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The Durnhill Conscripts



PC Roster:
Daleth Stormsea, elf wizard 17​
Galen Thorne, human paladin 18​
Kaspar Hardstrike, elf monk 18​
Orion Nightsky, halfling rogue 17​
Syngaard, human fighter 18​

Game Session Date: 4 September 2019

- - -

Kaspar stepped up to the temple gate where he had trained in the ways of the monk for years before entering into the service of the kingdom of Durnhill. He had only to raise his right hand, upon which he wore the tenryutsume, for the guards to swing the gates open and allow him - and the other four conscripts - entrance. Kaspar bowed as he passed the guards and they in turn lowered their heads in reverence at his passage, closing the gates after all five heroes had entered. If they seemed disturbed that one of the heroes sat mounted in the saddle of the ghost of a riding dog, it didn't show on their stoic faces.

"Do you remember the way to Tenryu's lair?" Galen asked.

"I remember," Kaspar replied, leading the group unerringly through the corridors of one the temple's larger buildings. He stepped to a familiar wooden door and opened it. Mist immediately spilled from the open portal. Then, without a moment's hesitation, the monk stepped forward, the others following in his wake.

"Looks the same as last time," Syngaard observed as the conscripts entered a small corridor of five doors, one of which they had just stepped through. That, he recalled, was the Fire Door; the other four ahead of him bore symbols of Air, Water, Wood, and Stone. And ahead was a large, open chamber, where the group had first encountered Tenryu, sitting alone in her throne against the back wall. Above them, the sun shone down from beyond the 20-foot-tall walls ringing the chamber; as before, the chamber had no ceiling and was open to the air. There were closed wooden doors to both the east and west.

Kaspar walked straight to the western door. "Hey," Syngaard called to him, "the treasure room's this way!" Tenryu, he recalled, hadn't let them explore beyond the eastern door, claiming it as her own lair. Surely that was where the sky-dragon's hoard was to be found!

But Kaspar remembered the pile of coins and gems on the floor behind the western door, part of the Test of Wealth. Touching the tenryutsume to the trial chamber door, it glowed briefly as the heat metal trap deactivated. Without a word, he entered the room beyond, dropped to his knees, and started scooping the wealth into his bag of holding. "Oh, yeah!" Syngaard called, only now remembering the treasure just sitting there for the taking the first time they came this way - treasure they had at the time been forbidden from touching! The others entered the chamber behind Kaspar and helped him scoop up the coins and gems, Daleth concentrating instead on removing the metal-bound books from the shelves at the far end of the chamber. The contents of this library were written entirely in Draconic, he recalled, as he thought of the pleasure he'd have when he had the chance to read through all of this amassed knowledge. But for now, each book was carefully removed from the shelves and placed in a bag of holding. Only once the chamber had been entirely looted did Kaspar lead the others back to the one door in the complex through which they'd never before entered.

Orion gave it a quick perusal and deemed it untrapped. She nodded to the monk, who touched the doorknob with his right hand. There was a quiet "click" as the door unlocked at the touch of the tenryutsume and then Kaspar opened it to reveal the room beyond. It was a hallway, with a slight slope leading down to the north. Directly across the hallway was a line of six sets of Jakuran samurai armor mounted on stands, the half-dozen figures armed with alternating weapons: either a naginata or a katana and wakizashi. The closer wall - the one containing the door - held four armored forms, of the type with which the Durnhillians were more familiar: full plate, shields, and longswords.

"I believe now would be a good time to cast our preparatory spells, before we enter the chamber," pointed out Daleth, beginning a flurry of spellcasting himself: stoneskin, false life, and fly upon both Todd and himself, followed by a stoneskin spell on Orion from a scroll the halfling provided. Upon receiving the protective spell, Orion bent forward in the saddle and activated the collar around Carl's neck, infusing the ghost-dog with the benefits of a false life spell of his own. Syngaard activated his bronze griffon, Dick, and leaped upon his broad back. Galen cast a death ward spell upon himself and a bless spell upon the entire assembled group.

They then looked over to Kaspar, indicating their readiness. But the monk merely frowned, looking over at his fellow elf. "Did you wish to cast a Rary's telepathic bond spell on the group?" he asked Daleth.

"I didn't prepare it," Daleth admitted. "We'll be in a confined area; we shouldn't need it."

"You sure about that, Wizard-Pants?" asked Syngaard. "The spell's come in mighty handy before."

"Why don't we let me decide which spells are of the most benefit, seeing as I'm the only one in the group capable of arcane spellcraft?" sneered the wizard testily. "If you're so eager for a Rary's telepathic bond spell, you're more than welcome to cast one yourself - if you have the requisite knowledge to do so. No? Well, then." Daleth crossed his arms, resting his case. Syngaard just raised his eyebrows and shook his head with a "what are you going to do with testy wizards?" look.

"I'll check the place out," offered Orion, eagerly changing the subject. Carl went ethereal and the pair slipped into the room. They made a point to pass through each of the sets of armor, mainly to ensure they weren't being worn by skeletons or anything. "Nothing evil in the room," Galen pointed out after concentrating on the auras around each of the armored figures. But Orion and Carl discovered they couldn't pass through the walls or floor of the hallway; the halfling had thought to examine whether or not there was a room on the other side of the far wall and found instead a solid surface like a wall of force embedded about an inch within the stone of the wall. Simple experimentation showed the same held true for the floor - it looked like she and Carl would be confined to the rooms' interiors like the rest of the group!

Still, that left the normal exit from the hallway: the chamber at the northern end, where the sloping floor led. There was an elaborate rune carved into the floor's stone surface, while a set of steep steps - each about five feet tall - led down to a lower level off to the left of the rune-chamber. Carl - hovering slightly above the floor to ensure he didn't accidentally step onto the rune - turned the corner and he and his halfling rider looked down the steps to see another rune on the floor at the bottom, opening to a larger chamber likely to be directly beneath Tenryu's throne room. Deciding it couldn't hurt to check it out to be sure, Orion prodded Carl forward, down the stairs, and he hovered in place above this second set of runes without touching them. But sure enough, the room beyond was the same size and shape as Tenryu's throne room directly overhead - but that was weird, because this lower room, like the one above it, also had no ceiling, with a view of an open sky above! A frown crossed the halfling's face as she puzzled it out: the sky seemingly directly overhead had to be an illusion of some sort.

But then, in the brightness of the false sun's light, she looked back to the far end of the room and saw another pile of treasure - coins and gems, mostly - lying in a pile on the stone floor. This pile, however, was flanked by two enormous guards, a pair of statues: one stone, carved in the uncanny likeness of Tenryu' human form, the other a male form molded in iron that the halfling was pretty sure was a representation of Zehkar the paladin. She looked down at the rune, above which Carl was hovering, and was glad he hadn't touched it; surely that was some sort of trigger to animate the stone and iron golems into attacking any who would take the dragon's treasure for themselves.

It was tempting to try to have a go at sweeping up the treasure without activating the golems - in fact, that was starting to become somewhat of a specialty for the little halfling - but with a sad shake of her head Orion wheeled Carl around and they headed back up the steep steps to return to the others and explain all that she'd seen. The group decided it was likely safe enough to advance up to the first rune, where Daleth and Orion stood closest to it, examining it intensely, the wizard trying to decipher its purpose and the halfling attempting to find a simple way to deactivate it. Syngaard, for his part, had Dick facing back towards the rows of armor, just in case they got any wild ideas about animating and attacking. He held his morningstar at the ready to bring it crashing down on the head of the nearest samurai armor. Farther back in the room stood Galen and Kaspar, neither of them as paranoid as the scarred fighter...although Galen held the sword of Zehkar at the ready, just in case.

"These runes here signify transmutation magic," Daleth observed.

"I'm going to try to deactivate it," Orion said, stepping down from Carl's saddle. She knelt down, pulled a small coil of metal wire from the kit at her belt, and carefully placed the ends to touch two different parts of the magic glyph, which in her experience had a pretty good chance of messing up the intended energy of the defensive rune. "Here's hoping," she said quietly to herself; with transmutation magic, there was a chance she could end up polymorphed into a chicken or something if she messed this up.

But no, Syngaard had been right: this was an activation rune that animated all of the suits of armor in the hallway behind her. Her attempts at disarming it had the opposite effect than what she had intended. "I knew it!" she heard Syngaard call from behind her, but she was already leaping back onto Carl's ghost touch saddle and sending the undead mount racing down the stairs, sliding effortlessly into the Ethereal Plane as they descended the stairs.

At the first sight of motion from the armor, Syngaard brought his morningstar crashing down on the nearest of the samurai armor, while two katanas and two naginatas came stabbing at Dick, piercing his all-too-mortal flesh. The griffon squawked in pain and slashed out with his claws at the animated armor, to little effect. But Syngaard was a whirlwind of energy perched on the griffon's back, sending three of the Jakuran sets of armor flying into their component pieces, one after the other.

From the left wall, the western suits of plate mail were activating as well. Kaspar sent a series of well-placed blows into the joints of two of these animated foes, causing them to crash to the stone floor in a clatter of individual armor pieces as well. Galen attacked and destroyed the last remaining Jakuran armor that had been stabbing at Dick, cutting it down with his longsword. The other two sets of full plate swung their longswords at the paladin in retaliation, but Galen caught one blade on his shield and stepped aside from the swing of the other. From further down the hall, the two remaining sets of samurai armor advanced.

Daleth saw the combat types behind him had the remaining sets of animated armor well in hand and flew down the stairwell, casting a detect magic spell as he did so. As expected, the lower rune flashed in his arcane sight; a closer examination of the rune allowed the wizard to determine it was divinatory in function, with an added flourish along the outer edges of the rune that indicated a proximity alert...uh oh! Sure enough, when Daleth looked toward the two golems at the back of the chamber they were stirring to life, his mere presence this close to the rune being enough to trigger it, even though he'd been careful not to touch it.

Side by side, the golems advanced toward the elven wizard and his pseudodragon familiar (and Orion and Carl as well, but they were hidden from view while on the Ethereal Plane). <I'm not going to be able to do too much against them!> Todd telepathically advised his master; pseudodragon stingers injected a sleep venom into their victims but golems would be completely immune to anything the little familiar might try to dish their way.

"You stay back," Daleth concurred. "I've got this."

Unseen by any in the chamber, Carl raced to the back of the room (passing straight through the iron golem in doing so) and returned back to the Material Plane once in place by the amassed treasure. But the golems spun about as one, facing Orion - apparently they could sense her living presence. That wasn't good!

Back in the upper hallway, there were still two sets each of Jakuran armor and Durnhillian full plate still in play. The samurai armor stabbed their respective weapons into the griffon, the naginata piercing his heart. With a final cry, Dick reverted to his statuette form, dropping to the stone floor and leaving Syngaard to hover in place through the power of his boots of levitation. But then the fighter dropped to the floor and sent his morningstar crashing through the Jakuran armor with the naginata and then through an advancing suit of Durnhill full plate as well.

That left one suit of each type of armor. Kaspar, confident that Galen and Syngaard could handle them, raced down the widely-spaced steps (they had obviously been built for the scale of Tenryu's full dragon form) at full speed, landing squarely on the magic rune at the bottom (for the sounds of combat beyond informed the elf that the rune had already been triggered). He then ran straight at the nearest golem, hoping to strike it down. But the stone golem, still in the process of turning to advance upon Orion, caught the monk's motion and sent a massive fist crashing down upon him. Kaspar staggered under the powerful blow, all of his forward momentum dissipated; rather than being able to attack the stone golem, it was all he could do to remain on his feet.

Daleth cast a chain lightning spell upon the iron golem, his readings on the subject of such creatures allowing him to recall it would be pointless to try to arc the spell out to the stone golem as well, for there were but a small handful of spells which could affect golems and this was not a spell capable of affecting one crafted of stone. But it was one of the weaknesses of an iron golem, causing it to slow its movements considerably. In fact, the iron construct had been poised to send one of its fists crashing down upon Kaspar, but the nimble monk was able to dodge out of the way of the slow-moving attack after Daleth's spell took effect.

The stone golem, in the meantime, returned its attention to Orion, back there by the treasure it had been created to guard. The halfling idly wondered if it was just a coincidence that the golem crafted in the image of Zehkar was continuing to fight off the intruders while the one wearing the dragon's human form was more interested in keeping the treasure from being stolen. But it really didn't matter which one was on to her; the fact that one of them was would prevent her from getting a head start on the accumulation of the dragon's hoard. With a pressure from her legs, she urged Carl back onto the Ethereal Plane, from where they would be undetectable from the golems. They almost made it unscathed, too, although the stone golem's fist gave the halfling a glancing blow during the transition between the planes. But Carl took an involuntary step away from the golem and Orion slipped the ring of invisibility onto her finger. The next time she reappeared onto the Material Plane, she'd see whether it was the presence of a living creature in the room that triggered the golems' awareness or if they relied upon sight like most other creatures.

Galen finished off the remaining Durnhillian armor, causing it to fall to pieces to the floor among the other scattered chunks of armor from two different parts of the world. Syngaard reached down to retrieve his bronze griffon, then, knowing he could activate it but one more time in the next week, proceeded to do just that. Dick reappeared at full size and restored to complete health and the bald fighter leaped upon his back and sent him flying down to battle the golems. As they flew, Syngaard repositioned his shield on his left arm,making sure he had full mobility in his left hand - upon which he wore his never-before-used gauntlet of rust. He was eager to see just how much damage the pitted gauntlet could to to an iron golem.

The sole remaining Jakuran armor swung its katana at Galen, who deflected the blade with his shield. It was the matter of but a moment for the paladin to strike it down before racing down the stairs to join the others in combat with the twin golems.

Kaspar struck his fists at the iron golem twice in rapid succession, the tenryutsume powering his attacks. Daleth followed up with another chain lightning spell, unfortunately his last - and while it dealt the construct considerable damage and extended the duration of the slow effect, it didn't slow it down any more than the first spell had done. The golem struck at Kaspar again, and at this close quarter the monk was unable to dodge the blow, despite its slower speed. Behind them, the stone golem scanned the treasure hoard in puzzlement, unable to find the halfling intruder who had just been there a moment ago. Then it spun about and rejoined the iron golem in battle.

Orion and Carl returned to the Material Plane, the halfling grinning broadly when she saw the stone golem's back turned. She dropped out of the saddle and started scooping whole armfuls of coins into her open bag of holding.

With a shriek, Dick came rounding the stairwell and dove straight for the iron golem, Syngaard's rusty gauntlet held before him like a readied weapon. Upon reaching their target, Dick scrabbled furiously with his claws to little effect, while Syngaard brought the gauntlet of rust down upon the iron golem's head. A wide section of the construct's head rusted over at the touch and the fighter swung his morningstar into the side of the rusted head for good measure. Down at the iron golem's feet, Kaspar sent punch after punch aimed at its knee joint, wearing it away. Behind him, the monk could hear the clunking sounds of Galen's heavy armor as he leaped down from step to step.

Daleth pulled out his metamagic rod of empower and channeled a lightning bolt spell through it at the iron golem. The magic rod increased the effectiveness of the spell to the point it dealt as much damage as the more powerful chain lightning spells had done. The construct staggered under the magical attack, before striking back at the nearest opponent. Fortunately for the others, this was Dick, flying in the iron statue's face and clawing ineffectually at its eyes. Syngaard didn't mind that the golem's iron fist went crashing into the griffon's ribs - that was, in his mind, the griffon's main reason for existence, to act as a "damage sponge" when fighting more powerful creatures. (Syngaard certainly wouldn't have wanted to have taken that punch himself!)

The stone golem stepped up suddenly and hit Kaspar twice with its own powerful fists, causing the monk to almost crumple right then and there. Syngaard, looking down from his aerial view, called down, "Wizard-Pants! Throw a stoneskin spell on the monk, you idiot! We need to keep him in the fight - he's got the most powerful weapon we have against these guys!" He continued to smash the iron golem over its rust-weakened head with his morningstar as he chided the wizard, eventually causing it to fall forward in an unmoving heap as it toppled to the ground, destroyed. That was one golem down, only one more to go!

"I don't have any more readied!" the wizard called back - for indeed, he'd cast his only such spell upon himself and Todd, choosing to protect them over those more likely to be taking direct hits against their opponents. His face burned with anger at having had to acknowledge his own selfishness, but more importantly at being talked down to about spellcasting by a scar-faced oaf who thought naming his griffon "Dick" was the height of wit.

But Orion, scooping up treasure in the back, heard the exchange and took a moment from loot acquisition to pull two scrolls of stoneskin from her scroll tube. "Here," she said, holding them out to Carl and tucking them beneath the ghost touch saddle so the incorporeal riding dog could actually move them about. "Go take these to Daleth! Good dog!"

Kaspar staggered backward, away from the stone golem's reach, over towards Daleth. As he did so he focused his chi energy and repaired some of the worst of his internal wounds. Galen stepped over and applied his own healing touch upon the elven monk, restoring him even further. And then Carl bounded up to the wizard, who, with a frown of irritation on his face, pulled out the scrolls and cast a stoneskin spell upon Kaspar. "Thank you," the monk said, his words being applied to all who had helped him. His job done, Carl bounded back the way he had come to watch his mistress scoop more and more of the dragon's hoard into her extradimensional bag. He even tried to help by crouching low and scraping the lower ends of his ghost touch saddle against the loose coins, herding them over to Orion. The little halfling couldn't help but laugh at the spectacle, scooting about like that on his haunches it looked like he had worms!

But the stone golem hadn't been idle this whole time. Stepped up to the group, it pounded its fists down at the paladin, whose raised shield wasn't enough to stop the force of the blow from reverberating down his arm. Syngaard had Dick swoop over to the back of the stone golem, allowing him to redirect his morningstar attacks to the stone golem's head now that the iron golem had been taken care of. But the stone golem hadn't been weakened by electrical spells or a gauntlet of rust (nor could it be), so this was going to be a tougher fight.

Kaspar, realizing the role his tenryutsume need to play in this battle, stepped forward and punched hard at the golem's knee. Slight cracks formed along the construct's stone joint from the force of the blow. Galen took the opportunity of the golem focusing upon a different foe to cast a divine favor spell upon himself, which he knew would booster his attack abilities - hopefully enough to make a difference.

Daleth rose back up into the air, his fly spell still in effect, and did a quick inventory of his readied spells. He had nothing on hand that could directly affect the golem, nor anything that would boost the abilities of any of his fellow conscripts. Cursing silently to himself, he wished he had better prepared his spell selection, especially after Tenryu had warned them ahead of time they'd be facing golems in her lair. <There's always your crossbow,> suggested Todd, and with a grimace the wizard pulled the unfamiliar weapon from his back. He doubted shooting bolts at the stone construct would do any good, but that was okay - by aiming the weapon at the golem and firing it without a bolt being loaded, the magic crossbow sent just a blast of electrical energy at the target, and this not being a spell it would affect the creature normally. The damage done was minimal but at least it was something and at this stage every little bit would surely help.

The stone golem swung its fists at the creatures buzzing its head, one crashing into Dick's side and the other nearly spilling Syngaard from his perch upon the griffon's back. But the scarred fighter just grinned down at his foe, confident that in a contest of whittling down the enemy and seeing who would fall first he had the upper hand, for he had allies on his side while the golem fought alone.

Orion continued loading up the hoard - by this time fully half of it had disappeared into her bag of holding - while the men fought valiantly on against the giant, animated Tenryu statue. Syngaard sent his morningstar crashing down upon the golem's head and shoulders; Kaspar continued his attacks upon its legs; Galen switched weapons to his elemental bane frost greatsword and started dealing considerably more damage to the stone colossus; and Daleth contributed all he could with his magic crossbow. The stone golem pressed on its attacks, but Syngaard kept maneuvering his flying griffon into position to make Dick and himself the logical targets, preventing the others from taking much damage. Poor Dick was having difficulty remaining airborne and had all but given up on any attempts to attack the golem himself, merely providing an aerial platform from which Syngaard could bring his morningstar to bear. Eventually, that was all it took, for the golem was taking much more damage than it was dealing out and eventually it, too, went crashing to the stone floor, its body cracking into several thick chunks upon impact. Dick dropped gratefully to the floor, unable to maintain his flight any longer.

"Good job, everyone!" Galen called, sheathing his greatsword while the others likewise put away their weapons now that combat had been brought to a successful completion. Daleth was glad to sling the crossbow across his back once again; it had been a hated reminder of the poor choices he had made in his spell selection - something he vowed wouldn't happen again! To have that lunk Syngaard heckle him on his unpreparedness was something he didn't even want to experience again!

"How we doin' over there, halfling?" called Syngaard, for while Orion was still completely invisible he could see bits and chunks of the dragon's hoard disappearing and he knew what that meant; plus, Carl was standing right there with his tongue lolling out and he knew the ghost-dog never strayed too far from his mistress. "You gettin' every last copper piece?"

"No sense it letting any of it go to waste!" came the halfling's cheery voice; she was always at her cheeriest when gathering up vast quantities of loot and hadn't even let Syngaard's use of her race instead of her name diminish her good spirits. "We've got quite a haul here, probably thirty thousand or more--each!"

Hell, thought Syngaard, that much money would make anyone cheery! He was already deciding how he'd be spending the bulk of his share: upgrading his favorite morningstar to deal additional damage to fiends from the lower planes. After all, it wouldn't be too long now before they'd be bringing the fight to the Hope Ender on the Nine Hells and Syngaard wanted to be ready for the pit fiend who wanted above all else to slay his little two-year-old daughter, Hope.

That, Syngaard decided, was not ever going to happen.

- - -

This was a good session, although Joey got some (good-natured) razzing about his spell selection for Daleth. And Syngaard's share of the treasure is enough to upgrade his +5 morningstar to add the holy weapon property (and still have a few thousand gold pieces left over).

Daleth and Orion both advanced to 18th level as a result of this adventure, so we'll once again all be at the same level. And Logan informs us there are only three more adventures to go for this campaign!
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PC Roster:
Daleth Stormsea, elf wizard 18
Galen Thorne, human paladin 18
Kaspar Hardstrike, elf monk 18
Orion Nightsky, halfling rogue 18
Syngaard, human fighter 18​

Game Session Date: 11 September 2019

- - -

Over a week had passed since the conscripts had cleared out Tenryu's lair and they had been busy selling off the items they didn't want and purchasing upgrades to their armor and weapons. With single-minded determination, Syngaard had plunked down a heavy bag of coins and arranged to have his magic morningstar upgraded by the Temple of Pelor: it now had a holy aura about it that would deal extra damage to fiends from the lower planes and the bald fighter was pleased to see it now had Pelor's symbol - a radiant sun - carved onto each side, the spikes of the weapon's head looking like rays of light. Mezz, he knew, would have been pleased with his choice. Orion had seen to getting her bag of blades upgraded; now the endless supply of daggers it provided were charged not only with electricity but also flame, and the knives were keen enough to cut a piece of paper by simply dropping it on the sharp edge of the dagger's blade. Plus, if she struck her foe just right with a thrown dagger, the flames and electricity went into overdrive, exploding in a most satisfying blast. Galen opted for a more defensive route, enhancing his mithral full plate armor with additional enhancements to turn away the most wicked of blades and repel the most powerful blows. But Daleth outdid everyone else in terms of raw power: he'd gone months without spending a single coin on enhancements and upgrades and had amassed a large enough fortune to purchase one of the most powerful metamagic rods in existence: one that would greatly enhance the power of any three spells he could channel through it each day, maximizing the random effects that were often outside a wizard's control. With such an arcane tool at his disposal, he could maximize the explosive effects of a fireball or reflect back the absolute upper limit of arcane energy with a spell turning spell. He couldn't wait to test it on the field of battle!

And then, out of the blue on an otherwise uneventful morning, it suddenly looked like he'd be getting his chance, for the conscripts were all summoned to the Enchanted Flagon via the rings they wore. A summons from Skevros usually meant an assignment and a mission from Skevros usually involved combat of some sort, most often against the assorted enemies of the small kingdom: the various members of the Seekers of Eternity or, more recently, the Ossirnan army currently at war with the Azure Glade, Ashfall, and Durnhill.

Entering the tavern with three of the others - Syngaard, as usual, wouldn't arrive for a bit yet, as he lived further away - Daleth saw the king's adviser and his doll-homunculus familiar Dow standing around the table the conscripts used for their mission briefings. But floating across the room from Skevros and Dow were three sets of empty robes with symbols in place of their faces. As the robes were styled in the fashion of the wizards of the Azure Glade and were black, white, and orange in color, Daleth immediately identified them as representatives of the Council of Guilds: Necromancy, Divination, and Abjuration, respectively.

Daleth raised his newly-purchased metamagic rod and looked ready to channel a spell through it, but Skevros raised his hand and waved him off. "Hold up, Daleth!" he called. "They are only here to talk."

Kaspar looked at the floor beneath the three sets of robes and saw no feet. "There is nobody actually here but us," he observed.

"Quite right," Skevros agreed. "These are merely devices through which the respective Guildmasters can speak from a distance."

"Speak, then," commanded Galen, his hand upon the hilt of the sword of Zehkar.

A voice came from behind the mask of the white robe - the Diviner. "We are here to discuss the terms of our surrender."

"Very well," the paladin asserted. "You can begin with--"

"Let us first lay out our proposal," interrupted the floating Diviner, "and then we can negotiate from there." Galen frowned at being cut off but nodded his agreement.

"The Seekers of Eternity cult is all but dismantled. We propose the reunification of the Azure Glade and the Council of Guilds. The current Guildmasters of the Seeker-led guilds will step down and the Diviners' Guildmaster - the only one left of the original group that attempted the coup from within - will face judgment at the hands of the new Azure Council."

"Just the Diviners' Guildmaster?" demanded Orion. "What about the Necromancers' Guildmaster? He was equally to blame!"

"And he is now dead," replied the voice behind the Necromancer's robe. "I have assumed control of the Guild of Necromancers and have weeded out our Guild of those loyal to the Seekers. The Guild of Diviners has done likewise." The Diviner dipped his head in acknowledgement; whoever was piloting this floating construct remotely from the Azure Glade wasn't the original Guildmaster of Diviners.

"And what about the Guildmaster of Evokers?" pressed the halfling. "He was definitely in on the conspiracy!"

The Diviner replied, "We have lost all contact with the Guild of Evokers. All attempts to divine their whereabouts are actively being blocked."

"Not much good at divinin' then, are you?" piped up Syngaard, having walked into the tavern and picked up the last bit of conversation. "What'd I miss?" he asked. "Who are these floatin' bozos?" Kaspar stepped over to the scarred fighter and hastily filled him in while the Diviner continued on with their suggested terms of surrender.

"The masses of Ossirna also wish to end the war but orders from the very top are to immediate execute anyone attempting to surrender to your forces. There can be no peace so long as the usurper king Selvik lives."

"I think I like where this is headin'!" Syngaard said, smiling for the first time since walking into the conversation late.

"We believe your team here, Skevros, is capable of killing Selvik and his retinue of loyal followers - the ones most likely to have him resurrected upon his death."

"Wait--kill him?" asked Orion.

Syngaard sneered down at the little halfling. "Yeah, kill him: what did you think? Ask him really nicely to step down and hope for the best? You gettin' cold feet all of a sudden?"

"It's not that," Orion insisted. "I just thought he was, you know, immortal."

"He has the potential for immortality," corrected Skevros. "Barring accident or injury, he could live forever. He can, however, be killed as easily as you or I." He then thought about his own "living lich" state and amended, "Or as easily as you, in any case."

"Tomorrow," continued the Diviner, "we have foreseen there will be an uprising in Ossirna which will force the king and his most loyal followers to hole themselves up within the palace. You can then teleport into the entry chamber before the throne room, which itself is dimensionally locked, and then kill your way to Selvik."

"I'm likin' this plan!" enthused Syngaard. "But I got one question."

Skevros sighed in weary anticipation. "It is, of course, a paying mission," he said. "For putting an end to the war with Ossirna, I am quite sure His Majesty the king will see to it you are handsomely rewarded." The symbols in place of the faces on the trio of floating robes had no eyes to roll at the banality of the scarred fighter's question, but the Diviner shook his head in disbelief - an action that no doubt mirrored the head shake of the actual diviner piloting this floating robe device from back in the Azure Glade.

Galen moved on to practical matters. "How many loyal followers does Selvik have?" The Diviner described them: eight elite fighters armed and armored with hellsteel; a pair of hellsteel-clad barbarian executioners; the last two high priests of the Seekers of Eternity cult; Maelina, the Captain of the Royal Guard; and two assassins.

"They all human?" Syngaard asked.

"To the best of our knowledge, yes," replied the Diviner. Syngaard rubbed the hilt of the human bane scimitar sheathed on his belt. "You're gonna get to see some action soon," he promised it.

"What about doppelgangers?" asked Kaspar. "When we were last in Ossirna, there had been a plot to send doppelgangers into Durnhill to sow distrust and chaos. Does King Selvik have any of the shapeshifters still in his service?"

"We do not believe so. Once the scheme had been exposed they went elsewhere, seeking lives of ease." Orion for one was glad to hear that, her parents having been slain by the creatures when she was young.

Skevros looked over at his conscripts, seeing acceptance in their eyes. He turned to the floating robes with the symbols for faces. "I believe His Majesty will accept your terms of surrender," he apprised them. "My team will make their plans for tomorrow's assault. You may return these shells to the Azure Glade and make your own preparations for the restructuring of your Guild leadership." With a trio of nodded heads, the three empty robes floated to the front door of the tavern, which opened of its own accord - a simple cantrip, no doubt - to allow them exit.

"Okay," Galen said to the others after they were once again alone. "We have some planning to do."

"Not so fast," interrupted Syngaard. "If we're gonna do this, we gotta do this right." Then he called to the back of the tavern, "KAREN! Bring us a couple pitchers of strong ale and some mugs!"

- - -

The next day, the conscripts headed over to the South Gate, their plans made and strategies formalized. Skevros had been scrying upon Ossirna all morning and watched as the populace began their predicted uprising, just as the Diviner had prophesied. Galen summoned Burt from the Beastlands and the dire lion appeared at once, ready for battle. The paladin then sheathed himself in magic circle against evil and death ward spells and cast a bless weapon spell upon the sword of Zehkar, the better for it to strike true.

Daleth began his own spellcasting, but it was a slightly different assortment of spells than those he usually cast. True, he cast stoneskin, fly, magic circle against evil, and spell turning spells upon himself and his pseudodragon familiar Todd - some things, it seemed, would never change - but he also cast greater invisibility spells upon Kaspar, Orion, Syngaard, Burt, and himself and Todd, each of them vanishing from view as the spell was cast. Galen made do with Orion's ring of invisibility, lent to him for that purpose. Daleth then used his staff of divination to cast true seeing spells upon Galen, Kaspar, and Syngaard and true seeing upon himself, so they'd each be able to see each other while they were all invisible. (He didn't bother granting such ability to Orion, for the little halfling could sense the life forces of those around her whether the targets were invisible or not.) Using spell scrolls provided by Orion, Daleth then cast stoneskin spells upon Galen, Kaspar, Orion, and Syngaard, the better to provide protection from weapon-blows beyond even that which their armor could handle. Daleth finished off the flurry of spellcasting activity with haste and Rary's telepathic bond spells cast upon the entire assembled group. "Now we're talkin', Wizard-Pants!" Syngaard enthused and the elven wizard scowled at the fact it had taken Syngaard's grumbling during their last outing for him to give some serious thought about maximizing the benefits his spells provided across the entire group.

Skevros was still peering into his crystal ball, examining the throne room and the entry chamber immediately before it. Selvik and his sixteen loyal followers had barricaded themselves in these two rooms as predicted. The invisible conscripts examined the images in the clear globe. "There's a whole bunch of bodyguards massed up against the door to the entry chamber," Galen pointed out. "Daleth, I think we'll let you do the honors there while we stay out of the way. Then we'll all take out everyone left in that chamber before pressing on to the throne room."

"It's a shame we can't just teleport into the throne room and take Selvik out first," said Orion.

"I fear he has the throne room shielded against such a tactic," Skevros answered. "He's also taken precautions against being scried directly upon." He pointed a narrow finger to a blurry image around the space where the conscripts knew his throne to be. "He's somewhere in that area, but we can't be sure exactly where. But that should be an anti-scrying defense only; once you gain entry to the throne room you should be able to see him normally."

"Is everyone ready?" asked Kaspar as the group took their positions just outside the gate to Durnhill. Syngaard unsheathed his human bane scimitar and nodded eagerly. "We're ready," he answered for himself and his weapon. Orion gave the king's adviser the thumbs-up signal from the saddle of her ghost-dog Carl, then called "Ready!" as she realized she was completely invisible and she hadn't noticed whether Skevros had cast a spell upon himself allowing him to see them.

"Then good luck, everyone!" called Skevros as he cast a greater teleport spell upon the conscripts and sent them miles to the south, into the entry hall outside the throne room of the castle of Selvik, the usurper-king of Ossirna.

They arrived completely invisible, the only figure even capable of being seen without magical enhancement being Carl, and he was naught but a translucent image easily missed, even if everyone's attention wasn't drawn to the barred door, from which could be heard the banging and slamming of the uprising Ossirnans trying to gain entry. As planned, the first volley belonged to Daleth. He cast forth a prismatic spray spell which encompassed all seven fighters by the door and two others within range of his multicolored cone of spell energy.

The effects were instantaneous. One hellsteel-armored fighter frothed at the mouth and collapsed, slain instantly by a virulent poison flooding his body without warning. Another fighter petrified to a statue before he even knew what was happening to him. One of the barbarians gave a startled cry as he was whisked away to a random plane, never to be seen again. One of the Seeker high priests was blasted by a bolt of electricity and an assassin was scorched by a blast of sudden flames. Two fighters, one by the back door and one guarding the door to the throne room, had their sanity shattered. Those still alive (or at least those who still retained their full faculties) whirled around in place, seeking the source of this sudden attack - and that's when Daleth cast his quickened Evard's black tentacles spell, catching all of those by the barred door in the crushing embrace of inky appendages springing up from the ground.

<Nice!> called Syngaard over the link - rare praise from him for a mere spellcaster. Despite himself, Daleth felt pride at the fact he'd gained a modicum of respect from the scarred fighter.

Orion stabbed out with her nightflame short sword, skewering the soulknife assassin through the heart before he could even attempt to fight back. Kaspar sped forward, attacking the insane fighter guarding access to the throne room, with Syngaard following behind. While they flanked the now-crazy guardian and attacked with fists and blade, Burt leaped onto the recently-zapped cleric and clawed him to shreds before Galen had a chance to bring down his sword - for to do so would have meant returning to full visibility, given his invisibility was powered by Orion's ring and thus only lasted until his first attack.

Daleth plopped an acid fog spell down on top of those imprisoned by the Evard's black tentacles, smiling at the sound of the screams and curses it brought to the lips of the hellsteel warriors.

Carl darted forward and Orion backstabbed the insane fighter before the throne room door, but he was made of stern stuff and refused to die, even when Kaspar and Syngaard gave it their best efforts to drop him. As he was the sole remaining target not being attacked by tentacles and acid, Burt ran over to him and tried to bite him on the leg while Galen swung the sword of Zehkar at him, returning to visibility as he did so. But as Burt was still hidden from normal sight, the insane Ossirnan fighter saw only a paladin of Hieroneous floating in midair, doing the splits.

That, despite his many wounds, might have been what it finally took to break the fighter's spirit. With a bleat of terror, he pulled open the door to the throne room and raced inside, screaming all the while.

Through the open doorway the conscripts could see the other soulknife assassin, the other high priest of the Seekers, Maelina the Captain of the Guard - and Selvik, hiding from behind his throne, peeking fearfully from the feeble protection it provided. Those inside the throne room could hear the shrieks of pain of the hellsteel warriors being squeezed to death by black tentacles while acid trickled down their faces and skin, although the only enemy in view was a straddle-legged paladin hovering several feet above the floor.

Daleth stepped past Galen and his invisible mount and raised his greater metamagic rod of maximizing, channeling a meteor swarm spell through it. He had a number of potential targets, but decided while casting to send each of the four meteors flying straight at Selvik; best to take the king out first and ensure his death before worrying about his loyal followers. As he released the spell Daleth had a moment of sudden panic, for he saw Selvik holding a black rod the elf feared might be a rod of absorption - but then he relaxed, realizing his most powerful spell wouldn't fizzle out from such a rod anyway, for they could only affect spells with but a single target, not area-of-effect spells such as his meteor swarm. Each meteor struck true, pummeling into the weak chest of the centuries-old king of Ossirna and then exploding into a glorious gout of flame that quickly encompassed his guardians. The fiery blast put an end to the insane door guard, who fell to the floor in a blazing mass of flames. And then Daleth cast yet another quickened Evard's black tentacles spell that not only grabbed up the Ossirnan king but his loyal Captain as well, crushing them both in their strangling embrace. Selvik collapsed at once, the entangling appendages squeezing him instantly into unconsciousness and well on the way to death.

Burt entered the room and thus Galen was the only visible intruder; as such, he became the target for the soulknife assassin's psionic attack. Fortunately, a blast of mental energy in the form of a thrown blade can be dodged as easily as the real thing, but while Galen was ducking beneath the attack the assassin moved back into the corner of the throne room, from where he could see any enemies approaching.

Or so he thought. Carl bounded up to him and he readied himself against the dog's potential bite, failing to notice his saddle until it was too late - and Orion's short sword cut a line of burning pain across a hastily-raised arm. While his attention was thus focused, Syngaard ran up behind him and stabbed him with his human bane scimitar, disappointed that it didn't drop him at once - but then he got a good look at the assassin and decided he wasn't quite a human after all: something close maybe, like an elf, but not a true human. Figures!

The Seeker cleric was the only other mobile combatant at the moment and he rushed over by the tentacle mass to cast a mass heal spell that not only healed himself and Maelina to full health but brought King Selvik back from the very brink of death, restored fully as well. Kaspar ran to the cleric, too late to prevent his spellcasting but hopefully in time to put a stop to him for good. Channeling the full power of his inner chi, he focused it into his right hand and struck the cleric a mighty blow, one powered not only by the tenryutsume he wore but the energy of the quivering palm he had infused into it. The cleric staggered under the onslaught but was not slain outright as the monk had hoped. Burt leaped forward and bit the cleric on the leg, allowing Galen to channel the evil-smiting power of Hieroneous through his blade, but that too failed to drop the Seeker.

All of a sudden, Selvik was standing well outside the range of the waving tentacles, glaring at Daleth with a burning hatred that informed the elf his greater invisibility spell was no longer concealing him from the king's vision. What had happened? Could he teleport somehow? The throne room was dimensionally locked - Skevros himself had said so! A flash of insight caused the elf to release an involuntary groan: Selvik, despite his seeming frailty, was more than likely a powerful wizard, one capable of casting a time stop spell! That, the elf believed, would require only spoken arcane syllables: a spell easily cast even among a veritable forest of grappling tentacles! From Selvik's point of view, the tentacles would have frozen in mid-motion, allowing him to easily extract himself from their embrace and simply walk out of the spell's area of effect. He would have had time to cast a true seeing or see invisibility spell, plus who knew what all else?

<Selvik's a high-level wizard!> Daleth called over the mindlink. <He's free from the tentacles and can see us!> But then, his warning to the others given, the elf took matters into his own hands, once again channeling a spell through his new metamagic rod, this one maximizing the effects of a cone of cold spell that managed to catch Maelina in its area of effect as well as the Ossirnan king. Todd leaped from Daleth's shoulders, hoping to sting the king into instant slumber, but ran up against Selvik's stoneskin spell. <I can't penetrate his protection!> Todd informed his master.

The soulknife chose his target poorly, trying to attack the invisible halfling he now knew must be mounted in the ghost-dog's saddle. But unknown to the psionic assassin, Orion had ducked down and was hanging sideways from Carl's saddle, a perch from which she could easily slash at her foe's knee, dropping him to the floor, from where she could reach his unprotected neck with another quick slash of her flaming blade. He fell to the floor and at first Syngaard thought Orion and Carl fell with him, but nope - the halfling had merely directed her mount to sink ethereally into the floor so they could cross the throne room unseen by Selvik.

The Seeker cleric backed hastily away from Galen, who still hung in midair with his legs spread across the back of an invisible mount of some sort. The Ossirnan cast a heal spell upon himself, closing up the wounds he'd received from the paladin's sword, the monk's open hand, and Burt's sharp teeth. But Kaspar was there immediately, his limbs a blur of motion as he struck the cleric a series of devastating blows that stunned him into temporary insensibility. And while the dazed Seeker stood there, staggering and threatening to fall over, Burt ended his life with twin rakes of his front claws and a saber-fanged bite that almost took the cleric's head right off.

Syngaard spun in place and saw Selvik standing free. Behind the immortal king, thus far unnoticed, rose Orion and Carl from the floor; the bald fighter knew they'd be visible to the spell-enhanced Ossirnan king if he managed to look over in their direction. Syngaard also knew he was too far away to cross the distance in time, but he knew somebody who was much faster than he was. With an evil grin, Syngaard pulled his Dick from his pocket and gave it a good rub.

"Grapple him!" Syngaard commanded as the bronze griffon statuette took on full form, crossing the room easily with a flap of eagle's wings. With a screech of defiance, the griffon's front talons collided with Selvik's feeble frame, dropping the king to the floor while the winged war-mount stood over him, snapping at him with his sharp beak. Selvik might have been a powerful wizard with centuries of spellcasting practice, but Syngaard doubted he'd be able to concentrate on spellcasting very well while a 500-pound griffon grappled with him - especially after Daleth cast a mass bull's strength spell that only increased Dick's combat prowess. The bald fighter then followed in his griffon's wake, racing across the room with his human bane scimitar ready to taste an immortal's blood.

Buried beneath the griffon's bulk, Selvik reviewed his options. The foresight spell he'd cast earlier - which had him cowering behind his throne to fend off an attack he knew was impending - was still in effect, allowing him to foresee all attempts to negotiate with these intruders from Durnhill ended up with his death anyway. He'd simply have to get free of this horrid beast so he'd have the mobility for proper spellcasting. As he struggled to free himself he had to slap away Daleth's hand, which had tried grabbing the king's rod of absorption while he was otherwise distracted by the griffon. But then Orion, having manifested back into the material plane with her ghost-dog, leaped down from Carl's saddle and stabbed beneath the griffon, impaling her blade through the Ossirnan king's head. Just like that, Selvik the Undying was dead.

With a roar of fury at the death of her liege, Maelina finally escaped from the ebony tentacles entwined around her. But she stumbled upon gaining her freedom, allowing Kaspar to bring a two-handed slam down upon the back of her neck, dropping her to the floor, where she was an easy target for Syngaard's scimitar and the snapping beak of his Dick. But it was Galen who landed the blow that killed the Captain of the Guard, with a smite evil attack coursing through his blade that nearly took the head from her shoulders.

Orion looked around the throne room. "That's everyone!" she said.

"Well, everyone in here," Daleth amended, walking back through the throne room doors to ensure none of the hellsteel warriors still bound in the embrace of his first Evard's black tentacles spell had escaped their rubbery clutches. They hadn't. He sealed their fates with a delayed blast fireball spell that did maximum damage when channeled through his new metamagic rod. Despite the fire resistance their hellsteel armor provided, the massive blast of flames took them all out of the fight. When he released his Evard's black tentacles spell, they all fell unmoving to the floor like so many discarded dolls.

"I notice the Ossirnan citizens aren't in such a rush to batter down this door any more," Galen observed, hearing no more of the pounding on the barred door as they'd all heard upon their entry to the room.

"Probably heard all the screaming," Orion hypothesized.

The conscripts did a quick job of looting anything they thought might be of use to them - Daleth, for one, had appropriated King Selvik's rod of absorption and the Seeker clerics had a few defensive items which could be parceled out among the conscripts - before Kaspar pulled the ring of return from inside his robes and held it out laterally for the other conscripts to grab hold of. "Are we ready?" he asked.

"One moment," replied Galen, pulling the bar from the door to the rest of the castle. "Might as well make it easier for the common folk to see what's what in here, once we've taken off." Then he rejoined the others, Kaspar activated the ring, and the conscripts were teleported back to where they'd left, just outside the South Gate of Durnhill.

- - -

Logan admitted to us he wanted all of the PCs to make it to 19th level by the end of this adventure (as there are now only two more adventures to go in this campaign), so he reverse-engineered it: figuring out how much XP we would need to do so and then creating enough enemies for us to fight to get us there. And Daleth really came through for us this time, buffing the other PCs to ensure we'd have all the advantages we needed to keep us in the fight.



PC Roster:
Daleth Stormsea, elf wizard 19​
Galen Thorne, human paladin 19​
Kaspar Hardstrike, elf monk 19​
Orion Nightsky, halfling rogue 19​
Syngaard, human fighter 19​

Game Session Date: 18 September 2019

- - -

The scream came across loud and clear through the conscripts' rings of iron they each wore on their fingers. These were the rings through which Skevros usually summoned the adventurers to the Enchanted Flagon, the de facto headquarters of the small team dedicated to performing missions for the king of Durnhill, to receive their newest orders. But this was no normal summons, just the high-pitched scream of a woman in shock and despair: one scream, and then nothing.

But it was enough to rouse the conscripts from their rooms above the tavern and rush downstairs to see what had caused the alarm, for there was only one likely candidate for the scream's originator: Dow, the homunculus familiar of Skevros himself. And for Dow to scream like that, Skevros must be in dire straits indeed.

Orion didn't bother with the back stairs like the others; she summoned her ghost-dog Carl to her, threw on her robes, leaped onto the saddle, and had Carl phase them both through the floor and into the tavern below via a quick excursion through the Ethereal Plane. There she saw a vast collection of open books and tomes and unrolled scrolls and charts covered with equations and annotations covering every available surface of the tavern room's tables. But of more immediate importance was Dow, nestled inside the astral golem giving her the appearance of a normal human woman, sitting on the floor and cradling the unmoving form of Skevros in her lap. She howled in anguish, her crafted form unable to create actual tears.

As Galen, Kaspar, and Daleth ran through the front door, Orion looked down at the still form of the king's adviser and noticed the symbol burned into his forehead. It was different, the halfling was quite sure, from the mark of justice he had borne upon his brow for as long as they'd ever known him.

A flapping of wings just outside the tavern announced the sudden arrival of the group's fifth member, Syngaard. The scarred fighter had been awakened in the middle of the night just as had the others but as he slept at the cat-house down the street where he worked as a bouncer it normally took him a bit longer to arrive than the others. "What's up?" he demanded, barging into the room and leaving his bronze griffon Dick to stand guard outside.

"He's dead!" wailed Dow, and even Kaspar and Syngaard, who normally found Dow to be somewhat creepy - at least in her big-eyed doll-homunculus form - felt for the poor familiar.

"How'd it happen?" Syngaard asked, crouching low beside the body of the king's adviser. Skevros had a burned look about him, as if he'd spent time too close to a bonfire for his own good. Orion touched the adviser's neck to feel for a pulse and the skin of his throat collapsed as if made of charcoal. The halfling snapped her hand back in fright as if fearing she'd been about to get burned.

"I came from the back room and found him lying here, on the floor!" sobbed Dow. The elves Daleth and Kaspar began searching through the papers scattered about the tables, looking for clues as to what Skevros might have been up to at the time of his death. As the wizard noted many of the charts and equations were astrological and astronomical in nature, the monk lifted a sheet of parchment containing what looked to be a handwritten prophecy. "Listen to this," he said, reading it aloud:
"By blood of redemption, Hirek's Gate wrenched open.

By flow's ebb, the seal returned.

Sound the horns, march forth the armies of man.

Arrive too late and the world shall fall in Ashes' wake.

Stop the ritual before the Burning Gate.

Death of a friend can buy some time, but nothing will change and Hope shall end.

Complete the ritual and end his hate.

Enter the gate and face your foe.

Death awaits, one final hope.

Slay the Ender and free the world."

As one, the others looked to Daleth for an explanation; he was a wizard, like Skevros had been - surely he could make some sense of all this? "That mean anything to you, Daleth?" asked Galen. "That sounds like another ritual to open a gate to Hell and let the devil armies march forth." The fact he used the wizard's name instead of the nickname "Wizard-Pants" spoke of the paladin's realization of the seriousness of the situation.

"It said 'Ender' - that's gotta be the Hope Ender," reasoned Syngaard.

"Yes, that's fairly obvious," snapped Daleth, continuing to peruse the adviser's papers while he thought over the prophecy's contents. "It looks like Skevros was attempting to pinpoint when the events of the prophecy would occur." He scrutinized several of the parchments, recognizing Skevros's handwriting among the margins.

"And?" prompted Orion.

"And...if I'm reading this correctly...it looks like the gate will open at the end of the week."

"That 'Hope shall end' better not mean what I think it means!" warned Syngaard, his hand moving instinctively to the handle of the holy morningstar hanging from his belt. He wasn't about to let anything bad happen to his little two-year-old daughter, the girl his wife died bringing into the world.

"We will ensure she is kept safe," promised Galen.

"But who killed Skevros?" asked Orion. "Did somebody snag him out of the kingdom and then throw him back in?"

"He was not slain by the mark of justice," Daleth remarked. "He appears to have been burned from within. It could very well be the work of the Hope Ender."

"So let's go kill him!" snarled Syngaard. "Now, before he can get to Hope!"

"We do not know his current whereabouts," pointed out Kaspar. "The Nine Hells is an infinite plane."

"There's that door under the castle!" argued Syngaard. "We could storm in there, go to that library place, smash through those electrical fog-walls, and then track him down!"

"There's no way of knowing whether the Hope Ender would be anywhere in the vicinity," argued the monk.

"Well, we gotta do something!" countered Syngaard, panic rising in his voice.

Dow carefully set Skevros's head down upon the floor and stood up. "We must learn exactly what the prophecy is telling us," she reasoned. "I will fetch the Eye of Prophecy from the back rooms. It should hopefully make things more clear." As she went to the extradimensional quarters Skevros kept in the back of the tavern, the others started planning courses of action.

"We need to alert the armies of another attempt to open a gate to Hell," advised Galen. "My Hieronean order has served with the Ashfall forces up in the Baator's Breath Mountains - that's likely where the ritual will be performed. We should get word to them at once."

"I can pop through the fireplace and ride Dick over to the Council of Guilds in the Azure Glade," suggested Syngaard. "They got plenty of wizards - they oughtta be able to get the word out, fast."

"Do we trust the Council?" asked Kaspar.

"I trust Leorna. I can go to the Illusionists Guild. She'll know who else to contact."

"Carl and I can head over to the castle and warn the king's forces," offered Orion.

"We should get word to Serenity, too," suggested Galen. "She's been stationed up there in the mountains. I'll bet she might know the most likely place for the ritual to be set up." As the plans were being made up, Karen walked up from the back of the room with a bundle of scrolls in her hand. Unable to speak - she was merely a permanent unseen servant spell cloaked in the illusion of a comely serving girl - she poked the stash at Daleth. The elf looked down at the proffered scrolls with a scowl but took them from the barmaid and began unrolling them.

"What are they?" Orion wanted to know.

Daleth scanned the contents on the parchments. "Spells," he replied. "A discern location spell, with notations in the margins - in Skevros's handwriting - on how to use it in conjunction with a crystal ball." He looked about the room for Skevros's crystal ball, finding it being used as a paperweight holding open an unrolled scroll detailing astronomical features. Returning his attention to the other scrolls in his hand, he added, "There are also four castings of the sending spell and two of greater teleport."

"He leave us a checklist to follow?" Syngaard asked, only now realizing how much they had counted on Skevros in the past to give them their detailed marching orders.

"No," Daleth replied. "I assume he was slain before he could write out any instructions for us. Or perhaps he figured we'd know what to do."

Syngaard looked at the others. "Well, do we?" he asked. Magic spells were beyond his area of expertise - but then, so was almost everything beyond inflicting harm upon enemies with various physical weapons.

"This will be a start," suggested Dow, returning from the extradimensional dwelling with the Eye of Prophecy in her hand.

"What's that one again?" asked Syngaard. Dow explained you placed the eye-patch over your eye and the magic eyeball on the inside merged into your own eye and allowed you to see illusory representations of a given prophecy. Orion wrinkled her face in disgust, not liking the idea of a magic eyeball going ethereally into your own skull and mucking about. "Give it here," said the scarred fighter, holding out his hand. "I'll wear the damn thing."

Syngaard pulled the eye-patch over his head and maneuvered it into place. "Where's the prophecy?" he demanded. Kaspar passed over the parchment and the bald fighter looked at the intricate writing on its front face. "I'm getting something," he said. An image was forming, superimposed over the written prophecy. He described the scene being played out before him to the others.

"We got a bunch of guys in red robes," he said. "They're chanting around one of them magic circles with a star in the middle of it. And hey, there's Serenity, floating above it! She's bleeding from cuts on her arms, which are dripping down onto the circle...it's opening up, like a mouth...and out come a bunch of devils! Yep, it's an invasion force all right!"

"'Blood of redemption!'" quoted Galen from the prophecy. "They're using Serenity's blood to open the gate--the blood of a redeemed succubus must be required for the ritual!"

"Can you tell the ritual's location?" demanded Daleth. "Is it in that mithral mine?"

"Nah," answered Syngaard, still watching the scene only he could see. "It's outside somewhere, in the open air. Inside some sort of chasm, though - there are cliff walls on either side of the magic circle thingy."

"Fetch me the crystal ball," demanded Daleth. Orion passed it over without a word. Passing his hand over it - as the elf had seen Skevros do on numerous occasions - the sphere glazed over and formed an image in its interior. Peering into the scrying device, Daleth saw the scene Syngaard had just described - but this was an image in real time, not the illusory projection of a prophecy of the future. "They've already got her!" he exclaimed.

"They're performing the ritual already?" asked Kaspar. "I thought you said we still had days to go before they'd be ready!"

Daleth studied the image in the crystal ball. "We do," he said with a sigh of relief. "They're still carving sigils and runes along the circle." He had Syngaard describe the glyphs around the pentagram the fighter saw through the Eye of Prophecy and verified they were not present in the image in the crystal ball. "They still have a lot of prep work to do before they can perform the ritual. Days - the better part of a week, even."

"We still need to rescue Serenity!" emphasized Galen. It was no secret the paladin had a thing for the redeemed demoness.

"Wait a minute," cautioned Daleth as he cast a true seeing spell from his staff of divination and peered at the image in the crystal ball. "Those cultists aren't the only ones there! We have two invisible members of the team overseeing the work: a female tiefling - or possibly a half-fiend - and a pit fiend!"

"Hope Ender?" demanded Syngaard.

"No, I don't think so," Daleth replied. "This one doesn't look to be as big as the Hope Ender is said to be." The rest of the team had only seen the Hope Ender once, when defeating a different team of cultists who had summoned him to the Material Plane - but the elf recalled hearing Skevros commenting how the Hope Ender was much bigger than the one Daleth now saw through the scrying device. He studied the group of cultists for a bit, then passed his hand back over the crystal ball and the image winked out.

"So what do we do?" asked Orion. Everyone was looking over at Daleth again; he realized, with a bit of discomfort at the unusual role, they were looking to him for leadership.

"I think we've learned all we can about the situation for now," he decided. Syngaard pulled the Eye of Prophecy from his head and passed it back to Dow; Orion had been right: that damned thing was pretty squicky. He rubbed his eyeball - it felt unclean. "We need to warn King Leornic, the Council of Guilds, Ashfall, and the Temple of Hieroneous of the situation," Daleth continued, pulling out the four scrolls containing the sending spells.

"And then?" prompted Syngaard, ready for immediate action.

"And then we get some rest," answered Daleth. "We're going to have a couple of busy days ahead of us."

- - -

The conscripts had put the next several days to good use. Daleth had pored over a few spell scrolls and learned the tricks to casting the spells contained therein; the contents had been carefully transcribed into his spellbooks for future use. Some of the other conscripts had purchased spell scrolls of their own, but these were single-use affairs they'd have Daleth cast upon them immediately before battle. They also stocked up on potions they were sure would come in handy, Daleth having filled them in on the specific capabilities of a pit fiend in combat. But after spending a few days poring over the materials Skevros had been studying, Daleth announced his readiness to go take down the cultists and prevent the opening of the gate from the Nine Hells. The group headed, as usual, to the gates of the city, so they could bypass the magic stones Skevros had placed around the city's borders to prevent anyone from being able to teleport into or out of the capital.

"What do we need to know?" asked Kaspar, focusing his internal chi and finding his inner calm in preparation for the upcoming battle.

"The area's shielded from teleportation magic," Daleth answered. "We'll need to teleport in a ways away and approach on foot. But in a way that's good, for it will prevent the fiends from being able to teleport out or summon other devils to come to their aid."

"Them cultists human?" Syngaard asked, his hand in the hilt of his human bane scimitar. It had served him well in defeating many Seekers of Eternity in the past.

"I don't think so," Daleth replied. "They were, but no longer. In fact, I believe them to be the missing Evokers the Council of Guilds warned us about. They've been slain and their bodies are being 'worn' by devils controlling their movements from afar."

"So, undead?" asked Galen. He had specific ways with dealing with undead abominations.

"No, more along the lines of animated objects, I fear." Galen frowned. But then the team began their spellcasting and similar preparations. From scrolls Daleth cast greater invisibility spells upon each of the five conscripts, then cast a resist fire spell on each as well. Using his staff of divination, he cast true seeing spells on Galen, Kaspar, and Syngaard, settling on a see invisibility spell for himself and realizing Orion could sense living beings even if they were invisible.

Kaspar passed out potions of neutralize poison he'd purchased and everyone drank down their contents; pit fiends had a poisonous bite, Daleth had warned them, and the potions would remain in their systems to combat the effects should this devil bite any of them. Syngaard passed over the doses of consecrated silversheen they'd collected from the hellish library on an earlier excursion; everyone had four doses for their personal use and one dose each was immediately applied to Kaspar's tenryutsume, Syngaard's holy morningstar, Galen's sword of Zehkar, and Orion's nightflame short sword. Daleth completed his personal spellcasting with magic circle against evil, fly, and spell turning spells upon himself and Todd, while Galen cast a magic circle against evil spell upon himself and a bless weapon spell upon his longsword. Daleth cast Rary's telepathic bond and haste spells upon the group and then used one of Skevros's scrolls of greater teleport to send the conscripts into the Baator's Breath Mountains, just outside the area that was warded against such magic.

The sun beat down upon the assembled group. Just ahead, they could see the beginning of a chasm that widened as it veered down lower into the earth. The sounds of chiseling could be heard from the area, the sounds of hammers driving metal chisels into the hard stone mountain, carving out the various hellish runes required for the ritual to open the gate to the Nine Hells.

Cautiously, the conscripts approached. Once they rounded the last corner and saw the assembled group ahead of them - including the pit fiend and a red-skinned, horned woman wearing loose robes, both of whom remained invisible but not to the heroes' magically-enhanced vision - Galen wordlessly channeled the might of his patron god Hieroneous into his blade and charged the half-fiend. The sword of Zehkar struck true and struck deep, driving the horned fiend-woman to her knees at the suddenness and ferocity of the unexpected blow.

Daleth flew forward, determined to take out the cultists working on the half-finished pentagram being carved into the hard stone. He channeled a chain lightning spell through his maximizing metamagic rod, blasting all but two of the eight assembled around the magic circle, then followed that up with a quickened Evard's black tentacles spell engulfing the cultists in writhing, rubbery appendages. Serenity floated unconscious in place above the magic circle, conveniently just out of range of the grappling tentacles. The cultists struggled against their entwining bonds, to no avail.

Orion sent Carl ethereally across the distance to the half-fiend, only to materialize back to the mortal world once in position. The halfling's blade darted forth, stabbing the downed woman from behind. Syngaard raced up and, having been warned about the pit fiend's ability to cause even the bravest of warriors to drop everything held and flee at top speed under the power of a magical fear, opted to stick close to Galen, who through the power of his god projected an aura of bravery that would help to ward off such unwanted fear effects. He gave the half-fiend a bop on the head with his morningstar for good measure, really wanting to go after the pit fiend instead, but the force of his blow had her staggered on the ground.

The devil-woman knew she had, at best, one attack in her before she was slain and determined to make the most of it. Fueled by the power of her hatred, she channeled the energy of a quivering palm into her right hand and struck out at the paladin bearing the loathsome symbol of Hieroneous on his shield. She missed - Galen dodged the feeble attack with hardly any effort at all - and she collapsed onto the ground, her life blood flowing freely from her accumulated wounds.

Kaspar raced up alongside the others, tossing a shuriken at the pit fiend as he did so and thus striking first blow against the massive devil, although the bladed weapon bounced of the devil's tough hide without piercing the skin. But the pit fiend's attention was on the plight of his minions, not through any concern for their well-being but rather because they had been instructed to carve the needed runes for the gate and he didn't want anything to get in the way of their progress, for the Hope Ender was depending upon their success. He concentrated on dispelling the flailing and entangling tentacles and snarled in surprise and anger when his attempt failed - the mortal wizard's spellpower had been too great! Unaccustomed to having to deal with wizards of this level of power, the pit fiend stepped to the side, still apparently believing he couldn't be seen, for he had failed to even notice the shuriken attack.

But any belief in the power of his invisibility was immediately dispelled when Galen led the charge against him, channeling a smite evil blast of holy energy through his sword of Zehkar. Daleth, satisfied the cultists were out of the fight for now, sent a maximized greater shout blasting at the pit fiend, deafening the devil but failing to stun him as well. Syngaard charged the pit fiend in Galen's wake, sending his holy morningstar crashing into the red devil's side. Orion, in the meantime, let the guys have their fun against the pit fiend while she ensured the devil-woman would never rise again, stabbing her through the back of the neck with her nightflame short sword.

Kaspar used his speed to race around the pit fiend, ensuring he kept out of reach of the great beast's arm span just in case it could see him despite the protection of his greater invisibility spell, and flanked him from behind. He brought his right hand smashing in a cobra-swift strike into the back of the pit fiend's right knee, nearly causing him to topple.

The pit fiend, however, despite Kaspar's concerns, could not see his invisible attackers - but that was a problem easily remedied. Casting a precious wish spell, he wished those attacking him were no longer invisible and just like that, they weren't. There was a hated paladin before him wearing the gauntlet-fist symbol of Hieroneous, a scar-faced thug with a morningstar bearing Pelor's symbol, some elf behind him who reminded him of his own servant, now apparently slain by a halfling, of all things, and another elf flying beside a pseudodragon - no doubt the wizard who had engineered the attack upon the devils wearing the flesh of the eight members of the Evokers Guild. <Ahhh, it's so much better now that I can see you pesky mortals,> he said to them telepathically, breaking out in a wide grin that exposed his horrible teeth. <I wonder, which of you shall I devour first?>

Galen opted to respond with his sword but now that the pit fiend could see his foes he was able to dodge their incoming blows much better and the sword of Zehkar missed its target entirely.

And then, with mounting horror, the pit fiend realized he could no longer see his foes - he couldn't, in fact, see anything at all! Deafened as he had been by Daleth's greater shout spell, he hadn't heard the elf cast one of his newly-learned spells: power word blind.

Orion sent Carl charging at the pit fiend just as he roared in fury at his sudden blindness. The halfling's charge had been from behind, the better to flank him with those attacking the devil from the front, but from this approach Orion had also been shielded from the courage-boosting effects of the paladin's aura. Carl, an undead creature, was unfazed by the devil's fear aura, but just when Orion was in a position to bring her short sword stabbing deep into the pit fiend's unprotected back she let her blade clatter to the floor and leaped from the saddle of her ghost-dog mount. Then, gripped in a mind-killing terror the likes of which she'd never before know, she raced out of the chasm as fast as her little legs could take her. (And thanks to Daleth's haste spell, that was much faster than normal for her.)

Fortunately, the little halfling didn't get far, for Syngaard took the pit fiend down with a rapid-fire series of attacks from his morningstar, the recent upgrade by the clerics of Pelor's temple adding greatly to the damage the weapon did to this fiend from the lower depths. The great devil fell forward and failed to disappear upon its death, indicating - as Daleth explained to the group - that it hadn't been summoned here but rather gated in or called in some manner. The specifics didn't matter to Syngaard; he'd just been glad to slay the foul fiend, and hoped this was good practice for taking down the Hope Ender, the next devil on his list. In any case, the pit fiend's fear effect vanished upon its death and Orion regained her normal sensibilities, returning shamefaced to the rest of the group. Kaspar put a hand upon her shoulder in greeting, stating without words there had been no shame in falling sway to a magical effect. Orion put her own hand over the elf's, grateful for the understanding.

But then there was some excitement over by the floating Serenity, for one of the cultists had finally managed to wriggle out of the embrace of the engulfing tentacles. He didn't get far, though, running face-first into a quickened wall of force Daleth brought into being directly in front of him. Kaspar, able to see the invisible wall of force with his still-active true seeing spell, dashed around it and punched him into oblivion. Daleth then finished off most of the cultists with another maximized chain lightning, causing a momentary gasp of surprise from Galen when the elven wizard sent the blast directly at Serenity's unmoving form, but Daleth was well aware of the succubus's immunity to electricity; she had simply been a convenient central point from which the arcs of lightning could flare out and burn the cultists to death. The few stragglers who survived that spell were taken out by a cone of cold.

All of their enemies dead, Daleth flew over to Serenity and pulled her floating form away from above the half-constructed magic pentagram. Dropping them both back down to the ground, he gently shook her back to consciousness. The group then filled her in on what had occurred, starting with Skevros's death and finishing up with the battle that had been fought here.

"So what's the next step?" she asked.

"Sadly, right now we need to do nothing, to let some time pass," Daleth replied, causing Syngaard's mouth to hang open in astonishment and an argument to start its way to his lips, only to trip over his tongue and leave the scarred fighter momentarily speechless. "The Hope Ender is waiting on the other side of this unfinished gate with an army of devils, ready to spill into this world," continued Daleth. "We need to wait long enough for him to realize his plan has been stopped and this avenue of attack is now closed to him."

"And then?" prompted Orion.

"And then," answered Daleth with a smirk, "we open the gate ourselves when they don't expect it and we take out the Hope Ender once and for all, on his own plane."

Syngaard found his voice again. "Now you're talkin', Wizard-Pants!" he cried in jubilation.

Daleth turned to the succubus. "Of course, to do so, we'll have to complete the carvings these cultists started. And to perform the ritual as written..."

"...you'll need the blood of a reformed succubus," answered Serenity, already one step ahead. "That's all right: I volunteer." She smiled at the group. "Maybe that will silence any last doubts anyone has about my redemption."

"I am already convinced!" announced Galen with a dashing smile.

- - -

Logan didn't even bother computing any experience points for this adventure, arbitrarily deciding everyone earned enough to level up to 20th for next week's session, which will be the last in this campaign. He also made sure to use the Large pit fiend D&D Mini we have for the pit fiend we fought in this adventure, as we also have a Huge advanced pit fiend he'll be using to represent the Hope Ender next week.
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PC Roster:
Daleth Stormsea, elf wizard 20
Galen Thorne, human paladin 20
Kaspar Hardstrike, elf monk 20
Orion Nightsky, halfling rogue 20
Syngaard, human fighter 20​

Game Session Date: 25 September 2019

- - -

Nadira looked today like a blonde noblewoman. Yesterday she had been a brunette teenager and the day before that she had started out as a redhead but put a stop to that once she saw Syngaard staring at her with interest from the corner of his eye. With her hat of disguise it was a simple matter for the doll-homunculus - who used to go by the childish name "Dow" given to her by her master's young daughter Sarah - to change her appearance as often as others changed their clothes. And by using the astral golem she was the size of a normal human woman, not a child's doll.

Tonight, though, she was briefing the conscripts in the Enchanted Flagon from the notes her now-dead master, Skevros, had compiled about the Hope Ender. They sat in their normal places around the table, while she sat in the spot Skevros had favored.

"The Hope Ender is relatively high up in the hierarchy of Hell," she told them, "merely two steps lower than a Prince of Hell - he's at the level of a duke or baron. As such, he is much more powerful than a standard pit fiend. He rules over a portion of Dwarven Hell called the Mithral Sea, although part of his domain falls upon solid land as well." Each of the conscripts sat listening to her with rapt attention, wanting to learn all they could about the enemy they would soon be facing. Syngaard had his normal mug of ale before him but he'd hardly touched it and had kept uncharacteristically silent during Nadira's briefing.

"Ever since his right-hand general betrayed him several millennia ago, the Hope Ender has sent his armies ahead of him and coordinated their attacks from the rear of the formation, through the use of a telepathic amplifier - a tall tower that allows him to send commands to his lieutenants at a far greater range than normal. Only those who have shown complete obedience are allowed as his personal bodyguards and he has been known to make trophies of his greatest enemies. It is entirely possible that you five have now been cast into that group, given you slew the pit fiend he'd entrusted with creating a permanent gate to the Material Plane those three weeks ago."

"How far has the Conjurers Guild gotten with completing the runes for the gate?" Daleth asked. After the Azure Glade's Diviners Guild had determined the time was right - that the Hope Ender fully believed the attempt had been fully thwarted and the gate would never be completed by his hellish forces, the Abjurers Guild had shielded the place from scrying and the Conjurers Guild had picked up where the devilish forces had left off, completing the gate they'd started, not as a means for a devil army to invade the Material Plane via the Baator's Breath Mountains but quite the opposite: allowing a strike force comprised of the joint armies of Durnhill, Ashfall, and the Azure Glade to enter Dwarven Hell and take out the Hope Ender once and for all. Doing so would end the sporadic breach activity common in the Baator's Breath Mountains, where short-duration gates would often open between the two planes.

"They are almost finished," answered Nadira. "The gate should be ready for operation by the morning."

"And the armies are okay with our plans?" asked Galen.

"They are. You five will be the first to enter Dwarven Hell through the gate, where you will search out the Hope Ender's location and deal with him directly. You will each be rendered invisible and granted flight, as the auguries have foretold that invisibility and fly spells will mean the difference between success and failure. You must fly away from the gate at full speed once entering Dwarven Hell, as the devils there will know at once that the gate has been opened. The combined armies will be there right behind you to deal with them while you seek out your foe."

"And we know the Hope Ender's general location?" asked Kaspar.

"He is in a pavilion a mile or so north of the place where the gate will open, on a flat plane of sand and rock. We cannot tell any more than that, as scrying directly upon the Hope Ender has dire consequences - as Skevros himself found out."

"We're sure that's what killed him?" Orion asked.

Nadira nodded. "The Guildmaster of Diviners - the Seeker who initially replaced Arcturus during the attempted coup - found out the hard way that the Hope Ender has some means of burning from within anyone who scries directly upon him. He had only agreed to make the attempt after the Council offered to reduce his sentence if he gave it a shot, but it cost him his life. The current Guildmaster has no desire to share his predecessor's fate."

"So we'll be invisible and able to fly," reiterated Syngaard. "That'll help us sneak into the Hope Ender's pavilion and find him without being seen. But once we find him, we're gonna need to take him down, and the best way to do that is to whittle away some of his powers."

"You have thoughts as to specifics?" asked Galen.

"Yep. I say we pry up some of them dimensional anchoring stones Skevros put around the city and take 'em with us."

"You can't take a dimensional anchoring stone through a gate spell," pointed out Daleth. "That's the whole point."

"Yeah, I get that," Syngaard sighed, wondering just how stupid Wizard-Pants thought he really was. "But if we put 'em in our bags of holding, they oughta travel to Hell just fine. Right?"

The wizard thought about it. Since the extradimensional pocket inside a bag of holding wasn't an entire plane, placing a magical stone inscribed with a permanent dimensional anchor spell shouldn't be a problem. "Right," admitted Daleth.

"Then once we find the Hope Ender, we throw the stones down around him and keep him from teleporting away - or summoning other devils to come help him."

"The dimensional anchoring stones don't work that way," argued the elven wizard, glad to have found a way to correct the crass human fighter. "You don't need to surround the Hope Ender; each stone prevents extradimensional travel in a 50-foot radius in all directions around it. If a second stone is placed within 50 feet of another, each radiates a dimensional anchor effect in a 100-foot radius, and so on - each additional stone doubles the range of the effect."

"So what'll four of 'em do, if we drop 'em all together?" Syngaard asked. He didn't feel up to doing the math himself.

"Fifty becomes 100, becomes 200, becomes 400 feet," Daleth replied.

"Okay, so we drop the stones 200 feet from the Hope Ender, then," Syngaard said, revising his suggested strategy. "That works even better."

"And we'll do a heroes' feast first?" Orion prompted.

"Yes, that will protect us all from the pit fiend's poison and fear effect," Galen answered. "Anuja said she'll have the spell ready for us tomorrow morning, an hour before we're ready to breach the gate.

"And what of Anuja? And Mikito?" asked Kaspar.

"They will be part of the group staying behind and guarding this side of the gate," Nadira answered. "We will have the advantage of surprise on our side, but should the devils gain ground against the attack force we cannot allow them to make use of the gate as they originally intended."

"Agreed," replied Galen. He looked around the table at his companions. "Do we have any further questions?" he asked. Nobody did, so the conscripts were dismissed to make their final preparations for the next day's battle. Kaspar spent the night in silent meditation, mentally preparing himself for the combat to come, where he would put a lifetime of training to quite possibly its final use. Galen spent the evening in prayer to Hieroneous, asking the God of Valor to use him as His vessel to rid the world of a terrible evil. Daleth pored over the pages of his spellbook, considering which of the many spells he knew would be the most advantageous in the next morning's battle to the death. Orion packed and repacked the various pouches of her extradimensional utility belt, practicing reaching for various items until she could produce a healing potion or a thunderstone practically at will without giving it any conscious thought. (And then, once that had been completed to her satisfaction, she played with Carl for a while before grabbing some much-needed sleep if she was going to be at her best the next day.) Syngaard returned to his other job at Mama Kat's, performing bouncer duties until the customers had all gone back to their own beds for the night, then grabbed a few hours of sleep in Cori's room until it was time to get back up. He didn't worry about oversleeping, confident that Nadira - who, Syngaard had to admit, he liked much better than Dow, even though the two were the same person - would awaken them at dawn with a message spell in the same manner as Skevros so often had.

Dawn came soon enough and with it a final gathering at the Enchanted Flagon, where Anuja provided them all with the promised heroes' feast making them immune to poison and magical fear as well as temporarily boosting the strength of their life essences. Then the spellcasters among the conscripts began casting those spells the group had decided ahead of time they'd all be going into battle with: resist fire, stoneskin, Rary's telepathic bond, see invisibility or true seeing - and a bless weapon spell cast by Galen upon the sword of Zehkar. Some of these spells had been cast via arcane scrolls purchased for this very purpose days earlier, so Daleth wouldn't enter battle in short supply of combat spells.

Vials of consecrated silversheen were then applied to Orion's nightflame short sword, Kaspar's tenryutsume, Syngaard's holy morningstar, and Galen's sword of Zehkar - and then, at Daleth's suggestion, Syngaard applied another dose onto his bronze griffon, applying it slowly enough that it didn't accidentally activate the figurine of wondrous power before he had covered it completely in the mixture. Only once he had finished his ministrations did he activate the statuette, bringing Dick to full size but now imbued with the power to overcome the Hope Ender's inherent defenses with his claws and beak. Galen likewise called Burt from the Beastlands and the dire lion manifested by his master's side at once, as if having eagerly awaited the summons.

The group had already placed four dimensional anchoring stones into their bags of holding, so they were ready to go. Daleth teleported the group - including Mikito and Anuja - to the Baator's Breath Mountains, where the assembled armies stood in orderly rows awaiting entry into Dwarven Hell. Upon the conscripts' arrival, various wizards from the Council of Guilds began the application of spells with shorter durations, the invisibility and fly spells said to be key to victory.

A ring of battle-wizards stood a step or so back from the newly-finished carving on the stone floor, ready to fire lightning bolts through the gate once it was opened and the conscripts were through. "This gate isn't a simple, two-dimensional doorway," advised the Guildmaster of Evocation. "Instead, it will open as a sphere and can be entered from any angle; you will appear in Dwarven Hell at the opposite end of the sphere from where you enter. Thus, you may all enter at once. But remember: upon entering Dwarven Hell, fly straight up to get away from the gate, for its sudden opening will have devils swarming it at once - and we intend to cut down as many of the first wave as possible with our spells!"

"Is everyone ready?" asked Serenity, who stood by the magic circle engraved in the stone floor. The conscripts took their positions around the circle.

"Wait!" called Galen, leaping down from his feline mount's back and approaching the reformed succubus. He gave Serenity a quick kiss - "For luck!" said the young paladin - and then leaped back upon Burt's broad back. "Ready!" he called. He smiled to himself, realizing that the succubus's innate telepathic powers had to have alerted her to his intended actions and she could easily have avoided his kiss with the simple flapping of her batlike wings to rise up out of reach if she had wanted - but she hadn't. Maybe there's hope yet, Galen mused.

<Come back safely and find out,> the succubus teased, then flapped her wings and took position a dozen feet above the magic circle. A quick slash across her arm with the blade of her longsword and a stream of blood dripped down to the circle, which seemed to suck it up hungrily. In an instant, a sphere formed around the carved circle, through which a hellish landscape could be seen. Without hesitation, the invisible conscripts each leaped into the sphere, gating directly into Dwarven Hell.

As they had been instructed, they each flew straight up into the orange sky upon entering Dwarven Hell - and none too soon, either, as armies of devils instantly teleported in directly below them, eager to take advantage of the gate which had just opened and led to a world of mortals just waiting to be plundered. But upon their sudden arrival, blasts of lightning erupted in all directions from the spherical gate as the Azure Glade wizards attacked the legions of Hell. Many of the first line of devils fell at this assault but there were plenty more to take their places.

<There's the telepathic amplifier!> called Orion over the link, pointing to a crooked tower in the distance. As the invisible conscripts got closer, they could see it was "constructed" by hundreds of illithid bodies, their forms intertwined and merged together into one rickety mass. Off to the side of the tower was a leathery canopy, in front of which stood the massive form of the Hope Ender, looking down at a long table set before him.

Still invisible, four of the conscripts pulled the dimensional anchoring stones from their bags of holding and slowly advanced aerially upon the pit fiend. The stones remained invisible while held but Daleth had warned them they'd become visible again once released, so the group cautiously dropped to the surface some 200 feet from the brooding Baron of Hell and placed their dimensional anchoring stones on the ground, digging them partially into the rocky sand so they wouldn't stand out once released.

<So far, so good,> said Syngaard. <He hasn't noticed us.>

<Or the effect preventing him from teleporting away or summoning aid,> added Galen.

<He won't notice that until he tries using either of those powers,> explained Daleth.

<He's not alone,> warned Kaspar, his keen elven eyes picking out a human-sized figure beside the massive pit fiend. This was a woman with angelic features and white-feathered wings sprouting from her shoulders. <It looks like an erinyes!> The conscripts had dealt with an erinyes before, fighting her and her two barbed devil associates in the Azure Glade.

<What's that on the table?> Daleth asked, straining to see. As the two figures had their backs to the conscripts they were blocking the view but it looked like a bunch of small figurines placed on a map of some sort.

<Can't tell from here,> Galen replied. <But this is it: let's get our final preparations in place.> He began quietly speaking the words to a death ward spell, while Daleth cast haste and greater invisibility spells on each of the conscripts - so they'd remain unseen once they started attacking their foes - and spell turning on himself and Todd. Then, turning to Syngaard, he made an unexpected offer: <You want me to turn you into a fire giant for this fight?>


<I can cast a polymorph spell on you, increase your size and strength to that of a fire giant. You'll be bigger and stronger, your weapons will deal more damage - it will be rather the exact opposite of you becoming halfling-sized.>

That was all it took for the scarred fighter to agree. One polymorph spell later and Syngaard stood 12 feet tall with a wild mane of bright red hair and a full beard to match - although he was still invisible and could thus only be seen by those with magically-enhanced vision. No longer riding upon Dick's back so much as straddling over him, he stepped away from the griffon and hefted his holy morningstar, itself now twice its normal size. <Okay, Wizard-Pants!> he enthused over the link.

<Everyone ready?> Daleth asked to universal affirmation from the others.

<Then shield your eyes, because it's on!> the elven wizard cried silently over the link, casting a sunburst spell directly before the Hope Ender and his winged bodyguard. The woman cried out in alarm, giving every indication of having been blinded by the spell. The Hope Ender's eyes were narrowed in irritation but he spun around looking about him - apparently he had avoided becoming sightless.

Kaspar raced forward, deciding to take out the erinyes before she could do anything to counteract her blindness. Surprisingly, though, while he struck her straight on with a powerful blow to the temple his tenryutsume didn't seem to do much in the way of additional damage - which was certainly a surprise as it had magical enhancements that should have caused it to be exceptionally painful to fiends from the lower planes; furthermore, the additional fire and electricity damage his tenryutsume normally dealt did absolutely nothing in this case. <I don't think she's an erinyes!> Kaspar called out to the others over the mental link. <Is it possible...is she an angel?> From his close-up vantage point, the elven monk got a better look at the contents of the Hope Ender's long table: among the expected figures depicting devils of various types - bone, barbed, bearded - there were two that stood out. One was a mithral statuette looking uncannily like the Mithral Mage, while the other was a six-armed female figure with the lower body of a snake - a marilith, which the elf recognized as a type of demon, not devil.

<Huh? That don't make no sense!> Syngaard said after Kaspar relayed what he'd seen.

<I'll check it out!> promised Orion, having Carl slip into ethereality and cross over the span of hellish desert to the table. As they approached, the halfling could see a large, metal chest beneath the table. The lid was open, allowing her to see a tray of several other figurines lying in their custom-built slots. One slot, Orion saw, was the right size and shape to hold a winged figure but it was currently empty.

The question about the figurines was cleared up when the Hope Ender reached down to the table, picked up the statuette of the marilith demon, tossed it to the ground while snarling the name "Eviscara!" - and a full-sized marilith demon appeared at his side. The figurine had vanished, in much the same way the bronze griffon figurine vanished when Syngaard brought Dick into being as a flesh-and-blood griffon. "Invisible attackers - kill them all!" ordered the Hope Ender to his demonic minion and the marilith looked all about her, her gaze focusing on Kaspar's invisible form before her as if she could see him perfectly fine.

But by then Syngaard had flown across to the Hope Ender and slammed his holy morningstar into the side of the pit fiend's head. Dick was at his side, biting and clawing with less success.

Six swords came slicing down at Kaspar and despite the monk's training and years of experience he couldn't dodge them all. Fortunately, those which got through his defenses were mostly shielded by the stoneskin spell still covering the monk. Eviscara's otherwise lovely face contorted into a snarl of anger at the ineffectiveness of her attacks.

But she wasn't the only one attacking Kaspar, for the astral deva - although still blinded by Daleth's spell - struck out at Kaspar since he was within reach and she could tell his general location by sound. Her own blade struck the harried monk, likewise dealing little harm do to his protective stoneskin spell.

Burt charged straight at the Hope Ender, turning his charge into a pounce at the last moment and raking the devil with his sharp claws as his master channeled a smite evil strike through the sword of Zehkar. While those two engaged the pit fiend in hand-to-hand combat, Daleth flew closer and cast a maximized polar ray spell at the pit fiend's head. It struck true but unfortunately many devils had the innate ability to occasionally turn away the power of spells cast upon them and this was one of those times; the spell fizzled away harmlessly, much to Daleth's chagrin.

Under attack by the pit fiend's two female minions, Kaspar changed tactics and turned to attack the Hope Ender directly. He sent a flurry of punches and kicks crashing into the massive devil's right leg, focusing on his knee; this might be a powerful member of the ruling class of Hell but his physical structure was similar to that of a giant and not that much different from that of an elf or a human. Take out his knee and he'd find combat more difficult!

Orion had wheeled Carl into position behind the table and, returning from the Ethereal Plane, she swept her arm across the table, knocking the assorted figurines into her opened bag of holding. They'd find out later if the figures were worth anything to them; for now, it was more important to get them out of reach of the Hope Ender, so he couldn't bring additional reinforcements to his side.

The Hope Ender cast a quickened fireball at his feet, hoping to catch a bunch of his enemies within its blast radius. In that he was successful, but the fiery explosion did more damage to Eviscara and the astral deva than it did to the invisible conscripts. He then concentrated his physical attacks against Galen and Syngaard, basing his targeting decision on which attacks had caused him the most pain - and that smite evil attack in particular had hurt! Fortunately for the two warriors, attacking opponents you can't see is a particularly frustrating experience and half the Hope Ender's attacks hit nothing but air; the other half were absorbed in part by the stoneskin spells protecting them.

But then Syngaard, already in position hovering over the pit fiend, brought his holy morningstar down in a two-handed grip, sending it crashing over and over into the Hope Ender's head, dealing an incredible amount of damage. The Baron of Hell roared in pain and fury, then commanded, "HEAL ME!" The astral deva hurried to comply, although doing so cost her a solid pummeling from Kaspar as she raced past the monk to do her master's bidding.

Eviscara continued focusing her attacks upon the monk, six swords swinging in and then - in a surprise maneuver - she brought the end of her snake-tail whipping in from the side in an attempt to catch Kaspar within her coils. But the nimble monk was quick enough to escape the marilith's trap, although avoiding her tail-strike allowed a few of her sword-slashes to strike true. Little by little, the protection afforded him by the stoneskin spell was being whittled away.

Galen leaped off his mount's back and continued his attacks upon the Hope Ender while commanding Burt to take out the astral deva. That he did with relish, and if it bothered him in the least to be attacking a fellow celestial creature the great lion gave no sign of it. Then Daleth cast another maximized spell through one of his metamagic rods, sending a chain lightning into the Hope Ender and arcing off to strike the astral deva and the marilith as well. Once again the Hope Ender's resistance to spells enabled him to avoid all damage and Eviscara, being a tanar'ri, was immune to electrical attack in any case - but the spell at least took the celestial out of the combat entirely, the astral deva reverting to figurine form and dropping to the sand.

Kaspar renewed his attack upon the Hope Ender, striking again and again in a flurry of blows almost too fast to see. Orion and Carl approached the pit fiend from behind and the halfling stabbed her nightflame short sword deep into the fiend's lower back, hoping for a kidney strike (if the internal organs of a devil were anything like those of most other creatures of humanoid build). She pulled her blade out and stabbed it deep again in a nearby point, then ducked back before the devil could try to retaliate.

Out of frustration, the Hope Ender cast another quickened fireball at his feet, unsure if it was helping his cause in any way. (In fact, it did little damage to the invisible conscripts, their resist fire spells lessening the burns considerably.) He spent another few fruitless moments swinging at where he thought his foes might be, occasionally connecting but apparently not doing enough damage to cause them to break away from the combat. "Who the Hell are you people?" he bellowed, wondering which of his enemies might have coordinated this surprise attack. He got no answer - other than an attack call from Dick as he dove in for another round of bites and claw-scratching - or at least no verbal answer; Syngaard let his holy morningstar do his talking for him. One two-handed slam took off most of the skin from the left side of the Hope Ender's face and whipped him, staggering, to his right; another overhanded slam onto the top of his head sent him falling to the ground on his hands and knees, and then giant-sized Syngaard brought his bloody weapon head down upon the pit fiend's skull again and again until the fiend had fallen prone onto the ground, unmoving. "You--ain't--touchin'--my--Hope!" he called out with each strike; by the end of his sentence he had ensured it would be true, for the Hope Ender lay dead on the ground before him.

Eviscara continued her attacks upon Kaspar, though, it seemed, in a somewhat half-hearted fashion. It struck the monk that although she was under the mental compulsion to obey her master's last command, she was pleased he had been slain. After all, Nadira had said the Hope Ender made trophies of his greatest enemies, so that likely put the marilith in his "greatest enemies" camp. Galen and Burt joined in the fight against the six-armed demon, the paladin's sword of Zehkar dealing incredible amounts of damage to the chaotic fiend. But it was Daleth's maximized polar ray spell that overpowered the demon's defenses and reverted her to statuette form. She dropped to the sands of Dwarven Hell.

<Gather them up!> commanded Orion, bending down from Carl's saddle to snatch up the figurine of the astral deva and stuff it into her bag of holding. Kaspar grabbed the marilith carving and stashed it into his own similar bag. Syngaard, in the meantime, had switched weapons and while his human bane scimitar did no special damage to the slain pit fiend's body it was twice its normal size and thus handy at allowing the "fire giant" version of Syngaard to hack off the Hope Ender's head.

<What are you going to do with that?> Orion wanted to know.

<Not sure yet. Thinkin' of maybe throwin' it down in the middle of the devil army fightin' our own guys, lettin' 'em see how their boss fared against us.> But that wasn't necessary, as evidenced by scores of flashing green lights emanating all around the area as various devils tried teleporting to their leader upon learning of his sudden death over the telepathic link he shared with them. The dimensional anchoring stones were doing their jobs!

<We'd better get out of here!> advised Galen, leading the others to where they'd dropped the dimensional anchoring stones in place. He, Orion, Kaspar, and Syngaard each grabbed up a stone and dropped it into their respective bag of holding so they'd be able to pass through the gate with them back to the Material Plane in the Baator's Breath Mountains. Once the stones had been stashed they once again flew straight up as devils started materializing below them, their teleportation attempts no longer hindered. They then made a mad, aerial dash back to the gate, which they could see was starting to flicker; its existence was apparently tied into the Hope Ender's life force and now that he was no longer among the living the gate was about to follow him in permanent death.

"RETREAT! BACK THROUGH THE GATE!" called Galen in his loudest and most commanding voice. "IT'S ABOUT TO CLOSE FOREVER!" Syngaard echoed the paladin's words, figuring his fire giant lungs were capable of a much louder tone. As one, the human armies retreated to the spherical gate, which was now not so much a sphere as a wobbly, blobby, wavering shape. The conscripts and their allies made it through in time, as did a few devils that had to be slain once back on the Material Plane. But with the gate finally closed behind them and no chance of reinforcements the devils were easily vanquished.

Dismissing the greater invisibility spells, the five conscripts returned to full view - surprising those around them who hadn't expected a fire giant to be part of their ranks. But their battle done, Syngaard dismissed the polymorph spell as well, returning to his normal size and countenance. "Ugh!" groaned Orion, looking up at the bald fighter's scarred face. "You looked better when you didn't look like yourself."

Serenity dropped down from the air above the magic circle, which was now starting to fade away as well, the deep grooves that had been painstakingly etched into the solid rock of the mountain starting to rapidly erode away. "You came back safely," she purred at Galen.

"I did indeed," he replied with a smile.

- - -

Logan was concerned that this was going to be an overly-long adventure, no doubt because it would have been possible for the Hope Ender to have activated the Mithral Mage as a figurine of wondrous power the following round. While it would have been appropriate for that long-term thorn in our side to have made an appearance in our final adventure, I'm glad it worked out the way it did.



PC Roster:
Daleth Stormsea, elf wizard 20​
Galen Thorne, human paladin 20​
Kaspar Hardstrike, elf monk 20​
Orion Nightsky, halfling rogue 20​
Syngaard, human fighter 20​

Game Session Date: 25 September 2019

- - -

"So I been thinkin'," Syngaard said to the group as they once again sat around their table in the Enchanted Flagon, the evening of their attack upon the Hope Ender.

"That must have hurt," commented Orion with a wry smile on her lips.

Syngaard chose to ignore her. He was, after all, feeling pretty good: they had taken down the Mithral Mage and now the Hope Ender as well; the war with Ossirna and the Seekers of Eternity was a thing of the past. It looked like they had some quiet days ahead of themselves for the foreseeable future.

"So, we got ourselves a headquarters here in this tavern, only we don't got much need for a headquarters no more, what with us havin' already taken care of our enemies. So, whaddaya think about openin' it?"

"Opening it? You mean the Enchanted Flagon? As a tavern?" asked Daleth.

"Yeah. We already got Karen as a free barmaid - no wages to be paid out there. Skevros has an unlimited supply of ale - that don't cost us nothin'. I got bouncer experience; I figure Maria's got experience runnin' a magic shop, she oughtta be able to handle runnin' a simple tavern. And Nadira can be the hostess or whatever - it'll give her something to do. You guys already live upstairs, so it won't be like it's out of your way or nothin'. Whaddayathink?"

"I think," replied Daleth, "that a wizard of my talents would be wasted in helping to run a tavern. Now that Skevros has passed on, King Leornic is in need of an arcane adviser and I intend to fulfill that role for His Majesty."

"Kaspar?" Syngaard asked.

"I thank you for the offer," replied the monk politely, as was his nature. "But I believe I will return to the monastery where I was trained. Master Phae is getting on in years; he is, alas, a human. I will assist him in running the temple in his final days."

Syngaard looked over to Galen but before he could get a word out the paladin turned him down. "I'm sorry, Syngaard, but I will be returning to the Temple of Hieroneous. I have been asked to assist in training the new recruits. But I'll definitely be by now and again to see how it's going!"

When the bald fighter turned to Orion she was leaning against the bar with her arms crossed and a big smirk on her face, just waiting to see if the stupid lunk was actually going to ask her to join him in a business venture. The two hadn't been the closest of friends during their conscription to the king of Durnhill (and that was putting it mildly) but they'd found they had a few things in common: a love of cards, for one; a love of money, for another. "I don't suppose...?" Syngaard started.

"Us in business together?" Orion scoffed. "You see that workin' out?" Syngaard just shrugged. "Tell you what," the halfling conceded. "You guys run the bar, I'll run the gambling. I get the table in the corner, full time." And, thought Orion, a crowded tavern full of drunks is a perfect place to keep my pick-pocketing skills honed.

"Okay then," agreed Syngaard. "That's settled." He took a deep breath. "Now I just got two more things to deal with."

"Two?" asked Kaspar, curious.

"Yeah. I gotta go tell Mama Kat I can't work in her brothel no more, but I'll do that later. First...well, with the Hope Ender dead and all, there's no real need for little Hope to have to stay in hiding inside Skevros's extradimensional mansion. I guess it's time she came on out and started livin' a regular life - you know, like a normal kid."

The scarred fighter undid his weapon belt and set it on a table, alongside his shield. Then he pulled off his gauntlets and started unbuckling his mithral breastplate. Finally, stripped down to just street clothes, he went to the back of the tavern, to the door behind the bar. He placed his hand on the doorknob and the steel ring on his finger glowed briefly, indicating when he opened the door it would be the permanent Mordenkainen's magnificent mansion he entered, not the tavern's storeroom.

He turned back to the others. "Wish me luck," he said. "You know I don't have any real experience in this."

"Good luck," replied Galen dutifully.

You'll need it, you stupid oaf, Orion thought to herself, but she gave him a silent thumbs-up nonetheless. But you just might surprise everybody and do okay.

"You'll do fine," reassured Kaspar.

Syngaard steeled himself for what was to come and stepped into the extradimensional doorway, taking the first step in his new career - as a father.

- - -

And that closed out Logan's first standard D&D campaign. (He had previously run a 26-adventure campaign for Harry and me based on the Skylanders series of console games to introduce Harry to the concept of role-playing games.) It's going to be weird putting these characters aside; I've grown rather fond of Syngaard over the past two years, despite - or maybe even because of - his limited intellect and his disdain for halflings. (I'm sure Vicki will be glad to see an end to the constant halfling put-downs and "Dick" jokes, though.) But Logan did a great job keeping this campaign running along, week after week, making each short adventure the next chapter in an ongoing story-line. In fact, I fully intend to print this forum thread out and stick it in a three-ring binder as a keepsake of this campaign; I'll probably keep one copy at our house and print a second for Dan, Vicki, and Joey to keep at theirs. Our copy, I know, will make for weeks of enjoyable bedtime stories for Harry, who still likes having me read to him at night before the lights get turned out.

But Logan's already planned out our next campaign, which will take place in the same world as "The Durnhill Conscripts" but a different part of it - the Underdark, as a matter of fact. The new campaign will be called "Raiders of the Overreach" and we were all told to create PCs who were captured as slaves to the drow. This Wednesday, instead of having our first adventure in the new campaign we'll be creating our new player characters together. I'm looking forward to it!
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Thank you for sharing this campaign with us! I've really enjoyed reading it, I hope you all have as much or more fun in the Underdark! :)

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