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Raiders of the Overreach



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

Game Session Date: 15 September 2021

- - -

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Oh. Okay then, ask away."

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

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

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

- - -

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

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

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

Game Session Date: 22 September 2021

- - -

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

<It does seem likely,> Cramer agreed.

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

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

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

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

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

That was a mistake.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Ach, but it is!" argued Dolthran.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"So who is?" asked Khari.

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

"A wish spell?" suggested Khari.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

- - -

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

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

And I'm probably better off that the Dying One never approached Jhasspok with an offer, as he'd have probably traded his immortal soul for a fish.
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PC Roster:
Cramer Appleknocker, gnome cleric 14​
Jhasspok, lizardman 3/barbarian 3/fighter 8​
Khari Hammerslammer, dwarf fighter 13/psychic warrior 1​
Marlo Pendragon, human sorcerer 14​
Utred "Buckets" Butterflinger, dwarf barbarian 14​

Game Session Date: 29 September 2021

- - -

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

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

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

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

"You usually do," agreed Utred.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

- - -

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

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



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

Game Session Date: 6 October 2021

- - -

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"So do we," remarked Jhasspok.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

- - -

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

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



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

Game Session Date: 13 October 2021

- - -

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Do those explode, too?" Jhasspok asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Ew! Whatever for?" demanded Marlo.

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

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

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

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

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

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

"I have a question," Jhasspok said,

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

"No, I have a question for you."

"Oh, okay. Ask away."

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

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

That sounded like a good plan to the hungry lizardfolk.

- - -

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

After looking into the death ward spell (which lasts all of one minute per caster level), we've decided we're going to have to use some of our dragon treasure to have special magic items crafted that will keep us safe in the Desolate Wastes. It'll probably be a toned-down attune form spell (from Manual of the Planes) that will attune our PCs' bodies to the necromantic draining effects inherent in the sands of the desert. So that's where we're headed next time, although that won't be for another month: there are three weeks worth of scheduling conflicts that will prevent us from getting in any game sessions until mid-November.
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PC Roster:
Cramer Appleknocker, gnome cleric 15​
Jhasspok, lizardman 3/barbarian 3/fighter 9​
Khari Hammerslammer, dwarf fighter 14/psychic warrior 1​
Marlo Pendragon, human sorcerer 15​
Utred "Buckets" Butterflinger, dwarf barbarian 15​

Game Session Date: 1 December 2021

- - -

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

- - -

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

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

Game Session Date: 8 December 2021

- - -

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Heading our way?" Utred wanted to know.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

- - -

Logan managed to subvert our expectations once again, because we had obviously assumed we'd be fighting various undead creatures during the trek home and that ended up not being the case at all. Logan says the Colossal scorpion we fought had developed a strange adaptation to the Desolate Wastes, basically being a living creature existing inside an undead exoskeleton. (He made up a template for such creatures, basically doubling its hit points and allowing it to be healed by the sands of the desert like any other undead. So we were fighting a 600 hp scorpion and we took it out in three rounds. Go us!)



PC Roster:
Cramer Appleknocker, gnome cleric 16​
Jhasspok, lizardman 3/barbarian 3/fighter 10​
Khari Hammerslammer, dwarf fighter 15/psychic warrior 1​
Marlo Pendragon, human sorcerer 16​
Utred "Buckets" Butterflinger, dwarf barbarian 16​

Game Session Date: 15 December 2021

- - -

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

- - -

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

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

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

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

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

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

- - -

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

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

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

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

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

- - -

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

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

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

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

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

- - -

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

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

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

The statues were moving.

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

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

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

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

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

"We ready to go?" asked Marlo.

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

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

- - -

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

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

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

- - -

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Excellent," grinned Cramer.

- - -

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

Game Session Date: 5 January 2022

- - -

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

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

"So what else?" prompted Utred.

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

"Okay, so how can we prevent that?"

"A death ward spell would do the trick."

"Can you cast death ward?"

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

"There are five of us."

"I am well aware."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

- - -

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

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

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



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

Game Session Date: 12 January 2022

- - -

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

- - -

This was an unusual session in that Joe stayed home at his house - he'd gotten behind in his homework and as a result Dan ran Utred as well as his own Cramer. Which, if nothing else, prevented Joe from being incessantly called "Unclean Thing" - a term we applied to Vicki as often as possible once Marlo had been chided by the god-eggs. But we're playing again today in our other campaign, so we'll all be sure to call Joe "Unclean Thing" as well to make up for it. (They're still getting off pretty easy, considering Marlo got a permanent +6 Charisma boost and Utred got a permanent +6 Constitution boost for agreeing to serve the Undying One, said ability score increases remaining behind after we'd gotten the Undying One killed.)

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