Raiders of the Overreach

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PC Roster:
Cramer Appleknocker, gnome cleric 7​
Jhasspok, lizardman 3/barbarian 2/fighter 2​
Khari Hammerslammer, dwarf fighter 7​
Marlo Pendragon, human sorcerer 7​
Utred "Buckets" Butterflinger, dwarf barbarian 7​

Game Session Date: 13 May 2020

- - -

It took two days to reach the border of Dracovania and when Cramer brought the horse-drawn wagon to a halt at the request of the two border guards - humans in red scale mail armor, one of whom was standing directly in the road with his hand out to halt the wagon's progress - they were less than impressed with the kingdom's hospitality. "Adventurers!" the guard said, smiling at his partner with a knowing glance. "Welcome to Draconvania! We're always glad to see seasoned adventurers come to visit. If you'd like to pay the toll, we'll be glad to let you get on your way."

"Toll?" repeated Cramer. "What toll?"

"One thousand pieces of gold," replied the guard. His smile widened. "Each."

"Five thousand pieces of gold just to enter your kingdom?" sputtered the gnome.

"What? No, no, of course not," replied the other border guard, his crossbow loaded and ready for action should it become necessary. His smile was as broad as that of his partner when he explained, "Seven thousand: the five of you, one horse, and your wizard's toad familiar, which I can see peeking out of her pocket over there."

Marlo was giving some serious thought about taking these two out with a couple of well-placed spells, but a glance at the stone tower keep on the side of the road was a reminder they didn't know how many guards there might be in reserve, ready to spill out and attack them at the first sign of any trouble. And they didn't really want to start an incident with the kingdom they were hoping to get to join the alliance in protecting Greenvale and fighting off the drow armies that would soon erupt out of the Overreach.

Jhasspok, who had never heard the word "toll" before but had picked up the general gist of things, reached into his pouch. "Do you take slave tokens?" he asked, holding one between his claw-tipped fingers.

"Are they gold?" the first guard asked.

Jhasspok examined the slave token. It was a square-shaped chip of slate with the House Jalamir emblem crudely engraved upon it. "No," he admitted.

"Then no," answered the guard.

"We will not be paying you 7,000 pieces of gold merely to enter your kingdom," Marlo asserted. "We come to warn your king of an impending attack by drow forces - he will not be pleased if you delay us entry!" She wished she had been wearing her circlet of persuasion, but it was packed away with her things.

However, it turned out not to have been necessary. With a look between themselves that said the odds of getting these dupes to pay the toll was minimal, the first border guard offered up, "Well, I suppose we could allow you to pay an alternate toll of sorts...there's been a bit of recent bandit activity of late. I suppose in lieu of the 7,000 pieces of gold, we might accept the head of the bandit leader as an adequate entry toll."

The five slaves sat motionless in the wagon. "What do you think?" muttered Cramer, audible only to Marlo beside him.

"I think I'd like to lob an empowered magic missile straight between his eyes," muttered the sorcerer in an equally soft tone.

"What does this bandit leader look like?" asked Utred, thinking if these guards had no idea, then any old bandit would do.

"And where might they be found?" added Khari.

"They're said to hole up in a cave in the hills, thereabouts," answered the guard, waving a hand off to the side. "And we'd be needing the entire band taken out, not just the leader." Utred didn't fail to notice his question had been sidestepped entirely.

"Do you charge them 1,000 pieces of gold to enter your kingdom?" Jhasspok asked. "And if not, do they take different roads than the ones with toll guards at them? And where are these roads?"

The lizardfolk might have thought he was being sneaky with this line of questioning but it wiped the smiles off the guards at once. "Don't get cute," one warned. "So, we got a deal, or what?"

"Very well," answered Cramer. "Given the options, we choose to take out your group of bandits for you."

The guards nodded their agreement. "Okay, then," one said and proceeded to give the group directions to the hills to the south where the bandits were rumored to be lairing. Cramer turned the wagon around and started off in that direction.

As the wagon trundled along the dirt road, the group suddenly got the distinct impression they were being watched. Cramer and Marlo looked on both sides of the road, looking for spies among the trees, while Jhasspok and the dwarves were looking around to see if there were any eyeballs floating around like that one in the shop back in Revin - after all, the Overseer had warned that she'd be made whole again when the Assassins Guild rescued her from the deepest dungeons below Castle Revin. But despite everyone's best efforts, nobody could be seen watching them. "It's possible we're being scried on from afar," Cramer pointed out.

"Through the tattoos?" asked Marlo. One of the properties of the House Jalamir tattoos carved into their backs was it allowed their drow masters to scry upon them. Of course, Greenvale wizards had secretly altered the tattoos so they gave false readings of benign activities should they be used in such a manner, but that was the thing with magic - a more powerful wizard could usually overcome the magic cast by those less versed in the arcane arts, so nothing was ever certain.

Rounding a bend in the road a good score of minutes or more later, Utred spotted what looked like a roguish sentry in the hills above. He alerted the other slaves (while activating the hat of disguise he wore and instantly taking on the appearance of one Cramer Appleknocker, cleric of Fharlanghn) and the real Cramer eased up on the reins, keeping the horse moving forward as if nothing were untoward but at a slower pace to give them more time to plan.

But Khari needed no time to plan; once alerted there were enemies in the hills ahead, he hopped off the side of the wagon with his earth glide warhammer in hand and, invoking its magic, passed through the solid ground and up the sides of the rocky hill, all while remaining underground. He popped up at the top of the hill, finding himself in a ring of a half dozen guards in leather armor, obviously lookouts but all conveniently looking directly away from him. He smiled at the opportunity and got a better grip on his weapon.

The rogues all had short swords at their belts but had their shortbows readied, each with an arrow nocked. They looked down at the wagon in anticipation of another group of travelers to be slain and looted. But then Cramer passed the reins to Marlo at his side, spun around to touch Utred on the shoulder, and used a dimension door spell to teleport the pair over by Khari's side at the top of the hill, between the ring of oblivious bandit sentries.

Marlo didn't keep the reins for long; calling out "Whoa!" for the horse to stop and giving a brief tug to emphasize the command, she cast an invisibility spell on herself and dropped the reins, leaping off the wagon and heading for the hill. It was a 20-foot climb but one she felt more confident in making when the sentries couldn't see her ascent.

Jhasspok looked suddenly about him and realized he was all alone in the wagon; just seconds earlier they had all been there beside him! He leaped off the side of the wagon and started climbing up the hill, but as he was the only visible person doing so he drew the attention of the two closest archers. A pair of arrows clanged off the stones mere inches from him but he ignored them, concentrating on scrambling up the steep hill-side to get to his attackers.

But three of the arena slaves were already there among the bandits. Utred charged at one of the archers, stabbing at him with his Elderwood flaming longsword and sending him over the edge of the steep hill-side, where he tumbled down in a tangle of limbs. By the time he reached the bottom he was quite obviously dead.

Hearing the commotion, Solenka exited the cave at the top of the hill, where the road ended its ascent and met up with the cliff of an even higher hill. She drew a rapier from a belt at her hilt and immediately the light dimmed all around her, covering her in a gloom which protected her sensitive drow eyes. Cramer and Khari noted with interest the drow woman's hair was a bright red in color, causing them to momentarily doubt whether they were attacking the right people; if these were Greenvale drow, then the slaves should be helping them, not attacking them. But then Cramer heard her call out behind her in the Drow language - a language Cramer didn't understand but which was perfectly translated through the helm of comprehend languages he wore - "It's the Greenvale contingent!" and the disdain in her voice told the little gnome these were no potential allies after all.

He said as much to Khari, who then charged one of the other sentries looking over the side of the hilltop, swinging his warhammer for all he was worth. The archer dropped his bow to the ground at the sudden onslaught, fumbling to grab his blade to use against this battle-crazed dwarf who had suddenly appeared out of nowhere.

Then another drow, Z'ress, stepped out of the cave behind Solenka, this one sporting bright green hair. She targeted Cramer - the real one, as it turned out - with a Kelgor's fire bolt spell. And while Cramer was reeling from the effects of that spell, a male drow, Viedar Bel'vior, stepped out of the cave as well, sending a pair of scorching rays blazing towards the gnome. One of them hit, the other falling short. But despite the pain of the flame spells, Cramer had the presence of mind to fire back with a sound burst spell of his own, centered on the three drow. All three were affected by the sonic blast, but of the three only the male - whose hair, Cramer noted absently, was as white as the typical Underdark drow's - appeared to have been stunned as a result. Marlo, having climbed unseen to the top of the hill, took advantage of his temporary immobility, sending an empowered magic missile crashing into him. It caused her to pop back into the visible light spectrum - but it had been well worth it.

This spell-flinging commotion at long last brought the other archers spinning around to see a group of combatants there on the hilltop with them. Arrows went whizzing at both Cramers, none of them hitting. The rogue fighting Khari also missed with his short sword strike, the dwarven fighter handily avoiding the blade as it went swinging in his direction. Jhasspok clambered over the top of the steep hill-side and went charging straight for the cluster of drow, believing them to likely be the greatest threat. He noted the dimness around them was centered on the two women and assumed one of them was responsible; in the back of his mind he formed a thought that if he could get rid of the shadowy effect the drow would likely be helpless in the sun's full brightness. But as his lizard brain was actively working on this plan, his body was in full automatic combat mode, bringing his battleaxe swinging in an arc at Z'ress's head. She avoided the skull-chopping blow the lizardfolk had intended but his blade sliced down her arm, causing her no small amount of pain. Solenka shifted position to trap the lizardfolk between the two drow women and attacked with a rapier of her own, but Jhasspok caught its tip on the edge of his shield and deflected it away.

Utred plucked a bead from the replacement necklace of fireballs he'd picked up recently and tossed it into a cluster of four rogues, dropping two of them instantly; the other two managed to twist about in such a way as to avoid the flames altogether. Khari's warhammer finished off the rogue he'd been fighting and he spun about, eager to find a new combatant to take that one's place.

With a snarl and a few arcane syllables, Z'ress charged her rapier with a shocking grasp spell and stabbed at Jhasspok, but the nimble reptile dodged the strike, which came very close to hitting Solenka behind him. In a surprise maneuver, Jhasspok spun about and ignored Z'ress entirely, leaping onto Solenka and bringing his axe-head down upon her shoulder as he snapped at her unprotected neck with his row of sharp teeth. The drow's screams died in her throat as the life left her body. Jhasspok let the body drop and spun about again, facing Z'ress - whose black face showed an expression of shock at her companion's sudden demise.

Utred found himself surrounded by rogues trying to flank him and get in a back-stab or two, but he shrugged off all of their attacks. (He was momentarily amused by the thought that these human rogues would think they were being bested by a little gnome, but then he realized his hat of disguise tricks were technically giving the real Cramer Appleknocker visual credit for all of Utred's own kills! Maybe he'd need to rethink this strategy....)

Cramer cast a silence spell at the ground by Z'ress's feet; he knew she was some type of spellcaster and the zone of absolute silence he'd cast also encompassed the male drow, still standing stunned by the gnome's previous spell; that would no doubt come in handy as well in the immediate future. Marlo fired another empowered magic missile spell at one of the remaining rogues - not that the dwarves had left many of them standing by this time! Utred finished off the one Marlo had just hit with her spell and spun around to face the one directly behind him, stabbing his Elderwood flaming blade straight into his stomach and pulling it out, watching in satisfaction as the rogue fell to the ground, dead. That left only one other rogue and he immediately dropped his short sword, put his hands on his head, and dropped to his knees, calling out, "I surrender! Don't kill me!"

Khari grimaced; it was no fun taking out a helpless opponent who'd just thrown himself at your mercy. Instead, he charged Z'ress from behind, dropping her with a well-placed blow of his warhammer (after all, you really can't get much more well-placed with a burly hammer than the back of the skull). Then he came up with the same idea Jhasspok had been plotting; picking up the dropped rapiers (one of which, the dwarf realized, was responsible for the dim light surrounding the drow) and tossed them away over by the edge of the hill. Viedar, snapping out of the stunning he'd received at Cramer's sound burst spell, blinked furiously at finding himself outside in the full sunlight...and appeared merely to be mildly inconvenienced instead of helpless as Khari and Jhasspok had hoped. Oh well, it was good to know.

Now that he could move again, Viedar ran away from the heroes at full sprint. Once he could once again hear the ambient sounds of combat - meaning he was outside the radius of the silence spell, he cast a shield spell on himself, for he'd seen that short woman do all kinds of damage with those magic missiles of hers. He knew his magical brooch would help keep him alive but it would be foolish not to provide himself with as much protection as he could - and Lolth, he well knew, did not tolerate fools gladly.

Cramer cast a spiritual weapon spell and sent the quarterstaff dashing at Viedar, only to have it shatter into nothingness at it came up against the drow's natural spell resistance. Marlo sent an empowered magic missile the drow's way and similarly saw it do absolutely nothing, but she at least noted the brief field of force that popped up momentarily as her spell hit the drow's shield spell and realized that particular attack spell - one of her favorites - was useless against him. Jhasspok ran after the fleeing drow and attacked him with his battleaxe, surprised that his strike dealt no damage, for the lizardfolk had seen his weapon's blade hit the drow but failed to notice the shield spell preventing it from cutting into the drow's flesh.

Utred, noticing how the drow was managing to survive all of these attacks, decided to take him out in a way he likely couldn't counter: with pure brute strength. He held onto his Elderwood flaming longsword as he charged into the drow but used his momentum to bring the spellcaster to the ground. And despite not having used his weapon against the drow, Utred noticed the mere touch of the green flame caused Viedar intense pain, for the sword had been enchanted to be anathema to drow. "You wanna surrender now an' make it easier on yourself?" he asked.

"My sister would kill me if I did!" the drow hissed back, struggling in vain to release himself from the dwarf's iron grip.

With Viedar brought down, Khari raced up and whacked him a good one in the ribs with his warhammer, but was similarly disappointed when it didn't seem to do all that much damage - the damned drow likely had a stoneskin spell protecting him. But even with the false life spell Viedar had cast upon himself before first exiting the cave, Utred's burning sword soon put an end to the struggling drow's life - for the spellcaster couldn't hope to match the dwarven barbarian in a test of strength and couldn't possibly hope to get out of his clutches, nor could he cast any of his spells while being grappled. In the end, it was the mere touch of Utred's green-flamed blade that slew Viedar Bel'vior, the leader of the bandit gang plaguing Dracovania of late.

Marlo cast a detect magic spell and looked at the slain drow before her. "Ooh, this is interesting," she said, unpinning a brooch from Viedar's robe. It was in the shape of a silver spider and pinning it onto her own robes, Marlo felt herself enveloped by a stoneskin spell. The brooch of petrified flesh, she realized, worked in much the same manner as a brooch of shielding (which was what she had assumed at first this was), but instead of absorbing magic missiles it absorbed physical attacks - at least for until such time as it still functioned.

"So now what?" asked Utred. "Do we know which one of them was the bandit leader? Or should we take all of their heads with us, just to be sure?"

"Ugh," scowled Marlo, squeamish at the thought. "How about we just put the bodies on the wagon? If those guards want to cut their heads off, they can do so themselves."

"That will not be necessary," said a figure that appeared at the top of the hill.

Spinning around at this new possible threat, the heroes saw a human figure in red robes, carrying a wooden staff with a carved dragon's head at the top. He stood there fearlessly, not at all worried about standing weaponless before a quintet of adventurers who had just taken down a half dozen human rogues (even if one of them was still alive, on his knees, cowering in fear) and a trio of drow spellcasters. Either he was a spellcaster of much greater power or he knew he had nothing to fear from these five arena slaves.

Marlo divined the truth in a sudden flash of insight. She placed a restraining hand on Cramer's arm, holding him off from any spellcasting of his own, and addressed the newcomer. "You are the Dragon King of Dracovania, aren't you?" she asked.

The red-robed human with a distinctively regal bearing smiled in appreciation. "Indeed I am," he confirmed. "Well done." He sniffed the air quietly for a moment and then added, "But then I would have expected no less of you: you are, I believe, distantly related to my own line of ancestry." This came as a shock to Marlo, whose surname Pendragon was said to have been based on the fact that somewhere in her family tree had been an actual dragon; this was said to have been the likely source of her own sorcerous powers. But she'd always imagined her draconic ancestor to be a gold dragon or perhaps a silver - certainly not a red dragon, allegedly the most powerful and fiercest of those dragons of a decidedly evil bent. And while she knew some of the metallic dragons could assume human form, she hadn't been aware that was something red dragons could do - unless they did so through their sorcery, which was also possible. But that also made him a quite powerful sorcerer, certainly more skilled in the arcane arts than Marlo herself.

But before Marlo could voice any of these thoughts the Dracovanian king continued. "I have been watching you since your arrival at the border keep, where I was investigating claims of corruption within my troops stationed there. It seems," he smirked, "they had been charging 100 times the toll to enter the kingdom. As you might imagine, this has had the effect of driving off most of the travelers from Riven, bringing with it a sharp decline in the trade between our two kingdoms." He frowned and added, "And then they got you to root out these bandits for them, a job which they should have done themselves." Marlo got the distinct impression the guards they'd met up with earlier today weren't going to like the end results of their extortion scheme.

"Your Majesty," Marlo began, wishing once again she was wearing her circlet of persuasion, "we have come to warn you--"

But the Dracovanian king silenced her with an upraised hand. "Time enough for that later, when we are properly introduced back at the palace. You can tell me all about it in greater detail then. Right now, though, I have a...dinner party to attend to." He turned to walk away, then said over his shoulder, "Feel free to take anything you want from the slain bandits. I'll arrange to take anything you leave behind to distribute among my loyal guards." And then he disappeared as quickly as he had appeared, whether through invisibility magic or a teleport spell was hard to tell.

The heroes grabbed up everything of value from the bodies of the slain bandits and took the amassed coins they found inside the cave. Cramer assessed that both of the rapiers were magical in nature but as none of the arena slaves had much use for a rapier they decided they'd turn them over to the king. "Might as well bring them to him rather than make him send someone to fetch them," Marlo decided. "It can't hurt to be as helpful as possible."

"Taking out those bandits for him ought to be plenty helpful," pointed out Utred, tying up their sole prisoner and leading him back to the wagon with the loot they'd taken. Everyone piled in and Cramer snapped the reins, turning the horse back the way they'd come.

When they got back to the guard station at the border of Dracovania, they found it suspiciously devoid of inhabitants. "Looks like he's finished up with his 'dinner party' already," remarked Cramer dryly. Without any further comment, the gnome drove the wagon down the road into Dracovania.

- - -

So it turned out the two drow women had used prestidigitation or a similar spell to alter their hair color, just to mess with us and get us to think they were Greenvale allies. It's a good thing Cramer wears that helm of comprehend languages!

As expected, we all leveled up to 8th level at the end of this adventure. Jhasspok took a 3rd level of fighter - boring, but necessary to get to a 4th level of fighter and the all-important Weapon Specialization (battleaxe) feat I'm eager to get. After that, maybe I'll start throwing on barbarian levels to get them back into equilibrium for a bit.
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That's an interesting thought, although the reason Marlo took the Dying One's offer is purely because Vicki was curious to see what all Logan was up to with the offer. (And the choice was "worship me and get a permanent bonus or don't and get a temporary penalty" - Vicki decided this particular chaotic neutral PC was going to take the easy path for once.) But apparently our next adventure will be called "From the Fires of Demise" - which is an English translation of the Dragon King's name in Draconic. (Logan found a Draconic language dictionary on-line somewhere.)




PC Roster:
Cramer Appleknocker, gnome cleric 8​
Jhasspok, lizardman 3/barbarian 2/fighter 3​
Khari Hammerslammer, dwarf fighter 8​
Marlo Pendragon, human sorcerer 8​
Utred "Buckets" Butterflinger, dwarf barbarian 8​

Game Session Date: 20 May 2020

- - -

"I, Dragon King Ixenilowan, formally welcome you to my kingdom," declared the ancient red dragon whose bulk took up a good chunk of the room he occupied, which served not only as the equivalent of a throne room but also - judging from the coins scattered loosely all about the floor, several layers deep - his personal treasury. It seemed a perfectly safe arrangement: who would dare to steal even a single coin from the ruler of the kingdom when he towered there above you? And the double doors leading into the room had impressive-looking security measures; it would likely be very difficult, if not impossible, to break into the place when it wasn't occupied.

The five adventurers standing before the Dragon King, of course, had already met him - but that was when he was in the human form he often wore when traveling about his kingdom. He also likely had to assume human form to enter and exit his combination throne room and treasury, thought Cramer, for even with the double doors there was no way the ancient red dragon could otherwise get his impressive bulk in or out of the room.

Marlo, wearing her circlet of persuasion, did the formal talking for the group. Dragon King Ixenilowan listened impassively as she told him of the drow of the Overreach, the rise of the Mortal Queen, and their plans to invade the surface world to wipe out the Greenvale drow and make slaves of those in the surrounding areas. As she spoke, the other four arena slaves stood silently beside her, nervous not only at the impressive bulk of the dragon looming over them but also at the two heavily-armored figures flanking them, each with a massive halberd at the ready if the slaves tried anything. The blades on the guards' weapons looked sharp enough to take off a head in one blow, not that the Dragon King couldn't easily dispatch the five arena slaves all by himself. It was unnerving, nonetheless.

When Marlo finished her speech, Dragon King Ixenilowan looked down at her, his expression one of boredom. "This sounds like a problem for the other kingdoms," he observed. "I doubt even this Mortal Queen would dare attempt making slaves of those of my kingdom." Marlo's face showed a flash of disappointment before she could clamp down on it, not wanting to insult the ancient red dragon - there was no telling what his reaction might be, she realized.

"However..." the red dragon added, causing Marlo's eyebrows to arch upwards in wary hope, "there is a matter you could undertake for me. Do me this favor and the might of Dracovania will be added to your cause."

"What would you have us do, Your Majesty?" Marlo asked.

"I have a half-human son, Mablikskriiod. The prince wishes to rule the kingdom but is painfully aware I have centuries of life ahead of me and he will never rule unless I die before my time. Thus, Mablikskriiod seeks to form an army of the survivors of the fallen kingdom of Baraxis to overthrow me. I, naturally, will not allow this to happen but I would prefer not to have to slay my own blood personally."

" wish us to kill your son for you, Your Majesty?" hazarded Cramer. That's certainly what it sounded like to him.

"We can do that," piped up Utred. Killing people was pretty much what he did best; he never really was all that good at the family butter-making trade.

"That is my wish," confirmed Dragon King Ixenilowan. "Slay my son Mablikskriiod and my kingdom will aid Greenvale against the impending invasion forces from the Overreach."

That was certainly an alliance Greenvale could use - Marlo could only envision how helpful an ancient red dragon could be on the battlefield! She opened her mouth to voice her agreement but Utred got there before her. "Deal!" he enthused. "You want us to bring you back his head for proof or anything?"

"That will not be necessary," replied Dragon King Ixenilowan, reaching down in the pile of coins beside him and pulling out a red gemstone. He held it out before him. "This is a status stone, keyed to my son," he said. The heroes could see it pulsed with red light at the speed of a normal heartbeat. "When he is slain, the light from the stone will be extinguished and I will know you have held up your end of the bargain."

Khari had a practical question. "Does your son have any bodyguards?" he asked.

"He has half a dozen or so soldiers forming his inner circle," replied the dragon. "They will likely be with him, yes. I will have a guard escort you to a teleportation circle that will take you to the eastern border of my kingdom. From there, you will need to seek him out somewhere in the fallen kingdom, where he seeks to gather his army." Cramer had unfolded his map and found an area labeled "The Fallen Kingdom" - it lay east of Dracovania and was close to the village where Marlo had been raised.

"Very well, Your Majesty," agreed Marlo on behalf of the entire team. "We will be off on your mission at once!" She nodded and curtsied, knowing full well a Dragon King would expect such honors.

Dragon King Ixenilowan cleared his throat suddenly and announced, "You have forgotten to pay the Audience Tax."

"The...?" began Marlo, looking up in mid-curtsy, not sure if she had heard correctly. Surely the red dragon wasn't expecting them to pay him for the privilege of seeing him and being given a task to perform before he'd agree to fight off enemy forces who would mean harm to those of his own kingdom?

But Jhasspok caught on that money was being requested. He reached into the satchel strapped to his side and pulled out a square piece of slate bearing the scratched symbol of House Jalamir. "Do you accept slave tokens?" he asked. In his naivety, he forgot to address the Dragon King as "Your Majesty" - but then Utred hadn't and the lizardfolk took many of his social cues from the dwarven barbarian.

"Let me see that," demanded Dragon King Ixenilowan, holding out a draconic hand nearly the size of Jhasspok's entire body. He peered down at it as Jhasspok handed the slave token over, examining it closely and pinching it between his claws. Holding it on end, he used its pointed edge to scratch between two of his scales. "How many of these do you have?" he asked. Jhasspok opened his satchel and showed the red dragon, as Utred pulled another small sack of them from his own pocket.

"I will accept all of your slave tokens as the Audience Tax," announced Dragon King Ixenilowan as if doing the five arena slaves an incredibly generous favor. The five heroes emptied their pockets and pouches of all of their slave tokens, dumping them onto the coins already piled at their feet. Then, with a nod and a wave, Dragon King Ixenilowan bent to examine his new riches while the guards escorted the heroes back outside the castle and over to their wagon. Then one of them led the horse and wagon over to the teleportation circle the Dragon King had mentioned.

"Once it's been activated, you can just lead your horse into the circle," the escorting guard told them. Then, getting the thumbs-up signal from the castle wizard overseeing the platform, he said, "Go on ahead, then." Cramer gave the horse a snap of the reins and it went forward, pulling the wagon with the five heroes behind it. In the wink of an eye, the assembly was teleported across the miles onto a road very much like the one they had first taken to get to Dracovania.

"Good thinking about the slave tokens," remarked Cramer to Jhasspok. "They aren't any use to us anywhere but back in Overreach, and with any luck we won't be needing to spend much time there any more."

"I know how money works," replied the lizardfolk with just a hint of pride in his voice. It was a concept he'd been struggling with and was pleased to have apparently mastered. But then he turned to Utred, to ask a question that had been puzzling him. "How can a dragon have a son who's half human?" he asked.

"Well, you know he can turn himself into a human when he wants to, right? So he gets some woman pregnant when he's a human, and when she has the kid he's born with some dragon in him - maybe a tail, maybe red scales, maybe a dragon's head. Who knows? He ought to be easy enough for us to recognize, in any case," the barbarian said, already thinking ahead to identifying and killing the Dragon Prince.

"I recognize where we are!" enthused Marlo suddenly, looking around. "We're right!" She pointed to a spot on Cramer's map with her finger. "Trail's Ridge, where I grew up, isn't far from here!"

Jhasspok looked over at the human woman sitting in the front seat next to Cramer, who was steering the wagon. Noting her short stature - the sorcerer was just shy of five feet - he asked Utred, "If we go back to her village, will she finish the rest of her growing up?" He wasn't sure, of course, but most of the humans he'd seen in his five years of life had been significantly taller than Marlo. He supposed it was possible her growth had stopped for some reason when she was separated from her village - who could tell with these mammals?

"Nah, I think that one's done growing," Utred replied.

"Maybe she has some dwarf in her," Jhasspok hazarded and didn't understand what was so funny when Utred and Khari began stifling snickers.

"What's so funny back there?" asked Cramer. But before he could get an answer Marlo touched him on the shoulder and pointed off into the distance. "Look!" she said. A plume of smoke was rising up from a small village off to the southeast. "That's Trail's Ridge!"

Cramer brought the horse to a fast trot and the group collectively got ready for potential battle. As they approached the village they could see only one building was actually on fire; Marlo identified it as the communal church. Trail's Ridge was too small to house separate temples to the various gods; one building made do for the whole pantheon.

Shrieks and screams could be heard before the heroes made it into the village proper and as they did enter they saw people fleeing in all directions. Getting closer, it became apparent they were fleeing from several figures wearing red dragonhide armor and wielding weapons, who were trying to round up the human villagers. Cramer cast a detect evil spell and wasn't at all surprised to see the armored figures triggered his magically-enhanced vision.

Without a word, Khari dropped off the side of the wagon and sank into the earth. With his earthglide warhammer in hand, it was simple enough for him to rush forward underground, popping up behind the fence of an animal pen attached to a tavern. He ducked low, staying out of sight as he saw two of the soldiers in red dragonhide standing before him, ordering the villagers to surrender and line up peacefully to be examined for their fitness to serve. Marlo cast expeditious retreat on her toad familiar Truffles, anticipating the possibility of later sending him out to deliver a touch spell or two (probably vampiric touch, although the sorcerer wasn't really thinking that far ahead just yet). She was distracted as she recognized several faces among those fleeing the soldiers.

One of the two men who seemed to be in charge noted the arrival of the wagon and the armed and armored individuals approaching on it. "We got armed company!" he called out to his companions and readied his weapons: a longsword and a whip whose length seemed composed solely of flames. Another man approached him, clad in the same red dragonhide plate mail and wielding identical weapons.

Cramer tried the diplomatic approach at first, calling out, "Are you seeking mercenaries? How much is the pay?" He wouldn't mind at all if these Dragon Knights thought they'd be willing accomplices to their schemes - it would likely get them close to Mablikskriiod.

"We're seeking loyal troops who would overthrow the Dragon King - a despot who has held his lands under a reign of terror for far too long! Are you up for such a mission?"

"I've heard dragons keep amazing amounts of treasure," the gnome replied in way of answering. "We'd be more than happy to join you in your task, if it means sharing in the rewards!" He studiously ignored the screaming villagers who still fled for their lives from the other armored knights seeking to force them to join their ranks, pretending to believe the obvious fiction the forces who'd be overthrowing the Dragon King would be volunteers. "Are you the leader, then? Do we work for you?"

"The leader's Prince Mablikskriiod," the Dragon Knight Slaver replied, pointing a thumb over his shoulder toward the burning church building. "He's investigating a hidden chamber below the church." This was news to Marlo, who had been in the church building many times and had not been aware there was a secret chamber below it. But as Cramer brought the horse to a stop - allegedly so the heroes could climb down and join their new bosses - he cast a shield of faith spell on Utred, knowing that keeping their toughest combatant in the fight for as long as possible could only aid them in their task.

But Utred wasn't one to muck about with any foolish "diplomatic approach" - not when there were heads to roll! As soon as his boots hit the ground he was sprinting at the two Dragon Knight Slavers with his greataxe out and ready. The closest one had time to send his whip cracking forth to burn a line of pain across the barbarian's face as he charged, but all that did was make Utred angrier. Jhasspok leaped down from the wagon and followed his barbarian friend, stoking his own rage at these slavers. His parallel approach brought him a whip from the other Dragon Knight Slaver and his own subsequent hiss of pain, but then his battleaxe was swinging down upon the same opponent Utred had targeted.

There were four other Dragon Knights in the area, these armed with spears and swords, and one of them charged at Jhasspok, leading with his spear. While they were slowed by their heavy armor, the lizardfolk's attention had been on the man he'd attacked and the newcomer's spear scored a hit in Jhasspok's side. Blood flowed freely down his scaled body.

But then Khari popped up from the ground, bringing his warhammer crashing down upon the Dragon Knight Slaver Utred and Jhasspok had already focused their own attacks upon - the dwarven fighter figured he'd therefore be the easiest to bring down. Marlo, in the meantime, cast an empowered magic missile spell at the knight who'd just stabbed Jhasspok.

As one, the two Dragon Knight Slavers spun about and attacked Utred and Jhasspok with both their longswords and their life-flame whips. Of the two weapons, the whips were by far the more powerful, for they not only had a greater reach but caused pain by their merest touch. Fortunately, Cramer cast a sound burst spell centered directly behind the pair that caused one of them to drop his weapons as he froze up, stunned; the spell caught another approaching Dragon Knight in its area of effect and the same thing happened to him. The other Dragon Knight Slaver fought on, thrashing out at Jhasspok with his weapons.

Utred didn't waste a moment in cutting down the frozen Dragon Knight Slaver standing stunned before him; one slice of his greataxe was all it took for the armored human to go crashing to the ground, his skull nearly split into two straight through his helmet. Jhasspok spun and attacked the spearman who'd just stabbed him, suspecting he'd fall easier than the Dragon Knight Slaver also attacking him. The lizardfolk's axe cut into the spearman's arm, dealing little damage as it was deflected off his armor, but it was just enough distraction to allow Jhasspok to rip out the man's throat with his teeth.

But by now two of the other Dragon Knights were upon Jhasspok, stabbing at him with their spears. He was hard-pressed to keep their darting spears away from him, especially once they managed to get him pinned between them as they attacked from opposite directions. But Khari stepped up, clobbering one in the head with his warhammer and dropping him at once, then, swinging his weapon to crush the ribs of the other one attacking Jhasspok. He, too, fell to the ground, dropping his weapons on the way down. Khari crushed his head for good measure.

Marlo empowered another magic missile spell and sent it flying at the sole remaining Dragon Knight Slaver and while it hit him it didn't prevent the human from knocking Jhasspok out with another dual strike of his longsword and his whip of flames. Jhasspok's blood pooled at his sides from his multiple wounds.

Cramer leaped down from the wagon and raced over to aid the fallen lizardfolk, taking a whip-strike in doing so. But then he cast a cure critical wounds spell on Jhasspok, closing up the reptile's wounds and bringing him to fast wakefulness. Jhasspok leaped back up to his feet and brought his battleaxe crashing into the torso of one of the Dragon Knights, bringing him down just as Utred did the same to the Dragon Knight Slaver who'd almost killed the lizardfolk earlier.

Only one Dragon Knight remained and he was quickly brought down; the arena slaves noted he apparently didn't even dare think of fleeing the battle to save his life or surrendering peacefully to an overwhelming force, choosing instead to die in battle. Whoever this Mablikskriiod was, he either engendered a fierce amount of loyalty or he was someone you didn't dare cross! The heroes picked up weapons from their falling foes as Marlo looked over at the church, noting the flames were finally petering out.

Entering the church, the group - led by Utred, who was itching to meet this Mablikskriiod in battle - found a dug-out hole in the wooden floor of the church, where the wood had been burned away. It was wide enough to allow two of them to drop down the six feet or so to the top of a pile of dirt, from which they could climb down to a hidden level below the church.

Utred activated his hat of disguise, taking on the appearance of one of the Dragon Knights. Cramer activated his ring of invisibility, fading from view, and Marlo thought that a wise precaution so she cast invisibility spells upon herself, Khari, and Jhasspok. Then the five descended into the chamber before them.

Looking over at Utred, one of the two Royal Guards standing beside Mablikskriiod demanded a report. Utred saw the weapon-tips of the spears they each held was sheathed in flames. Mablikskriiod held a book out before him, looking between its open pages and the magic circle inscribed in the stone floor of a chamber just around the corner.

Utred, doing his best to disguise his voice a little, replied, "The others have rounded up about a dozen men who look like they could be of some use in a battle." He left it at that, thinking that was likely what the Dragon Prince would be most interested in and that any further embellishment was likely to expose the charade; best to keep it simple and hope for the best. While the Royal Guard's attention was focused on Utred, Cramer surreptitiously cast an aid spell on Khari; they were both far enough back that the cleric was reasonably sure his words wouldn't be heard by the enemy.

Marlo whispered her plans to the others so they'd know to keep back (unfortunately, the others were just as invisible to Marlo as they were to their foes) and then stepped forward, casting a color spray at the trio of enemies before her. She popped back into the visible spectrum as she did so and was pleased to see both Mablikskriiod and one of his Royal Guard were stunned into immobility by her spell. The other one, though, grabbed his flaming spear and moved as if to attack this upstart human woman who'd appeared out of nowhere.

But before he could do so, Khari slammed the Royal Guardsman standing stunned before him with his warhammer - popping back into visibility as he did so - and then earth glided through the corner of the wall into a side corridor, leaving the stunned man he'd just walloped as a human shield before him. Utred stepped forward and attacked the stunned guard with his greataxe, although as he was still wearing his hat of disguise he appeared to be wielding a longsword.

Jhasspok, however, had no patience for underlings and jumped straight at the main target, bringing his battleaxe cutting deep into Mablikskriiod's side. The Dragon Prince staggered under the blow and returned to full alertness, possibly having been jostled out of his stunning by the savage attack. But Cramer gave him no respite, casting a spiritual weapon spell and sending it to attack the Dragon Prince while Marlo sent an empowered magic missile spell flying his way as well.

The stunned Royal Guardsman was just snapping out of it as his counterpart started saying a few words that Khari and Utred (and Cramer, wearing his helm of comprehend languages) recognized as Dwarven: "To seek eternity." The magic circle started glowing as a result and the Royal Guard hurriedly pushed Dragon Prince Mablikskriiod into the circle, following him at once. But Jhasspok was still in contact with the Dragon Prince - a humanoid being who looked like nothing so much as a wingless red dragon squeezed into a vaguely human shape; he had a dragon's head and a red-scaled tail as thick as Jhasspok's own stuck out from beneath his red dragonhide armor - so when the two fleeing figures were teleported to apparent safety, the lizardfolk went right along with them.

Back in the chambers beneath the church of Trail's Ridge, Khari slammed the remaining member of the Royal Guard with his hammer (smack in the face, breaking his nose and removing a half dozen or more of his teeth in the process) and Utred finished him off with a blow of his greataxe. Then Utred ran into the side chamber with the teleportation circle; it was now empty but fortunately the effect was still in place, for as soon as he stepped across the threshold of the circle he was teleported to the far end of the one-way magic effect.

The room he appeared in had apparently once been about the same size and shape as the one he'd just departed; now the entire back fourth of the room was askew by about five feet as if somebody had just wrenched it violently to the left. There was a magic circle inscribed on the stone floor in this room but it didn't glow - nor was it a true circle anymore, merely two arcs of a circle pulled asunder.

But the dwarven barbarian was not alone in the room, for there on the ground lay Dragon Prince Mablikskriiod in a pool of blood and standing over him was Jhasspok, his reptilian muzzle covered in the Prince's blood after having just ripped out his throat. The Royal Guardsman at his side seemed to be in shock as he looked down upon his fallen liege, then he raised his flaming spear as if to avenge his master - only to have Cramer's spiritual quarterstaff smack him in the face as the little gnome and Marlo materialized in the room, having stepped into the teleportation circle at the far end.

Looking down at the dead half-dragon, the Royal Guardsman dropped his weapon and raised his hands in surrender.

Back in the underground chamber, Khari looked all around him and saw he was alone. Wandering into the chamber where he'd seen Utred go, he called out a tentative "Guys?" before crossing the threshold of the circle and appearing among his companions once again.

But now that everyone was back together, getting back to Trail's Ridge was going to be a challenge. Cramer called out "To seek eternity" in Dwarven, hoping against hope the teleportation effect might still work if at least one of the circles was still functioning. No such luck. "It looks like we're stuck here," lamented the gnome.

"Where's 'here'?" asked Marlo, looking around. The room was unlit save by some scant illumination seeping over a pile of rocks to the west, where it looked like the ceiling of a tunnel had collapsed some time ago - possibly during the same earthquake the sorcerer theorized might have shifted the back of the room over, destroying the magic circle in the process.

"I'll go see," offered Jhasspok, crawling over the rubble. The corridor had been a short one, and twenty feet later he was back outside in the open, having exited a cave in the side of a stone cliff. Before him, for as far as he could see, was sand: nothing but sand, a desolate desert environment. Jhasspok crawled back through the rubble-strewn passageway and report what he'd seen to the others.

"So we have no idea where we are or how to get back," summarized Marlo.

"What about this one?" demanded Utred, looking over at the Royal Guard. "You: you got any idea where this teleport circle thing took us?"

"I-- I have no idea," stammered their prisoner.

"Then you are of no use to us," declared Jhasspok, bringing his battleaxe crashing across the man's throat, killing him instantly. Marlo stifled a scream of horror at the lizardfolk's sudden and savage attack. "We will need meat if we are to cross a desert," replied Jhasspok. He looked down at the dead guard at his feet. "Meat is meat," he reminded the others.

"I guess we can say goodbye to the horse and wagon," Marlo said wistfully. Then she brightened and pulled the bag of holding out of her belt-pouch. "But at least we still have all of our goods with us!"

"Good thing," agreed Utred. That at least was something.

But then there was movement behind them and the heroes were startled to see the Dragon Prince rising back up. "She calls to me," he said mysteriously, shambling toward the rubble-strewn corridor and reaching a hand to the desert. He started climbing over the fallen rocks when Jhasspok dragged him back by the ankles, dropped him to the stone floor before him, and cut off his feet.

Still he tried crawling to the desert. Jhasspok wasn't having any of that: when he killed someone, he expected them to stay dead! He chopped Mablikskriiod into pieces, ensuring he was incapable of moving. But the bloody mess he left behind encouraged Marlo to move at great speed and she soon found herself standing at the foot of the great wasteland spread out before her. The others joined her.

"We have to cross that?" asked Khari. He didn't seem to enjoy the prospect.

Cramer was frowning; besides the obvious heat of the desert, the cleric could sense a strange chill as well - one that was almost necromantic in origin, he considered. "There's some sort of reanimating effect in place here, I'd wager," he told the others. "Strong enough for the Dragon Prince to rise up as a zombie after he was dead." Hearing that, Jhasspok returned back into the chamber they'd left to go chop up the body of the Royal Guardsman - just in case.

Marlo, however, looked up the cliff face behind her. Then, activating her boots of levitation, she rose straight up in the air, rising higher and higher until she could see over the top of the cliff. The air, she noted, had cooled significantly as she rose - much faster than normal. But the sight she saw beyond the top of the cliff made her nod her head in agreement with what she'd been thinking. She lowered herself back down to the others.

"Well?" asked Cramer.

"Tundra," Marlo replied. "Pine trees, patches of snow." She gestured for Cramer to open the map he carried. "I think we're somewhere in here, on the eastern edge of the map," she guessed, pointing to an area marked "The Desolate Wastes." "The lands at the top of the cliff are probably part of the Giants' Tundra." This was an area just north of the Desolate Wastes; the border between the two was indicated by a line of cliffs that led to the eastern edge of the map. It all fit with what she'd seen.

"So, our choice is to head out into a desert where if we die we'll turn into zombies or something, or we take turns being levitated up the cliff and into a snow-filled land ruled by frost giants," surmised Utred.

"That's about the gist of it, yes," agreed Marlo.

Utred hefted his greataxe. "I choose giants," he said.

"Giants," agreed Khari, his grip firm upon his warhammer.

"I'd say giants it is," observed Cramer.

- - -

Logan found a Draconic language generator on-line somewhere and informs us "Ixenilowan" is Draconic for "the fires of demise." He used a Pathfinder "Village Square" Flip-Map to represent Trail's Ridge (this is like the fourth or fifth time we've used that particular map in our various campaigns - we're certainly getting our money's worth from that one!), then some D&D Tiles to create the chambers below the church, and for the "earthquake-damaged" teleportation circle room he drew that one up on a sheet of paper with 1" grid lines. That's another noted difference in our respective DMing styles: with weeks between our gaming sessions in the campaign I DM, I tend to go more heavily on the homemade maps, whereas Logan's campaign meets weekly as a default and he thus leans more heavily on Dungeon Tiles and Flip-Maps for speed of preparation. He's gotten to be quite an expert with the Dungeon Tiles, too, often stacking them on top of each other for multi-tiered complexes or covering areas in separate rubble pieces to alter the design of the area. He's also become quite adept at incorporating details on the maps or tiles into the adventure as needed.

So it's off to the tundra next session, in an adventure Logan informs us will be named "Out of the Fire, Into the Freezer." I don't think Jhasspok's going to like the tundra very much - he'll probably like fighting frost giants just to help him stay warm!

Incidentally, we're moving our gaming night to Thursday starting next week. It's the last season of "Agents of SHIELD" and it's been moved to Wednesday evenings, so we're bumping game night by a day to accommodate. (Finally fed up with the ridiculous cost of cable TV, we gave up cable in February and are now a digital antenna family - which means no more using OnDemand to catch a show we missed when it originally aired.)
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PC Roster:
Cramer Appleknocker, gnome cleric 8​
Jhasspok, lizardman 3/barbarian 2/fighter 3​
Khari Hammerslammer, dwarf fighter 8​
Marlo Pendragon, human sorcerer 8​
Utred "Buckets" Butterflinger, dwarf barbarian 8​

Game Session Date: 28 May 2020

- - -

"Gather together," Cramer told the others, waving them forward with his hands. "I'll cast a dimension door spell to get us to the top of the cliff." The others gathered around him, he cast the spell, and nothing happened - save for the green glow which briefly suffused each of the five in a soft illumination.

"That's odd," replied the gnome cleric, frowning. "There seems to be some sort of dimensional lock effect in place here, as well as the necromantic energy suffusing the area. Very strange."

"What does it mean?" asked Khari.

"It means I can't get us up the cliff with my spell," Cramer replied, still frowning. "I suppose I could cast a fly spell on myself, but I doubt I'd be able to carry some of you...." He looked at Jhasspok, who stood twice the little gnome's height.

"Cast it on someone else, then," suggested Utred.

"Save your spell," interjected Marlo, pulling off her boots of levitation. She looked over at Jhasspok, the strongest of the five and therefore the one best suited to carry the others, one by one, up the side of the cliff. Then, looking down at his reptilian feet, with their wide, splayed toes ending in claws, she mirrored Cramer's frown. "I don't think these would be able to resize to fit you," she said; magical boots could shift their dimensions somewhat to fit the size of the wearer's feet, but that was assuming the wearer's foot conformed to the standard human build. Instead, she turned to Khari. "Here," she said, passing her boots over to him. "You can ferry each of us up."

Khari removed his own leather boots, tied their laces together, and flipped them over his shoulder out of the way. Then, after donning Marlo's boots of levitation (which did in fact resize to fit the dwarf's wider feet), he looked at the others. "Who's first?" he asked, looking at Jhasspok and Utred. As they were the heaviest it made sense that one of them would be taken to the cliff-top first; not only so Khari's subsequent loads would be lighter as time went on but also because whoever went first would be left alone at the top of the cliff while Khari went down to fetch the others.

"I'll go," offered Utred. He stood behind Khari and gripped his fellow dwarf's shoulders. Then Khari levitated straight up the side of the cliff; fortunately, it was almost perfectly vertical so Utred was able to step off onto the solid earth at the top; Marlo's boots did not provide for any motion other than straight up and straight down.

"Cold up here," commented Utred, dropping his pack onto the ground and rummaging through it. Fortunately, he had a set of cold weather gear. Khari dropped back down and by the time he'd ferried Jhasspok to the top of the cliff, Utred was wearing his heavy coat and passed a warm blanket over to the lizardfolk, who had no such protection and didn't even wear any clothes. Jhasspok took the warm blanket gratefully, wrapping it over his slave-light cloak. "My feet hurt," he said.

"What, from the cold?" asked Utred. They were in the tundra up here at the top of the cliff (despite the burning desert below them) and while there wasn't any snow at the top of the cliff they could see some off in the distance, among the pine trees.

"I don't think so," Jhasspok replied, sitting down and brushing sand off the bottoms of his feet. Patches of reptilian skin came off with the sand.

"Huh," snorted Utred. "Almost looks like sunburn."

"Sunburn? What is 'sunburn'?"

"You stay out in the sunlight for too long, the sun burns your skin, turns it all red," Utred explained. Then, looking at Jhasspok's green scales, he amended, "Well, maybe not yours." Jhasspok squinted up suspiciously at the fireball sun in the sky as Khari brought Marlo up to the top of the cliff. The sorcerer scolded Jhasspok for staring directly at the sun.

When Cramer was brought to the top and Khari gave Marlo her boots back, the little cleric examined the bottoms of Jhasspok's feet. "Yep, burns," he agreed. "Probably from standing in the sand down there without anything between it and your feet." Even without her boots on, Marlo had at least been wearing her socks so she wasn't similarly troubled. But the application of a healing spell restored Jhasspok's feet to their normal, healthy state and he declared himself fit to travel.

"Do we even know where we want to go?" asked Khari, lacing his own boots back up as Marlo pulled on her own cold weather gear. She passed her winter blanket over to Khari, who wrapped it around himself. Cramer did the same with his own, gnome-sized blanket.

"We don't know where exactly we are on the map, or if we're even on the map," Cramer answered. "But we're somewhere along the miles-long rift at the northern border of the Burning Wastes, so we'll want to go west." He looked up at the sun; Jhasspok was about to warn him you weren't supposed to look directly at it when the gnome dropped his gaze and pointed off to his left. "This way," the gnome said, heading westward.

The group spent the next hours in silent trudging. Once they got to the trees and the snow they formed a single line, with Jhasspok in the lead and the others following in his footsteps. (Jhasspok, who had never seen snow before in his life, asked the dwarves what it was and Cramer piped up with, "They're scales from the Great Sky Fish, who lives behind the Really Big Pearl." Jhasspok nodded appreciatively at the perfectly reasonable explanation and pressed on in silence, which was all Cramer really cared about at that point.)

By the time the group stopped for the evening, the three of them without cold weather gear were feeling the effects of the cold. Fortunately, the ironsilk tent, once deployed, contained an automatic endure elements spell effect and that kept the temperature reasonable. Cramer, Khari, and Jhasspok practically collapsed inside the tent and enjoyed the warmer clime.

"They're gonna need to rest up, if they're going to do this again tomorrow," Utred pointed out to Marlo. "And if you don't get your rest, you won't be able to cast your spells tomorrow." He rubbed his thick beard in thought. "I can take the first guard shift, if you think your toad can stand a shift as well," he offered.

"I have a better idea," Marlo answered, rummaging through her spell scrolls. "I can cast an alarm spell and we can all just sleep though the night."

That worked out just fine; the tent and its inhabitants were not disturbed throughout the night and everyone woke much refreshed in the morning. "We got any idea how many days it's gonna take us to get back to civilization?" asked Khari.

"No idea," admitted Cramer. "But we'll have a better time of it today: I'll cast an endure elements spell on the three of us without heavy coats."

The second day of travel was uneventful, but Marlo and Utred came up with a unique form of travel for her: the dwarf tied one end of his rope around her ankle and then she levitated up as high as the rope would allow; then Utred trudged through the snow with the other men, tugging Marlo behind him like a balloon. Marlo thus didn't have to wear herself out by walking through snow all day like the others, but more importantly she had a good vantage point from nearly 100 feet in the air and could scout ahead for any trouble. "It's like being in a crow's nest," she told the others, then had to explain to Jhasspok what a crow's nest was, which then further necessitated her explaining what a boat was and what a crow was.

"Ah, a sky fish," he said, understanding fully.

The second day, their first full day of overland travel through the tundra, passed by uneventfully, Marlo having spotted nothing more dangerous than a passing herd of reindeer or elk. And with none of the arena slaves having been fatigued by the cold weather they were able to take their normal guard shifts in the ironsilk tent, saving Marlo's one remaining alarm spell scroll for later when they might need it.

It was on their third day of travel when Marlo, from her mid-air perch, saw a flash of movement below and tugged on the rope around her ankle, the signal she and Utred had worked out between themselves. She called down to the others what she saw but they couldn't make out her words; however, she pointed frantically at the approaching beast and the men turned to their right to see what she was pointing at. It was a dire polar bear, racing toward them from the north.

"What's that?" Jhasspok asked.

"Dire bear," Urtred grunted back, pulling out his Elderwood flaming blade.

"Like we fought in the forest," Jhasspok hazarded, although this one seemed even bigger - and a completely different color.

Cramer activated his ring of invisibility and ran over towards Utred. Once there, he cast a shield of faith spell upon the dwarven barbarian, readying him for the impending combat. But it was Khari who attacked first; wielding his earthglide warhammer, he tried sliding down into the earth as he charged but was thwarted by the frozen ground which refused to part before him. But he hit the dire polar bear in the side of the head nonetheless, even as Marlo sent an empowered scorching ray spell flashing down at the great beast. It roared in pain as both blasts of fire struck true, one of them striking it right in the face, burning its sensitive nose and irritating its eyes. Unable to retaliate against the sorcerer in the sky, the bruin slashed at the dwarven fighter standing before it with its great claws, then bit down upon Khari's arm. The Hammerslammer dwarf refused to give it the satisfaction of even a grunt of pain.

Jhasspok sprinted forward and brought his battleaxe down upon the dire polar bear, chopping the axe-head deep into the side of the bear's skull. It released its grip on Khari at once as it collapsed onto the frozen ground, dead. The lizardfolk set his battleaxe aside and pulled the dagger from his belt, beginning at once to skin the dead bruin. "Meat is meat," he reminded the others. "And the fur will be warm."

But then Marlo called down again from her aerial perch. Looking up, Utred saw he frantically pointing in the same direction from which the bear had approached. Looking over, Utred saw two more white shapes approaching and much farther behind, a humanoid figure that could only be a frost giant. But he was far enough away he wasn't likely going to be a concern for some time; of much more immediate importance were the two winter wolves barreling down on the party - or, more accurately, on the dire polar bear they'd been tracking for their master.

Cramer took the opportunity before combat began to cast a bless spell on the assembled heroes. And then Khari once again started combat, charging towards the wolf on the right as it approached the group, wisps of frozen breath escaping its lupine muzzle. Khari's warhammer blow sent its head snapping to the left as its teeth clamped down on nothing more solid than air. Marlo, from her aerial vantage point, assessed the dwarf would be able to take care of his current foe and sent an empowered scorching ray spell down at the other wolf. Both blasts hit and the wolf crumpled at once into a flaming mass in the snow, its fur all but burned off by the power of the human sorcerer's spell.

The other winter wolf sent a blast of frigid air straight into Khari's face, but the doughty dwarf ignored the frozen pain of his exposed flesh and pressed on with his attacks. Jhasspok raced over to this new foe, grabbing up his battleaxe on the way and bringing it down upon the winter wolf's side, cutting through a rib or two. But it was Utred's Elderwood flaming longsword that slew the beast, with a blow that nearly severed the creature's head clean off.

By this time, the frost giant had approached close enough to have seen the carnage wrought by the five arena slaves, who had slain both of his hunting wolves in a matter of mere seconds. He had a nice, solid rock in his hand and he threw it at full force to the combatant he deemed the most needing of immediate slaying: Marlo, who flung fiery death from her very fingertips! The boulder went whizzing by the sorcerer, not close enough for her to even consider altering her aerial height with her magical boots.

"What the Hell are you shrimpy poachers even doing here?" complained the frost giant to himself, unaware that Cramer's helm of comprehend languages translated the Giant tongue just fine. The little gnome raced forward towards Khari, who by this time looked like he could use a healing spell or two after the damage he'd sustained in combat with these arctic beasts.

But Khari didn't stick around for healing; he was racing towards this newest threat. Despite his limited intellect, he was battle-wary enough to realize it was in his best interests to bring fire to this fight if possible, so he switched weapons on the way, pulling out the new keen flaming burst longsword he'd taken from the Dragon Prince several days ago. The blade dug deep into the frost giant's leg, the flames burning the blue flesh where it wasn't covered in the white fur hide armor the giant wore.

Marlo proved the giant's assertion that she was his greatest danger by sending another of her empowered scorching rays spells down at him, each ray striking with a stunning accuracy that had the giant momentarily sheathed in flames. Then, while he was distracted by the pain of the fearful burning he was undergoing, Utred and Jhasspok raced up, each striking with their weapons on either side of him. Utred used his Elderwood flaming longsword, the flames of its blade burning the frost giant just as badly despite their unusual green color. Jhasspok had also picked up a flaming weapon from the Dragon Prince's men - his was a spear whose tip burned with fire - but in his haste he stuck to his trusty battleaxe; the spears he'd taken he carried in the same hand as his shield so it was somewhat awkward for him to switch weapons and he couldn't do it as fast as either of the dwarves could.

Growling in pain, the frost giant snarled, "What are you even doing here in our lands?" Hearing this, Cramer - who understood the question thanks to his magic helm - dropped out of his invisibility effect and called off the attack. "Stop attacking us and we'll stop attacking you!" he called to the giant. "Can you understand me?"

"I unnerstand," replied the giant in poor but passable Common. He took a step back away from these "shrimpy poachers" but they didn't press on with their attacks.

"We're here by accident," Cramer told the giant, answering his original question. "We're trying to get to Rimefjord, to speak to your leader."

"Rimefjord? That hundreds miles distance," replied the giant, causing Khari to sigh in exasperation. Hundreds of miles of trudging through the tundra? That would take weeks! "Why my wolves you kill?" the giant demanded.

"Because they attacked us," countered Cramer. "We wouldn't have bothered them otherwise."

"We track bear many of days," complained the giant. "Then from us you take prey!"

"Again, we only attacked the bear because it attacked us first," countered Cramer. "But we don't want the bear - you're welcome to it, if you want." Jhasspok's mouth dropped open in surprise at this; he certainly wanted the bear!

"You can eat the wolves," the lizardfolk counter-proposed. "Meat is meat." He looked over at the one Marlo had taken out with her fire spell. "And that one's already cooked!"

"Not eat pets!" snarled the frost giant and Cramer quickly sent a "settle down" signal to Jhasspok. He didn't want to stand before the leader of the frost giants asking for their help in taking on the Overreach drow after having slain a member of their...tribe, or nation, or whatever. Jhasspok eventually agreed not to push the point; he supposed he could make do with a winter wolf pelt instead of a dire polar bear pelt, as long as it wasn't the one that was all burned up.

That settled, the frost giant resumed the skinning operation Jhasspok had just gotten started on with the dead bruin. The others eventually convinced Jhasspok he didn't need a winter wolf pelt to keep warm, as Cramer's endure elements spell was sufficient protection. He couldn't argue against that so, still somewhat grumpy, he agreed they could press on with their trek. After all, it would be weeks of travel, apparently, through territory where those not of the giant races weren't exactly welcome - best to get through the journey at best speed.

It was a matter of mere minutes later that the group found a figure standing before them, draped entirely in heavy, black furs. She stood as if waiting patiently for their arrival. Marlo was as shocked as the others, as she hadn't seen the figure's approach - and in fact, there weren't any footprints in the snow around her - she'd apparently just teleported to her current position! But she couldn't call down to her friends from 100 feet in the air, so she started reducing her altitude at once. If nothing else, she was curious to hear what this mysterious figure had to say.

"I understand you are headed to Rimefjord," the figure said, her voice muffled somewhat by the full mask and goggles she wore. The goggles were made of some dark material, preventing the heroes from seeing her eyes.

"And how exactly is it you understand that?" asked Cramer.

"I have my ways," answered the figure, which was no answer at all. "But I have a proposition for you: I will teleport us all to Rimefjord, saving you weeks of weary travel, if you will in turn do a small favor for me."

Khari was suspicious but also curious. "What's the favor?" he asked.

"There is a relic hidden in the ruins beneath the giant settlement. I want you to fetch it and bring it to me."

"Why don't you do it yourself?" demanded Utred. "If you can teleport all that distance, you should be powerful enough to go fetch yourself a relic out of some ruins." Jhasspok didn't want to interrupt the proceedings but he made a mental note to ask Utred what a "relic" was when he had the chance.

"There are...reasons," she conceded, again not providing much in the way of an answer.

"I don't like it," whispered Utred to the others - including Marlo, who had dropped down from the sky to join in the huddled conversation.

"How'd she even find us?" asked Khari. "Out here in the middle of nowhere? That's kind of convenient."

"And I don't like the fact that we can't see anything of her at all," added Marlo. A sudden thought struck her and she turned to the mysterious figure before them. "You're a drow, aren't you?" she accused. "That's why you're covered up so much, so not even an inch of your skin is showing!" She turned back to her friends. "She's probably trying to get us to do something to help the Overreach armies!"

"Take off your mask," demanded Cramer. "Let us see you." If she was a drow, he wanted to see her hair color - although he realized a simple prestidigitation or alter self spell could allow a normal drow to pass herself off as a sunborn drow with oddly-colored hair.

"I don't think so," replied the masked woman.

"Then say, 'Matron Bel'vior is a big, stupid butthead,'" suggested Jhasspok, catching onto the fact the gnome cleric wanted some proof this mysterious stranger wasn't allied with the drow of the Overreach. In the lizardfolk's mind, this was something no drow loyal to the Overreach nobility would dare speak aloud.

The woman turned until she was directly addressing the gnome, as if knowing full well the powers of his magic helm of comprehend languages. Then, in perfectly fluent Drow - a language none of the arena slaves knew but all could recognize as such when spoken - she said, "Why would I say such untruths about myself?"

Cramer gasped aloud. The others turned to him, wondering what it was she had said. "She's Matron Bel'vior!" the gnome cried out.

Hands went immediately to weapons and Marlo grabbed up a scroll containing the hypnotism spell, hoping against hope she'd be able to catch the stranger under a fascination effect before she could use any of her magics upon the group. But Llolnida Alyxyra Bel'vior, the Mortal Queen, raised a hand in warning and said, "Do not try to harm me: I can and will slay you all instantly if I need to." Then, seeing her warning had had the desired effect - none of the combatants had stepped forward and although hands still gripped weapons they were lowered at the heroes' sides - she moved her fingers in a pass across the arena slaves as she muttered a few syllables of magical power.

Belatedly, Cramer guessed what she was doing. She confirmed it, saying, "I have just used a miracle spell to place a quest upon you. You will now either fetch the relic for me or you will waste away to nothing as you trudge through the tundra, dying painfully for having disobeyed my direct orders." She removed her helmet and goggles, revealing a set of demonic horns tapering back from her forehead, proof of her Abyssal blood just as the darkness of her ebon skin showed her drow heritage. "For whatever else you may be, you are still slaves to the drow of the Overreach - and I rule the Overreach!"

There were muttered grumblings and not a few dwarven curses before Cramer told the others, "We don't really have much of a choice here. For her to have cast a miracle, she's among the most powerful spellcasters on the planet." He turned to the Mortal Queen, who was smirking in that irritating way completely mastered by just about all members of the drow race. "What does this relic look like, and what does it do?"

"What it does need not concern you," she said. "However, it is a crystalline object, nearly spherical, with a thousand facets and similar objects nested within it. I need it to deal with the little 'dragon problem' your interference has caused in my plans." This simple statement made Cramer believe it was entirely possible they were being sent to fetch the fabled orb of red dragonkind, with which the Mortal Queen could dominate Dragon King Ixenilowan, using him as her puppet. That would be much worse than simply negating his agreement to fight against the Mortal Queen's armies - it would have him actively fighting against those who would aid Greenvale!

Cramer made a silent oath to himself: he would find some way to defy the Mortal Queen's wishes and prevent the powerful relic from getting into her hands. Marlo, not privy to just what this relic was or what it might do, silent swore to herself she'd try to find some way to warn Dragon King Ixenilowan of the Mortal Queen's plans against him, for having the slaves fetch this relic seemed to somehow play into dealing with the "dragon problem." She owed it to the red dragon - a relative, no matter how remotely - to warn him against the danger to himself. The dwarves silently swore they'd each do whatever it took to eventually cut this Mortal Queen bitch down with their weapons, one way or the other. Jhasspok swore to himself that he'd remember to ask Utred what a "relic" was - and what was that other word? Oh yeah, "facet." That one, too.

"If we're all ready...?" asked the Mortal Queen, and then without waiting for a response cast another miracle spell that teleported everyone to Rimefjord.

- - -

This adventure took much less time than Logan had anticipated, mostly due to the fact our dice were going out of their way to support us while Logan's were in the midst of some sort of treacherous mutiny. No kidding: Jhasspok, Khari, Utred, and Marlo all got at least one confirmed crit with our attacks this session. (Marlo's was with an empowered scorching ray spell against a creature vulnerable to fire, so she rolled damage, we added 50% of the total - as per the Empower Spell feat - and then applied another 50% to the new total for the confirmed crit. It's no wonder the winter wolf curled up in a ball of flame and died after being hit with just that one spell!) Meanwhile, Logan's enemy forces managed to miss us left and right with their attacks; we all roll in the open so this wasn't any sudden decision to take it easy on us or anything. Some days are just like that.

But man, are we all chafing under the Mortal Queen's quest spell! Dan and I both made instant transformations into rules lawyers, studying up the miracle and geas/quest spells looking for a loophole to get out of the task to which we've been set. It's going to be interesting to see where we end up going from here; I haven't failed to notice we're actively planning on how we can possibly save an evil, ancient red dragon. The enemies of my enemies and all that, I suppose, but this alliance is making for some strange bedfellows...speaking of which, getting the frost giants to join our alliance is going to be difficult - and would be even if we didn't have the Mortal Queen herself hanging around with us now. The frost giants aren't likely to want to help the Greenvale drow, probably thinking the Overreach armies won't think it worth their while to try to enslave frost giants. It's going to be a pretty hard sell, getting them to help us.
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Lizard folk in disguise
Strange bedfellows indeed; although I suppose that the Matron is ready for "unintended consquences."

Thoroughly enjoying Jhasspok; although the softskins seem to be rubbing off on him. The last one I played, would have shrugged, killed the giant and pointed out that "More meat is more meat." But only if the giant kept whining. But I had to smile at the "skyfish."



PC Roster:
Cramer Appleknocker, gnome cleric 8​
Jhasspok, lizardman 3/barbarian 2/fighter 3​
Khari Hammerslammer, dwarf fighter 8​
Marlo Pendragon, human sorcerer 8​
Utred "Buckets" Butterflinger, dwarf barbarian 8​

Game Session Date: 4 June 2020

- - -

There was an obelisk in the middle of the town square. "We will meet here at midnight," said Llolnida Alyxyra Bel'vior and none of the slaves made the mistake of believing it to be a mere suggestion. Matron Bel'vior pointed to an enormous building at the end of the street. "In there you will find the current leader of this frost giant kingdom, if you wish to try to get them to join your cause." The mockery in her voice evinced her belief the five arena slaves would have no success at that particular endeavor. "Midnight," she reminded them, then disappeared as quickly as she'd teleported the group across the miles.

"She's awfully sure of herself," sneered Marlo in distaste. The sorcerer pulled the circlet of persuasion from her pack and plopped it onto her head. "Come on - let's go prove her wrong!" Cramer gave the obelisk a thoughtful scrutiny as he followed in the sorcerer's wake.

Storming up to the vast dwelling the Mortal Queen had indicated, the slaves couldn't help but notice the size disparities in the buildings they passed; some were at human scale while others towered above their neighbors, easily twice as high yet still remaining a single story, judging by the 15-foot-tall doors. Apparently frost giants lived intermingled with creatures more the slaves' size.

Marlo knocked loudly on the door of the indicated building with her fist. The doors were opened from the inside by a pair of male frost giants, looking down in surprise at their unusual visitors - especially Jhasspok; apparently they didn't get a whole lot of lizardfolk guests out of the blue. "We wish an audience with the Queen," Marlo said boldly to the giants, noting the weapons at their belts were larger than her entire body.

"Enter, then, and take a seat at the table," replied one of the bearded guards, indicating a giant-sized table and chairs between the front door and the back of the room, where a slender frost giant woman sat on a massive throne. She was flanked by canines on either side: a pair of winter wolves at her left and a much larger rime hound at her right. All three looked at the strangers with hungry eyes but none made a move towards them. Jhasspok stared right back at the winter wolves as he crawled up into an oversize wooden chair; across from him Marlo did the same. The dwarves sat across from each other in the next-closest chairs, while Cramer opted to lean against the leg of a chair rather than try to climb all that way up.

"Welcome," said Queen Sigvor in a silky voice. "To what do we owe the honor of your visit?"

Marlo went right into her spiel, explaining about the impending drow attack from the Underdark, focused primarily upon Greenvale but expanding across the neighboring realms. She didn't try to appeal to the frost giants to help their Greenvale neighbors out of the goodness of their hearts - she knew that was likely a losing proposition - but she did try to play up the imperiousness of the drow cause and their belief they could overpower any force set against them. Better, she thought, if the frost giants came to their own conclusion it was in their best interests to ally against the drow menace. Marlo specifically did not mention they had traveled here in the company of the Mortal Queen whose armies would be attacking the surface world in two months' time.

"Interesting," replied Queen Sigvor when Marlo had finished her tale. "While I prefer peace with the little races, most of the tribes would rather make use of the chaos of a war with the drow to their own advantage. All I can guarantee is that I will do what I can to keep the frost giant forces neutral in the coming conflict. We will not come to your aid, but neither will we ally with the drow."

Marlo realized this was about as good as she was going to get. "We thank you, Your Majesty," she said. "As we are strangers to your kingdom, may we ask you about the obelisk we saw outside?" The heroes had been unnerved by its appearance; while it bore no runes or markings - it was a simple, four-sided structure that tapered to a point - Cramer's detect evil spell cast in curiosity as they passed it indicated only one of the four sides had radiated evil.

"It predates our rulership of this land," admitted Queen Sigvor, "and even Rimefjord itself - it's older than even the Desolate Wastes. Some believe it to be a shrine to some nameless god of destruction. Whatever it is made of seems to reflect magic; a wizard once attempted to disintegrate the obelisk and was himself disintegrated instead."

Cramer's eyebrows raised at this as he wondered as to its possible origins. "What can you tell us of the Desolate Wastes, Your Highness?" he asked. (And in the little gnome's case, "Your Highness" was a statement of fact as much as an honorific to a frost giantess.)

"About 1,000 years ago, holy fire rained down upon the lands to the south. This lasted for a full nine months and ever since, any who die, or any dead brought into the desert, rise to join the Undying Crusade." Cramer gulped and thanked the frost giant queen for the explanation; despite their current predicament, he was glad they chose the tundra over the desert!

"We will take up no more of your time, Your Majesty," replied Marlo, crawling down from the enormous chair much to the amusement of the queen's guards. "Many thanks for your hospitality." The five heroes were escorted back to the front door and released back outside.

"We're likely to have a busy night," said Cramer. "Might want to rest up until then." They found a back alley and activated the ironsilk tent, camping out for the rest of the day and well into the evening. Then Cramer and Marlo, well rested, went about the mental assessments that verified they were able to hold a full day's assortment of spells, in the gnome's case the specific spells for which he had prayed to Fharlanghn to obtain. Well before midnight they returned to the obelisk, their gear all packed away.

"Weird lookin' thing," Khari observed. It was tan in coloration and made of a substance that wasn't quite worked metal and wasn't quite stone - as both dwarves could attest.

"Ah, on time I see - very good," purred the Mortal Queen as she stepped forward from the shadows. "Are you ready for your mission?"

"We're ready to get out from under your quest spells," grumbled Cramer.

"Then we both want the same thing," smiled Matron Bel'vior. "I will open the obelisk and you will go down into the dungeon below and fetch me the thousand-faceted sphere you'll find inside." Jhasspok nodded silently to himself, proud of the fact he still remembered what Utred had told him "faceted" meant. (And a thousand, Jhasspok recalled, was even bigger than a hundred.) "Bring it back to me here and then we can go our separate ways." She voiced a command word and one of the sides of the obelisk slid into the ground. There was a three-foot-diameter hole in the middle of the floor of the four-foot square cross-section of the structure's interior; a ladder could be seen going down into darkness.

Utred peered down into the vertical shaft. "'Bout fifty feet down," he told the others. The five slaves mentally increased the illumination of their slave-light cloaks to their maximum.

"I'll go first," offered Marlo, forgoing the use of the ladder and levitating down the vertical shaft using the power of her magic boots. At the bottom she saw a 20-foot-long stairway leading further down, deeper below the surface of the ground. The rectangular chamber at the bottom of the stairs had an archway along its southern face, with numerous symbols engraved in the stone all around it.

"Let's get this over with," grumbled Cramer, climbing down the ladder. The dwarves followed, with Jhasspok heading down last. He caught up with the others examining the various symbols. "These are holy symbols from various gods," Cramer observed. "And unholy symbols," he amended, noticing the distinctive emblems of Vecna, Erythnul, and Gruumsh.

"That one's Lolth's," Jhasspok pointed out; before he met Cramer, the cleric of Fharlanghn, Lolth had been the only deity of whom the lizardfolk had been aware, having been hatched and raised as a slave to the drow for all of his five years. For his part, Cramer cast a magic circle against evil spell upon himself.

"Okay, before we do anything else, let's warn the Dragon King about what we're being forced to do," suggested Cramer. He cast a sending spell, directing the following message across the miles to reach the ears of Dragon King Ixenilowan: "Forced by drow Matron Bel'vior to retrieve relic specifically to counter your involvement in upcoming drow invasion. Plan accordingly - possibly flee?"

"So now what?" asked Khari.

"He'll get the message, and part of the magic allows him to automatically respond." The gnome stiffened, apparently receiving the red dragon's response.

"Well?" asked the dwarven fighter.

"He says, 'Sounds like your problem,'" Cramer replied despondently. It didn't sound like the ancient red dragon was overly concerned about anything some mere drow could do to him, even if she was the leader of an entire Underdark city. "No help from that front, I'm afraid."

"Let's go," suggested Marlo, stepping through the archway with no ill effects. The others followed her into a larger chamber. There were two alcoves carved into each side wall; two were empty save for a pile of rubble and broken stones, while the other two contained intricately carved statues. A pair of stone double doors stood shut at the far side of the room.

"No crystal sphere-thing," observed Khari, looking all about the room.

"Probably behind them doors," hazarded Utred.

"Yeah, and you just know as soon as we open these doors these two statues are going to animate and attack," pointed out Cramer. Marlo cast a detect magic spell and examined the doors. With her magically-enhanced vision, she was able to instantly detect the abjuration effect suffusing the entire chamber, the transmutation auras permeating the two statues, and - belatedly - the necromantic energy pouring out of the various symbols around the archway beneath which the heroes had passed. Fortunately, whatever action might trigger the necromantic energy, none of the heroes had set it off just yet.

Marlo explained what in the room was magical, leading Cramer to examine the closest of the statues. It was a centaur of some sort, only instead of hands its arms ended in a pair of spiked chains. The detail in the chains - with the open spaces in the center of each link - led the gnome to believe this was no simple carving, but a creature (a construct of some type, given its angular build) turned to stone. The only question was whether the stone statue would animate as a stone statue when it attacked or return to its pre-petrified state first.

Utred and Khari examined the rubble in the southeastern alcove. Some of the chunks of broken rock had been carved into some sort of shape; Utred was the first to realize it too had once been a statue of some living creature, long since broken into chunks. That led him to believe these statues would remain stone statues when they animated, but Cramer disagreed. "Not necessarily," he explained. "They could attack in the flesh, then return to a stone configuration when they were slain."

"That likely?" Khari asked.

"I'm not sure," admitted the gnome. "But it's definitely possible." Khari checked out the other pile of rubble but it had been broken into too fine of a pile of gravel to make identification possible.

The other intact statue was of some sort of humanoid frog-man. "A slaad," Cramer said. "Hard to tell what type though, without seeing its true colors." He explained the slaads came in different colors, like dragons, with each color of slaad having different powers and abilities.

"Well, we're going to have to go through the doors eventually," pointed out Marlo, casting an invisibility spell on herself in preparation for combat once these statues were activated. Cramer cast an aid spell on Khari.

"We ready to open 'em?" asked Utred, his Elderwood flaming longsword out and ready to strike.

"Hang on, I got a better idea," said Khari - and then slipped under the stone floor, using the power of his earthglide warhammer to step through the solid rock below the door and pop up on the other side. He was now at the top of another short set of stairs leading down into another large chamber very much like the one he'd just exited: four alcoves (although this chamber held three statues instead of just the two) and, instead of a set of doors at the far end, another alcove - upon which stood the multifaceted spheroid they'd been sent to fetch.

Looking warily about, to ensure the statues weren't going to come to sudden life on him, Khari approached the back alcove. Sure enough, that had to be the relic they'd been sent to acquire for the Mortal Queen. The Hammerslammer dwarf knew as soon as he touched it the three statues would animate and try to kill him - and, for all he knew, so would the other two in the first chamber. So he opted not to even touch it...especially once the unseen voice in his head said, <Turn back, mortal, lest you face your death.>

Khari pivoted at once and headed for the nearest statue, figuring he could at least give a decent report to the others about what they'd likely be facing in here; Cramer seemed to know quite a bit about extraplanar creatures. The statue looked like an elven woman from the waist up, with her hips and legs replaced by the body of a snake. Feathered wings rose up from behind her shoulders. Weird, Khari decided.

Across from the lillend statue was another winged figure, this one the size of a shapely human woman but whose wings were rather batlike in build instead of feathered like the snake-woman's. Khari remembered this particular type of demon: Cramer had called it a succubus when they found it guarding one of the villages they'd been sent to loot from the Writhing Gate.

The last statue was of a rather large dog-headed man wielding a greatsword. On a whim, Khari checked out the empty alcove, expecting to see a pile of rocks and hoping he could figure out what the creature had been, but it was truly empty. Reaching a hand out into the empty space, Khari bumped into something that he couldn't see, even with his dwarven darkvision. Unnerved at the concept of an invisible statue, the dwarven fighter decided that was enough exploring and skedaddled out of the room, earth gliding through the stone and returning to the first chamber of statues, where he reported what he'd seen to the others.

"Good call on not touching the relic," Cramer said. Then, musing over the descriptions of the statues Khari had seen, he said, "It sounds like a lillend, a succubus, a hound archon, and a hellcat - all creatures from the outer planes, some good, some evil. I wonder why these particular statues were chosen?"

"More to the point, are we ready to go in?" Utred asked. He didn't know about anyone else, but Utred was ready to go in.

"I have a question," piped up Jhasspok, who had been in silent contemplation as Khari made his report.

"Yes?" asked Marlo.

"If Khari shows me how to work his hammer, couldn't I just go into the other room and fetch the stone? I can run the fastest, and then I could glide back through the floor like Khari does. Then we could just run away. The statues are all too big to follow us up the ladder to the obbalish."

"Obelisk," corrected Cramer, unable to help himself. "Hmmm...."

"If he does that, he'll activate the statues for sure," pointed out Utred. "Including these two out here, more'n likely. Might be best if we take these two out first. Then if he wants to go grab the relic, he might get out before they can follow. 'Course, for all we know, they can open these doors just fine and we'll still be fightin' them all off anyways."

"I have a hold portal spell on a scroll," offered up Marlo.

"Let me see if I can take this centaur fellow out first," Cramer decided, heading toward the zelekhut statue. "It's some kind of inevitable; I forget what this actual type is called." He cast a stone shape spell onto the centaurian statue, trying to "melt" it into some kind of formless blob without any sharp edges with which to attack. However, even in its petrified form, the zelekhut had an innate resistance against spellcraft and in this case the gnome's spell had absolutely no effect. But the attempted spell did qualify as an attack upon one of the guardians of the place, which caused both it and the green slaad to revert to their non-stone forms and move to attack the interlopers.

The green slaad began combat by tossing a fireball into the middle of the room, encompassing Jhasspok, Cramer, and Utred, its intended targets, as well as the invisible Marlo who just happened to be within range, unknown to the frog-thing. Of the four, Utred took the brunt of the damage from the flames, which in turn stoked the internal fires of his rage. In retaliation, he sprinted across the chamber and brought his longsword crashing into the slaad's side. Idly, he noted the green flames sizzling across the weapon's blade didn't seem to have much of an effect upon the humanoid frog.

Unaware of the creature's resistance to fire, Marlo popped back into visibility as she cast an empowered scorching ray spell at the slaad and the strength of her spell blistered the warty skin of the outsider, proving it wasn't actually immune to fire, merely resistant. Jhasspok, in the meantime, decided somebody had better take care of the centaur thing, for it was no longer made of stone but a shiny, gleaming metal. The lizardfolk reminded himself not to try to bite it, instead swinging his battleaxe hard against its side - where it made an impressive clanging noise but not much else.

Cramer cast a bless spell on the group, aiding them in their future attacks against this pair of mismatched enemies. Khari charged the green slaad, bringing his warhammer crashing into the creature's thigh. But that left Jhasspok facing the zelekhut all on his own and the inevitable's choice of targets was thus made exceedingly simple. Its spiked chains went flashing out, ripping holes in Jhasspok's scaly hide; the lizardfolk hissed involuntarily in pain.

The slaad's claws went slashing out at the pair of dwarves attacking it, missing Khari but catching Utred and allowing him to pull the dwarven barbarian forward so it could bite him with its mouth of wicked-looking teeth. Utred dropped his longsword and pulled the greataxe from his back, swinging it in full fury at the green toad-thing towering above him. Marlo changed tactics, switching over to an empowered magic missile spell, sending her darts of force energy smashing into the amphibian monstrosity's hide.

Jhasspok swung again with his battleaxe, invoking the special power it had to aid him in striking his enemies at the cost of lowering the power of his swing. After all, the lizardfolk mused, if he couldn't even manage to hit his target then it didn't matter how much strength was behind his blow. The axe's blade hit true but bounced harmlessly off the zelekhut's metal hide, failing to even leave a scratch on the surface. Fortunately, this time the nimble reptile managed to dodge under the spiked chains that came swinging in his direction in response.

Cramer activated his ring of invisibility and moved forward to aid the dwarves in their fight against the green slaad. Khari hit the slaad again with his warhammer, this time focusing upon the beast's left knee. It retaliated against both dwarves, once more missing Khari while catching Utred just fine with its sharp claws and pointed teeth. But then with a powerful blow, Utred brought the slaad down to its knees, the barbarian's greataxe cleaving deep into the amphibian's flesh. It held itself from falling prone with a steadying hand on the stone floor of the chamber but it was quite obvious the slaad was not long for this world.

Finally noticing the lizardfolk struggling alone against the zelekhut - and not having very much luck against it - Marlo pulled Truffles from her pocket and cast a spell upon him, then flung him forward to activate it upon the centaurian inevitable. Truffles bounded up, unnoticed by the zelekhut, and reached forward with a webbed forefoot to try to trigger the empowered shocking grasp spell his mistress had imbued upon him. The spell fizzled harmlessly against the inevitable's spell resistance and Truffles scurried back to Marlo, his mission a failure but at least successfully attempted.

Jhasspok swung his battleaxe futilely against the zelekhut's armored hide, once again failing to do anything meaningful to bring the enemy down. But the twin spiked chains each got past the lizardfolk's defenses, ripping off scales and causing the reptile's red blood to flow freely down his body. He wasn't sure how much more of this punishment he could take but he was also sure he wasn't going to move from his current position, for he had the thing still pinned inside its alcove, unable to reach the other arena slaves.

Cramer by now had reached Utred and placed a hand upon the dwarf's back, channeling a cure critical wounds spell into the barbarian's body, healing up the worst of the slaad's bite- and claw-marks. Khari, in the meantime, finished off the slaad with an overhand swing of his warhammer straight down onto the nearly-prone enemy's head, crushing its skull. It turned back to stone immediately, then fell to pieces as Khari gave it a good smashing, just to be sure it was dead.

Utred looked down at the slain and shattered slaad in disappointment and looked about for another opponent. He raced across the chamber, making a bee-line for the zelekhut. He powered in next to Jhasspok and sent his greataxe crashing down upon the construct's metal hide; the lizardfolk was simultaneously both pleased and irritated to see the dwarf's weapon leave a quite noticeable dent in the gleaming side of the zelekhut's body.

Marlo sent a pair of empowered scorching rays at the zelekhut, the twin blasts of flames blasting right over Utred's head to strike the inevitable. Then Khari raced up to Jhasspok's other side and added his warhammer to the arsenal attacking the zelekhut, but he was having the same trouble Jhasspok had been dealing with: an inability to actually deal any damage to the four-legged construct, despite successfully bringing his weapon crashing into its side.

Cramer channeled a cure serious wounds into Jhasspok, reaching out to touch the lizardfolk's tail as the reptile dodged about, trying to find a good angle from which to strike the infuriating zelekhut. Jhasspok barely noticed his wounds healing up at the gnome's touch, so focused was he on trying to do something, anything, to help bring this centaur-thing down.

But he needn't have bothered; another empowered scorching ray spell from Marlo did the trick and the zelekhut fell to the ground, shattering as its now-stone body struck the solid floor of the chamber.

"Everybody okay?" asked Cramer, applying healing spells to those who needed them, then casting a fly spell upon himself, anticipating a need to move much quicker than his stubby little gnomish legs could get him in the very near future.

"Are we sure about this grab-and-run ploy?" asked Marlo hesitantly. She didn't like the idea of sending Jhasspok - or anyone, really - into a room with four statues that would animate and try to kill him, especially not when the others wouldn't be available to help fight off the enemies. So a compromise was made: they'd open the doors, Jhasspok would go get the relic, and then they'd all flee together, the dwarves ready to slam the doors shut and hopefully hold them closed before high-tailing it themselves. The best thing about the layout of the cavern was the set of stairs leading to the double doors was narrow enough that only one of the four statue-guardians could try to open the doors and gain access to the fleeing heroes.

The doors opened by sliding sideways along grooves cut in the floor and ceiling. Utred and Khari muscled them open and Jhasspok advanced warily, keeping his eyes on the three statues he could see. As he approached the back alcove, he too felt a whispering voice in his head: <Turn back, mortal, lest you face your death.> Jhasspok ignored it, looked back at the doors to see the other slaves in readiness, glanced over at the statues to make sure they were still immobile stone, and grabbed up the multifaceted gem the size of a cannonball.

Quick as a wink, the lizardfolk spun in place and sped back the way he'd come, his tail held out straight behind him for balance as he fled past his friends and all the way through the archway with the numerous god-symbols engraved all around it. Then he looked back to see what had transpired behind him.

The hound archon had been the first to make it to the stairs; Cramer cast a spiritual weapon spell to try to keep it at bay. Khari had pulled out his shortbow, anticipating having to fight from a distance for a change, and let fly with an arrow that caught the dog-faced humanoid in the shoulder. It swung its greatsword at Utred, hitting the burly dwarf as Marlo cast an empowered scorching ray at the celestial. Cramer's floating force-quarterstaff struck the archon again, even as the gnome ducked low and struck the celestial on the knee with his mace. Now that the hound archon had closed the distance, Khari dropped his bow and swung at the dog-headed man with his warhammer, a weapon with which he was much more proficient.

But then the succubus took flight, flitting over the hound archon's head and past the assembled heroes, heading toward Jhasspok. Utred managed to tag her with the tip of his greataxe as she fled past but the damage she took from the blow was minimal. From further back in the line toward the stone doors, the lillend cast a sound burst, stunning only Khari but inflicting a teeth-rattling blast of sonics against Cramer, Utred, and Marlo as well.

Seeing his fellow dwarf freeze up and knowing all too well what that meant (for sound burst was a particular favorite combat spell of Cramer's), Utred grabbed Khari by the arm and dragged him back away from the doorway. Then he diverted his attention to the succubus, swinging at her again with his greataxe. Marlo kept her focus on the approaching hound archon, empowering a magic missile spell and sending it blasting towards the celestial, to strike his broad chest in a flurry of sparks.

Jhasspok, seeing the "everybody run to the obelisk" part of the plan had somehow gone horribly awry, rolled the relic over towards the stairs leading back up to the ladder which led to the surface and sped back to join his friends in combat. He charged the succubus and actually hit her, but the female demon's body was protected against such physical blows and the frustrated lizardfolk found his attacks to be as useless as those he'd wasted upon the zelekhut.

The hound archon stooped low and attacked Cramer, perhaps realizing by taking out the gnomish cleric he'd also be getting rid of the spiritual quarterstaff still smashing down upon his head. Cramer flew out of the stairwell, landed over in a back corner of the first chamber, and cast a cure serious wounds spell on himself. Khari shook himself out of his immobility with a look of fury and, assuming the succubus had been the one to stun him, swung at her with his warhammer. The winged demon, however, was busy attacking Utred and couldn't spare the time to ward off the dwarven fighter's hammer-blows, trusting in the toughness of her fiendish form to deal with such bothersome attacks.

Utred finally recalled the original plan and closed the stone doors, leaving only the succubus out in the first chamber to have to deal with. Marlo cast her hold portal spell from the scroll, the only one of its kind she had. But the magic worked, for despite the muffled pounding of the hound archon's steel weapon the stone doors held.

Jhasspok again swung at the succubus, hitting her with his axe-head but not having any effect upon her other than as a general distraction; he got the feeling he was little more than a buzzing fly bothering her. Cramer attacked the demon with his mace, having used up all of his attack spells; at least his spiritual quarterstaff had made it through the doors before they'd been shut and sealed and he redeployed it against the succubus. Khari swung his warhammer at the winged demon and she retaliated with her claws, raking then across the dwarf's face, drawing blood. But having seen to the closing of the doors, Utred picked up his greataxe again and with a mighty blow cut the demon down out of the air. She fell to the ground and shattered, her body once again nothing more than stone.

"Now can we leave?" asked Jhasspok, running back to fetch the relic he'd cast aside. The others followed, one by one climbing up the ladder back to the surface.

And there, waiting for them, was the Mortal Queen. "I'll take that," she said, smirking. Jhasspok handed it over to her without a word.

"We've upheld our part of the deal," Cramer pointed out to the drow Matron. "Remove these quest spells from us at once!"

Matron Bel'vior's eyes narrowed in anger. "You would do well," she advised, "to recall to whom you are speaking, slave!" But her mood lightened as she glanced at the multifaceted sphere before her. "In any case, the quest spells dissipated as soon as the relic was handed over to me. They are already gone." Cramer tried to sense if what she said was true, but felt no different from when the quest spell was still active on him. Still, it made sense that the spell would be gone once they'd performed what the spell was compelling them to do.

"What does that thing even do?" demanded Marlo, curious despite herself. She wanted to know if it was the orb of red dragonkind, as Cramer had surmised.

Matron Bel'vior didn't even bother keeping these arena slaves in the dark - what could they do, after all, against one with her power? "This," she smirked, "is the literal Vengeance of the Gods. It's a soul prison for a creature called the Tarrasque. Once I figure out how to release the beast I will send it to destroy Greenvale, wiping the blot against Lolth out of existence forevermore." She smirked at her five unwitting dupes. "The gods have symbols of death in place to slay instantly anyone entering the relic's resting place who wishes to unleash the Tarrasque upon the world; thus, I was forced to send in those who knew nothing of the relic's true power."

If anything, her smirk grew even wider and more insulting. "And so, when Greenvale and all of its wretched inhabitants are ground into powder by the Tarrasque, you may pride yourselves in the knowledge that it was you that granted me this power. In this, you have truly become some of Lolth's most devoted servants!" Then she stepped back into the shadows and was gone.

- - -

I was not a fan of this adventure and neither was Harry. It didn't help that we rolled like crap all night, but it also rankled that I couldn't hit the stupid zelekhut hardly at all (even when I rolled halfway decently) and when I did I couldn't deal it enough damage to get past its damage reduction; the same thing held true for the succubus. And Harry was right there in the same boat with me. Together, our PCs just got ground up like mince meat (the enemies certainly had no trouble hitting me at least), so we forced Dan to have Cramer to do little more than keep healing us so we wouldn't die. That left pretty much only Vicki and Joey to actually handle any combat, so it turned out to be "The Marlo and Utred Hour" with the other three of us as not much more than spectators.

Logan, for his part, was unhappy that Harry and I were grumbling about how not-fun this all was. He'd thrown CR-appropriate foes at us before and had us run right over them, often slaying them before they had a chance to do much, and thus for this adventure he beefed up the competition and wasn't pleased at all the grumbling he was receiving for having put our 8th-level PCs up against two chambers filled with CR 11 encounters. Of course, he'd also given us two flaming whips in the previous adventure that would have aided us greatly in this fight (they attack against the foe's touch AC!), but they had been taken by Marlo and Utred, neither of whom was using them in this fight. And, of course, had Jhasspok attacked the green slaad instead of the zelekhut (or allowed the zelekhut to exit the alcove so we could flank it) he'd have been much better off, but I didn't do that. So grumpiness prevailed.

Logan used the "Giant Lairs" Paizo Flip-Mat for the frost giant encounter and built the "Dungeon of the Tarrasque Soul Prison" out of WotC's Dungeon Tiles.
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PC Roster:
Cramer Appleknocker, gnome cleric 8​
Jhasspok, lizardman 3/barbarian 2/fighter 3​
Khari Hammerslammer, dwarf fighter 8​
Marlo Pendragon, human sorcerer 8​
Utred "Buckets" Butterflinger, dwarf barbarian 8​

Game Session Date: 11 June 2020

- - -

"Well, this sucks," griped Cramer.

"What, the fact that we just handed over a dangerous weapon that will allow the Mortal Queen to pretty much destroy Greenvale with the Tarrasque, or the fact that we now get to head on back to Greenvale and warn them?" asked Utred.

"Both," grumbled Cramer, pulling out his map and consulting it. "Looks like a good week's worth of travel, too," he muttered. "There's a mountain range between us and them."

"You could always hunt up the Mage of the Ruins," pointed out a helpful passerby who had heard Cramer's grumbling. "He could probably teleport you to wherever you wanted to go."

Cramer's eyebrows rose in interest. "And where is this 'Mage of the Ruins,' may I ask?" he inquired. The man told him he hung about the ruins of Baraxis, the Fallen Kingdom. "His name's Ordrick - he's been hanging about there for years now."

"Doing what?" asked Khari.

"I dunno - wizard stuff, I guess. But he came in here, oh, about two years ago, I guess - bought some supplies and stuff and then teleported away, quick as you please."

Cramer was examining the map. "Baraxis is only about two days away," he said. "Beats a week trudging through the mountains."

"That works for me," replied Marlo, although in her case either way wouldn't particularly be a hardship for her, as she'd become accustomed to being dragged around by the ankle while keeping an aerial lookout courtesy of her boots of levitation. "Jhasspok?"

Jhasspok looked to the human sorcerer, surprised to be included in the decisions. "I don't care," he replied. "Either way is fine." He didn't really know enough about the strange surface world to be able to put much consideration into such things; as it was, he was trying to recall what a "mountain" was. He somewhat recalled Utred having explained it to him and he was pretty sure it was either a big pile of dirt and rocks covered with snow at the top or else the place with all the burning sand that hurt the bottoms of his feet. Whatever they were, they didn't have either of them in the Underdark where the lizardfolk had spent all of his life until recently.

"Baraxis it is, then." Cramer got his bearings and the group started off on foot; Marlo walked alongside the others while they were still in the frost giant town, so as not to make a spectacle of herself by being towed along like a balloon on a string. Only once they were out among themselves on the open road did she tie one end of Utred's rope around her ankle and levitate up to a considerable height where she could stay alert for danger while the dwarven barbarian did all of her walking for her.

Several hours into their first day of westward travel along what had once been a bustling road and had in recent years become little more than a small path, Jhasspok, in the lead, saw some movement over behind a clump of bushes. About the same time Marlo started calling a warning from above, the lizardfolk saw a humanoid figure with skin as green as his own (although without any scales that Jhasspok could see) rise up from a crouching position and start ambling over their way from the left side. This was a strange-looking creature: proportionally as much taller than Jhasspok as the lizardfolk was taller than Cramer, it had a ridiculously long, pointed nose (or possibly a "beak" if this was some sort of sky fish - but no, it didn't look like it had feathers, either) and wore only a brief breech-cloth of untanned hide. It carried some sort of round, reddish object the size of a small boulder under its arm as it started gibbering in an unknown language.

"This might be a thing we need to fight," observed Jhasspok, looking to the dwarves for confirmation.

"It's a troll!" yelled Utred, unsheathing his Elderwood flaming longsword and rushing at the beast, dropping the end of the rope as he did so. Cramer cast a magic circle against evil spell on himself and advanced behind the dwarf, hoping to keep most of the group covered under the protection of his spell.

Utred stopped about halfway toward the advancing troll and planted his feet, ready to strike him as soon as he got within range. The troll didn't slow his advance but tossed the object he'd been carrying over at the dwarven barbarian. The "boulder" turned out to be some sort of miniature beholder, with a large central eye and six eyestalks growing from a head whose only other feature was a mouth filled with sharp teeth. While Utred's attention was momentarily distracted by the gauth, the troll reached out with a gangly arm and sent a set of sharp claws ripping across Utred's face. That got Utred seeing red - quite literally - and he roared out a scream of rage and defiance, striking the troll with his green-flamed blade. The troll's flesh blistered at the touch of the flames and he cried out in pain as well.

The gauth's central eye was aimed in Utred's direction but the furious barbarian overcame the stunning ray without even being conscious he was doing so. Two eye-rays blasted out a scorching ray and an inflict moderate wounds beam, both striking true and causing the dwarf some pain, quite possibly - at the moment, Utred wasn't even aware of the new wounds, all of his focus on slaying the troll before him.

Khari activated the power of his magic warhammer and earth glided down into the ground, popping up quite literally at the troll's feet and bringing the head of his weapon crashing into the warty-skinned troll's knee before he even knew the dwarven fighter was there.

Lowering herself back down from the sky, Marlo targeted the gauth with an empowered magic missile spell, thinking anything that looked that much like a beholder had best be taken out as quickly as possible. Jhasspok charged at the gauth as well, but his wasn't a calculated decision; the gauth was just closer to him. He brought his battleaxe swinging to the side of the floating gauth, his blade cutting through the thing's hide but also swatting it aside like a piñata.

Spinning in place, the gauth's central ray caught Jhasspok in its arc but failed to freeze the lizardfolk in place. A scorching ray went sizzling at the reptile while Utred was hit with another inflict moderate wounds beam from the same eyestalk that had targeted him before. Two other beams struck Khari, but the sleep ray failed to have any effect upon the Hammerslammer dwarf and the paralysis ray fared no better.

Cramer cast another spell and a spiritual quarterstaff popped into existence, striking the gauth on the top of its body and dipping it down a foot or so from its aerial position. The gnome ran closer to the dwarves to encompass them in his magic circle against evil spell, for he knew from local lore that trolls reeked of evil. Utred's flaming blade stabbed into the troll's torso again, the slit in his belly sealing up almost immediately but the scorch marks along the edge of the wound remaining. The troll slashed out at Utred with both sets of claws, only one set getting a grasp and piercing the dwarf's flesh.

Seeing the effectiveness of flames against the troll (and recalling tales from his youth that fire and acid were the best weapons against these giant beasts), Khari swapped his warhammer for his own keen flaming burst longsword, the feel of the weapon not as familiar in his hands but the flames doing quite well against the troll's warty flesh. Marlo noted the effectiveness of fire as well and finished the troll off with a well-placed empowered scorching ray. It fell to the ground, its flesh sizzling, and the dwarves each touched their flaming weapons to the burned corpse, charring it enough that the beast would not rise again after having regenerated the worst of its wounds - too many burns and the thing would stay dead.

That left only the gauth and Jhasspok brought it down shortly thereafter with an overhead swing of his battleaxe, followed by a snapping of the spherical creature in the lizardfolk's powerful jaws. It died while partially in Jhasspok's mouth and he pulled it out cautiously, expecting it to try something. But no, it was quite dead and the lizardfolk's own reptilian eyes widened in delight once he realized this was a downed foe with six delicious smaller eyes and a much larger central eye, all his for the eating! (He offered to share with the others, but they refused.) "Ssss ssss ssss ssss ssss ssss!" laughed the lizardfolk at their silliness, passing up delicacies like these!

Backtracking to the troll's hiding place behind the bushes, Marlo discovered a large bag containing its possessions, including a quite impressive pile of coins and gems. These were distributed among the five arena slaves, who decided to follow Jhasspok's lead and take a meal before moving on; they opted for other fare, however, leaving the lizardfolk to enjoy his ocular repast.

The night passed uneventfully in the ironsilk tent and the next morning the five were off again, certain they'd reach the outskirts of the Fallen Kingdom before evening. After a full day on foot, they discovered the outer wall of a castle city spread out before them. The wall had seen better days: one section was little more than a pile of rubble and the portcullis that had once prevented access to the kingdom had long ago been pulled away and thrown aside (likely, if the stories were true, by a band of frost giants who had plundered the unprotected city when its soldiers marched off to attack Greenvale). But through the opening in the wall that the portcullis had once protected, and along the road which led into the city, the heroes could see some sort of construct marching their way toward the open gate. A round tower stood on either side of the gate, each rising 30 feet in height, five feet above the height of the stone wall itself.

Khari rushed over to the side of the tower, hoping to hide along one side of the gate and ambush the construct as it approached. He noticed a glint of metal on the ground beneath the gate, which itself looked to be a large patch of mud. Somebody, it seemed, had dropped something metallic in the mud - but the dwarf decided he needed to concentrate on the impending combat at hand, for the construct was making its inexorable way towards the other heroes, stomping forward in a bee-line.

Cramer cast a detect evil spell on his eyes and moved forward, hoping to be able to detect the construct's motives. He did get a better look at the humanoid figure, though: it was made of about equal parts stone, wood, and metal, half again as tall as a human. With a sudden shock of recognition, the gnome realized they were likely up against a shield guardian, which meant it was a devoted servant to the protection of whoever wore the amulet controlling it...and Cramer would put money on the fact that Ordrick probably was the thing's master. "Let's try not to harm the shield guardian," he called to the others, thinking getting Ordrick to agree to help them get to Greenvale quickly would be made much more difficult if they destroyed his loyal guardian.

Jhasspok ran forward in a sprint but he wasn't headed toward the gateway; rather, he sprinted toward the pile of loose rubble where there was a missing chunk of the wall. He scrambled up the broken stones, crawling up to the top of the stone wall and approached the nearest tower at top speed. Utred followed in the lizardfolk's wake; the burly dwarven barbarian could run as fast as the reptilian slave when he wanted to.

Marlo cast an invisibility spell upon herself, fading from view and hopefully excluding herself as a potential target in the unblinking eyes of the approaching shield guardian. But then an attack came from an unexpected direction: the pool of mud splurched forward, forming a pseudopod and striking an astonished Khari with it. The muddy appendage left a moist layer of slime on the dwarven fighter's skin, which burned like acid. Looking down, he saw the slime had gotten onto his armor as well but was doing it no harm - only living flesh was affected, it seemed.

Not wanting to have to deal with oozing menaces, Khari activated the power of his warhammer and earth glided beneath the ochre ooze and below the stone wall to pop back up on the inside of the Fallen Kingdom. He raced towards the shield guardian, determined to cut it off before it could attack his companions; Cramer might not want them to harm it but by the same token Khari wasn't about to let it hurt his friends. He swung at the construct, his warhammer striking true.

Cramer cast a spiritual weapon spell, causing the familiar quarterstaff of force to materialize in thin air and slam down at the ochre ooze. Its liquid body parted and reformed around the point of impact, making it difficult to determine if the blow had done it any harm at all. At the same time, the shield guardian swung a massive fist at Khari, attacking the dwarf who had just attacked it.

Up on the stone wall, Jhasspok decided not to bother with the door - which could be locked, for all he knew, or the room inside the tower occupied by potential enemies - and leaped up the wall, pulling himself up onto the tower's roof, racing across it, and leaping back down on the other side of the wall, putting him directly above the ochre ooze. He pulled his flaming spear from its place strapped to the inside of his glamered shield, currently made to look like his old one, which had been made from the hardened shell of a large turtle.

Utred, however, scrambled back down the rubble and retraced his steps back towards the others, realizing nearly all of the weapons he wielded were better suited to hand-to-hand combat. He pulled his life-flame whip from where it sat coiled at his belt, deciding to give this new weapon a try - if nothing else, he could attack it from far enough away that he could likely stay out of reach of the slow-moving ooze. Marlo cast an empowered scorching ray at the ochre blob, her spell hitting it and burning away part of its protoplasmic mass. She called out to the others what she could recall of shield guardians: "Whoever wears the amulet attuned to the shield guardian can control it! I'll bet anything it's that metal thing in the middle of the ooze!" Marlo couldn't be certain, but she could hypothesize the construct's former master being engulfed by the ochre ooze and the control amulet now technically being "worn" by the blobby, mindless mass of protoplasm; in such a case the shield guardian would do its best to protect the ooze despite it not giving it any specific commands.

"We need to take out the ooze!" called Cramer. "Don't attack the shield guardian! If we can get the amulet we can control it ourselves!"

The ooze surged forward toward Marlo, slapping at her with an acidic tentacle while Utred slashed his fiery whip at the thing in passing. Khari charged the ochre ooze, passing through the open gateway to do so and noting there was no actual mud in the road; what he'd taken for mud had been the creature's own body. He brought his warhammer crashing down upon the formless mass, redistributing its structure and possibly causing it some harm - again, it was difficult to tell. The shield guardian followed in the dwarf's wake, bringing a powerful fist crashing down upon Khari's shoulder and causing him to cry out in pain.

Leery of the ooze's attacks, Cramer cast a resist acid spell on himself while watching his spiritual quarterstaff continue its attacks upon the ochre blob. But up on the wall, Jhasspok looked down at the scene of combat below him. The ooze had slithered away, but the shield guardian was now directly below the lizardfolk. Keeping in mind what Cramer had said, Jhasspok set aside his flaming spear and pulled out the weapon he kept folded up at his hip and rarely used: his fishing net. He dropped it expertly upon the top of the shield guardian, then grabbed up his spear and leaped over the side of the wall, landing upon the construct's shoulder and bounding down to the ground from there. He spun in place, ready to fend off the construct with his spear if it attacked.

Utred whipped the ochre ooze again while it attacked Khari with an acidic pseudopod. But then Khari finally slew the creature with his warhammer; apparently crushing it had been having some sort of effect after all, for its already almost-liquid body lost almost all cohesion and it trickled away into wet puddles on the ground. Cramer quickly splashed through the puddles and scooped up the amulet. Then, shaking off the slime as best he could, he dropped the necklace over his head and faced the shield guardian. "Cease all attacks!" he told it and the construct stepped forward to stand by its new master, the fishing net still draped over its head and shoulders like a shroud.

"So do you think this guardian was Ordrick's?" asked Khari, wiping the ooze from the head of his hammer. "We come all this way for nothing?"

"I wouldn't be so sure," Marlo mused. "The acid only seems to affect flesh; if Ordrick had been consumed you'd think there would be bones inside the ooze as well, plus, you know, his clothes."

"Let's look around," suggested Cramer, while Jhasspok retrieved and refolded his fishing net. He hoped one day to be able to return to his simple life as a fisher, maybe when all of this running around and preparing to fight drow armies was at an end. Before starting the search himself, Cramer began providing healing spells to those who needed them.

"Ordrick?" called Marlo, cupping her hands. "Are you around? We'd like to talk to you, if we might!"

Eventually, they found an elderly figure in tattered green robes cowering in the corner of one of the abandoned buildings. He was the first person they'd found inside Baraxis and he looked fearfully up at the group with watery eyes. "Don't hurt me," he wheedled.

"We have no wish to hurt you," Cramer replied in his most soothing voice. "Are you Ordrick? We only wish to talk to you, that's all."

The others approached. Ordrick calmed down a bit, only to look fearful once again when Jhasspok approached and stared down at the man. "It's okay, he's friendly," Marlo assured the old man.

"You should heal him," Jhasspok suggested to Cramer. "He's hurt."

The gnome cleric looked over at the elderly man's body, not seeing any obvious wounds. "Are you hurt?" he asked him.

Ordrick shook his head but Jhasspok persisted. "Those wounds on his face," he said, pointing with a clawed finger. Embarrassed, Marlo slapped the lizardfolk's hand down and hissed at him, "He's not hurt - those are just wrinkles!" Jhasspok frowned in confusion; how could those deep lines carved into his face not hurt? He'd never seen anybody with these "wrinkles" before - none of the drow in Overreach seemed to have them, nor did any of the slaves he'd ever seen. It was probably some weird mammal thing, he decided.

The shield guardian ambled up, keeping Cramer within view and Ordrick recognized it at once. "My guardian!" he said, the crazed look on his face starting to go away and some lucidity returning. "You've recovered him!" His rheumy gaze swiveled over to the control amulet around Cramer's neck. "You must have gotten this from that ooze," he reasoned.

"We did indeed," Cramer said, pulling the amulet from around his neck and handing it over to Ordrick. "How did you come to lose it to an ooze in the first place?"

"I, uh, sort of accidentally threw it away," Ordrick admitted. "My brain plays tricks on me sometimes; I thought the necklace was trying to strangle me. It ended up in the ooze's body, and that was all it took for the shield guardian to switch its loyalty."

"So you're Ordrick?" Cramer pressed.

"I am indeed," replied the wizard. "One-time advisor to the King of Baraxis." His face fell as he recalled the role he'd played in the fall of the kingdom. With a heavy sigh, he said, "I recommended the king send our forces to attack Greenvale," he admitted. "I even provided a means for our soldiers to magically fly through the air - it was all very brilliant, or so I believed. And it was - up until those damned elves shot them down with dispel magic spells; there was our entire army plummeting from the skies to their deaths! And, of course, then frost giants came down from their own lands to wipe out our kingdom once it had been left more or less defenseless...." Ordrick's gaze went blank as he relived the unpleasant memories of his past.

"All of that is in the past," suggested Cramer. "We must look to the future! In fact, we have come to warn the local areas of an impending attack by drow forces, rising up from the Underdark! We would appreciate it if you could teleport us to Greenvale, so we could warn them as well." This, Cramer knew, was a quite inaccurate telling of the true state of affairs, but he really didn't want to get into the realities of the Greenvale elves being sunborn drow...all he really wanted was to get this doddering old fool to get them a shortcut to Greenvale.

"If you think about it, it would be a way to make up for the loss of your own kingdom, to help us to warn the other local kingdoms of a dangerous threat to them," suggested Marlo. "We wouldn't want the drow taking over other kingdoms like the frost giants overtook Baraxis."

"No, no, we wouldn't," agreed Ordrick, "Not at all. You just want me to teleport you to the gates of Greenvale? I don't need to come with you inside, do I? I could just drop you off and then go my own way?"

"That would be perfectly acceptable, and greatly appreciated," Marlo replied, giving the old man her warmest smile.

It did the trick. "Very well," Ordrick agreed. "After all, you did get me my shield guardian back."

He motioned for the group to gather around him and they hurried to do so. Then, with the voicing of a few arcane syllables, they all teleported to the front of a familiar set of gates before the Pantheon Wall of Greenvale. "Okay then bye!" called Ordrick frantically before teleporting away again, no doubt fearing he'd be recognized and restrained by the elves whose city he'd once helped attack - at the cost of his own kingdom.

"Weird guy," Utred commented as the group advanced to the city gate.

Once inside, the group reported in to the Greenvale officials and explained about the relic they'd been forced to gather for the Mortal Queen. "I'm afraid, while we've managed to garner support from the Kingdoms of Elderwood, Kravyrn, Revin, and Dracovania and got the frost giants to agree not to attack, all of that has been overshadowed by the threat we've brought to your land," Marlo mourned.

"All is not yet lost," reassured Greenvale's highest official: T'puuli Tine, the half-celestial drider who ran Greenvale in the absence of Matron Ky'hulcressen, whose duties forced her to spend most of her time in the Overreach. "The Mortal Queen apparently does not yet know how to control this relic or the Tarrasque. That gives us time - we will research what we can about this 'Vengeance of the Gods' and see what we can learn about it. Perhaps there is a way to overcome it, or negate it - if nothing else, perhaps we can find a way to steal it away from her or destroy it before it can be used."

"You are very understanding," Marlo replied, her heart lightened somewhat.

"We, of all people, know what it is like to be forced to do the bidding of a Matron Mother. Now go; you have been out in the field for some time on our behalf - it is time you slept in a comfortable bed, had some good food, and perhaps restocked some of your own goods or upgraded your armor and weapons. Go about these tasks for the rest of the day; we will meet again tomorrow and make our next plans."

That sounded like a very good idea to the five arena slaves.

- - -

This adventure was basically two short fights against two foes each, with each pairing made up of creatures you probably wouldn't expect to find together. I was especially amused by how the "ochre ooze" (Logan merged an ochre jelly and a gray ooze, taking the bits he wanted from each) ended up with a shield guardian protecting it.

And we leveled up to 9th at the end! Jhasspok took his 4th level of fighter, specifically so he could get the Weapon Specialization (battleaxe) feat that requires 4 levels of fighter as a prerequisite (he also took Cleave as his bonus fighter feat), so I'll probably need to throw some barbarian levels his way for a bit to try to even them out. And back in a city large enough to have armorers and weaponcrafters and magic shops allowed us to spend some of the hard-earned coin we'd been gathering in recent adventures. Cramer had an Elderwood flaming heavy mace crafted for himself, while Khari and Jhasspok each added an additional +1 to their primary weapons. Utred sold his +2 heavy steel shield and used the money from that to help pay for a +1 animated tower shield, then picked up a +1 greataxe because apparently he didn't have enough weapons on hand just yet. Jhasspok bought the equivalent of a +1 amulet of mighty fists, but in his case it's a necklace of predators' teeth - in any case, it adds a +1 to attack and damage rolls using natural weapons (meaning claws and teeth in his case).

And Vicki had some secret discussions with Logan off in the family room while the rest of us calculated the cost of our purchases; apparently Marlo is up to something the rest of us don't know about. Interesting, considering our characters don't know about that Book of Uboros she's got hidden from us or that she's sworn to worship the Dying One....
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PC Roster:
Cramer Appleknocker, gnome cleric 9​
Jhasspok, lizardman 3/barbarian 2/fighter 4​
Khari Hammerslammer, dwarf fighter 9​
Marlo Pendragon, human sorcerer 9​
Utred "Buckets" Butterflinger, dwarf barbarian 9​

Game Session Date: 18 June 2020

- - -

"We have determined how the Mortal Queen was able to spy upon you so easily," reported T'puuli Tine, the half-celestial drider who ruled over Greenvale in the absence of the Matron Mother of House Ky'hulcressen.

"Through these damned tattoos, I imagine," hazarded Cramer, referring to the slave tattoos that had been inscribed on the backs of each of the five slaves upon their capture - or shortly after his hatching, in Jhasspok's case.

"But I thought only members of House Jalamir could use the tattoos in that way," countered Marlo. "The tattoos are, after all, the House Emblem of Jalamir. It wouldn't make sense if members of other Houses could scry upon the slaves of other Houses - that would give them a real boost in gaining intelligence on their enemy Houses."

"There is a loophole in Overreach law," pointed out T'Puuli.

"Nothing lawful about Overreach," grumbled Cramer.

"Once she declared herself the Mortal Queen, and thus the highest mortal authority of all drow, she elevated herself above the petty ranks of all Houses," T'puuli continued. "She can now scry at will upon the slaves of any House at all as if a member of that House; as the Mortal Queen, she is effectively a member of all Houses at once."

"But she's the Matron Mother of House Bel'vior," argued Marlo. "That gives her House an unfair advantage."

"Irrelevant - she has effectively ascended beyond the concerns of any one House. But consider this: she can now scry upon you, through your slave tattoos, not only as a member of House Jalamir - in which case she will see the false images protecting you from being discovered - but also as a member of House Ky'hulcressen - in which case she is privy to your real actions, as House Ky'hulcressen and their Greenvale associates are the ones who had your tattoos modified in the first place."

"So she's peekin' behind the curtain," assessed Khari. "Seein' what we do for real."

"Effectively, yes."

"And there's no way to stop her," sighed Marlo, a tinge of despondency in her voice.

"Perhaps not," agreed T'Puuli, "but you have this on your side: in Overreach, tampering with slaves is so commonplace that scrying upon a slave cannot be used as proof of wrongdoing - and remember, in drow society a crime is only illegal if you get caught doing it. Thus, even though the Mortal Queen knows House Ky'hulcressen and House Jalamir are plotting against her, she cannot officially act upon that knowledge without weakening her own position in the eyes of the other drow Houses."

"Isn't there anything we can do?" asked Marlo.

"The only way to fully prevent her from scrying upon you would be to remove the tattoos..."

"Then let's do that!" interjected Cramer, eager to be out from under the yoke of the drow.

"...but to do so would be to cause an unnecessary rift between Houses Jalamir and Ky'hulcressen. Remember, House Jalamir is rebelling against the Mortal Queen because in their minds House Bel'vior has overstepped their bounds; they have no intrinsic desire to see Greenvale remain free and divorced from Lolth. And interfering with their slaves - you, which they consider to be their property - would cause bad blood between the two allied Houses."

"Well, crap," muttered Cramer.

"It is therefore best to continue on as normal. The Mortal Queen can continue to scry upon you but cannot easily use the information she gleans." T'Puuli saw crestfallen looks among the slaves, although the true nature of the problem at hand didn't look to have fully penetrated the minds of Khari or Jhasspok; they looked stoically on as the smarter members of their group had their discussion. No doubt it would all be explained to them later.

"In any case, we have two more missions for you," said T'puuli, hoping to move on to more positive subjects. "First, you will go to the Desolate Watch, an outpost at the mouth of the valley leading to the Desolate Wastes, and warn them of the impending drow invasion. It is believed they have a means by which they can communicate with the Undying Crusade, so they should be able to forward Greenvale's call for aid."

"What's the Undying Crusade?" asked Utred. T'puuli explained there was a necromantic effect in place throughout the Desolate Waste, reanimating any corpses slain there. This included devils and demons from the Lower Planes, whose bodies were then sent against the living fiends rising up to try to gain a purchase on the mortal realms in a mountain range called the Baator's Breath Mountains to the southeast.

"Once you have completed that first mission, you will continue southeast to the Ossirnan Peninsula to try to gain aid from the kingdoms there." Cramer was checking his map but the Ossirnan Peninsula did not appear anywhere on it. He frowned, preferring to have a map before him to make it easier to judge distances. As a follower of the God of Travelers, he was well aware of the importance of a good map.

"How far away is the Desolate Watch?" asked Jhasspok.

"Five hours by wagon; we will provide a horse and wagon for your journey," T'puuli replied, indicating with a wave of his hand at the window the horse-drawn wagon just now pulling up to the front of the building. The arena slaves gathered up their gear and piled it into the back of the wagon; as normal, Cramer sat up in front, his hands on the reins while Marlo sat beside him and Jhasspok and the dwarves sat in the back.

They were less than an hour away from the tower when it became visible on the horizon; disturbingly, it seemed to be covered in black flames. "Izzat normal?" Khari asked, squinting at the sight.

"I would imagine not," answered Cramer, coaxing the horse to greater speed for the duration of the journey. All eyes were upon the black flames dancing around the base of the tower; as the group approached they could see the bodies of human soldiers as well as various devils littering the field. Up on the top of the 30-foot stone tower they spotted a massive horned devil in combat with a pair of winged celestials; below, they saw two hell hounds, a chain devil, and a pair of human fighters in heavy armor wielding longswords with a strange, reddish cast to them poked about the slain corpses, killing time until the black wall of fire ran its course. With the crackling of the black flames, none of the fiendish forces noticed the imminent arrival of the five arena slaves in their horse-drawn wagon.

Cramer cast a longstrider spell upon himself, realizing without the magical enhancement he'd soon fall behind his fellows in the course of battle - and as the group's primary source of magical healing it was important he be able to keep up. He followed with the spells detect evil and magic circle against evil, realizing their importance in a fight against forces from the Lower Realms. He briefly explained to the others what he could recall about chain devils and hell hounds: the canines were immune to fire, whereas the chain devils had no such protection, although cold-based spells would have no effect upon them.

Khari, impatient with the wagon's progress, jumped off the side and raced forward towards the fiendish forces. But rather than get too close, he stopped about halfway between them and the wagon and planted himself into a defensive posture, earthglide warhammer at the ready, preferring they bring the fight to him rather than he get himself too far away from his fighting companions. The chain devil noticed the movement from the corner of her eye and spun about to face the dwarven fighter, the chains hanging from her blue-tinged body spinning away momentarily as she did so. She called something out in the Infernal tongue, a language in which none of the slaves had any familiarity, but Cramer's helm of comprehend languages allowed him to understand her comment to have been an observation that the Desolate Watch must have called in reinforcements. The others about her spun to face the heroes at her warning and then she followed Khari's stratagem of moving forward but taking a defensive posture and letting the enemy make the first move. Behind her, the human fighters moved up slowly, clumsy in their heavy armor.

Marlo looked at the group of four foes approaching Khari and stepping up close to the chain devil already in position, as if they would then make a concentrated attack. As a sorcerer, Marlo Pendragon had an instinctive sense about magic; she had never actively studied spellcraft, allowing the spells to come to her as needed. She spread her hands to her sides, feeling for a surge of magical energy all about her. Then, bundling it to her and flinging it out at her foes, she caused the first manifestation of a new spell she'd never cast before in her life.

All about the chain devil, the two hell hounds, and the pair of armored men with their hellsteel swords, the ground rumbled and erupted into a sudden burst of tentacles, springing into existence in a manner of mere seconds. These tentacles writhed and contorted like those of the Dying One to whom Marlo had secretly allied herself, like those of the Writhing Gate which N'zorthal controlled in apparent service to the drow of House Jalamir but whose true secrets he kept for himself. The thick, rubbery, black appendages wrapped around the fiendish forces, crushing them in their ebon embrace.

The hell hounds let out twin howls of astonishment and anger as they tried futilely to escape their writhing bonds. Seeing this, Utred unfurled his life-flame whip as he raced up to the edge of the mass of waving tentacles, lining himself up to be able to strike the chain devil at the edge of the spell's area of effect.

But there were six fiendish foes on the ground around the keep and the sixth, a tiefling named Amathia, crept from behind the stone fort at the sounds of outrage and pain from her fellows. She took stock of the situation and cast a flame strike spell on the three heroes still in the wagon, that looking to be the best way to maximize the pain of her spell to the greatest number of enemies. Jhasspok, Cramer, and the unnamed horse evaded the worst of the spell's effects, leaving Marlo as the only one to take the full force of the attack. (The horse, however, reared up in panic and subsequently refused to move from the spot.)

Cramer, grimacing through the pain of the flame strike spell, recognized in Amathia a cleric of similar spellcasting skill as his own and targeted her with a spiritual weapon spell. The quarterstaff of pure force energy that suddenly appeared went rushing to attack the tiefling, slamming one end down upon her horned head. The gnome then leaped down from the wagon and approached the other enemies caught up in Marlo's newest spell.

Jhasspok leaped down from the wagon as well and sprinted past the mass of tentacles, heading for the tiefling at his greatest speed, his magic battleaxe out and ready to be put to good use. Khari charged through the solid ground - using the power of his earthglide warhammer - and popped up at the edge of the Evard's black tentacles spell, bringing the head of his weapon crashing into the chain-covered body of the kyton. She tried to retaliate but couldn't, her limbs and the bulk of her animated chains pinned in place by the ebon tentacles of Marlo's spell. The hell hounds were now whimpering like frightened puppies, their plaintive cries for mercy out of place coming from the throats of vicious canines from Hell. The human fighters were likely giving their all to trying to escape from the crushing appendages - and finding their all wasn't quite good enough. With each passing second the tentacles' embrace tightened, constricting bodies into near motionlessness and preventing the grappled foes from getting in any deep breaths; soon they'd be so tight they'd prevent any breathing whatsoever.

Marlo turned her attention to the tiefling whose flame strike had caused her so much pain. She lashed out with another new spell she'd never been able to manifest before and a lightning bolt sped from the sorcerer's fingertips to streak across the battlefield and blast into Amathia's hell-warped body.

But then suddenly, in an unexpected burst of fiendish strength, one of the hell hounds managed to pry himself free from the black tentacles crushing him nearly to death. Unfortunately, he'd been toward the middle of the spell's area of effect and that meant he had to try to make his way outside the circle of writhing appendages, those within reach trying to grab him up again. He whined in terror as he made his way slowly to freedom - only to be grabbed by the back leg by the tip of a tentacle as he was almost free.

Utred snapped his life-flame whip into the face of the pinned-in-place female kyton, grinning as he enjoyed the pain each such attack brought. He was not normally a sadistic combatant but he made an exception when fighting fiends - these were, after all, literally devils from Hell trying to spread their evil across the face of the mortal world and they deserved every bit of pain the mortals could inflict upon them - maybe then they'd learn to stick to the Lower Realms and confine themselves to inflicting pain upon those doomed souls who had already earned it. He was also somewhat amused at the thought of the chain devil not having any protection against fire; Utred was no theologian but he had thought Hell was a place of eternally burning fires and the thought of the kytons being burned as easily as any dwarf seemed somewhat ridiculous to the burly barbarian.

Amathia cast an unholy blight spell next, catching Utred, Khari, and Cramer within it - but was immediately disappointed in the results. Then Cramer's spiritual quarterstaff took another swing at her, causing her to have to duck to avoid getting pegged again. Cramer disappeared from view, walking casually into the mass of waving tentacles without harm, trusting in his Fharlanghn-granted powers of freedom of movement to keep the appendages from getting him into their unthinking embrace. From the safety of the Evard's black tentacles spell - as safe as a clownfish among the fronds of a sea anemone - he cast a divine favor spell upon himself, gearing himself up for physical combat if it came to that.

By this time Jhasspok had reached the back half of the battleground and swung his battleaxe at Amathia, causing her to drop back a few steps from the fury of the lizardfolk's attack and cast a much-needed cure critical wounds spell on herself, closing up the massive wound Jhasspok had just inflicted on her. Khari charged as well, bringing his warhammer crashing down on the hell hound at the very edge of escaping the Evard's black tentacles spell - the dwarven fighter wasn't having any of that! Inside the mass of tentacles, the life was being crushed out of the chain devil, the human fighters, and the pair of hell hounds.

Marlo, seeing Jhasspok in Amathia's face and the tiefling likewise under attack by Cramer's spiritual quarterstaff, decided to take care of the chain devil before she could try to escape - for the female kyton was also, by happenstance, at the edge of the area of effect of the Evard's black tentacles spell. She empowered a magic missile spell, swelling in pride when she saw a full five missiles speeding from her hand to strike the chain devil - Marlo had never before managed to send that many out at once! After being struck by the spell, the chain devil passed out from Utred's follow-on whip-strikes, falling to unconsciousness and no longer even able to try escaping from the ever-tightening embrace of the writhing tentacles. Cramer called out from somewhere in the mass of tentacles, "Kytons can regenerate!" while slamming a pinned hell hound with his mace.

"I'm on it!" Utred called back. "I'll keep whipping her and giving her something to have to regenerate from!" It looked to the barbarian as if this combat was pretty much wrapped up as it was; he could step aside and relegate this task for himself without endangering any of his friends.

Jhasspok, angered that the previous wound he'd inflicted on Amathia had been sealed up by magic, swung his battleaxe at her in a flurry, followed up with a dart forward and a snapping of his sharp teeth. He was pleased to see he'd hit twice with his axe and the taste of blood on his tongue told him he'd been successful with his other attack as well. He could make such attacks on her all day; let's see how long she could continue healing herself with spells! And Cramer's spiritual quarterstaff continued its attacks as well.

Khari continued pounding on the hell hound at the edge of the tentacle field with his warhammer. Why was this thing taking so long to die? he wondered to himself. Then, from the other side of the mass of tentacles, one of the human fighters managed to pull himself from the spell effect, tasting sweet, sweet freedom at last. He'd made it out just in time, too, for shortly thereafter his armored counterpart and both hell hounds succumbed to the crushing embrace of the black appendages, their crumpled bodies falling lifelessly to the ground. But his escape from the tentacles didn't mean he was safe, as another empowered magic missile from Marlo made perfectly clear. He staggered forward, almost losing his footing.

Amathia turned and sprinted around the back of the tower, temporarily shielded from Jhasspok's view by the black flames still ringing the tower keep. Better yet, she was also shielded from the spiritual quarterstaff, which defaulted to flying back to Cramer once it was no longer in the presence of the target it had originally been set against. But Cramer sent it right back at her from the other side of the tower; she'd granted herself no more than a moment's respite. And it wasn't much of a respite at that, for Jhasspok sprinted around the tower behind her and sent his battleaxe crashing down into her spine, felling her like a tree.

Together, Marlo and Khari finished off the sole remaining human fighter with spells and warhammer, respectively. And then, their own foes slain, the heroes looked up to the top of the tower's roof, where the celestials were still fighting the horned devil. "Any way we can get up there?" Utred asked, still occasionally flicking his whip at the unconscious chain devil to keep her out.

Cramer considered. The wall of fire was an impediment, surely, its sudden appearance obviously there to prevent anyone from using the front door. The color of the black flames concerned the gnome, as he was unsure if this was some other aspect of the spell to which he was unaware. But then the point was moot, for the celestials finished off their own fiendish foe and one of them flew over to the assembled group of heroes.

"I thank thee for thine assistance," the woman said, alighting beside Marlo with a flapping of feathered wings. She strode purposefully beside Utred and sent the tip of her holy sword stabbing deep into the kyton's body, slaying her instantly.

"What happened here?" asked Marlo.

"The Desolate Watch's purpose is to take care of any threat getting past the Undying Crusade, be that threat devil or undead broken free of the compulsion to aid the Crusade. The Watch was attacked by a tiefling follower - and in truth, very likely a descendant - of a pit fiend most vile, called the Hope Ender. With yon Watch destroyed, 'twas believed a small group of the Hope Ender's forces could sneak forth from the Desolate Wastes to wreak havoc upon the mortal world. With most of the Watch slain on the field of battle before thy timely arrival and the others pinned inside the keep by yon ebon flames, 'twas a plan capable of success - had ye not slain those below as we slew the horned devil above. For this, ye have our gratitude. Hast ye a boon to ask?"

Marlo explained the group's purpose in coming to the Desolate Watch as the other celestial dispelled the black wall of fire and released the remaining members of the Watch from their tower. After she was finished, the Watch survivors agreed to deliver their proposal to the Undying Crusade. "However," advised the senior remaining Watch member, "many of the Crusade's ranks need to remain within the Desolate Wastes. All who die within the Wastes rise as undead compelled to aid the Undying Crusade - even the devils they fight - but being drawn away from the source of the compulsion would weaken the effect, possibly enabling them to break free. We would not want to have to deal with a marauding army of undead devils on top of everything else, would we?"

"We would not," agreed Cramer.

- - -

This game session was a first: we'd decided that unlike the "Durnhill Conscripts" campaign where it was possible for each session to deal with a lesser number of PCs if some of the players opted not to show up, for this campaign we wouldn't play unless all five players were present. But Dan, Vicki, and Joey are going to be on vacation for the next couple of weeks and we all knew this was to be our last gaming session for the rest of the month - and then Joey ate an entire bag of Flaming Hot Doritos the day we were going to play and had to bow out. Rather than have us cancel the session, he just asked his dad to run Utred for him. So when Utred was put on "keep whipping the chain devil so she doesn't regenerate back to wakefulness" detail, that was just a good way to keep his PC out of the round-to-round action.

We got a few goods off of Amathia: Khari took her +1 glamered full plate armor and Jhasspok took her +1 ring of protection. We sold the rest of the masterwork weapons and armor to the Desolate Watch, to give to the reinforcements they'd be calling to replace their slain members.
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