• Welcome to this new upgrade of the site. We are now on a totally different software platform. Many things will be different, and bugs are expected. Certain areas (like downloads and reviews) will take longer to import. As always, please use the Meta Forum for site queries or bug reports. Note that we (the mods and admins) are also learning the new software.

3.5 The Durnhill Conscripts

Richards

Adventurer
INTERLUDE: SYNGAARD'S STORY

PC Roster:
Daleth Stormsea, elf wizard 4
Galen Thorne, human paladin 7
Kaspar Hardstrike, elf monk 7
Orion Nightsky, halfling rogue 6
Syngaard, human fighter 7​

Game Session Date: 20 June 2018

- - -

"You mind telling me just what the Hell that was all about?" demanded Galen, grabbing Syngaard by the shoulder as they exited the Halls of Redemption and returned to Anuja, the wagon, and the horses.

"Matter of fact, I do," snarled back Syngaard, shrugging the paladin's hand off his shoulder.

"I think we have a right to know the meaning behind that red-headed woman," Orion said. "Was she your sister?"

"You'll get your answers," promised Syngaard as he climbed up into the back of the wagon, where Daleth and Kaspar were already sitting in anticipation of the day-and-a-half trip back to their headquarters in Durnhill. "But not until we get back to Skevros. I'm only tellin' the story once." And that was all the bald fighter would say about the matter, despite further prompting. In fact, he kept his own counsel for the duration of the next day and a half, staring silently off into space for most of the trip; Orion found she didn't miss his snide comments about halflings one bit.

But after Anuja pulled the wagon up beside the Enchanted Flagon and everyone piled out, Syngaard merely walked into the inn and ordered a tankard of ale from Karen, the permanent spell effect Skevros had set up as a bartender. He sat at the table and drank his drink silently, waiting for everyone to settle in around him.

"What's going on?" asked Skevros, looking at the rest of the group eyeing Syngaard expectantly.

"Did you see what happened in the Halls of Redemption?" Galen asked.

"As a matter of fact, I did not," replied the king's adviser. "My scrying blacked out during the time you entered the Halls until you exited again. Were you successful?" Galen filled the king's adviser in on what had transpired inside the Halls of Redemption, including Syngaard's strange behavior. "I see," he said. "Syngaard? Do you wish to fill us in?"

The scarred fighter took a swig of his ale before answering. "I got a question first."

Skevros sighed. "Of course you do."

"You got any wizard spells you could cast on everyone here, so that if they repeat anything I'm about to tell them outside this room, like...their tongues'll turn black and fall off, or something?"

"You refer to the mark of justice," Skevros answered. "Like the one inscribed upon my own forehead, which will slay me if I ever step outside the boundaries of the kingdom of Durnhill."

"Yeah, okay," agreed Syngaard. "Like that."

"I refuse to submit to such a spell under general principles!" fumed Galen. "I will not wear such a mark upon my brow!"

"That does seem a bit excessive," pointed out Kaspar.

"Okay, then," replied Syngaard. He pointed at Galen's enchanted longsword the paladin wore at his hip. "That sword of yours, it's got the ghost of a dead paladin in it, right?" Galen disagreed with the term "ghost" but admitted the basic concept was true. "Then I want everyone to swear on Galen's sword that what I tell you don't leave this room. That's my terms."

Galen took a deep breath to calm his anger - he didn't like the assumption that his word wasn't good enough, the word of a paladin of Hieroneous! - but it seemed the easiest way to get the story out of the stubborn fighter. "Very well," he agreed, unsheathing the sword of Zehkar and holding it out horizontally before his chest. Placing his left hand upon the blade, he said, "I swear by this sword that I will not willingly repeat what Syngaard is about to tell us." He added "willingly" to the oath to cover the possibility of some future enemy dragging the tale out of him via enchantment magic or some similar means. Syngaard accepted the modification and ordered another ale while the rest of the group, Skevros included, each swore the oath with hand on sword.

"Okay then," Syngaard said, looking down at the tabletop before him - the focus he kept his eyes gazed upon as he told his tale.

"I never knew my father," the bald fighter began. "My mother, she never worked in no brothel, but she was in the same line of work - only a private businesswoman, if you will. Anyway, money was always tight, and I spent most of my time in the streets, scroungin' for a living. I got caught up in some gangs, got into a bunch of scraps - Hell, I got most of these scars before I was eighteen years old.

"Anyway, this crime boss, Mr. Karlo Maladucci, he saw me and hired me on the spot as one of his personal bodyguards - liked the way I looked all fearsome and such, I guess. My job was to travel with him and look all intimidating-like, with my morningstar on prominent display. That usually did the trick, although I did end up doing a fair bit of fighting on his behalf as his bodyguard.

"Anyway, after a couple of years of that I messed up my knee pretty bad in this one fight, and I couldn't travel with Mr. Maladucci no more - I'd've slowed 'im down. So he set me up as a bouncer in this tavern he owned, the Black Wyvern - kinda like this place, only in the low part of town, and it was at least twice the size, with plenty of private rooms where all sorts of criminal activity was planned. And it was there...it was there I met Mezz.

"Messalina Maladucci was the boss's daughter - and she was the most beautiful woman I ever seen in my life. She was a bartender at the Black Wyvern, and one look at her and I was in love. Didn't do nothin' about it, though - Hell, she was way out of my league, what with my scarred-up face and all. Plus, you know, the boss's daughter. Wouldn't've been a smart idea to go down that path."

Syngaard took a sip of his ale; Orion resisted the impulse to add, "That never stopped you before" - she was actually interested in seeing how this story would play out.

"Anyway, after awhile, Mr. Maladucci got caught up in a big gang war, a bigger one than the little skirmishes that was always goin' on. This got big real quick, and nasty - they stopped abidin' by all the normal rules, like keepin' family out of it. Mr. Maladucci, he was worried somebody'd take Mezz down to get at him, either hold her for ransom or kill her just to mess up his day. So he told me to keep her safe, no matter what. I think...I think he knew, even then, how I felt about her, and he knew I'd keep her safe or die trying.

"So I had this log cabin I'd made out in the woods. I ain't no craftsman or nothin', but it had four walls and a roof and it kept the inside mostly dry in the rain, so that was all I'd been lookin' for at the time - a place to get away by myself when I got tired of all the fearful stares and pitying looks. I took Mezz there and we hid out while the gang war went on in the city and the surrounding areas. There was a stream and a pond nearby for water, and plenty of game for me to take down with my sling - a deer every now and then, but mostly squirrels and rabbits and the occasional quail. And Mezz started up a vegetable garden there by the cabin - it gave her something to do with her time.

"All in all, we spent nearly a year out there. That was...that was the best year of my life, right up until the end."

Syngaard stopped there and took another swig of his ale, thinking back on his time with Mezz in the little cabin. Nobody else spoke; they sensed this was difficult for the gruff fighter to get through.

Finally, he continued his tale. "After the first couple of weeks, Mezz told me she'd always known how I felt about her, and she said she was startin' to feel the same way about me. And a couple of weeks after that, she said she wanted us to get married. She was all for sneakin' into town and gettin' hitched, but I knew that was likely to be too dangerous - so we compromised. I knew this blind druid, name of Herbert, used to swing by the cabin every once in a while - we had him perform the ceremony, right there outside the cabin, there in the sunlight by her little garden.

"A couple of months after that, and she was pregnant. Herbert swung by at least once a month, and promised he'd swing by weekly once she got to the eight-month mark, until he felt it was close to time for her to deliver, and then he'd stay with us until the baby was born. That was the plan....

"...Only it didn't work out that way. 'Bout halfway through her seventh month, she got these real bad pains, and she said there was somethin' wrong with the baby. I didn't know what to do...I went outside and called for Herbert, but he wasn't within earshot, and I didn't dare leave Mezz by herself...so I stayed with her, and we ended up deliverin' the baby all by ourselves. She was an itty-bitty little thing, with red hair like her mama...."

Syngaard's voice broke just a bit at the memory. "And Mezz...she didn't stop bleeding. There wasn't nothin' I could do for her - I know how to bind up a wound and all, but somethin' internal like that...there was nothin' I could do. Mezz held our little daughter, and she said she wanted her to be named Hope, and she told me to take good care of her...

"...And then, she just...died."

Syngaard went to take another sip of his ale and was surprised to see his mug was empty. Without a word, Kaspar set another beside him. The fighter took a sip, nodded wordlessly in gratitude, and continued on with his story. "I took the symbol of Pelor that Mezz always wore around her neck, and I put it on - and I ain't never taken it off since. I wrapped her in a blanket and left her there on the bed, and I wrapped Hope up tight in a smaller blanket, and I took her outside...and I set fire to the cabin. And we watched it burn for awhile. I knew I couldn't never go back there anyway, not to where Mezz had died. But then Hope started cryin', and I figured she was probably hungry, so we left the burning cabin and we headed back to the city. It took close to an hour to get back, and little Hope had cried herself to sleep by then. I went straight to the Temple of Pelor, and I told Father Rupert, the guy who runs the orphanage there, that I found this baby in the forest - which wasn't no lie - and that there was a note pinned to her sayin' her name was Hope - which was a lie but close enough to the truth - and he took her in. And ever since, I been takin' part of what I make on our adventures and I give it to Father Rupert so he can raise them orphans right."

For the first time since starting his tale, Syngaard looked up at the group of people around him. "I can't be raisin' no kid," he said, hoping for understanding. "Anybody finds out little Hope is the granddaughter of Mr. Maladucci the crime lord, and she becomes just as big a target to his enemies as Mezz was. And anybody who knows me who finds out I got a kid is gonna wonder who the mother was, and how come they don't see Mezz around no more? And then we got the same deal: Hope's got a target pinned on her head. This way is better.

"As for Mr. Maladucci, he was a hard man to track down, but I found him and I told him his daughter was dead. He didn't seem too concerned about it, though - he didn't really care for her much as a daughter, just as a pawn in his crime wars. Didn't want no enemy gettin' the upper hand by killin' her, like. But if she died during childbirth? No big deal. He asked me if the baby was a boy or a girl and whether it lived, and he was disappointed she didn't have a son. But when I told him she'd lost her daughter - which again was technically true - he didn't seem upset about it so much. Guess it would have been different if he'd have lost a grandson. But he could see by the pain in my eyes that I was tellin' him the truth, and he told me not to worry about it - not to worry about it! But I guess he just figured I thought he'd be upset about Mezz dyin' on my watch.

"So, anyway, in the Halls of Redemption back there - yeah, I knew that wasn't Mezz, I knew that was my 'inner demon' or whatever and that I'd have to kill it - I just wasn't ready to do it all that quick, you know? I mean, it wasn't her, but it looked just like her - just like the real Mezz. And even with it stabbin' me in the back a coupla times, once I got it by the wrist and it couldn't do me no harm anymore - I just wanted to look at my dead wife for a little bit, even if I knew it wasn't really her. That's all that was. Just me lookin', and rememberin' them good months back in the cabin.

"So now you know. And you can't go sayin' nothin' to nobody, 'cause Hope's life's on the line here. And not just from Mr. Maladucci's enemies, either, although they're a definite concern. But I can't help noticin' that pit fiend who hunted down the Mithral Mage all them years ago, and who popped up in that summoning circle when we took down that circle of cultists up there in the Ashfall mines - his name's 'the Hope Ender.' And I don't think that's just an unlucky coincidence.

"And now I'll tell you why I decided to tell you all this in the first place.

"That Mithral Mage skull we was talkin' to, with the osteovox and all? It called us all by a bunch of nicknames, and everybody thought 'The Dimwit' was me. Only now we know that's Daleth over there. So, what with everybody else accounted for, that makes me 'the Father of Hirek's Key.' And that makes Hope the Key - whatever that means. I'll leave that for you smart types to figure out. But I'll throw a couple of other possibilities on the table.

"That dream I had, when we all had them prophetic dreams or whatever? Mine was Mezz talkin' to me, about drops of blood drippin' down a tree and whatnot. But it split into two at the end, and Mezz said I had to protect them both. I gotta figure Hope's one of the ones I gotta protect, but who's the other? I'm guessin' it might be none other than Maria Quillbender, the granddaughter of Ashfall Dave the Potionmaker and part-time orphan kidnapper. Maybe she and Mezz were cousins or somethin', I dunno. But it's a possibility. And Maria's got that same red hair that Mezz had, and that little Hope's got. So, like I said: a possibility.

"And here's one more I thought up on the ride back from the Halls. We got 'Dimwit' and 'Father of Hirek's Key' mixed up - maybe we got more than that mixed up, too. Outta the bunch of us, Skevros is the only one besides me who's been a father. I know his daughter's dead and all, but maybe 'Hirek's Key' is that creepy-ass doll-thing he made for his daughter way back when. Probably not, but you never know. And here's the thing: if Skevros is 'the Father of Hirek's Key,' then that leaves me as 'the Traitor.' Again, not likely, but it's at least a possibility, and one you ought to consider."

Syngaard gulped down the rest of his ale before finishing his speech. "Because I'll tell you this right now: there ain't a person in this room I wouldn't kill in a heartbeat if it meant bringin' Mezz back to life again."

- - -

I decided to write this up as a standalone entry in the Story Hour because it really has nothing to do with the adventure we went through last Wednesday. I spent the first ten minutes or so of the session going through Syngaard's back-story and it explained some of his past behavior - not only of dealing with his "inner demon" mirror reflection in the Halls of Redemption, but his panic over the kidnapping of the orphans out of the Temple of Pelor; that was, after all, his daughter in amongst the rest of the stolen children. It also explained his anger at the bandit leader desecrating the Temple of Pelor in that farming village in Ashfall; Syngaard associates Pelor with his dead wife, so that didn't sit well with him either. So everyone was impressed not only with the level of detail I'd put into my character's creation, but more importantly what all Logan had done with my inputs to enhance the campaign. (We're all pretty sure at this point that the Hope Ender is destined to try to kill Syngaard's little daughter at some point.)

Of course, after having seen Logan's impressive DMing skills in our Skylanders campaign experiment, I had expected no less.
 
Last edited:

Richards

Adventurer
ADVENTURE 19: A BRIEF INTERMISSION

PC Roster:
Daleth Stormsea, elf wizard 4
Galen Thorne, human paladin 7
Kaspar Hardstrike, elf monk 7
Orion Nightsky, halfling rogue 6
Syngaard, human fighter 7​

Game Session Date: 20 June 2018

- - -

"Well," remarked Skevros upon the completion of Syngaard's tale, "that certainly puts some things into context. I believe your first supposition is the correct one, and you are the Father of Hirek's Key. We will likely need to do some research - perhaps some divinations, but without the osteovox ritual! - into Hope's bloodline; Maria's as well, for that matter. We shall also need to determine Serenity's current whereabouts, although I must say it comes as no small relief that she may in fact now be counted among the forces of good! But in any case, we have more pressing matters at hand: an assignment! If everyone's at the ready, I'll teleport us there immediately."

"Wait: us? You're coming with as well?"

"Indeed I am, Miss Nightsky - we will be going to Yondall's Bay, a small fishing village in the one tiny section of the kingdom that keeps us from being landlocked. Anuja will accompany us as well. Let us gather together outside, as I assume you will wish to bring your riding mounts along?"

"Indeed," replied Galen and went to untie Seneca from the hitching post outside the Enchanted Flagon. Orion leaped up onto Carl's saddle and was ready to go.

"What kinda mission we gonna be goin' on in a fishin' village?" asked Syngaard.

"I actually have no idea," Skevros admitted. "This was a request sent directly to His Majesty, King Leornic." Then, seeing everyone gathered together in a group outside the tavern, he asked "Are we ready?"

One teleport spell later and the group stood upon a sandy beach. The "fishing village" consisted of only two small buildings and a single pier - at least that was all that was in view. The larger of the two buildings looked to be a tavern; Syngaard headed that way at once. But as he approached, a voice called out from the pier, where there was now a bearded man standing there - a man the group hadn't noticed before. He stood naked but for a kilt wrapped around his waist. "One of you the Wizard of Durnhill?" he called.

The adventurers collectively turned to Skevros, who nodded his head in acknowledgement and replied, "Indeed I am."

"Follow me, then," commanded the man in the kilt, heading to the water.

"Ah," said the king's adviser. "Unfortunately, that I cannot do." He pointed to the invisible mark of justice on his forehead. "Since the bay is not part of the Kingdom of Durnhill, Anuja and I will remain here with the animals, while you five do what is asked of you." With that Skevros waved the party off to follow the kilted man, already wading out into the ocean. As he dove head-first into the bay, his kilt disappeared and his legs melded into a fish tail.

Four young women popped their heads above the surface of the water around him as he turned to watch the adventurers hesitantly follow into the ocean surf. "Don't see why we gotta get all wet," grumbled Syngaard. But the mission got somewhat more interesting as the merfolk approached and each bestowed their "blessing" upon the adventurers - delivered with a kiss - which allowed them to breathe underwater freely. The formerly kilted man gave Orion his blessing, while the four mermaids accompanying him each provided the same service to one of the male heroes - although Syngaard didn't fail to notice the look of distaste upon the one assigned to him when she first saw his scarred face.

"I am Aquilio," announced the bearded merman as he led the group deeper into the ocean. "I will take you to the oracles who lead our kingdom." He took them to what at first appeared to be ancient sunken ruins, but upon closer inspection was a clump of coral seemingly purposefully grown into that shape. Three mermaids awaited inside the structure, one of which wore an open white flowing robe trimmed in blue; Galen recognized them immediately as the colors of the Azure Glade diviners - they were identical to those worn by the students at the Diviners Library where the group had stolen the copy of "The Curse of the Mithral Mage."

Sensing the party's tension, the robed mermaid informed them that although all three of them had been born with the gift of divination, she had spent time above the waves learning to hone her skills. "But do not fear," she added, "for I left before the corruption in the Azure Glade could claim me."

"You mind tellin' us just what we're doin' here?" asked Syngaard. "You got somethin' needs killin'?"

"A week ago, a tremor opened a trench in the seabed not far from the village," the oracle replied. "It spewed forth a corrupting tide like a volcanic eruption. Although it settled back into the trench that had formed, and we were able to place a seal upon the mouth of the trench, the corrupted tide continues to rise. Our divinations revealed that whether we left the source of this evil alone or if we removed it, the kingdom of Coral's Reach would be destroyed, and that if the source was destroyed the world would fall with it. However, all of our divinations involved only merfolk - we believe the proper interpretation of our visions is that the evil source needs to be removed by surface folk. Hence our call to your kingdom for aid."

Syngaard opened his mouth to speak - it still seemed strange to be able to talk and breathe underwater, but you kind of got used to it - but the oracle cut him off as if knowing exactly what he was going to ask. "Our currency is worthless to those above the waves, so we will pay you with divinations, one for each of you, plus another concerning your missing friend."

"You know of Serenity?" asked Daleth.

"We know many things," smiled the oracle, then began chanting in unison with her two mermaid companions. "Seek the yellow amidst the blue, it shall lead you to orange, from there green shall set you free," they intoned.

"What the Hell's that supposed to mean?" asked Syngaard.

"It refers to Serenity," replied Kaspar, slightly irritated that it wasn't as obvious to the bald fighter as it was to him. "The colors no doubt refer to the robes of the Azure Glade wizards and their respective guilds."

"Great, we'll be goin' back there," griped the fighter.

"Since your task is a dangerous one, we offer our payment in advance, just in case you don't all return," offered the lead oracle. "Also, if necessary, we will aid you in finding the right questions to ask, since it seems you have been burned before by careless divinations." Daleth felt his face burning at that comment as he recalled wasting his reward in the Halls of Redemption on the knowledge that he was the one being called "the Dimwit."

"We need to take full advantage of this opportunity," remarked Galen. "Five questions. What should we ask?"

"Let's get some stuff we think we know sorted out," suggested Syngaard at once. "Howzabout we ask if Hope and Maria are of Hirek's bloodline? That way we'll know for sure who we gotta protect." Protecting Hope was a given in any case, but in case there were two others out there as well that they needed to look after, it would help if they knew that for sure. The group agreed, and the bald fighter asked it as their first official question.

"Yes," chanted the three oracles in unison. "They are the last of Hirek's bloodline, though only the last remaining survivor shall be the key to Hirek's Gate."

Armed with this new information, Galen decided the next question should be what the Seekers of Eternity desire to do with sacrificing Hirek's bloodline. "They are unaware of them or their importance; it is the Hope Ender who seeks their death," was the chanted reply. That was a bit surprising, but it confirmed the reason for the pit fiend's name and it meant he was the only one actively seeking the death of Hirek's Key.

Kaspar asked the third question: "What does the Hope Ender seek to gain from the death of Hirek's bloodline?" His response was, "Hirek's blood binds his Gate; so long as it lives the gate exists in its current form. If the last in the bloodline dies a natural death, they become the key that locks his Gate; if they are sacrificed they become the key that opens it for eternity."

"We believe this Gate is known to you as the Baator's Breath Mountains," added one of the other mermaids in her normal voice.

"So if the Hope Ender sacrifices Hope or Maria, whichever of them is the last one alive, he can permanently open the gates in the mountains north of Ashfall leading to Hell," reasoned Daleth. "That would very likely mean the end of this world as we know it - it would rapidly become overrun by devils."

"Yeah, that's not gonna happen," promised Syngaard.

Orion asked the fourth question: "Who leads the Seekers of Eternity?"

"Grand Diviner Arcturus, Guildmaster of the Diviners Guild in the Azure Glade," came back the chanted response.

"We've got one question left," pointed out Galen. "Maybe we should ask who's the greatest enemy of the Seekers of Eternity, so we can join forces?"

"That would likely be a wasted question," pointed out the lead mermaid oracle, "for your master is their greatest enemy."

"Yeah, let's go join forces with Skevros," snickered Orion.

"Hey, I got a good question," said Syngaard to the group. "Howzabout, 'Are halflings actually good for anything?'" His suggestion earned him a glare from Orion, but it was something of a good sign that the fighter was more or less back to his old self after having dredged up all of the painful memories of his dead wife.

Kaspar suggested the final question and the group agreed. "What is the best way to defeat the Seekers of Eternity?" asked the elven monk.

"Two options exist," chanted the mermaid trio. "Either kill the three Heads who lead it or unbind the Mithral Mage's soul from his name. The Seekers seek to learn how he turned his name into a phylactery that they may become unkillable as well. So long as one soul knows his name he cannot die. That is why he was imprisoned."

"I don't see how we'd even go about accomplishing the second option," pointed out Kaspar.

"Yeah, let's just stick with the killin'," agreed Syngaard. "That's always easier."

"Your payment has been made," said the robed mermaid oracle. "But these may further aid you in your task." She passed over three pearls and explained each provided a magic circle against evil effect while immersed in seawater. "The evil tide corrupts the minds of those it touches, and given time their bodies as well. However, the effects are suppressed by the magic of the pearls. Alas, we have but the three."

"No matter," replied Galen. "Daleth and I can each cast a lesser version of the spell upon ourselves." That settled, Kaspar, Orion, and Syngaard each took a pearl.

"Then let us go to the mouth of the trench," suggested the lead mermaid oracle. Walking along the seabed in the mermaids' wake, the party arrived at the bottom of a 50-foot cliff face, with a vertical tear carving right down the middle. Looking down into the trench, the group could see it extended below the sea bed another good 50 feet or so. Bioluminescent coral grew along the edges of the trench opening. "The coral seems to grow in the shape of magic runes," observed Daleth, and the mermaids confirmed his suspicions.

The water within the lower trench seemed to be definitely darker, and not just because of its greater depth, being further away from the sun - it was charged with a palpable sense of evil. Galen, with his training to see evil auras, suggested it looked like an aura made visible. The evil water currently only rose 30 feet up the sides of the lower trench, giving the odd appearance of an undersea river.

"We will leave you to your investigations," said the head mermaid oracle. "Good luck!" And with strong flicks of their fishlike tails, they returned back the way they had come.

"I hate this!" grumbled Syngaard. "Why can't we just get sent to go kill some damn chuul or kraken or whatever, instead of this undefined stuff? We don't even know what it is we're looking for here!"

"It is very likely that when we see what is responsible, we will know it for what it is," reasoned Kaspar.

The group entered the trench, staying for the most part at a level footing, about halfway from the deepest part and the cliff-top above them. There were narrow ledges on either side of the trench making this a not-too-difficult process. As Syngaard led the way, eager to get this stupid mission done and over with, he saw dead fish floating below him in the undersea current of the lower trench. They didn't look to have any bite marks or any other damage on their bodies.

"Do you think the current is deadly?" asked Galen.

"Let's find out," replied Syngaard, bending down and extending his hand into the darker water. He pulled it out a moment later with no evidence of any harm, so Orion did him one better by leaping over the side of the ledge and sinking down until her entire body was in the dark water. She swam back up quickly, explaining that even with the ability to breathe water, she had trouble breathing while that far down. "It's like there's no air down there," she said.

"Well, duh," snorted Syngaard.

"You know what I mean!" the halfling retorted angrily.

"It would seem those fish...drowned while submerged in water," reasoned Daleth. "Most strange."

While the group had been focusing their attention on the dead fish drifting below them, they failed to notice the live ones approaching them from further down the trench until almost too late. A glimpse of motion from the corner of his eye caused Syngaard to look up just in time to dodge the bite of an approaching shark. Upon closer look, the shark had a pair of hornlike projections sticking out forward from its head and its skin had a reddish coloration: a devil shark? The fighter had never heard of such a thing - but then, the ocean wasn't his normal environment.

Orion stabbed with her flaming short sword at a fiendish shark that had swum up to her, noting the "flames" were not present underwater but there was a distinct heat still emanating from the weapon's blade. Unfortunately, while the "steaming" effect was an unexpected surprise, it did little against the shark, whose thick hide seemed immune to the heat of the blade.

Kaspar threw a pair of shuriken at the shark attacking Orion, one hitting and one missing entirely. That one sank to the bottom of the trench, and while the other impaled itself into the shark's hide and sent a shock of electricity coursing along the beast's flank, the heat newly imbued in the weapon by the flaming property of the tenryutsume Kaspar wore on his right hand seemed as ineffectual as the halfling's sword. These sharks seemed to be resistant to heat, if not full-out immune. But when Syngaard swam over and smacked the thing in the head with his magically-enhanced morningstar, he demonstrated that the application of a massive amount of brute force worked just fine on these sharks, fiendish or not.

Daleth swam a few feet back form the shark snapping at him and cast an empowered magic missile spell at it through his metamagic rod. Galen was fighting a shark of his own with the sword of Zehkar, and while normal flaming weapons seemed ineffectual, the holy fire of his blade burned through the sharks' transformed fiendish blood without trouble. But then Daleth's shark darted forward and caught the elf wizard in its powerful jaws, clamping down painfully on his shoulder. A fourth shark entered the trench, but fortunately for the heroes it was distracted by the shark Syngaard had just slain and took a healthy bite from its corpse instead of attacking any of the adventurers. But that good luck was more than counterbalanced by the enormous shark that swam above the group, its shadow covering several heroes at once as it struck down at Syngaard's bald head.

Orion tried to help Daleth by flanking the shark biting him, but her sword-strike went wide as the creature thrashed around. Kaspar tried punching the same shark, with similar results. But Syngaard was forced to focus his attention on the massive beast trying to bite off his head - it was nearly three times the length of the other sharks attacking the rest of the heroes, but the hornlike projections hinted at its similarly Hellish nature. Of course, that just made it a bigger target for Syngaard's morningstar, and he put his favorite weapon to good use, raking lines of blood along the shark's muscular flank with the spikes on his weapon-head.

Daleth managed to extract himself from the shark's mouth, backed up, and fired off another magic missile spell at it. At the same time, Galen's shark succumbed to the sword of Zehkar, blood trailing its body as it sank to the bottom of the trench. But then Daleth's shark sped forward and bit down on the wizard's arm, nearly causing the spellcaster to pass out from the pain. And further down the trench ledge, Syngaard found himself fighting off not only the biggest of the sharks but also the one who had taken a bite out of one of its own kind earlier.

Orion cursed as another attempt to sneak attack Daleth's shark failed. But fortunately, Kaspar had better luck and sent his hand speeding forward with enough speed to crush the shark's skull; it, too, lost buoyancy and began sinking into the dark, airless water currents of the deepest part of the trench.

Syngaard sent a couple of powerful blows with his morningstar into the great shark's belly, nearly killing it. Daleth pulled a healing potion from his belt and tried to figure out how to drink it underwater before passing out; finally, he assumed its contents were heavier than water and uncorked it above his mouth, drinking it down as it spilled from the vial. The healing energy was enough to at least keep the elf from passing out; Galen channeled energy through his illumium scabbard to heal the wizard further.

The massive shark bit at Syngaard again, eliciting a grunt of pain from the scarred fighter. Orion tried tossing a throwing dagger from her new bag of daggers at the great beast, but the masterwork blade merely bounced off the shark's hide. Kaspar sent a couple of his shuriken biting deep into the shark's flank, and a final blow from Syngaard's morningstar finished it off. He then spun in place and sent his weapon crashing into the body of the remaining shark, and between the rest of the group they brought it down without too much trouble.

Galen applied healing as needed, and then the group continued along the trench ledge, winding past a dog-leg until it led to a small cave opening at the apparent end of the trench. This opening was not quite five feet wide and was below the level of the "dead water," forcing the heroes to hold their breath when entering. Kaspar went in first and was amazed at Syngaard's unintentional prognostication, for there in the cavern ahead of his was what must be a chuul, if the stories the monk had heard about such creatures were true. This looked very much like an overly-large lobster, with a mouth full of drooping tentacles. The creature must have been prepared for intruders, too, for it dashed forward upon the monk's approach and caught him up in the powerful grip of a hardened pincer. The top half of the cave, above the entrance, was filled with stale air, and floating in the back of the cavern was a reddish-gold, glowing orb that was likely the cause of the evil emanating from the trench.

Syngaard rushed into the cavern after Kaspar, striking at the chuul with his spiked weapon. Daleth was right behind him, but moved laterally away from the creature's free pincher lest he share his fellow elf's fate. He tossed a magic missile spell at it, causing twin bolts of energy to shoot from his fingertips and strike unerringly against the chuul's hardened carapace.

Orion entered the cave but wasn't particularly eager to go toe-to-spindly-crustacean-leg with their foe, so she opted to throw another of her endless daggers. The throw was perfect, but it didn't seem to do any damage to the creature, bouncing harmlessly off its slime-covered shell.

Galen was the last to enter the cave, and, seeing the expected aura of evil surrounding the slime chuul, he smote the beast to good effect, channeling a burst of positive energy through his enchanted blade. The creature seemed to wince at the blow but made no sound.

Kaspar, in the meantime, had been devoting his efforts to escape from the tightly-gripping pincer. Several times it seemed he was about to free himself, almost sliding free with the aid of the creature's slime, only to have the bladed appendage snap back tighter than ever. The slime-chuul struck out at Galen with its free pincer, but it seemed hampered by the protection from evil spell the paladin had cast upon himself before entering the trench. Then a solid blow from Syngaard's morningstar shattered a section of its carapace and all thoughts of attacking the paladin were driven from its primitive brain.

Daleth cast another magic missile spell from his wand, noting that while it hit - as expected from this particular spell - it seemed to hit a momentary barrier, as if the lobster-thing was partially resistance to spell energy. Orion, bummed about the ineffectiveness of her magical bag of throwing daggers, pulled her flaming short sword from the scabbard at her belt and stabbed out at the beast with it. Once again, the heat from the weapon didn't seem to do much, but the blade itself entered the chuul's body just fine, stopping only when the sword's crosspiece hit the chuul's carapace.

Another smiting blow from Galen and the beast was dead, collapsing onto the floor of its cave, allowing Kaspar to extricate himself from its claw. The group headed to the back of the cave to examine the glowing orb.

"Odd," remarked Galen.

"What?" asked Orion, swimming up closer to see.

"I don't get an aura of evil from the orb itself, but there is a definite aura of evil seeping into the water where it touches the orb. And yet, the air around it has no corresponding evil aura. Very strange."

"What does it mean?" asked the halfling.

"It means," reasoned Daleth, "that simply removing it from the water should prevent the corrupting tide from expanding any further."

"So go pick it up," prompted Syngaard.

"Me? I think not." The elf wizard peered closely at the reddish-gold orb. "It looks like there is black lettering of some type carved into the sphere, if that is indeed the best term - the thing almost looks organic. Alas, I cannot read it, but it looks to be written in the Infernal language - the language of devils. In any case, I do not intend to touch it with my bare hands - nor would I recommend any of you do so, either."

"Oh, for the luvva--" snorted Syngaard, approaching the floating orb and pulling his bag of holding from his belt. He pulled it open and dropped it over the orb, catching it up in its extradimensional space. "Buncha sissies," he chided. "C'mon - let's get outta here. We'll let Skevros decide what to do with it."

The group exited the trench the way they'd come and headed back to shore. After studying the orb, the king's adviser remarked he believed it to be an oath-stone. "It's the physical manifestation of a fiendish pact," he explained, "although such things are notoriously difficult to get a hold of. How it managed to get to the material plane, let alone a cave at the bottom of the ocean, is beyond me." He squinted at the tiny words carved in the Infernal language along the orb's exterior. "I shall want to reference some of my books back home to be sure - some of these markings are rather tricky - but I believe this particular oath-stone may be the manifestation of Hirek's pact to bind the Hope Ender to service."

"Wait, which one was Hirek again?" asked Syngaard.

"The Scarlet Sage," replied Galen - and then the same thought struck the heroes all at once. "Red hair!" they exclaimed. That might easily explain why Hope and Maria - and Messalina before them - all had red hair: they were descendants of the Scarlet Sage, who likely got his nickname not just from the color of his garments. Galen then explained the oracles' divinations to Skevros.

"I agree," he said upon hearing the one the group thought applied to Serenity. "The colors likely reference the robes of the various wizard guilds in the Azure Glade. And the 'missing friend' is undoubtedly Serenity. Good work, everyone! Now, let's gather up Anuja and the animals and return to our headquarters, that we may plot out our next move!"

- - -

Logan had warned us ahead of time that this was going to be a sort of standalone adventure and even told us the adventure name ahead of time, but what with all the prophecies and the oath-stone it ended up fitting seamlessly into the rest of the plotline - it certainly advanced our understanding of some of what our PCs have been investigating. And Vicki collects mermaid figurines, so she certainly enjoyed that aspect of the adventure. (She didn't enjoy so much the fact that the masterwork throwing daggers Orion got from her bag of blades couldn't penetrate the damage reduction of the fiendish sharks she'd been fighting, however. But she can upgrade the bag just like she could a magic weapon, so that it will give out +1 throwing daggers in future.)

Incidentally, that was a fiendish uchuulon we fought as the last encounter, a creature Logan got from Stormwrack; it's normally tied in with illithids, but Logan just used it as a chuul variant, to keep us on our toes.
 

Richards

Adventurer
ADVENTURE 20: FIFTY SHADES OF BLUE

PC Roster:
Galen Thorne, human paladin 7
Kaspar Hardstrike, elf monk 7
Orion Nightsky, halfling rogue 6
Syngaard, human fighter 7​

Game Session Date: 27 June 2018

- - -

"Here we are," Skevros announced, his teleport spell having brought the group back to the front of the Enchanted Flagon. While Galen busied himself tying up Seneca, the others stepped inside the tavern, Syngaard calling out for Karen to fetch him a cold ale.

But Karen was not present in the tavern. Instead, in her place, was a little girl looking about five years old. She and Dow stood over in the corner of the tavern, the porcelain homunculous talking animatedly. "Sarah!" called out Skevros in surprise upon seeing the girl. "What are you doing out here?"

"You'we back!" exclaimed Dow excitedly, belatedly noticing Skevros's return to the tavern.

"Wait - ain't that your dead kid?" asked Syngaard, looking at the new little girl, as ever the voice of tact.

Skevros lowered his voice to a mere whisper. "That is a simulacra of my daughter Sarah, yes," the king's adviser admitted. "Like Karen, she's a projection of the extradimensional mansion, but only one at a time can manifest out here. I wanted Dow to have a chance to say goodbye to 'Sarah' before we take her away to the orphanage at the Temple of Pelor, so she can keep an eye on Hope. After all, the homunculous was originally built as my familiar, but predominantly so she could be Sarah's best friend during my absences."

Turning to the porcelain homunculous, he asked Dow, "Weren't you both supposed to stay inside the mansion while we were gone?"

"I wanted to show Sawah the gwass befowe she has to weave," Dow explained in her babyish voice. "It's all gween, instead of bwoo wike it's supposed to be!" she giggled.

"So you're leaving?" prompted Syngaard. "Like, soon?" The freaky homunculous gave him the creeps enough as it was, without adding a dead kid into the mix.

"She's gonna go see her Mommy at the magic mountain," Dow further explained. At this, Orion looked quizzically up at Skevros.

"Mount Celestia," he explained.

"Oh, right, 'cause she's dead," reasoned Syngaard. Orion shook her head in disbelief at the scarred fighter's crassness.

"I created the Sarah simulacra for Dow's sake, since she never got a chance to say goodbye to her," Skevros continued in his whispering voice. "She didn't understand death at the time." Then, turning to the two "girls," he commanded them to return back to the mansion and get ready for bed.

"And send Karen back out!" suggested Syngaard.

"You know, you could get your own glass of ale," observed Kaspar.

"Could," admitted Syngaard, pulling up a chair. "Shouldn't have to, though."

Once Skevros had ushered Sarah and Dow back into the storeroom that housed his extradimensional living space, he returned to the group, which had made themselves comfortable around one of the large, round tables. Syngaard and Galen nursed pints of ale, the former grumpy at having had to fetch his himself. "Now, then, back to the business at hand," Skevros suggested. "The hour is late; I think we would all do well to retire for the evening. Let's meet back here at half past six bells tomorrow morning, shall we?"

"Are you sending us back to the Azure Glade?" asked Daleth.

"That seems like our next logical move," affirmed Skevros. "You should seek out the leader of the Illusionists Guild, with whom you met before - she would be the 'yellow' in the mermaids' prophecy. She, in turn, should take you to the 'orange' - the Guild of Abjurers - and then the 'green' - the Conjurers Guild - will get you back home."

"And somewhere in there we'll find Serenity?" asked Orion.

"One would imagine so," agreed Skevros.

The group split up then, some heading upstairs to their rooms, while others hit the marketplace before it closed up for the night; Daleth stayed behind at Skevros's request to discuss some other business. At the market, several of the heroes purchased healing potions, while Syngaard upgraded his magical ring of protection to a more powerful version. Then he crossed the city to the brothel where he worked as a bouncer for room and board during his "off" time from adventuring; there were still several hours of peak business time at Mama Kat's place.

The next morning the heroes gathered again at the Enchanted Flagon, Syngaard somewhat bleary-eyed at the early hour. He was pleased to see Karen back at her station behind the bar, though, and had his morning breakfast ale.

"Ah, everyone's here!" announced Skevros, looking at the assembled group.

"Daleth is not among us," pointed out Kaspar.

"Indeed, not - I sent him on a different assignment," explained Skevros. "But no matter: I expect the rest of you shall suffice for the task at hand." The king's adviser turned to face Galen. "I think you should leave Seneca behind," he suggested. "I have asked Anuja to ferry you to the Azure Glade, and her horse has been equipped with horseshoes of speed; I doubt very much that your warhorse could keep up."

"Very well," agreed the young paladin.

"What about Carl?" asked Orion. She had become quite accustomed to riding her dog into battle and frowned at the thought of leaving him behind.

"No problem: he's small enough to ride in the back of the wagon with the rest of you."

"They're gonna be on the wagon with us?" griped Syngaard. "What about fleas!"

"Carl doesn't have fleas!" insisted Orion indignantly.

"Wasn't Carl I was worried about," answered the bald fighter, looking disdainfully down at the halfling. Orion just glared back at him, angry at herself for once again walking into a verbal trap.

"Anuja has business of her own to attend to once in the Azure Glade, so she shall be dropping you off and seeing to her own assignment. But if the mermaids' prophecy is to be trusted, you should be teleporting back courtesy of the Conjuration Guild." Galen frowned at this information, wondering just what kind of business their wagon driver might have in the rival country to the east of Durnhill, and how she could afford magical horseshoes for her draft horse. Still, Skevros had said he trusted her with his life before, so the paladin kept his concerns to himself. The group headed outside where Anuja was indeed waiting with her horse and cart. Everyone piled into the back of the wagon - which was already packed with supplies for the trip - and they were off.

The first day of travel was uneventful - boring, even. But they made good time; the magic of the horseshoes would be cutting the three-day trip down to two. The group set up camp with practiced precision, some assembling the two tents while others gathered firewood. Anuja tended to her horse, removing him from his harness and giving him a long tether at the side of the wagon, where he could graze upon the blue grasses in the clearing. The group decided upon three three-hour watch shifts over the course of the night, with Orion taking the first shift, Syngaard following next, and Kaspar taking the third. Galen, on account of his spellcasting, was exempted from taking a shift, that he'd be well rested in the morning and able to concentrate on his daily prayers. "We all rely upon you for healing," reminded Kaspar when Galen felt he wasn't pulling his weight.

Orion's watch was dull, with the highlight being at the very end when she got to wake up Syngaard by opening the flap of the men's tent and poking him with her sword; after a weighty decision that went back and forth several times, she eventually opted to keep her blade sheathed in its scabbard when she did so. Syngaard got up, strapped his armor back on, and took his place by the fire.

About an hour into his watch, something eventful finally happened - and a good thing, too, the fighter thought, for he had been close to falling asleep several times already. But a glowing, silver orb shot through the eastern sky like a shooting star - only this one dipped low in front of a tree, revealing it to be much closer to the campsite than any star could ever be. And then, when it shifted direction and started heading his way, Syngaard realized he'd better wake the others.

His first impulse was to shout out loud and wake everybody at once, but he didn't want anybody thinking he was scared - and it might be tactically advantageous if the approaching orb didn't know the fighter was onto it. So he opened the flap to the men's tent and hissed at Kaspar, deep in his elven meditation. "Wake up!" called Syngaard. "Wake up the paladin, too! We got impending excitement about to hit camp!" Then he went to the women's tent and was going to try to quietly wake them up as well, but Carl opted out of that plan by barking noisily at the intrusion.

The two tents started disgorging their inhabitants at about the time the orb arrived in camp. It was much smaller than Syngaard had originally estimated, merely the size of a large melon. It wobbled erratically. Not sure of what to make of it, Galen and Orion unsheathed their weapons and Syngaard tightened his grip on his own, but then the glowing orb spoke. "Help...us," it called in a fading voice.

"What the--?" sputtered Syngaard.

"They are...draining...our wizard's...soul. You must...stop them...at any cost. If he cannot...be saved...send him...to paradise. The purgeling must...live. Your fates...are already...intertwined...." And then the ball of light fell to the ground, soundlessly shattering into a puff of glittering, silver dust.

"What the--?" repeated Syngaard. He'd been all geared up for a fight and was more than a little disappointed that he wasn't going to get one.

"That was surely no will-o'wisp," reasoned Kaspar. "I've never heard of them being able to speak."

"Lantern archon," explained Galen. "From the celestial planes - probably a wizard's familiar, by the sound of it. And any wizard with a lantern archon as a familiar is definitely on the side of the forces of good."

"What's a 'purgeling'?" asked Orion, sheathing her flaming short sword.

Surprisingly, it was Anuja who answered. "It refers to an obscure planar theory about innocent souls trapped in the lower planes being reborn as fiends less inclined toward evil," she explained.

"So, Serenity," reasoned Kaspar. "She's tied up in this somehow."

"And finding and saving this wizard will likely allow us to save her as well!" reasoned Galen. In all the excitement, none of the heroes thought to question how their wagon driver knew about obscure planar theory.

"Guess we'd better break camp now and head on out," muttered Syngaard. "I'll get the tents."

"Don't bother about that!" argued Galen. "We can leave them here and come back for them later, as needed!"

"We're probably not coming back this way," pointed out Orion. "Teleporting back, remember?"

"I ain't paying for no replacement tents," added Syngaard. Eventually, the paladin realized it would be quicker to help the rest of the group break camp than to continue to argue about how much time they'd save by doing things his way. And within minutes - for they didn't bother stowing the tents away nicely, just threw them into the back of the wagon and hopped in after them - Anuja had her horse hitched back up to the wagon and was heading back on the road in the wee hours of the morning. Neither the horse nor his driver seemed particularly happy with this turn of events. Galen went promptly back to sleep in the back of the wagon; the others left him alone so he'd be rested enough to be able to prepare the spells he'd need when the sun arose.

"Do we even know where we're going?" asked Orion.

"Presumably to the Illusionists Guild, as before," answered Kaspar. "We have no reason to believe anything's changed."

The group arrived at the Guilded City around midday without further incident. And due to their helpfully color-coded robes, they had no trouble finding an illusionist and telling him they had urgent business with their Guildmaster. The yellow-robed mage took them to a nondescript building; after the heroes leapt from the wagon, Anuja drove off to attend to her own business.

"Wait here," said the illusionist, leading the group to a waiting room. "Don't touch anything you don't understand."

After a short wait another illusionist walked in with a piece of parchment in hand. "Syngaard, Jace?" he asked.

"Huh?" asked Syngaard, surprised to hear his first name being spoken by a stranger.

"Thorne, Galen?" asked the illusionist. Galen looked at the others, then replied, "I am he."

"Hardstrike, Kaspar?"

"I am Kaspar."

"Graveshadow, Anuja?" asked the illusionist, looking at Orion.

"Um, no," admitted the halfling, looking in confusion to the three men accompanying her. "Anuja's not with us. My name is Orion Nightsky." The illusionist produced a pen from his robes and added her name to the list.

"And how do you know the Guildmaster?" the illusionist prompted.

"Uh," began Galen, not wanting to admit to their earlier meeting with Leorna and her admission that she was looking into the spreading corruption in the Council of Guilds.

"We, uh, met up with her in our travels a while back..." added Syngaard, "...being simple merchants and all..." Beside him, hidden in an invisibility spell, Leorna silently shook her head. These were definitely the three idiots she had met up with on the road, plus a female halfling she'd never met before. But their ability to dissemble was as poor now as it had been then. She silently touched her assistant's robes to let him know everything was okay.

"I will need to go check with the Guildmaster," said the yellow-robed illusionist, opening the door and looking back at the group, giving Leorna enough time to slide out of the room. A minute or so later the door reopened and Leorna stepped back into the room, this time fully visible. "Gentlemen, miss," she greeted them. "What brings you back to the Azure Glade?"

After a rather excruciatingly roundabout explanation, the party informed Leorna about both the lantern archon encounter and the divination, "Find the yellow within the blue, it shall lead you to orange, and green shall set you free."

Leorna frowned in thought. "The Guildmaster of the Conjurers Guild has been missing our recent meetings; he has a lantern archon as a familiar."

"Who is he?" asked Orion.

Leorna looked down at the halfling. "I tell you this in confidence, for the identities of the Guildmasters is supposed to be hidden from all but the other Guildmasters of the Council and the members of the Guild in question, but his name is Orlin."

"So should we search for this Orlin, or continue our search for Serenity?" asked Kaspar.

"The lantern archon was rather insistent," pointed out Orion. "We don't know how much longer he might be kept alive."

"Yes, but he was also concerned about 'the purgeling' - which no doubt refers to Serenity," argued the elven monk.

"In either case, they're likely both being held at the Abjurers Guild," observed Galen. "We should storm into there and rescue them both!"

"That approach would likely end in failure," replied Leorna. "Additional security measures have been put in place at the Guilds since a recent theft at the Diviners Library." She pretended not to notice the guilty looks exchanged before the men before her. "The only way a nonmember can enter a Guildhall nowadays is with the permission of a member of that Guild, or with a letter of recommendation from a Guildmaster." She looked over the quartet of adventurers. "Your best bet is to have your elf and halfling pose as prospective students, while you two humans act as their bodyguards." She sent an illusionist student for a pair of initiates' robes; he returned shortly with a pair of gray robes properly sized for Kaspar and Orion.

"I will prepare your letters," stated Leorna.

"Make hers lower-case," suggested Syngaard, pointing a thumb at a scowling Orion.

Once everything was in order, Leorna gave the heroes instructions on where to find the Abjurers Guildhall and wished them luck. Arriving at their destination, the heroes were admitted into the building (even Carl) once their letters of recommendation were deemed genuine. "Allow me to give you a brief tour of our facilities," offered the orange-robed Abjurer who had answered the door.

Unfortunately, the impromptu tour was cut short at the first room they entered, which contained a trio of abjurers in orange robes and a tall man in robes of dark blue, holding a large mace. He looked up at the visitors and recognized Syngaard's scarred face immediately. "You're dead!" snarled Reginald, the Azure Guard the heroes had fought - and possibly even killed - when scouting out Skevros's house. He drew his mace and advanced upon the group, while the frightened abjurer students quickly hugged the walls to stay out of the way of the impending combat.

Kaspar's immediate concern was that none of the noncombatants get hurt. "Stay back!" he called. "This man is a traitor!" And then he rushed up and struck at Reginald with a hardened hand. The Azure Guard responded by channeling a scorching ray spell through his mace, which activated when the weapon's head impacted upon the monk's shoulder. Kaspar rolled with the blow, but the elf's shoulder had been badly burned by the impact and subsequent spell release.

Orion reached into her bag of blades and flung a dagger at Reginald, her throw striking true as she then leapt up upon her riding dog - her preferred position in any given combat. Galen pulled the sword of Zehkar from its scabbard, casting a protection from evil spell upon himself as he approached, for his ability to see the auras of evil had told him that Reginald's soul had become stained with the taint of evil since the last time they had fought. His enhanced sight also informed him the souls of the cowering abjurers were not similarly stained.

Syngaard pulled the human bane scimitar from his belt and dealt a solid blow against Reginald. Kaspar repositioned himself in an attempt to flank their foe, but missed with his blow. Reginald slammed the monk again with his mace, this time without a spell loaded into it. Orion missed with her flanking strike, although Carl got a quick grip upon Reginald's arm before the Azure Guard snatched it away.

Recalling that the glowing blue runes on Reginald's forehead, mace, and robe whisked him away in a teleport spell upon being rendered unconscious, Galen decided he'd try to ensure the Azure Guard was dead before he hit the ground. With that in mind, he channeled the power of Hieroneous through his longsword and brought it crashing down upon the foe, blazing with the power of a smite evil effect. Whether it actually slew Reginald was hard to determine, as the Azure Guard teleported away at once.

"I think I got him," the paladin declared.

Kaspar turned to face the frightened abjurers. "Forgive the combat in your halls," he said. Then, indicating the symbol of Hieroneous on Galen's shield, he added, "As you can see, this man is a paladin of the God of Valor. We mean you no harm." The abjurers nodded nervously, clearly still frightened for their lives. Kaspar pressed on. "We seek both a kidnapped succubus and a man in green robes. Have you seen either of them?"

None of the abjurers had seen either one. "However," one ventured nervously, "if there's a succubus about, it probably has something to do with Tienna's obsession with killing fiends. She's downstairs with some of her friends, performing experiments, I think." With proper encouragement, the student mage led the heroes to the entrance to the basement level, a set of wide steps.

There were five figures in the long, single room of the basement upon the heroes' arrival. Two of them stood in magic circles inscribed on the floor at either end of the room: a white-robed diviner in a red circle to the south and a black-robed necromancer in a blue circle at the north end. In the middle of the room, an orange-robed figure - likely the aforementioned abjurer Tienna, an elven woman - stood just outside a yellow magic circle inscribed on the floor, inside of which lay an unconscious man in green robes. This man - likely the conjurer Orlin - was bound with silver chains. And hanging directly above him, naked and unconscious, slumped Serenity, impaled through her batlike wings by silver hooks at the end of chains dangling from the room's ceiling.

This time Galen was the first to react. His aura-reading senses picking up a strong emanation of evil from the female diviner in the circle before him, he charged and dealt her a devastating blow with his holy longsword. Kaspar followed on the paladin's heels, knocking the diviner out before she barely had time to recognize the heroes' entry into their ritual.

Seeing the diviner had been taken care of, Orion sent Carl racing down the length of the room, stabbing Tienna with her flaming short sword as they approached. The halfling then leapt from Carl's saddle, giving the dog the ability to strike at their foes from a different direction. Behind them, Syngaard threw his returning javelin at Tienna as he ran up. It missed, but unerringly returned to his hand.

Tienna took a quick step back from the halfling to get out of the reach of Orion's blade and tossed a fireball spell past the scarred fighter racing her way. Its subsequent explosion encompassed not only Syngaard, but also Galen and Kaspar.

From the far end of the ritual room, the black-clad necromancer cast a spectral hand spell in preparation for some long-ranged combat, hoping to stay well away from melee with the enemies of the Seekers of Eternity. As Galen sprinted to the center of the room he sensed Serenity's aura, and while it was not completely purged of evil, it was a remarkable difference from the other times he'd tried to read her aura and got a splitting headache from the overwhelming sense of depravity he'd sensed. But he was also somewhat surprised to get no reading of evil from Tienna's aura. "I am a paladin of Hieroneous!" he called to the orange-robed woman. "Our cause is righteous!" He healed the fire damage he'd taken from Tienna's fireball as he approached.

"I don't believe a word you say!" snarled Tienna in reply. "You're here to free a vile demon!" But her attention was momentarily distracted by the exchange, and Orion and Carl took advantage of her inattention, striking swiftly with sword and teeth.

Kaspar unstoppered a vial from his belt as he crossed the room, drinking down a much-needed healing potion. Syngaard was right behind him, but rather than deal with healing himself he threw his javelin at Tienna again, eager to draw blood. It missed but once again returned to his hand; he stashed it in his shield hand and drew his scimitar from his belt, now that he was close to melee range.

But Tienna didn't want anything to do with that; she backed up towards the side wall, taking a hit from Orion's sword as she did so, and cast a confusion spell that encompassed not only Syngaard, but Kaspar and Carl as well. The elf shrugged off the spell's intended effects, but Syngaard's sudden halt and Carl's shaking his head rapidly indicated they had not been so lucky.

Amidst all of this excitement, the necromancer's spectral hand darted forth and struck Galen, channeling a vampiric touch spell that drained the paladin of some of his vitality. Galen didn't stop his own intended action, though: holding his illumium scabbard up high, he channeled positive energy through it and healed Serenity back to consciousness.

By then, Kaspar had caught up to Tienna and landed a solid blow against the abjurer. Orion dashed forward and hit her again with her flaming short sword, while behind her Carl looked around in puzzlement and Syngaard stared at the scimitar in his hand as if he'd never seen it before in his life. In desperation, Tienna staggered to the north and brought up a wall of fire which spanned the room from side to side, isolating her and the female necromancer from the others.

"Hey!" called the necromancer in irritation, for now she couldn't see through the blazing flames to target her spectral hand. She took the opportunity to protect herself from those of a goodly nature, silently thankful that Tienna's obsession with fiends had blinded her from the fact that the Seekers of Eternity were shamelessly using her for their own ends.

With no other combatants on this side of the wall of fire, Galen healed the green-clad wizard on the floor before him. "Orlin, I presume?" he asked.

"Yes, I'm Orlin," confirmed the Guildmaster of the Conjurers Guild. Kaspar approached and soon had him freed from his chains.

Unable to see through the flames but protected by their heat from the bracelet of burning escape she wore on one wrist, Orion threw a dagger blindly through the flames, hoping for the best - after all, she had an infinite supply of the throwing daggers from her magical bag. She heard no cries of pain and assumed she had missed her two potential targets.

Carl suddenly began barking furiously at nothing in particular, his eyes focused on nothing anyone else could see. But Syngaard saw only a hell hound before him and stabbed at it with his javelin; Carl's barking turned to a howl of pain. Neither was apparently aware of the searing heat emanating from the wall of fire spell next to them.

Tienna was seeing spots at the periphery of her vision and knew she'd not survive any further attacks, so she cast a gaseous form spell upon herself and rose up by the ceiling. The flames of her earlier spell reached to the top of the ceiling; she'd have to wait for it to run its course before she could escape. Behind her, the necromancer prepared a magic missile spell, ready to fling it at the first hero to come to this side of the wall of fire.

"Do you have any spells prepared, wizard?" demanded Galen. "Specifically, a dispel magic or a teleport?" Orlin admitted to having one of each at the ready. "Dismiss the confusion effect!" commanded the paladin, and Orlin gave it his best. Syngaard suddenly stiffened as if breaking out of a trance, but Carl's odd behavior continued: he became suddenly interested in chasing his tail in a circle.

"Where'd they go?" asked Syngaard, looking for Tienna and noticing the wall of fire for the first time, despite the fact his mithral breastplate was inordinately hot from the proximity. "Never mind!" he snarled, rushing through the flames with the human bane scimitar in hand - that necromancer chick looked like a human, even if that wizard in the orange robes was an elf. Of course, after piercing the flames, the scarred fighter was immediately struck by the necromancer's magic missile spell, causing an inadvertent cry of pain to spill from his snarling lips. But his follow-on sword-strike slashed across the wizard's torso, dealing her an impressive amount of damage - but which merely stripped the spellcaster of the vitality previously stolen from Galen.

I probably should have used a dimension door spell instead, thought Tienna in her gaseous state up by the ceiling. Fortunately for her, the bald fighter hadn't even noticed her as he raced through the sheet of vertical flames.

Over on the other side of the flaming wall, Kaspar and Orion had decided to try to free Serenity by having the elf fling the halfling up at the hanging succubus. Orion landed gracefully with an arm gripped around a bat-wing, and in a few moments she had freed Serenity from her silver chains and hooks. From this height, Orion could see Carl racing back to the steps leading upstairs, still confused by Tienna's spell. "Come back, boy!" she called, but Carl ignored her cries and bounded up the stairs, out of view.

The necromancer stepped back from a furious Syngaard; unseen, her previously-cast spectral hand came racing through the wall of fire to strike the fighter in the back - and release another casting of vampiric touch that drained Syngaard of vitality while transferring it to the grinning necromancer. "Hate--you--so--much..." snarled Syngaard as consciousness left him and he crashed to the ground, his mithral breastplate making a ruckus as he landed.

Galen healed himself with a laying on of hands, when he heard Syngaard falling to the floor on the other side of the opaque sheet of flames. "That stupid brothel-monkey!" he cursed, realizing he was going to have to go in there and rescue Syngaard's stupid butt, after they'd already met their stated objectives of rescuing both Serenity and Orlin and could easily teleport to freedom. Beside him, Kaspar came to the same conclusion but instead of cursing the fighter's incompetence the monk rushed fearlessly into the flames. Taking in the scene before him in a single instant, the monk dashed over to the necromancer and landed a solid punch to her jaw, bloodying her lip and releasing the stolen vitality she'd just taken from Syngaard, prone on the floor before her.

Seeing herself unnoticed and not wishing to wait out her wall of fire spell, Tienna instead floated back down to the floor, dismissed her gaseous form spell and followed it up with a dimension door spell, escaping to the upper level of the Abjurers Guildhall.

Now all alone, the necromancer bravely fought on, managing to knock Kaspar unconscious with a frantically-cast magic missile spell. She even managed to fortify herself with a false life spell before Galen and Orion passed through the wall of fire. After that, it was merely a matter of time before she was unconscious before the heroes.

The wall of fire spell finally sputtered out as Kaspar and Syngaard were returned to consciousness. "She got away!" cursed Syngaard upon awakening.

"And we're not going after her!" insisted Galen. "We got what we came here for!"

"What about the two wizards?" asked Kaspar, indicating the unconscious forms of the diviner and necromancer. A quick perusal of the backs of their necks indicated they both wore the tattoos of the Seekers of Eternity. "Should we take them with us for questioning?"

"Don't need 'em both," replied Syngaard, using his scimitar to remove the necromancer's head from her neck. Galen gathered up the diviner, and Orlin prepared his teleport spell. "Where do you wish to go?" he asked. "I can only take us to somewhere I'm already familiar with."

Galen gave it a moment's thought as Orion went racing upstairs to find Carl. Fortunately, by then the confusion spell had run its course and the riding dog was already on his way back to his mistress. "Have you ever been to the capital city of Ashfall?" Galen asked the Conjurer Guildmaster.

"I have indeed," replied Orlin. Once Orion and Carl returned to the group, he cast his teleport spell and whisked everyone away. The last thing they heard was the clomping of feet as people - possibly the Azure Guard? - raced down the stairs to investigate the commotion.

"Well, we rescued Serenity," observed Syngaard, ever the financially-minded member of the group. "I wonder if there's a reward for her return?"

"I am sure the king will adequately compensate you for your heroic actions," purred Serenity, not in the least bit discomfited by her nakedness. Galen was, however, his teachings as a paladin of Hieroneous obviously warring with his human desire to want to sneak in a peek. The reformed succubus seemed amused at his discomfort.

King Renaldos of Ashfall did indeed offer a reward for the return of his Royal Executioner. At first he seemed disappointed and distrustful of her return - she'd been gone for some time now, and he had feared her inherent demonic nature had finally turned her against the throne - but he quickly warmed to her once the full story of her kidnapping and conversion to a good alignment had been confirmed.

As for the captured diviner, she provided next to no information, vehemently denying the heroes would be able to do anything to stop the advancement of her group's cause. "Kill me if you like," she snarled. "I won't say anything to aid you. And I won't be dead for long - you'll see!" Failing to find any other options, the group handed her over to King Renaldos to do with as he saw fit. "Maybe Serenity can get something out of her," he hoped.

"Guess we're walkin' home from here," groused Syngaard after they had been dismissed from their audience with the King of Ashfall. It was a hike of several hours before them, with only Orion riding in comfort.

"What's up with Anuja?" asked Kaspar. "What business could she have had in the Azure Glade?"

"Yeah - and 'Graveshadow'?" asked Orion. "What kind of a name is that?"

"One that does not inspire confidence," admitted Galen. "She almost sounds like a necromancer herself."

- - -

Logan used a Paizo Map Pack, "Magic Academy," to represent the Abjurers Guildhall. We now are worried that Reginald and Tienna will become recurring villains, but if what the captured diviner had to say was true, even those we kill are likely to become recurring villains - it seems the Seekers of Eternity aren't above resurrecting those of their forces who are slain. At least we can make them keep spending money on the process!
 
Last edited:

Richards

Adventurer
ADVENTURE 21: DEATH FALLS

PC Roster:
Galen Thorne, human paladin 7
Kaspar Hardstrike, elf monk 7
Syngaard, human fighter 7​

Game Session Date: 25 July 2018

- - -

It had been a week since the team's most recent infiltration into the Azure Glade to rescue Orlin, the Guildmaster of the Conjurers Guild. During that time, the full story behind Anuja Graveshadow remained hidden - Skevros waved away questions about her, merely insisting that he trusted her implicitly. After awhile, Orion and Daleth gave up; they accepted the judgment of the king's advisor and let that be that. But Galen, Kaspar, and Syngaard still wanted to know what Anuja's deal was. "Nothin' good ever came from a name like 'Graveshadow'," Syngaard warned. Galen was puzzled because he had previously examined Anuja's aura and found it clear of the taint of evil...but still, she sounded like a necromancer and the proud paladin would have no dealings with those who disturbed the remains of the dead, animating them to unholy life.

Finally, after a week had passed and Anuja had still not returned from whatever mission she had been sent on in the Azure Glade, Skevros began to worry. "Very well," he agreed one morning in the Enchanted Flagon, facing the three heroes who were continuing to pester him on the subject. "Anuja's mother is the high priestess of the Temple of Wee Jas here in Durnhill. She quite literally saved my life, early after my transformation into...my present form. Since then, she and Anuja have been the only source of my healing, as they are able to channel the negative energy needed to heal my body."

"So she's a cleric?" demanded Galen. It certainly beat being a necromancer!

"Indeed, and a very fine one at that," admitted Skevros.

"She been a cleric this whole time?" demanded Syngaard. "Why didn't she say nothin'? We coulda used her healing powers out in the field! We all thought she was just some dumb wagon driver!"

"It is my understanding," began Skevros, "That she opted not to open up to you once you began making jokes about her goddess...."

"Wee Jas?" asked Kaspar. "I do not recall anyone making sport about the Goddess of Death and Magic."

"More directly, about the hypothetical possibility that she had a brother named 'Hugh'," continued Skevros, frowning. Galen and Syngaard looked askance at one another, then broke out laughing. "Oh yeah," recalled Syngaard. "'Hugh Jas - that was a good one!"

"Be that as it may, it cost Anuja's trust in your group. I would hope that amends could be made, as soon as she returns."

"May we ask of her mission?" asked Kaspar.

"I sent her to investigate Melvior's potential connection to the Seeker's of Eternity."

"Melvior? Which one was that again?" asked Syngaard.

"He was the one who entered the Catacombs of Deserved Rest and animated those who had been interred there," pointed out Kaspar. "He was also a cleric of Wee Jas, as I recall."

"Indeed," agreed Skevros. "But that happened before we had learned of the Seekers of Eternity. I wish to know whether there was any affiliation between him and the Seekers, or if his was an unrelated action. But I would have imagined Anuja would have returned by now with news of whatever she'd unearthed about his past. Or, failing that, sent me a sending spell with her progress."

Any potential response was cut off by a primordial roar emanating from outside the Enchanted Flagon. "What the Hell was that?" demanded Syngaard, rising up from his seat and grabbing the morningstar at his belt. Then, to answer his own question, he cautiously exited the tavern by its front door and looked around. The others followed directly behind him.

The roar was repeated, and the scarred fighter pinpointed the direction of the sound to the south, from the direction of the Sanguine Swamp, on the far side of the Enchanted Flagon. Rounding the building, the group saw a large, draconic figure flying through the air, headed for the city - but this dragon had no scales, no muscles, nothing but its yellowing bones. How it managed to make any sound at all - or fly with wings made only of the bones that would normally support the leathery wings' structure - was beyond Syngaard. He closed his eyes and tried disbelieving in the creature (he'd been fooled by illusions before), but when he opened them up again it was still there - and even closer to the city.

"What's--?" began the fighter, but he was abruptly cut off by Skevros.

"Dracolich!" hissed the king's adviser. Turning back to the tavern, he called to his unseen servant within: "Karen! Bring me my battle gear!"

"We gonna fight that thing?" asked Syngaard in amazement.

"I am going to fight that thing," Skevros corrected him. "I want you to protect the city. Have everyone remain indoors until the threat has been dealt with." Skevros was magically confined to the boundaries of the kingdom of Durnhill and thus did not often get to join his team in combat, but this dracolich had made the mistake of coming to Skevros in his place of banishment. The wizard vowed it would come to regret that decision! With a word, he teleported away to do battle with the undead beast before it could attack the city proper.

Almost as soon as he was gone, a fetid odor assaulted the noses of the three heroes. Shambling out of the alleys across from the Enchanted Flagon came a group of assorted undead, some skeletal, some covered in rotting meat. "Damnit!" cursed Syngaard; he'd been hoping to be able to go back into the tavern and finish off his ale before heading into combat.

Kaspar was the first to react. Crossing the street at his full speed, he leaped the last dozen feet or so and sent his foot crashing into the skull of the closest skeleton - an orc, by the hulking build of the thing. His kick sent the skull snapping from the skeleton's neck and careening across the rest of the street to shatter against the wall of an adjacent building. The remaining bones of its animated body collapsed into a heap. Unfortunately, in having rushed out that far away from his companions, the elven monk made himself a ripe target for the other undead in the immediate vicinity. A ghast and another orc skeleton approached him from two different directions, the ghast getting past Kaspar's defenses - the poor elf was having a difficult time dealing with the rotting thing's horrific stench - and bit at the monk's arm with a set of decaying teeth. Fortunately, despite being sickened by the overwhelming odor of rot, Kaspar was able to fend of the paralytic properties of the ghast's bite and remained fighting, although no longer at full strength. But the orc skeleton lashed out with a weapon as well, and Kaspar was surprised to feel the blade draw forth some of his life essence into its unholy steel.

Galen raced not for the undead but for the stables to the east of the tavern. Opening wide the doors, he called forth Seneca, his noble warhorse. But before he could even mount his steed, a pair of orc skeletons approached and, seeing the horse as the closest living being, closed in for the attack, each wielding the same type of glimmering blade as the one fighting Kaspar. Seneca cried out in pain as a pair of life-draining daggers dug deep into his flanks.

"Seneca, flee!" called out Galen, drawing his sword of Zehkar and advancing upon the animated skeletons. Seneca, having felt pain of a type he'd never experienced before, needed no further encouragement and raced down the street, away from the undead forces. Behind him, his master put his longsword to good use, cutting down both of the orc skeletons in a single, cleaving blow.

Syngaard charged over to Kaspar's side, smashing through the orc skeleton and allowing his swing to continue until it crashed into the side of the ghast's head, finishing its arc in a meaty thud. Kaspar finished the ghast off with a quick flurry of blows, his hands moving nearly too fast to see. Both undead combatants fell to the dirt of the streets. Then the two living heroes were out of foes at hand, for the other ghast was bounding over to Galen. In the span of time it took for the ghast to make it to the paladin, Galen used his illumium scabbard to channel positive energy in a burst that struck Kaspar, healing the worst of his wounds. In the meantime, he could hear screams of terror coming from behind him, in the direction Seneca had fled. And then the ghast was upon him - or rather, upon his blade, for the paladin had no trouble skewering the unliving thing upon the sword of Zehkar. Its unholy life ended in a mere moment as the blade's inherent goodness slew the shambling blasphemy.

Rushing toward the center of town, the three heroes came upon a small horde of undead assembled around a fountain. Among the various skeletons and zombies stood three black-robed figures, two of them walking skeletons but the third looking to be human. "I got the human!" Syngaard called out, planning to put his captured human bane scimitar to good use.

"Agreed!" called Galen.

As he advanced upon the horde, Galen cast a protection from evil spell upon himself, hoping to be a bulwark for the party. As he spoke the words to his spell, the zombies turned and shambled in his direction, moaning loudly. Kaspar practically tore the face off the first zombie with his initial attack, the rotting skin being torn by the monk's tenryutsume. But it didn't seem the least bit discomfited with its new skull-faced visage; snapping its rotting teeth at the nimble monk.

Seeing a break in the line of opponents, Syngaard raced forward toward the human in the dark robes. He threw his returning javelin as he ran, hoping to catch his foe unprepared, but the throw missed by mere inches, doing nothing but alerting the spellcaster to the fighter's rapid approach. As the magic javelin returned to Syngaard's hand, the spellcaster turned his back on Syngaard and headed to a nearby building, casting a spell of some sort on his way.

The skeletons raced forward, most of them heading toward Kaspar and Galen but one veering off to attack Syngaard. Fortunately, unlike the orc skeletons from the previous fight, these weren't armed with life-draining blades, fighting only with their own clawed digits. The two robed skeletons each cast a spell, one enhancing the fighting power of the undead in the area with a bless spell, the other trying to cause Kaspar to flee in panic. Fortunately, the monk's willpower was strong and he mentally brushed the cause fear spell away with ease.

On a hunch, Galen concentrated a moment on the auras of the undead forces they were fighting. The zombies and skeletons all radiated evil as expected, and while the two robed skeletons' auras also blazed with evil, theirs seemed to blink in and out of focus, as if not always there. Galen had seen that sort of effect before, when dealing with the reanimated remains of the half-celestial bard in the Catacombs of Deserved Rest. Oddly enough, the human - who Galen recognized at once as Melvior, no doubt raised back to life by the Seekers - did not radiate any evil. But this meant nothing to the stalwart paladin; there were ways, he knew, of masking the evil in one's soul and likewise in the aura that surrounded all beings.

Galen brought the holy symbol of Hieroneous up before him. With a quick word of prayer, he caused a flashing burst of positive energy to blast the undead in his vicinity, turning most of them to ash.

Syngaard continued his pursuit of Melvior, who had stopped at the locked door of the building he was trying to enter. Neither of the robed skeletons had been harmed by Galen's turning, and they each struck out with spells: one caused a spiritual dagger to blaze into unholy life and stab down at Galen, while the other threw a hold person spell that stopped Syngaard in his tracks. But Galen rushed up to the nearest skeletal spellcaster and brought the sword of Zehkar down in a smite evil strike that split several of the creature's bones, nearly dropping it entirely. Kaspar struck out at the other one with a cobra-quick strike. Neither one fell, but neither looked to be far from that point in the battle.

Sweat broke out on Syngaard's bald head as the stubborn fighter struggled with all his might to release himself from the stupid spell keeping him immobilized. It took all of his mental strength - and mental strength was by no means Syngaard's strong suit - but he finally willed his frozen limbs back to life. Gripping his morningstar tight (for he had yet to switch to his human bane scimitar), he resumed his race towards Melvior.

Melvior, in the meantime, had heard the puffs of explosion as most of his minions had been turned to ash by Galen's holy power and turned to try to take out the upstart paladin. He cast a spell that would deprive Galen of his sight, but the stubborn holy warrior shrugged off the intended effects. In the meantime, both skeletal clerics healed themselves, their bones knitting back up through the power of their unholy magic.

Annoyed at having had his damage undone, Galen tried another turn attempt, focused directly upon the two skeletal spellcasters. Although there was no immediate visible effect, Galen could see the "flickering evil" of their auras bleed away. Kaspar, however, saw no such change and continued attacking his designated foe.

Syngaard tried rushing straight into Melvior with a flying tackle and was surprised to be thrown flat on his back instead. But he had gained a valuable insight from his failed attack: the body he had crashed into was bony, not covered in flesh. Melvior's human appearance was apparently nothing more than an illusion of how he had looked in life; he was just as much a walking skeleton as his other two undead spellcasting companions. Glad now that he hadn't switched from his trusty morningstar, Syngaard snarled an oath and crawled back to his feet, ready to strike at Melvior again. He took a blade to the back from his foe as he regained his feet, Melvior stabbing him with a life-draining dagger that sent the chill of unholy power through the scarred fighter's body.

But now that the two skeletal clerics of Wee Jas were no longer under Melvior's sway, one retargeted his spiritual dagger at the dark-robed figure, while the other cast an identical spell and sent his weapon to strike at the same target. Melvior ignored the striking daggers and concentrated on regaining control of his errant undead; he managed to do so but was quickly brought down by the combined attacks of all three heroes. Once permanently released form his control, the other two undead spellcasters - their auras once again free of the taint of evil - begged to be released from their cursed forms that they may be returned to the side of the their goddess. It was only then that Syngaard noticed the symbols of Wee Jas each wore on a chain around their necks. But Galen was only too happy to comply with their wishes, cutting them both down with the sword of Zehkar.

Before the animating spirits left their bones, one of the clerics asked the paladin to look after Anuja. "She is the last remaining member of our temple," he said, indicating that Melvior had slain the other members of the Temple of Wee Jas - the building into which Melvior was attempting to enter when he'd been cut down.

The heroes looked all about them - there were no more undead in the immediate vicinity. Looking skyward, they saw no sign of either Skevros or the dracolich, either - in the heat of their own battles they'd forgotten that their mentor was engaged in a life-or-death battle of his own. So they did as they always did in situations like this: a little process Syngaard liked to refer to as "looting the stiffs." In doing so, they saw a familiar sideways hourglass emblem etched into the forehead of Melvior's skull - the symbol of the Seekers of Eternity. (It only made sense, as an animated skeleton couldn't wear a tattoo. But it looked like the group had validated Melvior's ties with the Seekers.)

They also discovered that the symbol of Wee Jas Melvior wore about his neck was actually hollow, with the image of another god's symbol hidden with its interior: that of Vecna, God of Secrets.

"It would seem he was trying to destroy the Temple of Wee Jas from within," observed Galen.

"It would also seem that he was successful," Kaspar added. Anuja might still be alive, but she was hardly an entire congregation by herself.

The group met up with a trio of city guardsmen, who confirmed the crisis seemed to have come to an end; they'd taken down several groups of undead themselves throughout the city, mostly skeletons and zombies. Somewhere out there, Daleth and Orion had likely been doing the same.

The three heroes returned to the Enchanted Flagon to find Skevros already there. He was drinking from two different flagons, alternating between what appeared to be a stiff drink and a glass of what the group assumed was a mixture of potions of inflict wounds of various strength. The negative energy imbued in the potions - prepared by Anuja, no doubt - healed the living lich of his battle wounds.

"How did you fare with the dracolich?" asked Kaspar as the other two set about procuring drinks for themselves.

"It wasn't actually a dracolich," answered Skevros, taking a swig of alcohol. "I gather it was rather a spellcaster, presumably undead himself, under the effects of a shapechange spell. It would seem the whole point was diversionary, to draw me away from the events of the city, for the 'dracolich' teleported away before either of us could slay the other."

"So that Melvior could slay the members of the Temple of Wee Jas and reanimate them under his control," Kaspar noted, filling Skevros in on the events they'd been involved in.

"That leaves Anuja as the sole surviving member," Skevros sighed, mourning the loss of her mother, the High Priestess of the temple and a good friend to the king's adviser. "I wonder where she might be? I have purposely avoided trying to scry upon her while she's in the Azure Glade, lest I compromise her mission. She was to use a sending spell to inform me of her progress."

"I hope you're not thinkin' of sendin' us back into the damn Azure Glade on another damn rescue mission," griped Syngaard, slamming down his tankard of ale.

"We shall have to see," replied Skevros.

- - -

Logan used Paizo's "Town Square" map for our final battle; the first one took place on our blank map grid with the Dungeon Tile of the tavern we use to represent the Enchanted Flagon and some homemade tiles representing the nearby buildings. For the skeletal undead (to include Melvior), Logan used the "bone creature" template from the Book of Vile Darkness (which was lucky for us, as we initially feared we were up against liches, who would likely be too much for a trio of 7th-level PCs to deal with!).

Logan also gave Orion and Daleth half-XP for this adventure even though Vicki and Joey both stayed home for this session. Partly it was because he hadn't assigned them alternate (non-XP) missions to explain their absences, and thus they were likely in Durnhill fighting undead, but mostly it was because Orion and Daleth are our lower-level PCs and he didn't want the discrepancy between our respective levels to get too wide. (The three of us made it to 8th level as a result of this adventure, while Daleth is just now starting 5th level.)

And, other than my first swing that took out an orc skeleton and injured a ghast, my dice pretty much betrayed me all night. I finally got to try my Improved Overrun feat, with embarrassing results. (Seriously? Knocked flat by a skeleton? Not my finest moment!) Fate owes me another session where I'm a combat machine!
 
Last edited:

Richards

Adventurer
ADVENTURE 22: A RE-WARDING MISSION

PC Roster:
Galen Thorne, human paladin 8
Kaspar Hardstrike, elf monk 8
Orion Nightsky, halfling rogue 7
Syngaard, human fighter 8​

Game Session Date: 1 August 2018

- - -

Skevros summoned his adventurers to the Enchanted Flagon via the rings they wore. Syngaard, as usual, was the last to arrive, having much further to travel than directly above the tavern. "What, Wizard-Pants is gone again?" he asked, noticing Daleth's absence. He also noticed Anuja sitting next to Skevros and was glad that they wouldn't have to go rescue her from the Azure Glade; apparently she'd gone and rescued herself. That was handy.

"Daleth is taking an extended leave of absence, with my blessing," Skevros reported. "He is using the time to study his spellcraft, to become a better wizard and a more effective part of the team."

"Hey, more treasure for the rest of us in the meantime," Syngaard observed.

"I am sorry for the death of your congregation," Galen said to the cleric of Wee Jas. "And of your mother," he added, belatedly realizing that Anuja's mother had also been slain in the recent attack on the Temple of Wee Jas in Durnhill.

"Thank you," replied Anuja, not looking at all bothered by the recent deaths. "She is with the Goddess now. I envy her."

"Your mission in the Azure Glade went well, then?" asked Kaspar.

"Not 'well,' no. The Temple of Wee Jas in the Azure Glade was completely compromised by the Seekers of Eternity, possibly aided by the Church of Vecna. The infiltration and conversion was apparently a practice run before they set their sights on the Temple of Boccob. Overtaking that temple will take them a step closer to complete control of the Council of Guilds. As for me, I barely escaped with my life. They got the horse and wagon, though."

"Aw, the horse with the magic horseshoes?" asked Syngaard. "That's a bummer." Those horseshoes were probably pretty valuable, he thought.

"In any case, Anuja will likely not be transporting you on missions in the future," announced Skevros. "With the fall of her temple, she will need to devote her energies to its restoration."

"If rescuing Anuja is not the reason for our summons," asked Orion, "then what is?"

"I have been ordered by King Leornic to ward the city against teleportation magic. Most of the undead who attacked our city, it turns out, were teleported in rather than animated on the spot. He would see any repeat attacks thwarted. However, performing the research from scratch to create such wards would be time consuming; fortunately, Ashfall uses dimensional anchoring stones in the Baator's Breath Mountains to prevent the devils from teleporting away after setting forth on our world. You are to report to Serenity in Ashfall, who will give you your mission briefing; in return for your service, you will be given a dimensional anchoring stone that will greatly aid me in warding Durnhill against teleportation."

"This a paying mission?" piped up Syngaard.

"I have already explained your payment," snapped Skevros. "The king has ordered this be done, so you will do it. You are dismissed."

"Well, this sucks," griped Syngaard as the group exited the tavern. "Another hour-long trek up to Ashfall, and now we don't even got a wagon and a driver no more!"

"The walk will do you good," suggested Galen.

"Easy for you to say," retorted the bald fighter. "You're gonna be ridin' Seneca."

"Actually, I shall be walking alongside you," replied the paladin. "I'm leaving Seneca behind for this mission. Should I need a mount, I have spent the last several days in prayer; a mount will come to me when I call for one."

This news didn't improve Syngaard's mood any, nor did the comfortable ride Orion had, mounted on her riding dog Carl. Kaspar initially tried cheering up the surly fighter but soon realized it was a lost cause. Syngaard was wallowing in misery and self-pity and seemed to like it that way just fine.

His grumbling stopped momentarily when they saw the city of Ashfall before them. There were guards about, but these were much younger than the old-timers the heroes had gotten accustomed to. They eyed the group suspiciously as they approached the gates. "Who are you?" one guard demanded.

"Who are we?" repeated Syngaard, incredulously. "You must be new around here. We're the Heroes of Ashfall!"

"'Heroes of Ashfall'?" mocked the guard. "More like cowards who stayed behind from the fight up in the mountains! Cowards who crept in for stolen glory while the true heroes were on the front lines, keeping this world safe from fiends!"

"All played their parts," offered Galen in a conciliatory gesture. "While you were risking all in the mountains, we provided valuable services to your kingdom, fighting off bandit attacks and securing for your king a vast supply of mithral. And we, too, saw to fighting off devils and worse in your mountains."

"I take it the nine-month span of breach activity has now passed?" asked Kaspar. "Ashfall's armies have returned back from their mission?"

"Not all of us," snarled the young guardsman. "Some of us gave their lives to the service of our kingdom and our world -- my brother was slain fighting off a chain devil."

"Sounds like he should've spent more time in practice," replied Syngaard, being obnoxious on purpose - he didn't like this punk's attitude. "No use sendin' boys out to do the job of real men." Orion shook her head sadly at the fighter's idiocy and steered Carl off to the side; she didn't want to be a part of it when Syngaard started an incident between two neighboring kingdoms.

Bristling at the scarred fighter's comments, the young guard moved forward as if to throw a punch at Syngaard, who stood defiantly in a "let's see what you got" pose - but Kaspar intervened, catching the guard's fist in his own powerful hand. The guard was surprised to see he couldn't extract his hand from the lithe monk's one-handed grip.

"Please forgive my friend," Kaspar said. "He is in poor humor today. I offer condolences for the loss of your brother, and for those who died by his side. Perhaps you can help us and we will be on our way. Do you know where we can find Serenity?" He released his grip on the man's hand.

The man spit on the ground at the sound of Serenity's name, but he kept eye contact with Syngaard to let him know that was what he thought of him as well. "The devil-whore's in the Temple of Hieroneous," he answered.

"Shows you what you know," commented Syngaard as a parting shot as the group pressed on into the city. "Succubus ain't no devil, she's a demon. Woulda thought you might have picked up some knowledge 'bout such things, you bein' a fiend-slayer from the front lines an' all." The guard just glared at Syngaard's back as he left, his expression saying the bald fighter had better watch out if he passed this way back out of town.

The group knew the way to Ashfall's Temple of Hieroneous - they'd fought off the Seekers' forces there recently - and sure enough, Serenity was there, packing her things for a trip. "Ah, you've arrived," she said. "Good. Even though the breaches are closed for the next nine years, there is occasionally some 'light' planar activity in the off-season. For that reason, there is a small garrison in the mountains to keep an eye on the area during the calm times. With the main army returned to the kingdom, I am being stationed there to help keep a lookout for any small breaches that may pop up."

"And our mission...?" prompted Galen.

"During the incursion, some ruins were found in a cave in the mountains. The army was too preoccupied to investigate it at the time and now that they've just returned, nobody wants to go back there to check it out. Thus, that task will fall to you. I have the rough location of the ruins and will lead you to the area before I continue on to the garrison. The kingdom is only interested in whether the ruins pose a danger to their armies, so you are authorized to claim any treasure you find there as payment, in addition to the dimensional anchoring stone I have promised Skevros in order to secure your assistance in this matter. When you have finished exploring the ruins and dealt with any threats to Ashfall, you will report back to King Renaldos and pick up your stone."

"We got a horse and wagon or something?" asked Syngaard.

"Given the steepness of some of the roads you will be taking, it's better if you walk," replied Serenity.

"Aw, crap - we're trudging around again!" complained Syngaard. "Trudged all the damn way up here, now we're trudging on up to the mountains! And when we're done, we gotta trudge back over to the king to pick up our damn stone and then trudge back home! This sucks!"

"It 'sucks' every bit as much for me as it does for you," pointed out the redeemed succubus. "I had planned on flying directly to the garrison."

"I, for one, will enjoy the company," announced Galen. "It will give us a chance to get to know each other better." Serenity, like all succubi, was staggeringly beautiful, and now that the young paladin knew she was no longer of an evil nature he felt it might even be appropriate for a paladin of Hieroneous to win her affections.... Orion just rolled her eyes and urged Carl forward with a tap of her feet.

The group traveled northwards into the mountains. Galen walked at Serenity's side, whereas Syngaard opted to walk directly behind her - that way, he got a good view of her shapely butt. "I'm no longer evil," Serenity announced out of the blue. <But I'm still telepathic> she added, directly into Syngaard's mind.

<Ain't no harm in lookin'> Syngaard thought back at her, and the succubus just smirked.

Serenity led the group to a small valley split by a river of lava. In the ambient reddish light from the slow-flowing lava, the group could see two caves off in the distance; one was on their side of the lava flow, while the other was across the way, which would require hopping across a series of small "islands" of rock around the branching streams of lava. "Good luck!" Serenity called as she took flight and headed for the garrison, her next duty station.

"Might as well check out the easy one first," offered Orion, leading Carl to the cave on their side of the lava flow. The cave was wide and curved to the right almost immediately. It came to an abrupt end several dozen feet back. When Galen struck a sunrod so they could see if there were any other branching passageways, his light reflected off chunks of shining metal embedded in the walls. "That's gold!" Orion said, getting a close-up look at the metal.

"Then that's ours!" chimed in Syngaard, before realization hit. "Aw, crap! We find ourselves some treasure right off the bat, only now we gotta dig it outta the stone walls ourselves? That means trudging back to Ashfall, buying picks and shovels and whatnot, then trudging back here again for hours of back-breaking labor!" Orion just rolled her eyes again at the fighter's grumbling - but at least he wasn't making snide comments about halflings.

"Perhaps we can leave the back-breaking labor for others," suggested Kaspar. "There will likely be a finder's fee for a new source of gold; we could be content with that." Syngaard just narrowed his eyes at the elven monk; contenting himself with less wasn't in the bald fighter's nature.

"In any case, there is no danger to Ashfall here - nor any ruins," observed Galen. "They must be over in the other cave, across the lava flow." That got Syngaard grumbling again.

The group approached the lava flow. "Hopping from rock to rock seems to be the only way," observed Kaspar. "I will go first, if you like." He nimbly leaped onto the first rock island, then again to another adjacent one. Looking at the way the lava was flowing, it looked like even the shortest path would involve jumping onto four or five islands at least.

Galen jumped across the first island, ran across it and leaped to the next, but missed the mark; his heel landed in the flow of lava. He cried out in sudden pain, causing Kaspar to be distracted in his own leap and miss his own mark. Galen's feet were in heavy boots covered with metal plates, to match the rest of his heavy armor; poor Kaspar wore only sandals. The back of his left foot was badly burned from his misstep; he hastily applied his monk training and directed healing energy to the spot where it was sorely needed.

Orion, on Carl's back, had an easy run of it; they arrived at the far side of the lava flow without incident. Syngaard had planned on just making a fast dash across and get it over with, but after seeing the other two men make poor landings he decided to slow it down a bit and take his time. "This is trickier than it looks!" observed Galen. "Only thing that could be worse is if monsters were to rise out of the lava to attack us!"

Naturally, at that point, monsters rose out of the lava to attack them.

Incinerasha, a Large half-fiend fire elemental with a pair of long, curving, black horns jutting from her head, was the first to rise from the lava river. She managed to hit Kaspar with a fiery slam. Just behind her, her younger (and smaller) sister Ignitia attempted to do the same to Syngaard and although he was hit with a solid slam, he avoided catching on fire. Behind the two black-horned half-fiend fire elementals, their fiendish fire elemental servants also rose up to attack the party: one attacked Galen while the other chased after Orion and Carl, but neither of their attacks were nearly as effective as those of their respective mistresses.

Orion wheeled Carl around and stabbed out at the fiendish fire elemental attacking her; while she knew the flames of her magic short sword would do the creature no harm, the steel cut a line of green fire across the thing's burning chest. Galen fared even better: with two strikes of the sword of Zehkar, he cut down his foe, causing its flames to explode in a puff of air and leave no trace of the elemental's body behind at all.

Syngaard, not wanting to remain on a small rocky island flanked on all sides by flowing lava, turned his back on his foe and continued leaping from rock to rock until he made it to Carl's side. Then he spun in place and sent his javelin of returning flying at Ignitia. Kaspar followed the scarred fighter's example, seeing the wisdom in fighting their foes on a block of solid ground. But on his way past Incinerasha, the elemental opened wide her jaws and snapped at the young monk; he dodged at the last moment, not having expected a fire elemental - half-fiend or not - to try actually biting him. But she was more successful with her flailing arms, slamming the monk and starting his robes ablaze. Kaspar made it to the far shore, but then had to pat out the flames on his sleeves.

Ignitia stepped up to Galen and sent her flaming arm crashing down at him, channeling unholy energy through her appendage in a blow designed to deal extra damage to those of a goodly alignment. It served him right, she thought, for having slain my favorite servant! The blow hit, causing Galen to drop to one knee before righting himself again. Then, seeing Kaspar staggering on the far shore, he sent a ray from his illumium scabbard to strike the monk, bathing him in its healing energies. Kaspar called out his gratitude to the paladin and turned to face their enemies.

The remaining fiendish fire elemental struck out at Carl and Orion again, missing both. But Orion's flaming short sword cut another line of pain across the creature's flaming body, causing it to hiss in anger and frustration. Syngaard caught the javelin as it returned to his hand, then switched to his trusty magic morningstar and smacked the fiendish fire elemental attacking Orion a good one. Kaspar finished it off with a lightning-fast strike with his hardened fist - one that burned his hand despite the swiftness of his attack.

But now three heroes and a riding dog were bunched up together in a group. Incinerasha took advantage of the situation by unleashing an unholy blight attack against the four figures. Syngaard and Orion were sickened by the pain; of the four, Carl fared the best, shaking off the effects with a rapid shake of his head. Ignitia followed suit, only she covered the area around the group in a shroud of pitch blackness. Orion had Carl ease out of the area of darkness while she drank down a healing potion to counter the worst of the damage caused by the unholy blight. She then called out to the others, and Syngaard followed the sound of her voice to step out of the radius of darkness without wandering back into a lava flow.

But while Ignitia had been concentrating on the other four, Galen took advantage and used a smite evil attack on the half-fiend fire elemental, channeling positive energy through his longsword. Syngaard threw his javelin at her as well, impaling its metal through her torso before it returned to his hand.

Kaspar followed Syngaard's path out of the magical darkness, ending up beside Carl and Orion. He was tempted to throw his shuriken at one of the half-fiends, but realized he'd not likely be able to retrieve anything he threw, given the abundance of flowing lava in the area. Seeing his hesitation, Orion offered up her bag of blades, and the monk put the masterwork daggers contained within to good use, charging them up with electrical energy through the power of the tenryutsume he wore on his right hand. Incinerasha was not pleased by the electrically-charged daggers that plunged into her body and then disappeared, but she focused her attention on Galen, the nearer foe and one whose aura blazed with the smug power of Hieroneous.

While her sister attacked the paladin, Ignitia ran over to attack Syngaard, but that shortly proved to be her downfall as the fighter shortly cut her down with several vicious blows from his morningstar.

With only one remaining foe, Orion reached into her bag of blades and threw a volley at Incinerasha, but without a tenryutsume to charge them up with electrical energy, the weapons seemed to deal the long-horned fire elemental no harm. Still, it focused the elemental's attention from Galen long enough for him to back away out of battle, making a tactical retreat from combat to regroup alongside his companions. He caused healing energy to flood through his body as he jumped over the lava flows, sealing over the worst of the burns he'd received during this fight.

Incinerasha roared in fury as Syngaard cut down her younger sister; she locked eyes on the scarred fighter and started making her way over to him, ready to ignite him into a blazing bonfire. She threw a poison spell his way just because she could, but Syngaard managed to shrug off the effects. Kaspar, meanwhile, kept up a steady stream of thrown daggers striking her, each one charged with electricity. He was surprised at the success of his attacks, as he had been led to believe most fiends could ignore the amounts of electrical damage he was likely inflicting with his charged daggers. Still, never one to ignore a gift from fate, he continued with what was working.

Galen decided that now was the time. Calling out to his patron deity, he cried, "Hieroneous! Send me a mount from the celestial planes capable of helping us defeat our enemy!" The air beside him wavered as if a mirage, and then a sudden blaze of orange, tan, and brown sprang forth - but this was no flame, but a dire lion which pounced immediately at Incinerasha, ignoring the pain from the flames of her body as he raked his sharp claws across her fiery form and bit down with his saber-sized teeth. Smoke emanated from his mouth and fur as he turned and roared his victory, the long-horned elemental having been obliterated into cinders and ash by the power of his attacks.

With the battle over, the group took time to heal properly. Galen tended to his new mount's wounds and those of his companions, deciding on the spot, "I'm going to name him 'Burt'."

"Burt?" asked Orion, surprised at such a normal name for such a fearsome beast.

"It's no stupider than 'Carl'," pointed out Syngaard. Personally, he didn't care a whit what the dire lion was called, just as long as he was fighting on their side.

"Shall we explore the other cave now?" suggested Kaspar, once everyone was back to fighting trim. Just like the other cave, it made a ninety-degree turned almost immediately, this time to the left. Just after the bend, the natural stone passageway gave way to worked stone, forming a chamber thirty feet wide and slightly longer. A Large humanoid figure carved from stone stood in the middle of a doorway at the back end of the chamber. The Seekers of Eternity symbol was carved prominently upon both its forehead and its chest.

Preparing for battle, Galen cast a protection from evil spell as he advanced slowly toward the golem. Only after he had cast the spell did he think to examine its aura, surprising himself in picking up no signs of an evil nature. But then again, it was merely an animated statue, a chunk of carved stone brought to the semblance of life - that might account for its lack of evil.

Syngaard ran up and hurled his javelin of returning at the golem, his sprint coming to a screeching halt when the thing turned to him and spoke.

"Do not throw things at me. Identify yourself and your purpose."

What the Hell, thought the scarred fighter as he caught his returning javelin in his hand. It couldn't hurt. "We're the Heroes of Ashfall," he announced.

"Designation unknown," replied the golem.

"We work for Skevros," Orion gambled, to see if it would recognize the name of the Seekers' greatest enemy.

"Designation unknown," repeated the golem.

"Well, let's turn it around," suggested Syngaard. "Just who the Hell are you?"

"I am the Guardian of Hirek's Lab."

"Hirek? Well, there you go, then - I'm the Father of Hirek's Key."

"Designation unknown."

"Hirek's Key? Hope? Daughter of Messalina Maladucci - she's related to Hirek."

"Designations unknown."

Kaspar walked up to the golem. He was unarmed, so he hoped he would not come cross as a foe - not that this guardian seemed especially eager for combat. "Galen," he called behind him. "Bring forth your sword."

"Are we fighting him?" the paladin asked, confused. The stone golem looked pretty tough - but more geared toward conversation than combat, if its actions thus far were any indication. But he did as he was told.

"Spirit of Zehkar identified!" the stone golem announced in apparent excitement. He took a ponderous step forward out of the doorway, then stepped to the side. "You may pass," it announced.

Galen stared up at the massive construct, focusing on its forehead and chest. "Those emblems carved into you: they're the symbol of the Seekers of Eternity," he said.

"Correct."

"The Seekers of Eternity are a group of evil spellcasters trying to become liches so they can live forever as undead abominations," the paladin explained.

"Incorrect," replied the golem. "The Seekers of Eternity is a group of spellcasters and alchemists attempting to discover a means of creating a potion of longevity to extent the natural living lifespan." After having heard that, the heroes recalled having heard before that that had been the original goal of the Seekers; somehow, over the ages, the group's focus had been perverted into its current form. This Guardian of Hirek's Lab had apparently been hidden away for some time!

Looking warily at the massive stone golem, the group entered through the doorway and ended up in another stone-carved room. Upon their entry, continual flame spells flashed to life, illuminating the room's contents.

Three magic circles were inscribed into the floor, their arcane markings filled with silver. A book lay open upon a small table near one of the circles, while a larger table on the right side of the room contained a couple of crumbling scrolls. Off to the left side of the room stood two metal cages, formed from solid iron bars reaching from floor to ceiling. The farther one was empty but the closest contained a closed chest as wide as a full-grown man. "Now we're talking!" enthused Syngaard.

"Hold on," warned Orion, leaping down from Carl's back and examining the lock on the metal cage. She didn't see any obvious traps, so she focused her attention on the chest itself - all while touching nothing. "It looks like the chest is coated in something. A contact poison, perhaps."

"How do we find out for sure?" asked Syngaard.

"You could poke it with your finger," suggested the halfling.

"I'll poke something, all right," replied the fighter, before pulling a seldom-used longsword from a scabbard on his belt. The longsword was well-crafted but nothing spectacular; with a returning javelin, a human bane scimitar, and his magical morningstar, Syngaard had little use for the sword. He stuck it between the bars of the cage and scraped it along the side of the chest, hoping to collect a sample of the coating for closer examination. But it didn't work out that way - after poking the chest the first time, the sword got stuck in place. Try as he might, Syngaard couldn't move the blade from its current position.

And then the whole chest jostled, and all was made clear. "Mimic!" Orion cried - she'd heard tales of such creatures, shapeshifters capable of assuming the forms of inanimate objects. Anyone trained in the skills of thievery had heard the tales; mimics were legendary, having taken the lives of many thieves over the years.

Unable to pull his sword back, Syngaard went with the flow and tried stabbing it in even deeper. For his efforts, the "chest" formed a pseudopod and sent it crashing in his direction, only to hit the metal bars of its prison. The pseudopod deformed slightly upon impact, but the creature was unable to assume a form thin enough to fit between of the bars. "Ha!" taunted Syngaard. "Can't get at me, can you?"

But Orion had already realized that if the cage that appeared to hold a treasure chest actually didn't, then the one that looked like it didn't hold a chest actually might. She gave the bars and locking mechanism on the empty cage a thorough search, finding no traps. Galen approached behind the halfling, pulling out a spare, nonmagical longsword of his own. He poked it between the bars of the cage into the empty space beyond and it struck something that wasn't visible. "No, now we're talking!" he corrected Syngaard's earlier statement.

Orion made quick work of the cage's lock with her lockpicking tools and opened the apparently empty cage. Then, feeling around the unseen chest with gloved hands (for contact poison was always a possibility), she felt around for the chest's latches and unhooked them. She was glad to find the chest unlocked; picking an invisible lock would be quite a trick! But when she opened the lid, the interior of the chest proved to be quite visible - and filled to the brim with platinum coins.

"Now we're talking!" the halfling agreed.

Syngaard insisted on immediately pulling out the coins and dividing them up; after all, the chest was too big to lug all the way home so it made more sense to dump the contents into the group's individual bags of holding. Kaspar left the counting to the others, trusting in them to allocate him an equal share; instead, he checked out the open book. While he couldn't read its contents, he recognized the writing as Celestial. Flipping the book closed, he saw the holy symbol of Boccob inscribed on its front cover in silver thread; the name "HIREK" was similarly sewn along the spine. "This is probably Hirek's original spellbook!" the monk called to the others.

"Too bad Wizard-Pants didn't show," smirked Syngaard. "He might have learned something useful."

Kaspar examined the two scrolls on the other table, but time had not treated them kindly; they crumbled at his merest touch. The monk then gave the entire area a quick examination, his elven senses seeking hidden passageways or secret doors. When that turned up negative, and once the others had finished dividing up the platinum coins, he announced the ruins to have been sufficiently explored and any dangers to the kingdom of Ashfall to have been negated. "We can return to King Renaldos and pick up our dimensional anchoring stone for Skevros," he said to his friends.

"Aw, crap!" griped Syngaard. "More trudging!"

"For you, perhaps," replied Galen. "I'm riding Burt back in style!" Orion, back in the saddle of her riding dog, said nothing but her expression admitted to her enjoyment of Syngaard's envy just a little bit.

"Walking is good exercise," pointed out Kaspar, but Syngaard's snarling reply convinced the monk that the scarred human fighter wanted to hear no such arguments. So Kaspar caught up to the other two on their mounts and walked beside them, leaving Syngaard to sulk during the long trudge back to Ashfall to pick up their rock, and during the hour-long trudge back to Durnhill after that.

- - -

Logan used a "Wasteland" Flip-Mat for the lava cave area and several tiles from a "Mines" Map Pack for the two caves. Hirek's Lab itself was a Dungeon Tile from a set I had purchased years ago.

As for the half-fiend fire elementals, Logan used two versions of a stand-up token I had made for a previous campaign to represent his PC's fire elemental familiar, Infernia. (One was Large and one was Medium; his PC used to cast polymorph any object on her to change her size as needed for the adventure at hand.) He used generic fire elemental initiative cards, though, since he couldn't find Infernia's card from the previous campaign. (There's a good reason for that - I set it aside as I'm planning on repurposing the Infernia tokens and initiative card for an upcoming adventure in my own campaign.) And the reason they took electricity damage from Kaspar's tenryutsume-enhanced throwing daggers was simple as well - in the heat of battle, Logan forgot about their electricity resistance 10. (Hey, I've been there - I once forgot that arrowhawks are immune to electricity, so on the spur of the moment I had to make the group of arrowhawks my PCs were fighting a variant offshoot that were force-based instead of electricity-based.) So I guess these particular half-fiend fire elementals didn't inherit that particular trait from their fiendish ancestors.
 

Richards

Adventurer
ADVENTURE 23: WISHING YOU WERE HERE

PC Roster:
Daleth Stormsea, elf wizard 5
Galen Thorne, human paladin 8
Kaspar Hardstrike, elf monk 8
Orion Nightsky, halfling rogue 7
Syngaard, human fighter 8​

Game Session Date: 22 August 2018

- - -

"You can do that now? That quickly?" asked Orion, astonishment evident in her voice.

"No problem," assured the merchant wizard. "Your bag of blades supplies the throwing daggers and they're already of masterwork quality. It will be a mere trifle to upgrade the daggers such that they have magical enhancements to aid in the striking of the designated target and deal a blast of electrical energy upon impact. You agree to the price stipulated?"

"I do indeed!" enthused the halfling, passing over a bag of coins, and in a few minutes she had her bag of blades back, even more lethal than ever. She tucked it into place at the side of Carl's saddle, so she could reach down and grab a weapon from the bag without effort.

Nearby, Kaspar and Syngaard walked out of an armorer's shop that also dealt in magic items. Each had purchased items guaranteed to make them more difficult to hit in combat, no small matter to the elven monk as he was forbidden by his order to wear armor of any type that would inhibit the flexibility he had attained through years of diligent effort. Galen, it the meantime, had summoned his dire lion from the celestial realms, specifically to have a permanent greater magic fang spell cast upon him. It took the combined efforts of a druid and a wizard to do so, but that was why the magic shop employed spellcasters of different varieties. The paladin happily paid the agreed-upon sum, eager now for Burt's next combat.

He didn't have long to wait. Although the four heroes were all at various shops along the same street, they weren't all together as a group - until suddenly, they were. In the blink of an eye, the four found themselves several blocks away in the street just outside the Enchanted Flagon. Oddly enough, Daleth Stormsea was there as well - and he hadn't even been shopping with the rest of the group! The elf wizard looked around, surprised to see himself outdoors when a moment ago he had been lost deep in study in the Temple of Boccob, researching arcane spellcraft techniques.

"What the Hell?" sputtered Syngaard. "What just happened?"

Burt was not among the group's number, a fact immediately evident to Galen Thorne. <Burt!> he called out over the empathic link they shared. <I'm just outside the Enchanted Flagon! Meet me here at once!> Back in the street outside the magic shop, a saber-fanged dire lion the size of a draft horse suddenly took off at full speed, scattering frightened townsfolk in his wake as he made a bee-line for his human master.

"It would seem we were teleported here," Daleth observed, answering the scarred fighter. "I would imagine Skevros needs assistance, at once!" The elf turned and raced to the front door of the tavern that served as the group's headquarters, swinging it open and rushing inside.

"Can he do that?" Orion asked, urging Carl to follow behind the elven wizard. Galen, Syngaard, and Kaspar followed suit.

"News to me," grumbled Syngaard. "He teleports us all over the damned place, but we always gotta trudge back home ourselves. Never seen 'im teleport us to him." And not only that, but a week ago the group had turned over a magical stone from Ashfall that was to have aided the king's adviser in shielding the kingdom of Durnhill from unwanted teleport effects - it shouldn't have even been possible for the group to be suddenly relocated like they were.

Entering the Enchanted Flagon, the group got an answer of sorts. There was an elderly man sitting in the spot normally reserved for Skevros at the group's main table; he was bald on top, with a ring of white hair and a long, flowing, white beard that matched the color of his robe - the color of the Azure Glade's Diviners Guild. At his side stood a petite drow woman, her dark skin covered - just barely, Syngaard was quick to notice - in an equally-dark leather outfit that clung to her form like a thin layer of wet cotton. Skevros and Karen stood over to the heroes' right, motionless, the wizard's lips pressed tight; the spot in which they stood normally sported a round table and four chairs, but neither was currently present. Instead, there was a black, round hole standing upright along the wall behind them - a magical gate of some sort, or perhaps one of those curious portable holes the magic shops occasionally offered for sale at outrageous prices. Whichever it was, it stood a good ten feet tall.

"What's goin' on?" demanded Syngaard, looking over at Skevros for an explanation. He had his returning javelin in hand, ready to throw if needed. At his side, Galen cast a protection from evil spell, realizing the Diviners Guild was one of the three of nine branches of the Council of Guilds already supposedly infiltrated by the Seekers of Eternity. He moved towards Skevros but was stopped by an invisible wall of some type - a wall of force, perhaps.

"Sit down," suggested the bearded wizard, taking a sip from a tankard of ale with one hand - his other held an ornate staff - and looking not the least bit concerned that there were five heroes and a riding dog armed and ready to do battle with him. "I wish to discuss options with you."

"And just who the Hell are you?" demanded Syngaard. (He was in quite the demanding mood, it seemed.)

"I believe you know of me. My name is Arcturus; I'm the head of the Diviners Guild in the Azure Glade. Your little group here has become quite the thorn in our side - and I intend to remedy that, one way or the other." Galen's eyes narrowed as the elderly wizard spoke, partly at the mention of "thorn" - as that was, phonetically, the young paladin's last name - but also because he was concentrating on the wizard's aura, which emanated waves of evil. (Oddly enough, the drow woman at his side showed no signs of evil at all; who ever heard of a good - or at least non-evil - drow?)

"As I see it, you have three choices," observed Arcturus, counting them off on his fingers. "One: you can join the Seekers of Eternity and share in our successes." Galen visibly choked at that suggestion, drawing a frown from Arcturus. "Two," he continued, "you can tell us how you communed with the Mithral Mage and we will cease all hostility against toward your group and Skevros, despite your master's previous betrayal."

"You can go stick your head in a bucket," snarled Galen, not at all aware that his comment might actually be giving the diviner a hint as to the role a bucket of osteovox played in their ability to communicate with the spirit of the Mithral Mage, using a skull of a druid member of the Seekers.

"Then there's three: you die," concluded Arcturus. "The choice is yours."

"I like option four: we kill you and all of your stupid Seekers!" offered Syngaard, raising his javelin to throw.

"A pity," remarked Arcturus, throwing a readied maze spell directly at Daleth, possibly singling the elf out as the greatest threat simply because he himself knew the power of high-level arcane spellcasters; had he known Daleth was the hero with the least actual combat experience of the group, he might have chosen his target differently. In any case, Daleth disappeared at once, his body shunted into an extradimensional maze, unable to interact with the outside world at all until he mentally unraveled the means of escape. At Arcturus's side, the drow woman struck a defensive pose, leading Kaspar to believe he was facing an enemy whose combat training had been very similar to his own.

From Carl's back, Orion flung one of her just-upgraded throwing daggers at the white-haired drow, who easily dodged out of the way. The dagger soared past her head and vanished before it struck the back wall. Kaspar mirrored the halfling's attack with three shuriken of his own, but the drow monk nimbly dodged all three of them as well with minimal effort, not even bothering to deflect them with her hands. Syngaard threw his javelin at the drow with an equal lack of success, but he didn't pay any attention as to whether or not the thrown weapon even hit her; he was too busy pulling the human bane scimitar from his belt, having already determined that this Arcturus dude was a human and thus particularly vulnerable to the enchantments of his blade.

Galen took a moment to cast a bless weapon on the sword of Zehkar before moving in for combat. Behind him, in the street outside the tavern's open door, the paladin heard Burt's roar as he rapidly approached.

Seemingly unperturbed by the terrible odds before him or the fact that Syngaard's deadly blade cut into his side during his spellcasting, Arcturus sent a deadly cone of freezing cold blasting from his fingertips, hitting everyone in the room but Skevros and Karen - and even hitting Burt as he raced up to the tavern's doorway. The cone of cold caused the group's first casualty: Orion's faithful riding dog, Carl, was hit full-force by the blast of frigid cold and his heart immediately stopped beating in his chest. Orion rolled to the floor as her faithful companion keeled over, his icy body already stiffer than rigor mortis would ever affect it. She had instinctively managed to dodge the blast of cold energy, but the cry of rage that exploded from her lips was no less anguished by the pain not having been hers.

Without a moment's hesitation - indeed, thought became instant action - Orion snatched up a magical throwing dagger from her bag of blades and sent it hurtling at Arcturus, catching him in the chest, just below the neck. The trained knife-fighter could tell just by the sound it made hitting him that he had some sort of magical protection up - a stoneskin spell, most likely, which would account for the fact that Syngaard's earlier blow with his human bane scimitar hadn't done as much damage as the scarred fighter had expected.

Kaspar also decided to target the enemy wizard, so he leaped up onto the bar behind the drow and struck at Arcturus, likewise encountering the man's magical shield against physical attacks - although the monk was pleased to see the protective spell did nothing to deflect the fire and electricity components of his tenryutsume-fueled blows. Below him, the drow woman spun and struck out at Kaspar, but he easily avoided the blow.

Funny, thought Syngaard. Nobody's hit the drow chick, and she hasn't hit nobody either. He squinted at her, then looked back over at Karen, and a sudden realization hit him. Syngaard wasn't the smartest of men, there was no denying it, but he did occasionally have his flashes of insight. "Don't bother with the drow chick!" he called out. "She's just a spell, like Karen!" He then focused his attention back on Arcturus, doing his best to carve him up with his scimitar. He was successful twice in as many seconds, scoring with a one-two set of slashes that had the elderly wizard cursing aloud in pain despite his magical protection.

Galen charged forth, striking Arcturus with his sword of Zehkar and then swiveling away, but this was just to make room for Burt, his mane full of frost, who pounced into the room, leapt up onto the round table that usually served as the group's gathering place, and tore into the bald-headed mage, teeth and claws flashing out in wave after wave of furious violence. Unfortunately, Arcturus's stoneskin spell absorbed the majority of the dire lion's attacks.

Still, if nothing else Burt's onslaught convinced Arcturus he was open to attacks from too many directions in his current location. Despite the fact that casting the spell opened him up to a flurry of attacks from those within striking distance - Syngaard, Burt, Galen, and Kaspar - the diviner cast a dimension door spell that sent him across the room, beside the ten-foot-diameter black hole in the wall behind Skevros. Standing beside the forcecage spell that imprisoned his old enemy and his "seen" unseen servant, Arcturus was similarly protected by the wall to the right of the tavern's entry door. Only one hero could stand before him and fight hand-to-hand.

Orion didn't need to fight him hand-to-hand, though - she continued throwing her magical daggers at the diviner, wanting him dead for what he had done to poor Carl. Kaspar, still standing upon the bar at the back of the room, likewise used his ranged attacks: throwing stars suffused with both fiery and electrical energy from his tenryutsume. From his vantage point, he could easily strike over the heads of his friends, whichever one ended up confronting the wizard face to face.

Syngaard was tempted, but he realized he had a better ranged weapon than Galen had and he also knew the power of the paladin's holy smite attacks, which were usable against evil enemies - and this white-bearded bozo certainly qualified! He moved closer, to the edge of the invisible box keeping Skevros and Karen isolated, and threw his returning javelin at Arcturus, leaving an avenue of attack open for Galen.

Galen took the opportunity without hesitation. Charging forward with a roar of fury, the paladin channeled holy energy through his blade, which caused a considerable amount of damage to the evil diviner. But Arcturus wasn't without resources of his own; he took advantage of the paladin's proximity to cast a vampiric touch spell that drained Galen of some of his own vitality, instantly healing the wizard back to the level he'd been at before the paladin's charge. Galen staggered under the effect of the spell, instantly on his last legs before falling in combat.

But Kaspar and Orion continued their attacks from across the room, slowly whittling away at the wizard's stoneskin defenses. Syngaard, seeing Galen stagger, grabbed him by the shoulder and pulled him back, stepping up to take his place - and swing his human bane scimitar at Arcturus while he was at it. The blade hit true and hit deep; now it was Arcturus nearly on his last legs.

Orion stopped her throwing-dagger assault to rush forward to Galen's aid. She couldn't cast healing energy through her fingers like the paladin could, but she unstoppered a healing potion and bade the armored warrior drink it down. Galen did so, nodding in gratitude at the halfling's gesture.

Emboldened by his own renewal and Arcturus's weakened state, Galen rushed forward again, pulling Syngaard aside so he could repeat his holy smite attack against the wizard. The holy energy coursing through the sword of Zehkar was all it took to end the life of Arcturus, whose bloodstained body crashed to the floor. As it struck, it was enveloped in a blue glow that flickered and then faded into a mist.

And that wasn't all that faded with the wizard's death. The solid forcecage imprisoning Skevros and the gate to the quasi-elemental plane of vacuum also snapped off as Arcturus died, allowing Skevros to take a gulp of much-needed air. Dizziness overcame the king's adviser and he dropped to his knees; Kaspar was there in a heartbeat to see to their leader's welfare. Orion had a different task at hand: she stabbed into the dead wizard's chest over and over with one of her electric daggers, ensuring Carl's killer was truly dead.

"What was that blue glow?" asked Galen once Skevros had regained his breath. "Some kind of necromantic life-force thing?"

"No," replied Skevros. "Arcturus had a contingency spell in effect that would have teleported his body and staff - much like the Azure Guard uses. But I've warded the kingdom against unwanted teleportation with my dimensional anchoring stones, so it wasn't able to take effect."

"But you teleported us here," argued Kaspar.

"No, that wasn't me. It was Arcturus, and he used a wish spell to do so. That's how he managed to appear here in the first place; my wards can prevent teleportation spells but they can't overcome the power of a wish."

"Arcturus teleported us here? That don't make no sense," argued Syngaard, heading over to the wizard's corpse to stop Orion's further desecration of it - not that he was worried about such things normally, but they hadn't had a chance to loot the stiff yet!

"He wished to speak with you and he is - or was - an impatient man," replied Skevros.

"Hey, this guy's got nothin' on him!" complained Syngaard. "Don't high-level wizards carry no coins or gems on 'em or nothin'?"

"You will likely find that he wears a robe of the magi, but one attuned to those who follow the path of evil. He had it bleached to match the color of the Diviners Guild, no doubt."

"How 'bout his stick?" asked Syngaard, holding up the magic staff Arcturus hadn't even used in battle. "It worth anything?"

"An azurewood staff of divination, by the looks of it," replied Skevros. "You might give it to Daleth, upon his return."

"Yeah, where is Wizard-Pants?" asked Galen, looking around.

Before any reply could be made, there was a shimmering in the air and nine robed figures appeared in the tavern. Each robe was of a different color: the eight colors of the specialist wizards of the Azure Glade and a gray one as well. The figures had no faces; instead, a glowing rune appeared in the middle of their hoods. Kaspar recognized the rune inside the yellow robe's hood - it was the personal sigil of Leorna, the Guildmistress of the Illusionists Guild, the same mark she had put on the letter of recommendation she had written to gain the heroes admittance into the Abjurers Guild. The gray-robed rune was the holy symbol of Boccob.

Nine voices called out in unison, "You are hereby accused of the assassination of a member of the Council of Guilds. You will appear before the Council to face trial in seven days' time. Failure to comply will be considered an admission of guilt upon which time your deaths will be inevitable. The mark upon Skevros Wrencrofft shall be modified such that he will be allowed to accompany the accused to his manor where the accused shall await trial." With that the robes vanished.

"What will we do?" asked Orion. "We're not planning on going, are we?"

"I imagine we shall," observed Skevros, thinking furiously.

"Screw that!" snarled Syngaard. "What're they gonna do if we don't show up? Come here and try to get us, likely - and then at least we're on our home ground!"

"Did you note the emphasis on the word 'inevitable' in their proclamation?" asked Skevros. "If we do not show, they will send inevitables after us, wave after wave, until we eventually comply."

"What's an inevitable?" asked Galen. He'd never heard of them.

"A sentient construct with a single purpose. We'd do best to avoid them. But no matter: this may actually turn out to our advantage. We already have some allies among the Council: Leorna, for one, and you saved the life of Orlin, the Guildmaster of Conjurers, so he'll likely look upon us with favor. And only a fraction of the Guilds have become infiltrated by the Seekers of Eternity--"

"That we know of," interjected Syngaard.

"As you say," admitted Skevros. "Still, this might be our best chance to get the Seekers' plans out into the open, before the rest of the Council of Guilds. We could very well start a civil war among the Guilds - that would certainly be to our advantage!"

"So we're going," said Kaspar.

"It would seem that way, yes."

"Not likin' this plan so much," grumbled Syngaard.

"So noted," observed Skevros. "But I believe it to be our best course of action." However, he was a bit concerned not only about the upcoming trial but also of the return to his old home, Wrencrofft Manor, the location of so many memories, good and bad. That was the place where his wife, Jessica had been killed trying to save him from himself....

There was another rippling in the air and a robed figure appeared. "Now what?" demanded Syngaard, his human bane scimitar back in his hand and ready for action.

But it was only Daleth, finally having worked his way through the maze spell. He looked down at the body of the slain wizard in the white robes, then over at Carl's still-frozen corpse over at the other side of the tavern. Orion was bending over her slain mount, weeping softly.

"I'm back," announced the elf. "...What did I miss?"

- - -

Joey once again did not attend this session, but Logan had Daleth appear anyway, just to justify his gaining of the azurewood staff of divination, which has fewer charges than a normal staff but whose charges replenish themselves daily. It was, after all, the only bit of treasure in this whole adventure and it was only suited for Daleth's use. Logan gave Arcturus a readied action to cast a maze spell on Daleth to get him out of the way (so none of the other players would have to double up on PCs for the session), which I thought was a rather elegant solution to Joey's absence.

And as a result of the XP received for fighting a 20th-level diviner (even one who had burned off several of his more powerful spells dealing with Skevros), all of the PCs leveled up.

Vicki's planning on having Orion purchase a new riding dog and naming this one "Ernie" (a Sesame Street joke involving Galen's dire lion mount). She's even considering having him awakened - besides the bump in Hit Dice that would give her riding mount, I think she just likes the idea of a talking dog in the party with a very good chance of being smarter than Syngaard.

By the way, as part of the background music while we played through this adventure, I put on Chicago's song, "Wishing You Were Here" (an obvious choice, given the adventure's title), followed immediately by the entire Pink Floyd album "Wish You Were Here." And I also played a song I recently discovered by Metallica called "Orion."
 
Last edited:

Richards

Adventurer
ADVENTURE 24: TRIAL BY THE COUNCIL

PC Roster:
Daleth Stormsea, elf wizard 5
Galen Thorne, human paladin 9
Kaspar Hardstrike, elf monk 9
Orion Nightsky, halfling rogue 8
Syngaard, human fighter 9​

Game Session Date: 29 August 2018

- - -

It had been a sad day for Orion Nightsky and she still hadn't finished crying when she finally went to bed. Carl had been such a good riding dog: so easy to train, so brave to ride into battle, so loyal...it was hard to believe he was really gone. Sleep was long in coming for the little halfling, and when it came at last her head lay upon a pillow soaked with her tears.

Not surprisingly, she dreamt of Carl. He was alive again, and excited at first, wagging his tail jumping up and down, and barking in pure joy. But then his barks turned more serious, and they became interspersed with growls and snarls. Orion thought he might be mad at her, but then she saw he was looking away, off to her left. She turned...

...and just barely avoided the steel blade that came swinging down towards her head. In the dim moonlight, she saw a dark figure bent over her, snarling in fury that her strike had missed.

"Assassins!" called out Orion, rolling sideways off the bed - if this woman had made it into her bedroom, that meant she had made it through the exterior door above the stairs on the side of the Enchanted Flagon, then through her own bedroom door - both of which had been locked when the adventurers went to bed the night before. It was unlikely anyone would have put that much effort into killing one halfling rogue; more likely, indeed, that a group of assassins would have been sent to take out the entire party of adventurers all at once. So if she could warn the others while she dealt with this threat of her own, it might just give them the edge they needed to stay alive.

Orion landed on the floor at the side of the bed on her shoulder and turned it into a full roll. When she stood back up, she had her flaming short sword in hand, kept at the side of the bed for purposes such as these. The flickering light of the sword's flames illuminated the room enough for the little halfling to see who she was up against. It was nobody she recognized, nobody she could recall ever having seen before, but she was a tall, lithe human woman dressed entirely in black, with a gleaming blade of her own. Orion made as if to lunge forward but pulled back at the last moment; the assassin, Jayde, fell for the feint and swung her own blade to come crashing down where Orion's head would have been had she completed the maneuver. Orion then easily got past the flustered assassin's defenses to plunge her smaller, flaming blade between a pair of ribs; when she pulled it back out, there was glistening blood beneath the magical flames.

Jayde put a hand to the wound and tried swinging her blade in a sideways arc to skewer the halfling's head from her neck, but that was the easiest kind of blow for a little halfling to avoid - Orion ducked beneath the swinging sword and struck out again at her assailant. A stab at the knee to cause some distracting pain, then a deeper thrust to the thigh to really get the blood flowing, and before she knew it she had Jayde unconscious on her bedroom floor, bleeding out.

It took a moment for Orion to decide whether or not to save the life of the assassin who had so callously tried to take hers away, but eventually, the heat of battle having subsided, the halfling decided the would-be assassin could well be a source of information. So, using her blade, she cut the sleeves from the assassin's armor and used Jayde's own belt and scabbard-strap to staunch the blood and bind her securely. As she did so, she gave a sudden start - for she could swear she still heard the barking that had awakened her from her dream....

Moments earlier in the room across the hall, Kaspar snapped out of his nightly trance at the cry of "Assassins!" In a single motion, the elf monk stood up from his cross-legged position on the floor and sent his foot kicking out at the human even now bending over to try to slay him as he meditated. Kaspar's foot drove deep into the enemy's stomach, bending him over into near helplessness while the elf sent a hard strike crashing down upon his head, powered by years of training and the tenryutsume Kaspar wore on his right hand and forearm. Brian Swiftstrike fell forward but rolled with the blow, indicating some level of martial arts training himself. He landed, swung around, and caught Kaspar in the face with a punch of his own, but Kaspar had opted not to block the incoming blow so he could get off a devastating counterattack of his own. In a flurry of blows nearly too fast to see, the elven monk battered his human counterpart until he lay dead on the floor. Kaspar casually wiped the blood from his lip, wondering who this assassin might be. Bending over him, he searched for the traditional hourglass tattoo of the Seekers of Eternity on the back of his neck and was surprised to find a similar tattoo in place there - although this hourglass seemed to be spilling drops of blood. Interesting....

At the same time, Galen was trading blows with a counterpart of his own. The young paladin had been having a rather pleasant dream involving Serenity when Orion's scream of warning woke him to see a black-armored figure, Sinblade, standing above him with a raised sword. Galen rolled sideways and grabbed up the sword of Zehkar and his own shield, propped up against the wall at the side of his bed, and fought the evil knight wearing only his night garment. Instinctively - he didn't even waste the time to examine the man's aura - he channeled positive energy through his blade, smiting the blackguard and causing him to stagger backwards. In the light of Zehkar's glow, Galen made out the symbol on his opponent's shield: Hextor, god of tyranny, the evil counterpart (and brother) to Galen's own deity, Hieroneous, god of valor. The blackguard's sword made a feeble strike at Galen but was blocked by the paladin's shield, then a repeat of his earlier smite evil attack brought the foe to his final moments. Sinblade fell to his knees, lost his grip on his weapon and his shield, and toppled onto his face, stone cold dead.

The three heroes having dealt with their assassins, they rushed out to check on the other lodger in the upper level of the Enchanted Flagon, but Daleth had already dealt with his own assassin, who lay dead on the floor of the wizard's room. Her face bore the burn marks of a recent victim of an empowered scorching ray spell. "I wonder if they just attacked us here, or sent somebody to kill Syngaard as well?" wondered Daleth aloud.

Syngaard was sound asleep in a bed in the brothel where he performed bouncer duties when the assassin silently opened the door and stepped inside the room. Any sounds the assassin might have made while crossing the room were surely obscured by the light snores emanating from the scarred fighter's mouth, and in fact it was his snoring which likely saved his life - for beside him in bed, Cori turned to wake Syngaard (or at least convince him to sleep on his side) when she locked eyes with the assassin, still several feet from the bed.

Several things happened almost at once. Cori gave a shrill scream, the assassin pounced forward and sent his dagger crashing down towards Syngaard's bald head, and Syngaard woke up from a sound sleep, bolted upright, saw an incoming blade, and rolled to his right, landing on the floor in a heap. The dagger tore into the bed, in a spot Syngaard had been occupying a mere second before. Syngaard looked eye to eye at his attempted killer, grabbed the morningstar he kept at the side of his bed, stood up - and was suddenly looking down at his would-be assassin.

"A halfling?" Syngaard roared. "They sent an effin' halfling to try to kill me?" Roaring in outrage at the implied insult, the scarred fighter send his morningstar in a wide arc that caught the halfling - one Alfonse Silentfoot, as it happened - in the face, sending him flying across the room. He landed poorly but had time to scramble back to his feet by the time the half-naked fighter strode across the room; he even stabbed out with his short sword, catching Syngaard in the side and drawing a line of blood across his waist - but then another crashing blow from the fighter's weapon sent Alfonse crashing unconscious to the floor, bleeding from both sides of his head.

"Is he dead?" asked Cori, who had hidden crouched down on the other side of the bed during the short but furious battle.

"Not yet," replied Syngaard, raising his morningstar over his head for the killing blow - but then, in a surprising moment of insight, he lowered his weapon. "Ah, Hell," he sighed. "You got anything to tie him up with? I suppose Skev-- I suppose I oughtta go take him to get interrogated, see who sent him." Cori turned up the oil lamp to brighten the room, then started binding the halfling's hands and feet while Syngaard got dressed and put on his armor. She used strips from the little halfling's own cloak to bind the wounds on the back of his head, wincing at the scars the morningstar's sharp points had made to his face. "You made him look like a little version of you - only with hair," Cori observed. Syngaard only grunted in response.

Once he was ready, he picked the halfling up by his bound legs, looping his shield arm between Alfonse's knees and tossing him over his back like a sack of potatoes. "Now I gotta trudge all the way across town with the little bastard," the fighter grumbled to himself.

While Syngaard started walking through the dark and silent streets - it was somewhere between two and three bells in the morning - Orion and Kaspar had geared up and gone down the stairs to investigate the barking that was still going on, leaving Daleth upstairs to guard the unconscious Jayde while Galen took the laborious steps to get into his plate armor. Rounding the corner of the building, the first thing the elf and halfling noticed was their front door was missing - no, not merely missing, upon further investigation, but disintegrated into oblivion. They silently crept into the dark tavern, but the magical wards recognized their rings and turned the everburning torches on the walls up to full illumination.

Looking up at the two heroes in surprise was a pale-skinned woman standing behind the bar. The barking sounds were coming from a thick gray mist over to the left side of the tavern; as Orion watched in amazement, the mist coalesced into a familiar shape: Carl the riding dog, snarling and growling over at the intruder behind the bar. She wore a green dress and had long, black hair; that was all the two heroes could make out about the woman before her own form instantly vanished, to be replaced by a bat flapping towards the open doorway. Orion pulled out one of her throwing daggers and sent it flying at the bat and Kaspar followed suit with a handful of shuriken, but it didn't look as if any of the thrown weapons hit their target. The bat made it outside the building and then was lost in the darkness.

Kaspar scanned the skyline to see if he could find the bat, but Orion had other concerns at the moment. The intruder gone, Carl walked over to his mistress and tried to rub his muzzle against her hand, the way he did whenever he was hinting he wanted a good petting or a rubdown. Orion tried to oblige, but her hand went right through her mount - Carl was, without a doubt, now a ghost. She could feel the coldness of the air around Carl as she tried and failed to pet him, and he looked into her eyes with a look of canine sadness.

Then Daleth and Galen walked into the tavern, the armored paladin carrying the bound Jayde over a shoulder. Movement caught Daleth's eye from the street outside, but it was just Syngaard, with a prisoner of his own draped over a shoulder. He stormed into the tavern with a fierce scowl and plopped Alfonse onto the nearest table. "They sent a damned halfling to try to kill me!" he exploded.

"We'd better get Skevros," suggested Kaspar, moving to behind the bar to the door leading to the storage room - and, if you wore an attuned ring, also to the extradimensional rooms the king's adviser kept for his own use. Syngaard, in the meantime, briefly wondered why Orion was making such a big fuss over her damned dog until he remembered Carl had been slain the day before. "Well Hell," he commented. "That ain't right."

Once Skevros had joined the assembled group, they filled him in on the attack. Kaspar mentioned the "blood-hourglass" tattoo on the back of his foe's neck, and a quick check confirmed both Jayde and Alfonse wore the same emblems on the backs of their necks. "Interesting," mused Skevros. "A splinter group, perhaps? Or the assassination branch of the Seekers?"

"Let's find out," suggested Syngaard, slapping his bound halfling foe awake. "Talk!" he commanded. Alfonse just stared defiantly at the big brute who had overpowered him. Then, quick as a snake, he wriggled his hands free from the restraints behind his back and dropped to the floor. Instead of trying to untie his ankles and make a break for it, though, he reached inside an inner pocket and brought out a small potion vial. He tried to get it to his lips but Syngaard tackled him, pinning him underneath his own bulk. Skevros pulled the vial from the halfling's hands and sniffed it experimentally. "Poison," he declared.

"You're not escapin' us that easily," warned Syngaard, giving Alfonse a punch in the nose for good measure.

"I have nothing to say," replied the halfling assassin.

"Perhaps not now," agreed Skevros, "but you might be useful at the upcoming trial." He put a hand on the halfling's head and muttered a few arcane syllables, and the halfling's flesh and clothes became gray stone. Then a shrink item spell reduced the halfling statue to the size of a small stone, which the king's wizard immediately pocketed. He then turned to Jayde, who had been awakened and saw what had befallen her partner-in-crime.

"Do you wish to share his fate?" asked Skevros.

"I...I'm willing to talk," Jayde answered hesitantly.

"Then let's hear it," snarled Syngaard. "Who are you working for?"

"The vampire," Jayde answered immediately. "We were to provide a distraction while she broke into your headquarters and took what she was after. She was going to reward us with eternal life if we were successful."

"Eternal life?" repeated Galen in astonishment. "You mean, as a vampire? That's not life - that's undeath!"

"And your mistress's target was...?" prompted Daleth.

"The body of the wizard you slew."

Skevros swore uncharacteristically and raced over behind the bar, looking down at the shelves there. "She got it - it's gone," he sighed.

"Got what?" asked Kaspar.

"The body of Arcturus. I had shrunken it as well, after casting a gentle repose spell upon it. I didn't want it stinking the place up before the trial."

"Well, the lot of you failed," sneered Syngaard. "Five assassins after the five of us, and here we all are, while three of you are dead and the other two our prisoners."

"On the contrary: we won," sneered Jayde right back at the bald fighter. "We didn't have to kill you, merely keep you from interfering - which we did."

"I suppose this means they'll have Arcturus resurrected," surmised Orion.

"Hey, he better not be at our trial!" said Syngaard. "He's one of the Guildmasters - ain't they gonna be the ones running the trial?"

"Not necessarily," replied Skevros. "But in many cases, yes."

"Well, that don't seem fair, getting to convict the guys what killed you! Plus, if he's back alive, then what's the harm done? We shouldn't need to go to no trial after all!"

"I'm afraid it doesn't work quite that way," remarked Skevros offhandedly, turning to face Jayde. "In any case, I think we've heard quite enough from you." He placed a hand on her head and repeated the two spells he'd previously cast on Alfonse, leaving her petrified and shrunken to 1/16th her normal size.

"So we're still going to the trial?" asked Kaspar.

"Indeed we are. Tomorrow - well, later today, I suppose. Daleth, would you mind giving me a hand with our front door? We'll need to see if we can fabricate a new one, I suppose."

"I need a drink," announced Syngaard suddenly. "Where's Karen?"

- - -

"Well, teleportin' sure beats trudging all the way over here, I suppose," remarked Syngaard as the group manifested instantly just outside the front door to Wrencrofft Manor later that afternoon. Skevros had brought all five of his heroes with him, and even managed to include Carl's ghost, who had hung around Orion ever since the two had been reunited. However, Skevros ignored the fighter's comments - he was intent upon the mechanical figure standing in front of the door.

"I am Azure Delta Sigma," said the metal construct. (Skevros would later identify it to the others as a kolyarut, one of the inevitables serving as the Executioners of Azure Law.) "I have been assigned to watch over the accused. If you have any questions regarding your trial, feel free to ask and I shall answer to the best of my ability."

"I have no questions at this time," replied Skevros. "Please stand aside." The kolyarut did as it was bid and the group entered the Wrencrofft Manor, Azure Delta Sigma following behind. Skevros tried his best to simply ignore the construct, so the others followed his lead.

"So, what kind of justice can we expect during the trial?" asked Kaspar.

"The trial--" began Azure Delta Sigma, only to be cut off.

"We wasn't talkin' to you, we was talkin' to him," said Syngaard, pointing a thumb at Skevros. The construct dutifully stopped talking.

"When we are taken into the courtroom, it will be presided over by nine members of the Council - possibly the eight Guildmasters of the eight colleges of magic and the Head Priest of the Church of Boccob, but not necessarily so - any on the nine may appoint an underling in his or her place."

"So there's no guarantee we'll have Leorna there on our side - or Orlin?" asked Galen, mentioning the two Guild leaders who had reason to view the Durnhill group in a good light.

"Guarantee? No. But I would hope if they aren't there themselves in person, they'll have passed on their views to those who take their place. Now then, besides the nine presiding over the trial, there will also be sixteen kolyaruts in attendance - our executioners, should it come to that. The outcome of the trial is determined by a simple majority vote, with the severity of the sentencing based upon the size of the majority. For murder, or assassination, as we're being charged with, the penalty ranges from life imprisonment or banishment with a 5/4 guilty vote to the obliteration of the accused's souls in the event of a unanimous guilty vote."

"Well, that sucks," observed Syngaard.

"Still, we should have the Guilds of Illusion and Conjuration on our side. That's two in our favor, to start with. All we need is three more of the other seven to side with us, and we're free and clear."

"Yeah, but we also got three already in the bag for the Seekers," reminded Syngaard. "That we know of - there could be more, for all we know."

"So there's...four more still undecided," said Galen. "And we need to sway three of those four to our side."

"As you say," agreed Skevros. "Still, not an insurmountable task. And we have the better part of a week to decide upon our defensive strategy. Plus, recall that it's unlikely the majority of the Guilds even know about the Seekers - we will be bringing their secret organization out into the open. That will likely sway some of the undecided to our side."

"Is there anything else we should know about?" asked Daleth.

"The Council will have a discern lies spell active on us at all times. It won't force us to speak the truth, but it will allow them to know when we're lying. I would therefore recommend we speak the absolute truth whilst in the courtroom. And," he added, looking at Galen and Syngaard in turn, "a bit of decorum would be appreciated. I will expect all of us to be respectful and on our best behavior."

"Of course," replied Galen immediately, while Syngaard only answered with a puzzled expression of wonderment that he would be singled out in such a fashion.

"It will be up to us to convince the Council of our innocence," Skevros said. "To that end, the Council will ask us questions, as a group or individually, but we are allowed to ask questions of the Council as well. In a way, this will be a simple conversation between two parties."

"I think we would do best to have you do most of the talking," suggested Orion.

"Quite the contrary: I intend to do very little talking during the trial. I will leave the arguments as to our innocence to the rest of you."

"What? Why?"

"Because I am not only an outcast of the Azure Glade, having been found guilty by the Council some decades ago and banished to the kingdom of Durnhill, but I am also a wizard of the higher rankings. I fear some of the Guildmasters may assume it possible I may have found a way to bypass the discern lies spell."

"I don't suppose they're gonna let us wear our armor or bring our weapons with us," grumbled Syngaard.

"Quite the contrary," answered Skevros. "Not only will we have access to our equipment in case of an emergency, but some of your weapons are no doubt going to need to be examined. They're treating them as 'murder weapons,' you know."

"Any obviously hostile actions against the Council will be met with immediate execution," added Azure Delta Sigma.

"Yes, we will all need to play nice during the trial," agreed Skevros. "Now then: let me show you to your rooms."

- - -

The rest of the week was relatively uneventful, with Azure Delta Sigma continually attempting to be of aid to the accused while they continued to distrust it. At the appointed time, Azure Delta Sigma approached the group and, with their consent, teleported them all to the waiting room for the trial. The group was then led down a corridor to a blue transparent wall which lowered upon their arrival. They stepped into a large, circular room with 16 blue doorways, including the one from which they had just entered, behind each of which stood an identical replica of Azure Delta Sigma. The kolyarut who had delivered them to the courtroom obediently took up its own position behind the door they'd just used.

There was a platform 10 feet above the floor all around the circular room; in nine alcoves spaced equidistant around the circle's circumference sat nine robed figures, eight of them wearing a mask that covered the face, leaving only eyeholes. Each mask was featureless save for the emblem of the Guild to which the member belonged - or, likely in many cases, ruled. The robes were each the color of the respective Guild, with the maskless leader of the Church of Boccob adorned in gray. Galen thought for a moment the Boccobian looked familiar, but then his attention was diverted as he scanned the figures seated above him, searching for the taint of evil in their auras. Surprisingly, he found none - none at all. Probably hiding their alignments, thought the paladin.

The Boccobian cleric was the first to speak. "I, Khier, representative of the Church of Boccob, hereby bring this trial to order. The assembled are accused of the assassination of Grand Diviner Arcturus, Guildmaster of the Diviners Guild and member of this council. Present your evidence to the contrary."

The group looked among themselves. "First of all," stated Galen, his voice booming in the enclosed room, "we wish to know who brings the accusation of assassination."

"It was I," said the Guildmaster in black, the head of the Necromancers Guild.

"We are accused of assassination," said Syngaard. "But that just ain't true, for one simple reason: assassins get paid for their work. If we're assassins, then who paid us? 'Cause I state here for the record that nobody paid us even a copper to kill Arcturus - let your spell tell you if I'm lying."

"Murder, then," came the response from behind the necromancer's mask. "Premeditated murder, even. You planned on killing the Guildmaster of the Diviners Guild."

"We fully admit to killing Arcturus," said Galen, causing a bit of a stir among the robed Guildmasters. "But only because he came into our home and attempted to kill this man here, a man many of you already know: Skevros Wrencrofft. While there, he also stated his intention to kill each and every one of us as well. Killing him was an act of self-defense." Seeing the paladin's words were true, several of the Guildmasters began nodding and whispering to themselves.

"And check out the holy symbol on his shield," pointed out Syngaard. "This man is a paladin of Hieroneous. You shouldn't need no spell to tell you he's telling the truth."

"An alleged paladin of Hieroneous," countered the necromancer.

"Can you prove you're a paladin of Hieroneous?" asked Khier. "Can you cast a spell in our presence?"

"I'll do you one better," promised Galen and mentally called forth across the planes for his bonded mount. In a flash, Burt appeared in the courtroom, 3,000 pounds of saber-fanged feline, straight from the Beastlands. He roared at the unfamiliar figures seated in a ring above him and stood protectively next to Galen, his master.

"You admit to the killing," repeated the Necromancy Guildmaster, ignoring the legitimate reason they had stated for doing so and trying to undo the good the dire lion's presence had done for the accused. "While you're in such a mood for confessions, why don't you tell us if you have committed any other crimes against the country of the Azure Glades?"

"Other crimes?" began Daleth - and then Galen and Syngaard swapped guilty looks.

"The book," whispered Syngaard.

"Ah," said Galen. "Well, um, there was this matter about a book we took from the Diviners Library."

"So, you are admitted thieves as well as murderers!" declared the black-robed Guildmaster.

"Not murderers, and not thieves," corrected Galen. Orion clamped her mouth shut and told herself not to a say a single word - not when the subject was thievery. "We paid a group of divination students at the library to smuggle the book out, and then we purchased it outright from them. So technically, they were the ones who stole the book, not us."

"Accessories to theft, then," scoffed the necromancer. "Instigators, even!"

"But even that had extenuating circumstances!" insisted the paladin. "We needed the book to research Zehkar, Osleth, Hirek, and the Seekers of Eternity, the organization that is trying to take over the Azure Glade, in order to stop their evil plans!"

"Fairy tales!" scoffed the black-clad wizard.

"He isn't lying," pointed out the masked wizard in green robes, and the heroes thought they recognized the voice of Orlin, the Conjuration Guildmaster, who went on to explain he owed his life to the efforts of the accused, who saved him from being slain by two members of the Seekers of Eternity in the lower level of the Abjurers Guildhouse. This brought about more mutterings from the other Council members.

"We know this much," stated Galen. "The Seekers of Eternity are looking for the secrets of immortality, and will do anything to gain such power. They have already infiltrated and taken over the Diviners Guild, the Necromancers Guild, and the Evokers Guild, as well as many of your Azure Guard. They also infiltrated and destroyed the Church of Wee Jas in Durnhill, as a practice session for when they attempt to do the same to your own Church of Boccob."

"Ridiculous! Never have I heard such nonsense!" declared the Necromancy Guildmaster.

"But the discern lies spell backs them up," pointed out the red-clad wizard - the speaker for the Guild of Transmutation, Skevros's old college.

"Pah! That only means they believe these lies themselves to be true! It proves nothing!"

"Well here's something you can check for yourselves, then," piped up Syngaard. "These Seekers of Eternity wear a tattoo on the backs of their necks, shaped like an hourglass full of sand tipped over on its side." As he said this, Skevros pulled the two stones from his pocket and said the words returning the two petrified assassins to their normal size. "I'll bet if you check him, him, and him" - and here Syngaard pointed to the wizards in white, black, and blue robes in turn - "you'll find they each got that tattoo on 'em."

"Those who attacked the Church of Wee Jas were animated skeletal spellcasters, created by foul necromancy," added Galen. "They wore the emblem carved into their skulls, right here." The paladin pointed to his own forehead as loud murmuring came from behind the masks of those sitting in judgment above.

"Why are we even bothering to listen to such nonsense when they have already admitted to killing Arcturus?" demanded the black-robed leader of the Necromancers Guild.

"I believe we should take a recess until tomorrow," suggested Khier. "It will allow tempers to calm - and give us time to investigate the claims made by the accused." While the other members of the Council discussed amongst themselves, the Necromancer and Diviner Guildmasters both moved as if to remove their masks. As soon as the masks were off their faces, they disappeared - as if having teleported away.

"It would seem the decision has been made for the rest of us," Khier announced. "We are adjourned." The other Guildmasters nodded their consent and disappeared by removing their own masks as well.

"That's a neat trick," observed Kaspar. "All they have to do is take off their mask and they teleport away."

"Or they were never even physically here in the first place," opined Daleth.

After looking over the empty council seats, Khier stepped forward off the raised ledge and floated gracefully down to the party. "It's the latter," he admitted to the elf wizard. "Each of the judges is back at his own Guildhall, and has been there since before the trial commenced." He turned to Galen. "I would have preferred you not bring up Zehkar and the others, but I believe you have done a good job shedding light upon the Seekers of Eternity." Then, looking to Syngaard he said, "Keep them safe."

"I...that's my number one priority," stammered Syngaard, at an uncharacteristic loss for words. "Just who are you?"

Khier smiled. "I am Hirek. Your succubus friend caused a bit of trouble asking about my existence. Personally, I would prefer the Seekers to not know I'm still here, even if I am a mere ghost of my former self." He chuckled softly at his own pun.

"You're a ghost?" asked Orion - her first words since entering the trial chamber.

"I am indeed a ghost," answered Khier. "Those of us who know the Mithral Mage's name are cursed, prevented from passing on to our proper afterlife, further preventing the Mithral Mage's own true death."

"Wait--so you're Hirek?" asked Syngaard.

"I am."

"So you're, like, hundreds of years old?"

"I am."

"Then you were here for Skevros's trial? Like, here in the chamber?"

"I was, although back then I had a different name - I was posing as a man whom I am now posing as the son of. Being human, I need to change names every so often so nobody gets suspicious of my unusually long life."

"So then, what was Skevros found guilty of?"

"Being an accessory in the death of Arcturus's son, Rigel."

"Ah," replied Skevros. "When I was evil, due to the helm, I found a way to open the gates to Hell permanently, and left notes as to how the ritual had to be performed. But I had made intentional errors in the transcription I wrote, so that anybody trying to use them but me would die in the attempt. Rigel tried, and he died."

"I must warn you, though: Arcturus is sure to be returned to life," said the ghost calling himself Khier. "The Seekers of Eternity began as a group of alchemists, seeking to create a potion of immortality. During our research, we found a way to transmute base metals to gold. The Seekers as they exist now have a practically unlimited amount of wealth with which to fund true resurrections. Furthermore, before his death, Arcturus was at the Durnhill Temple of Pelor, asking questions about Syngaard and his donations to the orphanage there. For her own safety, I suggest your daughter Hope be moved at once."

"Where to?" asked Syngaard.

"My extradimensional chambers," answered Skevros.

"That would be ideal," agreed Khier. "They have yet to breach the space - in fact, I doubt they are even aware of its existence."

"We will make arrangements immediately upon our return," Skevros promised Syngaard.

"As for the hourglasses of blood, they too are members of the Seekers of Eternity. Most seek to follow in the footsteps of the Mithral Mage, but a small group believes that Hirek is the rightful leader of the Seekers. Unfortunately, they mistakenly believe that the moniker 'the Scarlet Sage' refers to me being a vampire, and so they seek eternal unlife through vampiric means."

"You're not a vampire?" asked Syngaard.

"I am not."

"But you're a ghost."

"That I am."

"So now what?" asked Galen.

"Now, you return to Wrencrofft Manor," replied Khier - or Hirek. "The Council will reconvene tomorrow to pass judgment."

"May I ask how you believe we are doing?" asked Kaspar.

"I think you're all doing remarkably well," replied the ghost with a smile as he stared fading away from view. Almost immediately thereafter, one of the 16 blue doors opened and Azure Delta Sigma stepped forward to take them to the waiting area, from which they could teleport back to Skevros's manor home.

"We got this," predicted Galen. And he was quite right: the next day when they reconvened, there were only seven robed figures presiding over the courtroom. Conspicuous in their absence were the Guildmasters to both the Diviners and the Necromancers Guilds.

"We stand reconvened," announced Khier despite the two missing members. "We will hear the votes of those present."

"Abjuration: not guilty."

"Conjuration: not guilty."

"Enchantment: not guilty."

"Evocation: abstain." That one was a bit of a surprise: perhaps the Guild hadn't been entirely taken over by the Seekers just yet.

"Illusion: not guilty."

"Transmutation: not guilty."

"And the Church of Boccob: not guilty," added Khier. "The accused have been hereby found not guilty in the murder of Grand Diviner Arcturus and are free to go. In addition, the Council agrees to modify the terms of the mark of justice worn upon the brow of Skevros Wrencrofft: from this day forth, he shall be allowed to travel from the kingdom of Durnhill, where he has been banished, to his manor home here in the Azure Glade, without breaking the conditions of his banishment. This Council stands adjourned."

"So what about the Diviners Guild and the Necromancy Guild?" asked Orion as they returned to Wrencrofft Manor.

"I imagine they're undergoing a thorough inspection of their ranks and new leadership is being put into place," Skevros explained. "All in all, this trial brought about some good: by exposing the Seekers to the Council of Guilds, we get them to work on our side expunging them from their ranks!"

"That ain't the only good thing to come of it," added Syngaard. "We don't gotta trudge all the way back home to Durnhill - you're here to teleport us all back there for once!"

- - -

Logan said he was worried about this adventure, since so much of it was just role-playing - in fact, he even added the assassin attack at the beginning solely so we'd have some combat. He was relieved when we all had a good time with it, although Harry and Vicki stayed mostly silent during the court scene, leaving the defensive arguments to Dan and me. But Vicki, after some initial trepidation about having Carl return as a ghost, has bought fully into the idea. Logan even had Skevros offer to create a ghost touch saddle for Carl; rather than the normal ghost touch weapon that allows a wielder on the Material Plane to affect those creatures on the Ethereal, this will work in the opposite manner: by Carl wearing it in the Ethereal Plane, it will allow Orion - in the Material Plane - to ride on Carl's back like normal. Carl won't be getting any bite attacks any more (unless he encounters an ethereal opponent) and will thus be solely a means of transport, but on the plus side he now gains a fly speed. Vicki's pretty stoked.

Also, Joey didn't show again - he's a freshman in high school now and was swamped with homework. Therefore, we hand-waved his combat with the assassin as having happened off-screen but had Daleth come along to the trial - there was really no other option. Oddly enough, he was the only one to level up as a result.
 
Last edited:

Richards

Adventurer
ADVENTURE 25: A HOPE-LESS SITUATION

PC Roster:
Daleth Stormsea, elf wizard 7
Galen Thorne, human paladin 9
Kaspar Hardstrike, elf monk 9
Orion Nightsky, halfling rogue 8
Syngaard, human fighter 9​

Game Session Date: 13 September 2018

- - -

Skevros cast a teleport spell and the group of adventurers found themselves standing just outside the gate to the kingdom of Durnhill.

"What? Why here?" asked Galen, perplexed.

The king's adviser smiled in apology. "I fear we no longer have the luxury of teleporting directly to the Enchanted Flagon," he said. "The dimensional anchoring stones prevent others from teleporting into the kingdom; unfortunately, they do the same to us."

"Yeah, whatever," spat Syngaard. "C'mon, we gotta go check on Hope!" And the scarred fighter started running toward the Temple of Pelor, where his little daughter - nearly a year old - was being raised in the orphanage there. Hirek's ghost had warned the group that Arcturus had been snooping around the orphanage, and damned if Syngaard was going to let his daughter fall into the hands of the Seekers of Eternity!

Galen followed immediately, as did Orion, astride the ghost of her fallen riding dog Carl. Only the two elves remained behind with Skevros, Kaspar because he knew he could easily catch up with the others before they reached the temple; Daleth because he didn't feel like running like a madman down the streets of Durnhill in his wizard's robes. "Are you coming?" Kaspar asked the king's adviser.

"Alas, no," replied Skevros. "I must report in to His Majesty, to relay the results of the trial. You two go on ahead and I will catch up to you when I am able."

Kaspar had caught up to the rest of the group as they approached the Temple of Pelor; down the street, the monk could see Daleth struggling to maintain his dignity as he raced with the hem of his robes held up in both hands like a lady's skirts. Syngaard pulled the double doors open and strode inside, interrupting a conversation between Father Rayburn, the head cleric of the temple, and Sister Melody, a low-level acolyte. They were the only two in the chapel, as it was between sessions. "May I help you?" asked the elderly cleric.

"Where's Father Rupert?" Syngaard demanded without preamble. "I need to speak with him." Sister Melody volunteered to fetch the cleric, stepping through a door in the back of the chapel that led to the orphanage where a dozen or more children were being raised. Syngaard knew the place well; he'd been by many times to pass coins to the good father, using a portion of his earnings as an adventurer to ensure his daughter - and the actual orphans, so as not to single out Hope - was raised in comfort.

Sister Melody's scream split the afternoon, sending the adventurers rushing to the back of the chapel. Syngaard burst through the door to the orphanage, his morningstar already in hand and ready to deal with whatever intruder Sister Melody might have unearthed. But the intruder was not present, merely an aghast Sister Melody looking down at the slain form of Father Rupert lying on the floor in a pool of blood, the side of his head bashed in as if from a club or mace.

Kaspar took Sister Melody by the hand and steered her back to the chapel and to Father Rayburn, while Syngaard rushed down the hallway, bursting into the nursery. There were four cradles in the room, to house the four infants who shared the room. Three were occupied by sleeping babies; Hope's was empty.

"No, no, no, no!" cried Syngaard, bursting from the nursery to the other rooms in turn. One held the younger girls, another those in or near their teen years, and two other, similar rooms for the boys. None held Hope - although each held a number of orphans screaming in terror at the sight of a half-crazed bald man with a face full of scars and wielding a wicked-looking morningstar bursting into their rooms. Syngaard ignored their screams, continuing his search in increasing terror of his own. Hope was gone!

Back in the room with Father Rupert's corpse, Galen bent and examined it closely. He seemed to have been slain fairly recently, in the last few hours, certainly. "Would it be possible to interview Father Rupert with a speak with dead spell?" the young paladin asked the elderly cleric. "It's possible his spirit could tell us who killed him, and what happened to Hope."

"Certainly - if I had such a spell prepared," replied Father Rayburn. "In the day-to-day course of events, it's very rarely needed."

"Wait, Hope?" asked Sister Melody suddenly. "She's fine. In fact, she was adopted this morning."

"WHAT?" demanded Syngaard, returning from his rampage through the orphans' rooms and hearing the last bit of conversation. He looked ready to attack the frightened acolyte with his weapon as he growled, "Adopted by who?"

"By--by family," replied a very obviously frightened Sister Melody. "It was a red-haired woman, named Maria. She said she was family."

"And you just took her at her word?" demanded Syngaard incredulously, amazed at the apparent lack of security in the church raising his daughter.

"Of course not," answered Father Rayburn. "Her story was verified by spells capable of detecting falsehoods. She was as she said." But Syngaard's mind was racing frantically - he was no spellcaster, but there were ways to falsify one's appearance; surely there were ways to get past a zone of truth spell. Or maybe it was actually Maria Quillbender herself who had taken Hope, but under the mental sway of a member of the Seekers? There were so many ways Hope could have been easily abducted from right underneath the noses of these clowns! Damn all spellcasters anyway!

Father Rayburn looked sadly down at the body of his friend and fellow cleric. "Poor fellow," he said. "He's the thirteenth this week."

"Wait--what?" asked Orion.

"Indeed, there have been a dozen previous such slayings this past week. Where have you been? It's been the talk of the kingdom."

"We have been away, on the kingdom's business," declared Galen. "Who have the previous victims been?"

"Drifters, mostly," answered the elderly cleric. "People just passing through, or the unfortunate poor with no one to look after them."

"And they were all killed in the same manner?" asked Kaspar.

"I believe so. A heavy blow to the head, as I understand it. And, oddly enough: their brains were removed." Then Father Rayburn noticed the crying of the children in the rooms beyond - some of the younger children were still frightened by Syngaard's sudden appearance in their rooms. He asked Sister Melody to look in on them. She did so, and soon got them to stop crying, but she returned with a worried look upon her face. "Five of the older children are missing," she said, and rattled off their names. Two were girls and the other three boys, each ranging in age from 13 to 16 years of age.

"But nobody but Maria has been here today," said Father Rayburn with puzzlement in his voice. "And the only doors to the orphanage are through the chapel."

"Oh dear," commiserated Orion. "We'll help you search for them, of course."

"Screw that," snarled Syngaard. "We gotta find Hope and Maria! Let's grab a wagon and head on up to Ashfall!"

Kaspar and Daleth rounded on the frantic fighter. "Hope does not seem to be in immediate danger," the monk reasoned. "She is with Maria Quillbender and likely safe. These children, however, were taken from here by means unknown. They would seem to be in the greater possibility of danger; we should therefore give them our immediate attention."

"But Hope--" sputtered Syngaard.

"Let us search quickly for the other children," suggested Kaspar. "If we find no clues, we can redirect our search for Hope and Maria. But it is possible the two events are linked, and in finding the one group we will learn of the whereabouts of the other. After all, we do not know for sure that Maria would have immediately returned to Ashfall."

"You search," replied Syngaard. "I'm going to Ashfall."

But Kaspar grabbed the fighter by the shoulder and stopped him from leaving. "Skevros will be able to teleport you there directly," the monk reminded him. "And he may be able to first divine Hope's exact location through spellcraft, so we can get to her that much faster. But we must first wait for him to return from his meeting with the king."

"What about you, Wizard-Pants?" demanded Syngaard. "You got any spells ready that can tell me where Hope is?"

"Not at hand, alas," replied Daleth.

Syngaard snorted in disgust. "Then what damn good are you?" he asked.

"He will help me search the orphanage for clues," Kaspar replied, and the two elves split up, each taking half of the rooms behind the church, where the children's quarters were. There were no rear exits to the outside of the building; the only two doors leading to the orphanage opened directly to the back of the chapel. And sure enough, Daleth's keen elven senses soon unearthed a secret trap door in the floor in the back hallway near the infants' room. He slid his nimble fingers beneath one side of a square of wood and lifted it, revealing a vertical tunnel leading down into darkness - although, as his eyes got used to the change in brightness, he detected a faint, flickering illumination from below. One side of the tunnel had metal rungs embedded in the stone making up the wall.

"It would seem," remarked Daleth dryly, "that this is what damn good I am for."

Orion stepped forward, leading her ghost dog by the reins. "Carl and I will go check it out," she offered. He can travel straight up and down, and without making a noise." She hopped up onto Carl's back and - once in contact with the magically enhanced leather of the ghost touch saddle - patted the side of his head. "Let's go, boy!" she said.

Carl hopped into the vertical shaft and the two started sinking slowly. Orion's vision was no better than a human's but the lower she got the more she could see in the dim light below. The shaft turned out to be about 20 feet deep, opening up into the ceiling of a 40-foot-tall cavern. Down below her she could see a teenaged boy standing beside a pile of crates against a side wall, while off to the south stood a hooded figure in dark robes. He seemed to be staring off over the edge of a dark chasm that dropped who-knew how deep; the bottom was cloaked in pitch blackness. His back to Orion, he had his hands up by his face, and the halfling heard a disgusting slurping sound. The light in the cavern below was provided by two everburning torches, one by the crates and the other on the side of the cavern below Orion and Carl.

As the two watched from their aerial perch, two men entered the cavern from a tunnel to the north. Each had an armload of purple crystals, which were carefully laid into an open crate under the supervision of the teen. Then the two men turned and without a word went back the way they came.

Orion had seen enough. With a wordless gesture, she had Carl rise back up the vertical shaft, where the halfling briefed the others on what she'd seen.

"Give me your rope," commanded Galen, pulling a 50-foot length of strong rope from his backpack. Orion passed her own over, and the two lengths were tied together and one end securely fastened to the top metal rung of the ladder. "You go down first," the paladin said to Orion, "as you and Carl can do so quietly. We'll follow down the rope after you."

Carl jumped back into the shaft and slowly lowered himself down; this was a new way for the dog to travel and he seemed to be enjoying himself. Once the two had exited the shaft Carl moved forward along the top edge of the cavern's ceiling, making way for the rope to be tossed down the shaft. Galen hoped the rope wouldn't make too much noise when it hit bottom.

<It wouldn't matter> said a voice directly in the back of the heroes' minds. <I'm already quite aware of you trying to sneak up on me.>

Orion, startled by the mental intrusion, grabbed a throwing dagger from her bag of blades and threw it down at the robed figure. He turned in dodging it, revealing a struggling figure in both his hands. It was humanoid in build, but only a foot tall. At first the halfling's heart leaped to her throat, imagining the slurping noises she heard being a vampire drinking Hope's blood, but then she recognized the struggling victim as being none other than Dow, Skevros's homunculus and former familiar. She'd been sent to watch over the orphans and had apparently been captured as well as the five teens. Oddly, her head was glistening with a sheen of mucus - just what had the strange man been doing to her?

Daleth slid down the rope, landed softly, and cast a glitterdust spell at the robed figure. He'd hoped to cause the foe to lose his sight, but his mind was apparently too strong for such a tactic to work; while the robed figure was now outlined in sparkles, he moved as if not hampered by blindness in the least.

Galen landed behind the elven wizard with a loud thump, his heavy armor clanging as he hit the stone floor of the cavern. Instinctively, the paladin examined the hooded foe's aura and was not at all surprised to see the taint of evil in prominent display. Galen cast a protection from evil spell on himself, preparing for battle.

Orion threw another shock dagger from her aerial perch before the hooded figure struck a blow of his own. He pulled back his hood, revealing a head like a squid with four thick tentacles draping down from the lower part of his face. He allowed Dow to fall absently to the floor and aimed a mind blast at the heroes; the cone struck Carl, Orion, Daleth, and Galen - for Kaspar and Syngaard were still sliding down the rope and not yet in the cavern - but fortunately affected only the ghost dog. Carl gave a quick whimper and froze up, tense and shaking but otherwise immobile. Orion kicked her ankles at his sides to try to prompt him forward, but he was unable - or unwilling - to move.

Light as a cat, Kaspar dropped to the stone floor of the cavern and immediate threw a shuriken at the mind flayer, Quixagoth, and he started running toward the tentacled abomination. The weapon struck, sputtering in a burst of flame and lightning upon impact. In the spot where the monk had landed just seconds before, Syngaard dropped down, light as a heavy war horse. He snarled at the oddity before him and threw his javelin with all his might, catching Quixagoth in the shoulder. It wasn't where the fighter had been aiming, but a hit was a hit - he wasn't going to waste time complaining. Plus, the returning javelin was instantly back in his hands, ready for another throw.

Daleth raised his metamagic rod of empower and channeled a magic missile spell through it, striking Quixagoth in his squidlike face. The illithid gave a hiss of pain, the first real noise he'd made thus far. Dow, in the meantime, took the opportunity to run across the cavern away from her abductor and hide behind the pile of crates. The teenaged boy ignored her; in fact, he seemed oblivious to the battle raging directly in front of him.

Galen rushed forward, the sword of Zehkar flashing in his hand. He brought it down and although Quixagoth tried to avoid the blade, it carved a gash in his side on the way down. The illithid hissed again in pain. <I'll have your brain for this!> he cried out telepathically.

But that never happened, for Orion caught the mind flayer with another dagger from her bag of blades, burying it to the hilt in his brain. The illithid fell over, dead, electrical sparks still flying from the point of impact. "Got him!" she cried in triumph - but then frowned when she realized Carl was still stunned and immobile, and she was stuck 35 feet up in the air on his back.

While Kaspar went to go check on the welfare of the teenager standing by the crates, Syngaard yelled "Here!" and swung the end of the rope like a whip over to Orion. She reached over and caught it, then, in a leap from the saddle (with her bag of blades in one hand), slid down to the ground with the others, trusting that Carl would come find her when he could move again.

Kaspar snapped his fingers directly in front of the boy's face, and slowly, he came out of whatever trance he'd been in. "I want you to stay here," said the monk. "We're going to go get the others, and then we'll get all of you back home. Okay?" Frightened, the boy nodded in agreement. Dow stepped up to him and tried consoling him by hugging his knee.

Daleth cast a magic circle against evil spell on himself and moved towards the tunnel; seeing him do so, Syngaard beat him to the punch and led the way, glad to have the elf wizard directly behind him so he could stay within the radius of the protective spell. The tunnel was only about 10 feet long, slightly wider than a large man's shoulders, and led into a second cavern about the same size as the one behind them - only this one was covered in purplish crystalline growths along the floor and walls. There were eight people scattered about, teens and adults both, each seemingly in as much of a daze as the teenaged boy in the first cave had been. They chipped carefully away at the base of the crystals, harvesting them for unknown reasons. Or at least reasons unknown to Daleth and Syngaard; Ixloth, the mind flayer overseeing the operation of his mental thralls, surely knew the purpose of the violet crystals.

One of the teenaged slaves happened to be standing near the tunnel; as soon as Daleth stepped within 10 feet of the boy, his protective spell encompassed the lad and he blinked rapidly in confusion, his mind no longer under the telepathic sway of the illithid. Daleth and Syngaard grabbed at the boy, trying to keep him from crying out in alarm and alerting the mind flayer of their presence.

But they should have known better than to try to sneak up to a creature who could read the very thoughts of those in the immediate vicinity. Ixloth spun around as Galen entered the cavern; the paladin ducked behind a large crystal growth in the middle of the room, anticipating another mental blast. While thus shielded, he took the opportunity to cast another spell upon himself, this time a divine favor, which would aid in the power and accuracy of his attacks.

Orion ran into the cavern, a shock dagger already in hand and ready to throw. She and Kaspar threw as one, she with her throwing dagger and the elven monk with a shuriken. Both weapons struck, causing Ixloth to hiss in pain. But then he retaliated with a mind blast that encompassed all of the heroes at once. Galen was partially protected by the cover provided by the clump of crystals behind which he crouched, but the others had to face the mental power of the mind flayer's rage by the strength of their own wills alone.

Fortunately, all but Syngaard were up to the task. Syngaard merely gave a little grunt of surprise before dropping his javelin and his morningstar; had his shield not been strapped to his left arm, he'd have dropped it as well.

Having already proven its efficacy in the previous battle, Daleth channeled another magic missile spell through his metamagic rod of empower. The force missiles struck unerringly at the mind flayer, each causing just a little more damage than they would have normally. Then, while the mind flayer was distracted by that attack, Galen rushed forth from behind the crystal growth and channel a smite evil attack through his longsword, ripping through the illithid's heavy robes and drawing a line of pain and blood across the creature's chest.

Orion stood where she was and drew a pair of daggers from her magic bag, sending them flying across the cavern in rapid succession to strike at the psionic foe. Kaspar had had enough of ranged attacks, though, and used his incredible speed to cross the cavern and lash out at Ixloth with his fists and feet. A flurry of blows came crashing down on the illithid, powered with fire and lightning by the monk's tenryutsume.

But then the mind flayer did something unexpected. He struck out at the monk, but not with his hands or feet - rather, with the four thick tentacles growing from the front of his face. Each caught the monk's head and crushed it into a painful embrace, drawing the struggling monk closer to the aberration. From across the room, Syngaard watched dispassionately as the mind flayer prepared to rip open Kaspar's skull and extract his very brain.

All out of magic missiles, Daleth - once again having failed to prepare enough attack spells - use the last daily charge of his metamagic rod to channel an acid splash spell at Ixloth, one of the first (and therefore weakest) attack spells taught to early practitioners of the arcane arts. But even that pitiful spell failed to strike the target; Ixloth dodged out of the way and Daleth was just lucky his spell didn't hit Kaspar instead!

Fortunately, Galen was right there at hand, and another swing of the sword of Zehkar nearly finished off the illithid right then and there. But then, using some unknown psionic process, the mind flayer absorbed life energy from around him, healing the worst of his wounds. Of course, seeing him staggering around - and seeing Kaspar extract himself from the painful embrace of the tentacles while Ixloth was dealing with the paladin - Orion ran forward, drawing her flaming short sword from the scabbard at her hip and stabbing at the mind flayer's lower torso with it. Her blade dug deep, and once again Ixloth found himself standing nearly at death's door.

Out of attack options, Daleth cast a stoneskin spell upon himself while Galen once again took the offensive. Another smite evil strike brought Ixloth crashing down to his knees, then slumping over, dead, upon the cavern floor. The effect upon the mental thralls was immediate; they blinked in surprise and cried out in confusion is finding themselves in an unexpected location. Kaspar and Daleth did their best to calm the workers, promising to help them return to their homes.

It took somewhat longer, but eventually Carl and Syngaard managed to snap out of it as well. Syngaard, disappointed that he'd missed the big fight, oversaw the traditional "looting of the stiffs," but the only things of value the mind flayers had was some sort of weird psionic nonsense - nothing a regular person could use. Still, Orion said it was possible Skevros could help sell them to a collector, so they were gathered up and placed into the halfling's bag of holding.

Getting the previous mental thralls back up to the surface was a bit of a problem; the mind flayers might have been able to levitate them down the vertical shaft, but not all of them were able to climb 60 feet up a rope. Daleth eventually assisted a few of them in stepping into a bag of holding such that their arms, heads, and shoulders stayed on the outside of the extradimensional space, allowing them to breathe. It made for a somewhat comical appearance, but it got the job done.

"Now can we go to Ashfall?" demanded Syngaard once the last of them had been safely delivered back upstairs.

"Let us first check in at the Enchanted Flagon," suggested Kaspar. "He may be waiting for us there. If not, we will leave him a note telling him of our plans."

He wasn't. Syngaard was the first one through the door, gave the room a scan for the king's adviser, and got as far as snarling, "He ain't--" before stopping dead in his tracks. For there, standing up from a chair in the back of the room, stood Maria Quillbender, and snuggled in her arms was Hope, sound asleep and quite content.

Syngaard stood in shock, as immobile as he'd been when stunned by a mind blast. "Hello," Maria said. "I hope it's okay that I came here, but I--I had a vision. There was a red-headed woman - she looked kind of like my Aunt Jezzaline - and she told me to take Hope and bring her here. It was so real - not like a dream at all. Like I said, I hope--"

"It's okay," Syngaard replied, cutting her off. His mind raced: Jezzaline, Mezz had once said, had been her mother's name. She had died when Mezz was still a little girl, long before Syngaard entered her life. Was it possible? Had Mezz reached out from the grave to send a message to Maria, her cousin, to get the two of them to the best place of safety available? And he remembered his own recent dream, where Mezz's voice had told him he had to do whatever he must to keep them both safe, even if it broke his heart.

"It's definitely okay," Syngaard repeated, looking down at the form of his sleeping daughter in Maria's arms.

- - -

This one had me nervous from the start, because Logan told us the name of the adventure before we even started the session. I had envisioned a whole series of adventures trying to track down a kidnapped Hope while worrying that the Seekers of Eternity would want her, as one of the last two members of Hirek's bloodline, dead so they could open the gates to Hell on a permanent basis and free the Mithral Mage. I'm glad it ended up like it did, although having Syngaard fail his Will save against the second illithid's mind blast and end up stunned for the rest of the adventure was a bit of a bummer.
 

Richards

Adventurer
ADVENTURE 26: OF TURNCOATS AND TRAITORS

PC Roster:
Daleth Stormsea, elf wizard 7
Galen Thorne, human paladin 9
Kaspar Hardstrike, elf monk 9
Orion Nightsky, halfling rogue 8
Syngaard, human fighter 9​

Game Session Date: 3 October 2018

- - -

It was still fairly early in the morning when the rings activated and the voice of Skevros called out to their wearers, "Meet me in the tavern immediately!" That brooked no uncertainty; the individual conscripts immediately stopped what they'd been doing and headed directly to the Enchanted Flagon.

Syngaard was characteristically the last to arrive, as he had the farthest distance to travel to get to the group's unofficial headquarters. When he arrived, he saw the other four members of his group gathered together in the tavern with Skevros...along with a man in a dark blue robe, of the style worn by the Evokers of the Azure Glade. Syngaard's eyes narrowed and he instinctively went for the weapon at his belt. Skevros, having anticipated the fighter's reaction, held up a hand in restraint and said, "This man is here as an ally." Syngaard wasn't immediately convinced; the man bore more than a passing resemblance to Reginald, the corrupt leader of the Azure Guard team they had fought in Skevros's own manor house in the Azure Glade. So while he didn't draw his weapon, he left his hand on the hilt, just in case.

Skevros turned to the visitor and said, "This is all of us. Please tell them what you have told me."

The Evoker scanned at the five unfriendly faces surrounding him around the table. "My name's Arenos," he said. "Until recently, I was the Guildmaster of the Evokers Guild."

"Then you are allied with the Seekers of Eternity!" erupted Galen, reaching for his own weapon.

"I am not!" replied Arenos at once. "My Guild was infiltrated, and many of those under my command switched their allegiance to the Seekers of Eternity. They tried controlling me through fear and intimidation, wishing me to become nothing more than a figurehead. Your trial - where I abstained from voting against you - was the last straw. They followed through with their threats to replace me, and I was summarily cast out from the organization I had led."

"So now you wish to join us in our fight against the Seekers?" prompted Orion.

"Me? Hell, no," scoffed Arenos. "I plan on hightailing it out of here - I have the means to leave the Material Plane altogether, and I intend to do so without delay, as the Seekers want me dead. As it is, I've already narrowly avoided one attempt upon my life. But before I leave, I thought it prudent to pass on some information that will aid you in disrupting their plans."

"Speak on, then," demanded Galen.

"You are familiar with the creature known as a lich?"

"We are all aware of their existence," answered Skevros with a small smirk.

"Then you know the normal path to lichdom is via a ritual performed by a living spellcaster to transform himself into one of those foul beings. The Seekers have developed a ritual that can bind the soul of one already dead into lichdom. This is altogether new to me - it's not the normal way of doing things. But the ritual must be performed under the light of the first full moon immediately after the person's death."

"And you believe the Seekers will perform such a ritual?" asked Kaspar.

"I do. Three weeks ago, Arcturus had me prepare a ritual area, although at the time I was unaware of its purpose. Now, in hindsight, it seems that Arcturus was preparing for his own death - at your hands."

"That would explain why the Guildmaster of Divination couldn't foresee his own death when he took us on," observed Daleth. "He did, in fact, foresee it - and even planned for it."

"And in two days it will be the first night of the full moon," added Arenos. "It's likely they'll try to perform to ritual then."

"Thus bringing Arcturus back into the world as a lich," lamented Skevros.

"So we stop this ritual, we stop Arcturus coming back," reasoned Syngaard. "And it sounds like this is his one chance, right? 'First full moon' you said."

"That is correct," replied the Evoker.

"Arenos has given me a detailed description of the ritual area," Skevros informed his troops. "I should be able to scry upon the place and teleport you all there in time to disrupt the ritual and prevent Arcturus's ascension to lichdom."

"Won't they have the place blocked from teleportation, if the ritual is that important?" asked Orion.

"They cannot," Arenos informed the group. "Due to the specifics of the ritual, they cannot block conjuration magic, or the ritual will fail."

"So we're in," grinned Syngaard - and anyone who's ever witnessed the sight of Syngaard's scarred face twisted into the rictus of an evil grin knows that's a sight not soon forgotten.

"You have two days to prepare for the mission," Skevros pointed out. "In the meantime, I will perform my observations upon the ritual site and see if I can discern anything about what you might expect. Report at the south gate the day after tomorrow, in full combat gear, ready for battle. You are dismissed."

"And I'm out of here as well," replied Arenos, casting a plane shift spell. Before he disappeared forever, he called out "Good luck!" to the conscripts.

"Coward!" scoffed Galen. "I'm sure a wizard of his power would have been handy in the upcoming battle. And the gods know we could use a powerful spellcaster on our side."

"You have me," Daleth reminded him. "I'll be there, fighting at your side."

Galen looked down at the elven mage before him and sighed. "As I said," he remarked.

Preparations for the group meant the purchase of several accessories to aid in the upcoming combat. Kaspar purchased a pair of comfortable slippers that enabled him to run straight up and down walls and across ceilings. Orion bought thunderstones and tanglefoot bags in bulk, storing them in her bag of holding, which she fastened to the other side of Carl's ghost touch saddle from her bag of blades. Now she had weapons on either side of her while riding the ghost of her riding dog into battle! Galen upgraded the power of his ring of protection, while Daleth bought a pair of magical bracers that would do what a mage armor spell did - thus freeing up a spell slot that could be filled with another spell. Syngaard picked up an ioun stone that floated around his head, increasing his reaction time when enemies tried to land a blow. A few of the conscripts also picked up a potion or two from a respectable vendor, and then they decided they were as ready as they could be.

Two nights later, they met Skevros at the city's south gate. He had already filled his scrying bowl with water and allowed them to see, for the first time, the area they'd be attacking. In a forest clearing stood a stone platform rising up from the ground, with two short sets of stairs leading up to it. Six separate piles of bodies surrounded the platform, the back half of which was higher still, requiring a wide set of steps leading up to it from the front of the stone edifice. In the corners of this rear platform stood four urn-like devices, above each of which hovered a glowing orb of reddish light. Between the urns stood a stone sarcophagus, looking to have been carved from the same solid slab of stone as the rest of the platform. Standing before the sarcophagus was a pair of robed individuals, one dark, one light. Three more robed men stood at the lower edge of the platform, keeping a wary eye out. Their robes looked to be various shades of gray.

"Don't you get color in this thing?" complained Syngaard.

"It's moonlight," countered Skevros. "What did you expect?"

"Black and white by the sarcophagus," said Daleth, his keen elven eyesight having no difficulty in picking out the colors by moonlight. "Blue, orange, and green closer by the stairs."

"So divination and necromancy by the sarcophagus - that makes sense," Kaspar said. "I would think the necromancer's in charge of the ritual as a whole."

"Very likely," agreed Skevros. "And that would be an evoker, a conjurer, and an abjurer assisting. Where would you like me to set you down?"

"Howzabout right there in the midst of things," suggested Syngaard. "I'll take out the necromancer first."

"I'd rather attack them at range first, if possible," argued Orion. "I brought thunderstones - one of those plopped right down in the middle might make it harder for the spellcasters to work their magic."

"You could teleport us right behind the platform," suggested Galen. "Orion could float up and toss her thunderstone while the rest of us flank around from both sides."

"Nah, they're facing that way," argued Syngaard. "They'll see her as soon as she pops her head up. We oughtta plunk down right here," he said, pointing at the ground between the two short sets of stairs leading to the lower part of the platform. Orion throws her little stone or whatever" - and here Orion gave the bald fighter an irritated look - "and then the rest of us surge forward. Kaspar, you're the fastest: you go straight for the necromancer. Galen and I will rush up behind you and take out these two, by the stairs, while Daleth and Orion attack from range."

"As you wish," declared Skevros. "Are you ready?"

"Spells first," suggested Galen, casting a bless weapon upon the sword of Zehkar and a protection from evil spell on himself. Daleth cast a magic circle against evil spell on himself while Galen called out through the planes for his bonded mount. Burt appeared in a flash, eager for battle. Then everyone crowded together and Skevros cast the teleport spell that sent the fighting force to the Azure Glade, at the site of the impending ritual.

They thought they'd get in a surprise attack before the enemy wizards were even aware of their presence, but the conscripts had the tables turned on them - the two robed mages closest to the steps, as they were not immediately involved in the ritual by the sarcophagus, each attacked with a fireball spell to start things off. Rather than getting in a few surprise attacks of their own, the conscripts found themselves enveloped in twin rapid-fire explosions of flame. (In hindsight, it made perfect sense the enemies would know which way the attack would come from, given the diviner among their ranks.) Fortunately, these were fairly low-level wizards on guard duty, and the conscripts made it through the spell-onslaught little the worse for wear; as it was, Carl took the worst of it, and he was already dead!

At his mistress's command, Carl floated straight up until Orion was as high in the air as the upper level of the platform. She had a thunderstone at the ready and set it flying, to crash into the middle of the other three wizards with an explosion of sound. Judging by their reactions, the diviner and the evoker were deafened, while the necromancer was unaffected by the sudden blast of weaponized noise.

But that had been Kaspar's cue: with a sudden burst of speed, he slipped past the conjurer and the abjurer - each of whom tried ineffectually to stop him with their daggers - raced up the wide stairs, and struck at the necromancer. His blow just grazed her, his tenryutsume catching on her loose, black cloak and ripping it from her robes. She seemed unfazed by the attack, merely turning to the elven monk and staring at him with hypnotic, red eyes and whispering, "Kill your friends for me...." Fortunately, Kaspar's mind had been honed as well as his body by his years in the monastery, and he was able to easily avoid the dominating gaze of what he now realized was a vampire.

The diviner took a step backward from the monk who had suddenly appeared in their midst and tried casting a fireball spell, but fumbled over the words due to his sudden deafness. (Down at the front of the platform, Daleth smirked quietly to himself as the diviner yelled out the spell's verbal components, unconsciously trying to compensate for his inability to hear them himself.) In any case, the spell fizzled out before it could be fully cast.

Syngaard mounted the steps and swung his human bane scimitar at the abjurer, having seen he was human beneath the orange hood. What should have been a lethal blow - for Syngaard cut the front of the wizard's robes open and the flesh beneath it diagonally from sternum to waist - healed up instantly as a beam of red light shot down from one of the red globes hovering 20 feet or so above the top of the platform. That at least explained their purpose - they were apparently a shared pool of false life spells - but the scarred fighter took no comfort in the knowledge. He was just pissed that once again, magic robbed him of his kill!

Daleth, confident in his fellow elf's ability to avoid the worst of damaging spells, decided to plant an empowered fireball right in the middle of all five enemy wizards - even though that put Kaspar practically at the epicenter of the explosion. Sure enough, Kaspar heard the magical "pellet" flying through the air close by and ducked, swinging himself in an arc as he instinctively sought out the pockets where the flames were thinner. He regained his footing with barely more than a few singes on his monk's robes, whereas all four floating, red globes shot out beams of energy to replenish the Seekers' life-energy that had been burned away by the fireball. Such rapid healing completely drained two of the globes, which vanished with the flames; a third had been drained to about a quarter of its original size.

With Syngaard standing upon one of the sets of steps, Galen ran to the other set - only to be confronted by the conjurer. Actually, it wasn't that much of a confrontation, as the sword of Zehkar plunged deep into the wizard's gut and came back out wet with blood. The third floating globe was completely depleted upon restoring the conjurer's body, with a bit drained form the fourth and final orb as well. But if nothing else, Galen's charge up onto the platform had been stopped as certainly as had been Syngaard's.

In return, the conjurer looked about, did a quick mental calculation, and determined he could cast a stinking cloud that would encompass all of the attackers - including the dire lion - save the elven monk already behind him. Of course, to do so, he'd have to include the abjurer within its radius. Without hesitation, the conjurer cast the spell, causing nauseating, green vapor to rise up from the ground, partially obscuring the enemies. Alas, the conscripts were a fairly tough lot and they were all able to avoid the worst of the spell's effects. Not so the abjurer, who could be heard retching uncontrollably in the greenish mist.

Burt honed in on the sounds of vomiting, letting them guide him to the edge of the fog and to the nearest enemy. His slashed with the claws on his front paws and brought his jaws clamping down on the hapless abjurer. A beam of red energy shot down for the last time, leaving the orange-clad wizard barely still standing on his own feet while the final globe winked out above him. The revitalizing pool of false life spells had now been completely depleted; the Seekers were on their own! The abjurer staggered out of the cloud of vapors, counting himself lucky to remain standing in his present condition.

Kaspar sent a flurry of blows crashing into the vampire before him; each fist struck solidly but seemed to do little overall damage. Mistress Nightshade merely smirked at him, as if amused by his efforts.

Deafened by the thunderstone and having seen the blood orbs drained of their magic in much less time than he would ever have guessed, the evoker managed to successfully cast a fireball in the center of the stinking cloud, having already seen that he'd get all of the enemy forces but the monk in that manner. As the conscripts cried out in pain, the evoker made his move - down off the side of the platform and straight towards the nearest trees of the surrounding forest.

Most of the party shrugged off the damage from this third fireball - all but Carl, whose ectoplasmic form was destroyed by the spell, leaving Orion sitting in a ghost touch saddle 20 feet in the air. She tucked into a roll upon crash-landing, diving sideways from the saddle at the last possible moment and ending up on her feet, her flaming short sword out and ready for action.

Syngaard killed the abjurer with his human bane scimitar and cleaved into the conjurer who stood beside him. Sadly, this wizard was a half-elf, preventing the scimitar from working its extra magic against its primary foe. Then, while Galen tried unsuccessfully to turn the vampire with his holy symbol of Hieroneous, Syngaard spotted the evoker heading for the safety of the trees. "Wizard-Pants!" he cried out. "Blue guy's yours!" Daleth, stepping out of the area of effect of the stinking cloud spell, saw the fleeing wizard and brought him down with an empowered magic missile channeled through his metamagic rod. Burt finished off the conjurer, ripping into him with teeth and claws and then shaking the lifeless body in his jaws like a rag doll.

Mistress Nightshade extracted herself from the fight with Kaspar and rushed over to Syngaard, seeing him - quite rightly - as a more promising target for the dominating effect of her gaze. But the bald fighter surprised everyone (even himself!) by resisting the effect.

While the rest of the group began converging on the vampire, Orion decided to focus her attention on the white-robed diviner, rushing up and stabbing at him with her flaming short sword. Bleeding, he fell back and repositioned himself to catch Kaspar, Syngaard, and Galen in a burning hands spell - taking another cut from Orion's sword in doing so - and was discouraged to see his spell had even less of an effect than the previous fireballs had.

Syngaard's scimitar cut across the vampire's torso; Kaspar's fists came crashing into her back; neither seemed to deal her much damage. Syngaard had figured out she must have some sort of protection - either from a spell or maybe just by dint of fact that she was an undead creature - when Galen stepped up and dealt her some true damage with a smite evil attack channeled through the blade of the sword of Zehkar. "Foul thing!" the paladin sneered as he brought his blade down upon her a second time, causing her body to dissolve into a fine mist.

"I suhwenda!" cried the mush-mouthed diviner, unable to hear his own words but having seen Mistress Nightshade's unholy life cut down before him. If they could take out someone with her power, what chance did he stand? Quite appropriately (under the circumstances), his words fell on deaf ears and Orion's blade flicked out to cut his throat away.

The vampire's form could still be made out despite its gaseous nature; she flowed through the air, heading for the forest. "I'll follow her to her lair!" called out Daleth, confident in the spells stored in the staff of divination he'd taken from Arcturus's body to help him seek her out if she gave him the slip. "Burt! Go with Daleth!" Galen commanded, and the dire lion pounced after the elven wizard. Then the rest of the group devoted their attention to the stone sarcophocus.

Orion gave the structure a thorough examination before she let anyone touch it. "It looks safe," she reported.

"It's radiating evil, though," added Galen after examining its aura. "A large rectangular shape, inside."

"Well, let's give it a look!" said Syngaard, shoving the heavy stone lid off the sarcophagus. It clattered to the back of the platform, revealing the interior filled with a thick, oily substance. Through the murky liquid, the group could just barely make out the form of a man, wrapped in a white burial shroud - had the shroud been darker, it was unlikely they'd have been able to make it out at all.

"Arcturus, I presume," Galen observed.

"Did we stop the ritual in time?" asked Orion. "He's not going to rise as a lich, is he?"

"Let's find out," suggested Syngaard, stepping onto the rim of the sarcophagus. With one foot on a wall on either side of the stone coffin's corner, he flipped aside his codpiece. Realizing at the last moment what the scarred fighter was about to do, Orion averted her gaze with a grimace. "Syngaard!" she complained.

"Hey, Arcturus - I got something for you!" Syngaard taunted. A stream of urine hit the liquid above the shroud's head. Quite worrisome, the shroud-covered body seemed to flinch from the desecration.

Daleth and Burt arrived shortly thereafter, the vampire's nearest coffin not having been too far away. "She's been taken care of permanently," he told the group, and they in turn brought him up to speed. "That looks like osteovox," the elf wizard murmured, peering into the open sarcophagus.

"It does!" agreed Kaspar.

"You don't think..." Daleth mused.

"What?" asked Galen.

"Remember the osteovox rituals we used to perform with Skevros, before we found out how dangerous they were? We put a human skull into a vat of osteovox, wrapped in a question on a strip of parchment. And when we retrieved it, instead of the answer to the question being printed on the paper--"

"The spirit of the Mithral Mage inhabited the skull!" finished Kaspar. He looked with worry down at the shroud at the bottom of the osteovox. "Then this ritual was never about bringing Arcturus back as a lich!" the monk exclaimed. "It was designed to use Arcturus' body as a new home for the Mithral Mage!"

"That we will not allow," said Galen with determination. He took a vial of holy water from his belt and removed the stopper, then poured the consecrated contents into the osteovox - at the shroud's feet, as it somehow seemed blasphemous to knowingly mix holy water with urine. The shroud writhed as if in agony upon the holy water sinking down to its level within the osteovox. Taking no further chances, Galen stabbed the sword of Zehkar straight into the open sarcophagus, pinning the shroud in the chest and stabbing all the way down through the body wrapped within. A faint voice bubbled up from the osteovox as the holy blade pierced the reanimated corpse of Arcturus and disintegrated it to ash: "I hate you all...!"

"So that's it - we did it!" cried Orion eagerly.

"That we did," agreed Galen, stoppering the empty vial and returning it to his belt. He then shook his longsword, flicking off any remaining traces of osteovox from its gleaming blade before returning it to its scabbard.

"So where the Hell are we, exactly?" asked Syngaard, looking around and seeing blue-leaved trees surrounding them in the moonlight. "Anybody know which way we gotta trudge to get back home?"

As if on cue, a metal ring a full foot in diameter suddenly appeared in mid-air behind the group, making a loud clattering as it fell to the stone platform. There was a strip of parchment wrapped around it, in the same manner as an object about to be dropped into a vat of osteovox.

"It's from Skevros!" said Daleth, reading the note by the light of the full moon. He held up the ring in one hand and directed the others to do likewise. Galen dismissed Burt back to his celestial home with his thanks and placed his hand upon the ring, along with the others. With a sudden gasp of realization, Orion let go of the ring and ran back to fetch Carl's ghost touch saddle, returning to her place once it was safe in her other hand, balanced against her hip. Then Daleth spoke the command word and the ring of return teleported the group back to the south gate just outside the official boundary of Durnhill, where Skevros was there to greet them just inside the kingdom's border.

"Very nice!" said Daleth, handing the ring of return to the king's adviser.

"Much appreciated!" agreed Galen.

"No trudging!" remarked Syngaard. "You can be an okay guy at times, Skevros!"

"I can indeed," Skevros smiled in agreement.

- - -

Logan had everyone cracking up around the table while doing the voice of the wizards who had gone deaf from the thunderstone's sonic damage and couldn't hear what they sounded like to themselves. That was a cool bit of extemporaneousness on his part, too, as he had no way to know ahead of time that Vicki was going to buy thunderstones for Orion and our whole "opening salvo" would hinge on their use.

Orion, by the way, leveled up at the end of the adventure and now joins everyone else but Daleth at 9th level.
 

Richards

Adventurer
ADVENTURE 27: TREATY KEEPERS

PC Roster:
Daleth Stormsea, elf wizard 7
Galen Thorne, human paladin 9
Kaspar Hardstrike, elf monk 9
Orion Nightsky, halfling rogue 9
Syngaard, human fighter 9​

Game Session Date: 17 October 2018

- - -

"You call us all here for another mission?" Syngaard asked as he joined the others at the table in the Enchanted Flagon. Kaspar, anticipating his arrival, had already procured a mug of ale for the scarred fighter from Karen at the back of the bar.

"Indeed I did," affirmed Skevros. "You may take it as a given that if I summon you here, it is because the kingdom has need of your services."

"This a paying mission?" Syngaard asked, getting straight to the most important detail about whatever the king's adviser was going to say next.

Skevros sighed. "Yes, it is a paying mission. But to give you the appropriate context of your assignment, it's perhaps relevant to go over a brief history of the kingdom." Syngaard rolled his eyes but said nothing, granting his full attention to the mug of ale before him.

"As you are no doubt aware, the King of Ossirna died 126 years ago, leaving two sons. The younger son, Selvik, attempted to kill the rightful heir, Leornic the Fifth. Leornic and his loyal followers fled the destructive wrath of Selvik's forces. After the massive Battle of the Western Marshes, where thousands died on both sides, Leornic proposed a truce: he would abandon all claims to the throne of Ossirna and he and his followers would form a new kingdom based around Durnhill Keep. Leornic the Fifth of Ossirna thus became Leornic the First of Durnhill - the grandfather of our present king. Although Selvik wanted nothing less than his brother's death, his advisors convinced him to accept the truce.

"Ever since, on the anniversary of the signing of the truce, the kings of Durnhill and Ossirna meet at the Treaty Keep located between both kingdoms. That anniversary is tomorrow."

"And that's where we come in?" asked Orion.

"Indeed. Since the Treaty Keep lies abandoned during the entire rest of the year, it is customary for each kingdom to send a mercenary band to clear out the keep of any creatures that might be dwelling there."

"And I take it we are the mercenaries Durnhill will be sending?" asked Daleth.

"Quite so," replied Skevros, pulling a box from beneath the table and plopping it on the surface before him. "You'll be wearing these tabards to identify you as such." He pulled out the top one, green with gold trim and bearing the kingdom's crest on the front.

"We gotta wear these?" complained Syngaard as Skevros passed one to each of the five adventurers.

"Only if you wish to be paid," snapped Skevros. In the months of dealing with Syngaard, the king's adviser had learned how best to deal with him; the bald fighter picked up his tabard and slipped over his armor without another word. "I look ridiculous," Syngaard complained.

"It's good to hear you finally admit it," smirked Orion, earning her a glare from the fighter.

"You are to wear your tabards at all times during the duration of this mission," Skevros demanded. "They will serve to identify you as Durnhill's designated representatives."

"This has got to be the least 'secret' mission we've ever gone on," observed Galen.

"It is that way intentionally," Skevros replied. "There will be another team from Ossirna wearing their own colors: blue with gold trim. Under no conditions are you to attack them - to do so would be an act of war."

"No good ever came from people wearing blue," grumbled Galen, thinking about the Azure Guard in particular. "You said clear the place out of creatures, though - what are we likely to find living there?"

"It could be anything - or nothing at all," replied Skevros. "One year the teams encountered a beholder lairing there. Other years the keep was empty. But as the place lies in the stretch of neutral territory between our two kingdoms, it's only used once every year. That gives the local creatures plenty of time to decide to move in and make themselves comfortable."

"Couldn't you scry upon it?" asked Orion.

"That would certainly make things easier, wouldn't it?" asked Skevros wryly. "But no: the keep is protected from scrying, since the two rulers prefer not to have anyone eavesdropping upon their conversations there or observing their interactions."

Once everyone had their tabards in place over their armor, Skevros reached into the bottom of the box and pulled out some green-and-gold ribbons. He handed one to Orion and the other to Galen. "I assume you wish to take your riding dog," Skevros said to the halfling. "Please affix this ribbon to his saddle to identify him as part of the official delegation." He turned to Galen. "Likewise if you decide to bring along your dire lion."

"That decision's already been made," answered the young paladin, accepting the ribbon from the king's adviser. "If there's a possibility of us meeting a beholder at the keep, I'll definitely be bringing Bert along."

"Very well then," said Skevros. "If everyone's ready, I will teleport us all to the border." With the utterance of an arcane syllable, the group appeared across the kingdom to the southeastern border. The keep could be seen ahead in the distance. Skevros then busied himself casting mount spells for Daleth, Kaspar, and Syngaard. The magical steeds that appeared were already groomed with green-and-gold streamers attached to the pommels of their saddles and woven into their manes.

"It's best to keep up appearances when officially representing the kingdom," remarked Skevros. He handed the ring of return to Galen, who tucked it along the inside of his shield. "Clear out the keep, but do not attack the representatives from Ossirna. Syngaard: is this last point absolutely clear?"

"What? Yeah, don't kill the Ossirnians - I got it," the fighter replied. Then he pulled himself awkwardly up into the saddle of his mount; fortunately, as a magical construct, it was much easier to control than would be a real, living animal - Syngaard had no experience riding horses.

"Then the best of luck to you all," said Skevros. "You may use the ring when the mission is complete." Galen summoned Bert from the Beastlands, affixed the ribbon to his mane, climbed up upon the dire lion, and the led the delegation south to the Treaty Keep.

The ride was uneventful; upon their arrival, Galen led the mounts in a full circle around the keep while Orion had Carl climb up into the sky and check out the structure from above. It had seen better days, that was for sure - the stone building's upper level had come tumbling down some years back, and although the ground level was still mostly intact (part of one of the front towers had partially collapsed, granting open access to the building from the side), the paladin wondered just how much longer the structure could be used in its annual fashion. There were two doors, one in the front between the two largest towers, and another along the side of one of the smaller towers in the back, both closed and secured. But from the air, Orion and Carl saw what the others couldn't: the central part of the keep was an open courtyard, accessible by two sets of doors at the north and south ends, and inside the open-air structure was a meeting table and two chairs - and, incongruously, a hill giant in a green tunic sitting along one wall, his face pressed into a silver plate.

"Guys!" Orion called down to the others in a low voice, trying not to be overheard by the giant - who, fortunately, paid her no heed. "There's a giant down there!"

Rather than go through either of the doors, Galen rode Bert to the crumbled northeastern tower and ducked as the dire lion entered the building. As there were window slits all along the 20-foot ceiling, the interior of the building was sufficiently lit for the human to see inside with no trouble. There, in the front hall, was a white spider the size of a large pony, apparently dead upon the floor.

The other men followed Galen into the building, dismounting from their magical mounts before doing so. Daleth's keen eyes focused on the arachnid lying dead on its back, its legs tucked into its body in death. "That looks to be a phase spider," he observed.

"What's that?" asked Galen.

"It's capable of transitioning between the material plane and the ethereal plane at will - and in the mere blink of an eye! One moment there's nothing there, the next -- it appears and attacks!"

"So, it teleports?" asked Syngaard.

"If you like - but between dimensions." Galen dismounted from Bert and the two approached the dead spider, Kaspar and Daleth in tow. Syngaard, just to be sure, threw his returning javelin down the adjoining hall to the south, just in case any of those strange phase spiders were there waiting to jump into the material plane. Of course, the fighter's grasp of the concept of interplanar travel was incorrect, and the javelin hit nothing - nor would it have if there had been dozens of phase spiders in the ethereal spaces corresponding to the hallway. But Syngaard announced, "This way's clear!" when his javelin returned to his hand, and he turned to catch up to the others.

In a flash, two phase spiders materialized in the front hallway, flanking Bert. They bit at the dire lion, mandibles pumping venom. Kaspar immediately dashed up to the closest and struck forward with his right hand, his tenryutsume imbuing the strike with both fire and electricity as well as the monk's own inherent power. The elf's fist punched through the spider's abdomen, causing thick ichor to squirt out of the wound. Galen, Bert, and Syngaard finished off the spider with a combination of sword strikes, morningstar slams, and slashing claws, while Daleth fired a magic missile spell at the other phase spider, striking it without error.

Hearing the sounds of combat from inside the building - and as the hill giant seemed content sitting there eating whatever food he had balanced on the silver plate - Orion had Carl maneuver back down to ground level and run inside the Treaty Keep through the opening in the side of the northeastern tower. She threw a dagger from her bag of blades at the remaining spider, burying it to the hilt before it disappeared back to the extradimensional space of the magical bag. The spider snapped at Syngaard, before phasing back to the ethereal plane and out of view.

But the spider hadn't counted on Carl's ghostly nature - the riding dog dashed forward, jaws snapping at apparently nothing, although on the ethereal plane it was obvious the dog had caught one of the spider's legs in its jaws and was clamping down hard. Guessing what was going on, Syngaard, Kaspar, and Orion stayed to deal with the phase spider when it would likely return to this plane of existence; Syngaard prepared for the eventuality by backing up against the exterior wall of the keep, so the spider couldn't sneak up behind him. His morningstar was out and ready to strike if and when it showed.

Daleth and Galen, however - followed by Bert - moved to the door to check out the inner courtyard. The paladin saw the hill giant at once, and noted he wasn't just wearing a green tunic - it was an actual flag of the kingdom of Durnhill!

Looking up at the intruders, the hill giant squinted at a leathery sheepskin and did his best to pronounce the phonetic sounds depicted therein. "Furiends?" it asked.

"Friends?" deciphered Galen. "Are you asking to be friends?" But the giant had apparently used up the extent of its vocabulary and returned its attention to its plate of food. Daleth used his azurewood staff of divination to cast a tongues spell upon himself, allowing him to speak and understand the Giant language. Galen, in the meantime, had focused his attention on the hill giant's aura and was surprised to see no glint of evil therein.

"What's your name?" asked Daleth.

"Gumruk," replied the giant.

"My name's Daleth," offered the elven mage. "That's an interesting plate you have there. Is it magical?"

"Yup," replied Gumruk.

"And what does it do?"

"Makes food appear!" announced Gumruk with a wide grin, exposing the ground-up contents of his current mouthful. "Gumruk thinks of food, and it shows up!"

"That's really handy!" agreed Daleth. "Where did you get it?"

"Gumruk hired by little person, like you. He give me plate, and all I have to do is wear green flag and help other green guys fight blue guys." He finally gave the elf a good look, and announced, "Hey! You a green guy!"

"I am indeed," agreed the elf. "That means we should be friends!" He quickly gave Galen a rundown of their conversation.

Out in the hallway, though, the phase spider reappeared - one leg still clamped in Carl's mouth - and made an attempt at biting Syngaard, but the fighter bashed his morningstar down upon its head. On either side of him, Kaspar punched the spider with a flurry of one-two strikes while Orion stabbed at the thing with her flaming short sword. It didn't stand a chance, dying on the spot. Carl released the thing's leg and looked in all directions; his lack of concern was a good indicator to the others that there weren't any more phase spiders hanging around on the ethereal plane in this general vicinity. They headed over to the central courtyard to find Daleth and Galen in conversation with a seated hill giant, while Bert sat on his haunches, looking bored.

Galen caught the others up on what was going on. "We need to keep Gumruk from attacking the Ossirnians," said Kaspar, "or we'll be looking at an international incident."

"And that's likely what the Ossirnians want," guessed Daleth. "Odds are it was one of them who put Gumruk up to attacking their forces when they appear."

"We need to get him out of here," suggested Orion. "How are we going to do that?"

"Hey, buddy," Galen said to the giant and Daleth translated for him. "How would you like a magical jug to go with your magical plate? It'll give you anything you want to drink!"

"Yeah!" agreed Gumruk. He hadn't been thirsty until the paladin had mentioned it, but now he wanted something to drink more than anything else in life.

"The giant like jugs," observed Syngaard. "Smart guy." Orion just glared at the fighter, her gaze letting him know she caught his reference and didn't think this was the time for such nonsense.

"But you need to do something for us," Daleth said to the hill giant. "We need you to leave the blue men alone. We don't want to hurt them."

"But the plate!" argued Gumruk. "Supposed to help fight the blue guys, that's why I got this plate."

"They changed their minds," Daleth countered. "It was just a mistake. Now we're going to be nice to the blue guys, and you can still keep the plate."

"Okay," Gumruk agreed. "Where's the jug?" He was now really thirsty.

"Um," stalled Galen, not having thought this far ahead.

"It's not here," piped up Orion. "But we can take you to it. Why don't you come this way, and we'll go get it!" After Daleth translated for her, she started leading Gumruk over to the front doors of the keep. But then the back door to the courtyard opened up and in stepped three Ossirnian mercenaries, dressed in tabards of blue with gold trim. One was a female fighter named Sienna wielding a massive vicious greatsword. Beside her was a male rogue named Averos, and stepping up behind them was a male wizard named Neumien. All three were human; Syngaard had to fight the urge to pull his human bane scimitar from the scabbard at his hip. Galen's dark scowl spoke volumes about the contents of their auras.

"What's going on here?" demanded Neumien.

"Shouldn't the giant be attacking us by now?" asked Sienna in an insufficiently quiet whisper; both elves were able to make out her words perfectly well. Neumien didn't answer her, instead using his voice to cast a charm monster spell upon Gumruk. However, the hill giant - perhaps because his entire concentration was focused upon getting a magical jug that poured whatever drink he wanted from it - was able to overcome the spell's intended effects.

"Friends with blue guys?" he asked Daleth for confirmation. Things were starting to get muddled in his head.

"That's right, we're all friends here," Daleth said in the Common tongue so everyone could hear his words; the tongues spell still in effect automatically translated it to Giant for Gumruk's benefit.

"Looks like you guys are late to the party," observed Syngaard, his morningstar still in his hand. "We already did all the work for you. Killed a bunch of phase spiders. Why don't you make yourselves useful and give us a hand dragging them out of here?" There was little the Ossirnians could do; their attempt to start a war with Durnhill and get their enemies blamed for the instigation was apparently not going to work after all. Neumien received a pair of dark looks from his companions at the failure of his charm monster spell, but he realized there wasn't much to be done about it - not now, in any case.

"We'd love to be of assistance," he said through gritted teeth.

Once the Treaty Keep had been cleared and cleaned, both groups went their separate ways. The magical mounts were still in place outside, so the three men saddled up and rode away just for appearance's sake, only activating the ring of return (with Gumruk among them) once the three Ossirnians were out of view - no point in letting them know of their abilities.

Back in Durnhill, Skevros explained the Ossirnians had been trying to goad Durnhill into starting a war for several years now. "They know that if they instigated a war themselves, Ashfall and even the Azure Glade would join forces with Durnhill to stop them."

"Where's my jug?" asked Gumruk, as single-minded as Syngaard.

"What's this now?" asked Skevros.

"Galen promised the giant a magical jug," answered Syngaard.

"Did he now?" asked Skevros, looking sternly at the young paladin.

"Surely you have something like that around," hoped Galen. "I mean, you being a wizard and all...."

"You mean a decanter of endless water?" asked the king's adviser.

"Yeah, like that," Galen agreed. "Only...I promised it would give him whatever drink he wanted."

"I suppose I could craft something along those lines. But do you know how much something like that would cost?" demanded Skevros. Galen looked uncomfortable under the glare of their leader - he had just blurted out the first thing to come to mind to get Gumruk out of the Treaty Keep intact; now, faced with the consequences of his rash promise, he was obligated by his honor to see it through.

"It's not coming out of my share," interjected Syngaard quickly. "I didn't promise no giant no magic jug."

Skevros sighed heavily. "Let's bring him to the Enchanted Flagon for the time being," he suggested. "We can get him plenty to drink while I figure out how best to proceed." The fellow seemed tame enough; perhaps His Majesty could use a hill giant in some capacity in the kingdom?

"We could always just kill him," suggested Syngaard, secure in the knowledge that his words weren't being translated into the Giant tongue, only Daleth's.

"Syngaard!" chided Orion.

"I think we can find a better solution than that," rebuked Skevros.

"Whatever," remarked Syngaard, who was already thinking ahead about how he was going to spend his share of the reward. As they walked back to their headquarters, he pulled off the stupid green-and-gold tabard and tossed it back to Skevros. "Here's your silly shirt back."

- - -

This adventure did not go anything like Logan had planned; he'd been sure we would end up starting a war with Ossirna. But we've always rolled our dice in the open, and Gumruk made an awesome Will save just when it was needed. We also were sure to give Dan a bunch of flak about his "magic jug" solution, when there were so many other ways we could have diverted Gumruk away from the keep without promising a 10,000 gp expenditure. I suggested we just give the giant a normal jug along with a ten-syllable "command word" that he'd never be able to remember (or pronounce), and thus weasel out of the debt that way. But paladins are paladins and above such trickery, it seems. Dan seems willing to have Galen forgo his 2,000 gp payment for this adventure and then pay off the cost of the magic jug from future rewards, but Logan says he's going to take pity on him. Skevros will undoubtedly find a way to put Gumruk to good use in the kingdom, and eliminate the debt in that way.
 

Richards

Adventurer
ADVENTURE 28: NOT-SO-SILENT LUCIDITY

PC Roster:
Daleth Stormsea, elf wizard 7
Galen Thorne, human paladin 9
Kaspar Hardstrike, elf monk 9
Orion Nightsky, halfling rogue 8
Syngaard, human fighter 9​

Game Session Date: 24 October 2018

- - -

It was a pleasant afternoon. The conscripts had no particular task that needed attending to, so they had been left to go about their various ways; after all, if they were needed, Skevros could summon them at once through the rings they wore, which allowed a message spell to be broadcast to each member simultaneously. As a result, Orion was sitting by one of the fountains of the capital city, watching in amusement as her ghost dog Carl danced into and out of the water, a puzzled expression on his face that he wasn't getting wet. In many ways, Carl was still getting used to the idea that he was a ghost now, and that many of the rules that had applied to him in life were no longer valid.

But then Carl's head popped up from the fountain, he looked all around him, and he began barking furiously. Orion leaped to her feet and her hand went to the hilt of her flaming short sword, but she saw nothing out of the ordinary - nothing that would set Carl to barking so frantically. That only caused her to worry all the more, for she was well aware that Carl's ghost-vision extended into the ethereal plane; were there more of those phase spiders about, ready to strike?

Galen was nearby, running an errand for Skevros to start to pay off the debt he'd incurred in promising a magical drink-producing jug to the hill giant Gumruk. He heard Carl's barking and had the same reaction as Orion: hand to sword-hilt, looking about for danger and seeing none. Still, he crossed the square over to the fountain, the sword of Zehkar out and ready for action should it be needed.

The other conscripts were unaware of Carl's panic. Daleth was in his room above the Enchanted Flagon, studying his spellbooks; across the hall from him, Kaspar sat in silent meditation, honing his mastery of the mind. Syngaard was eating a late lunch with Cori, one of Mama Kat's working girls, as the brothel didn't usually see much business until later in the evening.

But regardless of their respective locations, all of the conscripts - as well as every other inhabitant of the city - abruptly heard a loud scream. It was the scream of a multitude of voices, a choir of screams, in which each of the conscripts could hear their own distinctive voices in the mix.

But the screaming wasn't all that everybody heard. Orion, standing by the fountain, heard Syngaard's distinctive voice yelling, "Gonna kill me that damn halfling!" Turning to look, she saw Syngaard rushing down the street in her direction, his morningstar in one hand and his javelin of returning in the other. His scarred face held an expression of hatred and disgust. Beside him, struggling to keep up, was a shambling, canine form covered in frost; with a start, the halfling recognized it as Carl's physical remains, as he appeared when he died from the cone of cold spell cast by Arcturus, the Azure Glade's Guildmaster of Divination.

Any suspicion Orion might have had that this was an illusion was broken by the fact that Galen saw it, too. He instinctively focused his senses to see if the pair detected as evil, and was instantly brought to his knees by an overpowering sensation of pure, absolute evil that emanated not just from Syngaard and the zombified remains of Carl but from the entire area at once. Through his pounding headache, the paladin realized he would be unable to rely upon his reading of auras while this all-pervasive evil was about; this was many times worse than the first time he'd tried reading Serenity's aura up in Ashfall. And the sense of evil seemed to leech the brightness of the day as well; shadows fell over the city as the sky darkened as if overcast, although it remained as cloudless as mere moments before.

Back in their rooms, Daleth and Kaspar had their own troubles, for immediately after the choir of screams they each felt their bodies shrinking. All of their clothes and gear shrunk down with them to no other effect, but their skin hardened, their hair lengthened and grew lighter, and in a mere moment each had taken on the appearance of Dow, the porcelain homunculus Skevros had crafted for his late daughter many years ago. Neither elf had been particularly fond of the homunculus - truth be told, she seemed rather creepy to them - so finding themselves suddenly trapped in her body was unnerving, to say the least.

Still, no matter how this thing had happened, it was likely Skevros held the answer - or could at least reverse the process. As he was in the Enchanted Flagon below (or at least in the extradimensional space accessible from the storeroom of the tavern), that seemed to be the first course of action. Of course, as the elves were now only a foot tall, the simple act of opening the door was somewhat problematic, since the doorknob stood well over their heads.

Kaspar's monk training came in handy; with a running start, he ran up the door and grabbed onto the doorknob, twisting it with a practiced motion and kicking the doorjamb with his foot, opening the wooden door. He dropped back to the floor and was about to duplicate the process on the door leading to the back stairs behind the building when the door to Daleth's room opened and Daleth-as-Dow dropped down from his own doorknob.

"You too?" each elf asked in unison, surprised to see the other afflicted in the same way. But Daleth-as-Dow still wore his wizard's robes and Kaspar-as-Dow wore his monk's robes and tenryutsume, and each still had their respective abilities. As one, they turned to the exterior door, Kaspar got it opened, and they started hopping down the back stairs, looking for answers.

Back at Mama Kat's, Syngaard underwent a similar transformation. One moment he was eating cheese and bread with Cori; the next, there was a chorus of screams and he felt his body shrinking in an all-too-familiar way. "Damn that halfling!" Syngaard cursed, hating the high pitch of his halfling voice. His immediate thought was that Orion had somehow spiked his food or drink, sneaking in a potion of reduce person like she'd done once before in a misguided attempt to get him to empathize with the life of a halfling by experiencing it for himself. But this time there was something different about the experience: all of his gear reduced in size with him as before, but his feet somehow didn't seem to shrink quite as much as the rest of him - they were tight in his boots. Worse yet, both feet were itchy, as if a layer of fur grew from their tops. "Dammit!" he cried. "I'm not just a halfling - I'm a blasted fur-foot! I'm gonna kill that damn Orion!"

Then Cori gave a shriek and Syngaard looked over at her, but saw only the counter - they'd been on opposite sides before his transformation and now he wasn't even tall enough to look over the counter to see her! He had to back up until she was in view - and Syngaard got another shock once he did. Cori's lustrous, red hair was now matted and dirty; her delicate facial features had been replaced by a fearsome countenance with warts sprouting here and there. Syngaard gave an involuntary shout of terror upon first seeing her, causing Cori to scramble to the nearest mirror, where she shrieked in horror at her own appearance. Neither of the two had ever seen a sea hag before, but they were looking at one now.

The fact that they'd both been transformed - and into different shapes - seemed to get Orion off the hook; for the life of him Syngaard couldn't figure out how (or why) the halfling could have turned Cori into a witch. There was only one course of action that Syngaard could see, and that was getting to Skevros to make some sense of it all. He steered Cori into her bedroom, telling her to lock the door and stay put until his return. "I'll get this fixed," he promised her, hoping he could do just that - there was no way he wanted to live the rest of his life as a damned halfling! Once Cori was settled, he dashed out the brothel door and into the street, heading for the Enchanted Flagon as quickly as his stumpy little legs could take him.

Over by the fountain, Galen and Orion were both puzzled by the sudden appearance and demeanor of the bloodthirsty fighter, for as soon as he was in range he hurled his magic javelin at the halfling, screaming curses all the while. She dodged the weapon, and it returned to his hand as he ran towards her. Not wanting to hurt her adventuring companion, Orion decided to focus on the zombie Carl instead. Leaping onto the back of ghost Carl, she reached into her bag of blades and pulled out a throwing dagger, which she threw at the frost-covered dog shambling to catch up to Syngaard. But by then the bald fighter had reached Orion and Carl, and his morningstar came swinging at her head. She ducked at the last moment, but the weapon-head crashed painfully into her shoulder. Thinking Syngaard might be some sort of undead imposter, Galen focused a blast of positive energy through his illumium scabbard and into the fighter's torso. Had he been undead, the healing energy would have eaten into him like acid; the fact that it had no effect at least informed the paladin that Syngaard was not undead.

Frantic to escape Syngaard's wrath, Orion had Carl shoot up into the darkened sky, high enough to be out of reach from the fighter's morningstar at least. "We need to find Skevros!" the halfling called down to Galen. "He might be able to make some sense of this!"

"Go!" agreed Galen. "I'll catch up!" And the ghost-dog flew at best speed down the road, with Syngaard running furiously behind and below, ignoring the paladin in his effort to slay the mounted halfling.

Galen figured he'd have to fight his way past the zombified Carl, which wasn't likely to be too difficult. But then other difficulties made their presences known, as spilling out of doorways and alleys came a multitude of creatures: zombies, skeletons, even a few mind flayers. One pointed up at the sun; distracted, Galen followed its gaze and saw with a shock that the sun had been replaced with a blood-red eye - at the very least, it had been turned red with a brighter center that gave it an eyelike appearance.

A zombie stretched out a hand and grabbed Galen by the shoulder. "Whaa--?" it moaned, and Galen resisted the instinctive urge to strike out at it with his longsword. He held the creature at arm's length. "Are you a local inhabitant?" the paladin asked, getting a nod to the affirmative in reply. Figuring that these were all just townsfolk somehow transformed, Galen called out in a loud voice, "Everyone return to your homes! Stay off the streets while we figure out what happened and get this magical effect reversed!" Immediately, skeletons nodded and returned to their homes; mind flayers turned around and went back the way they'd come, some of them still looking down at their purple fingers in disbelief; zombies shuffled off down the street headed back to their dwellings.

But zombie Carl remained. Orion threw a tanglefoot bag down at him as she and ghost Carl passed by overhead. The bag exploded upon impact, covering the zombie dog in sticky goo and more or less gluing him in place where he stood. Galen tried his scabbard trick on the dog and got much better results than he'd gotten with Syngaard, as the dog apparently was an undead creature. One smiting strike with his blade and the undead thing was slain. Then the paladin ran after Orion and Carl - and Syngaard, who threw his returning javelin up at the halfling as he ran - making his way to the Enchanted Flagon and hopefully an end to this city-wide transformation (which, for whatever reason, had left Galen and Orion unaffected).

Daleth and Kaspar had finally managed to make it down the back steps, go around the corner of the building, and get the front door open. Skevros was in the tavern all right, but he was slumped up against the back wall by the bar, being menaced by a pair of ghosts. "This is your fault!" berated the ghost of a young woman. "My death is on your hands!"

"Why did you do it, Daddy?" asked the second ghost, that of a young girl about five years of age. With sudden insight, Kaspar realized these were the ghosts of Skevros's wife and daughter. But then, having figured that out, Kaspar was unsure of what to do next; would Skevros appreciate it if his adventurers started attacking the spirits of his loved ones?

The route from Mama Kat's to the Enchanted Flagon took Syngaard, running for all he was worth on his oversized, itchy, halfling feet, right past the Temple of Pelor. That gave the fighter an idea: he could ask Father Rayburn or Father Rupert about fixing the transformations - they were both fairly powerful clerics. And maybe he could get a resolution to this nightmare quicker than he could by racing across the square over to the tavern. With that thought in mind, he approached the temple doors and opened one, stepping quietly inside.

The first thing he saw were the four headless bodies laying in pools of blood on the floor. Without their heads he couldn't tell who they might be, but they were all male, and each wore the robes of a cleric of Pelor. Whatever was up, this wasn't good!

The next thing he noticed were the three figures in the back of the temple. All three wore darker robes and had their backs to him, facing the altar, but the central figure must have stood about nine feet tall, with two human-sized figures beside him. Syngaard narrowed his eyes and made his way toward the figures, traveling quietly down the central aisle between the pews, ready to duck behind a pew if either of the three figures gave any indication that they might turn and spot him. Syngaard had his trusty morningstar in hand, and was disheartened to think that at its present size it wouldn't be able to dish out near as much damage as it would normally.

Syngaard was even further dismayed when a voice appeared in the back of his head. <And just what is your purpose, little halfling?> the voice asked. In the dim light of the temple, Syngaard thought he saw a tentacle waving from the front of the central figure, the giant. A flood of thoughts rushed into Syngaard's brain: These were those mind flayer dudes, like the two they'd recently fought in the caverns below the orphanage! They were probably behind the transformations somehow! And worse yet, that big guy just called me a little halfling! He tightened his grip on his morningstar and got ready to charge.

Orion and Carl rushed into the Enchanted Flagon, the two homunculi having left the front door wide open. Orion made out the inhabitants in a glance; she had no trouble identifying Kaspar and Daleth by the garments they wore, even though each otherwise looked just like Dow. Right behind Orion came Syngaard, face contorted in hatred and morningstar raised to strike at the mounted halfling. Kaspar wasn't sure what had gotten into Syngaard, but he wasn't about to let him attack Orion; he struck out with a cobra-swift strike of his arm, powered by his tenryutsume, hammering into the fighter's leg. Kaspar was pleased to see the tenryutsume's powers were apparently not reduced by the sudden change in size. "Leave her alone, Syngaard!" the elf monk warned.

Orion grabbed up another tanglefoot bag and hurled it at the bald fighter, trapping him in place. Daleth prepared to cast a spell at the attacking fighter, when Skevros - via the sudden appearance of a trio of his adventurers, two of them somehow in the forms of his former homunculus familiar - was alerted to the oddities of the situation. Ignoring the ghosts of his family for now, he cast an arcane sight spell, allowing him to see magical auras. Sure enough, his tormenting spirits were both magical in nature - likely illusions - as was Syngaard. Kaspar and Daleth were also sporting magical auras, but given their transformations this was expected. He also got indications from Orion centered on her known magical items: her short sword, bag of blades, breastplate, bracelet, ring, and ioun stone - that was undoubtedly her. He was about to broadcast his findings to the others when Syngaard's voice rang out from the ring the king's adviser wore on his left hand: "Skevros, I dunno if you can hear me, but I'm fighting three mind flayers in the temple of Pelor, and I think they're behind all this weirdness!"

That statement, called into his ring as he ran down the central aisle of the temple, was finished by the time Syngaard reached his target: the central figure of the three. The trio turned as one at Syngaard's approach, and sure enough, these were mind flayers, although the central one was not only nine feet tall but also had an extra set of facial tentacles, these two being much longer than the other four. Syngaard's morningstar went crashing into the ulitharid's leg, and as he'd expected the smaller size of the weapon - and the hand that wielded it - meant a lesser amount of damage behind the strike.

C'thorlumbrox's mouth was hidden beneath his six tentacles and the illithid mouth structure was not designed for smiling in any case; nonetheless, the ulitharid's mental "voice" denoted a tone of amusement. <Are you going to single-handedly strike us down, little halfling?> he asked.

"Stop calling me that!" Syngaard demanded as one of the longer tentacles wrapped around his torso and lifted him in the air, so that C'thorlumbrox could get a better look at his diminutive opponent. "Turn me back to human, or I'll kill the lot of you!" Given the less-than-impressive combat abilities Syngaard had just demonstrated in his halfling form, this was a boast without much power behind it.

Back at the Enchanted Flagon, Skevros announced, "I have no combat spells prepared!" just as Galen burst in through the front door. "Syngaard will likely be dead by the time it would take me to prepare them. So gather yourselves together; I have the means to transport you to the temple of Pelor."

"Even though the city's warded against teleportation?" asked Orion.

"Even so," agreed Skevros, and cast the wish spell he always kept on hand for emergency use. A tear rolled down his cheek as he recalled it was this very same spell that had killed his wife, in her desperate attempt to wrench him off the evil path he'd been traveling, those many years ago.

The group now found themselves standing in the central aisle of the temple of Pelor. Two mind flayers stood to the sides of the altar in the back, and between them stood an even taller version of a mind flayer, halfheartedly grappling with a struggling, bald halfling he held in one long tentacle. Even with the size difference, the group had no difficulty identifying Syngaard by his equipment - and his vocabulary. Although, oddly enough, shortly after the group's appearance, Syngaard also appeared - in his human form, and unhindered by the goo of the tanglefoot bag - in the back of the room, a look of hatred aimed directly at Orion.

One of the mind flayers spun about and faced the group, unleashing a blast of mental energy their way. Kaspar and Orion were both stunned by the mental assault, freezing instantly in place. Daleth cast a magic circle against evil spell upon himself - and suddenly, both he and Kaspar resumed their normal elven appearance, although the monk was still stunned into immobility. Perhaps just as importantly, the looming of figure of Syngaard started to fade like a ghost, still visible in the back of the room with his arm raised and ready to hurl his magical javelin at the female halfling, but frozen into immobility.

C'thorlumbrox made the mistake of trying to reason with Syngaard. <I have no desire to kill your party> he informed the fighter, <although my two compatriots seek vengeance for their recent deaths at your hands> - and sure enough, the two mind flayers accompanying the ulitharid were none other than Quixagoth and Ixloth. <I'll make a deal with you: I'll let you go help your friends slay the two mind flayers again, as they've already served my purpose. I will even end the effect that has overcome your fair city. In return, you will allow me to leave unharmed.>

"No deal!" called out Syngaard. "You killed Father Rayburn and Father Rupert!"

<They were necessary to power my experiment> replied the ulitharid, not understanding why this should be such an issue - these surface-dwellers were so emotional! <I needed the heads of four clerics of the sun god, whose fears of a diminished sun could power the effect I needed.>

"You turned me into a damned halfling!" cried Syngaard.

<An unfortunate side effect of the experiment> explained C'thorlumbrox. <I can easily-- > But he was cut off by Syngaard's dual response: an insignificant blow from his morningstar, which did nothing but eat into the added protection afforded the ulitharid by a false life spell, and the more deadly effect of his words. "This big guy's trying to cut a deal with me!" he thundered. "He'll let us cut down the other two if we let him live!"

Quixagoth didn't believe the halfling's pitiful attempt to sow discord among the illithids. He ran up and grabbed Daleth with a tentacle, wrestling him into position so he could grab on with his other three facial appendages and rip the brain from the elf's skull. Ixloth, however, seemed unnerved by the accusation, and turned toward his leader with a puzzled - and distrustful - look in his eyes.

Galen realized that these mind blasts could easily take out the entire group in mere seconds - the last time they'd fought mind flayers, they had taken on Ixloth and Quixagoth one at a time; now they were facing them together at once with the addition of an even more powerful member of their twisted race! Without any hesitation, the paladin called out to the plane of the Beastlands as he raced to aid Syngaard, and his faithful dire lion companion immediately answered the call.

Burt leaped at Quixagoth, ripping him to shreds with the powerful swipe of a clawed forepaw. Daleth finished him off with a blast from his wand of magic missiles, holding it up under the base of the illithid's tentacles and activating it before the mind flayer had a chance to pry open the wizard's skull. Ixloth, in the meantime, fired a psionic mind thrust at Galen, staggering the charging paladin by the strength of his mental power.

"I promise I won't kill you if you let Syngaard go," said Galen, thinking to himself that he wasn't promising that Syngaard or one of the others wouldn't kill him. But the sound of mental laughter suddenly blossomed in the back of the paladin's mind. <You forget> said C'thorlumbrox, <I can hear your very thoughts!>

But Syngaard, while struggling to free himself form the ulitharid's tentacle, saw Orion and Kaspar frozen in the stunning grip of a mind blast. He'd experienced such an effect himself down in the caverns below the orphanage, and knew how long those two would be out of action. He also had a sinking feeling that C'thorlumbrox was toying with them, and that he could easily slay all five of the heroes if he put a mind to it. "You want a deal?" Syngaard suggested. "Start with an offer of good faith. Release those two from the mind blast's effects, and turn off whatever's affecting the city."

<Easily done!> replied the ulitharid, setting Syngaard back down onto the floor as he sent a psionic wave of dispelling magic at Kaspar and Orion. They found they could once again move, while Syngaard found himself back in his human form. The other Syngaard - a psionic manifestation of Orion's fears of retaliation for her potion of reduce person prank - winked out of existence.

<Master?> whimpered Ixloth in fear. <You just returned us to life - why abandon us now?>

<You have proven yourselves unworthy, seeking vengeance for your recent deaths at the hands of these surface-dwellers instead of focusing on the experiment. Prove your worthiness to live, if you can - I will render no aid.> Ixloth turned to face his foes, but was quickly brought down by the teeth and claws of a bloodthirsty dire lion and the smiting strike of the sword of Zehkar.

Syngaard's relief at being turned back to human form again was short-lived, to be replaced with a fury against the one who had been responsible for his transformation in the first place - and the deaths of four clerics of Pelor, the god Mezz had revered in life, and whose wooden holy symbol Syngaard had faithfully worn around his neck every day since his wife's death. His morningstar now back to its original size, he turned, ready to attack the ulitharid who had caused all of this trouble. But C'thorlumbrox held up a restraining hand, biding the fighter to hold off his attacks. <I propose a halt to combat, to explain myself!> he mentally declared to all present, and Galen put a restraining hand upon Syngaard's shoulder. "Let's hear what he has to say," suggested the paladin.

<The manifestation of your collective fears was an unintended side effect of the experiment we performed upon the sun> C'thorlumbrox explained. <We wish to eventually learn to block the sun's rays, that we might have darkness fall upon the planet and we might walk upon the surface once more, rather than keeping to the bowels of the Underdark.>

"Nothin's stoppin' you from strolling around today," snarled Syngaard.

<We find the brightness distasteful.>

"We won't help you to destroy the sun!" declared Galen. "Nor escape, that you may cause it further harm!"

<You need have no fears upon those fronts. This was but an initial experiment, as I have stated. I will take the results back to the Elder Brain of my city, and it will cogitate upon the matter for decades, centuries - even millennia. Your sun is safe for a good, long time.> A quick look out of the temple's windows confirmed that the sky was back to its regular brightness; the unnatural red-eye sun had been restored to normal.

"That's just making it someone else's problem," argued Orion. "Why shouldn't we just deal with you now, and be done with it?"

<Two reasons: one, you lack the power to destroy me; I could easily slay the lot of you without undue difficulty. But perhaps more importantly, we share a common enemy, for I sense the power in your longsword, and we - my people, the illithids - are opposed to the brother of Zehkar and would see his plans brought to ruin.>

"You speak of the Mithral Mage," replied Kaspar.

<I know him by his true name, but yes.>

"You know the Mithral Mage's real name?" asked Orion. "I thought all knowledge of his name had been magically erased."

"All existing traces of his name were erased, to prevent others from learning it," replied Daleth, who had studied up on the matter with Skevros. "It didn't erase it from the minds of those who already knew it."

<Precisely so.>

"So what are we doing?" asked Galen, looking around at his companions. "If we give this guy a pass, I'm honor-bound not to attack him. Do we let him walk?"

Kaspar thought it over for a moment. "I would say...yes," he decided. "We cannot pass up an opportunity to gain allies in our fight against the Mithral Mage."

"I agree," added Daleth.

"Stupid elves," muttered Syngaard.

"I agree as well," said Orion, gaining her a glare from the bald fighter.

"It would seem our best course of action," pointed out Galen.

Syngaard pointed to the dead bodies of the four decapitated Pelorian clerics in the front of the temple. "Bring them back to life," he demanded, indicating this was a prerequisite to gaining his agreement.

<That I cannot do. Were they mind flayers, I could reactivate their life forces with the psionic crystals we gathered below. Alas, they are mere humans - and thus outside my ability to affect.>

Syngaard spit out a promise: "I ever see your stupid, squiddy face around here again, I'll kill you!"

<So noted> replied C'thorlumbrox, and Syngaard didn't miss the smarminess behind the mental sentiment, as if the ulitharid was amused at the human fighter's delusions of his fighting prowess against so powerful a foe. But the creature departed through the back doors of the temple, heading to the area which had until recently - when they discovered a secret passageway that led to the Underdark directly below their floor planks - been the Pelorian orphanage; the orphans had been immediately moved to different housing upon the discovery.

"I'm surprised the temple clerics haven't sealed up the entrance to the Underdark," commented Orion, watching the ulitharid leave.

"They might have, only to have it undone by the mind flayers," offered Kaspar.

"Or been mentally tricked into thinking they had done so in the first place," suggested Daleth.

"Now that the skirmishes with the devils have finished up in the Baator's Breath Mountains, the church of Hieroneous will have the clerics at hand to raise the slain Pelorians," promised Galen.

It wasn't much in the way of a victory, but it would have to do.

- - -

Ugh! This was probably my least favorite adventure thus far in the campaign. (I'm not a fan of halflings, if you couldn't tell.) But four of us (all but Orion) leveled up as a result of this adventure, so that was a plus.

Incidentally, we'll be on hiatus for the next two weeks, due to Halloween next Wednesday and a class field trip to Washington DC that will take Joey out of the mix the following week.
 
Last edited:

Richards

Adventurer
ADVENTURE 29: NYMPHOMANIA

PC Roster:
Daleth Stormsea, elf wizard 8
Galen Thorne, human paladin 10
Kaspar Hardstrike, elf monk 10
Orion Nightsky, halfling rogue 9
Syngaard, human fighter 10​

Game Session Date: 14 November 2018

- - -

This session began with everyone receiving a handout describing a dream they had, or in the case of the elves the vision they received while in reverie.

DALETH'S HANDOUT said:
As an elf you do not sleep and you do not dream, yet you see her clearly between the three oaks. She appears to be an elf with hair like autumn leaves, yet you know she is something more primal. "Wayward children of the forest, long have you forgotten your roots, but fondly do we remember them," she speaks and you are suddenly aware of Kaspar's presence as well. "Welcome me into your burrow, and grant my sisters the mercy I show you."
GALEN'S HANDOUT said:
You are in the woods fighting against the forces of evil. By your side is a man whose form is indistinct and fuzzy as if seen through a fogged mirror. As you fight you get the sudden sensation of being bound; looking down you see vines growing and entwining your body. Your formless companion seems to be similarly entangled. You feel thorns sprouting from the vines as they begin to constrict your body, but the growing vines pause suddenly. "The timeless silver is a curse to us all...," a voice whispers from behind you, "but perhaps he has suffered the worst of it. You wear the accursed metal of my enemies, and yet you are the only ones I can turn to in this darkest hour of need." With that, the vines weaken their grasp and you awaken from your dream. As you rise from your bed you are surprised to find the sword of Zehkar entwined in a black rose bush that has seemingly grown out of the floorboards. A strange sense of mourning passes over you.
KASPAR'S HANDOUT said:
As an elf you do not sleep and you do not dream, yet you see her clearly between the three oaks. She appears to be an elf with hair like autumn leaves, yet you know she is something more primal. "Wayward children of the forest, long have you forgotten your roots, but fondly do we remember them," she speaks and you are suddenly aware of Daleth's presence as well. "Welcome me into your burrow, and grant my sisters the mercy I show you."
ORION'S HANDOUT said:
You are alone in the woods looking for Carl when you suddenly break into a clearing. Three oak trees stand in the middle of the clearing with a single large rosebush sitting in the middle of them. An elven woman with hair like autumn leaves sits by the roses scratching Carl behind the ears. "Child of the stars," she softly calls to you, "cruel can be our fate." Suddenly the rosebush crumbles to ash and the woman scoops up a handful. "A boon for a boon," she says as she rubs two fingers into the ash. She then closes your eyes with the ash-covered fingers. "I will require your blade when next we meet. Repeat this ritual afterward and gain nature's blessing." When you open your eyes, you find yourself awake in your bed with a single black rose in your hand.
SYNGAARD'S HANDOUT said:
You are fighting robed figures in the woods. Their hourglass faces spill silver sand with every blow of your morningstar. Something else is there watching you, but you can't figure out where it is.

As the last of your foes fall, their blood pools around your ankles. A lone island rises out of the blood, the blackened tree in the middle dripping with even more blood. Something about it seems familiar but you can't put your finger on it. A beautiful, slender hand grabs your shoulder. "Enemy of my enemy, I call upon you." Suddenly the tree bursts into flames. "Rebirth can only arise after death; let the purging flame consume all our enemies...even those who once were family. Hurry now, you've much farther to travel than the others so you'd better wake up!" Cori is still sleeping when you awaken. It is just before dawn, and you have the feeling it's gonna be one of those days. Better trudge on over to the tavern, you think to yourself. You arrive just as Daleth and Kaspar are entering the Enchanted Flagon's main floor.
- - -

Galen awoke from his dream and looked about the room. In the dark, there wasn't much to see - the sun had yet to rise, and his human vision wasn't adjusted to the darkness. But he could smell the scent of roses as he fumbled for a tindertwig at his bedside. Striking it, he set it to the wick of the candle on his nightstand and stood amazed at what he saw. For there, leaning against the wall, was the sword of Zehkar, where he had left it the night before - only now it was buried amid the tangled mass of a rose bush.

Orion woke, startled, in her own bed, not sure of what had caused her to awaken. But as she struggled to recall the dream she'd just been having, she noticed a pricking sensation in her right hand. By the feel of the thorns and the scent of the floral aroma, she deduced she was holding a single rose on a long stem. How did that get here? she wondered, creeping out at the thought that someone had been in her locked room as she slept. But Carl - or at least his ghost - habitually stayed with her in her room and he had raised no alarm all during the night. Surely he'd have reacted if there had been an intruder in her bedroom?

Galen knocked upon the halfling's door and she answered, still holding the flower - and by the light of the paladin's candle she could see it was indeed a dark-petaled rose. Galen looked down at her rose with a frown and asked her to accompany him back to his room. "I want you to look at something for me and make sure I'm not crazy," he explained. Orion followed him back across the hall and sure enough, there was an entire rose bush in his room, pierced in the middle by the still-sheathed sword of Zehkar.

"Did you dream about this?" the halfling asked.

"Something like it," Galen admitted.

Kaspar and Daleth opened the doors to their own rooms, joining the pair. They were able to confirm that the rose bush wasn't imaginary - or if it was, they too were caught up in the illusion. "Let's gear up and meet downstairs," Kaspar suggested.

Syngaard arrived at the front door of the Enchanted Flagon just as the two elves were turning the corner around the building. "Odd dreams?" asked Daleth.

"Yep," Syngaard answered. "Figured they must mean somethin', and figured you'll all want to gather together and discuss 'em."

Galen went first, describing the events of his dream while Kaspar went to the back of the room to wake Skevros - only to find him leaving the door to the extradimensional rooms he had hidden away in the wine storage area behind the bar. Orion added hers and then, after some prompting, Syngaard gave the gist of his as well.

"Oddly enough, I have had a dream of my own," said Skevros. "I--"

He was cut off by a knock at the door. Carl, sitting nearby, popped his ghostly head through the solid door and started wagging his tail. "I got it," announced Syngaard, walking over to open the door. The ghost dog's wagging tail likely meant there was no danger posed by the visitor, but the scarred fighter kept his hand on the grip of his morningstar just in case as he opened the door.

Standing in the doorway was an astonishingly beautiful woman - one who, in Syngaard's mind, put even his deceased wife Messalina to shame. This woman was unearthly beautiful and even seemed to shine - a gentle glow suffused her body, giving it a quiet radiance. Her face bore nearly elven features; her skin was the pale color of a full moon, with traces of bluish veins visible throughout, as if she had been carved from some exotic marble. She wore a cloak of autumn leaves wrapped around her shoulders.

"May I come in?" she asked in a husky voice.

Syngaard stepped back and allowed her to enter the tavern. Staring at her body as she crossed the threshold, he muttered to himself, "May I?"

Galen swallowed in disbelief at the sight of the woman; instinctively, he checked her aura for the tell-tale signs of evil, recalling how astonishingly beautiful the succubus Serenity appeared. But the woman's aura bore not the slightest stain of evil, leaving the paladin to wonder if this were some angel come down from the celestial realms.

Autumn Rose stepped up to the rest of the group and introduced herself. "I have come for your assistance," she said, looking at each of the heroes in turn. "My home - the Viridian Grove - has been corrupted, as have my sisters. I need you to purge it, and them."

"I know the place!" said Skevros. "I have been there!" He looked knowingly at Autumn Rose, the reason for her unearthly beauty now made apparent - she was a nymph!

"The Viridian Grove is called such due to the predominant greenery of the plant life," he explained, "a quite distinguishable feature in the Azure Glade, where the vegetation skews much more heavily to the bluish end of the spectrum." But nobody seemed to be paying the king's adviser the least bit of attention, as all eyes were upon the nymph.

"May I borrow your sword?" Autumn Rose asked Orion, holding out her now-empty hand. The halfling hesitated at first, not one to willingly give over her most powerful weapon to anyone - but then recalled her dream of that early morning. She pulled the short sword from its scabbard, causing the flames to ignite along its blade, and passed it over to the nymph, hilt first - the flames having no impact on the halfling due to the magical amulet she wore.

"Thank you," smiled Autumn Rose, as she took the sword by its hilt. "Grant my sisters mercy..." she began, staring into the blade's flames. "The only mercy is a swift death," she continued - and then swiftly slit her own throat.

Pandemonium ensued. Gasps and cries erupted from the heroes' throats; Orion involuntarily stepped back in horror, as Kaspar stepped forward to try to grab the nymph's body as it fell. But there was nothing to grab; her body vaporized instantly to ashes, and Orion's flaming short sword fell to the floor with a clatter. Skevros leaped up from his seat at the table, while Carl leaped to all fours and started barking at the pile of ashes. Sitting in the middle of the ash pile was a long-stemmed, blue-black rose carved from crystal.

Orion was the first to understand what she was meant to do next. Kneeling by the pile of ashes, she put two fingers into the dust and rubbed them on her closed eyelids. Her eyes appeared smudged for a moment before the ashes absorbed into her skin. She then blinked her eyes several times and looked around at the adventurers beside her as if seeing them for the first time.

"Miss Nightsky - are you all right?" Skevros asked in concern.

"Yes, fine," Orion answered, absently reaching down for her sword. She could see streams of light branching throughout the bodies of her adventuring partners, a fine pattern of electrical fire with the occasional accumulation into a larger mass; the halfling realized these were the locations of the areas on a humanoid body where the most damage could be dealt, as she had been trained by her weapons instructor. Then she looked over to Skevros. His body had no such lightning; instead, there were a series of black lines tracing throughout his body like a series of veins, with throbbing organs beating like miniature hearts that traveled here and there. With dawning comprehension, the halfling realized she was looking at the negative energy that gave undead beings their semblances of life. Furthermore, she surmised, if she were to strike an undead creature into one of those "mini-hearts" she was fairly certain it would affect them the same way it affected a living being when she struck it at a critical point of its body.

"Would you like me to teleport you all to the Viridian Grove?" offered Skevros.

"Not quite yet," answered Daleth. "I need time to prepare my spells for the day."

"As do I," replied Galen. While they went back upstairs to do that, the others gathered around the table for a quick breakfast. Karen was put to work cleaning up the rest of the ashes while Carl looked on in interest. Skevros examined the crystal rose the nymph had left behind - or possibly even transformed into. "This is a channeling wand," he announced. "It allows low-level divine spells to be converted to arcane spells, and vice versa. Fire-based spells, as a matter of fact. Produce flame, flame blade, burnings hands, and scorching ray, to be specific."

"That right?" grunted Syngaard, returning his attention to his morning's first tankard of ale.

Once the spellcasters had rejoined the group and had a bite to eat, Skevros teleported them to the Viridian Grove. They appeared at the edge of a small grove; three purple-trunked oak trees stood in a triangle around a small pile of ashes in the middle. Orion instantly recognized it from her dream, although in her dream the pile of ashes had been a living rose bush and she thought she remembered the whole area being greener than it currently was.

Kaspar took several tentative steps forward, senses alert for danger. But his elven ears picked up nothing unusual and his elven eyes saw nothing out of place - not even any unusual coloration, for the leaves of the oak trees were as blue as any other tree in the Azure Glade. Galen examined the auras of the area, concentrating on the tree farthest from him. Oddly, of the three oaks, only it radiated evil. Galen puzzled how a tree, of all things, could be evil. He strode towards it, sword in hand, casting a protection from evil spell upon himself as he did so.

Daleth cast a magic circle against evil spell on himself but opted to stay right where he was until something happened to indicate where any potential enemies might be.

Syngaard didn't have that kind of patience. Morningstar in hand - for in his dreams he'd been fighting enemies with that particular weapon - he roared a challenge and rushed at the tree to his right, swinging his arm back to bash the spiked weapon head into the gnarled truck. But with his shield up in a blocking maneuver - although what he was anticipating having to block was anybody's guess, given he was charging an oak tree - he missed spotting a thick root poking up above ground and tripped, falling flat on his face into the dirt by the trunk. It took all of Kaspar's training not to burst out laughing at the bald fighter's pratfall.

Orion, mounted upon Carl, reached into her bag of holding and pulled out a tanglefoot bag. Swinging it around her head for added momentum, she hurled it at the tree to her left, where it hit and splattered, oozing goop along its facing side. "Good job," smirked Daleth. "Guaranteed that tree won't be going anywhere soon."

But then the enemies made their appearance. Three comely women stepped out of the trio of oak trees, the one at Orion's left doing so from the rear side of the tree to avoid the tanglefoot goo adhered to the other side of her living home. She cast a flame strike spell, causing flames to cascade down from above over Orion and Carl, Galen, and Kaspar. The monk twisted and dodged, avoiding the flames altogether; Galen had no such training and just toughed it out. But the spell was too much for poor Carl, who, overcome by the flames of the spell, gave a whine of frustration as his incorporeal body faded from view. Once again, Orion found herself sitting in a saddle in midair as it plummeted to the ground. She rolled with the impact, landing on her feet, hardly singed at all due to the protections of her magic amulet.

But the other dryads were also attacking. The one stepping out from the tree that had just narrowly missed the whupping of a lifetime by Syngaard's clumsy misstep had a sickle in hand and brought it down upon the prone fighter; fortunately for Syngaard, his mithral breastplate deflected most of the damage. The third dryad cast a produce flame spell, tossing a ball of fiery energy at Galen.

That turned out to be a mistake. Catching the flaming missile upon his shield, Galen charged forward, stabbing with the sword of Zehkar in a smiting attack at the dryad he could clearly see had an aura tainted with evil.

Daleth stood back, out of melee range. But, calculating the distances between him and his allies with a moment's glance, he cast a haste spell encompassing all of the heroes. That would surely provide the heroes an added advantage!

Spitting dirt and curses, Syngaard regained his feet and swung his morningstar at the dryad before him. He didn't have the aura-reading abilities of a paladin, but he didn't need them - anyone who took a swing at him was fair game! His spiked weapon hit the dryad in the side, eliciting a cry of pain. Syngaard just smirked in satisfaction.

Orion stepped forward and attacked the dryad who had just killed her ghost dog. (Well, Carl would surely remanifest in the days to come, but still, that wasn't the point!) Her flaming short sword cut deep into the dryad's torso and the halfling smiled at seeing that fey creatures bled just as easily as mere mortals.

Kaspar raced forward into a flanking position with Syngaard, striking at the dryad with his tenryutsume. His striking fist brought with it a burst of electricity and the searing pain of fire. But she was facing Syngaard and was already striking at him with her sickle, which the bald fighter easily deflected off his shield.

Orion's dryad opponent took a step back from the halfling and cast another flame strike, this one encompassing Syngaard, Kaspar, and Daleth - it also caught the dryad attacking Syngaard, but that was apparently not a concern for the spellcasting fey, assured of her sister's ability to resist the fire damage of her spell. Syngaard and Daleth cried out in pain, while Kaspar once again avoided all damage by rapid-fire maneuvering around the spell's effects.

Galen took another ball of fire from his foe's produce flame spell but instantly retaliated with another smite attack, nearly dropping the dryad where she stood. Orion, seeing an opening, raced around the grove to attack Galen's opponent from behind, using her increased speed from Daleth's haste spell to get into position and strike silently with a sneak attack before the hapless dryad even saw her coming. Orion's blade sunk deep and when she pulled it out, the dryad fell to the ground, dead.

Daleth cast a scorching ray at the foe Orion had originally been fighting, causing her to hiss in pain and retreat temporarily back into her tree. Syngaard brought his morningstar crashing down upon his own designated foe, dropping her to one knee from the power of his blows. Kaspar attacked her with a flurry of blows, taking her out instantly.

For a moment, there were no enemies on the field of battle. That changed once the sole remaining dryad had caught her breath (and possibly engaged in some healing magic while inside her tree), springing back into the grove to fight her foes. (Of course, the fact that Galen had poured a flask of oil onto the trunk of her tree and stepped back to allow Daleth to cast an empowered fireball spell upon it might have had something to do with the matter - as a dryad, the death of her tree meant the end of her own life, so she had nothing to lose at that point.) She targeted Daleth upon exiting the tree - likely in retaliation for the fireball spell that currently had her home blazing in a full conflagration - casting a contagion spell on the elf that robbed him of his vision. "I can't see!" he called out to his friends.

Unseen by the elf, Galen stepped up to the dryad and swung his longsword at her. But then Daleth retaliated with a color spray spell that caught the dryad within its arc of effect - and, unfortunately, Galen as well. But both dryad and paladin were able to shrug off the worst of the spell's effects, leaving both locked in combat with each other.

But there were other combatants at hand, and the dryad didn't have much of a chance for victory at this point. Syngaard ran over and sent his morningstar crashing down upon one shapely shoulder; Orion raced up from the other direction and stabbed out with her flaming short sword in a flanking maneuver the dryad didn't see coming. For the second time that morning, Orion's fiery blade caused the death of one of their enemies - and, quite fittingly, this was the dryad who had slain her dog!

The dryads slain, the heroes set about setting fire to the other two trees, heeding the voice from Syngaard's dream that "rebirth can only arise after death." They also examined the slain dryads for anything of value, stripping from them several useful magical items: a pair of gloves made of hardened bark that were nonetheless as supple as leather, and which increased the wearer's strength; a cloak that increased the force of the wearer's personality, and a small pearl on a golden chain that Kaspar claimed for himself, stating it would help him achieve the clarity of mind to better anticipate the incoming attacks of enemies.

Then the heroes dragged each of the dryads over to their individual trees, allowing them to lean against the trunks and have their bodies burned to ashes along with their homes. They kept watch as the grove burned but no one intervened - the Viridian Grove was apparently too far away from the beaten track for there to be any wanderers nearby.

After the flames had died down, leaving skeletal remains against blackened trunks, the heroes returned to Durnhill via their ring of returning, which Orion fished out of her bag of holding.

- - -

Logan had anticipated everyone liking the treasure gained in this combat, but he miscalculated slightly: the gloves, which granted a +4 Strength bonus and had been intended for Syngaard, were useless to him as he already has a +4 Strength bonus granted by his belt of giant strength and the two don't stack. So Galen gained a +4 Strength bonus from the gloves and a +4 bonus to Charisma from the cloak, while Kaspar gained a +4 to Wisdom from the periapt. Daleth gained the indigo rose channeling wand and Orion gained the ability to sneak attack undead creatures.

And Syngaard? He got nothing - not even a copper piece. But at least he wasn't turned into a damned halfling, so I guess that's something.
 
Last edited:

Richards

Adventurer
ADVENTURE 30: THE ASTRAL GOLEM

PC Roster:
Daleth Stormsea, elf wizard 8
Galen Thorne, human paladin 10
Kaspar Hardstrike, elf monk 10
Orion Nightsky, halfling rogue 9
Syngaard, human fighter 10​

Game Session Date: 28 November 2018

- - -

"So what's up?" asked Syngaard, as usual the last to appear at the Enchanted Flagon as the result of a summons from Skevros. He got an ale from Karen before joining the others at the table. Skevros had two opened books before him: Hirek's spellbook, recently recovered by the conscripts in one of his old golem construction labs hidden away in the Baator's Breath Mountains; and the Black Journal, his own accounts during the time he'd been turned to evil after donning a helmet of opposite alignment. This latter work had been recovered by the conscripts in Skevros's manor house in the Azure Glade, before he'd been able to travel there under his own power. There was also a map of a section of some dungeon and a cloth bag.

In answer to Syngaard's initial question, Skevros dumped the contents of the bag onto the table, revealing ten emeralds. In response to Syngaard's unspoken question - before the scarred fighter even had a chance to voice it - Skevros turned to him and said, "Yes, this is a paying mission. Here is your payment up front. And you are also welcome to any treasures you might unearth in the area to which I will send you."

Each of the heroes grabbed up a pair of the emeralds. Syngaard was suitably impressed. "I like this mission already," he admitted.

"May we ask the parameters of our assignment?" asked Kaspar.

"Certainly. In Hirek's spellbook there is a section on the creation of golems. One form of golem in particular stood out to me, due to the reagents required in its creation - reagents I have only heard of once before, specifically within the Black Journal. I believe that while I was evil - under the effects of the helmet - I either built or attempted to build an astral golem."

"Golem?" echoed Galen. "I have heard of such creatures. They are said to be difficult to destroy."

"Indeed," agreed Daleth. "Typically, most spells have no effect on such constructs." The elf scowled, not liking the thought of having to go up against a creature likely immune to most of his spells.

"According to Hirek's writings on the subject, an astral golem is an altered version of a normal golem that, instead of using an elemental spirit to power it, uses an astral projection. It therefore functions more like a suit of armor for a powerful mage rather than as a traditional golem. With the notes in the Black Journal, I only know that I procured the reagents necessary to build one, not what type of base golem I would have made."

"Say what now?" asked Syngaard. "What's a base golem?"

Daleth looked disdainfully at the bald fighter. "There are many types of golem, the traditional ones being crafted of stone, clay, iron, or even flesh," he explained. "The astral golem might have been constructed to look like any of these golems, and might even be indistinguishable from the normal type of whatever golem it was patterned after."

"Quite so," agreed Skevros. "With my exile so recently modified by the Council of Guilds, I have been visiting my old home of late and found a secret room in my basement, one that wasn't there before my fall to evil and for which I have no recollection. Within, I found notes about converting an old dungeon I once visited during my adventuring days into a workshop. Scrying upon several old sites I had visited in the past, I found one of the dungeons shielded from scrying. I can only imagine that is the probable location of my workshop."

"And you wish us to visit this location?" reasoned Orion.

"Indeed. Your mission is to check out the workshop and determine if I did in fact complete an astral golem. If so, bring it back if possible, but destroy it rather than let it fall into the hands of anyone else. After all, I believe its purpose was likely to be used to find the Mithral Mage within 'Dwarven Hell' and it is therefore too dangerous a tool to allow the Seekers of Eternity to obtain."

"You can teleport us directly there?" asked Kaspar.

"I can. Having been there before, I should be able to deposit you anywhere within the dungeon's confines." He pushed the sketch of the dungeon he'd made: three separate rooms each connected by doors to an oblong central chamber. At Orion's prompting, Skevros further explained what he knew about each room. "This room contained some sort of magic circle inscribed upon the floor," he said, indicating the southernmost room. "It was blocked off from the main chamber by a wall of force, as was the northernmost room. That one held a desk and several bookshelves, mostly empty as I recall."

"And the eastern room?" asked Orion.

"It was a bedroom, I believe. This whole area was the dwelling place of a wizard of some repute."

"Where is it located?" asked Galen.

"The Azure Glade."

"That figures," scoffed Syngaard, finishing off his ale. "Can't seem to stay away from that damn place."

"Well, at least there will be no trudging involved," replied Skevros with a half-smile. "I'll teleport you there and you can return with the ring of returning once you've checked it out."

"Let's get our prep spells in place," suggested Galen, casting a protection from evil spell upon himself. Daleth followed suit with a magic circle against evil spell. Then Orion called Carl to her and climbed up into his saddle, everyone gathered close together, and Skevros cast the spell that sent them instantaneously across the miles to the central chamber of the dungeon depicted on his map.

There was a wall of force in place behind the heroes blocking access to the central chamber from the mountainside beyond, but the two similar spells Skevros had described were no longer present. However, there were wooden double doors in their place, leading to the northern and southern rooms. Another set of double doors led to what would be the wizard's bed chamber, at the far end of the chamber to the east. The place was unlit save for the ever-changing colors of four glowing, blobby spheres floating in the air above a quartet of plinths, two flanking each set of doors to the north and south. The conscripts recognized these as prismatic oozes, having seen them in place in Skevros's manor when they had first entered it.

"That's a good indicator that Skevros made this place his own," Orion suggested.

"Yeah, when he went all evil," Syngaard sneered. "Only he don't remember that part too good, so we gotta go check out stuff he oughta already know."

"Well, he's explained that the wish spell his wife cast to return him to his normal mental state erased the memories of what he'd done in the months--" the halfling began, only to be cut off by the scarred fighter.

"Yeah, yeah, whatever."

Kaspar examined the floating prismatic oozes. "They aren't attacking," he noted. "I assume they sense the rings we wear, which are attuned to Skevros."

"Don't really care so much about the why," sneered Syngaard. "Just glad they're stayin' put." He had his morningstar in hand, ready to attack, just in case.

Orion had climbed back down out of the saddle and approached the northern door with a practiced eye. Seeing no obvious traps, she touched the doorknob. It was locked, but unlocked with an audible "click" upon her touch.

"I didn't even see you use your lockpicks," observed Kaspar.

"That's because I didn't even have a chance to do so!" the halfling answered. But then another "click" indicated the door had automatically relocked itself; apparently it remained unlocked only for a brief moment before locking itself again if the door wasn't opened in that time.

"I'm going in," Orion announced, touching the doorknob again, waiting for the "click," and then opening the door.

Galen, in the meantime, approached the doors to the wizard's bedroom to the east. The doors unlocked at his touch, revealing a desk covered with jars of inks and paints directly before him. There was a small chest on the floor next to the desk, while the walls on the northern half of the room were mirrored, flanking a table. Lying facedown on this table, unmoving, was a humanoid figure with long, white-blond hair, apparently wearing plate armor of some kind of whitish material.

Seeing no obvious threat in the room, Galen backed out and closed the door quietly behind him. Then he returned to the others, who had crowded into the study Orion had opened. There were no sounds of combat, the paladin was glad to hear. Entering the room with the others, Galen saw a room with bookshelves covering two opposite walls, filled with journals written by someone with the initials "S.D." A single book stood out from the others by its different binding, the title "A Study on Advanced and Archaic Golem Construction" written upon its spine. Examining it, Orion said, "It's written by Khier - the name being used by the ghost of Hirek."

"Guy likes his golems," Syngaard observed.

One of the journals was sitting on the desk in the middle of the room. Orion examined it next, flipping it to its last entry, which read:

They all hate me. Red hates me. Little Red is scared when I move. The Broken Man hates me. The fey don't like me. Maybe I'll stay here forever, since she'll never come home.
The rest of the journal entries seemed to have a common theme of the writer waiting for someone to return.

"Shall we?" asked Galen, departing the study and heading to the room directly across the central chamber. It unlocked at his touch, and to his surprise when he opened it he was faced by three people, all of whom he recognized, and who were equally as surprised at the paladin's sudden appearance. The first two of these were a woman and a man, Sienna and Averos, the Ossirnian mercenaries who had tried setting off a war between their kingdom and Durnhill. The woman wore plate mail and had her vicious greatsword at the ready, while the man, in combat leathers, had a rapier hanging from his belt.

And the third figure was Skevros himself, who rose quickly from his seated position in the middle of the magic circle inscribed on the floor.

"Wha--?" began Galen in confusion. He instinctively detected their auras for signs of evil, and at the first indication that there was evil present he stepped back and closed the door behind him, hearing it automatically lock as he did so.

"Let us out!" came the muffled cries from inside the room, indicating the trio couldn't open the doors by themselves. Galen summoned his bonded mount from the Beastlands, and as Burt materialized in the chamber, the paladin ordered him to guard the door.

"Evil Skevros is in there, along with two of the Ossirnians who tried to start the war in the Treaty Keep, with Gumruk," Galen explained to the others.

"Evil Skevros? How is that even possible?" asked Orion.

"It isn't," replied Daleth. "He's an impostor, or an illusion, no doubt. But it would seem combat is imminent." And then the elven wizard cast a haste spell upon all of his companions, animal or otherwise.

But then a "click" announced the door unlocking and there stood Skevros; it made sense that the door would open to him, if he had been the one to craft it. "What are you doing here?" he demanded as he opened the door - and then came to an abrupt halt once he spotted the full-sized dire lion staring him down from the other side of the doorway. Behind Burt, Syngaard sized up his foes, determined they all looked to be human, and switched out his morningstar for his human bane scimitar. If any of them got past the dire lion, he'd be ready for them!

Averos stepped up beside Skevros, flaming rapier in hand, ready to fight the dire lion if it attacked. But then Kaspar squeezed past Burt, standing immediately before Skevros. "Why are you here?" he asked, wishing to start a discussion rather than a combat, if at all possible.

There was no recognition in Skevros's eyes as he stared at the monk, which, Kaspar realized, would be perfectly natural for the wizard if he was in fact the same Skevros from back in time when he had been evil. But how could he be here now? And if he were the same Skevros from earlier in his life, did the party dare kill him without also slaying their own, later-in-time Skevros? Kaspar hoped this was some sort of impostor - it made things so much easier if that were the case!

"We just want to leave this place," replied Skevros. "Step aside, all of you, and we'll let you live."

"Dunno if you noticed, bright boy, but it's five against three - and that's not counting our dire lion or our ghost dog," Syngaard countered. "Howzabout you drop them weapons to the ground while we figure out what to do with you?"

Neither of the trio seemed willing to comply. Orion therefore struck the first blow with a thunderstone thrown into the middle of the room. There was a sudden explosion of sound and both men grabbed the sides of their heads. From the noises they made, they seemed to have been deafened by the sonic attack. (Sienna had also winced in pain at the burst of sound but had apparently shrugged off the worst of the effects.)

Sienna was the first from her group to react, rushing forward with her vicious greatsword and swinging it at Kaspar with all of her strength behind the blow. Kaspar stepped back just in time to avoid the worst of it, but it still scored a line of blood down his chest. Sienna shuddered as the backlash from her magic blade sent a wave of harmful energy her way, but it merely drew an unsettling smile from her. Did she actually enjoy the pain using her blade caused her?

"Back, Burt!" called Galen, wanting the dire lion's bulk out of the way so the others could approach and fight. Burt obeyed, scooting to the side as his master approached, the sword of Zehkar in hand. Galen noted the mercenaries' auras blazed with unmistakable evil, but Skevros - or, more accurately, his impostor - had an aura untainted by evil. He thus made his first strikes against Sienna, channeling the holy power of his god through his sword as he brought a smiting attack against the young fighter. Sienna took the blow and seemed to enjoy the pain it brought. She was a weird one, all right!

Daleth raised his staff of divination and cast a true seeing spell. With his enhanced vision, he could now see that Averos and Sienna looked the same as ever, save for a silvery "tail" trailing behind each. The Skevros impostor, however, seemed to be made of porcelain with blue runes around the edges of its face and all over its jointed hands. It also had a silvery cord leading off from its back. "They're astral projections!" Daleth called out to the others. "And Skevros -- he's the astral golem!"

"Our orders were clear," Syngaard called out. "Bring it back if we can, otherwise destroy it!" The grin on his scarred face expressed his pleasure at getting to destroy the thing.

Skevros countered with a flame strike spell encompassing Kaspar, Galen, and Syngaard, although the monk's training allowed him to evade the evil flames altogether. Not so the other two, who took the full force of the spell. Syngaard grunted and prepared to charge into the room, but Daleth held him back. "I shall cast a fireball into the room!" he warned. Syngaard just growled in frustration - he didn't see why he had to stay back from the action just because Wizard-Pants wanted to get in some of his flashy spells - but he acquiesced, settling with hurling his javelin of returning at Sienna. Once again, she seemed to enjoy the pain of combat, the little freak!

Averos thrust the point of his flaming rapier at Galen, but Kaspar, still under the effects of Daleth's haste spell, threw so many punches and kicks at the mercenary rogue in rapid-fire succession that his astral form collapsed into itself. The monk realized the real Averos, wherever he was, was perfectly fine but at least he was no longer a factor in this fight.

Orion tossed an electrified dagger from her bag of blades at Sienna, who once again seemed to enjoy it. The fighter turned to face Galen and brought her vicious greatsword down on the paladin, seeming to draw as much pleasure from her own pain as harming her enemy. Galen staggered back from the blow and then, finding himself next to Syngaard, decided to cast a bull's strength spell on the scarred fighter. "I've increased your strength," he informed Syngaard. "The power of Hieroneous will enhance your strikes!"

"Don't feel no different," Syngaard grunted in reply, for the spell had indeed been wasted as Syngaard already wore a magic belt that increased his strength - and by a larger amount than Galen's spell would have granted. But while those two had been thus involved, Daleth cast his fireball spell into the room, channeling it through his metamagic rod to increase its effectiveness. The fiery blast destroyed Sienna's astral body but seemed to have no effect on the ersatz Skevros - if anything, it seemed to have made him even more powerful than before! Belatedly, Daleth recalled his own worries earlier, back at the Enchanted Flagon, that many golems were unaffected by most spells - and now he recalled that some of them even drew power from certain energy attacks! Well, now he knew not to use fire spells against an astral golem...a good thing to know.

Skevros, grinning wildly, cast an unholy blight spell that would have encompassed every hero he was up against...if he hadn't fumbled the spell due to his lingering deafness from Orion's initial thunderstone. His triumphant expression turned to one of disdain as he realized he had failed to cast the spell at all.

The party surged forward, attacking the astral golem from all four sides. Blades struck it, fists and elbows struck it, but altogether they seemed to be dealing it very little damage, no doubt at least partially due to the increase in power Daleth's fireball had provided the astral golem. Galen was forced to heal himself after a particularly effective blow from the astral golem's fists, which struck like a catapult's thrown stone. Finally, in an act of desperation, Daleth tried casting a dispel magic spell onto the golem. A look of shock crossed the face of the fake Skevros as the astral golem powered down, the astral form that had granted it its movement dissipating away to nothingness as the unknown caster's animating spirit was cast back into its physical body.

"Good job, Wizard-Pants!" affirmed Galen, slapping the wizard on the shoulder.

"Yeah, it almost makes up for that boneheaded move with the fireball," Syngaard added.

"You did well," Orion said. "You not only defeated our last - and most powerful - foe, but you also kept the astral golem intact! We can bring it back to Skevros to check out!" Mounted on Carl for the additional height, she dropped the opening of her bag of holding over the astral golem's head, drawing the entire construct into its extradimensional space.

"Let's go check out that last room," Galen suggested. He led the way to the room he'd peeked into earlier, with the blond-haired suit of white armor on the table.

Surprisingly, the figure was no longer facedown on the table but upright by the desk. It spun around, and Daleth - whose true seeing spell was still intact - could see a small, silvery cord floating out of the figure's torso. The blue runes all over the porcelain plates suggested this was a second astral golem; Skevros had likely been able to make them both at the same time, especially since both were merely the size of a man and most golems were much larger.

Kaspar, trying to avoid a fight if possible, asked, "Who are you? We have no desire to fight you." The fact that it had been in a separate room from the others allowed the elven monk to hope it hadn't been associated with the Ossirnian mercenaries and whoever had been powering the other astral golem.

In response, the figure looked rapidly at each of the party members in turn; getting a good look at its face, Kaspar realized (with a small amount of discomfort) that it bore a remarkable resemblance to Dow, the homunculus familiar Skevros had created to look after his daughter. The figure then held up a hand in a "wait" gesture before turning back to the desk and pulling out two scrolls. She gave these to Daleth, pantomiming that he should cast them upon her.

After a read magic spell allowed the elf to understand the scrolls' contents, he announced they contained the spells silent image and major image. "Well, go ahead!" prompted Orion.

Casting the first spell caused the illusion of the astral golem's plate mail construction to seem to flow into a single piece of unbroken (but bendable) porcelain, hiding the joints and the runes covering her body. The second spell allowed the figure to talk and change facial expressions.

"Thank you," said Dow - and it was recognizably the same voice as that of Skevros's foot-tall homunculus, which as far as anybody knew was still back at the Enchanted Flagon - or at least the extradimensional rooms the king's adviser kept in the back. But this raised even more questions: How did Skevros's familiar learn how to astrally project itself? How can a construct astrally project itself in the first place? And why would evil Skevros have made a human-sized Dow body for his familiar to project into?

"How did you get here?" Dow asked. "And why are you all so small?"

"So small?" asked Orion. "What do you mean?"

"You're all my size."

Sudden understanding struck the halfling. "We're not your size, Dow," she explained. "You're our size!" Dow looked down at her arms and back to the group. "All this time?" she asked in amazement. "I've been human-sized all this time?" She had assumed her master had made these rooms - and the astral golem she currently inhabited - scaled to that of her normal body.

Dow was short on explanations for now, eager to return to her master at the Enchanted Flagon, but she explained that she'd routinely spent time here in this body when she wasn't otherwise needed. Furthermore, the journals in the other room - spanning 32 years in all - had all been scribed by her.

"So you're 'S.D.'?" Orion asked.

"Yes," answered Dow. "'Sarah's Doll'." She sighed heavily - or at least seemed to, given she was nothing more than a magical construct given the appearance of a living being.

"I don't think she's ever coming back."

- - -

Logan further explained the last entries in Dow's journal: "Red" and "Little Red" were Dow's terms for Maria Quillbender and Hope Syngaard; "the Broken Man" was Syngaard himself, describing the scars on his face; "the fey" were Daleth and Kaspar, both of whom had an aversion to the doll-construct that spoke like a little girl as she had been intended as a plaything for a little girl, Skevros's own young daughter Sarah.

We're not sure who was inhabiting the "Skevros" astral golem, given that he was casting cleric spells at us and the third Ossirnian mercenary we encountered at the Treaty Keep was a wizard. But I'm sure we'll meet up with him again soon enough.

There were some goodies in the chest by the desk: a pair of boots of levitation which went to Syngaard, a necklace of adaptation that Orion claimed, a lesser metamagic rod of silent spell that went to Daleth, and a ring of sustenance that Galen took. There was also a helmet in there that turned out to be nonmagical; Skevros turned as white as a ghost when he saw it, as it was the (now unpowered) helm of opposite alignment that had turned him evil all those years ago.

And fighting astral bodies is a sure-fire way to allow the PCs to kill their enemies without actually killing them! Good one, Logan!
 

Richards

Adventurer
ADVENTURE 31: MISDIRECTION

PC Roster:
Daleth Stormsea, elf wizard 8
Galen Thorne, human paladin 10
Kaspar Hardstrike, elf monk 10
Orion Nightsky, halfling rogue 10
Syngaard, human fighter 10​

Game Session Date: 5 December 2018

- - -

For once, the summons coming from the rings they wore occurred while the group was out and about attending to their own individual duties, so Syngaard wasn't the last to arrive; instead, the conscripts showed up at the Enchanted Flagon at more or less the same time and entered the tavern as a group. As expected, Skevros was already in place at the round table. Not as expected were the five large emeralds on the table, one at each of the other seats.

The group each took their seats; Syngaard immediately picked up his emerald and examined it. "This is half of what we got last time," he complained.

"Quite so. However, that is merely a part of your payment for this mission. King Leornic is willing to pay you an additional nine emeralds upon completion of the task."

"Each?" asked Syngaard hopefully.

"Each," confirmed Skevros. That shut Syngaard up as he gave the king's adviser his full attention. The emeralds were each easily worth a full thousand pieces of gold - with nine more of them, the bald fighter would be able to purchase that item he'd had his eye on at that magic shop....

"I would infer the king's willingness to pay that much from the kingdom's treasury indicates the inherent danger of the mission," Daleth spoke up.

"And in that you would be correct," admitted Skevros. "The Azure Glade illusionists hunted down a pair of Seekers and chased them to a boulder where the Seekers said something about a mithral key and then disappeared into the boulder. Leorna, the Guildmaster of Illusion, thought it best to pass this information on to us that we might deal with the situation. After all, her group deals primarily in illusions - and is thus not particularly skilled in combat situations. Whereas we are much better suited to deal with the situation at hand."

"So we're getting paid this much just to go kill two Seekers?" Syngaard asked. "Not that I'm complainin', mind you."

"It's very likely those two are not alone. The boulder is very probably the doorway to a stronghold - or at least, one would imagine, a safe house. In any case, its loss would be a considerable blow to the Seekers of Eternity and thus, in the interests of safety to the kingdom of Durnhill, King Leornic deems it prudent for us to take care of the situation at once."

"I assume you have already scried upon the boulder in question?" asked Kaspar.

"I have tried. I cannot get a good 'read' on the actual boulder - likely because it is in fact not really there, but rather an illusion - but I have gotten a good viewing of the area around it. (The 'boulder' appears as a fuzzy, indistinct spot when I scry upon the area.) But I feel confident I will be able to teleport you directly to the area. From that point, you are to find a way through this boulder and wipe out any and all of the Seekers of Eternity you find within. I would also ask that you search the place for any evidence of their future plans."

"And if we go there and there are no Seekers within?" asked Orion.

"Then you must make do with the payment already received." Syngaard immediately frowned at the words of the king's adviser. He'd already pocketed his emerald but was already anticipating nine more just like it. There had damn well better be some Seekers for him to clear out of their boulder hideout!

"Is everyone ready?" asked Daleth.

"Hang on - I'm going to go get Carl!" said Orion, scooting down from her chair and running upstairs to fetch the ghost of her riding dog and get him saddled up. Syngaard took the opportunity to have Karen fetch him a mug of ale from the bar. Upon their return - the halfling now perched upon the ghost touch saddle that allowed her to ride her incorporeal mount - Galen decided to summon his dire lion companion from the celestial realms. "To me, Burt!" he called, and the massive feline's form manifested in the back of the tavern. Sensing their imminent departure, Syngaard hastily finished his drink.

Once everyone had gathered together, Skevros wished them good fortune and cast his teleport spell. Syngaard tightened his grip on his trusty morningstar, ready for action in case there were any Seekers about upon their arrival.

Normally, during a teleport spell no time seemed to pass at all - you were first in one location and then you were somewhere else, all in the blink of an eye. Not so this time: there was a feeling of the individual party members being pulled away from each other, accompanied by the sounds of diabolical laughter. But then they were in their new location - only it wasn't anything like Skevros had described.

It was nearly pitch black, for one thing. The elves, with their better vision, readjusted more rapidly to the decreased level of illumination and soon realized the darkness was due simply to it now being in the middle of the night - although it had been mid-morning upon their departure. Daleth looked around and saw he was surrounded by strange, straight-trunked growths rising up from the ground in all directions. Kaspar saw the same thing from his own point of view from wherever he was - for the two elves were no longer right by each other - but the monk immediately recognized the growths as bamboo. He knew bamboo grew nowhere near the kingdom of Durnhill; that fact, plus the irrefutable fact it was now night, led Kaspar to the realization they were likely somewhere on the other side of the world.

Orion, Galen, Carl, and Burt were each likewise separated from the rest of the group, surrounded by bamboo in all directions. For whatever reason, the group's teleport spell had not only shunted them halfway around the world but had also scattered them across a wider area and now they were each separated from each other. The human paladin and halfling rogue each immediately called out for their respective mounts.

Syngaard found himself likewise separated from the rest of the group but he at least had a slightly different view. There were bamboo forests on either side of him but he stood upon a road, out in the open. Before him was a small, wooden bridge spanning a narrow stream and upon the bridge stood four figures. The two in the front wore armor that seemed both strange to the seasoned fighter yet still somewhat familiar - but in the confusion of the moment, Syngaard couldn't immediately recall where he'd seen such exotic armor before. One of the two armored soldiers - women, now that he got a better look at them - held a metal rod with a glowing spherical flame at its end, casting the quartet in reddish illumination. Behind these two stood a man in robes, which Syngaard assumed was some sort of wizard, and another woman, this one wearing the same sort of loose robes and pants worn by Kaspar.

"Guys!" called out Syngaard, not at all concerned that this might catch the attention of the quartet on the bridge, for they were already facing his way and the glow from his own magic morningstar made it difficult for him not to be seen in the darkness of the night. "We got possible enemies on the road over here - maybe the ones who brought us here!" Syngaard didn't waste time trying to figure out how these four had sabotaged Skevros's teleport spell (the workings of magic were way beyond the fighter's ability to understand), but the fact of the matter was that this wasn't where they were supposed to have ended up, so somebody was responsible! Still, showing good sense for once, Syngaard opted not to charge into battle against these strangers, for they might not be enemies after all, might not even be the ones responsible for their hijacking - and anyway, it was four-against-one odds at present and who knew how far away the others might be?

The four on the bridge called out to Syngaard in some unknown language, which only increased the belief in the fighter's head that they were way, way farther away from that fake boulder than they were supposed to be. When Syngaard didn't react as they had anticipated - they had probably commanded him to throw down his weapons or something - one of the fighters in front pulled out a curved sword from her belt and the other wielded her weird rod-with-a-ball-of-fire-at-its-tip, each striking a defensive stance as if expecting the scarred fighter to charge at them. The male in the back row also pulled out a katana, while the fourth figure just suddenly disappeared, although whether she had teleported or turned invisible Syngaard had no way of knowing.

"Guys?" he called out again, a slight tremor of fear in his voice. Four against one odds were bad enough, but throw in some invisibility and weird weapons and the bald fighter was definitely looking for some support from his companions!

Kaspar had heard Syngaard's first call and started running in the direction from which it came. He burst suddenly out of the bamboo forest and onto the road, behind the trio visible on the wooden bridge. He too struck a defensive pose, ready to strike out at any who would attack him.

Galen had heard Syngaard's call as well but hadn't been able to pinpoint the direction from which it had come, so he called out for Burt again and smiled when he heard the lion give a roar in reply. The bamboo stalks between Syngaard and the samurai suddenly parted as a dire lion went crashing out of the forest, raced across the road, and dove into the forest at the other side. Apparently Burt had showed up off to Syngaard's left and Galen was in the forest to Syngaard's right, but that didn't help the scarred fighter any in the meantime! "Stupid lion!" Syngaard growled. What use was having a dire lion in the group if it wasn't going to help you fight your enemies?

But the potential enemies were shouting in surprise as well, for they had not expected to see a massive lion come crashing out of the bamboo forest like it had. These forests had a reputation for being haunted by demons - perhaps the reputation was well-earned?

Daleth could see light from the direction of the shouting and was heading in that direction when he encountered an unexpected sight: a lone, unconscious woman stripped of all gear and clothing and tied to a particularly wide growth of bamboo, with a pair of sheathed blades - one longer than the other - placed tantalizingly just out of reach. In the dim starlight he could just make out the misty silhouette of Carl further in the woods. Whoever this woman was, she could wait - she wasn't in any particular danger and had no wounds upon her body. The elven wizard cast a magic circle against evil spell upon himself, anticipating impending combat, and headed in the direction of the shouting.

"<Did you see the demon lion?>" asked Kitome, her katana raised to fend off any attacks should the beast return - or should the ugly, bald demon on the road ahead move to attack. She spoke in the native tongue of her homeland.

"<I did,>" replied Akiko, the flaming brilliant energy morningstar in her hand likewise ready to strike. "<We must stand ready to defend the lord's son from all enemies.>"

"Carl!" came Orion's repeated cry and the ghost-dog went bounding off to find his mistress. The halfling heard Carl's barks of reply before he came bounding from the bamboo forest and onto the bank of the stream. She met him from the other side of the stream and he happily ran above the water - his ghostly paws never once even getting wet - and Orion leaped into the saddle, glad to be reunited once again with her trusty companion. "Let's go!" she called, steering him along the stream toward the road bisecting the forest, where she could see three strangers with weapons drawn and readied for battle.

Syngaard approached the strangers warily, calling out to them (in a language none of them understood), "If you're responsible for us being here, you're gonna pay for interferin'!" He wished desperately that Galen was here; the paladin, with his ability to sense the inherent evilness of enemies, usually pointed out who the scarred fighter should attack. "Galen!" he called. "Are we fightin' these guys, or what?" Lacking any immediate resolution, Syngaard slowly approached the trio on the bridge, his human bane scimitar raised for action and shield raised in defense. (Having seen the trio before him were all apparently human, the fighter had hastily switched weapons as he approached.)

Nene suddenly reappeared behind Kaspar, her invisibility spell canceled as soon as she threw the pair of poisoned shuriken at the elven monk. Kaspar instinctively ducked one of the throwing stars but the other one struck true, its envenomed points stabbing deeply into the monk's shoulder. But then Kaspar reached over and plucked it from his body, tossing it disdainfully aside, mentally fortifying his body to reject the poison it contained.

The sudden combat had not gone unnoticed. Lord Shirimono barked an order to Kitome while pointing at the elven monk and the samurai nodded her willingness to do her Lord's bidding. Kaspar didn't notice her preparing to run up behind him; he was busy retaliating against Nene with a pair of shuriken of his own. While his lacked poison, his tenryutsume imbued the throwing stars with the powers of both fire and electricity, causing Nene to cry out in pain as each struck.

Galen, reunited with Burt, leaped upon the dire lion's broad back and followed the path of trampled bamboo Burt had left in his wake back to the road. The paladin's senses detected evil coming from the direction of Syngaard and the three people on the bridge before him. "Evil!" he cried out for the fighter's benefit.

"'Bout damn time!" Syngaard muttered to himself. He saw the samurai with their readied weapons and knew they were expecting him to go charging into them like a madman, so he did something he hoped would be unexpected: the threw his returning javelin at the one carrying the "miniature sun on a stick" (he wasn't overly eager to find out exactly what that weird weapon could do), and then closed the distance between them but stopped just far enough away to allow him to get in a good strike if either of the trio tried attacking him. He reached out with his shield hand and caught the returning magic javelin, keeping his scimitar ready to strike in his right.

Daleth suddenly exited the bamboo grove on the bank opposite Orion and Carl. Seeing the three enemies and having heard Galen's cry depicting them as evil, he channeled an empowered fireball spell through his metamagic rod. The flames engulfed all three figures on the bridge, stopping just short of reaching Syngaard. The man in robes screamed in pain and outrage, while his two female bodyguards took the attack in stoic silence.

Then Kitome, following her lord's orders, charged at Kaspar with her katana drawn. The blade came crashing down upon the elven monk, who sensed the attack at the last moment and tried to roll with the blow. His actions no doubt lessened the damage he received, but he felt the surge of unholy power cascading through the weapon's deadly blade.

Akiko, on the other hand, stood by her lord, magic morningstar ready to fend off the demon lion should it and its armored rider attack. In a last-ditch effort, she called upon the intruders to leave the area lest they be struck down by Lord Shirimono's guardians, but the words in her strange language meant nothing to the conscripts.

Orion moved Carl forward and tossed an electrified dagger from her bag of blades at Akiko. Nene, fearing her poisoned shuriken would do little against a wizard of such great power, opted to rush at Daleth instead and cast a burning hands spell at him. The flames blasting from her hands seemed mere wisps compared to the power of the elf's fireball spell, and Nene was aghast at how little an effect she had upon the foreign demon with the long, pointed ears.

Realizing his bodyguards would not likely be able to handle these demons on their own, Lord Shirimono stepped forward to strike at Daleth with his own ancestral blade, channeling all of his strength into one felling blow...only to have the blade deflected by an unseen force surrounding the foreign demon. The samurai lord snarled an epithet in his own native tongue.

Kaspar had turned to face Kitome and now gave her his undivided attention. He confounded her with a series of alternate strikes and fake-outs, forcing her to dodge to deflect an attack that never came while allowing a strike from a different direction to make contact. His tenryutsume sent bolts of electricity and blasts of flame erupting from each blow.

Galen concentrated on the auras of the combatants before him, narrowing down the overall sense of evil he had felt coming from their direction. Sure enough, all four members of the group sported auras tainted with evil. Worried about what that strange, fire-globed weapon might do to his dire lion, Galen leaped from Burt's back and ran past Akiko to help Kaspar take down Kitome. Akiko struck at the paladin with her glowing morningstar as he ran past but missed, whereas the paladin's sword of Zehkar struck true when he swung his blade at the katana-wielding samurai, felling her with a blow that cut deep through her armor and into the body beneath it. Despite the blood flowing in a rapidly-expanding pool beneath her, when Galen pulled his blade from her body she still breathed, albeit shallowly - and it was up to the gods to determine how much longer she would continue to do so.

Burt, seeing his master cut down one samurai before he could approach and aid him, turned and pounced at the other, scoring a few hits on Akiko with his teeth and claws. (If the dire lion had any qualms against going up against a woman with a small sun attached to a metal rod as a weapon, he gave no outward sign of it.)

Daleth was now under attack by both Lord Shirimono and Nene. Taking a step back away from each so he could get in some quick spellcasting, he threw a glitterdust spell at the pair. The ninja, Nene, was unaffected (although now covered in glittery dust that made her sparkle in the illumination from the glowing weapons all about), but the samurai lord was nowhere near as lucky as his devoted follower. Blinded by the spell, he backed away from combat and started staggering in what he thought was a safe direction: along the bank of the stream.

Ignoring the wounds inflicted by the demon lion and knowing the power of her own weapon, Akiko opted to attack Syngaard. The flaming orb that made up the head of her weapon passed straight through the scarred fighter's shield and armor and impacted heavily into his ribs; despite the burns that accompanied the resulting wound, Syngaard realized it felt very much like being struck by a morningstar. (And Syngaard had plenty of memories of what being struck by a morningstar felt like; most of the scars on his face were made by the morningstar he now wore at his belt before he took the weapon from the thug who had attacked him with it, back when he was just a teen.) But despite the pain of the wound, a broad grin spread across Syngaard's scarred face, as he realized the only thing better than a paying mission was a mission where you got to claim the enemies' weapons for your own. If this fire-orb-stick-thing was really nothing more than a magic morningstar, then Syngaard knew he'd be able to put it to good use in the future, just as he'd done with his returning javelin and his human bane scimitar, both of which he'd taken from enemies who had used the weapons against him.

Akiko stifled a gasp of fear at the sight of the scarred demon's unholy grin. She was the first of her group to die with honor, in combat against the enemies of her lord, as Syngaard's human bane scimitar crashed down upon her. Her flaming brilliant energy morningstar dropped from her grasp as she fell, Syngaard's greedy eyes following its every move.

From Carl's back, Orion threw another pair of electrified daggers at Nene, causing the ninja to swear at the halfling's uncanny accuracy. But she had other, more pressing concerns than her own safety. Casting a spell, she darted forward not at Orion or Carl (nor even at Daleth, who was a mere step away from the spellcasting ninja) but at Lord Shirimono, her master. At her touch the blinded samurai became invisible, the shining, glittery motes of dust that covered his body (the result of Daleth's glitterdust spell) likewise fading from view. Stumbling around blindly, unaware even of his own invisible nature, the samurai lord surprisingly not only managed to avoid combat with any of the foreigners in the area but also managed not to fall into the stream at his right.

But Nene's spellcasting had left her open to attack and Kaspar was more than willing to take advantage of that opening. He raced forward and punched with a fist striking as swiftly as a cobra, diverting the ninja's attention long enough for Carl to creep forward in full stealth mode (not even touching the ground beneath him), which in turn allowed Orion to unsheathe her flaming short sword and send it striking deep into Nene's back. The ninja opened her mouth in surprise, but the only thing that passed from her lips was a gush of her own blood. Then she, too, crumpled to the ground, dead.

With two dead and one bleeding out, the conscripts looked about for the missing samurai lord. Ignoring his vision and concentrating on sensing the auras of those around him, Galen felt Lord Shirimono's presence in an area along the stream. He called out the samurai's location and directed his dire lion to attack; Burt did so but only managed to hit once with a pair of claws, not being able to see what he was attacking.

"Where is he?" asked Syngaard, looking around for the invisible guy. He'd picked up the flaming brilliant energy morningstar before anybody else could lay claim to the weapon.

"To your right!" called Galen.

"I don't see nothin'!" the fighter insisted.

"Idiots!" hissed Daleth to himself, casting a see invisibility spell over his own eyes. Lord Shirimono appeared quite visibly to the elven wizard. "Syngaard: he's about twenty feet to the north of your present position!" he called.

"Which way's north?"

"THAT WAY!" yelled Daleth, amazed at the idiots he was forced to deal with while serving on this team of conscripts. In the meantime, Lord Shirimono kept stumbling further away along the streambed. The elf indicated the exact area with another empowered fireball cast directly at the fleeing foe. Lord Shirimono yelped in pain at the fiery explosion but didn't stop his awkward retreat.

Syngaard, finally aware of the rough area where his foe was to be found, took him out in perhaps the smartest way possible: rather than swinging a weapon at the air and hoping to hit, the fighter cast his arms straight out from his sides and ran as fast as he could directly forward; as soon as he collided with something he couldn't see, he brought his arms in to give his unseen foe a bear hug. The two (only one of which was visible) collided and fell to the ground. Lord Shirimono struggled feebly, but was no match for the strength of the ugly demon pinning his arms to his sides from behind.

Galen, in the meantime, had stabilized Kitome by giving her the most minimal amount of healing possible; she was still unconscious but would no longer bleed to death. The paladin had intended to interrogate her about how they had all come to be here; hopefully Wizard-Pants had some spell that could help with the language barrier. Kaspar, in the meantime, had gone over to where Daleth had told him there was another unconscious woman bound to a bamboo growth, and the monk cut the bindings lashing her in place with the sharp edge of one of his shuriken. He then untied the sash from about his waist and removed the garment from about his arms and torso, placing it around the unconscious woman for modesty's sake. Then, gathering up her weapons (he presumed they were hers), he lifted her and brought her back to the rest of the group.

Daleth used a tongues spell from his staff of divination to allow himself to speak the young woman's language, once Galen had determined her aura held no taint of evil and he had brought her back to consciousness with a healing spell. She cringed upon awakening and finding herself surrounded by strange-looking foreigners, but Daleth spoke soothingly to her in her own language and that helped calm her down.

"What is your name?" the elf asked the young woman wearing Kaspar's top.

"I am called Mikito, bamboo spirit," the young woman replied, obviously thinking Daleth was some sort of spirit of the grove.

"We just fought a man with three female bodyguards," Daleth informed her. "Were they the ones who bound you in the grove?"

"Are they dead?" the woman asked in lieu of answering the elf's question.

"Two of the women are dead. The man and one of the women in armor are still alive."

"That is too bad," snarled the woman. "It would please me to hear that Lord Shirimono had been slain." Once Daleth translated her words to the others, Syngaard piped up, "Not too late for that!" He still held the struggling, invisible in a bear hug the samurai couldn't break. "Do we need this guy alive for any reason?"

Galen thought it over. "I suppose not--" he began, thinking they already had another unconscious foe they could interrogate and a former victim giving willing testimony to the group. That was all Syngaard needed to hear; he released his right hand from the invisible samurai lord long enough to bring his new weapon crashing down upon the man's head, crushing it instantly. The samurai's body regained visibility upon his death. "Done!" Syngaard called back to the group.

Slowly, the woman's story took form. She was one of her lord's samurai bodyguards, assigned to protect his son, Lord Shirimono. While she would speak no ill of her lord, she lamented that he did not see in his son the evil that lurked there and would not believe the truth of his actions even with proof of his evildoing before him. "I have been steadfastly loyal to my lord, but I was punished by Lord Shirimono for failing to meet up to his own twisted standards of behavior. After he had finished with me, he left me bound in the haunted grove to die of exposure."

"Haunted?" asked Daleth.

"Oh yes," insisted Mikito. "The grove is known to be haunted by many strange demons."

"So what will you do now? Will you return to your lord, the father of Lord Shirimono?"

Mikito hung her head. "I cannot. If I were to return to him, even with proof of his son's actions, I would be faced with death and dishonor. As I will be when his body is found, after I had failed to protect him."

"We could speak on your behalf," offered Kaspar once Daleth had translated the young woman's words.

"It cannot be. You are outsiders; your words hold no value. You would be executed as spies."

"Then perhaps you would like to come back with us," offered Daleth. "We live in a land far away from here, where you would never be found." Mikito seemed to be thinking it over.

"What are we going to do with her back home?" Orion asked, confident that the woman couldn't understand her words.

"I'm sure Skevros can put her to good use," reasoned Galen. "I mean, he found a good use for Gumruk - I'm sure he could find a use for an exotic girl who's good with a weapon."

"I'm sure Mama Kat could put her to good use, too, come to think of it," interjected Syngaard. "Exotic girls bring in extra coin."

"Syngaard!" hissed Orion. "You're not sending her to your brothel!"

"Well, maybe as a bodyguard then, like me," he countered. "Mama Kat's still got need of a bodyguard when I ain't around - like all the time I spend with you lot getting teleported all across creation."

"I will accept your kind offer," Mikito finally answered Daleth, oblivious as to what the others had been saying about her potential fate in Durnhill.

"So what should we do about this one?" asked Orion, indicating the unconscious form of Kitome. Mikito explained through Daleth that Kitome would suffer much deserved dishonor for her continued survival when her lord's son had been slain under her watch, and furthermore that the party would most likely be mistaken for the strange ghosts that supposedly haunted this forest.

Before leaving, the group went through the possessions of those they had slain (and of Kitome, still unconscious and now tightly bound). Mikito recovered her own clothing, armor, and weapons which had been stashed away nearby in the grove; once back in her own garments she gave back Kaspar his robe and sash with a grateful bow. The elven monk returned the bow and put the garment back on. Most of the enemies' gear (save for Syngaard's new weapon) was stuffed into the bags of holding, Orion guessed they would sell for a fair amount of coin to collectors if no one else.

"Hey! That reminds me!" piped up Syngaard. "We ain't gettin' our other nine emeralds just yet!"

"We'll earn them soon enough," Galen promised. "But first we must return to Skevros, so he can try teleporting us again."

"Maybe this time he ought to send us a little farther away from the boulder in question," suggested Daleth. "I suspect the misdirection of the teleport spell was a defensive measure by the Seekers of Eternity to keep their enemies from using such methods to gain entrance to their stronghold."

"Next time we'll just walk up to it and kick our way in," suggested Syngaard.

"You get to do the kicking," offered Orion.

"Fine by me."

"Fine by me, too," replied the halfling, smiling at the thought of Syngaard with a broken toe after kicking an actual boulder - she wouldn't put it past the stupid lunk!

"If we're ready...?" asked Kaspar, drawing forth the ring of return from his extradimensional bag of holding. Everyone grabbed hold of the ring (or, in the case of Burt and Carl, were ridden by one who did), and then the monk activated the magic of the device. In an instant they were gone, leaving the "haunted grove" behind them.

- - -

Logan had me queue up several episodes of "Music from the Hearts of Space" with an Asian feel for the background music of this session, but we started out with music with a completely different feel. Then, when the teleport spell was hijacked, he had me switch the music. I therefore had a pretty good clue going in that we were headed into Kara-Tur (or its equivalent), but I said nothing; he's held on to other, similar behind-the-scenes secrets for me when I've DMed my campaign. (There are occasional advantages to having two DMs in the same household.)

And Syngaard is well and truly pleased with his +2 flaming brilliant energy morningstar. I was tempted to have him sell his original one, but I think he'll hang onto it as a backup weapon in case anything happens to his new toy. (Plus, it has sentimental value.) After all, he now has enough money to buy that thing he's been saving up for, even without those other nine emeralds....
 
Last edited:

Richards

Adventurer
ADVENTURE 32: INTO THE LION'S DEN

PC Roster:
Daleth Stormsea, elf wizard 9
Galen Thorne, human paladin 11
Kaspar Hardstrike, elf monk 11
Mikito, human samurai 10
Orion Nightsky, halfling rogue 10
Syngaard, human fighter 11​

Game Session Date: 19 December 2018

- - -

"What the Hell--?" exploded Syngaard.

The ring of return had never before failed to teleport the team right back to the place from which Skevros had teleported them away for whatever mission they'd been assigned. But his initial teleport spell had taken them halfway around the world and now, upon their return, they were not back at the Enchanted Flagon as expected - rather, they were in a fancy manor house. At the end of a long table stood a woman they'd never seen before, who looked over at them in unperturbable silence upon their arrival.

Instinctively, Galen examined the aura surrounding the woman and sensed no taint of evil. But at the same time, Orion recognized their surroundings. "We're in Wrencrofft Manor!" she exclaimed.

That gave Galen enough information to make a logical guess as to the woman's identity. "Are you Dow?" he asked her. The woman's shoulders sagged as if in disappointment. She reached up and pulled a ribbon from her hair; as it fell away, her body and garments flickered and became the life-sized astral golem Skevros had made for his homunculus to inhabit. "...Yes," she admitted, saddened that she hadn't been able to fool them for long.

A flurry of questions followed. "What are we doing here?" Syngaard demanded. "Where's Skevros?" asked Daleth. "Who's that?" Dow asked, pointing at Mikito, the young samurai woman the team had rescued from the bamboo forest. "What's up with teleport spells goin' all screwy all of a sudden?" demanded Syngaard, not even waiting for his first question to be answered before firing off another. Finally, Dow raised her hands for silence and did her best to give the group the explanations they desired.

"I don't know why you ended up somewhere else," she said. "But shortly after Daddy teleported you away to your mission, he received a summons from the king. He's there now with him, so the ring of return brought you here to me, instead."

"Ugh," grumbled Syngaard. "Can you stop callin' him 'Daddy?' That's just plain creepy."

"But he is my Daddy, since he made me," Dow argued. "In any case, he told me over our link that your current mission is now on hold. Daddy will arrive shortly to brief you all in person."

"This sucks," Syngaard grumbled to himself. "So now we gotta cool our heels here? At least the tavern's got ale on tap."

"Daddy built a back door into the extradimensional rooms he keeps at the tavern," Dow explained helpfully, pointing to the fireplace behind her. "Since Karen is a part of the permanent Mordenkainen's magnificent mansion spell Daddy cast, she can be summoned from here as well." Her entire attitude was one of someone desperately wanting to be liked and somewhat confused as to why she wasn't.

"Oh yeah?" Syngaard asked, perking up at once at this information. "Karen! Bring me an ale!" he called to the fireplace. A few moments later, Karen stepped through the massive fireplace (which was big enough that she barely needed to duck), holding a tankard of ale in one hand, which she set down before the bald fighter with a smile. Syngaard pulled out a chair from the long table and made himself at home. "That's more like it!" he declared. Karen took orders from the rest of the group and they settled in around the table to wait for their boss to finish up with the king. Mikito winced at the smell and taste of the unfamiliar concoction she had been given. She took an obligatory sip and quietly pushed her mug away. These new friends of hers certainly had some strange customs!

Then, at an unseen signal, Dow stepped over to the head chair and pulled it back from the table. It was instantly filled with the body of Skevros Wrencrofft, the king's adviser. "Ah, you're back," he said. "I trust--" he stopped short upon seeing Mikito sitting at the table with the rest of his team. "And who is this?" he asked.

Kaspar made the introductions and briefly explained what had happened and how they came to have a young female samurai among their group. "Well, welcome then," Skevros said, smiling at Mikito. She bowed her head to her new friends' master.

"In any case, I have both good news and bad news. Your previous assignment is on hold; I'm afraid the Seekers' hidden safehouse will have to remain on the back burner, for now at least."

"Well, that sucks," grumbled Syngaard. They were going to each be paid another nine emeralds for completing that mission, and now it looked like they weren't going to be given the chance.

"Yes, hence the 'bad news' part of my statement, Syngaard. While you were away, I was summoned by King Leornic. Messengers from Ossirna had arrived at Durnhill, as bold as you please, making a formal complaint to His Majesty that I had stolen property belonging to their kingdom and that if it was not returned properly it would be considered an act of war."

"What did they claim you had stolen?" asked Orion.

"Interestingly enough, my own astral golem," replied Skevros with a smirk. "And the messengers were none other than the individuals you encountered in my old lab attempting to steal the golem for themselves. Their claims were proven false when I arrived with the astral golem, which I had crafted in my own likeness - they were also quite taken aback that the seal of Ossirna was absent from the golem."

"So what's our new mission -- killing them three?" asked Syngaard hopefully.

"Alas, no - that would also be construed as an act of war, I fear. However, as per the treaty between Durnhill and Ossirna, if either kingdom sends agents to the other under false pretenses (as they most certainly have done in trying to 'legally' steal my astral golem), the other is allowed to send their own agents for a similar amount of time to gather information about the current state of the kingdom. As we have very little info upon the southern kingdom, this mission is now your top priority. Pay will consist of 2,000 pieces of gold each upon completion. Your party will set out tomorrow morning, accompanying the trio of Ossirnans back to their kingdom to give the king of Ossirna Leornic's official rebuttal. While you are there, you are to gather whatever information you can about the kingdom of Ossirna and report back. And Syngaard, I cannot stress this enough: any harm you inflict upon the Ossirnan messengers will also be taken as an excuse for war. They're spoiling for a war and King Leornic is adamant that we will not fall into that trap. Are we understood?"

"Yeah, yeah, play nice with the spies," grumbled Syngaard. "I got it."

"Very well. In the meantime, I will send Anuja and Dow to the boulder to see what they can learn about the teleportation irregularities. That will be all; you are dismissed until tomorrow morning."

"Wait a minute!" exclaimed Galen. "That was all the bad news, wasn't it? What was the good news?"

"Ah, yes, the good news," replied Skevros. "His Majesty is quite the collector of exotic weapons and armor. I am certain I can get you a good price on the samurai weapons and armor you obtained from Miss Mikito's former compatriots."

"Well, that's somethin', anyway," agreed Syngaard. The group, as one, walked through the unlit fireplace behind Skevros's chair and ended up in his extradimensional quarters hidden inside a back room of the Enchanted Flagon. Syngaard took a moment to check on Maria Quillbender and his own little daughter - who was fast asleep in an afternoon nap - before joining the others in the tap room.

"We shall meet back here tomorrow morning," Galen announced, "then escort the Ossirnans back to their own lands. In the meantime, if anyone needs any supplies, now would be the time to stock up. We stand dismissed until then."

"Already been dismissed," Syngaard mentioned on his way out the door. It was one thing working for Skevros; he was after all the personal adviser to the king. But Galen was just another of the conscripts, no better than any of the others, although he had started putting on airs of leadership ever since he'd been able to summon that dire lion of his from the Beastlands whenever he felt the need. Well, two could play at that game....

- - -

The conscripts met up back at the tavern the next morning, Orion having shared her room overnight with Mikito, who, as a stranger in this strange land, had nowhere else to stay. Skevros was there with a familiar chest sitting on the table before him.

"Oh, not these again," grumbled Syngaard.

"I fear so," admitted Skevros, opening the chest and passing around the green-and-gold tabards that identified the wearers as official ambassadors of the kingdom of Durnhill. He passed one over to Mikito as well, then pulled something else from the chest. It was an amulet on a thin, metal chain. He passed this to the young samurai, motioning for her to put it on.

"Can you understand me all right?" he asked Mikito once she had placed the amulet around her neck.

"I-- I can, thank you," Mikito answered, bowing her head at the king's adviser. The amulet of tongues magically translated the words spoken to Mikito into her own language and likewise translated her own words into the language of the person to whom she was speaking.

Once the conscripts and their samurai companion were all in their tabards, Skevros reiterated the point he had made yesterday afternoon. "Remember: no harm is to come to the three Ossirnans who made the official complaint," he said. "If there are no questions, then you may head outside; Anuja will take you to the Ossirnans, who have been guarded in their assigned quarters overnight."

"Wait a minute," piped up Syngaard. "Before we go, I got somethin' to show you all."

Skevros sighed in weariness; it was always something with the scarred fighter! "Very well, what is it?" he asked Syngaard.

The bald fighter fumbled around in his pants before answering. Then, standing up at the table, he pulled his hand out from beneath the bottom of his tabard and slapped it onto the table before him. "I want to show everybody my Dick!" he exclaimed proudly.

Orion shrieked and looked away; the elves both gasped in surprise - Syngaard was known to be crude, but he'd never stooped to this level before! But then Syngaard removed his hand, and there on the table was a small statuette, carved from bronze, of a winged creature with the body of a lion and the head and front talons of an eagle.

"He don't look like much," Syngaard admitted, "but when you rub him, he grows bigger!"

"That is a figurine of wondrous power," Daleth observed. "A bronze griffon."

"Yep. His name's 'Dick.' From now on, I'll be heading into battle with my Dick out and ready!" Skevros just closed his eyes and rubbed his forehead as if at the beginning stages of a headache.

"Only you would be that idiotic," remarked Orion, climbing onto the ghost of her trusty riding dog. "Can we just get on with it now?"

Galen advised, "Best to put your Dick away for now. We have a mission to perform."

"Okay," agreed Syngaard, putting the bronze griffon statuette back into his pocket. "But I'll be ready to whip it out when necessary!"

Anuja and her wagon were just outside the tavern, ready to take the conscripts to the "ambassadors" from Ossirna. They had been housed overnight in a small building with castle guards posted outside. These guards nodded at the conscripts as they approached, recognizing them at once. One opened the door to the building, poked his head inside, and had the three Ossirnans exit. The group recognized Sienna and Averos immediately, having met them twice already - once at the Treaty Keep and once as they attempted to retrieve Skevros's astral golem. The third figure wore a cleric's garments; they had a sneaking suspicion this was the unseen cleric who had been "piloting" the astral golem. "I am Vikan," the cleric grinned. "It is good to see you again."

"Let's go," commanded Galen, piling them into the cart. "We'll take you to the border in the wagon, but then from there we go on foot." They wanted to minimize the time spent in Durnhill and give themselves plenty of time to see Ossirna for themselves.

As Anuja guided the wagon southward, Vikan offered to school his escorts on Ossirnan law. "There are three main laws you must obey to keep yourselves out of trouble," the cleric said. "First of all, magic cannot be performed upon another person without their consent; the penalties for violation can range from a fine of 1,000 pieces of gold to public execution, depending upon the severity of the transgression. Secondly, this goes double for divination effects, to include that 'detect evil' that you paladins like to do willy-nilly."

"Double?" asked Syngaard.

"That is correct."

"How you gonna publicly execute somebody twice?"

"The fine is doubled," explained Vikan. "The execution would occur but the once...but do not dismiss our ability to execute the same person a second time. It can certainly be done."

"That seems excessively paranoid," observed Orion. "Why would you fear having evil exposed - unless you were acknowledging your own inherent evil? It seems to me such a law would only exist to protect the evil."

"On the contrary - it is to protect the innocent from the overzealousness of self-righteous fools like this specimen before me," said Vikan, indicating Galen. "There is a tale of a paladin that murdered 17 people - five of them children! - because one of them was evil and the others were considered 'acceptable losses in the fight against evil.' We will tolerate no such crimes here." Galen refused to take the bait of such a provocative statement; he continued walking, his face a mask.

"Finally, the open display of holy symbols other than those approved of by the king shall incur a 1,000-gold-piece fine. I should specify that Hieroneous is not one of the approved." Vikan smirked at Galen, who merely tucked the holy symbol of Hieroneous he wore on a chain about his neck beneath his armor, out of view.

"And may I ask which deities are allowed?" asked Kaspar. "You yourself are a cleric - may I inquire which god you serve?"

Vikan looked over at the elf. "You may not," he answered.

"Hey, I got a fun idea," said Syngaard suddenly. "Howzabout you all show us the backs of your necks? Kinda findin' myself curious if you got any hourglass tattoos or anything.""

"'Howzabout' you keep your curiosity to yourself?" retorted Vikan, and then the two groups were silent for the rest of the walk to the castle, each internally wishing for the other group's sudden and painful death. Before they reached the outskirts of the city, Daleth turned to each of his companions in turned and officially asked them for permission to cast a spell upon them, in keeping with Ossirnan law. Once he had received their permission, he cast a Rary's telepathic bond spell upon each of the conscripts (and Mikito), allowing them all to talk telepathically amongst themselves without being heard by the Ossirnans. (It actually took two such spells for the elf wizard to include everyone, as he had yet to attain the spellpower to link six people at once.)

On the way to the palace the group passed what looked to be a church devoted to the Seekers of Eternity, for it bore the sideways hourglass symbol the members all seemed to have tattooed upon the backs of their necks. Galen stared at the symbol on the building and then back at Vikan, but the cleric said nothing.

Once just outside the throne room, the three Ossirnan "ambassadors" dismissed themselves and castle pages took over. They opened the double doors and the Captain of the Guard accompanied the conscripts in to see the king. The captain was a tough-looking woman who seemed to brook no nonsense. "His Royal Majesty, King Velkis!" she announced. "These are the ambassadors from Durnhill," she said, making "Durnhill" sound as distasteful on the tongue as "Dunghill" might be.

"And where is my astral golem, which was stolen from me?" demanded King Velkis, apparently eager to get straight to the heart of the matter.

"It is with its rightful owner, the man who created it," replied Galen. "By what right does Ossirna claim it?"

"It was built by an acquaintance of mine, a man named Vesskor," the king replied.

<'Vesskor' is an anagram of 'Skevros,' assuming that's a double-s in the name,> pointed out Daleth over the mental link. <It's possible Skevros used a pseudonym when he was evil.>

"The man who built it is still alive, and he constructed the astral golem in his own image," countered Galen. "As he is a citizen of Durnhill, he will retain his own property in our kingdom. This is the official response of King Leornic the Third."

"Very well then," agreed King Velkis. "It appears this was all just a misunderstanding. By way of apology, I offer each of you a gift."

"That is not necessary, Your Majesty," quickly replied Kaspar.

<He backed off too soon,> suggested Galen.

<This is no doubt a trap of some sort,> agreed Daleth.

<I have no means of detecting evil with any certainty,> piped up Mikito. <But he reminds me of the son of my former lord. It would be unwise for us to trust him.>

"But I insist!" replied King Velkis. "Your refusal to accept a gesture of good faith between nations would be...detrimental to our kingdoms' relations."

Galen looked at the others, then bowed his head. "Your Majesty is very kind," he said. "We would indeed be honored to accept your gift."

"Maelina, please escort our guests to the treasure vault. Let them each take a token of their own choosing."

The Captain of the Guard bowed before her king. "By your will, Your Majesty," she acknowledged. Then, turning to the conscripts, she said, "This way" and walked briskly from the throne room. She took them down a hall to a side door, which she unlocked with a key from a ring she wore on her sword-belt. Opening the door, she ushered the conscripts into the treasure room. "One item each," she said.

But the conscripts were hesitant to enter the treasure chamber, convinced this was some sort of a trap. "Oh, for pity's sake!" exclaimed Maelina. "They certainly make lily-livered folk up north, don't they? Here - I'll go in first, if you like."

<This is a trap.>

<Oh, quite definitely.>

<Are the items inside all cursed? Or maybe they'll make it easier for their wizards to scry upon us?>

<It could be as simple as accusing us of having stolen from their king. That would be sure to get us executed, and that's all the trigger they'd need to start a war between the two kingdoms.>

"Hey, is that a dragon?" Syngaard spoke aloud, forgetting he could simply "talk" to the others via their shared telepathic link. But he was looking into the treasure vault, which had coins and gems spread all around the floor in loose piles. There was a statue of a dragon, looking to have been carved out of a massive chunk of pure amethyst, perched upon a stone plinth as if overlooking its hoard. At the base of the statue's feet sat an ornately-covered book.

"A statue, yes," agreed Maelina. "Come see for yourselves." But still the conscripts were hesitant to enter.

"I'll go in first," offered Syngaard aloud as he stepped into the room.

<Use the link, you dolt!> chided Daleth. <That's what it's there for!> Syngaard looked all about him, looking for the link the elf was talking about. "Don't see no link!" he said.

Daleth seethed with irritation but entered the room behind the scarred fighter. The others followed. "See? Nice and safe," reassured Maelina.

<Don't touch anything!> Galen warned the group. Orion began appraising the contents of the room. <There's about 15,000 gold here, guys!>

"We get to pick anything we want? What about the dragon here?" asked Syngaard. It was about the size of a horse, perhaps larger.

Maelina snorted. "If you can pick it up and carry it out of here, it's all yours! But it probably weighs a ton!"

Kaspar, in the meantime, had noticed a closed and barred door at the back of the room. "Where does this lead?" he turned to ask Maelina. But, predictably, Maelina had sidled back to the door through which they had all entered and was pulling it shut behind her, leaving the conscripts inside the vault. Kaspar's vision turned to the dragon statue, which he could have sworn had just let out a breath. "The dragon's alive!" he called out to the others.

"You certainly took your time!" chided the amethyst dragon in the Common tongue. "Most people head straight for the treasure!"

"We are not here of our own accord," Kaspar tried reassuring the dragon. "Nor do we wish any of your treasure. We simply wish to leave unharmed."

"That may be a problem," recognized the dragon. "The only reason you're locked in here with me is so I can eat you."

"That ain't gonna happen," Syngaard promised. "We've taken on tougher'n you!"

"Really? I find that unlikely," scoffed the dragon. "And I've taken on groups of your number before."

<He's not evil,> Galen reported over the telepathic link.

<You divined his aura? That's illegal here!>

<Only against people. Vikan said they 'can't be performed on another person.'>

<That seems legally questionable.>

<Even so.>

"But if you kill us here in Ossirna, it will cause a war between our two nations," replied Orion, hoping to use the fact that the dragon wasn't evil to appeal to its good nature.

"Not at all!" reassured the dragon. "Even now, there are doppelgangers reading your thoughts, the better to impersonate you once you've been slain and eaten! They'll head on back to Durnhill in your place and nobody will ever know the difference!"

Kaspar had heard enough. As much as he preferred talking his way out of a combat whenever possible, it didn't look like that approach was going to work here - plus, if there were doppelgangers ready to take their places, there was technically nothing preventing them from heading to Durnhill at any moment! Time was therefore at a premium and the elf monk took matters into his own hands - quite literally. Exploding forth into a flurry of blows, he struck at the dragon several times before the creature was even aware that combat had begun. However, the flames of his tenryutsume didn't seem to faze the dragon at all; apparently amethyst dragons weren't particularly bothered by fire. Kaspar passed that nugget of information to the others over their shared link.

Galen sent a mental calling across the planes to his bonded mount and Burt manifested in the treasure vault beside his master. At the same time, the paladin cast a bless weapon spell upon his sword of Zehkar. As his blade was being pulled from its scabbard, the dire lion was biting and raking its claws into the dragon, tightening his grip upon his foe as he caught him up in a leonine grapple.

Syngaard, seeing his moment, whipped out his Dick and started rubbing. The statuette grew larger, dropping from the fighter's hands and attaining its true size. Then it pounced at the dragon, but as it was writhing around trying to extract itself from Burt's grip, the griffon's talons found no purchase.

"Looks like your Dick's kind of underwhelming, Syngaard!" Orion called out to the bald fighter - it was too good of an opportunity to pass up. Then she tossed an electrified dagger at the dragon, striking it unerringly just behind its right foreleg.

Daleth lined up a lightning bolt spell to strike the dragon. However, he failed to take Burt's presence into account and the electrical energy fried both grappling combatants equally, causing them to roar in fury.

Mikito stepped forward, bringing her katana crashing down upon the dragon's flank, but its gemlike hide deflected the blow. Then the samurai was forced to leap back to safety as the grappling foes rolled around in her direction, the dragon trying to escape the dire lion's grip, Burt's talons scratching deep grooves between the dragon's light purple scales. And then the dragon freed his head, swinging it around to belch forth a blast of concussive force which encompassed Burt, Galen, Dick, and Orion; it would have dealt damage to Carl as well had the ghost-dog not been safe in his own incorporeality. Orion twisted in the saddle and lessened the force of the blow.

Kaspar stepped forward again and sent a flurry of kicks and punches flying at the dragon. Only one of his blows felt like it connected hard enough to deal the creature any pain. But while the monk was attacking and keeping the dragon distracted, Galen took a quick stock of his dire lion. Burt was hurt badly, not only from the dragon's breath weapon but also from Daleth's poorly-aimed lightning bolt spell. The paladin was himself pretty hurt and he knew he could channel enough healing energy through his hands to heal one or the other of the two, but not both. Making his decision, he healed himself while simultaneously releasing Burt back to the Beastlands to heal up. "Thank you, my friend!" he called as the dire lion gratefully faded from view, roaring defiantly at the dragon as he did so as if to let him know he still had plenty of fight left in him.

Syngaard stepped up to the dragon, his new flaming brilliant energy morningstar in hand. He dealt the dragon a mighty blow, but as expected the flames of the weapon's head might as well not have been present for all the damage they did. Behind him, Daleth cast a ray of enfeeblement over the fighter's shoulder to strike the dragon, weakening it significantly. "You about ready to give up yet?" called Syngaard. "You dragons can live an awful long time - you ready to give up all those centuries of life in a fight you can't win?" Dick leaped forward, catching the root of the dragon's right wing in his powerful beak and raking him with a set of talons. Unfortunately, the dragon's tough hide negated most of the damage the griffon tried inflicting. But although the amethyst dragon had been sorely hurt in this fight, it wasn't ready to give up just yet.

"Never!" the dragon replied contemptuously, presumably to Syngaard's first question. But then Mikito stabbed quickly forward with her axiomatic katana, piercing through the dragon's scales and deep into its chest. The dragon coughed up blood and quickly reevaluated its options. It was true: these piddly little people were likely to win this fight! As galling as it might be, it was better to surrender and live to see another day.

"Upon further evaluation...I surrender," the dragon replied. Mikito immediately pulled back her samurai blade, holding it at the ready to strike if this was a trick, but unwilling to further attack a creature that had honorably surrendered. Galen likewise called for the others to stand down; Syngaard put a hand on his Dick and pulled it back away from the fight.

"Now what's all this about doppelgangers?" demanded Galen. "Are they already on their way to Durnhill?"

"Not now," admitted the dragon. "They'll have been reading our minds all this time, and they'll know you know about the ploy. They won't be willing to expose themselves to the dangers of infiltrating a kingdom that already knows of their existence and is ready for them. They're pretty much a cowardly lot, doppelgangers."

"So this is what, your treasure?" Syngaard demanded. "Like, your personal stash?"

"Hoard," corrected Orion.

"Whatever."

"Yes," admitted the dragon. "It's all mine, not the kingdom of Ossirna's. It is yours by right of combat." It seemed the dragon had a particularly difficult time getting those last few words out, and had it not still been bleeding heavily there was a good chance that watching the others start scooping its treasure into their bags of holding would have been all that was needed to get combat started again.

"I don't imagine you will choose to remain here in Ossirna, having failed in your mission to kill us," Daleth reasoned.

"Correct," agreed the dragon. "I will depart, never to return."

"Then you hold no particular allegiance to Ossirna," the elf wizard pressed. "Or to the Seekers of Eternity?"

"They were but a means to an end - mainly, a cushy job having the occasional group of people fed to me. But no, I have no love for the Seekers; all in all, they are a weird bunch."

"What can you tell us about them?" Kaspar pressed. "We seek their destruction."

"Their roots are here in Ossirna. They revere the Mithral Mage as either a god or at least the means of attaining godhood themselves."

"The Seekers are based here? Not in the Azure Glade?" asked Kaspar.

"What? No, that was just an expansion into new lands. The Seekers began here in Ossirna."

The monk came to another decision. Scooping up a handful of coins and gems - worth easily a thousand pieces of gold, Orion calculated with some trepidation - he passed them over to the dragon, who gobbled them up and stashed them in the side of his mouth. "Please accept this much of your treasure back, in payment for the information you have provided us," Kaspar said. Behind him, Mikito nodded in agreement with the monk's actions while Orion and Syngaard shared a rare moment of full agreement between themselves as their mouths hung open in shock and disappointment.

"What are we givin' him money for?" demanded the scarred fighter. "He's our enemy!"

"He is merely a defeated opponent and perhaps only a former foe. He has treated us honorably; we will do no less."

"Yeah, well that sucks," countered Syngaard.

"I will take it out of my share."

"Deal!" Orion agreed. As long as the money being returned to the dragon wasn't having any effect on how much she received, it was all moot to the little halfling.

"Then farewell," said the dragon before vanishing from view in much the same way Burt had done earlier. He left the Material Plane willingly; perhaps some time spent on the Elemental Plane of Earth would allow the memories of his defeat to heal over, as its physical wounds likewise healed. But he would live - that was the important part.

"We ready?" Syngaard asked once the last of the treasure had been scooped up - not just the coins and gems, but also the ornate tome that had been placed on the dragon's plinth. A quick perusal told Daleth it was written in alternating languages, making it all but impossible to decipher at a glance.

"Just about," remarked Orion. "But aren't you forgetting something?"

"What?" asked Syngaard as Kaspar pulled the ring of return from beneath his robes.

"Time to put your Dick away," the halfling said as she grabbed hold of the ring with the others. With a scowl, Syngaard deactivated his griffon and returned it to his pocket. Then he joined the others in grabbing the magical ring and Kaspar activated it with a command word. The group disappeared at once, to reappear immediately in Wrencrofft Manor. Skevros was there waiting for them.

"Well?" he asked.

"War averted," Galen reported.

"Didn't even touch them Ossirnans," Syngaard said with pride. He could follow orders with the best of them! Kaspar then briefed the king's advisor on what had occurred and what they had learned about the southern kingdom. Daleth passed the tome over to Skevros for his examination.

"Interesting. These letters alternate between Celestial, Infernal, and Draconic. I'll need to decipher each letter in turn, then try to make sense of the word thus formed. Fascinating! It will take me some time to make sense of this. But first, I must warn His Majesty and the guards about the doppelganger threat. It may be as you say and they won't try that approach now that it has been discovered, but we must take no chances."

He rubbed his chin for a moment in thought, then came to a conclusion. "I will cast an arcane mark upon each of your foreheads," he announced. "It will only become visible when questioned by a Durnhill guard, or through a detect magic spell. Any doppelganger wishing to sneak into the country by impersonating you will lack such a mark, making him instantly detectable as an imposter."

"What, like a tattoo?" demanded Syngaard. "I don't want no tattoo on my forehead!"

"It will be invisible under most conditions," reassured Skevros. "And it is not permanent; it will last for about a month, after which time we will know whether the doppelgangers have attempted infiltration or not." Seeing the logic, the conscripts each submitted themselves for an application of an arcane mark spell.

"So what about Mikito?" asked Kaspar. "She fought well, even to the point of forcing the dragon to submit. Will she be added to our ranks and accompany us in the future?"

"I have had some thoughts on the matter," admitted Skevros. "I believe - if Mikito is willing to join us - I will add her to the group. But I also think I'll be splitting you up into two smaller groups. You five will carry on as before, while Anuja and Mikito - and perhaps one or two others I've had my eye on - will form a new team, to deal with other matters at hand."

Mikito bowed low before the king's adviser. "It will be my honor to work for Lord Skevros," she announced.

"Ah, very good. But I am merely 'Skevros' - you need not address me as a Lord."

"If you are my new Master, then I will address you as 'Lord'," Mikito insisted. "It is only proper." The others left the king's adviser to work that out with his new conscript as the others poured the dragon's treasure out upon his massive dining table to sort out their respective takes.

- - -

My granddaughter Samantha was here on vacation during this session, so we drafted her as Mikito. (The timing was impeccable, as we just happened to have a "spare" female character entering into the story line at that point in time.) I even gave her one of her Christmas presents early: a set of purple dice of her own, since she'll eventually be moving out this way on a permanent basis and likely joining our group. Logan's set up the "auxiliary conscripts" team as a way to keep the NPCs involved and at hand (although in the background) so that whenever Samantha can join us she'll have her PC at the ready (and she'll be at the same relative level as the rest of the group, since she'll have been having "auxiliary team" adventures off-screen). This is basically just an extension of the "whoever doesn't show up for a game session has his or her PC out doing a boring, solo mission" rule we came up with at the beginning of this campaign to explain any session absences. (And Joey and Vicki have been the only ever no-shows, which explains while their PCs are lagging a bit behind in the XP department.)
 

Richards

Adventurer
ADVENTURE 33: GLADE TIDINGS OF WOE

PC Roster:
Daleth Stormsea, elf wizard 9
Galen Thorne, human paladin 11
Kaspar Hardstrike, elf monk 11
Orion Nightsky, halfling rogue 10
Syngaard, human fighter 11​

Game Session Date: 2 January 2019

- - -

The morning began with another summons to the Enchanted Flagon, this time having something to do with "a dwarf and a box." Syngaard high-tailed it across town, arriving to find the other conscripts and Skevros already in place - and a cowering dwarf huddling in the corner of the tavern, his lower face covered with bandanas. An unopened lead box stood on the table near him.

"You!" Syngaard roared, recognizing Melvik despite the bandana. The last time he'd delivered a package to the tavern, it had contained an explosive rune that served as the signal for an assassination attempt.

"I didn't wanna come here!" insisted the dwarf. "He made me come here - to deliver the box!"

"Who did?" demanded Kaspar.

"Some guy! A guy in silver robes! A wizard or something - I swear I don't know 'im! I never seen 'im before in me life!"

"What's in the box?" Daleth asked calmly. The elf wizard had a pseudodragon at his side that Syngaard had never seen before, but the others all seemed to take it in stride.

"I swear to you all -- I have no idea!" sputtered Melvik.

"Open it," Syngaard demanded.

"Who, me?"

"Yes, you! If it's gonna explode like last time, it's gonna explode on you, not one of us!" Seeing that the bald fighter with the face full of scars wasn't kidding, Melvik opening the latches on the box. He winced when the lid opened but there was no explosion. He dared to peek inside and his expression said the contents weren't what he'd anticipated - at all.

Galen looked over the dwarf's shoulder to see what was inside the box. It looked to be a metal carving of a dragon's head - but a dragon that looked suspiciously familiar. "Take it out and put it on the table," the paladin commanded. The point of the sword of Zehkar poked into the dwarf's side, indicating the seriousness of the command. Melvik did as instructed. It was an actual severed dragon's head with the top and sides coated in a layer of mithral; the creature's spinal column could be seen poking out from the bottom of the neck and turning it over revealed the fleshy contents surrounding the spine. Melvik scowled in distaste.

"Is that the head of the amethyst dragon we let go in Ossirna?" Kaspar asked. It was certainly the same size and shape.

"Looks like it," Orion observed.

There was a sheet of rolled-up parchment in the dragon's mouth. "Pull it out and read it aloud to us," the paladin directed. Melvik unrolled the scroll with another wince, but when it didn't explode in his face, he read aloud the words on the page:

"Took care of your dragon problem."
There was no signature, but the handwriting looked very familiar. "That's the same style of writing as in the osteovox responses!" Galen cried.

"So it's from the Mithral Mage?" asked Daleth. "He killed our dragon for us? And then had his head delivered? Whatever for?"

"I swear I dunno," whimpered Melvik.

"I note it was delivered in a lead box," Skevros pointed out. "Very much like the lead boxes we ourselves used when using osteovox to interrogate the skulls we took from our enemies." Melvik blanched even further at this admission - these guys were way out of his league!

"So this is what - a warning?" asked Orion. "Or bragging to us about his power?"

"He could just be taunting us," Skevros pondered. "Trying to scare us, keep us off balance, wondering what he's up to."

"So what about him?" the halfling asked, pointing to Melvik with her unsheathed flaming short sword. She looked perfectly ready and willing to put it to good use.

"He's just an unwitting flunky," Galen scoffed. "Let him go."

"Not yet," Syngaard snarled, pulling a dagger from his belt. "What's with the bandana, Melvik? YOU BETTER NOT BE GROWIN' THAT BEARD BACK!" At that, the dwarf gave a bleat of terror and scrambled from the tavern. Syngaard chased him to the front door and stood laughing as he watched the dwarf's panicked flight through the streets. For his part, as Melvik ran he gave some serious thought about joining the clergy of Moradin - he didn't want anything further to do with these hourglass freaks or those fighting them!

"Are you quite done?" asked Skevros, scowling in Syngaard's direction as the bald fighter closed the door to the tavern, still laughing at the sight of the panicked dwarf. But then the king's adviser jolted as if shocked. "The manor's under attack!" he cried suddenly, getting up from his seat and racing to the back of the bar, then into the back room where the supplies were kept. However, the ring on his hand glowed as he opened the storage room door and it opened instead into his extradimensional Mordenkainen's magnificent mansion. He raced into his quarters, the conscripts at his heels. "Carl!" called Orion, and the ghost of her riding dog obediently manifested from the ethereal plane, following his mistress into the extradimensional dwelling.

Skevros dashed through the unlit fireplace and popped out one kingdom over, in his manor in the Azure Glade, emerging from the fireplace in the large dining area on the first floor of his dwelling. Pulling aside the curtains of a front window, he saw a mob of mages on his front lawn, their robes of white, blue, and black declaring them to be members of the Diviners, Evokers, and Necromancers Guilds, respectively. Each of these three Guilds had been infiltrated by the Seekers of Eternity, their membership converted from beneath the noses of the Council of Guilds.

The conscripts filed into the dining room behind him. Skevros flinched again as he received a sending spell. Then, striding angrily to the front door and pulling it wide open, he cast a meteor swarm at the intruding mob, blasting them with a wave of flaming missiles. As one, the mages fell to the ground, their corpses burning before they'd been able to say a word or cast a single spell between them.

The king's adviser closed the door and faced his conscripts. "I have just had a sending spell from Leorna, of the Illusionists Guild," he explained. "The Seekers of Eternity have started a civil war within the Azure Glade and are openly slaughtering any who do not wear the hourglass mark. The Abjurers Guild has already fallen, their Guildmaster dealing a retributive strike against the Seekers who came to slaughter him and the members of his guild." He stood a moment in thought, contemplating his next actions. "With Dow's assistance, I will prepare a teleportation circle to transport refugees from the Azure Glade to the outskirts of Durnhill. While I am thus occupied, your job will be to protect the refugees that approach and defeat any Seekers who might come to stop them."

"This a paying mission?" Syngaard wanted to know.

"Not now, Syngaard!" chided Orion. She raced out of the manor, magic short sword sheathed in flames, looking about for any approaching refugees or Seekers. The others followed her out onto the front lawn, stepping around the still-burning corpses of the first wave to approach Wrencrofft Manor uninvited. "Remind me not to piss off the boss!" Syngaard muttered to himself.

"Remember that the next time you pester him about money!" hissed Orion.

Dow approached, firmly ensconced in the astral golem her master had built for her many years earlier, and which had only recently been rediscovered. She therefore gave the appearance of a human woman. Skevros cast a spell upon her, further empowering their familiar link. Then she stepped outside, serving as a conduit for her master, who by the terms of his mark of justice could not step foot outside his manor. He did the spellcasting for the teleportation circle while inside the manor, while Dow, outside, mirrored his actions and allowed the spell energy to flow from her fingers.

"We'd best get these bodies out of the way," suggested Kaspar, bending to drag a burning corpse down the walkway to the manor house, while Dow started weaving an area or arcane energy off to the side of the house. The others bent to help. Galen sent a mental summons across the planes, and his dire lion bonded mount, Burt, materialized by his side.

When Dow was only about halfway through the spell and the conscripts had managed to move the corpses out of the way, the first of the refugees stumbled into view. Some wore the robes of wizards aligned with the Guilds of magic that had not been infiltrated by the Seekers of Eternity; others were merchants, or farmers, or housewives with small children in their arms. "This way!" Orion waved, spurring them on.

Unsure if the refugees were truly innocents escaping a war zone or Seeker of Eternity spies, Daleth cast a magic circle against evil spell upon himself. Galen had just turned his head to focus on the group of newcomers, hoping to peek at their auras (but alas, they were still far away), when two groups of wizards suddenly teleported onto the lawn, on the other side of the front walkway from where Dow was constructing the teleportation circle. One group wore the blue robes of the Evokers Guild; the other, the white of the Diviners. Both, Galen knew, had been taken over by the Seekers. As these two groups were much closer to the assembled heroes than were the refugees, Galen was able to instantly detect a wave of evil coming from the wizards' general location.

With a roar, Syngaard sped towards the nearest group, the blue-robed evokers. But rather than toss his javelin of returning during his approach as had been his habit up until now, he performed his new combat maneuver: whipping out his Dick. Rubbing the figurine of wondrous power and throwing it at the group, Dick attained full size in mid-air and went crashing into the evokers, slaying one outright with his sharp beak and horribly maiming another with his wicked claws.

Kaspar followed in the wake of the griffon, speeding forward and smashing his closed hand into the jaw of another evoker, the magical enhancements of his tenryutsume infusing his punch with the powers of lightning and flame. Behind him, Orion rode her ghost-mount into battle, tossing an electrified dagger from her bag of blades at each of the wounded evokers, causing another to drop to the ground, dead.

Galen mounted his dire lion and urged him forward into battle (although in truth, he needed little urging). Burt's teeth and claws ripped into another evoker, slaying him at once, while Galen uncharacteristically missed with his swinging sword of Zehkar. Daleth opted to cast a defensive spell - stoneskin - upon himself and his new pseudodragon familiar, Todd, which he'd gained just the previous day.

The initial assault on the eight evokers left three of their number dead - but that left five capable of counterattacking. That they did with relish, three casting fireball spells and the other two casting lightning bolts; Syngaard, on foot, was too far away to be targeted but the other conscripts and their various animals all felt the pain of the evocation spells being thrown their way. Then the diviners joined the fray, each of them sending three magic missiles spreading out in a massive burst all at once, striking all but Todd, the smallest target of the bunch. The heroes all staggered at this onslaught; Dick was overcome and dropped back into statuette form while Carl howled in fury as his incorporeal form dissipated into nothingness. Orion didn't plop from the saddle to the ground like usual; the saddle fell to the ground below her while she floated to a standing position, courtesy of her newly-purchased ring of feather falling.

Syngaard went sprinting at full speed toward the nearest evoker, sending him sprawling at his feet. He had his human bane scimitar in hand and ready for when the obnoxious spellcaster tried to regain his feet. Kaspar stunned another of the blue-robed wizards with a swift kick to the head, almost snapping his neck. A nearby evoker faced the elven monk and looked about to cast a spell at him, but Orion raced up and stabbed him in the gut with her flaming short sword, putting a definite stop to that plan - he fell to the ground, dead. Between them, Galen and Burt finished off two of the last four surviving evokers, leaving only the one Syngaard had sent sprawling - and he got stabbed with a human bane scimitar before he could regain his feet - and one who looked about him in panic at the sight of all his slain brethren. He tried casting a scorching ray at Daleth's head but missed, his targeting skills overcome by panic.

That left only the diviners, who had teleported together in a nice clump. Daleth cast an empowered fireball at them, channeling the spell through his metamagic rod. The explosion of flames killed half of their number at once. Todd finished off another by flying behind the fireball; by the time the flames cleared one hapless spellcaster found he had a scorpionlike tail stabbing in at his face.

The surviving diviners tossed volley after volley of fireballs at their hated foes; Syngaard, Galen, Burt, Kaspar, and Orion were all temporarily engulfed by flames. However, the final evoker was also within the blast radius of a fireball spell and he was taken out by friendly fire. (It's unlikely his also being in the radius of the spell's area of effect made any difference to the bloodthirsty diviners.)

In response, Syngaard, smoke still trailing from his burned body, charged and cleaved into two of the diviners, slaying them both with his magic scimitar. Kaspar bent over and scooped up Syngaard's fallen figurine of wondrous power before running up to another surviving diviner and ending his life with a well-placed kick. Burt took care of the last diviner, crunching his head between his powerful jaws.

The party desperately needed some healing at that point, and Galen did what he could by channeling the positive energy of Hieroneous through his illumium scabbard. Orion and Syngaard swigged down healing potions, and then the bald fighter reactivated his magical figurine, bringing his Dick back to life at full power. "Best get him up and ready - no tellin' when any others might be showin' up," he said.

Before the conscripts had regained their full strength from the first wave of attackers, the second wave showed up, teleporting in like the others had done. The line of refugees screamed and continued in a scattered line going behind the Wrencrofft Manor, wrapping around the house to head for the not-yet-finished teleportation circle on the far side.

Judging by their black robes, the first group of eight were all from the Necromancers Guild. Daleth was the first to react to their sudden appearance, whipping up his metamagic rod and channeling an empowered fireball spell through it. The blast this time was enormous, and when the smoke cleared all eight wizards lay on the ground, dead. "Way to go, Wizard-Pants!" Galen enthused before spinning Burt around to face the other group.

This was a group of only four, and they wore the blue robes of the Evokers Guild, but a closer examination - of the runes on their foreheads and robes, and the large maces they carried into battle - revealed them to be members of the Azure Guards, whose members gained training in both spellcraft and martial combat. Todd stabbed at one of the Guards with his tail, cutting a venomous gash across the Guard's cheek, but the pseudodragon's poison failed to drop the blue-robed foe.

"They're evil!" announced Galen, as if that had ever been in any doubt. Syngaard and his revived Dick went crashing into the quartet, swinging with blade, beak, and claws, and the scarred fighter was surprised to see all four of the enemy still standing after their assault. They were tough, these Azure Guards!

Kaspar jumped into the fold, striking with his hands and feet. Orion snuck up behind an inobservant Guard, stabbing deep with her flaming blade. He turned to counterattack and she stabbed him again, this time in the front, while Dick bit down on his shoulder and drew ragged gashes across his chest with his front talons. He dropped lifelessly to the ground once Dick released him from his beak, which at that point had been all that was holding the Guard upright. But upon striking the ground the Guard immediately disappeared - the Azure Guard's runes caused them, and their gear, to teleport away upon death, so their gear couldn't be used by others.

Then the griffon, as well as Syngaard and Kaspar, were targeted by a trio of scorching ray spells. Galen and Burt surged forward, the paladin bringing down another of the Guards with a smiting attack with his longsword, causing his corpse and gear to disappear. The sword of Zehkar then went cleaving into the side of another of the Azure Guards, dropping him to his knees.

Daleth was the conscript farthest away from the battle, and he decided to keep it that way - these Azure Guards were deadly! But he saw the other conscripts were all bunched close enough together that he could target each of them in a single haste spell, so that was his next stratagem. He was left out of the area of effect, but no matter - better that those on the front lines got in the extra attacks.

Syngaard and Dick each took out a Guard at almost the same time, giving the conscripts another short breather of an unknown duration before the next wave of attackers showed up. Syngaard was all out of potions and he waved off any attempts to heal Dick - "He's ain't even really alive - save yer healin' for them what need it more!" Kaspar took in a cleansing breath and concentrated his own chi into self-healing, while Galen channeled healing energy from his hand into Burt's flank, healing the worst of the dire lion's burns.

But once again they didn't get a chance to fully heal themselves before the next wave arrived, teleporting in like the others had. Fortunately, this was the smallest group of cavalry yet, being only four in number, although it was made up of individuals the conscripts recognized at once: Averos the rogue; Sienna the freaky, pain-loving fighter; and Vikan, the Ossirnan cleric; accompanied by none other than Reginald, a captain of the Azure Guards, whom the conscripts had fought - and killed - several times before. "Ain't you got the smarts to stay dead?" snarled Syngaard.

Rightfully figuring the cleric to be the biggest threat of the four, Daleth hit him with an empowered Scorching ray, the last use of his metamagic rod for the day - which killed Vikan outright. Cheers rose from the ranks of the conscripts at his death - they'd hated that little toady!

Eyes widening in fear at the instant slaying of Vikan, Averos broke ranks and fled the scene. Unfortunately for him, he chose the wrong direction in which to flee, heading away from the conscripts on a course that took him straight toward Dow, who was still finishing up the teleportation circle spell. Syngaard called out, "To me, my mighty Dick!" and leapt up onto the griffon's back, sending it flying across the lawn after the fleeing rogue. The griffon's front talons grabbed onto Averos's shoulders as Syngaard leaned forward and brought the human bane scimitar crashing down onto the rogue's skull. Then Dick dropped the dead rogue, letting Averos fall face-down into the yard to the side of the teleportation circle while he rose high into the air to turn around and head back to the battle going on with the other two Ossirnans.

Kaspar attacked Sienna, bringing a trickle of blood from her mouth and a grin to her face. She counterattacked with two swings of her vicious greatsword, hissing in pleasure as the sword's power dealt damage to her as well as her targeted foe. Orion ducked and flanked the crazy fighter with Kaspar, getting in a good sneak attack from behind. Burt swiped right over Orion's three-foot-tall form, his claws ripping off the back of Sienna's head and sending it flying. Orion could swear she heard a moan of pleasure coming from the fighter's lips as she fell over, dead.

Galen used another smite attack on Reginald, cutting deep into the Guard Captain's arm. Reeling from the blow, Reginald cast a mirror image spell - and suddenly there were five possible Reginalds to choose from!

Daleth pulled a wand of magic missiles from his belt and targeted two of the Reginalds sliding around the battlefield. Upon being struck by the force energy of the spell, the two images popped into nothingness, leaving only three left as potential targets. But then Dick dove down to the ground behind the Guard Captain and Syngaard leaped over Dick's head to send his human bane scimitar crashing into one of the images. Upon impact, the other two Reginalds immediately disappeared, but the one with the scimitar sticking out of his back fell first to his knees, then to his face.

"Got 'im!" crowed Syngaard, but then groaned as Reginald's corpse teleported away. "Dammit!" he cursed. "I wanted his mace as a trophy!"

The conscripts looked about them for more enemies, but apparently three waves was all the Seekers could afford to send against Wrencrofft Manor, for there were other places under attack and many more nonbelievers to slay. Dow suddenly announced that the teleportation circle spell was ready, and ushered the staggered line of refugees forward into its area of effect. As the refugees stepped forward and filled up the area, Dow said the command word that sent them all teleporting to the very edge of the border between the Azure Glade and Durnhill, where they could seek asylum.

"It looks like the Ossirnans are going to get their war with Durnhill after all," Orion sighed.

"It was inevitable," Skevros called from the front door, open now that his spellcasting was completed. "But since the Ossirnans - the Seekers, in particular - started this civil war in the Azure Glade, political opinion will be against them. Durnhill, and most likely Ashfall as well, will aid the Azure Glade in their fight against the Seekers."

The king's adviser let out a long breath - he was tired. "You did well, team," he said, watching the next group of refugees teleport to safety. "And Syngaard?" he asked.

"Yeah, boss?"

Skevros pointed to the dead bodies littering his yard. "This is a paying mission. There is your payment; take what you will from the bodies of those you have slain."

Syngaard gave an excited whoop and ran off to go start the looting.

- - -

This was one of our longer sessions, as Logan had feared it would be - we played from shortly after 6:30 at night until almost 10:00 PM. But it was cathartic, in that most, if not all, of the enemies we slew are finally going to stay dead. As Logan put it, there's only so many times a person can fail in their missions before their bosses start to question why they're spending the money to resurrect them.

Joey was rolling hot that night, too! His empowered scorching ray that took out Vikan did a total of 82 points of damage, a personal best for a 2nd-level spell! And his taking out of the necromancers was also very well-timed, for Logan had planned on having them animate the dead bodies of those we'd already slain, so we'd have zombies and skeletons added to the foes we had to face all at one time!

As for Mikito, Samantha had to go back home on Christmas Day, so her PC has officially been made part of Skevros's backup team. She was undoubtedly engaged in some other mission when Melvik showed up with the lead box and thus wasn't at hand when the events of this adventure took place.

Finally, we accidentally worked ourselves into a naming convention for our animals. First was Carl, Orion's riding dog. Galen's dire lion was named Burt (out-of-game, he was named after Bert Lahr, the actor who played the Cowardly Lion in "The Wizard of Oz" - Dan opted for the different spelling). So when Syngaard decided to get a bronze griffon, I chose the name "Dick" not only for the "Dick joke" potential, but also to stick with our new naming convention of giving our animals four-letter male names. (Granted, in my case, the first reason greatly outweighed the second.) So when Daleth finally reached 9th level and could take the Improved Familiar feat, he opted for a pseudodragon and then couldn't come up with a good name for him. Once we pointed out the naming convention, Joey came up with "Todd," the first four-letter boy's name to strike him (after dismissing "Joey" as a name out of hand).

Of course, now Harry's noticed he's got the only PC who doesn't have a "pet" (as he calls it), so after this adventure was over he opted to have Kaspar purchase an amber amulet of vermin that contains a stag beetle. Once a day, Kaspar will now be able to summon a giant stag beetle to obey his commands. Faced with naming a beetle using only four-letter male names, we discarded "George" and "Ringo" and still had "John" and "Paul" (and, arguably, "Pete") on the table. Harry's opted for "John." You can no doubt expect to see John's debut next session.
 

Richards

Adventurer
ADVENTURE 34: DIRE NEGOTIATIONS

PC Roster:
Daleth Stormsea, elf wizard 9
Galen Thorne, human paladin 11
Kaspar Hardstrike, elf monk 11
Orion Nightsky, halfling rogue 11
Syngaard, human fighter 11​

Game Session Date: 9 January 2019

- - -

Logan had handouts waiting for us when we sat down at the gaming table again this session. Here's what we each had:

SYNGAARD said:
Screams awaken you from your sleep, the dream you were having already dissolving into nothingness. The fading memory of your dream makes you decide to grab your old morningstar as you get up to investigate. A couple of the girls are cowering behind the bar as a skeletal figure stands in the middle of the doorway. Carved in its forehead is a four letter word, "JACE." It absently scans the room, locking eyes (or empty eye-sockets) with you it charges forward and is easily dispatched by a single swing of your morningstar. As it crumples beneath your blow you notice its right arm is wrapped in parchment. A few minutes later has you swearing into the 4 am sky about stupid wizards and their stupid wizard writing as you trudge to the Enchanted Flagon with the indecipherable parchment in hand. Your mood isn't improved in the least to find Dow sitting at the normal meeting table, not even bothering to not look like herself. She offers to wake the party and leaves you with a much needed morning ale.
DALETH said:
You are woken from your trance by a pounding upon your door and Dow's voice calling out, "Wake up, Syngaard's downstairs."
KASPAR said:
You are woken from your trance by a pounding upon your door and Dow's voice calling out, "Wake up, Syngaard's downstairs."
GALEN said:
"Remember, you are...the one who...chose this fate...," your brother says as you embrace his dying body, his blood still dripping down your blade. You lay him upon the ground and wipe the blood from your sword. As you turn to your friends, their somber expressions turn to fear as you feel your body hardening. You never got to see what frightened them, though you know it was your brother's doing. You awaken from Zehkar's final memory at the sound of pounding upon your door. Dow's voice calls out, "Wake up, Syngaard's downstairs."
ORION said:
You are riding swiftly through an oily gray mist. Indistinct forms swirl around, clawing at you, but you know as long as you hold tight to Carl they can't harm you. Ahead you see a faint light shining through the mist. A voice whispers across the swirling void, "Your mutt is too late. I already took what I came for." Carl whimpers slightly but continues running toward the light. In a flash you break through the surface of a silver sea that perfectly mirrors the starlit sky. A giant mountain looms serenely in the distance. Carl slows as you near the shore; a golden orb of light hovers nearby. Mentally you hear the sniffling of a small child. As you get closer the orb takes the form of Sarah. She whispers, "The bad man took mommy." You hear a sound from far away and suddenly it feels like you're dissolving away. "...tairs," a voice calls out and you sit upright in your bed, exhaling a gray mist that floats to the floor, coalescing into Carl's ghostly form.
- - -

The rest of the party threw on clothes and headed downstairs to the Enchanted Flagon, to find Syngaard there drinking an ale despite the early hour. Skevros entered the tavern from the door to the storage room, which also led to his permanent Mordenkainen's magnificent mansion if you wore the proper ring. "What is this all about?" he demanded, Dow trailing him after having awakened him from his sleep.

"You tell me," replied Syngaard. "Got myself woke up outta bed over at Kat's by a skeleton with my name carved into his skull. He was wearin' this around his arm." The bald fighter passed over a folded piece of parchment. Skevros looked at it and frowned. "This looks to be the Dwarven language," he observed. "I cannot read Dwarven."

"I can," piped up Orion, reaching up for the parchment. Skevros handed it over. She read the message aloud:

Dear Miss Nightsky,

I address this to you since you are the only one who can read it, unless the Dimwit is using Arcturus's staff. Please read the rest of this message aloud to your associates and your traitorous leader. I have ripped your wife from the Heavens - she shall accompany me in my imprisonment. I am willing to negotiate a trade: her soul for the astral golem and my book of prophecies. I await your minions in the Tomb of Zehkar. If they have not shown up by next nightfall, I shall withdraw my offer.

Sincerely,

Alexandros
As Orion said the name "Alexandros" aloud, a heavy weight settled upon the group's souls, even Skevros's. "I believe we have just been targeted with a bane spell," he announced to the conscripts. Galen jolted as his longsword, which held the spirit of Zehkar, confirmed to the young paladin that Alexandros was the name of his brother, who later fashioned himself "The Mithral Mage."

"So Alexan--" began Syngaard before getting cut off.

"Do not say his name!" hissed Skevros. "Using his name gives him power. In fact, knowledge of his name acts as a form of phylactery for the Mithral Mage; it's why Hirek attempted to erase his name from history."

"So this Mithral Mage guy," amended Syngaard, "he's got my wife's soul?" Syngaard had stood up from the table during Orion's reading of the letter and had his hand gripped tightly around his morningstar as if ready to do battle.

Skevros frowned at the scarred fighter. "No, he has my wife's soul," he said.

"You sure?"

"Yes, quite - or at least he claims to have taken her soul. It's quite possible--" But then it was his turn to be interrupted before finishing his sentence.

"But not Mezz's?"

"What? No. Why would he take Messalina's soul? What would make you think that?"

"That damn skeleton showed up at Kat's with my name carved in his noggin, that's why! Why the Hell is he writing a letter to Orion and sending it to me, when it's for you in the first place? That don't make no sense!"

"It is a rather roundabout way of doing things," Skevros admitted. "Perhaps it's because of the entire group, you are the only one not camped out on my doorstep, so to speak."

"So is it true?" asked Orion. "Does the Mithral Mage have Jessica's soul with him in Dwarven Hell?" She explained to the group what she had thought of as her dream, before being awakened by Dow; now she was starting to wonder if it had just been a dream after all. Could it have been a sending of some type, or had Carl really brought her to the Celestial Planes to see the soul of Skevros's daughter, Sarah, after her mother's abduction?

"I must admit, it is unlikely," Skevros mused. "The Mithral Mage should be imprisoned in Dwarven Hell, which would make it quite impossible to kidnap the soul of my late wife from the Celestial Realms. No, I would imagine this to be an elaborate ruse, no doubt by one of the Seekers of Eternity trying to recover the astral golem I built and the book of prophecies you recently brought back from Ossirna."

"Have you had any luck deciphering the book?" asked Daleth.

"It is slow going," admitted Skevros.

"So what's the plan?" asked Syngaard. "We goin' to the Tomb of Zehkar or what?"

"Where's that?" asked Orion. She had not been part of the team sent there during their second mission for Skevros, after having slain a band of goblin raiders who laired inside the boundaries of Ashfall, the kingdom to the north. Kaspar briefly filled her in.

"I believe this will be our plan of attack," declared Skevros. "I will teleport you all to the Tomb of Zehkar. You will have with you what looks to be the book of prophecies and the astral golem. Upon arrival, you will meet with this alleged Mithral Mage -- and kill him and anyone with him."

"My kind of mission!" enthused Syngaard, finishing up his ale and slamming the mug back on the table. In his enthusiasm, he didn't even ask if this was a paying mission.

"If the soul of my wife is somehow there, I will naturally expect you to free her," Skevros added. Galen, Orion, and the elves all voiced their determination that they would by all means do so.

"When do we go?" asked Syngaard.

"There is no time like the present," Skevros replied. "Once you have made your preparations, we will go to the outskirts of the kingdom and I will teleport you there directly."

At the border of the kingdom, Daleth cast a magic circle against evil spell on himself, as well as a true seeing spell from the staff of divination he had taken from Arcturus. Galen summoned his dire lion, Burt, and cast a bless spell on everyone to counteract the bane spell from knowing the Mithral Mage's true name.

Orion looked over at Syngaard. "Well?" she asked from the seat of Carl's ghost touch saddle.

"Well what?"

"Aren't you going to 'whip out your Dick'?"

"Can't," replied Syngaard. "I used him twice when we was rescuin' all them refugees in the Azure Glade, remember? My Dick only works twice a week - he's still restin' up from his last bit of excitement." The bald fighter pulled the bronze griffon from his pocket and started rubbing him vigorously, to no effect. "See? All the rubbin' in the world won't do no good just yet." He put the figurine back into his pocket, either completely unaware of the double entendres or very good at faking it.

"If we're all ready...?" prompted Skevros, and Galen indicated they were with a nod. The king's adviser cast his spell and the conscripts vanished as one, to reappear in the Tomb of Zehkar, right before the sloping passageway from the upper level of the cave above.

In the glow from Orion and Syngaard's flaming weapons, the area looked much the same as it had the first time Galen, Kaspar, and Syngaard had been there. They were in the largest chamber of the tomb, with a raised plinth where the statue of Zehkar had been. The runes on the plinth were all burned out, and the statue was no longer there, but there were still the side passageways leading to two smaller rooms the three conscripts had cleaned out the first time they had been through the tomb - when Galen had first taken the sword of Zehkar as his own. One noticeable difference was that in the back corner of the chamber was a glowing magic circle inscribed on the floor; it held a glowing ball of energy - a lantern archon, apparently - trapped within its diameter.

However, the conscripts were not the only people in the tomb. Standing on the plinth, in roughly the same place the statue of Zehkar had once stood, was a human wizard in silvery robes - no doubt, the same wizard who had slain the amethyst dragon the conscripts had caused to flee from Ossirna and had his head - now covered in a sheen of solid mithral - delivered to the Enchanted Flagon. Galen's eyes narrowed; not only did he detect an aura of evil coming from the direction of the silvery-robed wizard, but he recognized the man's face from his dream - it was Alexandros, the Mithral Mage, brother to Zehkar!

Daleth's eyes narrowed as well, for a similar reason: with his true seeing still in effect, he not only saw the illusion of the human wizard everyone else in the room saw, but he also saw the true form hidden beneath the illusion: a skeletal being with silvery flames in its eye sockets, much like the skull of a slain druid Skevros had interrogated with an osteovox ritual. Daleth himself was cloaked in an illusion spell, courtesy of Orion's hat of disguise, making the elven wizard look like Skevros - or, more accurately, like the astral golem Skevros had crafted in his own image.

"So you have come," smirked the wizard with a knowing smile, his hands behind his back as if he hadn't a care in the world.

Kaspar was the first to react. Dropping the fake "book of prophecies" he'd brought as a momentary distraction - in actuality, it was Skevros's old book whose pages had been erased of all writing - reached up to touch his newly-purchased amber amulet of vermin and activated it as he rushed forward. A giant stag beetle the monk had decided to name John manifested behind the silver-robed wizard's left shoulder as Kaspar approached Alexandros from his right, flanking him with John. The beetle's mandibles snapped at the wizard, but failed to connect.

Galen sent his battle mount charging forward to rip at the wizard with his claws and bite at him with his over-large fangs, while the paladin on his back used a smite evil attack, channeling positive energy through the sword of Zehkar. Alexandros staggered from the blow and found himself in a tight grapple with the dire lion, who had gotten a good grip upon the lich with his jaws.

"Orion!" called Syngaard, pointing at the magic circle and telling her to check it out without saying so in so many words. Orion had Carl run up to the circular engraving on the stone floor and she examined it closely, looking for any magical traps that might be in place. She noted it had been carved as a magic circle against good with its power facing inwards, making it a magical prison to whatever was trapped within. While she was thus engaged, Carl put out a ghostly paw and ran into an invisible barrier; apparently the magic circle had been reinforced with a wall of force to prevent anyone from breaking the circle and freeing the lantern archon trapped within. If that was indeed Jessica Wrencrofft's soul in there, freeing her wasn't going to be as easy as they might have hoped....

Syngaard was ready to join the scrum against Alexandros when a sudden manifestation phased out of the wall to his right. It was a lumpy shadow that upon further inspection seemed made up of a conglomeration of numerous decapitated heads; even closer examination showed each of these heads sported a beard and dwarven facial features. Daleth responded before Syngaard could, with a quickened magic missile spell that sent bolts of energy flying across the chamber to strike into the mass of severed dwarven heads. But the caller in darkness (as the creature was known, when it was later described to Skevros) continued its dash across the chamber and slammed through Galen's body with ease, its incorporeal form siphoning off some of the paladin's life essence.

Changing targets in mid-charge, Syngaard sent his old morningstar crashing into the caller of darkness, hoping to smash in a couple of dwarven faces. But the weapon passed through the creature's body as if it wasn't there.

Carl suddenly turned to the wall at his left and started barking furiously. Orion turned just in time to see a greater shadow enter the chamber by passing right through the wall, but thanks to her ghost-dog's warning the little halfling was able to dodge below the undead thing's attack.

Daleth cast a scorching ray spell at Alexandros, channeling it through his metamagic rod. Both rays hit the wizard, who barely seemed to notice. But then the lich pulled his glowing hand from behind his back and touched the dire lion still holding him between his powerful jaws; in an instant, Burt had been turned to solid mithral.

Or so it had appeared. Galen, though his empathic link with his bonded mount, could tell Burt was still alive (but very much confused and panicked), imprisoned within an outer layer of mithral. The dire lion, if left unaided, would soon enough suffocate inside his mithral prison.

Kaspar dealt Alexandros a flurry of blows in retaliation for what the monk at that point thought was Burt's death. At the same time, John got a good grip around the silver-clad wizard's waist with his powerful mandibles. Kaspar saw a look of sad resignation cross Alexandros's face.

Galen slid from his mithral mount's broad back and raised the sword of Zehkar to strike down at Alexandros. The wizard asked wearily, "So you've come to kill me again, brother?"

"I merely wield Zehkar," answered Galen, bringing the sword crashing down upon the lich. As his skeletal form crumbled from the blow, Alexandros commented, "Many Ossirnans would die for the chance to be my vessel." A smile broke across the illusory form's lips before fading from view, the lich's skeleton crumbling to dust.

Before the party could celebrate the death of the Mithral Mage, Syngaard cried out in pain. The caller in darkness had sent a blast of mental energy at the scarred fighter, hoping to overpower his mind. "Good thing you don't have a mind to overcome!" Orion called from across the room as she leapt from Carl's back and flanked the greater shadow with her ghost-mount. With her enhanced vision, the result of a ritual using the ashes of Autumn Rose, she was able to discern the weak points in the negative energy lattice making up the undead creature's body. She sent her flaming short sword striking at one of those weak points, but the creature's incorporeality worked to its advantage and the halfling's blade passed harmlessly through it. Carl snapped at the greater shadow but, perhaps somewhat out of the habit of biting opponents after his death and rebirth as a ghost, missed as well.

Despite their ineffectual attacks, the greater shadow flew away from Orion and Carl to attack Kaspar from behind, perhaps seeking an easy target. But the monk's preternatural senses allowed him to dodge the incoming blow despite not being in a position to see it coming. He spun in place and faced his undead foe, tenryutsume sheathed in flames and giving off the occasional spark.

Syngaard sent his morningstar swinging three times through the body of the caller in darkness in quick succession; only one of them managed to do the creature any harm. "Damn undead!" he cried. Daleth shot at the mass of incorporeal dwarven heads with an empowered magic missile channeled through his metamagic rod, realizing that simple attack spell was guaranteed to strike even an incorporeal foe. Kaspar and John pivoted and rushed over to attack the caller in darkness, but their best efforts passed through the undead thing's insubstantial body - it was like trying to fight a cloud.

Galen dismissed Burt and the mithral statue of his dire lion vanished. The return to the Beastlands was supposed to restore his faithful mount of all wounds and afflictions; the paladin could only hope it would return him to his normal, fully-healthy state, the mithral coating being removed. But once Burt had been dismissed to his home plane, Galen no longer had an empathic link running with Burt; he'd have to wait until the next time he summoned him to see whether or not the ploy had worked.

Although still worried about Burt, Galen didn't allow such distractions to keep him out of combat with an evil opponent. The insubstantial dwarven heads had an aura that reeked of evil; Galen brought the sword of Zehkar swinging down into their midst, and they discorporated, each dwarven head screaming without sound as it flew off in a different direction from that of its neighbors, until there was nothing left of the beast.

That left only the greater shadow to deal with. Kaspar attacked it, drawing its focus, allowing Orion to sneak attack it from a flanking position from behind. Carl also ran up and chomped down on a shadowy appendage, his own ghostly form able to keep hold of the incorporeal being's limb. Syngaard raced up to it and swung at it with his original morningstar. (He held his flaming brilliant energy morningstar in his shield hand merely as a light source, since it passed through unliving matter and undead were nothing but unliving matter.) His weapon passed harmlessly through the greater shadow, but the undead thing fed greedily on the fighter's strength, causing Syngaard to swear profusely as he felt himself weakening. Daleth finally finished the shadow off with another empowered magic missile spell, his last daily use of his metamagic rod.

With no foes to fight, Orion was able to spend much more time at the magic circle. She finally found a way to break it, the wall of force having apparently vanished when Alexandros was slain. But the lantern archon held within was unresponsive - was it unconscious? (It was certainly heard to tell when the creature in question was a simple glowing ball of energy.)

Galen tried channeling a wave of healing energy through his illumium scabbard, and that did the trick: the lantern archon rose up from the stone floor and hovered out of the remains of the magic circle. <Thank you,> the archon thought at the heroes.

"Are you Jessica?" asked Orion. "Jessica Wrencrofft?"

<I am indeed,> came back the reply.

"Then I think you'd better come with us," said Kaspar, pulling the ring of return from his robes. He held it out and the others each grabbed hold of it with one hand - Syngaard only after stirring through Alexandros's ashes looking from any dropped treasure and finding only a spellbook, which he turned over to Daleth. "Stupid undead," the fighter muttered to himself, grabbing onto the ring. Jessica hovered atop the ring and lowered herself onto it, then Kaspar said the magic word that teleported the group back to the border of Durnhill.

"You were successful?" asked Skevros from within the boundaries of the kingdom.

"Killed 'em all, just like you said," confirmed Syngaard.

"And this is...?" asked the king's adviser, staring at the lantern archon and trying not to hope too hard.

<It's me, Skevros,> replied Jessica and the wizard gave a cry of joy. They all returned to the Enchanted Flagon, where there were five piles of four emeralds each lying around the table they used as their primary discussion area. "Your payment," Skevros said simply without elaborating. Then he and the spirit of his dead wife went into his Mordenkainen's magnificent mansion to talk in private.

"All right!" chortled Syngaard, grabbing up his four emeralds. "Killed the Mithral Mage and got paid doin' it!"

"You realize he isn't truly dead," pointed out Kaspar. "That body we killed was some Seeker of Eternity acting as a willing host for the Mithral Mage, who's still probably in Dwarven Hell. And there are plenty of others who will summon him forth again, to allow him to take over their own bodies."

"So we'll be fighting him again?" asked Syngaard.

"Indubitably," replied Daleth.

Syngaard wasn't sure what that word the elf wizard had just said meant, but his tone made it sound a whole lot like it meant "Yes." Still, that didn't faze the scarred fighter at all.

"Well great, then!" he said. "Maybe later we'll get paid to kill him all over again!"

- - -

Once again, Logan has found a way to have us up against a villain whose death doesn't mean we've seen the end of him! But then, the majority of us are already at 11th level (and Daleth leveled up to 10th as a result of this adventure), so the campaign's over halfway finished; about time we see the main villain who's pretty much behind all of our woes.

Joey didn't show up for this session; he was fast asleep at home and his parents couldn't wake him - apparently he's a hard one to wake up when he's tired. As we haven't had any no-shows for a long time, Logan admitted he'd been out of practice writing adventures that could be scaled down to include only those who showed up, so Dan offered to run Daleth for the evening as well as Galen (and Burt, and Todd - Dan pulled quadruple duty this session!). A good thing, too, as it turned out - we really needed Daleth's metamagic rod of empower ramping up the damage his spells dealt, and magic missiles come in mighty handy when fighting incorporeal creatures!
 

Richards

Adventurer
ADVENTURE 35: SUPPLY RUN

PC Roster:
Daleth Stormsea, elf wizard 10
Galen Thorne, human paladin 11
Kaspar Hardstrike, elf monk 11
Orion Nightsky, halfling rogue 11
Syngaard, human fighter 11​

Game Session Date: 16 January 2019

- - -

"You?" demanded Syngaard as he burst into the Enchanted Flagon. The other conscripts were already at their seats around the table, and Dow - in the astral golem Skevros had built for her so she could more easily interact with those of human size - stood at the place along the table where the king's adviser usually stood when explaining the next assignment. "Skevros was the one who summoned us here. Why do we gotta take our orders from you?" In his irritation at having to deal with Skevros's homunculus, the bald fighter failed to even notice the pair of emeralds sitting on the table at his place, apparently prepayment for the job at hand.

"Daddy's aiding in the defense of the kingdom's borders against the invading Ossirnans," Dow explained. She had recalibrated her speech patterns for adult speech, which was a blessing; when they had first encountered her, she was still talking like a little kid, as she had been built to be a friend and companion for Skevros's young daughter. She still had the irritating habit of referring to Skevros, her master, as "Daddy" - but that was a habit she wasn't likely to break any time soon.

"Are we to aid him?" asked Orion.

"No, he doesn't need any help on that front," Dow explained. That was very likely, too; the conscripts had recently seen him wipe out over a dozen evil wizards with a single meteor swarm spell. When it came to raw power, none of the conscripts could match their leader. Rather, it was the fact that he was magically forced to remain within the borders of the kingdom of Durnhill and his manor house in the Azure Glade that had caused him to reach out to form a band of conscripts who could perform missions outside of those confines.

"A lumber shipment is late," Dow added. "The wood is needed to build fortifications along the border. King Leornic is having you sent to investigate what happened."

"And where are we to go to investigate this missing shipment?" inquired Kaspar.

"The lumber mill is about 30 minutes away on foot to the northwest," Dow replied.

"On foot?" complained Syngaard, who had finally noticed the emeralds before him and was busy pocketing them away in his coin purse. "You mean we gotta trudge all the way there? We ain't gettin' teleported, like normal?"

"As I said, Daddy's away on a mission of his own."

"You won't need to do any trudging," Orion reminded the scarred fighter. "You can ride there on your Dick - assuming it isn't still too tired to do anything."

"Oh yeah!" said Syngaard. "Old Dick's ready for more action!" Once activated, Syngaard knew the bronze griffon he had named "Dick" would remain alive and alert for a full six hours unless he was slain in the meantime, in which case he'd simply revert back to statuette form. Even with a half-hour trudge to go find this lumber mill - Syngaard wasn't quite ready for long-distance travel by air just yet - that left a good five hours of combat readiness to still have time for the half-hour trudge back.

Galen mentally called out across the planes to his bonded mount and Burt manifested in the corner of the tavern. The paladin was pleased to see his dire lion had suffered no permanent effects from having had his outer layer transformed into mithral; apparently Galen releasing him back to the Beastlands when he did had done the trick and saved the dire lion from being slain. Burt was back to his normal form, all fur and mane and fangs and bony extrusions, with not a glint of mithral to be seen. Galen led him out of the Enchanted Flagon and climbed up onto his back. "I'm glad to see you're all right, buddy!" he said.

Orion followed the paladin outside and whistled for her own mount. Immediately, Carl manifested from thin air, the ghost dog having simply stepped through the boundary between the Ethereal Plane and the Material Plane. The halfling jumped up onto the ghost touch saddle that allowed her to ride a dog that had no true material form.

Syngaard pulled out his bronze griffon statuette and started rubbing it, causing it to vanish; in its place stood Dick. Syngaard leapt up onto the griffon's broad back, settling himself just in front of the creature's wings. He turned and looked down at the two elves, neither of whom had a riding mount of their own. "Either of you want a ride on my Dick?" he asked them.

"I think I would rather ride upon Burt, if you don't mind," sniffed Daleth. "There is more room."

"Come aboard," Galen smiled, putting out a hand to help pull the elven wizard up behind him onto Burt's back.

"Kaspar?" Syngaard offered.

"Thank you - I will walk," the monk simply replied. That decided, the party headed out to the forest at the northwest corner of the kingdom of Durnhill.

The lumber mill wasn't difficult to find; Dow had told the conscripts which road to take and it led them straight to it. The mill consisted of two wooden buildings set in the middle of a clearing in the forest, the mill proper - identified by the large, metal, circular saw mounted underneath an overhang of the two-story building, powered by magic no doubt - and another longer building, apparently a bunkhouse or such. But the buildings were of lesser interest than the apparent signs of a struggle, with discarded axes lying upon the ground and bloodstains scattered along the dirt. A large drag mark led off deeper into the woods.

"What's this?" asked Orion, examining the drag mark. "A giant snake?"

"It is possible," Kaspar admitted, giving the marks a thorough look-over. Galen rode Burt into the clearing, casting a protection from evil spell upon himself and his mount as they moved forward. Whether it had been a giant snake or something else, it seemed likely that combat might occur at any time and he wanted to be ready. Daleth followed suit, casting a magic circle against evil spell on himself and his pseudodragon familiar Todd as he slipped off of the dire lion's back and headed over to the long building. The wizard peeked through a window and saw a dining area, with a discarded meal still on the table; judging from the knocked-over glasses, the diners had apparently left in a hurry. Daleth surmised no combat had actually occurred in the room, merely that the occupants had been eating whenever the snake-monster had appeared. Assuming these had been lumberjacks, it would be their axes left abandoned on the ground outside after they had been slain by the giant snake. Daleth stepped into the building and went quickly down its length, discovering empty bunkrooms that could house eight lumberjacks. None were present.

Syngaard urged Dick forward, the griffon flapping his wings and taking them airborne to fly over the paladin's head and over to the mill itself. From his vantage point, Syngaard could see there was a window on the second level above the circular saw, but the glare from the sun prevented him from seeing inside. Regardless, there were no signs of anyone still alive in the place.

"Let's go," Galen said, drawing his sword of Zehkar and urging Burt forward to follow the drag marks in the dirt. He heard hissing ahead, seemingly coming from the branches above. Looking up into the trees for snakes as they rounded a bend in the clearing, Galen and Burt found a full dozen of them...all attached to a single, thick, serpentine body with scales of a brownish-red. The hydra surged forward, six of its head snapping in turn at the paladin and the other six going for the dire lion he rode. Galen managed to block the bites of several of the heads with his shield and his mithral armor prevented some of them from doing him much damage, but Burt was not so shielded and he roared in pain as serpentine fangs bit into his flesh all over. Ducking under the snapping jaws, Galen thrust the sword of Zehkar into the base of the hydra's body, causing all of its heads to hiss in pain in unison.

Hearing the sounds of combat, Kaspar ran forward at his full speed, activating his amber amulet of vermin as he did so. John appeared directly beside the hydra and snapped at the multiheaded beast with his powerful mandibles, but they failed to get a hold on the hydra's serpentine body. Kaspar, however, was bitten by a lightning-quick strike from one of the hydra's heads, which moved with the speed of a striking cobra. Kaspar walled off the pain for now, part of him - the part not dealing with a life-or-death fight with a twelve-headed hydra - noticing the creature's bite didn't seem to have any venom. That was fortunate!

Orion sent Carl through the trees to approach the hydra from the back, away from the focus of its dozen heads and directly across the beast from Galen and Burt. The hydra surprised her by noticing their approach; instantly, two of the dozen necks whipped around in their direction and the heads at the ends of those necks snapped their jaws at her and Carl, one passing through Carl's incorporeal body but the other catching the halfling on the shoulder. However, it got the worst of that exchange, for Orion had her flaming short sword in hand and with one deft move she cut entirely through the creature's neck, causing the head to drop to the forest floor. The flames from her weapon cauterized the wound on the stump of the neck, which writhed around ineffectually after its head had been severed.

Syngaard heard the sound of battle going on around the bend and sent his Dick flying high above the mill to swoop over and dive toward the twelve-headed snake fighting his fellow conscripts. As Dick dove down into a direct dive at the hydra, Syngaard stood crouched upon the griffon's neck; as griffon impacted serpentine necks and heads in an exchange of snapping jaws and beaks and raking talons, Syngaard leaped off his griffon mount and went crashing into a clump of the hydra's heads. He had his flaming brilliant energy morningstar in hand and the weapon collided into the side of one of the hydra's heads, smashing it instantly to pulp; surprisingly, the head almost instantly seemed to separate from its neck, sliding off to the side and being discarded on the ground. Syngaard's morningstar had singed the neck stump somewhat but not to the extent that Orion's short sword had done, and the now-headless neck started growing in a Y-shape, as two sections of neck, each with its own head, grew from the severed stump. "--the Hell?" sputtered Syngaard, surprised beyond belief at this sudden manifestation.

Daleth ran out of the bunkhouse and saw the battle ahead. Pulling out his metamagic rod, he channeled a scorching ray spell through it, targeting two separate heads on the multiheaded foe. Each of the twin rays struck true, burning the heads in question and cauterizing the stumps; no heads would ever grow back from those two particular necks. That brought the number of active heads down to ten, for while Orion had severed one of the original twelve, Syngaard's actions had caused an extra head to grow back. Todd, on the wizard's shoulder, hissed in anger at the hydra but Daleth wisely kept his pseudodragon familiar back from combat.

Galen healed himself while dropping from his dire lion's back. Through the empathic link they shared, the paladin knew Burt had been badly injured by the hydra's initial assault. "Back, Burt, to safety!" he commanded, and the dire lion gave a snort of disgust but followed his master's commands, scooting backwards out of range of the striking heads.

The hydra's heads whipped out again at the creature's various foes. Most struck true, although two of the heads were obviously surprised and confused when their jaws passed right through that tasty-looking dog. Dick was nearly overcome by the attacks, blood flowing freely from numerous bite marks along the griffon's flanks, staining both feathers and fur. It was all Dick could do to stay aloft, attacking the hydra's heads from above.

At ground level, Kaspar sent a flurry of blows against the hydra, concentrating the power of his strikes against the hydra's lower body rather than fighting the heads. At his side, John continued trying to chew through the hydra, but the giant stag beetle's mandibles only opened so wide and the diameter of the hydra's serpentine body was too large for the beetle to grasp as it would a smaller foe.

Orion lopped off another head with her flaming short sword but this time her weapon's flames didn't fully prevent the severed neck from regenerating two more heads. It must have dealt enough damage to slow the process, however, for rather than the abrupt dual-replacement as from Syngaard's earlier strike, these two heads and necks were taking their time to regrow.

"Try to take out the body, not the heads!" called Galen from below. Syngaard, standing in a mass of writhing necks, slammed his morningstar down hard onto the creature's back, but then the severed neck-stump whose head Orion had just cut off wandered within the fighter's reach and rather than swinging at it, Syngaard opted to just push his flaming weapon into the stump. There was a sizzling hiss as part of the stump was seared, but again it hadn't been fully prevented from springing forth any new heads. The creature was down to nine heads at this point, but there was a chance it would get back up to ten soon enough.

But then Daleth slew another two heads in a repeat of his earlier strategy: a scorching ray spell channeled through his metamagic rod that empowered any spell cast through it. Each ray burned off a head and sealed up the stump of a neck, leaving the hydra with only seven heads - just over half of its original number.

Orion had been bitten several times by this point and was starting to feel light-headed. Seeing this, Galen broke off battle with the hydra and saw to the health of his teammate. Channeling a burst of positive energy through his illimium scabbard, he shot a ray of healing energy that cascaded over the halfling's body, healing up the worst of her wounds. "Thanks, Galen!" she called to the paladin, then renewed her efforts against their joint foe,

The seven hydra heads snapped out, each striking a different foe (and the one trying to bite the incorporeal Carl hissing in growing frustration). One head caught Dick's throat in its powerful jaws and ripped it out, causing the griffon to topple lifelessly at the hydra's side and then seemingly disappear - although the hydra could be forgiven, in the heat of battle, to miss the sound of a small figurine dropping to the forest floor.

At its base, Kaspar and John retaliated, the beetle finally getting a grip on the hydra's thick body and crushing its mandibles between the beast's thick scales. Despite the success she'd had in severing heads, Orion took Galen's advice and stabbed her flaming short sword deep into the hydra's side, dealing it a significant amount of damage if the fact that all seven heads shot upwards in pain was any indication. It looked to the halfling like the serious wound she had inflicted was starting to heal up on its own, though - the hydra apparently had a very fast metabolism when it came to healing wounds, or perhaps the same power that allowed it to regenerate severed heads did likewise to its body. In either case, they needed to bring the creature down, quickly, while it was close to death and before it healed back up to full strength.

Syngaard's glowing morningstar crashed down onto the beast's spine again, the fighter cursing at the (admittedly temporary) death of his beloved Dick. The hydra staggered, its heads swaying back and forth as the serpentine creature tried to remain conscious. Daleth finished off the beast with a simple magic missile spell, channeled through the last daily use of his metamagic rod just to be sure. The darts of energy streaked across the clearing from the wizard to the hydra, slaying the creature immediately. (Syngaard had to leap to safety from the beast's back as it flopped over on its side, nearly being slammed by a lifeless head as he hit the ground, rolling.

Galen returned immediately to Burt's side and healed up the worst of the dire lion's wounds. Burt's leonine face looked shamed, but the paladin assured him his efforts had not been in vain, for by taking so many of the hydra's initial attacks himself the lion had prevented the hydra from attacking others.

With combat over, the conscripts checked out the rest of the area. There was a wagon behind the bunkhouse loaded with cut planks; it wasn't a full shipment but it would have to do for now. There were no signs of any horses in the area; either they had run off or become hydra snacks along with the lumberjacks who had worked here.

However, Syngaard did find one survivor, huddling in an upstairs bedroom in the main building: the proprietor of the lumber mill, a gnome by the name of Quincy Tinkertuft. "Figures," sneered Syngaard. "All the working stiffs are dead, but the leadership's all safe and cozy! Typical."

"I didn't dare leave with that beast around outside!" Quincy argued. "He's had me trapped in here for days!"

"The King needs your lumber shipment," Galen informed the gnome. "We'll take what you have for now, but you'll need to keep the mill running. You'd best come with us back to the city, to see about hiring some replacement lumbermen."

"But how will we pull the wagon?" asked Quincy. "The horses were both eaten. Are you going to hitch up that big lion?" Burt growled in anger at the suggestion that a paladin's dire lion bonded mount would be used as a beast of burden. Quincy whimpered in fear and hid behind Galen.

"I believe we will find an alternative solution," suggested Kaspar, pulling planks from the wagon and dropping them carefully into his bag of holding. The others followed suit - all but Syngaard, who took the time to root around the body of the slain hydra until he found his figurine of wondrous power. Dropping the statuette into his pocket, he announced to the group, "I found my Dick!"

"Good job," muttered Orion to herself. "Now let's see if you can find your own ass with two hands."

- - -

This was a refreshing change of pace: for once, we were just fighting a big monster instead of a bunch of Seekers of Eternity. Logan even commented that this was one of the few (if not the only) adventures he's written for this campaign that didn't really advance the overarching plot any, but none of us players minded - sometimes it's fun to just go on a mindless killing spree.
 

Richards

Adventurer
ADVENTURE 36: GRANDFATHER CLAUSE

PC Roster:
Daleth Stormsea, elf wizard 10
Galen Thorne, human paladin 11
Kaspar Hardstrike, elf monk 11
Orion Nightsky, halfling rogue 11
Syngaard, human fighter 11​

Game Session Date: 30 January 2019

- - -

The day began with a summons from Skevros, through the magical rings each of the conscripts wore. "Come immediately to the Enchanted Flagon," the king's adviser commanded. "Dow has been kidnapped!"

"Big flippin' deal!" scoffed Syngaard to himself as he buckled on his armor, grabbed up his shield and weapons, and said a hasty goodbye to his other employer, Katarina. She ran a cathouse not too far from the closed tavern which served as the headquarters for the five people who had been pressed into the king's service as troubleshooters. But despite Syngaard's disdain for the doll-like homunculus Skevros had created decades ago for his now-deceased young daughter, the bald fighter raced along the streets of the town at his best speed - after all, there was a good chance this would be a paying mission!

Sure enough, it was. Syngaard entered the tavern to find the others already there - no surprise, as they each chose to live in the rooms above the Enchanted Flagon, whereas Syngaard preferred the room and board he got for working as a bouncer at Kat's. Skevros sat at their main table, upon which lay Dow's unmoving doll-body and a piece of parchment.

"Ah, Syngaard, there you are," Skevros said as the scarred fighter took his place at the table. "The others have already read this over - take a look at it yourself." And he pushed the parchment over to Syngaard, who frowned as he read it. The parchment read:

SKEVROS

WE HAVE YOUR ASSISTANT. IF YOU WANT TO SEE HER ALIVE AGAIN HAVE YOUR SERVANTS BRING SYNGAARD, PREFERABLY ALIVE, TO THE ABANDONED WATCHTOWER ON ASHFALL'S SOUTHERN BORDER.
"What's with the funky writing?" Syngaard asked. Indeed, the message had been obviously written by a host of different people, judging by the way the handwriting differed several ways between even the letters of the same word.

"That's an old anti-scrying trick," Orion explained. "If you don't want anybody to be able to trace who wrote the letter, you get a whole bunch of people to write different parts of it. It makes it harder to focus on any one individual that way - you often end up spending your time tracking down a bunch of people who had been hired to add a few letters where indicated and know nothing about the letter's intended purpose. But one thing puzzles me."

"Only one?" scoffed Syngaard, looking down at his halfling verbal nemesis.

"Yeah, only one," retorted Orion. "Who in the world would want Syngaard? For anything?"

"That's easy: Karlo Maladucci, the crime lord I used to work for as a bodyguard - and my dead wife's father. I been wonderin' when he'd pop his ugly head back up." Orion opened her mouth to mention how hypocritical it was for Syngaard - whose face was covered in a maze of scars from years of combats in the streets growing up - to call anyone "ugly," but decided it was too easy a blow.

"You believe this Karlo Maladucci was the one behind Dow's kidnapping?" demanded Skevros.

"Yeah, that'd be his way of doin' business. I guess he knows I work for you, so he kidnapped someone you'd want back to make sure you turn me over to him. Thing I don't get is how he got to Dow. Don't she pretty much stay here in the tavern, or else your two manors?" Skevros had an extradimensional manor hidden in the back room of the tavern, and it was connected via a teleport gate in the fireplace with his actual manor in the Azure Glade, the place of his birth.

"She has restricted herself to those three locales, yes," Skevros affirmed.

"Hey, halfling, go make yourself useful: see if the front door's been jimmied," Syngaard suggested. Orion bit back a retort, choosing to take the bald human's command as a tacit admission that she was the one most skilled at making such a determination. Thus, without a word, she went through the front door and examined it closely from the outside. "Yep, the lock's been tampered with," she replied. "Somebody broke in here - last night, I'd assume."

"Dow's consciousness was inside the astral golem," Skevros mused, "and she's taken to wearing the hat of disguise to look more like a normal person. It's entirely possible the abductors have no idea she isn't exactly what she would appear to be: a human woman, likely in my employ."

"So you don't think this has anything to do with the Ossirnans trying to steal your astral golem?" Galen asked.

"I would presume not. Well then: to the matter at hand! Dow has been abducted; I want her returned to me unharmed. I will pay you each 2,000 pieces of gold - or their equivalent in gemstones - for her return. The ransom note shows where she's being held. I will teleport you to that location, where you will effect her rescue. Any questions?"

"Yeah, I got one," Syngaard spat out. "We plannin' on just turnin' me over to Maladucci?"

"We'll need you present," Galen pointed out. "If Maladucci - or whoever wrote the note - wants you as a condition for Dow's release, then it's going to look suspicious if we arrive without you."

"I have a question," piped up Kaspar. "If Dow is inhabiting the astral golem, why does she not simply exit the construct and return here, in her original body?" The elf monk indicated the discarded doll-body lying upon the table.

"To do so would be to lose the astral golem and her hat of disguise," Skevros pointed out. "I doubt she wishes to lose either. Plus, as a construct, she's not in any actual physical danger. It isn't as if they can actually cause her pain."

"Have you had an opportunity to scry upon this tower mentioned in the ransom note?" asked Daleth.

"I have, with negative results," admitted Skevros. "The fact that it is magically blocked from scrying is a good indicator that it is indeed being used to house Dow." He turned to face Galen, Kaspar, and Syngaard. "You know the tower well: it's the one the goblin bandits were using as a base of operations on the first mission I assigned you."

"So how we doin' this?" Syngaard asked, cutting to the chase. He wasn't pleased with simply being turned over to Karlo Maladucci. He'd worked with the man for years and knew his reputation for ruthlessness was well-founded. Demanding Syngaard be handed over to him did not bode well for the scarred fighter - and the "preferably alive" part didn't sit particularly well with him, either.

"Let's go there, like Skevros suggested, and see what we're up against," said Galen. As a paladin, he tended to favor the more straightforward approach. "I'll have Burt with me from the beginning - that will certainly make us look more intimidating."

Orion snickered. "And maybe you can try intimidating him with your Dick, Syngaard," she suggested, whistling for her own mount. Carl heard the call and materialized into the tavern. The halfling jumped up into the ghost touch saddle that allowed her to ride the manifested spirit of her slain riding dog. Once she'd been attuned to the saddle, she pulled a potion of mage armor from her belt and reached forward to give it to her dog. Carl drank it down happily; as a ghost, he didn't need to eat or drink but he remembered the sensation and enjoyed doing so whenever possible - which wasn't often in his incorporeal state. (Sometimes Orion sat in the saddle just to feed Carl a bowl of unneeded-but-enjoyable-nonetheless water.)

"No way," Syngaard countered. "Mr. Maladucci don't know about my Dick - I'm keeping it safe in my pants where he won't see it. That way I can whip it out when he don't suspect nothing."

"Then it would seem we have an adequate strategy to keep you safe," reasoned Daleth. He turned to Skevros. "I believe we are ready," he told the king's adviser.

"Hang on!" said Galen, calling across the planes for his dire lion bonded mount. Burt likewise materialized in the tavern and the paladin leaped up upon his broad back.

Orion saw the worried look on Syngaard's face and offered him a bit of comfort. "I'll tell you what," she said. "We can have Skevros teleport us far enough away that we won't be seen arriving. Then I'll have Carl go ethereal and we can scout the place out before we go in. Then at least we'll know what we're dealing with."

"You can do that?" Syngaard asked.

"Sure," Orion replied confidently - although she'd never actually tried it. She was also aware that if she somehow got separated from Carl while on the Ethereal Plane she'd have no way of getting back...but she trusted Skevros would be able to help her if it came to that.

"I assume this Karlo Maladucci is of an evil bent?" Daleth asked Syngaard.

"Oh yeah - big time." The elven wizard nodded knowingly and cast a magic circle against evil spell upon himself. Even if they wouldn't be dealing with the crime lord directly, anyone who kidnapped innocents to get others to do their bidding had to be of an evil nature. He followed that spell up with a Rary's telepathic bond that linked four of the conscripts together; the wizard hadn't trained enough with the spell yet to also include Kaspar in the link but as the elven monk was one of their most self-sufficient members, Daleth felt he'd be the one best left out. He then nodded their readiness to Skevros, Skevros cast the teleport spell, and the conscripts, Burt, and Carl were suddenly in a field with a grove of trees immediately before them.

"The tower keep's on the other side of the trees," Galen observed.

"Then I'll be right back," Orion said, but was cut off by Syngaard. "Hang on, before you go, lemme tell you what Mr. Maladucci looks like." He then proceeded to describe the crime lord, who fortunately had a rather distinctive look: he shaved the sides of his head, leaving only a strip of hair along the top of his skull. He also shaved his chin but allowed his sideburns to grow directly into his mustache, sporting a mutton-chop style not frequently worn in the Durnhill environs. But it served Karlo Maladucci's purpose, allowing him to stand out among a crowd.

"Back in a bit," Orion promised, guiding Carl to slip between the dimensions and enter the Ethereal Plane.

To the rest of the conscripts, Orion and Carl simply faded from view. But from the halfling's perspective, all color leeched from the world until it became a dreary land of black, white, and gray. "Can you hear me?" Orion asked, but got no response from the other members of her team - she hadn't expected the Rary's telepathic bond spell to be able to cross dimensional boundaries, but since she could hear what was going on in the Material Plane she'd hoped they might likewise be able to hear her. "Oh well," she told Carl. "Let's go check out the tower."

Carl responded with a happy "whuff!" and dashed forward, darting between the trees and heading straight for the tower keep. He ran straight through the front door; Orion held back a squeal of anticipation of an impending crash but passed safely through the thick, wooden door without incident. It was clear that getting used to ethereal travel would take some time!

Standing inside the lower level of the tower keep were two figures, one of them accurately fitting the description Syngaard had given of Karlo Maladucci; the other, a hobgoblin in heavy armor - mithral plate, by the look of it. Neither seemed to notice Orion or her ghostly mount, which was something else the halfling would have to get used to. But rather than hang around and tempt Fate, she urged Carl to head up the stairs. Carl, in a bit of whimsy, opted to rise straight up through the first floor's ceiling instead, rising up out of the floor on the second level. There they saw Dow tightly bound in the corner, looking bored but unhurt. (The halfling mentally chided herself for thinking the homunculus could actually be hurt inside the astral golem; once again she was thinking of Dow as a human because she currently looked like a human.) There was nobody guarding the captive, which Orion found odd. Were they really only dealing with two people here? If so, this was likely to be a rather easy mission!

Still, just to be safe, Orion sent Carl up through the ceiling of the second level and up onto the roof. That was fortunate, for she immediately spotted a wizard - identifiable by the Azure Glade robes he wore, although Orion couldn't make out what color they were in this black-and-white world and thus pinpoint his specialty - hunkered down in the corner of the rooftop, keeping his head below the top of the battlements. A light crossbow sat on the floor at his side, likely a backup weapon for when he ran out of spells. This was likely Maladucci's plan: make it seem like it was just the two of them the conscripts would have to deal with, then have his hidden wizard start lobbing fireballs or what-have-you from the roof of the keep! That was definitely information worth passing on to the rest of the group!

Carl leapt through the crenellations of the roof's top and went racing through the sky, heading back down to the rest of the group still hidden on the other side of the trees. Once returning to their sides, Orion had Carl slide back into the Material Plane, the two of them suddenly appearing back into view. As she did so, her mind snapped back into the Rary's telepathic bond spell effect, where the others had apparently been having an animated - if silent - conversation. But seeing Orion and Carl reappear, they broke off their argument long enough for the halfling to explain what she had seen.

<So just the three combatants?> asked Galen over the link. <We should be able to take them down easily enough.>

<Hey, here's an idea,> thought Syngaard. <We're gettin' paid to rescue Dow, right? Howzabout we just teleport up to the second floor, grab Dow, and scoot the Hell out of here?>

<Technically, I would be employing the dimension door spell,> argued Daleth.

<That would just be delaying the inevitable,> countered Galen. <There's nothing preventing Maladucci from finding another way to get access to Syngaard. We should confront him now and be done with it.> He mused a moment. <Syngaard, this Maladucci isn't a spellcaster by any chance, is he?>

<What? No. Just a powerful crime lord with others to do his dirty work for him. But he's still plenty tough himself - I seen it. He once choked a guy to death with one hand for botching a simple heist.>

<It would seem the wizard is the biggest threat, then. We should take him out first.>

<Well, that doesn't seem very friendly.>

The conscripts all looked around to see who had just spoken over their telepathic link - even Kaspar, who wasn't tied into the Rary's telepathic bond spell and thus hadn't heard any of the prior discussion.

<Mr. Maladucci just wants to talk to you, Syngaard,> said the voice. <He doesn't like being lied to.>

<Who's that?> demanded Syngaard. <This is a private conversation!>

<A pseudodragon?> guessed Galen. Daleth had recently obtained a pseudodragon familiar, and the paladin knew Todd could converse as easily as a human using his inherent telepathic abilities.

<More likely an imp or a quasit,> added Daleth. <Our hidden wizard likely has a more powerful familiar than normal, like I do.> Galen immediately began concentrating on ferreting out the noticeable miasma of evil; there seemed to be a source of evil nearby. "He's over here!" Galen said, forgetting in his excitement to talk over the telepathic link. He then began the words to a bless weapon spell.

<You guys are panicking over nothing,> insisted the invisible imp. <Mr. Maladucci just wants to talk with Syngaard, and then he'll release the young woman.> As if to prove the imp's point, the door to the keep opened up and Karlo Maladucci strode purposefully out the front door, his long strides taking him towards the grove of trees behind which the conscripts were hiding. "He's coming this way!" Syngaard hissed.

"Then let's go meet him," Galen replied, urging Burt forward. With a growl, Syngaard walked beside the dire lion, not wanting to be shown up by the paladin.

"Syngaard!" the crime lord called. "We must talk! I am very upset with you!"

"What for?" Syngaard called back. "I didn't do nothin'."

"On the contrary: you lied to me, about the death of my grandchild!"

"I didn't lie."

"You told me my granddaughter had died."

"Told you Mezz lost the baby. That was true. She did...when she died."

"Very well, then," countered the crime lord. "You misled me. But never fear: I have a way for you to make it up to me, and then all will be forgiven." The two parties had met in the field before the tower keep at this point, and stood facing each other. Orion and Carl had shifted to the Ethereal Plane and stood nearby, unseen, while the two elves and Todd the pseudodragon kept back by the trees. There was no point in letting Maladucci know how many people had accompanied Syngaard to this meeting - assuming the invisible imp hadn't already filled him in.

"I was actually relieved when you told me Mezz had lost the baby during childbirth - I assumed it was the devil with whom I had made my bargain collecting his payment. So you can imagine my rage when I discovered the baby was still alive and the payment for my increased powers had not occurred."

"Devil?" repeated Syngaard. "Payment?"

"Quite so. A powerful devil by the name of the Hope Ender, who granted me power beyond my wildest dreams - in exchange for my unborn grandchild. Quite the bargain, if I must say so; they normally traffic in souls. Although I suppose this is still such a deal, although the soul in question is not mine, thankfully - just that of some brat my daughter bore." It took all of Syngaard's will to keep his scarred face impassive during this exchange: Karlo Maladucci had intended for little Hope to be turned over to a pit fiend! Was he in league with the Seekers of Eternity, too? It seemed like those guys were everywhere you turned!

"Still, all is not lost," Karlo Maladucci continued. "I need only turn the child over to the Hope Ender and all is forgiven. So I need you to fetch me the child - you know where she is, I assume? - and then return to my service, and all will be as it was before."

"That's it?" Syngaard asked. "And no hard feelings?"

"None whatsoever."

"Well, all right then!" Syngaard said, visibly smiling. "I'll have to go get her - I'll be back in about an hour!" And with that, Syngaard spun about and returned to the elves, Galen and Burt following on his heels. Once the group was back together, Syngaard looked at Daleth and, without saying a word - and trying not to "think" any words over the telepathic bond, knowing there was an imp listening in, pointed at Daleth, Kaspar, and himself in turn, then up at the tower roof.

Daleth took the hint. Starting the words to a dimension door spell, the elf wizard was surprised when all of a sudden Karlo Maladucci popped into view beside him and stabbed at him with an unsheathed blade. Despite the surprise attack, the elf managed to send the three conscripts (and Todd, who Syngaard hadn't specified but whom Daleth wanted along nonetheless) up to the rooftop of the tower keep, behind the human wizard still crouching to stay out of view.

Back behind the trees, surprise reigned. Galen wasn't sure how Maladucci had gotten there so suddenly - could he teleport as well? They had just been talking to him over by the tower and had left him back there when Syngaard had walked back behind the tree-line. Little did he know that the "Karlo Maladucci" they'd been talking to was none other than the hobgoblin wearing Dow's own hat of disguise, while an invisible Karlo Maladucci had been using the powers of ventriloquism (gained by the doffing of a potion of the same name) to make it seem as if the fake crime lord were doing the talking. Invisibly, he'd kept pace with Syngaard, Galen, and Burt when they returned to their spot behind the trees, and he'd known he needed to strike once the elf wizard started casting some spell. Sure, it broke the invisibility spell but it was worth the risk - it didn't seem likely that Syngaard was going to bring him the crime lord's granddaughter if he was in the habit of hanging around with paladins!

Up on the tower's rooftop, Todd flew forward and struck at the crouching wizard with the pointed stinger at the tip of his tail. The stinger-tip penetrated the wizard's robes, injecting the sleep poison into the man's system. The venom took effect immediately and the wizard was snoring before his head hit the roof's floor. Kaspar stepped quietly forward and struck a killing blow with his right hand, shattering the wizard's skull with the force of his attack - and the full power of his tenryutsume behind it. The snores stopped as abruptly as the wizard's life.

The group heard the telepathic cries of outrage from the unseen imp at the death of his master, but the invisible devil seemed unwilling to put his life on the line to try to do anything about taking revenge on his master's slayers.

At his own master's urging, Burt dashed forward, tearing into Maladucci's arm with his front claws as Galen, mounted upon the dire lion, brought the sword of Zehkar crashing down onto the crime lord's shoulder, the full force of Hieroneous's power flowing through the blade. Maladucci gave a cry of pain, which only intensified when Burt brought one of his hind legs into play, scraping the back claws along Karlo's thigh. Then, to make matters worse for the crime lord, Orion and Carl materialized behind him and the halfling sent her flaming short sword stabbing deep into his torso.

"I'll deal with you later!" Maladucci snarled, sending a blasphemy spell ripping through his opponents. Burt was instantly banished back to his home plane, tumbling uncontrollably through the heavens until he found his footing back on the Beastlands. Unable to return to his master's side by his own will, he roared his frustration to the skies. Carl's incorporeal body was vaporized into nothingness, but as he was already undead his ghostly body would simply rematerialize in a few days. Galen and Orion, however, were instantly paralyzed, the paladin crashing to the ground on his back and the halfling slowly settling to the ground due to her ring of feather falling before she too toppled backwards, staring helplessly up at the tree limbs above her. Seeing all was as he had expected, Karlo Maladucci stormed back towards the tower keep, intent on finding Syngaard. He'd torture his granddaughter's location out of the scarred idiot, no doubt adding a few new scars before he killed the oaf.

As all of this had happened behind the tree-line, Syngaard saw none of it from his vantage point at the top of the tower's battlements. Instead, he saw what he believed to be Karlo Maladucci standing below him at the front of the tower. Since the wizard had been taken care of by the elves, Syngaard fumbled in his pants pocket, whipped out his Dick, and leapt upon it as the griffon dived down at the figure of the crime lord below. Dick screeched in fury as he dove, but the hobgoblin wearing Maladucci's form was too battle-ready to allow that to freeze him into immobility; he dodged the incoming claws and while Syngaard got in a good whack with his human bane scimitar, it didn't do nearly as much damage as the scarred fighter had hoped.

Surprisingly, this Maladucci pulled out a flail and sent its head on a crash course with Syngaard's skull; the fighter had just barely enough time to dodge under the blow, all the time wondering when Mr. Maladucci started wielding a flail. In all the years Syngaard had worked for the man, he'd never known the crime lord to use a flail in battle. But then the hat of disguise slipped from the hobgoblin's head and all was made clear - even to someone of Syngaard's limited intellectual capacity.

Daleth watched the battle from the tower's roof and was in place to see the real Maladucci round the trees and head towards his former duplicate and his son-in-law. The elf wizard channeled a shocking grasp into his familiar and sent Todd flying down to attack Maladucci. Once again Todd's stinger struck true, but the electrical spell didn't seem to do much to the man and the sleep venom did absolutely nothing. Maladucci swatted the pseudodragon out of his way the way he would an irritating mosquito and continued on his approach toward his erstwhile son-in-law, who was somehow astride a griffon and battling his hobgoblin lieutenant.

Coming up beside his fellow elf, Kaspar took in the scene below and touched his amber amulet of vermin, calling forth the giant stag beetle whose spirit dwelled within. John materialized beside Maladucci; the beetle's mandibles snapped shut but the intended prey was not caught between them as anticipated. Coming to aid his beetle, Kaspar ran down the vertical side of the tower keep, his slippers of spider climbing preventing him from simply plummeting to the ground. Upon reaching the ground, the monk sprinted at the human now actively fighting his insect friend.

Channeling another spell-like ability through his half-fiendish frame, Karlo Maladucci caused a horrid wilting effect to weaken Syngaard, Dick, John, and Kaspar. Dick's wings faltered and he barely kept his footing as he landed awkwardly on the ground, struggling to stay upright. John was completely overwhelmed by the effect, vanishing immediately and returning to the elf's amulet.

Dick, in an extreme effort, lashed out with a set of claws, scoring a hit across Maladucci's face. But the effort cost him dearly, for by focusing on Maladucci the griffon allowed the hobgoblin to strike him down with his magical flail. As the griffon reverted instantly to its statuette form and fell to the ground, the hobgoblin brought his flail into a cleaving blow, striking at where he thought Syngaard would have fallen. However, to the hobgoblin's great surprise, Syngaard remained where he was, riding absolutely nothing now - certainly not a griffon - but remaining airborne nonetheless. It was the fighter's boots of levitation that kept him in the air and thus helped him avoid the hobgoblin's crashing flail.

Daleth sent a scorching ray spell flying down from the tower roof, channeled through his metamagic rod to power it up significantly. One ray missed entirely, scorching nothing more than a patch of grass; the other hit the true Karlo Maladucci straight in the chest, but he shrugged it off as if it were nothing. Apparently the "power" the Hope Ender had granted the crime lord in exchange for his grandchild's soul included protection from several of the main energy types, fire obviously among them.

Todd struck out at the hobgoblin with his tail-stinger, but failed to connect. Kaspar rounded on the crime lord, striking him with his most powerful blow, dropping him instantly. The monk then delivered the rest of his attacks to the hobgoblin, who was obviously surprised to see his master fall like that. But Syngaard wasted no time; dropping back down to the ground by deactivating his magic boots, he grabbed the flaming brilliant energy morningstar at his belt, raised it high above his head, and brought it crashing down upon his father-in-law's skull. The weapon-head smashed through the crime lord's head with the wet sound of a pumpkin exploding and Syngaard released an involuntary cry of exultation at Mr. Maladucci's death.

The bald fighter, straddling Maladucci's corpse, looked over at the hobgoblin. "I got no beef with you!" he called out. "I'll give you one chance to surrender, or you're gonna end up like your boss here!"

"You son of a bitch - you killed my brother!" snarled the hobgoblin, confusing Syngaard enough to look down at the corpse of the crime lord as he tried to figure out how the obviously human Karlo Maladucci could be a hobgoblin's brother. "I will avenge his honor!" the hobgoblin promised, striking his flail at the nearest enemy - Kaspar, as it turned out, who handily dodged the blow. Then Daleth sent another empowered scorching ray spell down at the sole remaining foe and the hobgoblin dropped to the ground, dead.

"That don't make no sense," Syngaard said, clearly still puzzled.

"He no doubt means the hobgoblin we fought here on our first assignment," Kaspar explained patiently.

"O-o-o-o-oh!" Syngaard replied. That certainly did make a lot more sense!

<I will see about freeing Dow,> Daleth said to the others over the Rary's telepathic link spell, before opening the trap door on the floor of the roof and climbing the ladder beneath it down to the keep's top floor.

"Say...." said Syngaard, walking back over to the area behind the trees while Kaspar began removing the armor and weapons from their slain foes. Syngaard hadn't seen Galen and Orion during the fight, and there they both were, lying on their backs staring up into the branches above. As he approached, Syngaard could see them breathing so he knew they were both alive, but it looked like they'd been paralyzed somehow during the fight.

A sudden grin crossed the fighter's face as he approached Orion's still form. She still held her flaming short sword in her right hand and her legs were splayed out wide as if still sitting in the saddle. "Seems to me somebody once swapped potion vials on me, and shrunk me down to halfling size during a battle against cultists," Syngaard observed. "Some might say the offender was owed a bit of payback...."

The Rary's telepathic bond spell was still in effect, so even though she was paralyzed to the point she couldn't speak, Orion could still communicate to the others in the link, Syngaard included. <Syngaard, please don't--> she began, disliking the pleading tone of her mental voice but not being able to help it, before being cut off by the bald human towering over her immobile form.

"...But you did good, scouting out that tower with your dog like you did," Syngaard added, causing Orion to stop her mental broadcast to hear what he was going to say. Syngaard squatted down next to her, so she could get a good look at his scarred face. "There's plenty I could do to you right now, and not a single thing you could do to stop it. But you helped me take down that piece of crap Maladucci and I appreciate it. So you just remember which of us is the bigger man." Then he realized what he had just said and snickered. "Heh. 'Bigger man,' to a halfling!"

When the paralyzation effect finally wore off several minutes later, Syngaard helped Orion up without a word and then walked over to Kaspar. Galen rose on his own and joined them. "Mithral armor, two sets," the elf said, indicating the armor he'd taken from the two corpses - one breastplate and one set of full plate, along with a pair of mithral shields, one light and one heavy. Then he pointed to the weapons he'd set beside the armor. "A flail and a longsword, both seem to be magical to some extent." Syngaard grunted when he saw Maladucci's sword, which held a copy of his family crest at the base of the blade. "Throw 'em in a bag of holding," he suggested. "We'll sort 'em out later."

Galen bent down beside the corpses and turned their heads to the sides, inspecting the backs of their necks for the tell-tale hourglass tattoo indicating membership in the Seekers of Eternity. He was somewhat surprised to find their necks bare; sometimes it seemed like the Seekers were everywhere.

Daleth exited the keep with a magical crossbow over his shoulder and Dow in tow, operating the astral golem that gave her human size if her own normal exaggerated features. "I will take this back," she said, bending down to fetch her stolen hat of disguise. Placing it on her head, her own features blurred and she became indistinguishable from a normal human woman - this particular model a brunette with wavy curls and an ankle-length flared dress. (Dow liked to change her appearance frequently.)

Kaspar finished putting the loot into his extradimensional bag as directed. "What do we want to do with them?" he asked, indicating Karlo Maladucci and his hobgoblin lieutenant.

"Leave 'em for the crows," Syngaard snarled. "You got the ring of return?" he asked the monk. Kaspar retrieved the item from inside his robes and held it out for the others to grab onto.

"Then let's get the Hell outta here," Syngaard said. Kaspar activated the ring and the conscripts were gone.

- - -

This was another refreshing change: we actually got to kill somebody who's going to stay dead! Logan explained that not only are Karlo Maladucci and his hobgoblin henchman not members of the Seekers of Eternity, but the Hope Ender's not going to allow Maladucci to be resurrected in any case; he has an eternity of torment lined up for the man who was to offer up Hope Syngaard as payment for the pit fiend having granted a mere mortal crime lord the powers of a half-fiend. We also got a butt-ton (I believe that's the accurate terminology) of XP for this adventure, as Karlo Maladucci was a fighter 10/rogue 5 with the half-fiend template added on for good measure. As a result, each of the five PCs leveled up.

And I definitely surprised Vicki by not having Syngaard take his revenge on Orion when the opportunity was right there. (Dan broke out laughing as soon as I said "I move over towards Orion" once the fighting was finished.) She later admitted she had expected me to have Syngaard pee on Orion or something as revenge for being shrunken to halfling size back in adventure 9. But I felt bad that Dan and Vicki had had their PCs taken out of the action. (Given the short nature of the adventures in this campaign we don't have "backup PCs" to pass around, so I offered to let Dan run Dick and Harry likewise gave John's sheet to Vicki to run so they'd have something to do for the rest of the session.)
 
Last edited:

Richards

Adventurer
ADVENTURE 37: MIST YA

PC Roster:
Daleth Stormsea, elf wizard 11
Galen Thorne, human paladin 12
Kaspar Hardstrike, elf monk 12
Orion Nightsky, halfling rogue 12
Syngaard, human fighter 12​

Game Session Date: 6 February 2019

- - -

"Wait, what?" asked Syngaard, stepping into the Enchanted Flagon after having been summoned there by Skevros. "What's she doing here?"

"Purchasing your services," purred Serenity, indicating a bag of coins on the table. Syngaard picked one up and looked at it - it was shiny and much thicker than a normal coin.

"Silver?" scoffed Syngaard, looking down at the bag. "Can't be more than a hundred silver coins in there. What's the catch?"

"Look closer," suggested the succubus. "Those aren't silver - they're mithral. Each of those coins is worth 100 pieces of gold. That's the equivalent of 10,000 gold pieces, two grand for each of the five of you. Interested?"

"Hell, yeah!" Syngaard quickly agreed, taking a seat at the table. In anticipation of his normal request, Karen set a tankard of ale in front of him.

"What is the nature of our mission?" asked Kaspar, sitting beside the bald fighter. "I assume it has something to do with Ashfall?"

"It does. Three days ago, a dark mist fell over a small farming village. Those sent to investigate never returned. As a result, I was called back from my sentry duties in the Baator's Breath Mountains to investigate the situation with another group. Unfortunately, as I approached the mist, I was mentally assaulted - it's hard to explain, it was a sort of...shouting whispers, if that makes any sense."

"Not really," admitted Syngaard, taking a swig from his tankard. He didn't mind, though - a lot of the group's missions didn't make a whole lot of sense to the scarred fighter. Usually all he cared about was being pointed in the direction of whoever needed killing, and then getting paid at the end.

"Fortunately, the people I was with were unaffected and they were able to drag me away from the mist," Serenity continued. "I believe it was my telepathic nature that made me susceptible to the mist's effects."

If you're so telepathic, can you tell what I'm thinking right now? thought Galen, staring at the shapely reformed demon before him. He may have been a paladin of Hieroneous, but he was also a red-blooded male in the prime of his youth.

"I certainly can," Serenity smiled, looking straight at Galen, causing a look of confusion to pass between Orion and Daleth at the nonsequitur. They looked over at the paladin, wondering what was causing him to suddenly blush so.

"In any case," the succubus continued, smirking at Galen's embarrassment, "it was decided to send in the Heroes of Ashfall to check out the situation - hence my presence and the payment from a grateful kingdom. To earn the mithral coins, you need only enter the mist, determine what's causing it, put a stop to it, and hopefully prevent it from occurring again." She looked around at the assembled group. "Any questions?"

Skevros looked expectantly at Syngaard, but for once his most burning question had already been answered - this was indeed a paying mission. He gave the last of his ale his undivided attention while the rest of the group made their preparations. Orion whistled for Carl to manifest and he did so, the ghost touch saddle already in place. The little halfling was glad to see that the spirit of her riding dog had attuned enough to the magic saddle that when he was slain - as had been the case last week when Karlo Maladucci had demonstrated his half-fiend powers by killing Carl and paralyzing Orion - the saddle went with him. That was much simpler than having to fetch it and hold onto it until the next time her ghost-dog manifested. Climbing up into the saddle, Orion unstoppered a potion of mage armor and Carl happily lapped it up.

Daleth cast a Rary's telepathic bond spell on the group - all but Kaspar, that is. The wizard had decided his fellow elf was best-prepared to handle things on his own without mental discussion with the others, given that Daleth's mastery of the spell thus far only allowed him to link together four minds. "I'll be fine," Kaspar reassured the wizard.

Galen dithered over whether or not to summon his dire lion Burt right away or wait until he was needed; eventually he opted for the latter choice. "We about done?" Syngaard finally asked, setting down his empty mug. "We're burnin' daylight. Sooner we get this done, sooner we get paid."

Upon the group's acknowledgement of readiness, Skevros walked with them to the edge of the kingdom; he stayed within the confines of Durnhill while they stepped across the border - and, more importantly, outside the wards that prevented teleportation magic from functioning within Durnhill. Then the king's adviser cast a teleport spell on the assembled conscripts and they disappeared from sight. "I wish them well!" said Serenity, before disappearing herself, vanishing in a puff of smoke.

"I don't see no cloud of mist," Syngaard observed upon suddenly appearing in an open field.

"It's this way, Syngaard," pointed out Kaspar, turning the fighter - who'd arrived with his back to the obscured village - around. Or at least, the elf monk assumed it was the village; it was, at the very least, a large, oily mass of vapors that could easily hide a small farming village within its boundaries.

Todd immediately started panicking. <Voices!> he cried out telepathically, not only to his master but to the other conscripts as well. <Dozens--hundreds! Whispering! Screaming! Talking over each other!> Daleth cast a magic circle against evil spell upon himself and the pseudodragon settled down at once. <That's much better--thanks!> Todd said. He shuddered, shaking his head at the memory of the cacophony of mental voices.

"I think you'd better stay away from the mist," Daleth suggested to his familiar. "Serenity said you'd be particularly vulnerable."

<I'd probably be okay if I stayed within the radius of your spell.>

"True, but if anything happened...I think I'd feel better if you were safely outside of the mist. I'll tell you what, though - you can be on aerial patrol, and let me know if you see anyone approaching while we're all inside the cloud."

<Deal!> answered Todd, before taking wing and flying high above the mist-covered farming village.

Galen cast his own magic circle against evil spell, certain that whatever they might find lurking inside the mist would undoubtedly be of an evil nature - and, in fact, the very mist itself was triggering his ability to detect evil. Then, as an experiment, he stepped up to the border of the mist. Where his spell radius overlapped the mist, it lightened to a grayish color; stepping back, the mist darkened back to almost black. "Visibility's going to be rather limited in there," the paladin noted. He pulled out a few sunrods from his backpack and offered them to the others, activating one of them himself.

"I'm good," replied Syngaard, holding his flaming brilliant energy morningstar in his right hand like a torch. Beside him, Daleth cast a light spell on the end of his metamagic rod of empower. Orion took a proffered sunrod from the paladin with a nod of thanks, but Kaspar turned down the offer - despite the increased light it would provide, he preferred to keep his hands free for combat. Besides, if he needed light, he could activate the flames of his tenryutsume into being at will.

"We ready?" Syngaard asked.

"You are ready...are ready...ready..." answered a series of echoing voices from the mist. "Well, that's just creepy," the bald fighter observed.

As if in response, Kaspar sped straight ahead into the mist, being swallowed by the dark cloud almost instantly. He found himself just south of a large building. He also found being surrounded by the mist was somewhat debilitating: breathing in the dark vapors hurt the elf's lungs. But there was no way to investigate the village without exposing oneself to the mists, so the monk mentally shrugged and pressed on, sure that his great speed would allow him to race outside of the mist's boundaries if he got himself into too much trouble.

Syngaard was the next to enter the mist; he ended up on the other side of the building from Kaspar. He also noted the pain caused by inhaling the dark vapors and passed that information on to the rest of the group via the Rary's telepathic bond spell before pressing on ahead.

<Interesting,> replied Daleth, putting together the two facts about the pain of breathing in the mist and that it had answered a question. <It would seem the mist has many of the properties of osteovox! It might very well be somehow related. I wonder: how we might protect ourselves from its debilitating effects?>

<You are already protected...are already protected...already protected...protected....> came the voices from the fog. That's certainly handy! thought the elf to himself. He assumed it was the magic circle against evil that would protect him from the osteovox cloud...if the voices in the mist could actually be trusted to be telling the truth. Not willing to believe the mist himself, Galen drank down a potion of delay poison and offered Daleth a potion of neutralize poison, which the elf gratefully accepted.

<Visibility's about 10 feet or so,> Syngaard observed from inside the cloud of dark vapors. <I got movement up ahead...It's a skeleton!> Sure enough, stumbling out of the darkness and into the radius of the light from Syngaard's morningstar came an animated human skeleton. It wore no armor and wielded no weapon, but approached the fighter with claws ready to scratch at Syngaard's eyes. He raised the mithral shield in his left hand and readied the magic morningstar in his hand to crash into the skull of the rushing skeleton as soon as it got into range. Then, suddenly, the mist no longer burned the fighter's throat as he heard the clanking of Galen's armor approach from behind him. It seemed like the magic circle against evil spell did keep the osteovox's acidic nature at bay.

Syngaard swung at the skeleton, who had clawed at the fighter but missed. Galen stepped up beside Syngaard, seeing three more skeletons approach the two warriors. Then there was a swirling of the mists and Orion passed by, riding on Carl's back. She brought her flaming short sword crashing into the skeleton that had attacked Syngaard, bringing it collapsing to the ground in a pile of unconnected bones. Syngaard was surprised at the halfling's immediate success, until he recalled the ritual she had performed with the ashes of the slain nymph Autumn Rose - the halfling could now see the weak spots in the necromantic energy-web that kept corporeal undead animated.

But then the light from Orion's flaming weapon picked up another combatant - and this one much worse than any mere animated skeleton. This was a pulsating blob of pink flesh, a slow-moving heap of body parts all fused together into one disgusting mass. While the halfling stared in frozen horror, the ooze lifted a slimy pseudopod - one that had parts of faces and wobbling, boneless fingers growing out of it! - and slammed it into the halfling. She screamed as some of her skin was peeled away at the tentacle's retraction - it was if she had suffered a bad sunburn and was peeling, only the removed skin was being absorbed into the flesh ooze! Indeed, Orion's magically-enhanced sight saw a brief flash of necromantic energy cascade across the ooze's body, as some of her stolen life-force was used to make the quivering mass grow more powerful. "Back, Carl!" Orion cried out and the ghost-dog was more than happy to comply.

On the other side of the building, Kaspar heard Orion's panicked scream and ran to her rescue. Of course, while most people would have run around the building between them, the monk saw no need not to go via the shortest distance, even if that meant running up the side of the building and across its roof. As he approached the wooden structure he saw a black-robed figure standing inside, facing the back of what seemed like a simple church. But then Kaspar's momentum took him up the wall, across the roof, and dropping down among the others. Upon landing beside Galen, the monk reached inside his robes and flung a shuriken at the flesh ooze, his tenryutsume infusing the metal weapon with fire and electricity before it struck the mass of flesh. "There's a necromancer inside that church," Kaspar commented to the others.

"I got him!" Syngaard called out. "I'd use ranged attacks on that thing," he suggested, "--Hey, where's Wizard-Pants?" <Wizard-Pants! Get in here! We got a job for you!> Then he was gone, running up to the church door and crashing through it. Sure enough, there was a black-clad wizard standing at the back of the room, already starting to turn at the sound of Syngaard's entrance. Not wanting to allow him to cast any spells if he could help it, Syngaard threw his returning javelin at the necromancer. The wizard, Alexandros, had just cast a protection from good spell on himself to help him avoid damage from these interlopers, but this time it failed as the hurled javelin pierced the front of his robes and lodged between his ribs before teleporting back to Syngaard's hand. However, the disguise self spell he'd cast earlier prevented Syngaard from recognizing the most recent form of the Mithral Mage.

Daleth finally entered the mist at Galen's telepathic urging, racing up behind the paladin and casting an empowered fireball at the flesh ooze. The sudden burst of flames exploded outward, engulfing not only the quivering mass of flesh but also all three of the skeletons - and a few more skeletons that had been behind the flesh ooze, outside the range of illumination. All in all, four skeletons were destroyed by the elf wizard's spell.

Knowing the flesh ooze was best dealt with by ranged attacks and he was more geared for hand-to-hand fighting, Galen burst through one of the church's side windows to go help Syngaard deal with the black-robed necromancer. Then, ironically, he got a glimpse of bone flickering through the illusion of flesh and, realizing this was likely an undead being, the paladin used his illumium scabbard to channel Hieroneous's positive energy in a ranged attack upon the lich. Alexandros burned under the paladin's attack and he dropped the disguise self spell, revealing himself in all of his skeletal glory. "Idiots!" he hissed. "I'm trying to figure this out and put an end to it!"

Outside in the mists, the remaining skeletons were moving in to attack Carl and Orion. Of course, those that attacked the ghost-dog had their bony claws pass right through the incorporeal spirit's body; fortunately, those attacking Orion weren't any more successful. But now three more skeletons stepped forward into the pool of illumination provided by the halfling's flaming weapon. Orion stood in the saddle and urged Carl to attack; the dog raced forward at the skeleton directly before him and passed right through its bones; as it turned to follow the motion, Orion, who had leaped from the saddle, dropped to the ground and slew it with a single stab of her blade. She then raced into the church, slamming the door closed behind her to prevent the ooze from following. Carl followed by simply racing through the wall of the building.

Seeking a new target now that the halfling was out of its sensory range, the flesh ooze turned toward the elves. It sent a pseudopod slamming into the wizard, draining Daleth of some of his life energy and healing its burns in the process. Kaspar sent a flurry of shuriken into the flesh-blob's form, being sure to stay back out of range of its flailing tentacles. Daleth staggered backwards as well and retaliated with a chain lightning spell targeted directly at the flesh ooze and arcing off to strike all of the animated skeletons the wizard could see.

Inside the church, Alexandros cast a spell and disappeared. "Crap!" swore Syngaard. "Did he just teleport away?"

"No..." replied the voices in the mist. "He has turned invisible...turned invisible...invisible...." With a smirk that the stupid osteovox mist was helping them kill the Mithral Mage, Syngaard sent his flaming brilliant energy morningstar crashing into the area where he thought Alexandros might be standing. He missed - the lich wasn't where he had thought he'd be. "Where the Hell did he go?" Syngaard cried out loud.

"Out the window...the window...window...." answered the tattle-tale mist. Galen ran to the broken window on the south side of the building and looked out. Not surprisingly, all he saw was mist. So he cast his senses across the planes and called to his dire lion mount. "Burt," he said. "Come to me!"

Burt manifested outside the church, surrounded by mist, and snorted violently through his nostrils as if unpleased by the sensation. "Invisible lich!" Galen called to his mount. "Sniff him out, Burt!" Burt needed no further prompting; he took a few steps to the southeast and swiped at the mist with the claws of his foreleg, striking something solid in mid-air. "I thought I turned you into a mithral statue!" griped Alexandros, clearly agitated.

Orion leaped back onto Carl's saddle and prompted the ghost-dog to fade into the Ethereal Plane. That was a bad idea: the mist became much thicker as soon as he had done so, and there was indecipherable whispering all around the halfling, sometimes seeming as if someone - or several someones at once - were speaking directly into her ears. The halfling had Carl pass through the church's southern wall and return to the Material Plane, beside Burt and his invisible foe.

On the northern side of the church, the flesh ooze made a lunge at Kaspar, but the nimble monk easily avoided the tentacle-mass that swung his way. Skipping back a few steps, he let fly with a flurry of shuriken, each of the barbed throwing stars powered by both fire and electricity as they struck the mass of discarded flesh. The monk recalled the time the conscripts had been sent to gather flowers to craft osteovox for the first time, and the fact that if consumed, osteovox would slough the skin right off of you. He had a sneaking suspicion he knew where the flesh making up this abomination had come from, and why there had been animated skeletons about.

Alexandros tossed a fireball spell at the midpoint of the assembled heroes trying to fight him; the fiery explosion caught Burt, Galen, and Syngaard - the latter two having just climbed out of the broken window - in its blast radius. Syngaard was the farthest away from the likely source of the fireball spell and didn't feel like playing the "guess where the invisible lich is" game, so he reached into his pants and pulled out his griffon statuette, giving it a quick rub. He threw it in the likely direction of the invisible lich, calling out, "Get 'im, Dick!" The griffon expanded to full size in mid-throw and could sense the location of Alexandros by the unmistakable scent of blood on his unseen robes. Flapping unerringly to his invisible prey, the griffon bit down hard with his beak and clawed the lich's ribs. Alexandros retaliated with a quickened scorching ray, but he only managed to hit the griffon with two of the fiery blasts.

<We're fighting an invisible guy over here, Wizard-Pants!> called Galen over the mental link. <Get over here and use your true seeing on one of us!> The paladin knew Daleth could cast the spell through his Azurewood staff of divination, and that the spell would allow its recipient to be able to pierce through the invisibility spell with ease. That was exactly what was needed; Burt and Dick seemed able to sniff out their foe with ease, but the two humans and the halfling would just be striking at their best guesses as to the lich's location.

Daleth was hit by a sudden decision paralysis. Should he go do as Galen had said, or stay here and combat the flesh ooze? The quivering mass was best fought with ranged attacks, of which the elf wizard was the best qualified. But would it be better to take down the lich, who was their primary foe? He stood there, unmoving and confused, until Kaspar yelled, "Do something, Daleth!" Snapped out of his indecisiveness, Daleth cast a cone of cold at the flesh ooze, opting to stay where he was and finish his first mission before moving on to the next one. The elven wizard was thus an excellent example of someone with a staggering intellect but a distinct lack of common sense, as the flesh ooze had already demonstrated it could only move along the ground at a ridiculously slow speed - slow enough that it could easily be outpaced without even breaking into a run. And yet Daleth took a step forward toward the blob as he cast his spell, perhaps wishing to ensure he hit the thing.

He hit the thing, all right: chunks of its suddenly-frozen flesh sloughed off and smashed against the ground like an iceberg calving. But there was still plenty of fleshy ooze-pulp beneath the frozen layers, and the thing lashed out at the wizard, easily catching him with a pseudopod as he had obligingly moved closer to the dangerous blob. Kaspar stepped forward to help extricate his fellow elf from the flesh-mass and was struck himself for his efforts. But then Kaspar lashed out with a flurry of blows - he figured he might as well, since he was already in contact with the blob - and it quivered under each strike, the monk's fists and feet causing ripples of energy to vibrate through the flesh-blob's entire mass.

Galen leaped atop Burt's broad back, figuring that since his dire lion could unerringly determine the lich's location by scent, it would be best for the paladin to go along for the ride and always have a pretty good idea of Alexandros's location. In fact, Burt charged forward once the paladin was seated upon his back, crashing into the unseen lich with both sets of front claws and biting at him with his oversized fangs. Galen swung his sword of Zehkar directly in front of Burt's face and felt the satisfying thunk! noise of forged steel on bone. Orion and Carl moved into position to flank the lich, but unfortunately the halfling's sword-strike failed to connect.

However, the lich was now being attacked on all sides by a dire lion, a paladin of Hieroneous wielding a sword containing the spirit of the lich's hated brother, a griffon, and a halfling riding the ghost of a riding dog. So, for some reason, he opted to suddenly strike out at Syngaard, still some distance away as he ran to join the free-for-all, hitting the scarred fighter with a reduce person spell. Syngaard once again - for the third time in his adventuring career - found himself shrinking down to halfling size. That meant short, stumpy legs that wouldn't propel him nearly as fast as when he was at human size and weaker, shorter arms and a smaller weapon size that would ensure he did much less damage to his foes if he did manage to catch up to them and hit them. "What the Hell--?" cried Syngaard, offended and confused all at once.

"Reduce person...person..." responded the helpful osteovox cloud to the fighter's involuntary question. Syngaard threw his teeny-tiny returning javelin in the lich's general direction out of sheer frustration, but of course it missed.

Alexandros cast a quickened scorching ray at Galen, blasting the hated paladin on his perch atop the dire lion. At the same time, Daleth cast a scorching ray of his own, this one channeled through his metamagic rod, and the quivering flesh ooze quivered no more, becoming a burning mass of twisted, dead flesh.

Dick and Burt continued to harry the lich, as did Galen and Orion, although with varying levels of success. Kaspar, seeing the burning death of the flesh ooze, sprinted in front of the church and found the others still in combat. Deducing the lich's likely position, the monk dove feet-first into the melee, his foot striking invisible bone as he unerringly kicked Alexandros's jaw. Crying out in shock, the invisible foe started the words to a spell, and everyone within range struck at him at once, trying to put an end to him before whatever spell he cast took effect. But it soon became clear the lich was no longer among them. "Where'd he go?" Orion cried out.

Obligingly, the osteovox answered the question put before it, this time non-verbally. A part opened up in the clouds of vapor, leading unerringly across the open square of the town to a spot on the other side, presumably where Alexandros had just dimension doored. To make his location even more clear, tendrils of condensed mist coiled around the lich, giving away his exact position.

"Kill the bastard, Dick!" Syngaard called from behind the group. The griffon flew across the open square and crashed into the lich with its front talons, staggering the lich back. Syngaard sped after his griffon, but his stumpy little halfling-sized legs didn't get him very far and he swore in anger. That damned spell had likely taken him out of this entire fight!

Finally recalling Galen's instructions but now finding himself standing all alone by the flaming corpse of the flesh ooze, Daleth used his staff to cast a true seeing spell upon himself. Instantly, Alexandros popped back into his view: the lich was barely standing, his robe torn and ripped, and - inexplicably to the elf wizard - its insides covered in congealing blood. Also surprising to Daleth was the fact that the osteovox seemingly disappeared from view as well - it was if the elf now stood in the middle of the desolate farming village in full daylight.

Burt ran across the village square towards Alexandros, Galen still in position upon his back. Orion followed on Carl, taking pity on a half-sized Syngaard and pulling him up onto the saddle behind her as she passed him. That didn't do much to appease the wronged fighter, who muttered, "Great - now I'm part of the freakin' halfling cavalry!" under his breath. It was also unnerving sitting directly behind Orion and seeing the halfling's head as high up as his; it only served to remind the fighter of his reduced size. Bastard's gonna pay! Syngaard swore to himself, realizing at the same time that there was little chance he'd be able to make good on that promise at his current size.

Alexandros saw the end was near, but still got off a final fireball spell that engulfed all but Daleth, who was too far away from the others. Syngaard wasn't quite sure how she did it, but somehow Orion ducked her head and the flames seemed to pass right by her, leaving her unscathed. Carl was similarly unfazed, but he was incorporeal - that at least made sense to the scarred fighter. Syngaard didn't witness it directly, but Kaspar, with his monk's training, also managed to twist with the flow of fiery energy and slide between the flames, landing catlike on his feet without any damage. But the fireball took out Dick, who dropped back to the ground in statuette form, and Galen and Burt both looked as singed as Syngaard felt.

Then Daleth pointed his metamagic rod at the lich and channeled a simple magic missile spell at him. That was all it took before Alexandros crumbled into a pile of loose bones within his robe.

"We haven't seen the last of him, have we?" asked Orion as Carl slowed to a stop and sniffed at the lich's pile of bones.

"You have not...have not...not..." the osteovox responded to the spoken question.

The group spread out and looked for survivors in the abandoned houses, but of course there were none. However, they did find a discarded silver robe lying in the middle of the village square, leaving them with even more questions. And except for Daleth, whose true seeing spell allowed him to ignore the osteovox cloud, the others were still seemingly surrounded by the dark mist.

"I don't want to phrase this as a question," began Galen, "but I recall Skevros saying using osteovox was dangerous. It makes me wonder if we should avoid asking the osteovox mist itself how to get rid of it."

"It would seem as if that were the most efficient method, however," added Daleth.

"Thus far, it has answered all of our questions truthfully," pointed out Kaspar. Syngaard had nothing to add to the conversation; he was too busy using his original morningstar to smash each of the lich's bones into splinters - and this only after using his flaming brilliant energy morningstar at first, forgetting that it passed harmlessly through unliving matter (which did nothing to increase the pleasantness of his mood). If he couldn't kill the damned lich, then by the gods he'd kill his damned bones!

"How would we best destroy the osteovox cloud surrounding this village?" asked Kaspar, going for broke.

"Write a question...a question...question," answered the voices from the mist. "Wrap it around a skull...around a skull...a skull...."

"That makes sense," observed Galen. "Basically, perform an osteovox ritual."

"What question should we write?" asked Daleth, failing to anticipate the inevitable response from the osteovox voices: "Whatever you like...you like...like...." Frowning - he should have realized that would happen - Daleth pulled out a piece of parchment and a writing pen from a pouch at his belt. He scribbled a quick question - "What caused the osteovox cloud to form?" - and folded it into a long strip. The he walked over to Syngaard. "I need the lich's skull," he said.

"This one's taken," Syngaard replied, striking it a blow with his morningstar - he had saved the skull for last. "Go find another one!" With a sigh of irritation, Daleth picked through the remains of the animated skeletons he'd slain with his chain lightning spell. He wrapped the strip of paper around the skull, then stepped back and waited. "This usually takes about an hour, when the osteovox is in liquid form," he reminded the others. But it played out differently this time: the mists all flew at the skull from all directions, becoming instantly absorbed into the bone. In a matter of seconds, the sun shone unhindered upon the little farming village, showing the conscripts the whole village at once: the still-burning remains of the flesh ooze, the collapsed piles of bones of the animated skeletons, and the shattered remains of the lich's most recent skeleton. With a flapping of small wings, Todd alit on the ground beside his master. <Much better!> the pseudodragon said.

"What's it say?" Orion asked, looking over at the parchment - and for once her question wasn't answered in whispered echoes. But before Daleth could reach down for the parchment, the skull's jaws opened up and it spoke in a clear, resonant voice. "Alexandros and a necromancer assistant came to turn the entire village population to mithral - as he did every time Hirek killed him - but the power was too great for his host body, causing the osteovox to explode outward, creating the mist. The necromancer assistant voluntarily became Alexandros's new host body. Alexandros was attempting to bring the osteovox back under control since it is the medium through which his soul manifests." And with that, the skull and the parchment wrapped around it crumbled to dust, blowing away in the slight breeze.

"'Bout damn time!" came Syngaard's sudden voice from behind the rest of the group. Looking over at him, the others saw he had regained his normal size - apparently the duration of the reduce person spell had finally expired. "Come on, let's get back home and grab up them mithral coins!"

There was nothing like money to help the scarred fighter forget about his tribulations. Kaspar reached inside his robes and pulled out the ring of return that would bring the conscripts back to the border of Durnhill.

- - -

This was a cool adventure, with an interesting premise - right up until the "dick move" of Alexandros casting reduce person on Syngaard. That was completely out of the blue and made no sense in-game; after all, the lich was surrounded by four active combatants who could harm him (Carl doesn't count), and Syngaard wasn't even near him at that point, nor had he demonstrated any ability to do the lich any appreciable harm. So for Alexandros to shrink Syngaard down to halfling size seemed like nothing more than a "screw you" move on the part of the DM to one of his players - namely me. Logan argued (the next day, when we discussed the previous night's game over dinner) that at that point Alexandros knew this body wasn't going to last for long and thus decided to "go for the humiliation" - but I countered with the facts that: 1) there shouldn't be any way Alexandros knew that Syngaard absolutely hated being shrunk down to halfling size (or worse yet, polymorphed into a halfling); and 2) Alexandros had already stated earlier in the game that he was trying to figure out how to stop the osteovox cloud on his own. It would be pretty difficult for him to do so after we'd killed him, now, wouldn't it? And the fact that the very next round he cast a dimension door spell indicated he still had a means of escape from the four foes pummeling him.

Logan assures me the fact that Alexandros knows about Syngaard's dislike for size reduction makes sense in-game, but it's for a reason we don't currently know about. If so, fair enough - but it still seemed like a stupid course of action for a lich trying to stay alive long enough to "fix" the osteovox cloud - which, if it "came" from him (as the skull explained at the end of the adventure), could have been a major problem for the lich. (What if we just left the mist in place? Would that mean Alexandros was unable to take over any other willing hosts from that point on?) Anyway, that "dick move" effectively took me right out of the game; from that point on, I couldn't even move fast enough to catch up with the combat, so I might as well not have been there (other than to run Dick, up until he died). That would have been perfectly fine if Alexandros had taken me out for a logical reason, but this just seemed ham-handed and arbitrary. (Dan swung by my office the next day to ask if I had really been as mad as I had seemed during the end of the adventure the previous night - apparently I was wearing my full fury on my face.)

Anyway, despite Alexandros's questionable "screw you" tactics, it was a fun adventure. The osteovox cloud was a cool idea, and the fact that it answered any questions put to it allowed us to use it to our advantage, which made for a quite different combat indeed.
 
Last edited:

Advertisement

Top