowing all around them; Cramer kept a handful of the lesser-duration protection from chaos spells as needed in case any of them needed to go out for more firewood or anything. And in that manner the heroes passed their first night on the island, with two more days - and repeated applications of find the path and magic circle against chaos spells - required to get the group to their destination. And then they'd need to defeat the guardian of the final Writhing Gate: Zarbugak, Master of Madness and the Untamer of the Wilds.

Zarbugak sat awaiting their arrival.

- - -

This was an interesting session, especially for the spellcasters, for the entire area was a wild magic zone: they needed to make a Spellcraft check to even cast a spell, and if they failed they had to see what the wild magic's effects would be. Fortunately, Marlo only failed once and then lucked out in that the roll she ended up with was "spell is cast as normal."

One more session to go!
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PC Roster:
Cramer Appleknocker, gnome cleric 20​
Jhasspok, lizardman 3/barbarian 3/fighter 14​
Khari Hammerslammer, dwarf fighter 19/psychic warrior 1​
Marlo Pendragon, human sorcerer 20​
Utred "Buckets" Butterflinger, dwarf barbarian 20​

Game Session Date: 2 June 2022

- - -

It had been an unnerving day, trudging deeper and deeper into the jungle toward the middle of the island as per the directions of Cramer's find the path spell, awaiting to be attacked by the local denizens (many of whom had been warped by chaos energy) - but at least the magic in the tents worked fine, as both Cramer and Marlo affirmed after closely examining them with detect magic spells. Thus, the five adventurers each set up their tent in a close circle and went to sleep. They didn't bother with a guard once it became apparent the local wildlife - and this included many of the plants - didn't like venturing close to the tents, which gave off a very not-friendly-to-chaos vibe most of the chaos-infused creatures could pick up, even if only subconsciously. Plus, Marlo allowed her toad familiar Truffles to sit at the flap of her tent and look out, keeping a wary eye out for danger while she slept. Truffles was already infused with chaos energy directly from the Far Realm, as evidenced by the numerous tentacles growing out from all over his amphibious body. Marlo repeated a warning to her toad not to wander too close to Jhasspok's tent and went readily to sleep, confident that Truffles would alert her to any danger.

But danger came anyway, easily bypassing Truffles. One moment Marlo was sleeping in her tent and the next she was wide awake, aware of a strange presence there in the canvas structure with her. Sure enough, there was an illithid looming over her. Marlo scrambled to her feet, trying to get away before the mind flayer could strike, but that was too much to hope for: the illithid bent over her as she tried getting to her feet and its four octopoid tentacles slapped at her head, three of them getting a good grip and pulling her in to allow the mind flayer to try to bite through her skull.

Khari woke to a similar sense of unfamiliarity and attacked the form standing over him, grabbing up his dwarven warhammer and striking the illithid as it bent over him, getting ready to feed. Cramer did likewise, striking out with his mace that he had cuddled with in his blanket as if it were a stuffed bear and hitting the mind flayer before it could get a good grip on his skull. Utred also fought his own mind flayer, although he didn't even bother with any weapons (although he had a small arsenal at his disposal, courtesy of his extradimensional weapon locker), opting instead to use his mighty thews to try to pin the illithid. Jhasspok grabbed up his trusty battleaxe when he felt a presence bending over him and a tentacle brushed the top of his head.

Marlo was the first to slay her attacker, instinctively striking out with one of her most powerful spells, wail of the banshee, without first considering the nearness of the other tents. As the illithid's body crumpled lifelessly to the floor of the tent the sorceress had a thought, far too late, about the safety of her friends; how foolish would it be for them to be unable to complete their mission because she had accidentally slain them after fighting back after being woken from a deep sleep?

Khari kept up the barrage with his dwarven warhammer, keeping the mind flayer reeling and in too much pain to concentrate on getting a good grip on the dwarven fighter's head. The illithid made a feint and tried to get in close but Khari was too fast for him, bringing the hard head of his weapon crashing into the side of the mind flayer's own noggin, crushing it to a pulp. Cramer was having a bit less success fighting off his own foe with his mace, but at least he had thus far prevented it from eating his brain - the little gnome already knew far too well what that felt like and had no desire to repeat the experience! Utred soon realized the foolishness of wrestling with a creature that wanted to get in close to him for a brain-eating attack and hurled the mind flayer away from him, giving him enough time to grab up his trusty greataxe. His foe didn't last long after he got that blade in his hand, for he was ruthlessly efficient with it and managed to carve up his foe in no time flat. Jhasspok did likewise with his own battleaxe and the illithid who had attacked him died before he'd gotten a chance to taste a lizardfolk brain (which was probably for the best, as he'd have no doubt been disappointed in both the taste and the portion size). And Cramer finally clued in to having a bevy of combat spells at the ready, finishing off his foe with a destruction spell.

And then, their mind flayer foes defeated, each hero rolled over and fell into a deeper sleep, for the "attacks" had occurred in their individual dreamscapes, as Zarbugak had sent mental images to probe the foes he sensed were heading his way, with intent to undo all of his Master's plans. He had realized the attempts to attack them in their sleep would probably not be enough to slay them, but he had at least gathered some valuable data on their combat strategies and, in the case of the two spellcasters, an idea of a few of their most powerful spells.

The next morning, as the heroes grabbed a quick breakfast from their dried stores and Cramer cast the first of the day's magic circle against chaos spells upon them so they could safely fold up their tents and resume their journey, they compared notes about the weird dreams they'd had. As each described their particular mind flayer foe, it became apparent they'd each dreamed of the same individual, for details of its robes were identical in each case. "That's just weird," Khari commented. Then Cramer cast the first find the path spell of the day and they were off again.

"We're nearly there," the little gnome told the others from his perch upon Utred's backpack. "It's probably only an hour or two before we get to the Writhing Gate." Jhasspok was in the lead, cutting through vines with his battleaxe and clearing the path when it became too overgrown for easy passage. But two hours or so later, they group found themselves at the edge of a crater with the rift to the Far Realm clearly visible over the rim. It hung in the middle of the air, at the center of the Writhing Gate - and this one had its tentacles still out instead of lying motionlessly on the ground; these were just as motionless but flung out from the rift as if having been blown by a strong wind and then petrified in place. There were also only five tentacles instead of the normal ten; Cramer recalled this was the configuration of the Writhing Gate when they had used it to teleport to the surface during their raids on behalf of their drow masters.

Crawling over to the crater's rim on their bellies for reconnaissance, they saw the crater's structure was ever-shifting, sometimes looking like normal dirt, other times like a pile of gravel or like broken-up chunks of granite, or marble, or limestone. Standing in the middle of the Writhing Gate, directly below the rift, stood an enormous mind flayer easily at least half again as large as the standard model, this one breaking apart into chunks and being reconfigured like the mindbender chuul and octopus the group had fought in the ocean on their way to the Unchartable Island. It was like looking at the ulitharid through a kaleidoscope. On either side of the illithid stood a pair of creatures, obviously guardians from the Far Realm of a sort the group had encountered before in Grover's Comb, the site of another rift from the dimension of madness: one had a lupine body and the other that of a great bear, but both had the same kaleidoscopic form-shifting that would have caused a great deal of confusion and headaches to the heroes had they not been protected from such effects by their magic circle against chaos spells. Their bodies seemed to contain entire swirling galaxies inside of them, glittering stars showing as pinpoints of light.

Crawling back away from the crater, the spellcasters started casting their pre-combat spells. Marlo used her magic staff to cast a mass enlarge person spell, doubling everyone's size. She then covered everyone in a stoneskin spell and a Rary's telepathic bond spell. Cramer cast a shield of law spell on everyone, then buffed himself up with righteous might, divine power, and spell turning spells.

Utred activated his winged boots and dashed forward, the first to enter the fray - Cramer had by that time decided not to remain on his standard perch upon the dwarven barbarian's backpack. He went straight for the lupine figure but before he could get within reach the creature's muzzle opened wide and a cold energy bolt erupted from his mouth, impacting on the dwarf's body - and then shattering to ice crystals as it failed to overcome the spell resistance covering Utred as a result of the shield of law spell Cramer had cast upon him. But the Zarbugak targeted the incoming dwarf, blasting him with his powerful mind blast. Unlike the mind blasts he'd experienced before, though, Utred realized this one was different: while in the past, illithids seemed to send out waves of mental energy that stunned its victims into motionlessness, this one actively worked on breaking down the body, hammering into him like a wall of force. Utred imagined it was rather like being hit by a spiritual weapon or blade barrier spell, only one capable of striking every facing surface on the victim's body all at once. However, he merely grunted at the assault and continued his attack upon the Far Realm wolf, sending his greataxe slicing through the side of the creature's head.

At the same time, Khari charged forward towards the Far Realm bear, swinging his earthglide warhammer into the great bruin's head, accepting a retaliatory swipe from its massive paw as an acceptable consequence. But then Marlo cast an incendiary cloud spell that completely encompassed the ulitharid and the back half of the bruin. Jhasspok had been running forward to attack Zarbugak but, seeing his foe encompassed in the cloud of smoke and burning embers (or, more appropriately, not seeing him), he altered course and attacked the front half of the Far Realm bear instead. Using the power of his tail-band of the raptor, he went in with a blur of slashing battleaxe strikes and snapping teeth that cut the bear to ribbons. Cramer cast a destruction spell at the Far Realm wolf and obliterated it instantly, its fractal body seeming to fold up into itself like a work of origami until it was no more. The gnome cleric then immediately followed up with a quickened flame strike; not being able to see Zarbugak's actual location but believing him to still be within the incendiary cloud, he dropped his fiery spell down upon on the cloud of burning embers.

Parts of his hindquarters on fire, the Far Realm bear moved out of the incendiary cloud and shot an electrical energy bolt at both Jhasspok and Khari, who were conveniently lined up. However, they too were protected by the shield of law spell cast by Cramer and the electrical blast fizzled against their spell resistance.

Utred recalled where he had last seen Zarbugak and as he had been towards the outer edge of the incendiary cloud, the dwarf stabbed into the dark cloud with his dimensional branding iron, connecting with the ulitharid's body and preventing him from activating any teleportation magic. The ulitharid retaliated with a wide-beamed mind blast which encompassed all of the group save Marlo, who had stayed further back and was thus out of reach. The blast elicited howls of pain from the heroes but it failed to take any of them out and, knowing the importance of winning this battle, they fought on.

Khari continued his attacks upon the Far Realm bear, swinging his warhammer for all he was worth and taking comfort in the fact the bear was looking visibly weakened. Marlo continued bringing the fight to Zarbugak, casting a meteor swarm spell into the incendiary cloud - she was unable to target the meteors directly at her foe so she spread them out in a diamond pattern and hoped for the best. Unseen by her, one of the meteors struck Zarbugak, but he was encompassed in the explosion effects of all four.

Jhasspok slew the lupine creature with his battleaxe and it too folded up into impossible directions, finally disappearing from view altogether in death. That left only Zarbugak himself and he was still hidden within the burning cloud, so Cramer targeted the whole area with a mass serious wounds spell into the area, confident he'd get the ulitharid that way. But then Utred finished him off by pulling the remains of the three necklaces of fireballs he'd purchased back in Greenvale, and from which he'd expended only a few beads prior in fighting off the swarms of mutant bees that had formed the creature they'd dubbed the Bee-hemoth. He tossed them in an overhead arc that had them falling into the very center of the incendiary cloud, where the explosion to follow would be sure to impact Zarbugak wherever he was within the burning vapors.

As the necklaces hit the burning embers and caused a chain-reaction explosion, a mental cry of pain and anguish speared the minds of all five heroes as the biggest explosion they'd ever felt erupted from within the cloud. The instant severing of the mental cry was a good indicator that the ulitharid had been slain by the blast; when the incendiary cloud ran its course and dissipated they saw there was nothing left of Zarbugak - or, indeed, of the nearest Writhing Gate tentacle that had been beside him - but a burned smear of ashes on the ever-shifting ground.

"Everybody okay?" Marlo asked as the heroes picked themselves up from the ground where they'd been thrown by the blast. They all acknowledged they were fine, and then the whoops of laughter began as they realized they had just taken out the guardians of the last remaining Writhing Gate. Utred unwrapped the anti-magic cloth protecting the Null Axe and used it to hold its shaft as he started swinging the weapon at the roots of the remaining tentacles. As each was severed, the stump fell through the ground and the hole sealed itself up, shutting down that particular opening to the Far Realm. Cramer unstoppered his protective scroll case and removed the seal portal scroll, reading off the words that permanently closed the rift to the Far Realm hanging in the air above the Writhing Gate.

"Is that it?" Khari asked once it was done.

Cramer looked down at the now-empty parchment in his hands, the written words having each disappeared as he spoke them aloud. He rolled it up and stuck it back in its case, then stashed that in his belt pouch. "That's it," he answered. "With all ten Writhing Gates out of commission, Uboros has no way of returning to this plane of existence. We did it guys - we saved the world."

"This is cause for celebration!" boomed Utred, lifting up a skin of dwarven ale to his lips and then passing it over to Marlo. Jhasspok took out his pouch of dried dung beetles and offered it to the others, once again being rebuffed. Shrugging, he absently nibbled the legs off a beetle as the others offered each other congratulations.

There were other decisions to be made, like whether it was now safe to try a teleport spell to return directly home to Greenvale or if the existing chaos energy imbued all around the island would still make it a dangerous proposition, and whether the ring of elementals keeping the island in quarantine would know if it was safe to now allow people to exit the island or if they'd keep up their patrols, but for now it was enough to turn back the way they'd come and start their days-long trek back to the ship on which they'd come to this chaotic land.

- - -

Logan informs us that with the rift sealed, there would be no further mutations on the island; while those already mutated could affect others, those who became infected in that manner could not in turn infect others. Thus, over time, the island would one day become completely safe once again.

As for our PCs' post-campaign careers, these are the most likely to come about:
  • Cramer intends to devote his life to hunting down and slaying evil drow. Sunborn drow (and those who worship Eilistraee) will be given haven in Greenvale.
  • Khari and Utred will return to Brunniir on the Plane of Shadows to let the dwarves there know it is safe for the city to return to the Material Plane. Once that's been accomplished and they spend some time with their respective families, they'll likely join Cramer on his evil drow-hunt.
  • Marlo's undecided; for now she just wants to return to her family after her time as a slave to the drow and then a savior of the world.
  • Jhasspok, however, really liked the idea of living on an island and having an ocean full of fish all around him. The Unchartable Island offers him no such haven, for the local fish are mutated and eating them would be potentially detrimental. However, it really bothers Marlo that Jhasspok has no ties to his own people and would very likely try to make Jhasspok at least go meet the Lakewood lizardfolk tribe (of which he is their true leader, being the son of the former leader); having done so and Jhasspok getting his very first look at a female lizardfolk, his future would probably be set for him from that point on.
A couple other points worth mentioning: Utred's necklaces of fireballs did a whopping 183d6 points of fire damage; not wanting to roll that many dice we had Joe roll a single d6 and multiplied that by 183 - resulting in well over the amount required to slay Zarbugak. Also, Logan had given Zarbugak an ability he never got to use: had either Cramer or Marlo used a summoning spell to bring powerful allies into the fight, they'd have had to make an immediate Will save to counter the effects of the chaos energy (from which the PCs were immune thanks to the magic circle against chaos spells they'd each had cast upon them) and if that save failed, Zarbugak would have been able to mentally dominate them to his will and use them against us (hence the "Master of Madness and Untamer of the Wilds" title).
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