The Kordovian Adventurers Guild

Richards

Legend
ADVENTURE 69: ROOT OF THE PROBLEM

PC Roster:
Binkadink Dundernoggin, gnome fighter 18​
Darrien, half-elf ranger 18​
Feron Dru, hamadryad (former half-elf) druid 20 Sister of Ehlonna​
Finoula Cloudshadow, elf ranger 18​
Gilbert Fung, human wizard 18​
Hagan, half-orc sorcerer 18​

NPC Roster:
Malrin Ivenheart, elf druid 13​
MARCI, humanoid construct​

Game Session Date: 1 January 2020

- - -

It was a pleasant morning and the team of adventurers was taking advantage of it. The combatants among them had just finished a round of mock battle to keep themselves in fighting trim, but now they were messing about with their animal companions. Binkadink was astride his jackalope Obvious, practicing alternately jumping onto and off of the stable roof - a practice which Daisy, housed within, did not appreciate in the least. Darrien wrestled with Grumps Junior in the courtyard of Battershield Keep, the half-elf ranger noting with surprise that this was getting to be slightly more dangerous a pastime than it had been before - the dire bear cub was growing fairly rapidly!

Outside, on the other side of the lowered drawbridge, the two elven women, Finoula and Malrin, threw sticks for their own animal friends, Wrath the timber wolf and Taihar the dire fox, to fetch. Hagan looked down on them from his perch on the roof of the northwestern tower of the keep, where he was playing with Wezhley, his weasel familiar. Two floors below him, Gilbert manipulated his Omnibook, adding the arcane scrolls he'd recently purchased into the back cover where he could retrieve them easily. Mudpie was currently the size of a pebble and safely ensconced inside a pocket of the heavyset wizard's robes. MARCI stood motionless against the wall, waiting to be needed.

All of them were thus readily occupied but in truth they were all just killing time, for Helga had warned them lunch would be ready in another ten or fifteen minutes. And nobody wanted to miss out on one of Helga's wonderful luncheon spreads.

But then they all became distracted by the buzzing sound in the distance, which got increasingly louder. Even Gilbert, from inside his second-floor room in one of the keep's four towers, could hear the droning coming from outside. "What that?" he demanded irritably to himself and started down the steps to see what was going on.

The others could see just fine what was causing the sound: dragonflies - hundreds, if not thousands, of dragonflies, spilling up from all sides of the keep and mingling in a chaotic, midair frenzy in the air above the courtyard. Finoula, recalling a recent incident where they'd been attacked at the keep by swarms of undead beetles, raised a hand to her lightning amulet and prepared to transform herself into a living bolt of electricity to blast her way through the mass of insects but then stayed her hand, realizing dragonflies didn't really have much in the way of a means of attacking people; she supposed they could bite but she'd never heard of them biting a person the way flies often did. Plus, despite several of her friends being right there in the courtyard with the swarming insects, none of the dragonflies were attacking. Finoula just watched, amazed at the spectacle before her.

Eventually, the chaotic cloud of multicolored insects started organizing itself into a pattern: a swirling, upright circle of flying bodies traveling in a counterclockwise fashion - at least from Finoula's point of view from outside the keep. And then the image in the center of the circle changed; where before she could see the building in the back of the keep, inside of which Helga Battershield was preparing the luncheon, now she saw a beleaguered elven woman with light hair like her own silver locks, leaning against a massive tree as if using it to keep herself on her feet. The harried elf made a gesture with her hand and a bolt of lightning came crashing down from the sky at the edge of the vision, exploding into a burst of light as it struck the ground just out of sight.

Then the woman turned in desperation and looked straight at the ranger who moments before had been playing fetch with her wolf. "Finoula!" cried her little sister Feron Dru, a high-level druid and now one of the Sisters of Ehlonna - a hamadryad, as a matter of fact. "I need your help!"

Finoula wasted no time. "Stay!" she commanded to Wrath, not wanting her loyal timber wolf to follow her into unknown danger through the magic gateway that had opened up between the courtyard of Battershield Keep and what the ranger knew must be Ehlonna's Grove, on the far side of the Vesve Forest many days' travel away. She ran straight towards the circle of dragonflies, casting a longstrider spell on herself as she ran.

"Stay!" repeated Malrin, this time to her own animal companion, Taihar. Then she too was running for the open gateway.

But Darrien beat them both through it. Oddly enough, although he was between the back building and the dragonfly gate when it manifested - and thus to him, the dragonflies were flying in a clockwise direction - he too saw the image of Feron Dru staggered beside a massive tree from his angle; apparently you could enter the gate from either direction and still end up in the same place at the other end. He ran through the gate without hesitation, nocking an arrow in his Arachnibow as he did so. Grumps Junior needed no prompting from his half-elven friend; he snorted and backed away from the weird-acting dragonflies in confusion. Bugs weren't supposed to act that way - it was just weird!

Once through the gate, Darrien stopped short, for the ground before him was littered with bodies: elven and human women, it looked like, along with numerous humanoid skeletons strewn about. Green worms the size of plump caterpillars scurried about among the corpses. Looking up, the archer saw a dozen or more skeletal figures approaching, although to do so they were crawling over the slain bodies of the recently dead - corpses which included more than a few unicorns, Darrien noted absently. Then he shook off his surprise, took careful aim, and sent an arrow streaking directly into the skull of an approaching, undead figure: a skeleton, he noted, with several large, purplish worms crawling around its arms and through its rib cage, one of them poking out between the skeleton's jaws. The arrow struck true, sending a small burst of frost puffing out where it hit, but the undead thing remained standing and continued its careful approach.

"Gilbert!" Darrien called over his shoulder, in the direction of the dragonfly gate. "We got a bunch of undead over here!"

Finoula stepped up beside him, looking in amazement at the sight of the recent carnage. Some of the undead forms coming nearer had parchmentlike skin stretched over their bones and green worms - the same kind as those crawling among the corpses - poking out of their desiccated flesh, in some cases extruding from their empty eye sockets as well. None of the undead things spoke, although Finoula hardly expected otherwise; still, it was kind of creepy the way they kept climbing over the recently slain in their single-minded desire to get closer to those still standing.

Back on the top of the northwestern tower of Battershield Keep, Hagan looked down into the courtyard and saw what was going on below. The stairs down to the courtyard from the roof were on the far side of the building; still, no matter - the half-orc sorcerer had a quicker way down. Casting a fly spell and positioning Wezhley firmly onto his customary place on the half-orc's right shoulder, Hagan leaped over the side of the roof and glided down through the swirling dragonflies, landing lightly to the ground on the other side of the gate and taking in the sight if the advancing horde of undead. They were approaching from all sides of the biggest oak tree Hagan had ever seen - it must have a diameter of no less than 40 feet, he thought to himself. He'd never known oaks could grow to such sizes!

The undead continued advancing, six of them with the larger, purple-colored worms writhing around and within them. Feron looked behind her and saw an opportunity: casting an entangle spell, she managed to ensnare six of what she knew to be spawn of Kyuss and two of the mohrgs. The grasses of the forest grove wound tightly about skeletal feet and shinbones, trying to prevent the undead monstrosities from advancing any further.

Binkadink and Obvious bounded suddenly through the gate, the jackalope moving at full speed due to the magic of the saddle he wore, which allowed his paws to hover a fraction of an inch above the ground and thus he was not hampered by the piled bodies of dead attackers and defenders any more than he would have been by a lumpy ground. Wheeling for the nearest clump of undead, Obvious ran forward while Binkadink swung his magic glaive at the side of a mohrg, hoping to slice right through its spine. He hit it exactly as intended, just below the undead thing's rib cage, but the steel blade merely scraped harmlessly off the hardened bones of the skeletal monster. The gnome frowned in irritation: these things were tougher than he had anticipated! Darrien joined him in a frown of his own a moment later, after having shot the same mohrg a half a dozen times without having brought it down.

Gilbert stepped outside the doorway to the northwestern tower and into the courtyard. amazed at what he was seeing before him. Keeping a steady stride, he fished in the pockets of his robe as he walked and produced his pebble-sized earth elemental familiar and his slingshot of rock shrinking. Shooting Mudpie through the dragonfly gate, the elemental struck the giant oak tree and resumed his normal size: a full 16 feet in height, as he landed on his feet at the base of the massive trunk. He looked down at the skeletal forms trapped in the nearby entangle spell and bunched his massive hands into fists the size of small boulders, ready to deal some damage.

MARCI followed Gilbert as the wizard strode through the gate. "Stimdose," the portly mage commanded and the construct extended a thin needle from a metal finger and stabbed it into the wizard's neck. Gilbert felt a sensation of sudden heat flow through his body as the fluid temporarily increased his strength and shortened his reaction time. "Good," he said. "Now we see about taking out these undead!"

Malrin cast a mass cure light wounds spell, sending healing energy flaring out at the nearest undead, which ate away at the necromantic energy empowering their unholy movement. But it wasn't enough to outright slay any of them; several spawn of Kyuss attacked Obvious, futilely clawing at him while the jackalope frantically kept his distance. And behind the druid, three of the entangled Kyuss-spawn and the two mohrgs managed to extricate themselves from the winding grasses and exit the area of effect of Feron's spell, shambling forward to do further harm to the living beings around them. All about the Great Oak - the extraplanar tree through which Ehlonna broadcast the spell energy to fuel the spells of her faithful - more spawn of Kyuss and mohrgs staggered forward.

Hagan cast a chain lightning spell centered on one of the mohrgs attacking Obvious, sending arcs of electricity to hit a handful of other undead in the vicinity. Four of the spawn of Kyuss were slain by the attack, their unholy bodies adding to the piles all around the Great Oak. But another mohrg standing beside Obvious struck at the jackalope, its ragged claws ripping lines of blood along the faithful mount's flank as its purplish worm-tongue darted out and bit Obvious in the side of the neck, delivering a paralytic venom into his bloodstream. Sitting in the jackalope's saddle and striking the nearby undead with his glaive, Binkadink was surprised when his mount froze up on him all at once; the gnome managed to leap from the saddle at the last moment as Obvious tipped over onto his side. But Binkadink took advantage of the momentum of his leap, swinging his glaive into the side of the mohrgs responsible for Obvious's paralysis, sending several of its rib-bones flying and carving his blade deep into one of the dark worms writhing along its arm-bones.

Feron spun about, sensing the mohrgs approaching behind her, and dropped a bolt of electricity from her previously-cast call lightning storm spell onto the skull of the nearest of the two. She made a brief mental inventory of her remaining spells; most of her most powerful ones had already been cast in fighting off the undead swarming the tree sacred to her goddess.

But she knew this was only part of the attacking force she faced - and not even the most dangerous part at that. Through her link with the life-force of the Great Oak - which was her home, in the same way a normal dryad's life was tied to a specific tree - she could sense that it was also being attacked from below. "They're attacking the roots of the Great Oak as well!" she called to her sister and her adventuring companions. "I can't fight them off in both places at once! Some of you will need to go below - there's a cavern 20 feet straight down! Hurry!"

Gilbert made a snap decision. "Mudpie!" he called to his familiar. "Dig down, but leave tunnel behind! Those coming with, center on me!"

Without any further prompting, the earth elemental sunk into the ground, digging a tunnel into the cavern Feron had described below. Unseen in the midst of battle against the undead, the dragonflies forming the gate to the courtyard of Battershield Keep dispersed and went their separate ways, their temporary service to the Goddess of Nature fulfilled.

Looking over at Obvious and realizing Binkadink's dilemma, Hagan called out, "We'll keep him safe!" as Darrien added, "Go! We'll protect Obvious--you head on down!" Darrien realized the gnome's glaive could wield an awful lot of damage and would likely be put to better use against the unseen enemies attacking the Great Oak's roots that had Finoula's sister so worried. To back up their claims, Darrien sent waves of arrows plunging deep into the desiccated flesh of the spawn of Kyuss surrounding Obvious while Hagan cast another chain lightning spell that fried several of the swarming undead. His worries about his mount and friend allayed, Binkadink ran toward Gilbert, his glaive striking out at the undead in his way.

Down in the lower cavern, Mudpie saw an enormous, black shape before him. Other than its coloration, it appeared to be a purple worm, its attention focused on the mindless gnawing of the massive roots of the Great Oak poking through the cavern's ceiling. Mudpie looked down the creature's length and saw its bloated body took up about half of the width of the subterranean tunnel leading downwards at a gentle slope into darkness. The tunnel turned to the right at the edge of the elemental's vision, beyond which he had no way of knowing what the passageway might hold. At least the close confines should prevent the worm from bringing its venomous tail-spike into play, not that poison held much of a threat to the earth elemental.

Mudpie sent a boulderlike fist crashing into the worm's side. It barely even noticed and continued with its grazing, breaking off great chunks of the Great Oak's thick roots with its powerful, toothed maw.

Topside, Finoula had advanced beside her sister and was fending off the oncoming undead with Tahlmalaera and her flaming whip of thorns while Feron dropped another bolt of lightning onto a mohrg's skull. "Thank you for coming," the druid said to her older half-sister, knowing full well Finoula had been jealous of Feron's rapid advancement through the ranks of the druid circles decades earlier, despite her relative youthfulness - thanks to her half-human parentage and the speed with which humans and those of their bloodline aged and matured compared to full-blooded elves. She hadn't been entirely sure Finoula would come to her aid.

"Of course," replied Finoula grimly. She hadn't always been a big fan of her half-sister, true, but while the ranger wasn't a full-fledged Sister of Ehlonna herself - a commitment requiring service for the rest of her natural life in Ehlonna's Grove, one she wasn't ready to give now and quite possibly never would be - she still was a follower of the Goddess of Nature and would willingly come to Her aid when called. Plus, like it or not, Feron was family: they shared the same mother. She couldn't not come to her half-sister's aid.

While Darrien and Hagan kept the undead temporarily at bay, Malrin ran up to Obvious and cast a neutralize poison spell upon him that soon had the jackalope struggling to his feet. But no sooner had he regained his footing than another wave of the spawn of Kyuss were upon him. Hagan took one of the new arrivals out with another chain lightning spell, damaging a few other nearby undead in the process. But two more mohrgs were now close enough to attack the jackalope, as two others clawed at Feron and Finoula, their thick, violet-colored worms attempting to paralyze the sisters.

Obvious fought back with his antlers and teeth. Finoula fought back with her longsword and whip. Feron, wishing this long battle was already done and over with, found a hidden well of untapped strength within her and summoned forth the energy needed to transform into a fire elemental, doubling her size as she did so.

As Binkadink stabbed at a mohrg standing between him and Gilbert, the wizard did some mental calculations and cast a sunburst spell behind the Great Oak, catching about half of the remaining undead swarm in the spell's area of effect while keeping himself and his fellow heroes well out of range. The spell enveloped and burned several spawn of Kyuss into dust, the cleansing light evaporating the hideous, green worms that swarmed over the desiccated undead as well. It also swept over a mohrg, blinding it. Gilbert smiled at the spell's effectiveness; any spell causing that much damage to that many undead abominations all at once was a good spell, in his estimation.

MARCI, at Gilbert's verbal direction, walked up to Finoula and injected her with a dose of the same substance she had given to Gilbert earlier. The elven ranger felt a warmth flow through her body as the stimdose took its full effect.

Darrien noted, with some concern, during Obvious's combat with the spawn of Kyuss he'd been fighting, several of the worms had transferred themselves from their undead hosts onto the jackalope's fur. Not sure of their capabilities but doubting they were likely to be good for the antlered rodent, Darrien took a momentary break from shooting undead with his Arachnibow and cast an animal growth spell on Obvious, causing the jackalope to double in size but more importantly, grant him an increased toughness that would hopefully prevent the green worms from being able to burrow into his hide. From what he could tell, the spell was effective on that front - so far, at least.

Malrin, still in the vicinity since casting her spell upon the jackalope, decided to take advantage of a higher combat position and climbed up onto his empty saddle; at presently double its normal size, the gnome-sized seat fit the elf just fine. A mohrg tried to grab her while she got settled into a comfortable position in the saddle, but a cure serious wounds spell cast directly upon the undead caused it to instinctively flinch back as if stung, smoke rising from where the druid had touched it. And then the creature fell to another of Hagan's chain lightning spells.

Finoula's flashing weapons cut down several spawn of Kyuss in rapid succession; she took a moment to crush a wriggling, green Kyuss worm under her heel while turning to face the next approaching undead foe. Beside her, Feron's flaming form had set a mohrg's dry bones alight, the crackling flames having a deleterious effect on the thick bodies of the purple-skinned worms thrashing around, entwined between its blazing bones.

Down in the cavern, Mudpie continued punching the massive, black worm to little effect; it studiously ignored the attacks, continuing its mission to devour the roots of the Great Oak. But by then Binkadink had managed to strike down the mohrg he'd been fighting and make it to Gilbert's side, as had Darrien and Finoula at his frantic gesturing. "They can handle it up here!" Gilbert told the others, indicating Feron in her fire elemental form, Hagan still casting chain lightning spells, and the twice-normal-size Obvious with Malrin upon his back. Indeed, there weren't many undead left surrounding the Great Oak any more; time to go deal with whatever was threatening its root system. With a few arcane syllables, Gilbert cast a dimension door that sent the quartet of heroes - and the ever-present MARCI at his side - down to the lower cavern.

Gilbert's arcane-enhanced eyesight failed to pick up an aura of undead around the black worm, which was surprising but not at all disappointing; not only did that mean one less undead monstrosity in the world to have to deal with, but he had prepared several combat spells that were all but useless to undead creatures and this gave him an opportunity to bring some of them to bear.

Binkadink wasted no time in bringing his magical glaive swinging down upon the dark beast, the blade slicing deep into the worm's flesh. Darrien moved further down the worm's side, lining up a shot that wouldn't have Binkadink's swinging weapon in the way. As he passed MARCI, she gave him a dose of the stimulant she'd been using as a combat aid since her stores of healing fluid had run dry. Darrien let fly with his arrow, burying its shaft in the worm's side.

Finoula sent her longsword flashing forward, slicing deeply into the worm's flesh. This, at long last, got the worm's attention away from devouring the roots it had been sent to destroy. Rearing its head and spinning about, it opened its maw and lunged at the elven ranger, snapping her instantly into its mouth. It was dark inside the worm's maw but from the scant light coming down from above through Mudpie's steeply-sloping tunnel and the everburning torches attached to the antlers of Binkadink's battle helmet she was surprised to see no remnants of roots inside the worm's maw with her; rather, it seemed to the silver-haired ranger that the worm hadn't been actually eating the roots so much as disintegrating them - a fact which, if true, did not bode very well for her!

Any attempt to try to extract their elven friend and companion from the worm's mouth were interrupted by the sounds of thousands of beating wings coming from the worm's tail section. Thinking at first that this might herald the return of the dragonflies responsible for bringing them here to Ehlonna's aid, Darrien turned his head towards the rear of the tunnel passageway and was blasted by a swarm of flying locusts. They sped up the tunnel to engulf every living thing there, making it all but impossible to see.

Topside, Malrin - seeing the success Feron was having against the remaining mohrgs with her fire elemental wildshape form, cast a summon nature's ally spell to bring forth another one, this one twice as big as Feron's already oversize form. It reached down and burned to ashes the last remaining spawn of Kyuss on the battlefield, while Hagan switched spell tactics by using a polar ray to slay one of the few remaining mohrgs. The mohrg Feron had set ablaze continued to attack her as it burned; she attacked it right back, her flaming fist adding to the fires engulfing it. And Obvious got an already-heavily-damaged mohrg's bones in his mouth, where he shook it back and forth until the magic serving as its connective tissue gave way and it felt, quite literally, to pieces. The jackalope then stomped up and down on the thick, ropy worms that spilled from the mohrg's broken body, smashing them to paste beneath his leaping body.

Knowing full well the ineffectiveness of a bladed weapon against literally thousands of insects, Binkadink plucked a crystal from his necklace of lighting crystals and activated it blindly. The crystal vanished, to be replaced with a bolt of electricity that fried through every locust body with which it came into contact. Gilbert could hardly see with the locusts swarming all over him, but he didn't really need to see his target to bring his next planned spell attack into being; reaching out with his hand until he touched the flank of the voidspawn worm, he cast an Otto's irresistible dance spell - a spell useless against the undead, for it required a living target.

It was a shame the tunnel was still currently plagued with locusts; Gilbert had hoped for a better view of the first time he'd ever seen a worm dance.

As the worm wriggled and writhed spasmodically in place, Mudpie sent his stony fist crashing into the creature's mouth, shattering a few of its sharp teeth. But trapped in the power of Gilbert's "spoilsport" spell, it paid as much attention to the elemental's attacks at it had earlier when its attention was focused upon disintegrating the Great Oak, piece by piece, from below.

MARCI was covered head to foot in locusts but they had no effect upon her metal body and they were doing her no harm so she let them be. Darrien plucked the next-to-last crystal from his own necklace and followed Binkadink's lead, sending another lightning bolt burning its way through hundreds of the locusts clogging up the tunnel. Slowly, the number of flying locusts was being whittled away.

Finoula balanced in a kneeling position inside the voidspawn worm's maw and brought Tahlmalaera crashing down before her, piercing the bottom of the worm's mouth. The worm did not react, continuing its wriggling dance as Binkadink and Darrien continued their attacks from outside its body and Finoula did likewise from inside.

Then, from the back of the subterranean tunnel, the being responsible for having summoned the locusts and who had dominated the voidspawn worm and set it upon the Great Oak made his appearance. Blocked as he was by the remaining swarms of locusts and concentrating on sending arrows into the worm's flank, Darrien didn't see the robed form approach and cast a spell his way. He felt a wave of spell energy wash over him but although he had no idea what the spell's intended effect might be he instinctively fought against it. As a result, the disintegrate spell failed to kill him, although it did harm him sufficiently for him to take notice. Whirling to face his attacker, he saw - through the remaining flying locusts - a robed figure whose face was hidden behind a white porcelain mask. The frozen expression on the mask held a slightly bemused smile - almost a smirk.

Up above, Malrin used her healing spells against the remaining undead while her summoned fire elemental - and Feron Dru, in her own fire elemental form - pummeled the mohrgs with their flaming fists. Hagan had switched to polar ray spells, disappointed that it took two such spells to bring down a single mohrg - but never more than two. Once the undead foes had all been vanquished, Feron resumed her half-elven form and immediately began pumping her remaining healing spells into the Great Oak. Without being asked, Malrin dismounted from Obvious and did the same. The jackalope, unable to fit down the hole Mudpie had created, busied himself patrolling the battlefield and stomping on any remaining Kyuss worms he could find. Hagan, his fly spell still active although unused since arriving in Ehlonna's Grove, flew over to Mudpie's near-vertical tunnel and began carefully to descend to the cave below.

The remaining locusts had retargeted themselves against Binkadink, Darrien, and Gilbert; MARCI and Mudpie were unperturbed by their presence and Finoula was out of sight, still inside the giant worm's mouth. It continued its rhythmic gyrations, until a final blow from Binkadink's glaive cut halfway through its body, releasing a vile pool of black blood onto the floor of the cave tunnel. The worm's enforced dance ceased as the creature died. Finoula, glad that the bouncing, dizzying ride inside the creature's bobbing head was over with, tried climbing out of the worm's mouth but found she didn't have the strength to force open its jaws, even after planting her feet carefully and pushing up against the top of the creature's mouth with her back. This was no good! "A little help?" she called to her friends.

Darrien used his final lightning crystal to blast away the remaining swarms of locusts; only a few individuals remained, and they weren't anywhere near numerous enough to pose any threat.

Gilbert spotted the robed foe at the worm's side and cast an acid fog spell centered on the figure. The greenish vapors engulfed the masked spellcaster at once, making it impossible to target him with further spells requiring any precision. Gilbert only hoped the ongoing acidic attacks would take their toll on their unknown enemy.

Unseen inside the acidic cloud, the sorcerer cast a teleport spell placing him deep inside the voidspawn worm's throat, a good ten feet behind Finoula. While Binkadink and Darrien readied their weapons to attack the spellcaster, who they assumed would be making his way out of the acid fog at his best possible speed (and realizing that might take a bit of time, as the acidic vapors also acted as a solid fog spell, hampering movement), Gilbert took the opportunity to cast a spell turning spell on himself - hopefully the spellcaster would target him when he reappeared; then he'd be in for a surprise! But the masked spellcaster silently approached an oblivious Finoula from behind, ready to spring himself on her.

Fortunately for the elven ranger, Mudpie opened the dead worm's jaws and she was able to climb out of the beast's maw, unaware of the danger she'd been in. Hagan, descending to the floor level of the subterranean tunnel, thought he saw some movement from inside the worm's mouth but dismissed it as a trick of the light. He did feel a surge of spell energy wash over him, though, but resisted the effects and looked about, trying to find the spell's point of origin. Inside the worm's mouth, the hidden sorcerer scowled behind his mask, his baleful polymorph spell having failed to transform the oblivious half-orc to a green Kyuss worm as he'd intended.

"Where'd he go?" Binkadink asked, tired of waiting for the robed figure to emerge from the acid cloud spell. "Gilbert, how about dismissing your spell so we can see where he went?"

"Can't," Gilbert replied. "Spell has to run its course." Binkadink sighed in irritation and lowered his glaive. Then, pulling his magic horn from his belt, he gave it a good, long blow - activating a magic circle against evil spell effect around himself. It was something he could do while waiting for the guy in the robes and mask to show his face again.

Gilbert had similar thoughts and cast an extended haste spell on the group, catching everyone but Hagan in the spell's effect, for the half-orc was simply too far away. Mudpie, seeing there were apparently no more enemies to be fought down here, climbed effortlessly back up to the surface to see if there were any more undead who could use a good pounding.

"MARCI? You see anybody?" Gilbert asked. The construct activated the red beam from her eye and sent it searching into the cloud of greenish vapors. "I detect no life-forms within," she announced. Finoula took the opportunity of a break from the fighting to swig down the contents of a healing potion. Hagan, in the meantime, aware that there had to be a spellcaster of some sort in the vicinity, summoned a polar ray to his fingertips, ready to cast it at anyone who might jump out at him. Wezhley, on his shoulder, spun about and looked directly behind the half-orc, ready to report any movement his master couldn't see.

But the spellcaster was aware of none of this, merely that almost everyone was focused on the acid fog down the tunnel and his nearest target was the robed individual standing at the bottom of a vertical shaft from the surface above. He prepared to leap out at the half-orc from his hiding spot inside the worm's mouth; then he'd engulf the enemy within the writhing forms making up his humanoid shape. Tensing with the anticipation of an unexpected attack, the worm-that-walks made his bold move.

But the hem of his robe caught on one of the dead worm's teeth, toppling the spellcaster over. He fell to the ground before Hagan, his body discorporating into the thousands of worms that together made up his corporeal essence. No longer humanoid, the worm-that-walks collapsed into an empty porcelain mask; an open, intricate robe; and a splattering pile of writhing worms forming roughly a ten-foot burst in a circular pattern.

Hagan gave a surprised bleat and levitated halfway up the shaft back before he'd even processed what had happened. But he'd had the presence of mind to fire the polar ray spell he'd had at the ready, hitting the worm-that-walks when he was still a single, humanoid entity. Unfortunately, part of the ritual that had transferred the essence of a human sorcerer dedicated to Incabulos, God of Plagues into a mass of worms - a composite body that could be renewed indefinitely by adding new worms into the overall whole as the years passed - also granted the worm-that-walks a measure of protection from most spells, and in this case Hagan's polar ray was deflected harmlessly away from its intended victim.

Binkadink looked over at the commotion in time to see the humanoid figure transform into a pile of worms. Once again frowning at the uselessness of his favorite weapon, the gnomish glaive, he pulled the magic greatclub from his belt and used it to start smashing clumps of the wriggling worms to paste.

"That take too long," admonished Gilbert, stepping up to the scene. "Get out of way." Binkadink complied and Gilbert cast a maximized cone of cold at the pile of worms, overcoming the foe's inherent spell resistance and freezing each and every worm all at once and putting a definite end to a creature who had had the potential for immortality if even one worm survived. With a silent scream of fury, the consciousness of the worm-that-walks was snuffed out forever.

After a quick peek down the end of the tunnel to ensure there were no other surprises waiting for them - a peek which had to wait for the natural duration of the acid fog spell to run its course - the heroes climbed back topside to rejoin the others. Malrin and Feron, having ensured the viability of the Great Oak, had taken to examining the bodies of the Sisters of Ehlonna scattered around the battlefield. While most of them had been slain in the defense of the Great Oak, there were a few nymphs and dryads who had been merely paralyzed by the mohrgs. Feron was overjoyed to see she was not, as she had feared, the last remaining Sister of Ehlonna.

"Thank you!" she cried in Finoula's arms, giving her older sister a big hug. Finoula was not surprised to find herself hugging Feron Dru - her irritating, half-blood sister who had made such a big name for herself as an adventuring druid while Finoula was still living with their mother Feya back in Kordovia - back just as strongly. It was a new feeling, releasing the jealousy she'd felt for her little sister all these years.

It felt good.

- - -

I wasn't sure how long this adventure would take to run through - it was basically just one big encounter, albeit one occurring in two adjacent locations - so I had the next one prepped in case we blazed through it too quickly. But the session lasted for over three and a half hours, so I read through the next adventure's "plot hook" to give the players an idea of what we'd be doing next time and then we adjourned back upstairs to exchange Christmas gifts between our two families, a tradition we'd held for years. My gift was a T-shirt that fits in very nicely with the next adventure I have planned; so much so that it'll definitely be the one I wear to our next Kordovian gaming session.

The mohrgs were all upgraded to 20 HD to make them a more challenging threat to a group of 18th-level PCs. I advanced the spawn of Kyuss by a few HD each as well, but not by as much - I wanted them to still be the lower-level threat. The giant, black worm below was an advanced purple worm with the voidspawn template applied to it.

I was very disappointed in not getting to spring my worm-that-walks's engulf attack, in which it discorporates into thousands of worms that surround the foe's entire body and deal a straight 50 points of damage. But wouldn't you know it: even though it was a simple touch attack, that was when my trusty d20 decided to betray me and I rolled a natural "1." Being the "let the dice fall where they may" group that we are, I had no choice but to play it out as it happened. But what a bummer!

- - -

T-shirt worn: My Moore-Hanes Family Reunion T-shirt, since it features a silhouette of a tree, a perfect representation of the Great Oak.
 
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Richards

Legend
ADVENTURE 70: FAR OUT

PC Roster:
Binkadink Dundernoggin, gnome fighter 18​
Darrien, half-elf ranger 18​
Finoula Cloudshadow, elf ranger 18​
Gilbert Fung, human wizard 18​
Hagan, half-orc sorcerer 18​

NPC Roster:
Malrin Ivenheart, elf druid 13​
MARCI, humanoid construct​
Rebecca Starfall, human wizard 10​

Game Session Date: 25 January 2020

- - -

"'Planar Scout in orbit around Selune. Propulsion damaged. Require assistance if possible. Spare propulsion unit inside Workshop. Are you able to assist?'" repeated Gilbert Fung. "That what sending spell said?"

"Aye," replied Aerik Battershield. "That's th' message Dr. Pythagoras Greymantle, an archmage associate of King Galrich an' me from back in our adventurin' days, sent to 'is apprentice, Rebecca Starfall. She's a full-blown wizard 'erself now, an' she started sendin' queries out t' those she thought might be able t' 'elp 'er." Aerik further explained the Planar Scout was a spelljamming vessel capable of extraplanar flight and that Greymantle and his warforged associate Pinwhistle had apparently been missing for the past two decades; they'd gone out in the Planar Scout one day and never returned - until today, that is.

"Where this workshop she talk about?"

"Greymantle's manor's got this gate to some other place where time runs faster than it do 'ere," Aerik explained. "'e's got these constructs workin' over there, can create all sorts of magical equipment in no time flat - from our point of view. If ye're willin' t' help Rebecca, I can give ye directions to the Greymantle manor. It's on th' outskirts of Greyhawk City." The group agreed, assembled their team, and gathered up their gear. None but Binkadink opted to bring along their animal companions; the little gnome wanted Obvious with him as his riding steed whereas Finoula, Darrien, and Malrin all decided their own animals would be ill-suited to a rescue operation around the smaller of Oerth's two moons.

Thus it was that within the hour Jinkadoodle brought the dragonfly vessel down into the clearing behind Greyhawk Manor, in the area normally reserved for the Planar Scout. Finoula lowered the rope ladder over the side and started climbing down, to be met by a human woman with reddish-brown hair exiting from a back door of the manor. She carried a staff and looked to be in her late thirties or early forties. Introductions were made, Rebecca thanked the heroes for agreeing to aid her in rescuing her friends, and she took the group through the gate to the Workshop, where Mudpie used his considerable strength to lug the spare propulsion unit back out into the clearing. The device was levitated into place aboard the top of the dragonfly vessel's upper deck and lashed securely into place. Then Gilbert reduced Mudpie back down to pebble size with his slingshot of rock shrinking, everyone climbed back aboard, and Jinkadoodle took the ship straight up through the clouds and into the darkness of wildspace.

"It's a good thing they ended up where they are," Rebecca commented. "Selune's a large enough target that we shouldn't have too much difficulty in getting there. Then it'll just be a matter of finding the Planar Scout in orbit around it. I'd hate to try to find them if they were just out in some random point in wildspace."

"Any idea why they would have been gone for so long?" asked Darrien.

"I assume they must have run into some trouble," Rebecca replied. "We used to go out exploring many times, but usually for no more than a week or so. To tell the truth, I had long since given them up for dead." A tear glistened in one eye and she wiped at it absently. "They've been gone for over half of my life."

"Well, we get them back home, no problem," assured Gilbert.

The trip to Selune took about two hours, during which time Rebecca told the group stories of her earlier explorations and the places she'd seen, while the Kordovians reciprocated with tales of some of their own adventures. Rebecca also informed them of the shield surrounding the Planar Scout; unlike most spelljamming vessels, whose air envelope just encompassed the vessel but otherwise was exposed to wildspace, Greymantle's vessel had an invisible shield of his own design around it, similar to a wall of force, that came in very handy when submerging into the Elemental Plane of Water or soaring through Abyssal skies filled with random, exploding fireballs. "I have a personal shield generator of my own," Rebecca said, showing a small device clipped to the belt of her skirt. "It creates a similar shield around myself, allowing me to pass through the Planar Scout's shields if it becomes necessary. We all carried one when exploring."

It did, in fact, become necessary, for after Jinkadoodle's enhanced senses detected the Planar Scout in orbit around Selune as expected, they could see telltale glimpses of refracted light showing a lozenge-shaped field of nearly invisible force around the crippled vessel. "I'm afraid I don't have any way to contact the guys inside," Rebecca said. "I used up all of my sending spells trying to find someone who could help."

"Can they turn the shields off from inside?" asked Binkadink.

"Certainly; I'm surprised Pilot hasn't already done so." By this time, all but Jinkadoodle (still in place at the spelljamming helm allowing him to steer the ship), Gilbert, Mudpie (the size of a pebble inside one of Gilbert's pockets), and MARCI (who traditionally followed Gilbert around as she had been programmed to see to the aid of humans) had gone to the upper deck. Rebecca was waving her arms, trying to attract Pilot's attention, but the forward windows of the Planar Scout were darkened and she couldn't see within. "I can try a clairvoyance spell," she mused, beginning the ritual to bring the desired spell into effect. It took ten minutes to cast, during which time there was no apparent change to the Planar Scout; it just hung there, motionless. Jinkadoodle had brought the dragonfly vessel up to it from the side and the two ships kept a relative distance of some 20 feet or so.

"There!" exclaimed Rebecca, staring off into space. "I can see inside the cockpit. Pilot's there, all right, standing in place at the helm." She squinted, trying to see details in the image only she could see. "It looks like he's picked up some rust on his metal parts," she commented to herself.

"Greymantle not there in cockpit?" asked Gilbert.

"No, just Pilot."

"Try moving the sensor to other parts of the ship," suggested Binkadink.

"Spell not work that way, gnome!" corrected Gilbert. Rebecca further explained, "The clairvoyance spell not only doesn't allow me to move the sensor I see through, only rotate it in place, but it can't pierce through other planes. Unfortunately, most of the Planar Scout is made up of pocket dimensions, to fit all of the rooms Dr. Greymantle wanted included in his design within such a small exterior. I wouldn't be able to see inside any of the pocket dimensions in any case."

"Then I guess we should head on over in person," reasoned Hagan.

"Ferry me over first," recommended Binkadink. "I'm the front-line fighter; I should be in place first in case there's any trouble."

"What about your...horned bunny thing?" Rebecca asked. She'd never seen a jackalope before.

"I can ride in the portable hole," replied Obvious, startling Rebecca considerably in that she hadn't known he could speak. Obvious didn't often speak aloud, but besides the language of burrowing mammals he shared with Binkadink he could also speak fluent Common after Malrin awakened him at the gnome's request. But it sure was funny to do so when it caused people to freak out!

"Hang on, want to cast Rary's telepathic bond spell on everyone first," said Gilbert, having wandered up to the top deck during Rebecca's casting of her clairvoyance spell. He was able to include Rebecca in the group of people who could now communicate among themselves just by thinking. But then the jackalope took a deep breath and scampered into the portable hole offered up by Malrin, Binkadink scooped it up and, gnomish stilt-boots extended to equalize their heights, held his hand around Rebecca's waist while she did likewise to his and they leaped across the open space to land on the Planar Scout's left propulsion unit: an octagonal platform some 20 feet in diameter. There was a short burst of a buzzing sound as the field around the vessel and the field around Rebecca and her gnomish passenger merged, momentarily opening a hole in the Planar Scout's shield where the two fields overlapped. Then Binkadink spread the portable hole on the top of the propulsion unit and Obvious leaped out.

Binkadink rolled up the portable hole and handed it to Rebecca before climbing into the jackalope's saddle. "Ready for the next group," he said, extending his glaive to its full length as the wizard leaped back to the dragonfly vessel to fetch the next batch of passengers.

The gnome was attacked almost immediately. He and his mount had just spun about to face the cockpit, a projection jutting up from the center of the vessel on which could be seen several doors and the dark windows in front, when Binkadink suddenly had an eel snapping in his face. Several others - five, in total, it seemed like - came flashing forward at him from who-knows-where. One clamped down on his shoulder and held on, while the others snapped ineffectually at the gnome and then backed away.

The combat didn't go unnoticed by the rest of the Kordovians but they were helpless to do anything until they had been shuttled over to the other side of the field. Malrin and the two rangers cast barkskin spells on themselves, while Gilbert cast a fire shield spell on himself, including his pebble-sized earth elemental familiar in the spell's casting. Hagan cast a stoneskin spell on himself and Wezhley; Gilbert, thinking that a wise move, followed suit. Malrin wildshaped into an owl and flew onto Finoula's shoulder, thinking it an easy way to get another of the group over in one trip.

Darrien leaped into the portable hole and Finoula scooped it up, then she and Rebecca leaped over to the Planar Scout, Malrin perched on the elven ranger's shoulder. Binkadink, in the meantime, had shortened the length of his glaive in an attempt to cut the eel clamped onto his shoulder. But the angle was awkward and, now that the gnome got a good look at his foe, its body sort of just faded off to nothing the farther down its length it went - no wonder his blade was having a difficult time penetrating the eel's body! But Binkadink noticed a few other things about these "space eels" he was fighting: for one thing, they seemed to have no eyes, but that was made up for by at least one of the other eels whose entire head was just an eyeball with no mouth, looking rather like the eyestalk of a beholder. In as calm a manner as he could manage during combat, Binkadink relayed his findings over the mental link he had with the others.

And then he was gone.

Obvious had been snapping his teeth at the darting eels when all of a sudden he felt the weight of the gnome's presence on his saddle disappear completely. He looked about him, seeing a pair of eyeless eels and an eyeball-on-a-tentacle swim backwards, seemingly dissipating as they did so. At the same time, the others all felt Binkadink's mental presence on the Rary's telepathic bond spell shut off as if by a switch. Rebecca and Finoula landed onto the octagonal propulsion unit and the elven ranger opened the portable hole to let Darrien out, then the two rangers looked all about them with weapons ready - but the eels were no longer present. Malrin's owlish head darted this way and that, seeking out enemies from any direction.

Binkadink, in the meantime, had learned something else about the "space eels" he'd been fighting: they were all part of a single creature! The beast had a long body with an eyeless head at one end filled with sharp teeth; from the other end, in the manner of a squid, sprouted ten tentacles, five of them with blind, eel-like heads and the other five tipped with an eyeball. Three of the "eels" had managed to attach themselves to the little gnome and that was apparently all the creature needed to pull its prey into what Binkadink realized was more than likely the Ethereal Plane. But now fully on the same plane as the dharculus he was fighting, Binkadink realized they were now on a much more equal footing than when the bulk of his foe was a plane away. Grinning, Binkadink extended his glaive to its full length again and prepared to do what he did best.

Back on the Material Plane, Darrien cautiously walked up to the front-most door on the left side of the Planar Scout's main section, the door Rebecca had told him was the entryway to the cockpit. He turned the handle, half expecting it to be locked, but it opened easily. And there, standing before him, was an automaton - Pilot, no doubt - built in the form of a man but from metal and wood. The construct turned his head in stages, as if experiencing stiffness with his neck, and opened his mouth as if to try to speak but no words came out.

Instead, spiders scurried from his open mouth, spilling out down his chest and skittering to the floor, where they rushed the ranger. Darrien got the sense that these were not normal spiders, either: several of them seemed to have far too many or too few limbs, and some of the hairy legs sprouted from the top of the abdomen instead of the sides. In any case, the ranger slammed the door back shut, holding the handle in his hand in case anyone tried opening it from the inside, but Pilot seemed not to be inclined to do so and the unnatural spiders were unable to open a door. Darrien released a sigh of relief and let go of the door handle. <Not going in this way,> he reported over the link.

On the Border Ethereal, Binkadink swung his glaive in powerful strikes, completely severing a tentacle that got in the way of his blade as it came crashing into the rubbery body of the dharculus. Another strike and another and another in rapid succession and the odd creature was starting to "swim" backwards in panic. Fluids leaked from the creature's wounds - blood or whatever equivalent pumped through the abomination's odd body, Binkadink guessed - but he wasn't about to let the creature escape. Leaping forward, he drove the point of his glaive into the dharculus's neck and that did it: the creature stopped moving.

Now how am I getting back? the gnome wondered to himself, looking around the misty realm he currently inhabited.

As Rebecca had Gilbert, Mudpie, and MARCI step into the portable hole for the next trip over, Darrien walked over to the door to the right of the one leading to Pilot and the misshapen spiders in the cockpit. He opened it as well and was relieved to see nothing but an empty room before him, a simple 10-foot-square room with doors on two other walls leading to other places in the ship's interior - possibly into pocket dimensions, he recalled. He stepped inside and turned to the door on his immediate left. It was unlocked and the room beyond was definitely a pocket dimension, as it was far wider - some 40 feet - than the main body of the ship that held it. The room was octagonal, with a pillar of light shining down from the ceiling above. There was another automaton, like Pilot, standing motionless to one side of the room; behind him stood a robed figure. He turned as Darrien opened the door.

"Dr. Greymantle?" the ranger asked hesitantly.

"Yes," agreed the robed figure, stepping forward eagerly.

"I'm part of the team that came with Rebecca," Darrien explained. "We're here to repair your ship."

"Excellent, excellent!" replied Greymantle, rubbing his hands together. "So good of you to come! Where is Rebecca, may I ask?"

"She's outside, shuttling the others across through your field." Rebecca was, at that particular moment, leaping across from the dragonfly vessel with Hagan. They landed on the propulsion unit and Hagan released Gilbert and the others from the portable hole when the eels drifted back into view. These eels were no longer violent, though - they just sort of drifted about, extending into the Material Plane, and Hagan saw more than a few of them that looked much more like beholder eyestalks than anything else. But then, along one space eel's trailing length crawled Binkadink, hoisting himself hand over hand across the planar boundaries from the Border Ethereal, using the tentacle like an improvised rope. He'd seen the tips of the dharculus's tentacles start to dissipate out of the Ethereal Plane and on a hunch had climbed along one tentacle to see if it would get him back home. Sure enough it did and Obvious saw the gnome's top half start to materialize from the open air and raced over to meet his rider. Binkadink gratefully grabbed onto the jackalope's antlers and pulled himself fully back into the Material Plane moments before the dharculus vanished altogether, the unholy energies making up its aberrant body dissipating into nothingness.

Gilbert fished his pebble-sized familiar from his pocket, loaded Mudpie into his slingshot of rock shrinking, and fired him at the top of the propulsion unit beneath his feet. Upon impact, Mudpie returned to his full 16 feet of solid earth elemental, holding the large greataxe they'd taken from the body of one of the half-red dragon lizardfolk they'd slain when taking down the red dragon threatening Kordovia. Mudpie now carried the massive weapon around with him, although he seldom bothered using it unless specific circumstances warranted it. "Get ready for anything," advised Gilbert. "Not sure what all going on here."

Finoula, in the meantime, had gone to the back of the central portion of the Planar Scout and pulled open the set of double doors she found there. They opened into an L-shaped room filled with shelves of boxes and barrels - she'd unearthed a storage room, it looked like. But there in the back of the room stood a construct, its humanoid form comprised of metal, stone, and wood. "Pinwhistle, I presume?" the ranger called to the mechanical man.

"The flying slugs cannot long feast on gears!" answered the warforged, stepping purposefully forward, his hands curled into fists.

"Um, wha--?" began Finoula before instinctively slamming the doors closed again. She didn't want anything to do with an angry warforged spouting nonsense!

And then, as if in the blink of an eye, several things happened at once. There were now two dinosaurs standing among the heroes on the left propulsion unit of the Planar Scout, in all aspects megaraptors but for the numerous tentacles waving about randomly from all over their bodies. And Dr. Greymantle was no longer approaching Darrien; he was no longer even in the same room as the half-elf ranger and the immobile Crewman One - he was now standing alone over at the front of the vessel, before the front windows of the cockpit. He looked across the crowded propulsion unit and locked eyes with Rebecca Starfall, his former apprentice - she had aged by several decades since he had last seen her, he deduced; he'd really had no concept of how long he and Pinwhistle had been gone. Still, she was as dependable as ever, finding a way to come to his aid and even bring a spare propulsion unit, he saw, looking across to the cargo deck of the dragonfly vessel. He smiled at Rebecca, and she started to smile back, until she saw Greymantle's smile grow beyond the normal bounds of a human mouth, expanding nearly to his ears. Thin tentacles flickered and waved between his teeth.

One of the pseudonatural megaraptors poked its head into the side door of the Planar Scout and snapped its wicked teeth at Darrien, who just barely managed to leap back out of its immediate reach. The other tentacled dinosaur attacked Mudpie, carving furrows down the elemental's sides with its sharp talons.

Finoula was pushed back as the double doors to the rear of the ship exploded outwards and Pinwhistle stepped outside. "It's too much yellow!" the crazed warforged insisted. "Far too much yellow! There should be more pine scent, but instead it smells too loudly of purple!" His fists unclenched and took on the patterns of spellcasting and another form appeared out of nowhere: a massive, white-furred gorilla with four arms and writhing tentacles growing all over. The pseudonatural girallon wasted to time in grabbing at Finoula, catching her up in one massive paw and swinging her around to face him.

Malrin, thinking the warforged cleric had likely fallen sway to some form of insanity (whether magical or not), flew to land upon his shoulder and channeled a heal spell into Pinwhistle's armored frame through her owl's talons. Then, not wanting to be within striking distance if the spell didn't have the effect she'd been hoping for, she flew off, out of immediate range.

Darrien stabbed with his scimitar at the pseudonatural dinosaur standing before him, slicing deeply into the side of its mouth. It roared in anger and pain. But then it collapsed to the floor, Binkadink's glaive sticking into its side, and it died. As a summoned creature, it vanished upon death, gone as quickly as it had suddenly arrived.

<Greymantle an enemy!> Gilbert called over the link, for he too had seen the archmage's unnatural grin. Hagan responded with the immediate casting of a polar ray spell, streaking between the two figures and striking Greymantle directly in the chest. But then, unexpectedly, it rebounded without seeming to harm him at all and streaked back at Hagan, blasting the sorcerer with an unnatural cold. If anything, Greymantle's unnerving grin got even wider as he saw the results of the spell reflection spell he'd cast - along with several others while under the time stop spell he'd cast while back in the fuel storage room with Darrien - take effect.

Finoula stabbed at the tentacled girallon with the point of Tahlmalaera, then used her boots of spider climbing to run up the side of the wall and onto the roof of the Planar Scout's command structure. She had her flaming burst whip of thorns out and thorns extended, ready to lash out at the beast if it continued its attacks.

Gilbert wasn't sure if Greymantle had been transformed into some unnatural abomination or just had something extraplanar inside him and controlling his movements. He cast a banishment spell at the archmage, hoping to send away a potential parasite and save the human wizard under its control but equally fine with Greymantle himself being thrown across the planes. But neither event occurred, causing Gilbert to frown in anger - an anger which was diminished somewhat when the second pseudonatural megaraptor, who had been attacking Mudpie, vanished at once, having also been within the radius of the spells' effect. That was something, in any case.

Hagan was bent over in pain from his own rebounded spell; his pain only increased when Greymantle made him the central target of a chain lightning spell. Arcs of electricity flashed out to strike Finoula, Gilbert, Mudpie, MARCI, Malrin, Binkadink, Obvious, and Rebecca; Darrien was still inside the airlock room and out of view of the archmage and Hagan's body had been turned in such a way that Greymantle hadn't even spotted Wezhley, the half-orc's weasel familiar perched upon his shoulder. Of the group, Rebecca was hurt the most of all, not only because of her relative inexperience in combat but also because she had just been attacked by a man who had set her on the path of a wizard in the first place, a man a younger Rebecca had hoped might one day become more than just her wizardly mentor. She staggered, struggling to remain upright as her legs threatened to buckle beneath her.

<Go back to dragonfly ship!> called Gilbert over the link. <You safer there!> Rebecca hesitated, not wanting to abandon her new friends but realizing her relative lack of usefulness in this battle; she had learned most of her spells by poring through Dr. Greymantle's library back in his manor home and thus had pretty much stuck to those of a generally useful - not combative - nature.

Pinwhistle turned and grabbed at Binkadink's foot in the stirrup of Obvious's saddle; the gnome got a strike in with his glaive, scoring a groove across the warforged's chest, but the harm spell went off regardless, causing the gnome to yell in pain as he took much more combat damage than he was used to taking all at once. "Eventually," advised Pinwhistle, "the screaming stops and the gnawing becomes a thing of great beauty. It's better this way. You'll see. You'll come to thank me, in the eons to come."

"Crazy freak!" snarled the gnome in rebuttal.

The girallon likewise grabbed at Finoula again, this time hitting with three sets of claws and rending, its claws ripping through armor and flesh alike. Malrin saw her friends taking a lot of damage in this fight so far and flew directly above the command structure of the scout ship. From that vantage point, she cast a mass cure light wounds spell, healing up at least some of the wounds taken by her friends thus far. Rebecca took the healing as a sign to get out of there and turned, leaping back to the dragonfly vessel, her personal shield generator making the small buzzing noise it normally did when she passed through the Planar Scout's own shield. Then, from the relative safety of the spelljammer's top deck, she stood and watched, worriedly, as her new friends fought off her old ones.

Darrien sheathed his scimitar, pulled out his Arachnibow, and stepped back outside to the Planar Scout's exterior, where he sent a handful of arrows streaking over at the unearthly archmage. Binkadink struck at Pinwhistle again with his magic glaive, hitting and scoring deep grooves in the living construct's body. Pieces of wood went flying and sparks exploded as steel met steel. "I could not believe my eyes," lamented Pinwhistle, "so I gave them away." He staggered backwards, rolling a damaged arm as he tried to stay standing. Obvious finished him off, clamping down hard with his rabbit teeth and pulling away a gem embedded at the cleric's throat. The warforged toppled backwards, never again to rise.

Hagan cast a fly spell and flew around the back of the vessel - the left propulsion unit was getting far too crowded. Up on the roof, Finoula activated her lightning amulet and blasted through the pseudonatural girallon attacking her, reforming in her elven shape on one of the two back struts at the vessel's rear. Gilbert, however, was still engaged in a spell-duel with Greymantle; he cast a waves of exhaustion spell at the half-farspawn archmage and could tell from the wince it induced that he had overcome the enemy wizard's defenses. While he was thus distracted, Mudpie stepped up and walloped the archmage with a massive, boulderlike fist, the unused greataxe held in his off-hand. But Greymantle rolled with the blow, stepping backwards and out of immediate range of the hulking earth elemental before casting a polar ray of his own at Gilbert Fung. Then, as if shucking his human form altogether, he sprouted tentacles all over his body until he had become an only vaguely humanoid shape. The others found it difficult to even look at him, so horrifying was the end result.

The pseudonatural girallon gave a roar of rage, spun about, and leaped at Finoula again, all four hands out and ready to rip her apart. She bravely sent her whip flying into his face but it wasn't enough to keep him at bay and once again the ranger found herself being torn to pieces by the gorilla-thing's sharp claws. Malrin, seeing Finoula's distress, flew around behind her and landed briefly on her shoulder with a taloned foot, channeling a healing spell into her. Wounds opened just seconds before closed back up and Finoula felt a renewal of energy within her. <Thank you,> she called over the link.

From behind him, Darrien heard a mechanical voice calling. "Piiiiiiiie..." it began, causing the ranger to pop back inside to see what was going on. Crewman One was still standing in the same posture but had managed to turn its head and open its mouth. "...luuuuut..." it continued. Mentally putting the two pieces together, Darrien assumed he was asking about his fellow mechanical man. "He seems okay," Darrien explained. "Had a bunch of spiders inside him, but we'll put him right." Then he dashed back outside again, not wanting to abandon his friends in combat with Greymantle to have a slow-speed conversation with a damaged automaton. "...shiiiiiiip..." continued Crewman One, but nobody was listening.

Obvious dashed around the back of the Planar Scout's command deck, allowing Binkadink to slay the pseudonatural girallon with a torso-puncturing stab of his glaive. As it had also been summoned to this plane from elsewhere, the ape disappeared upon being slain.

From over on the right-side propulsion unit, Hagan cast a chain lightning spell at the tentacle mass that had once been Greymantle, at about the same time Finoula activated her amulet and blasted through the archmage as a living lightning bolt. She resumed her elven form at the far side of the ship's shield, seemingly standing sideways in midair through the power of her boots of spider climbing. But to her - and Hagan's - dismay, neither attack seemed to have hurt the tentacle-beast in the least; neither was aware that protection from electricity was one of the spells Greymantle had cast upon himself during the time stop.

Gilbert was getting tired of Greymantle's immunity to the various spells they threw his way so he opted to try a different tactic: casting a Tenser's transformation upon his familiar, he watched as Mudpie's frame swelled with power. He also saw the earth elemental switch the greataxe into a two-handed grip, now seemingly as proficient in its use as Binkadink was with his own magical glaive. In a blur of motion that belied his massive form, Mudpie swung his greataxe down in an overhanded blow, slicing off a tentacle or two making up the creature Greymantle had become. Greymantle staggered backwards, scooting out of range until he was at the very edge of one of the front struts of the extraplanar craft he had built decades ago, saplike fluid dripping from his open wounds. Then he said the words to a spell - and was gone.

<Where'd he go?> demanded Darrien. <Did he just teleport?>

<If so, he not get far,> Gilbert observed. <Shield still up around ship. He invisible, more like.> The heavyset wizard then sent his battle elemental to swing his greataxe at the areas the archmage could be standing, to no avail. Binkadink spurred Obvious into a similar pursuit, the jackalope running around the back of the vessel, onto the right-hand propulsion unit, then back around the front and over to the other one, the little gnome swinging his glaive about frantically, trying to hit the potentially unseen foe. <No luck!> he called. <Do you think he might have gone back into the ship?> Finoula, meanwhile, used her last daily amulet activation to blast herself back over to the others and Malrin flew up to cast another healing spell upon her.

"Mudpie! Over here!" called Gilbert. Once the earth elemental had lumbered over, Gilbert informed him, "You'll need to hunker down," and then opened the door to the front cabin, where Pilot stood motionless amidst a horde of skittering, mutant spiders. Gilbert pushed Mudpie inside then closed the door on him once he'd maneuvered his way in.

"What are you doing?" asked Hagan, curious.

"He still have fire shield spell active," Gilbert reminded the half-orc sorcerer. "Any luck, those spiders all get burned up in contact!" He chuckled at his own inventiveness.

A sudden quick buzzing sound alerted those in the area of the left propulsion unit that the shield around the ship had just been penetrated. Thinking it might be Rebecca returning for some reason, Gilbert turned, ready to chastise her, when he saw the tentacle-mass that had been Dr. Greymantle soaring between the two ships. Rebecca stood frozen on place, her face a mask of terror at the transformed monstrosity bearing down on her.

Gilbert opened the door to the cockpit and saw the fried bodies of hundreds of aberrant spiders, their scorched legs twitching in death. "Turn off shield!" he yelled at Pilot and the automaton, rusty and slow from decades of disuse, complied at his best speed.

There was a brief flickering all around the Planar Scout as the shield evaporated. "Get back!" roared Darrien, snapping Rebecca out of her transfixed horror. She backed away as Greymantle landed on the deck before her. But then, before he could do anything, Darrien shot at him with an arrow, using the power of the Arachnibow to turn the arrow into a web spell upon impact. Greymantle was now entangled in the center of a thick spiderweb.

Binkadink wasted no time, spurring Obvious into a leap that led them directly into the web imprisoning Greymantle. The gnome wasn't worried about them also becoming entangled; he just wanted to get within striking distance of the tentacle-monster the archmage had become. A few glaive strikes later and the half-farspawn thing was no more.

"Anybody have any idea what's going on here?" Hagan asked. As a sorcerer whose spells just came to him naturally, he'd never buried himself into arcane esoterica like Gilbert had been forced to do to learn his spells. "Why did they attack us?"

"Think this ship end up in place called Far Realm," reasoned Gilbert as Binkadink used his glaive to free himself and Obvious from the web. The gnome then motioned Rebecca to him, pulled her up onto the saddle behind him, and Obvious leaped back to the Planar Scout.

"Far Realm?" asked Finoula. "Never heard of it."

"It a place outside normal cosmology," explained Gilbert. "Plane of absolute chaos - not even time work normal there." He turned to face Rebecca. "You say they gone 20 years; to them, it maybe a week, maybe a century or two. No way to tell. No way to tell what all they went through over there, either. My guess: people they were no longer existed by time they come back here."

"Is there anyone else inside we need to find?" asked Finoula. Rebecca just shook her head. "Crewmen One and Two, and Gardener, plus Pilot. All automatons."

"We should go back and check on the one in that big octagonal room with the pillar of light coming down from the ceiling," suggested Darrien. "He was trying to say something to me."

The group headed over to the fuel storage room where Crewman One finally got his message across. "Piiiii...luuuut...shiiiip...iiiin...tooo...suuuuun. Ohhhhn...leeee...waaaay." This suggestion was mirrored by some graffiti carved into the table in the next room over: besides a few random messages that made little sense ("Thoughts = weakness," "Pain must be shared equally - distribution is key," "NO NO NO NO NO - okay"), Hagan found the following message, undoubtedly carved by Greymantle during a time of lucidity before his mind was overwhelmed by the forces of the Far Realm:
Becca will know what to do. Penetrate Pelor and see how he likes it.

Hagan turned to catch back up with the others, when out of the corner of his eye he saw his own name carved at the other end of the table. He moved closer and saw:
One day Hagan will become a Titan.

The half-orc frowned. Was this the raving of a madman or a prophecy of the future? Unlikely, he decided; as far as he knew titans were born as titans, not raised up from the mortal races. If he ever saw Leandros again he'd have to ask him what he thought it might mean...although how would Greymantle have even known Hagan's name? Odd, most definitely.

Returning to the control cockpit, Rebecca explained what they'd learned to Pilot. "We have a spare propulsion unit," she told the automaton. "If we get the Planar Scout running again, can you...would you fly the vessel into the sun? It's too dangerous to let anything from the Far Realm exist in our own universe and I'm afraid this ship...and everything within it...has been contaminated."

Pilot raised a rusty arm and placed a humanoid hand on the side of the wizard's face. "For...you...." he said. Rebecca placed her hand over Pilot's, recalling that Dr. Greymantle had built all of the automatons on board the vessel with recordings of his own mind and intellect, which he then pared down to only include the bits necessary to perform the missions required by that particular construct. But she liked to think that a small part of the archmage remained inside Pilot's awareness that had accurately mirrored Greymantle's feelings for her.

The group, by unanimous decision, opted not to explore the pocket dimension rooms of the rest of the craft - there was no telling what all horrors they might encounter hanging about like that dharculus Binkadink had fought. And there was no point in trying to take anything from the ship for use later, knowing there was a possibility it had been contaminated by Far Realms energy. Best that everything be destroyed at once by plunging the ship directly into the sun - with its shield down. With that in mind, Rebecca supervised the replacement of the left propulsion unit with the one they had brought from the Workshop. The old one was strapped in place between the two back struts of the Planar Scout so it too could be destroyed by Pelor's blazing orb.

"Good...bye...Rebecca..." said Pilot right before the heroes all returned to the dragonfly vessel. And then they could only watch as the Planar Scout, with one working engine, left orbit around Selune and headed on its final journey, ending in a fiery death.

- - -

I figured Rebecca, the sole inheritor of Greymantle's fortune, had plenty of cash on hand so I had her reward the PCs with 25,000 gp each. Incidentally, I made up an NPC sheet for Rebecca and had Vicki run her as a secondary character for this adventure, although she had purposefully not been built for combat and spent much of the battle time safely tucked away on the dragonfly ship. But realizing I had less than a dozen adventures left in this campaign (the last adventure will be #80), I decided it would be fun to look back at any open plot hooks from either this campaign or its predecessor and thought a reunion with Dr. Greymantle and company (from the "Wing Three" campaign) would be interesting.

Pythagoras Greymantle was a 13th-level wizard/5th-level archmage with the half-farspawn template; Pinwhistle was an 18th-level cleric with the pseudonatural template - in both cases, the result of their time spent inside the Far Realm. The players made a wise decision in not exploring the interior of the Planar Scout, too - they'd have run across four wystes and a neh-thalggu (brain devourer), neither of which would have done them a whole lot of good.

The PCs all leveled up to 19th-level at the end of this adventure. Ten more adventures to go!

- - -

T-shirt worn: A new T-shirt Dan and Vicki got me for Christmas: it has a picture of a flying saucer levitating a man up into it via a beam of light, with a caption that reads, "Get in, loser - we're doing butt stuff." I wore it for the flying saucer, representing both the Planar Scout and the dragonfly vessel, which can travel through (wild)space. (And then, two days later, I wore it to my colonoscopy appointment - it was too perfect an opportunity to pass up!)
 

Richards

Legend
ADVENTURE 71: THE CLAW OF BAHAMUT

PC Roster:
Binkadink Dundernoggin, gnome fighter 19​
Darrien, half-elf ranger 19​
Finoula Cloudshadow, elf ranger 19​
Gilbert Fung, human wizard 19​
Hagan, half-orc sorcerer 19​

NPC Roster:
Colin Danderville, human paladin 10​
Jinkadoodle Dundernoggin, gnome illusionist 6​
Malrin Ivenheart, elf druid 13​
MARCI, humanoid construct​

Game Session Date: 15 February 2020

- - -

Darrien woke up, stretched, and pulled on his clothes. Then, deciding to go see about some breakfast - Helga Battershield almost always provided quite a spread each morning - he went down the stairs of the northwestern tower in Battershield Keep and exited the door, stepping into the courtyard. As was normal, the drawbridge was down but the portcullis was also lowered; that had been deemed adequate protection in the past. And there, kneeling in prayer on the wooden drawbridge spanning the moat, was a human man in plate mail armor with a heavy steel shield strapped to his arm. The half-elf ranger could see a longsword sitting in its scabbard at the warrior's belt.

"Um, hello?" Darrien asked tentatively. "Can I help you?"

The man finished his silent prayer and then opened his eyes, smiling up at the half-elf. "I sincerely hope so. My name is Colin Danderville, a paladin in the Order of Bahamut. I seek another paladin of my order, a knight by the name of Sir Morgan Brightshield. Do you by chance know of his whereabouts?"

"I've...never heard of him," admitted Darrien. "But maybe some of the others might know. Hang on a minute, will you?"

The door Darrien had just exited moments ago opened up again and Binkadink Dundernoggin approached. "What's going on?" he asked. Colin repeated his query while the two adventurers pulled on the chains that raised the portcullis. Colin rose to his feet and stepped inside the keep.

"What all this racket?" demanded a bleary-eyed Gilbert Fung, entering the courtyard from the same door. "Who this, and why you letting him in?" From the other tower stepped Finoula, Hagan, and Malrin, having also heard the portcullis being raised.

"I did not wish to wake you," said Colin, "so I stayed outside and prayed until you awoke. But I am on a quest, to find Sir Morgan Brightshield, a paladin of my order. He and a band of young paladins went on a mission several years ago to slay a white dragon named Turakkandusk and never returned. I have been sent to find out what happened to him, to return his body if he has been slain, and to retrieve the weapon he wielded: The Claw of Bahamut, a glaive forged to slay evil dragons." Binkadink's eyebrows raised upon hearing of a magical glaive, until he realized the wielder was likely a human and thus the weapon would likely be too big for the little gnome to wield effectively himself. But that was okay; he'd recently had Pentaclus the Weapon-Crafter build him a new glaive patterned after the Titanslayer, capable of overcoming most creatures' magical defenses against damage.

"So why you come here?" demanded Gilbert. "We never hear of this Brightshield guy before."

"All attempts to scry upon Sir Morgan have failed," Colin admitted. "In desperation, the clerics of my order stopped trying to find him directly and took a more roundabout approach: using divinations to determine the best way to find him, wherever he might be. Those divinations have led me to your doorstep."

"Where was this...Turakkandusk?...supposed to have been?" asked Finoula.

"In the coldlands far to the north," admitted Colin. "It was, admittedly, somewhat of a surprise to have been directed here, of all places, so far from where Sir Morgan and his band had been heading."

Binkadink rubbed his chin. "Wait a minute..." he began. "Wasn't there...wasn't there a white dragon hibernating in the snow globe? Yeah! The frost giant we rescued said something about it!"

"Snow globe?" asked Hagan, puzzled.

"Before your time with us," explained Darrien. "I'll fill you in later." But that seemed the most likely explanation: the Bahamut clerics' divinations had led Colin to Battershield Keep because the adventurers living here could transport him to where the white wyrm Turakkandusk could be reached - in fact, via the only way he could currently be reached.

"I'll gear up and let Jinkadoodle know," Binkadink offered. But Helga intervened on the group's plans to head out at once, insisting they stay long enough to get a good, hearty breakfast inside them before traipsing off into the arctic once again. (In truth, it took very little arm twisting, especially by those who had already experienced Helga's breakfast spreads before.) But immediately after finishing the morning meal, the adventurers took the dragonfly vessel north beyond the Clatspur Mountains to land just outside Pentaclus's weapon shop. Pentaclus and Sabra were there to greet them and the weaponcrafter offered to let them all explore inside the snow globe without hesitation. "Don't think I'll be joining you, though," he added. "Once was plenty enough for me - plus, I've got projects here that need my attention."

"We cast prep spells now," decided Gilbert. What followed was a string of endure elements, longstrider, barkskin, stoneskin, resist cold, and protection from cold spells, plus the obligatory Rary's telepathic bond spell Gilbert cast upon all of the Kordovians; able to fit just one more member into the mental link, he opted to include Obvious over Colin, partly because he knew Binkadink would appreciate being able to communicate silently with his riding mount and partly because Gilbert was slow to trust anyone - even paladins - he didn't personally know well. And then, on a whim, Binkadink used his innate gnomish ability to cast prestidigitation on his jackalope mount, turning Obvious's fur a clean, fresh white. He now had the appearance of a snow hare - albeit one much larger than normal, and one sporting an impressive rack of antlers.

"Okay, we ready now," Gilbert announced and Pentaclus, looking over their shoulders, raced down the hallway away from his study, not wanting to be close enough to the snow globe to be pulled into the teleportation effect once the command word was spoken aloud. Binkadink picked up the globe, shook it, and then while the fake snow was flying all around the scene depicted within he flipped the globe over and read aloud the two words written on the bottom of its base: "Taiga Forestscape."

Instantly, the entire group disappeared from Pentaclus's study and reappeared in the midst of a winter scene, with snow-covered trees in the distance. Malrin began the words to her find the path spell, the group having earlier decided that was the best way to learn the location of Turakkandusk's lair. "This way," she said, trudging through the ankle-deep snow.

They didn't encounter any obstacles on the way to the lair; they'd already dealt with several of the larger predators the first time they'd entered this sealed-off habitation and given the limited supply of food inside the invisible dome of the snow globe, most of the predators would have likely died out in the meantime. (As an indication, they group heard no howls of wolves during their lengthy trek to the glacier housing the white wyrm's hibernation lair. They did, however, see the tracks of many snow hares; apparently they were able to find enough food beneath the snow to continue to create offspring at their normal rate and there were now not nearly as many predators cutting down their numbers.) Before long, a dark opening in the ice-wall of the glacier ahead of them provided what Malrin said was the way into to the wyrm's lair.

"It's likely to be dark inside," Finoula conjectured, passing out sunrods to those who wanted them. Colin and Darrien each took the elven ranger up on her offer; between those, the flames from Finoula's flaming burst whip of thorns, and the twin everburning torches tied to the antlers of Binkadink's helmet, they figured they had plenty of illumination.

"I'll go in first," Colin offered, thinking it only right that he lead the way to find the Claw of Bahamut since it was his quest putting everyone's life in potential danger. Before any of the heroes could argue the point the young man had stepped inside the tunnel opening. Finoula followed just behind, noting the tunnel bore into the glacier for a good 30 feet or so before opening into a much larger area; the tunnel was nearly 20 feet wide and nearly that high, surely large enough to allow passage of a white wyrm.

Once into the cavern proper - which was so big she couldn't see the further edges in any direction - she noted a line of simple carvings on the ice wall to her left. There seemed to be a series of four primitive carvings of some type of humanoid figure: frost giants, perhaps, given these sculptures were about 10 feet tall. But they were humanoid only in the sense they had a head, two arms, and two legs; there wasn't much in the way of symmetry or proper scale between the misshapen limbs. And, Finoula now noted, they had no beards - probably not frost giants, then.

While Finoula was busy examining the ice carvings in the wall, Hagan wandered off to the west, exploring in that direction; with his half-orc heritage, he didn't need any illumination at all to be able to see just fine in the dark. Perched on his shoulder, Wezhley - who didn't share the sorcerer's darkvision - snuggled down to keep warm. Darrien followed the sorcerer, his Arachnibow out and an arrow all ready to fire if the occasion warranted it. Outside the glacier lair, Malrin cast an animal growth spell on Obvious and then, while Binkadink settled himself into the now-oversized saddle, the elf druid entered the cavern proper. She also took a right, following behind Hagan and Darrien.

Gilbert cast a fly spell on himself and his familiar, then commanded Mudpie to precede him into the vast cavern. The earth elemental did so hesitantly, not liking being separated from the ground even if it was a sheet of solid ice instead of the earth and rock he preferred. The two soared just barely off the ground, moving to just behind Finoula who at this point had advanced to examine the fourth and last of the ice-carvings. None of them, she noted, were depicted with any weapons, like were often found in primitive cave paintings. She wondered if this might be the ice-cavern equivalent. Having been left behind once again, MARCI walked forward, following the human Gilbert Fung, her sole eye scanning the area for danger.

Obvious, now the size of a small elephant, hippity-hopped rapidly into the cavern, darting past Colin, past MARCI, past Gilbert and Mudpie, and then past Finoula in the lead. That, apparently, was the trigger mechanism for the ice golems, for as soon as the jackalope and his gnomish rider got past the fourth ice sculpture embedded in the wall, all four of the figures exploded outward from the imprisoning glacier wall, sending shards of jagged ice flying at all nearby. The one farthest from the cavern's exit grabbed at Finoula with a primitively-carved hand, gripping her by her left arm in a vicious set of claws. The next in line grabbed Mudpie's arm as he floated past, even though the earth elemental was larger than the ice golem by the height of a grown man. The third one tried grabbing MARCI, who just happened to be standing directly before it and was preoccupied with wiping away the ice covering her optical sensor and temporarily blinding her, but MARCI immediately activated a defensive shield upon the creature's unwanted attack, which sent a quick burst of electricity coursing into the ice golem's animated structure. The last ice golem - the one closest to the exit - didn't have anyone standing near enough to grab, so it settled for just freeing itself from the surrounding ice. All four constructs had their orders printed into their primitive consciousnesses: slay all intruders!

Hearing the commotion behind them, Binkadink spun Obvious around and saw the four ice golems beginning to step out from the wall of the glacier's interior. The gnome attacked the one holding Finoula with his new glaive, setting the twin pieces of the blade resonating - an effect that would thereafter cut through any potential damage reduction as if it wasn't even there. Binkadink was eager to see the effects of his new glaive in action! But he wasn't the only one fighting off this particular ice golem; Finoula, no mere damsel in distress, used her longsword Tahlmalaera to carve into the solid ice making up her foe's misshapen form. And from across the cavern, Hagan sent a scorching ray blasting into the side of the ice construct holding the elven ranger in its frozen grip.

Back toward the entry shaft, Colin raced up to the first ice golem in line and attacked it with the blade of his enchanted longsword. Then Darrien brought his magic bow to bear, sending a cluster of arrows at the ice golem threatening Finoula and then, changing targets, set another arrow at the space in the wall between the alcoves where the first two ice golems - those closest to the entrance to the lair - had stepped out of. This last arrow he turned into a vertical web spell as it struck the ice, covering the two golems who had yet to step fully out of their imprisoning alcoves. Darrien wasn't sure how long the web would hold them, but any amount of time where the heroes could concentrate their fire on a smaller number of foes would likely be to their benefit.

Gilbert pulled out his slingshot of rock shrinking and hit Mudpie squarely on the back with it; instantly, the 16-foot-tall earth elemental shrunk down to the size of a small pebble. Then, the fly spell still in effect, Gilbert had his familiar follow him over the edge of a crevasse in the floor, a pit some 40 feet deep by the look of it. The pit was wide enough the two of them should be safe from even the extended reach of the 10-foot-tall ice golems, should they attempt pursuit. Then, safe for the moment, Gilbert had Mudpie fly into his pocket for safekeeping; the earth elemental was only too happy to comply. A pocket might not be the same thing as solid ground but it sure beat flying through the air! Gilbert took the moment's respite to cast a fire shield spell on both wizard and familiar.

Seeing her fellow elf's predicament, Malrin wildshaped into an owl and flew across the chamber to land briefly onto Finoula's shoulder, casting a healing spell through her talons during the momentary contact. It looked like it was necessary, too, for the ice golem continued squeezing Finoula's arm, nearly crushing it in its unrelenting grip. It then punched her with its free hand, causing the ranger to grunt in pain and almost drop her longsword.

The second ice golem stepped out fully from its alcove, turning to face Finoula, Binkadink, and Obvious ahead of it. Of the two trapped behind the web spell, only the one closest to the glacier's exit tunnel managed to rip its way free; the other one tried to do the same but failed. And then, while Colin resumed his attack upon his now-freed foe, Binkadink slew the one holding Finoula with his new magical glaive. Pentaclus had done a great job crafting the reverberation glaive, which the gnome had had placed upon the same retractable shaft upon which his former blade had been mounted; with Obvious at his current size, the gnome had the weapon extended to its greatest length.

Dropping to the floor as the ice golem shattered into pieces by the blow of the gnome's weapon, Finoula steadied her grip upon her longsword and whip, then spun to face the second ice golem, even now bearing down upon her. A chain lightning spell went flying across the chamber to strike this ice creature, but Hagan's spell had no effect; belatedly, the sorcerer recalled many golems were immune to a vast majority of spells.

Darrien repeated his earlier strategy, sending a flurry of arrows at one ice golem (the one fighting Colin) and a web arrow to seal off the second and third, even though one of them was already bound up in webs - a second coating surely couldn't hurt, the half-elf thought to himself. This allowed MARCI to walk past the webbed ice golem unscathed, to inject Finoula with a stimdose - the medical construct had long since run out of her healing mixture and hadn't been able to locate the plants needed to create more in this strange land, so far from where she'd originally been built. But she well knew the stimdose would increase the "designated human's" stamina and reaction time, helping her to survive the battle in which she was presently engaged.

Malrin flew about the cavern, keeping an eye out for any of her team who might need healing. From her aerial vantage she could see there were quite a few chasms in this cavern, each looking to be about 40 feet deep. Several ice bridges made a slick-looking way to cross over and the druid judged them thick enough to likely hold the weight of the white dragon who was supposed to lair here, although thus far they'd seen no sign of him.

With a sudden ripping noise, one of the ice golems escaped from the web spell, although the one behind the double-layer remained trapped. The newly-freed ice golem was immediately attacked by Binkadink and Obvious, the gnome striking with his glaive and the jackalope biting with his sharp incisors. Colin's blade chipped away at the one he fought down at the other end of the cavern. Finoula ran over to assist the paladin, figuring he'd be more likely to need her help than the gnome and his jackalope mount. Darrien pumped arrow after arrow into the broad and jagged back of the ice golem facing off against Binkadink, careful to disable his Arachnibow's ability to imbue the arrows it shot with cold energy; no point in possibly aiding the ice golems by providing them with additional cold - that might even heal them!

Ready to re-enter the combat, Gilbert cast a maximized scorching ray at Colin Danderville's ice golem foe, slaying the construct immediately. The only golem currently on the battlefield struck at Obvious with its icy fists, while the other one still struggled to free itself from the web. Binkadink's glaive put a quick end to the one and then Obvious moved into position so when the other finally got free, they'd be there to greet it.

It did finally get free, only to be taken down almost at once by a gnomish glaive, a pair of longswords, and a flaming burst whip of thorns. Gilbert and Hagan, standing by to send spells flying in its direction if the physical attacks failed to bring it down, were glad to see their spells weren't necessary after all. The four lair guardians finally all destroyed, the heroes moved deeper into the vast cavern - cautiously, for they were well aware the combat had been a noisy one and if Turakkandusk had still been alive and hibernating (and that was assuming he'd not been slain earlier by Sir Morgan and his band of paladins), he was surely aware of the intrusion into his lair by now, so where might he be? Gilbert flew over the various chasms and peered into each, suspecting the white wyrm might be below the surface of the cavern and ready to spring up at them at any moment. Darrien activated his ebony fly, pulling MARCI up into the saddle behind him to help check out the numerous pits.

At Mudpie's request, Gilbert loaded him into his slingshot and fired his familiar at the icy ground before him, restoring the earth elemental to his full size. <Look, Master!> Mudpie called over the link, pointing to a column of ice stretching from floor to ceiling further down the open lair. As the group approached (with their various light sources), Gilbert could see what his familiar had spotted: the dark silhouette of a humanoid figure embedded in the ice pillar. The figure held something long in one hand; its tip pierced out of the ice column about ten feet up.

"The Claw of Bahamut! exclaimed Colin, his face breaking into a wide grin upon seeing the object of his quest. But then he frowned, for if this was Sir Morgan Brightshield inside the ice column, the paladin was surely dead.

Gilbert was frowning too, for similar reasons: his magically-enhanced eyesight was registered an undead aura coming from within the column of solid ice. <Think our boy in there undead,> he told the others, confident Colin wasn't able to hear them as they were communicating telepathically and the paladin wasn't a part of the Rary's telepathic bond spell.

<We've got to let him know,> chided Finoula, then called the paladin over to her. "Can you sense any evil coming from within the ice pillar?" she asked him. Colin concentrated and his brow furrowed. "Yes," he admitted. "But how can this be?"

"Let's find out," suggested Binkadink, chipping away at the column of ice with his magic glaive until the top length of the weapon - the Claw of Bahamut, according to Colin - was exposed enough for the gnome to reach down and grab it. He pulled the weapon toward him...

...and from within the ice, Sir Morgan Brightshield pulled it back.

A sudden explosion of ice shards send the heroes staggering backwards a step or two as the undead form of Sir Morgan Brightshield strode forward. "The blade is mine!" he insisted; his desire for glory, to be the one to wield the Claw of Bahamut to take down the white wyrm Turakkandusk, to earn all of the glory for himself, had trapped his mortal soul in his own remains after his death. Now the death knight would do whatever was necessary to keep this holy weapon for himself.

The Claw of Bahamut came swinging at Obvious, carving a slash of blood across the jackalope's white fur. With a roar of rage, Colin Danderville attacked his erstwhile hero, the man he'd looked up to, a man whose greed and lust for glory had brought him down to this low state - it was a stain upon the honor of the Order of Bahamut! "You betray our very Order!" Colin snarled, bringing his longsword slashing across the death knight's armor. "Release the weapon to our care, so it can be used for the purpose for which it was crafted: to slay the evil dragons plaguing our world, that the good dragons can usher in a new era of wisdom and understanding!"

"NEVER!" replied Brightshield. "You will NOT take this blade from me!"

Hagan cast another chain lightning spell and was pleased to see the death knight was not immune to it as the ice golems had been. Gilbert cast a spell as well but in his case it was a magic circle against evil spell, centered upon himself and Mudpie. Malrin flapped over to Obvious's back, just behind the saddle, and channeled healing energy into the wounded jackalope. Binkadink slashed at the death knight with his glaive and Obvious snapped at the undead thing with his teeth, yanking him forward and causing him to fall to the icy floor, where the jackalope found it all too easy to pounce upon him with a massive paw. But the death knight managed to wriggle free, escaping from the antlered rabbit's pinning grip and standing back up, his holy weapon at the ready to slay these heroes to their last member if that's what it took to keep the weapon for himself.

Seeing how Hagan's spell had affected the death knight, Finoula activated her lightning amulet and blasted through Sir Morgan's corporeal form, little more than a mummified skeleton in plate mail. Darrien sent a close cluster of arrows plinking off - and occasionally through - the metal of his chestplate, while Colin continued his attacks with his own longsword. But it was Gilbert Fung who slew the undead thing, sending another maximized scorching ray to burn the undead flesh still adhering to the death knight's bones. Sir Morgan Brightshield stumbled, his limbs flailing around as he fell to a heap upon the icy floor of the chamber. The Claw of Bahamut clattered to the floor beside him.

Colin Danderville bent over and picked up the weapon so important to his order. Gilbert, recalling what the paladin had said while fighting the death knight, called over the mental link to the other heroes, <Maybe best we don't mention Clauguthrax to Colin here. Don't need Order of Bahamut deciding to kill Queen's dragon brother.>

<Or Queen Kaelanna herself!> added Darrien.

Binkadink had noticed a thick wall of ice over in the far corner of the cavern and decided to check it out. It was, he decided, the size and shape to easily conceal a creature the size of a white wyrm - and it made perfect sense for a white dragon to seal itself up in a block of ice before embarking on a decades-long slumber; it would hear if anyone tried chopping through the ice to try to slay it. Well, here was one way to test that theory: the gnome started doing just that, chopping away at the block of solid ice with his glaive from his jackalope's saddle. If Turakkandusk was in there, he for one was ready for it to come out and fight him!

But Turakkandusk was no longer inside the ice partition he'd created with his own breath a few years ago, when his hibernation had been disturbed by the approach of those pesky paladins seeking his death; through the air-holes at the top of the wall, he'd heard the sounds of battle when this newest band of intruders fought off his ice golems and made his preparations for the battle to come. Cloaked in a bevy of spells: protection from fire, shield, haste, and, most importantly, greater invisibility, he had cast a dimension door spell sending him to the far side of his lair.

And now, seeing these intruders lined up before him, he exhaled a frosty blast of his icy breath upon all but the gnome and jackalope (who were too far away) and the owl (who was behind one of the ice columns - but not the one in which Turakkandusk had sealed the foolish human who'd tried to slay him with that glaive of his, certain of its power). All of the others were affected, their frail bodies covered in a layer of frost. The giant fly collapsed at once into a statuette; Turakkandusk recognized it as a figurine of wondrous power and vowed to add it to his treasure pile buried in the ice beneath his hibernation cave once he'd dealt with the rest of these pests.

The heroes spun around to face their attacker but saw nothing. Colin charged anyway, racing forward to try to find the dragon who had to be there somewhere. Find him he did, by running straight into his invisible leg and having his forward charge come to a sudden halt.

But that at least gave the others a general idea of where the dragon must be. <It's invisible!> reasoned Finoula, activating her lightning amulet again and blasting herself to the far side of the cavern, hoping her path would take her through the unseen wyrm. Her guess was accurate; she could feel the impact as her electrified bolt form passed through the dragon immediately before she regained her elven form on the far side of the cavern.

That, in turn, helped narrow down the dragon's location to Hagan. He cast a delayed blast fireball spell at a spot where he calculated he'd hit the dragon but not Finoula. He also saw no need for an actual delay; the fireball exploded at once, eliciting a roar of rage from Turakkandusk.

Darrien shot a web arrow at the dragon but missed. He realized it would have been unlikely to have imprisoned the wyrm for long even had it hit, but it had been worth a try.

Gilbert cast a see invisibility spell and was aghast to see just how close he actually was to the dragon; with a suppressed bleat of terror he moved away from it at full speed, Mudpie following in his wake (and for once actually glad to be able to fly, for it allowed him to get even farther away from the dragon than he could have on the ground). MARCI, calculating the likely location of a large, invisible creature intent upon doing them all harm, backed away from it, joining Malrin behind the ice pillar.

Turakkandusk snapped its jaws at Colin, who stood just before him. He also swiped at him with one set of claws and it was only the stoneskin spell Hagan had cast upon the young paladin before they entered the wyrm's lair that kept Colin from being slain right then and there. Turakkandusk also hit Hagan and Finoula with his wings for good measure.

Hearing the combat - and the cries of terror over the mental link - Binkadink and Obvious stopped trying to break into the white wyrm's hibernation space and went to join the battle. <Over here, Bink!> called Gilbert. <I got another see invisibility spell - I can cast it on you!>

Colin stabbed the Claw of Bahamut at the white wyrm holding him in its jaws but didn't have the strength or the proper positioning to do Turakkandusk much damage. Finoula activated the dispel evil power of her angelhelm and moved to try to help; she could see Colin's mangled body dangling above the floor and could only imagine what the dragon was doing to him. Hagan cast another delayed blast fireball spell, this one almost at ceiling level so it would rain down on the dragon but allow the wyrm's own body to shield Colin from the spell's effects. Darrien rushed forward and, unsure of what else to do, cast a cat's grace spell on his fellow ranger; maybe it would help Finoula take out the dragon.

In the heat of battle, Gilbert had already forgotten he'd promised to cast a see invisibility spell on Binkadink, who was rushing up to receive it. Fortunately, Gilbert's replacement plan of attack had much the same effect: he cast a quickened dimensional anchor spell on Turakkandusk, ensuring he couldn't teleport or dimension door around the cavern any more. But the spell surrounded the massive dragon in a greenish glow, which allowed everyone in the cavern to not only see the wyrm's location but its actual size and power; the blood drained from more than one face as they realized just how big of a fight they'd started!

But Gilbert Fung wasn't done just yet. He followed up his quickened spell with another of his favorites: one that had taken out more than his fair share of dragons in recent days. Racing up to the white wyrm, he slapped a meaty hand onto his scales and activated one of his more effective spells: an Otto's irresistible dance. All he had to do was hope he'd make it past the dragon's inherent spell resistance and they'd have most of their work already done for them.

"What did you think that was going to do...?" snarled Turakkandusk at the pudgy mortal thing before him. He looked like he'd make a decent snack before the wyrm retired for the rest of his hibernation cycle.

But then his front right foot started tapping.

And he dropped Colin Danderville, held in his front left claws, to the ground so he could tap with that foot as well.

"What--?" sputtered Turakkandusk as the Otto's irresistible dance proved to be...well, irresistible.

"Ha ha ha ha!" chortled Binkadink, spurring Obvious forward and slicing the dragon up with his glaive while the wyrm did nothing but caper about. Colin regained his feet but had to back off; not only was the paladin woozy from his wounds but Gilbert wanted him back out of range so the spellcasters could work their magic. Reluctantly, Colin stepped back out of battle with a chromatic dragon - the very enemy his Order had been created to destroy! But then, it looked like these Kordovian heroes had things well in hand.

Finoula blasted through Turakkandusk in living lightning bolt form again, returning to her elven shape over by MARCI and Malrin. Hagan and Gilbert, in communication over the Rary's telepathic bond spell, coordinated their efforts and each cast a meteor swarm spell at the dancing white dragon wyrm. Turakkandusk, humiliated at having succumbed to the fat wizard's dancing-about spell, felt he was powerful enough to withstand whatever pain they could throw his way until the blasted spell had run its course - and then there would be Hell to pay! But in this Turakkandusk had miscalculated, for the twin meteor swarms pummeled his body and scorched his scales, burning through his magical protections and snuffing his life out like a flame. With a crash, his massive body fell lifelessly to the ground.

Colin gave only a weak cry of gratitude; Finoula helped support him while Malrin delivered some much-needed healing his way.

After that, Binkadink returned to his original plan of cutting his way first into Turakkandusk's hibernation area and then through the floor to get to the riches buried beneath the ice there. While the others helped pull out various pieces of treasure, Finoula and Malrin helped Colin place the body of Sir Morgan Brightshield into the portable hole for eventual return to his Order. (The treasure was placed into the portable hole as well, much of it having been items worn by the other members of the band of paladins, all of whom had apparently been slain and eaten by Turakkandusk before he returned to his slumber. Colin was more than happy to let the Kordovians keep it, as payment for their help in regaining the Claw of Bahamut.)

"Anybody remember the way out of here?" asked Binkadink.

"What, the cave? It's this way!" snorted Darrien, surprised the gnome would have forgotten how to get out of the glacier lair.

"No, the snow globe itself," replied Binkadink. "I remember it's in a room at the bottom of that ice tower that looks like a big, carved head - but any idea where that tower is? I don't like the idea of wandering around in the snow, hoping to stumble onto it."

"I cast discern location spell," Gilbert said, snapping his fingers. "Find it like that."

"Oh, good," said Finoula. "Let's go, then."

"...Don't have spell prepared today," Gilbert admitted sheepishly. "I cast it tomorrow. We sleep here tonight."

"Here? On the ice floor?" demanded Finoula. "We'll all freeze!"

"You forget," grinned Gilbert, pulling out a small, black item from a pocket of his robes. "We have Daern's instant fortress."

That made for much more comfortable overnight accommodations and the next morning Gilbert paged through his Omnibook, preparing the spells he'd need in the day to come. One of those spells was indeed a discern location spell, which led unerringly to Castle Frosthaven, the ice tower carved to look like a blue-tinged, oblong face.

Once there, Finoula used her magic boots to spider climb up the outer wall of the castle, climbing through one of the eye-hole windows. There was a winding set of stairs before her, which she knew would lead to the lower floor, where there was a lever to open the tower's "mouth," allowing the rest of those outside to enter. From there, they could lower the elevator platform to the basement level, which held a hidden room containing a teleportation circle leading back to the location of the snow globe.

As Finoula stepped forward, Hagan and Wezhley entered through the other window, the half-orc sorcerer having cast a fly spell for that very purpose. They stepped inside just in time to see a column of snow drop down from the ceiling above to engulf Finoula.

<Aah! Acid!> cried the elven ranger over the Rary's telepathic bond spell Gilbert had reestablished that morning before setting off from Turakkandusk's glacier lair.

As Hagan looked up at the ceiling, seeing what he at first took to be a pile of densely-packed snow, Darrien rushed in through the same window Finoula had used, the half-elf ranger using one of the the powers of his cloak of the white spider to walk straight up the tower's outer wall. He headed straight down the central shaft of the tower, eager to get the front door open so those of the group who couldn't fly could gain entry and help fight off whatever it was that had trapped Finoula in its acidic embrace. Malrin flew through the window behind Hagan in owl form while Gilbert cast a fire shield spell upon him and Mudpie.

Binkadink didn't have access to any spells but that didn't mean he had no way to breach a window high up on the side of an ice tower. Standing in the saddle, he called to his mount, "Up, Obvious!" and as he jackalope leaped high into the air, the gnome leaped from the saddle and into the open window, banging his side a little but otherwise making it through unscathed. He immediately elongated his magic glaive to its full extension and stabbed up at the creature that looked like a pile of gravity-defying snow. <It a white pudding!> Gilbert called over the link.

That didn't mean anything to the little gnome and even if it had it would have been too late for the fighter to stop his attack. The glaive stabbed deep into the white pudding's amorphous mass, slicing it neatly into two - and now there were two white puddings to contend with, each half the size of the original. The one that still contained Finoula continued to flow around the ranger, burning her flesh with its acid, while the other dropped a flowing pseudopod over Hagan and Wezhley.

But neither of these pudding victims were helpless; Finoula activated her lightning amulet, blasting straight up into the pudding's main mass and then ricocheting down to the ground floor by the lever that would open the tower's door. Hagan, in the meantime, said the words to a teleport spell and ended up right beside the elven ranger. "You okay, Wezhley?" he asked and the weasel snuggled up against his master's neck, glad to be free of the ooze's embrace.

Binkadink, realizing sharp blades weren't the way to go against this oozing threat, switched over to his greatclub and started smashing. Finoula got the front door open and then the spellcasters let loose at the pair of white puddings. They didn't last long.

After that, it was easy for the group to make their way to the secret room housing the teleportation circle, although Colin, Hagan, and Malrin had never seen it before, not having been a part of the adventuring team when the group had first passed through the snow globe. But there on the floor was the single word "GLOBE" - and once everyone had gathered onto the circle and Binkadink said the command word, they all teleported back to Pentaclus's study.

"Well, there you are," the weaponcrafter said upon seeing them trudge back to his workroom. "I was wondering if we were going to see you today. I trust everything went well?"

"Mission accomplished," Colin said with a smile, brandishing the Claw of Bahamut for the wizard to see.

"I say!" Pentaclus enthused. "Must you head back immediately? I'd love for you to stay the night! You all look like you could use a day of rest, and I'd love to be able to study the craftsmanship of this weapon! What do you say?"

It sounded like a pretty good idea to the group as a whole.

- - -

I used a white dragon lair map that had come with the Gargantuan White Dragon D&D Mini (which also came with D&D Minis for Drizzt and Wulfgar from the novels) for Turakkandusk's glacier lair - pretty spot on, I thought.

Before we ran through this adventure, Logan sold off Binkadink's gnomish glaive and had Pentaclus craft a replacement blade patterned after Titanslayer - once the pronglike blade starts vibrating (after it's been struck, like a tuning fork), it creates a resonance field which bypasses damage reduction. (Naturally, this can be negated inside a field of silence.) Vicki had also wanted to upgrade Finoula's lightning amulet, so it now does twice the amount of damage, can be used five times per day, and she can make one "bend" in her path as long as the pivot point is the body of an enemy (as it uses chain lightning as its pattern instead of just lightning bolt). They're both pretty happy with their upgrades.

- - -

T-Shirt Worn: My white T-shirt with a blue dragon on it; the white to represent the arctic snow and the dragon could conceivably be blue due to the cold and ice. (My only other dragon T-shirt is a green dragon on a black shirt; this one was closer to what the PCs would be dealing with.)
 
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Richards

Legend
ADVENTURE 72: A FRIENDLY GAME OF DEMON CHESS

PC Roster:
Binkadink Dundernoggin, gnome fighter 19​
Darrien, half-elf ranger 19​
Finoula Cloudshadow, elf ranger 19​
Gilbert Fung, human wizard 19​
Hagan, half-orc sorcerer 19​

NPC Roster:
Aerik Battershield, dwarf fighter 15/dwarven defender 5​
Malrin Ivenheart, elf druid 14​

Game Session Date: 14 March 2020

- - -

Pentaclus waved to the group as they took off in their dragonfly vessel after having spent the night so the weaponcrafter could spend some time examining the Claw of Bahamut. But Colin Danderville was eager to return the holy weapon back to his order, so the next morning they were back in flight, heading to the paladin's home church. Gilbert had wisely decided to drop him off first thing without visiting Kordovia, not wanting to let the devout paladin in on the fact that Kordovia was not only allied with a green dragon but its Queen also had green dragon blood running through her elven veins. That was a good way to get the wrath of the Order of Bahamut coming down upon you!

After dropping off the young paladin with the appropriate fanfare, Jinkadoodle brought the spelljamming vessel back up among the clouds and homed in on the cloud island where the group kept it when it was not in use. "Glad when we get back home," Gilbert sighed. "Be nice to sleep in own bed again!"

Once Jinkadoodle had parked the dragonfly vessel in its berth on the cloud island, everyone headed down to the hidden lower deck, to use the teleportation runes carved onto the floor in one of the rooms to head back to Binkadink's room in Battershield Keep, where he kept the corresponding carpet of teleportation ready to receive travelers from the vessel. They arrived in groups of two at a time (the gnome riding on his jackalope, Obvious, who just barely fit onto the carpet as it was), exiting the gnome's bedroom and heading over to find Helga Battershield to let her know they had made it back.

Helga, as it turned out, was in the dining area - nor was she alone. Two guests sat at the table as the dwarven woman fed them thick slices of homemade apple pie. "Why, there ye are!" she exclaimed upon the arrival of the adventurers. "As ye can see, we've got visitors!"

"Indeed you do," replied the corpulent Lord Shambleton around a mouthful of pie, while at his side Mr. Fletcher looked up in interest while finishing a piece of pie of his own.

A collective gasp burst from the lips of the adventurers; Helga might not know them for what they truly were, but these were the two demons - a nalfeshnee and a glabrezu, respectively - who had tried to steal Laerornith Ivenheart's soul some months back, currently in their human guises.

Lord Shambleton did his best to reassure the adventurers they were not here for revenge. "If you are in any way concerned at our sudden appearance in your humble home, please put your minds at rest – we mean you no harm and bear you no ill will. In fact, our recent defeat at your hands, while causing quite a setback in our plans as you are well aware, may well prove to be a blessing in disguise, for it has given us first-hand experience with your combat prowess and demonstrated to our full satisfaction your worthiness to be included in our next venture."

Lord Shambleton turned to Helga with his empty plate in hand and offered it to her. "I must say, Mrs. Battershield, that was a most excellent repast indeed. I wonder if it would be too forward of me to inquire about the possibility of a second slice...?"

"Me too!" piped up Mr. Fletcher, passing his plate her way. As Helga departed the dining area with their empty plates (and a big grin on her face), Lord Shambleton got down to business. "Our defeat at your hands has not been met with favor by our immediate Abyssal superiors, a wretched pair of mariliths by the names of Abrizane and Cocrucia. They would have had us slain for our failure – more correctly, for our strict adherence to the rules we had jointly agreed upon in our battle for the soul of the young Miss Ivenheart – how is she, by the way? Faring well, I trust? However, we have invoked our right to trial by combat and our request has been reluctantly granted.

"The rules are quite simple: a battle to the death in an arena built for that very purpose. We chose not to do battle ourselves but rather to employ a team of proxies. Naturally, this is where you come in. Tell me: are any of you familiar with Demon Chess?"

Gilbert narrowed his eyes. "Why you think we help you?" he demanded.

"Several reasons come to mind," replied Lord Shambleton. "For the first, you will be fighting demons on their home plane in the Abyss. Thus, any demons you slay will be dead forevermore, never to rise again - surely a lofty goal for goodhearted heroes such as yourselves? In addition, immediately after the conclusion of the Demon Chess match, assuming we are victorious, I propose an immediate attack upon the mariliths - an attack in which Mr. Fletcher and myself will be fighting at your side. This is an opportunity to rid the planes of two truly horrid demons, on a most permanent basis."

"Those might be good opportunities," agreed Binkadink, "but what makes you think it's worth putting our lives on the line?"

"We have anticipated your concerns on that front," reassured the nalfeshnee. "Mr. Fletcher has, in his possession, eight scrolls of true resurrection which he will place in your care. We have been guaranteed the safe return to their home planes of any mortals who agree to be the chessmen in our little contest. These scrolls will ensure there are no changes to that agreement; you have but to leave them behind in the trusted care of one capable of casting the spell and you will be guaranteed a return to life, should that life be forfeited in the Demon Chess game. Demon Chess is, after all, nothing more than a fight to the death. Thus, you have nothing to lose but the potential loss of a day of your lives, should you in fact be slain in the arena."

Gilbert looked over the scrolls. They looked legit enough, even if they had been crafted on the Abyss. "We keep these regardless?" he asked.

"Indeed - they are yours, as of this very moment, should you agree to be our proxies. And should all eight of you survive the arena, you will have gained the scrolls regardless, to be put to use at some future time, perhaps."

Gilbert was sorely tempted - he realized the true value of the eight copies of the true resurrection scrolls, one of the most powerful spells in existence. "What you guys think?" he asked the others.

Before they could answer, Lord Shambleton sweetened the pot even further. "In addition," he added, "Mr. Fletcher, as a glabrezu, has the ability to grant a mortal a wish once per month. Agree to be our proxies and the wish is yours, to be granted as long as it is within Mr. Fletcher's power to do so. One wish to be shared among the entire group, mind you - we do not intend to stick around after the arena combat has been completed, neither of us trusting our superiors won't wish to take matters into their own hands should you be victorious in the upcoming battle."

"Then where will you go?" asked Finoula.

"It is an infinite universe out there," said Lord Shambleton, waving a beefy hand in the air. "Truth be told, for a pair of potentially immortal demons, the thought of incessantly tempting mortals into relinquishing their souls to the Abyss is, quite frankly, a wearying one."

"You said a team of eight," said Darrien. "Which eight?" Nobody was arguing the fact that the group, at this point, seemed to be approving of this plan.

"The arena battle takes place upon an eight-by-eight grid, much like the chessboards with which you are no doubt familiar," said Lord Shambleton in way of answering the question. "Each square is big enough to comfortably hold a single person of your own general size and shape, no larger. For that reason, I would suggest Binkadink, Darrien, Finoula, Gilbert, Hagan - without the weasel, I would recommend - Malrin, and the earth elemental, providing it can be reduced in size to no larger than the size of a man."

"That no problem," Gilbert agreed; he could use a polymorph any object spell upon Mudpie to shrink him down to human size - it was, after all, the way he'd enlarged him to his current size of 16 feet tall. "But that only seven."

"MARCI?" suggested Hagan.

"That no good - she out of healing mixture and if she get taken by cheating demons or damaged in fight, no way to get her back with true resurrection - she a construct!"

"I'll be yer eighth," said a voice behind the others. Nobody had seen Aerik Battershield enter the Keep after his shift back at the castle had been completed, but he'd apparently been there long enough to have gotten the gist of what was being considered.

Helga returned from the kitchen with two large pieces of apple pie on the plates she'd taken from her two guests. "Ah, ye're home!" she smiled at her husband. "Would either of the rest of ye like any pie?"

Lord Shambleton and Mr. Fletcher returned their attention to the desserts before them, savoring each bite as if experiencing something entirely new to them. "How soon d'we need to go?" asked Aerik.

"We certainly have time to finish your wife's most excellent culinary creation," answered Lord Shambleton, applying himself to the dessert before him. "And if you need to finish preparing any of your day's allotment of spells," he added, looking over at Gilbert Fung, "now would be the time." Gilbert grumbled and pulled out his Omnibook, flipping through the pages and deciding what spells would be best added to his current assembled selection. Demons are immune to electricity, he reminded himself, and they have partial immunity to temperature extremes....

Hagan made his apologies to Wezhley and left his weasel familiar with Helga for safekeeping. Wezhley didn't even bother trying to look hurt; he knew full well Helga would spoil him with treats (and he also knew Hagan knew that as well as he did). The half-orc then gathered up the scrolls and teleported away to the Church of Moradin, where he left them in safe keeping with the head cleric there, explaining the need to have them cast upon the eight heroes Hagan designated if they didn't get back with the church leadership by the end of the next day. Another teleport spell returned him back to Battershield Keep in no time at all.

Lord Shambleton finally stood up from the table, gave his final regards to Helga, and pulled a tuning fork from his pocket. "If everyone is quite ready, we will be on our way," he announced, striking the metal prongs on the edge of the table.

"Be back b'fore too long," Aerik promised his wife - and then the seven heroes, the earth elemental (now a comfortable six feet tall, thanks to his master's polymorph any object spell), and the two demons in human form were gone.

They reappeared on a dismal plane of uneven ground, seemingly made of hardened magma with jagged shards of obsidian rock poking up at random intervals. The orange skies above were streaked with sulfurous clouds and the smell of dead things permeated the very atmosphere. A dark building rose in the distance ahead, made of a shining, black stone some 30 feet high.

"Do watch your step," advised Lord Shambleton, shedding his corpulent human form now that he was back on his home plane. His true form wasn't much of an improvement: a hideous fusing of boar and ape with some undersized bat wings thrown in for good measure. Mr. Fletcher likewise took on his glabrezu form, a demonic melange of equal parts wolf, crab, and human. "Welcome to the Sulfanorum, the 303rd layer of the Abyss," said the nalfeshnee. "The building ahead is where you will fight to the death on our behalf and where we two will be permanently slain if you are unsuccessful."

"Maybe we should go over the rules of Demon Chess," suggested Binkadink. He'd extended his gnomish stilt-boots to their highest elevation but was still carefully watching where he stepped, realizing a fall forward would likely be quite painful.

"There is little to tell. You will begin on the black squares of the two back rows while the opposing team will occupy the two front rows of black squares. The 'red squares' are openings to a deep pit of eternal flames beneath the arena platform. Occasionally, blasts of fire will rise up from the red squares, so you don't want to be over one when that happens, nor would you want to fall - or be pushed - into the pit."

"How do we track whose turn it is?" asked Darrien, recalling how orderly the game of Titan Chess had gone on the plane of Ysgard.

"There is no tracking of turns," admitted Lord Shambleton. "Once the game begins, it's a mad scramble to slay the members of the opposing team. The first team to have all of its proxies slain loses; if you all die, Mr. Fletcher and I will be slain immediately thereafter, as I mentioned. If, however, at least one of you remains once you've slaughtered the members of the other team, we will be allowed to go free - and any of you slain in the arena can be returned to life by the scrolls handed over to you."

"Not much like chess," remarked Gilbert.

"To be sure. It is, in truth, little more than a fight to the death on a giant checkerboard. Ah, here we are." A pair of massive stone doors just ahead looked to be the only visible entry into the black building. A demonic visage carved into each door gave the appearance of a leering, gargoylelike face. They grinned widely as the two demons and their combat proxies approached, opening on their own. Passing through the doorway and into the building interior, Binkadink was certain he could hear evil chuckling coming from behind him. Once everyone was inside, the doors slammed shut and a quite audible locking sound was heard.

Lord Shambleton led the group into a side room, where they would prepare for the arena combat ahead. The nalfeshnee explained they wouldn't get to see the opposing proxies until such time as the battle was ready to begin but, unlike in Titan Chess, at that point the living pieces would be visible for all to see.

"Anything else we need to know?" asked Finoula.

"Now that the doors have been locked, the entire area is encompassed with a dimensional anchor spell. Until one team has won the game, it will be impossible to cast summoning spells or those involving planar travel. Dimension door and teleport spells and the like will still function, so long as the starting and ending points are within the building.

"Another thing," Lord Shambleton added, almost as an afterthought. "Once the Demon Chess match begins, you must stay within the confines of the board. Anyone stepping off of the board, voluntarily or unwillingly, will be subject to attacks from the opposing leaders: myself and Mr. Fletcher for our side and the wretched mariliths on the other team. Otherwise, while we will be on hand to watch as the battle progresses, we will be spectators only - rather like our own arena battle for Laerornith's soul, if you will recall: those observing from the stands were forbidden from participating." Malrin's face clouded at the memory, while Finoula's merely hardened as she stared down the demon, her expression saying, "I took you out of commission once before - don't make me do it again!"

But despite not actually having said anything aloud, Finoula had forgotten the demons' telepathic abilities. "Ah, but that trick will not work here, my dear," offered the nalfeshnee, "for your angel helm cannot banish away a demon already on its home plane!"

"How soon before we start? Should we start casting our pre-battle spells?" asked Darrien.

"Alas, you must start the Demon Chess match with no spells already in effect," replied Lord Shambleton. "Any spells you wish to have cast upon you must be done so after the match has already--" Suddenly, Lord Shambleton and Mr. Fletcher stiffened as if jolted and the nalfeshnee cut off his comment in mid-sentence. "It is time," he said. "We are summoned to the arena." He led the way out of the white team's preparation room and back into the main room. Hagan gave the room a quick scan: the ceiling above was 30 feet high, with a single open area containing the "chessboard" upon which they'd be fighting for their lives - and those of the two demons who not long ago had tried their best to kill them! Their demonic patrons would apparently be watching the battle from a platform above the entry door through which the group had entered the building, whereas the leaders of the opposing team would be viewing the spectacle from a platform at the other end of the room.

With a start, Hagan's eyes goggled as he saw the demons already on place on the opposing viewing platform. Two sinuous, serpentine figures sat in coils on either side of the structure; these would be the aforementioned Abrizane and Cocrucia, no doubt. However, of an even bigger concern was the massive figure seated on an elaborate, golden throne between the two mariliths: a balor! "We have taken the liberty of inviting our own superior, Korodoth the Executioner, to watch your mortal proxies attempt to save your pathetic lives in the Demon Chess arena," hissed one of the mariliths.

"So we see," replied Lord Shambleton in an outwardly unworried manner. But in the privacy of his own head - while clamping down on his thoughts to ensure they weren't picked up by the telepathic demons in the room with him - he was worried the mortal heroes would not be up to taking down the two mariliths and a balor on their home plane, even with the aid of the two demons currently on trial.

"You know why you are on trial here?" demanded Korodoth. "You not only failed to obtain the soul you had been sent forth to steal, but you fought - honorably - " (Korodoth made the word sound like the most vile concept ever created) "against mere mortals...and were handily defeated! And now, when forced to find eight proxies to fight on your behalf, I cannot help but notice you have reached out...to mortals! You are like no demons I have ever heard of before - you're scarcely worthy of the name!"

"Then it is with great relief, no doubt, that one way or the other you will be rid of us by the end of this contest," replied Lord Shambleton in his most regal bearing.

"Indeed it will! Assume your positions, mortal worms! Mariliths: bring out your team!"

The door off to the right opened up and the black team stepped out and over to their places on the board. Gilbert cast his eyes upon each of them in turn, trying to determine which types of demon they'd be up against. He recognized the succubus at once and what must be a red-skinned, female tiefling - possibly a spellcaster? Two were obviously babaus and another two each had four arms and carried two large bows; Gilbert had heard of such creatures: arrow demons, surely. The other two he'd never heard of. One looked to be something like an earth elemental with thick, greenish magma dripping from its body - acid of some type? The other seemed catlike in nature if not appearance; it was slightly bestial-looking human in black leather, wielding a pair of wicked-looking blades, a scimitar and a dagger, both seemingly coated in poison. The two unknown demons and the babaus took the front ranks, while the arrow demons took their places at each end of the back row, with the two females between them.

The white team took up their own positions, with Mudpie, Finoula, Binkadink, and Aerik taking the front lines on their own side while Gilbert, Darrien, Hagan, and Malrin stood diagonally behind them. Below the chessboard could be heard the unending crackling of flames and the heroes could feel the furnacelike heat rising up all around them.

"Upon my mark...begin!" commanded the balor from his golden throne.

With a preternatural swiftness almost too fast to believe, the bestial-looking demon - a kelvezu - leaned forward and disappeared completely from view. Hidden from the sight of the others, he teleported to the black square diagonally in front of both Binkadink and Aerik, his weapons readied to strike the first of them to move.

Darrien shot the arrow he'd already nocked in his Arachnibow and sent it flying across the board to hit the succubus, following it up with another two at her and two at the tiefling, all in rapid succession and the last one to strike each target turned into a web spell as it hit. The tiefling managed to avoid being webbed up; not so the succubus, whose batlike wings were gummed up before she could take flight. And then the tiefling cast a chain lightning spell, targeting Hagan and sending arcs to strike each of the other heroes.

Almost in the same split second, the arrow demons let fly with their own arrows, one targeting Gilbert and the other, Hagan, for they were the obvious spellcasters, judging solely on their robed attire. Gilbert stepped forward diagonally into the next rank of black squares, casting an Evard's black tentacles spell from the scroll he'd had unrolled in his hand upon first taking his starting position on the Demon Chess board. Ebon appendages rose up from the board, grasping each of the demons on the opposing side, sliding and squeezing and pinning them into place. Then, before any of them could react, the heavyset mage followed up with a quickened cone of cold spell, his new position angled to ensure he could hit each of the visible demons (but probably not the kelvezu, for who knew where exactly he'd gotten to?) with the frigid blast.

Trapped with the others in the black tentacles, the acid-oozing alkilith released itself from physical form and became a cloud of acidic vapors, its now-gaseous body sliding effortlessly between the writhing tentacles and over towards Gilbert at a leisurely pace. But seeing this (and having no idea what the green cloud of vapors could do but willing to bet it was nothing good), Finoula cast a wind wall spell, bending the effect to mirror the arc of the edge of the field of tentacles. The elven ranger was fairly certain the upward-thrusting winds would prevent the sentient gas cloud from being able to pass through to reach Gilbert.

Hagan had likewise decided ahead of time to try to take out any obvious spellcasters first and the tiefling thus had attracted his immediate attention. With a few arcane words and gestures, the half-orc sorcerer caused a shimmering field of energy in the shape of a sword to manifest directly in front of the red-skinned tiefling and stab down at her. The cry of pain it elicited from the fiend-blooded spellcaster was a good indicator the Mordenkainen's sword had struck true.

Binkadink pulled the horn of good and evil from his belt and brought it to his lips, ready to blow it and activate a magic circle against evil spell centered upon him - but he never got the chance, for an unseen blade went suddenly stabbing into his side. The gnome fighter was surprised only for a second before realizing he'd just figured out where the kelvezu demon had gotten to. The wound burned; Binkadink realized he'd likely been poisoned but trusted his healthy gnomish constitution would help him to gut it out and keep fighting. And then, all thoughts of using his magic horn forgotten, he swung his new glaive at the unseen foe, missing once and striking only a glancing blow with his back swing - but it was enough to start it reverberating, and he grinned, knowing when he next struck the invisible foe he'd be dealing the kelvezu a lot more damage than the demon was likely expecting! At his side, Aerik likewise tried hitting the invisible kelvezu but missed with his dwarven greataxe. But he hunkered down in place, determined that nothing was going to get by him whether he could see it or not!

Both babaus used their inherent teleport abilities to escape the confines of the Evard's black tentacles spell; by unspoken agreement they flanked Finoula, one on her right and the other moving onto the space only recently vacated by Gilbert. They each lashed out at the elven ranger, their sharp claws coated in an acid that burned her flesh where they struck, leaving furrows across her once-smooth skin. They grinned evilly at her obvious pain.

But then one of them was no longer grinning as he was struck by the full weight of a 6-foot-tall elemental made of rock and earth. He went staggering off the back end of the chess board - and well into the reach of Lord Shambleton, who snagged him up in a massive hand, pulled him to his boarlike face, and took a chunk out of his flesh in a bite that pierced the demon's flesh with both of the nalfeshnee's lower tusks. Lord Shambleton wasted no time in utterly destroying the demon proxy, causing the mariliths' team's first casualty.

Malrin, over in the corner, decided her best move at this point was to cast a mass cure light wounds spell, for everyone had been hurt by the tiefling's chain lightning spell and several others had taken other hits as well. She figured her best course of action was to keep the heroes' wounds healed up, because she doubted very much the demons would do likewise to their own proxies - it didn't seem like a very demonic trait, caring about the welfare of others.

Smothered in a web spell and being slowly crushed by tentacles, the succubus used her innate dimension door ability to move out of the range of the still-active spell and over by Gilbert Fung; having left the webs behind, she was free to flap her wings and stay aloft just outside the writhing tentacles. She narrowed her eyes, wondering how easy the fat wizard would be to charm into doing her bidding.

Binkadink was being kept busy fending off attacks by blades he couldn't see, but fortunately for him those that got past his weapon's defense struck his red dragonhide armor and did him no harm. He was surprised when the flurry of attacks suddenly stopped and wondered whether the kelvezu was reassessing his attack strategies or had perhaps moved elsewhere. Due to the Evard's black tentacles spell, there was actually a very limited option of where to go on the chess board as over half of the valid squares were encompassed by writhing, ebon appendages.

The babau who had attacked Finoula from the front was 10 feet in front of Darrien; as such, he made a perfectly valid target for the next flurry of arrows from the ranger's Arachnibow. Unfortunately for Darrien, although he struck true with each arrow he shot at the acid-dripping demon, the arrows just seemed to plunk harmlessly to the square at the babau's feet - some of them falling into the fire pit below, where they were instantly consumed. But the babau's tough hide seemed to make his arrows all but useless. Snarling in irritation, Darrien grabbed for his magic scimitar - maybe he'd have better luck with that!

The tiefling cast a dimension door spell to escape the tentacles threatening to choke her to death. Each of the arrow demons did likewise, the three of them moving to the only three squares still available to them (besides the one 10 feet in front of Malrin currently occupied by the kelvezu; fortunately the babaus' telepathy alerted them to his current position).

Gilbert cast a shapechange spell, transforming his overweight human body into the heavenly form of an astral deva. He immediately took wing, flying ten feet straight up and facing the succubus in her own element. Off to his side, the gaseous alkilith had hit the wind wall and been pushed to the arena's ceiling, but it was unable to pass through Finoula's spell effect. But there was another way to bypass the blasting wind; teleporting directly around Finoula on the other side of the barrier, the ranger suddenly found herself breathing in acidic fumes, causing her to choke and cough. She staggered over to the square Gilbert had just left unoccupied; with the Evard's black tentacles still eating up most of the squares, this combat was a lot more close quarters than she had anticipated! But she was still within striking distance of one of the arrow demons, so she sent Tahlmalaera's blade slicing through one of the four-armed demon's forearms, causing the creature's demonic ichor to drip to the floor.

Hagan's sword-shaped blade of force followed after the tiefling, swinging at her in her new location and drawing a new line of blood across her torso. Seeing how wounded she appeared, the half-orc gambled he could take her down with a mere magic missile spell; fortunately, that was a bet he handily won. She fell over onto her side, then toppled over the edge of the square and pitched forward, silent in death, into the crackling flames of the pit below.

Not sure of where the kelvezu might have gotten to, Binkadink mentally extended his glaive to its full length and swung the reverberating blade into the neck of the other arrow demon, slaying it instantly. He then shortened his weapon back down to a length more properly suited for fighting those closer to him.

The remaining babau attacked Mudpie with its acidic claws, digging deep gauges in the earth elemental's rocky hide. But rather than fight back, Mudpie swung around and pushed an arrow demon off the side of the board, repeating the strategy that had worked so well with the other babau. Unable to reach the side of the board where it stood - for both "defendants" were to remain on the platform above the building's sole door for the duration of the Demon Chess match and the fiendish archer had been pushed off the side of the board - Mr. Fletcher opted to use a power word stun on the hapless arrow demon, causing it to stand there motionless and incoherent. Mudpie found it gave him no resistance at all when he grabbed it and tossed it through the nearest open square into the pit of flames below.

Aerik again tried hitting the unseen kelvezu, once again swinging and missing completely. But then he gained a massive amount of assistance from an unexpected source: the group's most inexperienced combatant: Castillan's little sister, Malrin, who somehow managed to overcome the demon's inherent resistance to spells and encompass it in faerie fire spell. The speedy kelvezu, who relied heavily upon its greater invisibility to keep its enemies guessing, now found himself coated in a form-fitting glow that revealed not only his general location but how he was holding his two blades. This was a game changer and for the first time during this match the kelvezu had the sinking feeling he might not be one of the last proxies standing at the battle's conclusion.

The succubus opted not to try to charm Gilbert after all; anyone capable of shapechanging into a hated angel was likely too powerful for her to be able to pull it off. Looking around at other potential victims, her gaze fell upon Mudpie: perfect! A primitive, barely humanoid form, but one capable of dealing quite a bit of damage with those rocklike fists of his! She decided she'd see how well the elven ranger or the half-elf with the bow liked being attacked by one of the their own allies. Unfortunately, as she focused her gaze upon Mudpie, he looked up at her and stared her straight in the eye, somehow evoking a feeling of utter contempt for the succubus's charms. Cowed by her failure, the seductress flew through the wind wall and over the center of the still-writhing tentacles, high enough up that she needn't worry about them being able to reach her.

The kelvezu decided he needed to start taking down these enemies as quickly as he could, and since the gnome's armor was thick enough to make him an iffy target he decided he'd take out the armored dwarf first. He went after Aerik with a flurry of blade-strikes, and while several pierced the dwarf's skin he gave no sign of the poison coated on the demon's blades affecting him in the least. Infuriating! The mariliths had said they'd be fighting mere mortals, but just where had the two bumbling demons found this lot?

Casting a freedom of movement spell upon himself, Darrien ran directly into the field of ebon tentacles, and try as they might they were unable to grasp him in their frantic embrace. However, shielded from view by the wiggling appendages, he swung his scimitar out of the spell's effect, feeling his blade pass through the wind wall and strike the sole remaining babau's hide. It hissed in surprise and pain.

From his aerial vantage point, Gilbert saw that things were going rather nicely for his team: they'd taken out three of their opponents already with no casualties on their side yet. He decided he'd do what he could to give his friends every combat advantage he could, and thus cast an extended haste spell on all eight of Lord Shambleton's proxies. With any luck, the spell would last for the rest of the combat. But then, having done so, the wizard - still in his astral deva form - found himself in the center of an acidic cloud, for the vaporous alkilith had flown up to surround him in its amorphous body. But Gilbert found that vigorously flapping his angel's wings while staying in place did a fine job of keeping the alkilith's vapors at bay; dejected, the cloud returned back to the level of the chess board floor.

Finoula used her longsword and her flaming burst whip of thorns to slay the remaining babau, while Hagan cast a polar ray at the hovering succubus and slew her, causing her lifeless body to plummet to the greedy tentacles below and be entwined. From the raised platform in the back, both mariliths hissed in anger and Korodoth pounded his fist in rising fury onto the arm of his throne. This Demon Chess match was not going the way he had hoped - even with allowing the tiefling to prepare a whole host of protective spells ahead of the match, in direct violation of the rules! Infuriating!

Binkadink tried his best to follow suit by slaying the kelvezu with his glaive, but despite his best efforts the outlined demon refused to go down - even when Aerik hit him several times with his greataxe. Malrin tried casting a sunbeam spell at the kelvezu, but her earlier success at piercing his spell resistance was not replicated this time around. Darrien switched back to his Arachnibow and shot a round of arrows at the kelvezu, with little more impact than he'd had shooting at the babaus. For his part, the kelvezu kept his focus on bringing Aerik down, but although the dwarven fighter took hit after hit he too refused to be budged from his spot or succumb to his many wounds.

With only two members of the black army left, Gilbert tried casting a maximized vampiric touch spell on the kelvezu - but he, too, failed to overcome the demon's inherent spell resistance. Unnoticed in the preoccupation with taking the kelvezu down, the alkilith quietly resumed its solid form outside the circumference of the wind wall and Evard's black tentacles spell effects. But then Finoula showed she at least had been paying attention to it, for her snapping whip and striking longsword nearly cut it into two. It staggered about, threatening to fall over at any moment.

Hagan redirected his Mordenkainen's sword to attack the kelvezu and then followed up with another polar ray spell, this one getting through the demon's defenses where others had not. None of the heroes could see the expression on his face, for he was still invisible, but the faerie fire showed his posture, which was starting to slump in the realization of eventual defeat. Sure enough, all it took was a powerful stab from Binkadink's reverberating glaive to pierce through the kelvezu's torso, skewering him like a shish-ka-bob. Korodoth screamed in fury as if the glaive had pierced his own body rather than that of his marilith servants' most powerful Demon Chess proxy.

Almost as an afterthought, Mudpie sent a powerful fist crashing into the alkilith's head, decapitating it. It pitched over the edge of the square upon which it stood, falling into the burning pit in two distinct pieces.

Despite Gilbert not having had time to cast a Rary's telepathic bond spell on them as he often did immediately before battle, the heroes all felt the unmistakable sensation of someone talking directly in their heads. Judging from the mental "voice" it was Lord Shambleton. <Do you feel up to trying to take down the mariliths and the balor?> he asked. <Korodoth was not part of the original calculus of ours plans, I fear.>

<We not getting paid any more for taking them down, too> Gilbert thought back at the nalfeshnee, certain he'd be able to pick up his mental response. <We fight them, we fight them for free - and put true resurrection scrolls in danger of needing be used. I say we bug out - sooner the better!>

<Agreed,> replied Lord Shambleton. Then, addressing Korodoth the Executioner directly, the nalfeshnee said, "It would seem Mr. Fletcher and I are a better judge of the overall combat worthiness of our proxies than either of our superiors are of theirs," he noted. Then, unable to resist twisting the knife a little, he added, "I cannot for the life of me recall the last time a Demon Chess match ended quite this lopsided, with the winning team not having lost a single one of their proxies! Perhaps this is a wake-up call to the relative merits of the mortal races, indeed!"

Korodoth's face grew red with anger, but even he couldn't ignore the fact that these eight mortals - mortals! - had taken out a similar number of demons without seeming to have broken a sweat. As much as he wanted to leap from his throne and bring bloody death to all before him, he also realized he was on his home plane and should these mortals get the better of him it would be a true death, not the mere temporary destruction of a summoned form.

Korodoth pointed a clawed finger at the front door, which opened with an audible click. "Get out!" he commanded and the two demons leaped down from their platform, hurrying to comply before the balor changed his mind. The heroes raced after them, neither of them wanting to spend any more time on the Abyss than they had to.

Abrizane and Cocrucia saw their master's anger and tried to do what they could to appease him. "My Lord--" one of them began.

"SILENCE!" commanded Korodoth and the mariliths looked at each other in fear.

Outside, the heroes and their temporary demon patrons hobbled along the dangerous ground until they were all outside the dark building. Then Lord Shambleton opened a gate and everyone stepped through it. No one was surprised that the other side of the gate was the courtyard of Battershield Keep, or that when the two demons stepped back onto the Material Plane they once again wore their human guises: a tall, thin man in a nobleman's finery and a corpulent, upper-class man in almost regal garb leaning heavily on a cane.

"Have you given any thought on the contents of your wish?" asked Lord Shambleton.

"Ingebold," answered Finoula at once. "Can you restore her to life?"

"Nay - not that," intervened Aerik, although it pained him to do so, for he dearly wanted his daughter to be back among the living. But she had converted her very soul energy into a powerful enough blast to completely destroy a calcimortum demilich who could easily have wiped out all life upon the world. As a result, not only was her body completely destroyed but so was her soul - and he'd had the clerics of Moradin do everything they could to verify the truth to that claim. The only way to possibly bring his daughter back, he'd been told, was to snatch her out of time, from right before she had given her life to save the world - and to do that was to potentially rewrite history such that the black death-skull was successful after all. As much as Aerik loved his daughter, he'd not trade the lives of everyone on the planet to see her back among the living.

"King Galrich, then?" asked Hagan. "We could wish him back to full mental health, get his faculties back."

"That probably doable," agreed Galrich. "We all agreed?"

"That works for me," agreed Binkadink.

"Sure," added Darrien. The others chimed in their support for the idea.

"Then our wish this: restore Galrich Slayer, former King of Kordovia, to full mental faculties - no forgetting people or places or mixing things up in head," Gilbert stated on behalf of the group.

"Done," replied Mr. Fletcher.

"How we know you actually grant wish and not just fake it?" Gilbert demanded.

"Alas, you cannot - and we choose not to stick around any longer, in case our former superiors decide to track us down - it is, after all, much safer to have some spellcasting dupe summon them to this plane so they can fight us here, confident that if they are 'slain' on this plane they merely return, unharmed, to the Sulfanorum. But when next you see this King Galrich, you will find him much the better." And with that, the two disguised demons took their leave of the group. Hagan popped over to the Church of Moradin to let them know the eight heroes would not be in any immediate need of true resurrection spells.

And sure enough, a visit the next day to the garrison where the sellsword known only to his men as "Slayer" proved the glabrezu had been true to his word: Galrich's mind was clear of the confusion that had set in as he had aged.

"What will ye do, Me King?" asked Aerik. "Yer daughter now rules in yer place, since yer abdication."

"And she has done a fine job of it, as I knew she would," beamed Galrich. "Let her remain on as Queen - I am quite content with my life here among the men of the garrison, training them in the fighting arts. We'll keep the kingdom safe from those orcs and goblins - or we'll die trying!"

"You should have this back, though, Your Majesty," Hagan said, slipping the circlet the King had given him once he found out it was too late for his own use. The magical headgear staved off mental deterioration that came with age, but only if it was attuned to the wearer before the dementia set in. When the heroes had gotten it, it had already been far too late for it to have had any effect upon the king.

"Very well, then," Galrich agreed, slipping it onto his forehead. "If nothing else, it'll keep the hair out of my eyes when I'm fighting! And I bet it makes me look pretty dashing, huh, Aerik?"

"Very dashin' indeed, Me King," the dwarven guard replied.

- - -

I really surprised the players when Lord Shambleton and Mr. Fletcher showed up at their headquarters during their absence. But they were down with helping them out; I think they rather liked them a bit, even after their earlier combat over the soul of Laerornith. But had I known they were going to skip out on the fight at the end with the mariliths and balor, I would have either made it a requirement for their payment or beefed up their proxies in the Demon Chess match. But by the time the match was over the players were all looking a little tired so I didn't want to force an additional battle that would have taken an hour or more to run. That's the way it goes sometimes - I honestly had no idea how long the Demon Chess match was going to take when I wrote the adventure.

But, having accidentally planted the idea in everyone's heads with the plot hook, at the end of the session just about everyone had a taste for apple pie.

- - -

T-Shirt Worn: My "Chaotic Evil Means Never Having to Say You're Sorry" shirt - my go-to T-shirt with adventures dealing with demons.
 
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Richards

Legend
ADVENTURE 73: THINK POSITIVE

PC Roster:
Binkadink Dundernoggin, gnome fighter 19​
Darrien, half-elf ranger 19​
Finoula Cloudshadow, elf ranger 19​
Gilbert Fung, human wizard 19​
Hagan, half-orc sorcerer 19​

NPC Roster:
Aithanar Ivenheart, elven fighter 6​
Malrin Ivenheart, elf druid 14​
MARCI, humanoid construct​

Game Session Date: 28 March 2020

- - -

Gilbert Fung woke with a startled scream when the stone wall of his bedchamber on the second floor of the northwestern tower of Battershield Keep was smashed in. Chunks of stone crashed onto the floor, the front of which collapsed into the room beneath it - Binkadink's. The noise was loud enough to awaken all of the heroes asleep in the two northern towers.

But not everyone in Gilbert's room was asleep. Mudpie, Gilbert's earth elemental familiar, was currently the size of a small pebble and sat unmoving on the top of the desk by Gilbert's bed, watching over his master as he had slept. And standing in the corner, MARCI had been in the middle of an internal diagnostic check when the wall went crashing in. She sent her red beam scanning over the massive hand that reached into the room, grabbed up the Heward's handy haversack propped on the desk, and started to retreat back with its prize. "Non-human entity," the medical construct identified.

"You think?" replied Gilbert facetiously as he rolled off the side of the bed and onto the floor, shielding his head as best he could with his arm from the dislodged rubble falling from the ceiling.

In the room directly above him, Darrien leapt off his bed and grabbed for his bow and his tower shield. The latter, fortunately, had been enchanted with a dancing property so it leapt upright of its own accord once activated and followed the ranger's movements, leaving both of his hands free to slide an arrow into his Arachnibow. The bottom part of the half-elf's front wall was missing and from the moon's light he could see the enormous, armored torso of what must be a giant standing just outside the tower. The giant said something in his own guttural language - Darrien didn't speak Giant, so he had no idea what might have been said - and then the archer shot down through the gap into the giant's breast.

In the top room of the northeastern tower, Aithanar Ivenheart was jolted out of his nightly reverie at the sound of the wall collapsing one tower over. He dashed to his feet while across from him an owl looked up from her perch. This was no pet, however, but Aithanar's older sister Malrin, a druid who spent much of her time in owl form. Aithanar grabbed up his longsword and raced downstairs to see what was going on, Malrin flapping behind him. By the time they got to the bottom floor, Hagan had opened the door to the Battershield Keep courtyard. The massive, wooden drawbridge was still in its raised position and the portcullis was down, so nothing had made it inside the keep's interior - that was good. But stepping into the courtyard, Hagan looked up at the rooftop of his own tower and decided to get a better view. Casting the words to a teleport spell, he and Wezhley - his weasel familiar, alert and awake in his traditional spot on the half-orc's left shoulder - appeared on the tower and Hagan looked down to see not one, but two dark-skinned giants standing at the front of Battershield Keep. One had apparently just grabbed something from inside the northwestern tower and was showing it to his partner, who stood just before the raised drawbridge; both were on the inside of the keep's moat. But they looked to stand about 25 feet tall, easily large enough to cross the 10-foot span of the moat in a single step.

Binkadink dodged falling rocks from Gilbert's crumbling floor and activated his own dancing tower shield before grabbing up his trusty glaive. The top half of his front wall was missing and he could see a giant of some sort standing just outside. Clambering up the pile of broken stone to the hole in the front wall, he stabbed out with his glaive at the giant, the act setting his split blade reverberating and powering it up to overcome the potential resistances of whatever foe he might be facing.

In the courtyard, Obvious woke with a start at the sudden noise and, looking around and seeing no immediate danger, hippity-hopped up the stairs along the eastern wall of the keep to reach the battlements. Then he scampered up to the front, coming to a stop beside Hagan. "What's going on?" the jackalope asked the sorcerer, and Hagan had gotten accustomed enough to the antlered rabbit's power of speech that it no longer startled him. "We're under attack by a pair of some kind of giant," he explained. As to where these giants might have come from, that was patently obvious to the half-orc, whose darkvision allowed him to see with perfect clarity the mountain-top parked in front of the keep. That certainly hadn't been there yesterday, he realized, but he set aside potential explanations as to its sudden appearance to deal with the crisis at hand.

Gilbert had seen the giant's hand grab up his magical haversack and knew he had to get it back: his Omnibook was inside its extradimensional storage space, the tome that served not only as his personal spellbook but also his reference library and handy scroll storage area! But that in itself was a simple process; casting a limited wish, the Heward's handy haversack disappeared from the eldritch giant's hand and reappeared in Gilbert's. Shrugging it over his shoulder, Gilbert followed up with a quickened wall of force blocking his room off from the hole in the wall leading to the outside air. Of course, having smashed one hole in the wall to get to Gilbert's haversack, it would be simple enough for the giant to make another such hole, but Gilbert wasn't planning on hanging around long enough for that to be a concern for him. He snatched up Mudpie and dropped him into a pocket of his robe, then felt around to make sure he had his slingshot of rock shrinking at hand.

A snarl of rage indicated the giant outside Gilbert's tower had realized the haversack was gone; he tentatively reached into the room again and felt the smooth, solid surface of the wall of force blocking his way. That caused another growl of anger as he explained what had happened to his partner. The other giant reached up and tugged at the top of the keep's drawbridge, snapping the heavy steel chains holding it in place and pulling the whole thing down, then ripping the portcullis away and flinging it contemptuously on the ground behind him. The drawbridge lay in its lowered position across the moat, access to the keep's interior now as simple as stepping inside.

Finoula stepped out of the northeastern tower, her longsword Tahlmalaera in her right hand and her flaming burst whip of thorns in her left. Through the open entryway she could see the eldritch giant standing before the northwestern tower, a massive bastard sword in his hand, and she blinked in momentary confusion - what exactly was going on here? Why were they under attack?

At about this time, the confusion of the situation was compounded when all at once the opal frog, giant mantis, and ebony fly manifested inside Darrien's room, while on one floor lower Gilbert's twin foo lions similarly came to life. Each creature attacked its erstwhile master, although they were all severely hampered by the close quarters in which they found themselves - the bedrooms weren't big enough for this type of combat!

"Make sure Helga's okay!" Finoula called to Aithanar and the elven fighter ran to obey. Helga Battershield was all alone in the southeastern tower, he knew, her husband Aerik having decided to spend some time with the men at the garrison in which the mercenary "Slayer" - in truth Galrich, the former King of Kordovia - was stationed. Aerik had wanted to ensure the recent restoration of Galrich's mental faculties was taking permanent hold and the half-orc barbarian was having no undue side effects from the demon-granted wish spell that had recently wiped away the senility starting to take hold of his mind. Malrin flew to the top of the northeastern tower to see what was going on, landing upon the battlements beside Obvious. She couldn't speak while in owl form but she could see just fine the pair of giants standing outside the keep.

Darrien shot a web arrow at the floor of his room, encompassing his activated figurines of wondrous power in its sticky strands. Then he grabbed up his cloak of the white spider, pulled it on, and used the spider climb ability it granted its wearer to crawl out of the hole at the bottom of his front wall and clamber up to the rooftop, where he pulled himself up and over the battlements. Then, placing another arrow into his Arachnibow, he sent it flying down at the eldritch giant standing directly below him.

Over on the other front rooftop, Hagan sent a meteor swarm spell screaming down at the giant who had pulled down the drawbridge. The four meteors each struck the giant without fail, but the fiery blasts that exploded outward from the points of impact not only reached the other giant (which was good) but Binkadink as well (which was not as good - Hagan hadn't seen the gnome step out of the hole in his wall and thus hadn't activated the pair of rings they wore, which would have shielded the fighter from the effects of the sorcerer's spell). And Binkadink, having leaped into battle wearing only his sleeping garments, was not wearing the red dragonhide armor which would have likewise shielded him from most of the damage from the flames. As a result, the meteor swarm did significant damage to both giants, but quite a bit to the little gnome as well.

Undeterred, Binkadink swung his glaive at the giant before him, hoping to take advantage of the giant's distraction at having been singed so badly, but the attack seemed to do no damage; Binkadink himself had been badly singed by the spell and that might have been the cause of his uncharacteristically weakened strike.

Obvious saw his rider in dire straits down below and scampered at a full sprint back across the battlements to the rear of the keep, to the stone steps leading back down to the courtyard. He saw Gilbert Fung suddenly appear on the rooftop of the one-story building in the back of the keep, situated between the back towers; the wizard had just cast a dimension door spell to get him and Mudpie out of his sealed-off bedroom. He wasn't worried about MARCI; she could fend off the foo lions if they tried to attack her, which he doubted in any case - they had both immediately turned against him. Instead, he focused his attention on loading Mudpie into his magic slingshot and firing him at the ground below. Upon impact, Mudpie was restored to his 16-foot combat size and loomed before his master, ready to stop any giant who might try to approach. He didn't see either giant try to get inside the keep just yet - they were apparently being kept rather busy by the heroes at the front of the keep - but with his darkvision he saw the sudden sinking into the ground before him of a pair of large ovals, almost as if a great weight had suddenly been placed there. Mudpie realized the oval shapes were easily about the same size and shape as a pair of footprints made by either of the giants outside the keep...likely indicating the presence of a third such giant, this one invisible. He instantly relayed this information to his master over the empathic link they shared.

At the front of the keep, the two quite-visible eldritch giants roared in anger and pain and retaliated against their attackers. One sent his bastard sword swinging up at Darrien, catching him a quite damaging blow that sent him reeling, while the other took his vengeance on Hagan. But rather than use his sword, the giant merely reached up with a meaty fist, grabbed the half-orc sorcerer (causing Wezhley to leap off his master's shoulder in a panic), and threw him down onto the ground beside him with his full strength. Hagan felt the air explode out of his lungs upon impact and looked up at the massive giant towering above him, even now raising his booted foot to come crashing down on the half-orc - a move that would likely smash Hagan flat like a bug. But before the giant could do so, Hagan cast a polar ray spell up at him and then quickly rolled away, tipping over the edge of the moat and into the (hopefully) concealing waters. Wezhley, looking down in worry at his master, dropped down from the battlements and started running to the back of the keep, so he could make his way down the stairs to join back up with him.

Finoula couldn't see any of that from her perspective but she did have a good view of the other giant, so she used her lightning amulet so send herself blasting through him as a bolt of living electricity. When she reformed into her elven shape outside the keep, she saw the second eldritch giant for the first time and shook her head in disbelief - there were twice as many opponents as she had first thought! But as the giant staggered under Finoula's magical attack, Darrien was shooting arrows down at him as well. He was glad when he felt Malrin land upon his shoulder briefly in owl form and channel a healing spell through her talons during the brief contact; that was, in truth, well needed! And at the giant's feet, Binkadink attacked him with his glaive, his resolve restored (as well as his ability to deal massive damage with us weapon of choice).

Obvious scampered down the steps, nose twitching as he picked up an unfamiliar scent - he was smelling the presence of the invisible eldritch giant, Eldorath, standing before Mudpie after having cast a dimension door spell of his own to cross the distance in an instant. Gilbert, alerted to the unseen giant's presence by his faithful familiar, cast a quickened fly spell but before he could get into the air and behind the back wall of the keep Eldorath struck, his massive form coming into view as his bastard sword struck out and smashed into the wizard. But while the blow altered the wizard's aerial path somewhat, he did manage to fly over the back wall and then, out of range of sight of the giant, cast a rope trick spell in the air above him. Since it seemed these giants were after Gilbert's haversack - or, more likely, he realized, the Omnibook stored within - he'd see what they did if he went somewhere they couldn't follow! But immediately after having cast his spell, he ordered Mudpie to sink down into the earth below; he didn't want his familiar getting into a fight he likely couldn't win on his own. With a frown of disappointment, Mudpie did as his master had bid him.

Unable to see his target, Eldorath called forth a flame strike spell to come crashing down upon the human wizard - the eldritch giant cleric had seen the aerial path Gilbert had taken when flying over the back wall and had a good guess of his general whereabouts, so an area of effect spell was the way to go. Judging from Gilbert's cry of pain from behind the keep, he'd apparently guessed close enough.

At the front of the keep, both giants had decided to focus on Binkadink as he was right there on the ground with them. Finoula took the opportunity for another lightning amulet blast, this time pivoting into both of her targets and reappearing off to the front side of the keep. She didn't realize it, but she landed a mere yard or so beside another invisible creature, this one a hybrid creature from the Positive Energy Plane combining the traits of a ravid and a xeg-ya. It struck out at the surprised ranger with a pair of electrical rays coursing out from its incorporeal body; the rays crossed the planes to strike the ranger in the material world. Finoula spun to face this unseen attacker and was amazed as what she saw as it popped back into view, the invisibility spell wearing off at its attack. The creature had the appearance of a sinuous snake, its head draconic in form but more like the dragon they'd seen in Kozakura; it sported but a single, clawed hand and despite having no wings it hovered several feet off the ground. It hissed at her, the sound seeming almost like an electrical buzzing - but that might have been from the arcs of energy being generated from is serpentine back, even now forming back into whiplike rays like the ones that had just struck her.

Darrien shot another cluster of arrows down at the giant who had smashed through his tower wall; of the two, the ranger held the greatest dislike for that one, since it had smashed up part of his bedroom floor. Malrin took the opportunity to fly down and apply a quick healing spell onto Binkadink, who by this time was in bad shape, as hurt as the druid could ever recall having seen him. She opted to use her most powerful spell, a heal that sent positive energy coursing through the little gnome's compact body, regenerating burned flesh and knitting closed open cuts from the giants' swords. And then, no fool, she flew away and out of range of the giants' massive swords while Binkadink, with renewed vitality, sent his glaive stabbing into the giant directly before him.

Sputtering water from his lips, Hagan pulled himself up out of the moat and onto dry land, away from the keep. Then he targeted the giant who had threatened to stomp on him, blasting him with another polar ray spell. The giant was simultaneously under attack by Obvious, who brought his antlered head stabbing into the giant's legs as he turned to face his spellcasting attacker.

Gilbert, staggering from the flame strike spell, cast a shapechange spell on himself and flew off to the western side of the keep; it was a hefty human wizard who started the maneuver but a pit fiend who ended it. Eldorath cast another quickened dimension door and appeared in the spot Gilbert had just vacated, looked around for his foe, and spotted the pit fiend immediately. The giant had just tried taking out the rope trick spell with a dispel magic but had failed to overcome the wizard's spellcraft - apparently the owner of the coveted Omnibook was quite a powerful opponent indeed!

But by thus time, Eldorath's forces were themselves feeling much the worse for wear in this combat with these puny foes; who could have guessed they were so powerful themselves or equipped with so many magical weapons? The first giant activated a dimension door spell, opting to return to the mountain-top interior to heal up his wounds. If Eldorath wanted that damned book so bad he was welcome to fetch it himself - but it wasn't worth Arzulio's life!

The other eldritch giant, Immoloth, attacked Binkadink again with his sword. He was surprised at the little gnome's restored vigor; was that owl that flitted by him some sort of secret source of healing or something? That was hardly fair! Behind him, Finoula attacked the extraplanar ravid with her sword and whip, but was surprised to see her weapons pass through the floating serpent-dragon's body with seemingly no effect. With a sigh of frustration, she realized she was up against an incorporeal being. And yet the thing seemed to have no trouble striking corporeal creatures, at least when using its electrical tentacle-things, as evidenced by another pair of attacks on the ranger before the ravid-beast floated off in the direction of Eldorath, perhaps the result of a mental call.

Having lost his primary target, Darrien started peppering Immoloth with his arrows. Malrin, seeing none of the heroes was currently in dire need of her healing spells, decided to help the team in a more offensive capability and wildshaped out of owl form and into the form of a tyrannosaurus rex. She bit at the startled giant, who had certainly not expected this kind of attack when he'd agreed to help Eldorath get that magical book he was so on about! And then, running up between the dinosaur's broad legs was that damned gnome and his damned polearm, even as the jackalope tried chewing through the giant's armor with its incisors. It, at least, wasn't having much success, but that didn't matter all that much - the other attacks were taking their toll and Immoloth had had enough; he dimension doored his way back inside their mountain-top base, to heal himself back up before he even thought about further combat.

Hagan cast another polar ray spell, this time trying to take out the weird, draconic snake that was floating over towards the back of the keep. He was disappointed to see his spell pass harmlessly through the thing's body and started running after it. But Finoula wasn't giving up on her own attacks, even though she knew many of them would pass through the thing's body; she paced the incorporeal creature as it flew towards the back, stabbing it with Tahlmalaera and sending her whip flicking in to strike it. Fortunately for the elven ranger, enough of her attacks connected that the serpentine thing writhed in sudden agony and collapsed to the ground, dead.

Gilbert, in pit fiend form, flew straight up until he was out of reach of Eldorath's bastard sword, although he noticed the giant also carried some sort of staff. But, deciding to put an end to the giant's dimension door capabilities, Gilbert cast a dimensional anchor spell at him, a slight, greenish glow all around Eldorath indicating the spell's success. Snarling in fury, the eldritch giant cleric pointed at Gilbert with his staff and channeled a chain lightning spell up at him. Fortunately for Gilbert, one of the many advantages of the pit fiend form (besides looking mighty damned impressive, he thought) was an inherent resistance to spells and in this case the electrical spell hit Gilbert full-on and fizzled away into nothingness. Eldorath snarled in fury, even more so when he realized the haversack had melded into the fat wizard's form when he'd taken on the devil's shape; he'd have to slay the human spellcaster to get him to resume his normal form before he could claim the prize stored within the extradimensional space of the pack.

Darrien was now all out of visible opponents to shoot. But there was some sort of commotion coming from behind the keep, so he spun about and raced along the battlements to go see what was going on back there. Malrin had a similar thought, but she bent her reptilian head down and snapped Finoula up into her mouth - quite carefully - and ran at full saurian speed to the back of the keep, where another of these purple-skinned giants was trying in vain to get a chain lightning spell to affect the pit fiend flying above, which Malrin knew must be Gilbert in a fiendish form. Binkadink hopped onto Obvious's back and the jackalope loped back into the courtyard of Battershield Keep, taking the steps up to the battlements and then a right along the back until he was about halfway between the two southern towers. Hagan took a more direct path, teleporting to the top of the southeastern roof, where he met up with Wezhley, who was very happy to be reunited with his master again. Hagan bent down to allow his weasel familiar to scamper up his arm and onto his shoulder, then looked over the rooftops below to see what they were up against.

Gilbert flew down and cast a maximized vampiric touch spell on Eldorath, taking a sword hit as the price for doing so but coming out very much on the better side of that deal, for the spell not only drained the giant of some of his life force but added it to Gilbert's own. At his master's silent bidding, Mudpie popped back up out of the ground; Gilbert wasn't quite sure how he was going to deploy his familiar yet but he felt better about doing so now that there were a bunch more heroes surrounding the eldritch giant: Mudpie wouldn't be Eldorath's primary target. The giant gave a final try at a chain lightning spell but it burned itself out harmlessly striking the pit fiend's protected form.

But then Finoula dropped out of the tyrannosaur's mouth, raced up, and sent Tahlmalaera in a lateral strike against the giant's leg while Darrien sent a wave of arrows down onto his head and his broad back. Malrin snapped at him with a head filled with teeth the size of short swords. And then from above, Obvious leapt off the top of the keep's battlements, landing gracefully behind the giant while Binkadink brought his glaive crashing down upon the enormous cleric. Eldorath staggered from the multi-pronged assault, then swung his own gigantic bastard sword in a flurry of strikes against Malrin, the biggest target before him and the easiest to hit. Deep furrows scored across her reptilian hide and she roared in pain, taking an involuntary step back away from the enraged giant.

Two rays flashed out at the giant: a polar ray from Hagan and a ray of enfeeblement from Gilbert. Both struck true and Eldorath roared in pain from the frigid attack and fury at the weakening of his massive muscles. But the attacks continued unabated, arrows from Darrien from above and sword-strikes from below from Finoula, while Malrin cast a much-needed mass cure medium wounds spell over the assembled heroes. Binkadink continued with his glaive-strikes while Obvious hippity-hopped around the flustered giant, allowing his rider to strike from wildly different directions in rapid sequence.

Starting to panic at the overwhelming assault, Eldorath made an all-out attack on Malrin again, trying to cut her down to stop the continued healing and also to get her out of his way, for he was ready for a tactical retreat back to his flying mountain-top. Gilbert further weakened him with an additional ray of enfeeblement spell, as weapons struck the giant from all directions and Hagan sent another polar ray striking him in the head. Malrin ran off to the side to heal herself but the others carried on with the attack, until a final stab from Binkadink's extended glaive pierced Eldorath's body and brought him crashing to the ground, dead.

With their last available foe slain, Gilbert landed back on the ground beside Eldorath and picked up the giant's fallen staff. Feeling the power within it, Gilbert sensed it was a staff of evocation - quite powerful, and probably worth the spells it would take to reduce the magical implement to a more manageable size. But that was something to dwell on later, for as the heroes looked past the keep, they could see the small mountain that had until recently sat on the ground before Battershield Keep start to rise into the air. "It a spelljamming vessel!" Gilbert hazarded.

"Do we want to go after it?" Binkadink asked. "I can go grab my carpet of teleportation and we can chase it down in the dragonfly ship!"

"It'll be long gone by then," reasoned Finoula, "and we have no way of tracking it."

"We don't need to track it," called down Hagan from the battlements. "I can teleport us all directly onto its exterior - I got a good enough look at it I can drop us down on its surface no matter where it goes!"

"Yeah, let's do that," agreed Binkadink. "But if time's not of immediate importance, I want to get my armor on first."

"Same here," agreed Finoula - she'd been in the simple elven chain shirt she wore beneath her outer armor. They opted to get geared up for battle and meet in the courtyard. Aithanar and Obvious agreed to stay behind the help guard the keep, especially now that the chains holding the drawbridge were broken and the portcullis lay on the ground. The elven fighter opened the doors to the stables, letting out Taihar the dire fox and Grumps Junior the dire bear cub, to add to the impromptu reserve defense force. "You go on ahead," he told Finoula. "We'll keep everything safe back here."

Meeting back in the courtyard some minutes later, the spellcasters began their normal "prepping for battle" magical enhancements, something that had been denied them before this most recent fight. Gilbert linked everyone together mentally with a Rary's telepathic bond spell, then cast a stoneskin spell on himself and Mudpie. <That better!> he said over the link. The rangers each cast barkskin spells on themselves and Finoula added a longstrider spell and a protection from electricity spell, in case they met up with any more of those weird ravid things. Binkadink received a much-welcome fly spell and a freedom of movement spell; the others wanted to keep their smallest - but most physically powerful, when it came to hand-to-hand combat - member of the team in the fight for as long as possible. Then Hagan cast the teleport spell that put them all up onto the top of the flying mountain that had just fled from their home.

A pair of enormous iron doors stood before them, set into the side of the mountain, each door a good 30 feet tall and a third as wide. "Locked," Darrien announced as he tried prying them open. (There were no door handles; it looked like they moved sideways into slots directly into the stone of the mountain-top.)

"Try this," Finoula suggested, passing her chime of opening to her fellow ranger.

That did the trick. With a tap of the magical chime, the doors slid open and the group saw the guard beast that had been put into position to await their arrival. It looked like a floating ball of multicolored energy, with various arcs of electricity coursing along its spherical body in random directions, flashing in different colors as they spasmed about. One of these arcs zapped out at Darrien, flashing blue and imbuing the half-elf ranger body with a blast of frigid cold. Darrien raised his bow and shot at the prismatic golem but his arrow passed straight through it, striking another set of giant-sized metal doors in the wall directly behind. <Another incorporeal foe!> Darrien warned the others over the link.

Knowing there was a good chance most of his spells wouldn't affect the prismatic golem, Hagan opted to cast a spell at a target he knew he could affect: one of the metal doors behind the golem. His disintegrate spell dissolved the metal door to nothing, revealing a strange tableau just behind. Up a few giant-sized steps was a large, open room, in the front of which stood Immoloth, basking in the glow of a enormous ball of white energy infusing his whole body with healing energy. And behind him sat Arzulio in an enormous, stone throne carved from the very rock of the mountain's interior. Hagan deduced this throne wasn't just ornamental but likely the control chair from which the eldritch giant could pilot the entire mountain-top, in the same way Jinkadoodle piloted the dragonfly vessel from his own magical helm.

Binkadink wasted no time on the prismatic golem, flying past it and up the stairs to swing his glaive at a startled Immoloth. (He did take a blast from the golem as he flew past it, being slightly singed by a reddish arc of energy.) The gnome ended up back on his feet well within the globe of healing energy and could feel the burns he'd just incurred starting to heal up.

Gilbert, back in his human form, spun to Finoula and cast a magic missile spell at Tahlmalaera, infusing the variable energy longsword with the ghost touch property. He informed the ranger what he'd done as he stepped back and let Mudpie form a 16-foot-tall elemental barrier between the wizard and those who might cause him harm. Grinning, Finoula stepped up to attack the prismatic golem, but not before it lashed out at Darrien again with a pair of arcing energy-appendages, a blue one infusing him with more cold energy and a violet one trying - and failing - to affect his mind with a form of magically-induced insanity. But then Tahlmalaera came slicing into the construct, causing an arc of yellow energy to strike Finoula and be absorbed harmlessly into her protection from electricity spell.

Arzulio stood up from the throne, grabbing up his bastard sword and advancing upon Binkadink; there was a sudden shuddering as the mountain-top, now pilotless, went into its default hovering mode. Immoloth was already bringing his own bastard sword to bear against the little gnome, angered that his time in the permanent breach to the Positive Energy Plane was being interrupted before he had fully healed up all the damage he'd taken back on the ground.

Darrien stepped back, hopefully out of range of the golem's writhing arcs of multicolored energy, and sent a flurry of arrows racing into it, but as expected at least half of them passed harmlessly through its incorporeal body. Malrin - herself also back in her normal elven form, so as not to tax Hagan in his attempt to teleport everyone here in one go - cast a produce flame spell an sent the ball of fire that popped into existence in her hand hurling up the steps and into Immoloth's thigh. Hagan cast his last polar ray of the day at the eldritch giant as well, as Binkadink pressed on with his attacks, his reverberating glaive singing its battle rhythm as he did so.

Behind Mudpie, Gilbert cast a shield spell on the two of them. The others seemed to be handling themselves okay so far; he'd look after his own protection for now.

The prismatic golem sent two arcs out to strike at Finoula (singeing her with a blast of fire) and Darrien (who wasn't, it turned out, quite far enough out of its reach but who managed nonetheless to fend off another insanity attempt). But then, before anybody else could strike out at their enemies, a voice called out loud an clear, "Hey, hold off everyone!"

It was Arzulio who had spoken, speaking for the first time in the Common tongue. He'd seen the way the battle was going, here in their own aerial lair where you'd think they'd have the advantage, but no, these heroes were getting the best of them in the short time they'd been fighting here. "Let's stop fighting - our attack was all Eldorath's idea! And he's dead now - how about we all just agree to go our separate ways, with no hard feelings, okay?"

Binkadink, the one furthest into the giants' lair, pressed the first point that came to mind. "You demolished the front of our keep's tower, and yanked out our portcullis! That's going to take a lot of money and hard work to repair!" At the same time, he transmitted over the link, <Are we okay with letting these guys live?>

<Let's hear what they have to say,> suggested Finoula, stepping away from the prismatic golem - which, she noticed, was no longer attacking either her or Darrien; apparently it had received the cease-fire orders from the eldritch giant within.

"A valid point," agreed Arzulio, lowering his bastard sword to his side and holding up his other hand to show it held no weapon. "I'll tell you what: why don't we turn over the gems Eldorath has amassed as his personal fortune over the years? That should pay for any damages our unfortunate attack has caused to your building."

"How much we talking?" called Gilbert from outside. He was willing to give the giants a temporary truce but he wasn't willing to trust their cease-fire enough to walk past the prismatic golem capable of striking out with a bevy of possible attacks.

"Thirty-two thousand pieces of gold," called back Immoloth.

"Not enough!" called back Gilbert, although that much would certainly be enough to fix up Battershield Keep - several times over, in fact. But he smelled desperation coming from the suddenly-eager-to-negotiate giants and was reasonably sure a trio of eldritch giants likely had more treasure than the equivalent of 32,000 pieces of gold. "Make it sixty thousand, then we talk!"

"Sixty?" sputtered Immoloth. To pay off that much to these adventurers, they'd have to tap into his and Immoloth's combined treasure stores - deep into them!

But Arzulio was looking at the big picture and wasn't going to lose his life trying to protect treasure that could be replaced over time, if they were still alive to do so. "Okay," he said, "I think we can manage to scrape that much together."

"But--" sputtered Immoloth.

"And we very offended you attack us!" Gilbert called from outside. "You smash our home, you try to kill us! We use up valuable resources fighting off your attack!"

"Again, a good point," soothed Arzulio. "But we welcome you to come forward and be healed of all damage we, uh, unfortunately were forced to inflict upon you by the orders of our former leader. Come, Immoloth will get out of the way while you all gather up in the sphere of Positive Energy. You, gnome, I'm telling the truth, aren't I? It's healing up your wounds, isn't it?"

"It is," admitted Binkadink. "And it feels kind of...tingly."

"C'mon, out," said Arzulio to his partner. "Go gather up the chests of gems." Scowling fiercely, Immoloth did as he'd been told while Arzulio set down his bastard sword and resumed his seat upon the control throne. "I'll return you back to your home, all safe and sound," he promised the heroes.

"And you will no longer attack anyone from our kingdom," Finoula said, climbing up the steep steps past the prismatic golem, who let her pass unimpeded.

"Upon my honor," replied Arzulio. "We'll stay well clear of your lands, this I swear!"

By the time Arzulio had brought the flying mountain-top to a gentle landing in its previous position just outside Battershield Keep, Immoloth had returned with two large, metal chests - so large, in fact, that Mudpie had to bring them down off the mountain in two trips. But a quick peek inside told them the giants had been on the up-and-up; by a quick estimate, Gilbert agreed the contents would come to around 60,000 pieces of gold in value.

<You guys sure we not kill them anyway?> Gilbert asked them. <They fly around stealing stuff, they probably evil!>

<Gilbert!> chided Finoula. <We gave our word!>

<I don't think these guys will be giving us any further trouble,> Hagan assessed. <They look happy enough to slink away with their tails between their legs.>

And that turned out to be true enough: none of the heroes ever saw Arzulio, Immoloth, or the flying mountain again.

- - -

This adventure was a lot deadlier than some of the more recent ones had been: Binkadink, for example, the "meat shield" of the group with a whopping 261 hit points at full strength, was at one point brought down to a mere 53 hit points before being partially healed by Malrin. It was much more of a workout than they'd had lately and starting off the adventure out of the blue without the ability to cast their "combat prep" spells or even put on all of their armor (in some cases) put them at an initial disadvantage as well. But they seemed to enjoy it.

Of course, they further enjoyed the "preview" (plot hook) I gave them for their next adventure, especially when I assured Logan that Binkadink was finally going to get his prophecy revealed. But I'll save that for next time.

- - -

T-Shirt Worn: One of my three Pink Floyd "Dark Side of the Moon" T-shirts, as the colors from the prism on the album cover was a good stand-in for the prismatic golem.
 
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Richards

Legend
ADVENTURE 74: INTO THE UNKNOWN

PC Roster:
Binkadink Dundernoggin, gnome fighter 19​
Darrien, half-elf ranger 19​
Finoula Cloudshadow, elf ranger 19​
Gilbert Fung, human wizard 19​
Hagan, half-orc sorcerer 19​

NPC Roster:
Aithanar Ivenheart, elf fighter 7​
Genevar, humanoid mutant​
Malrin Ivenheart, elf druid 14​
MARCI, humanoid construct​

Game Session Date: 4 April 2020

- - -

"It was good to see he's doing okay," Finoula remarked. The group had been asked to visit the garrison fort where the former King Galrich was currently stationed as the sellsword "Slayer," content to let his adopted daughter rule the kingdom even after his mental faculties had been fully restored via a recent wish spell his Adventurers Guild members had gotten cast to his benefit. Now the adventurers, heading back to Battershield Keep in their Vistani wagon, saw two garrison mercenaries on the side of the road just ahead, one of them seemingly about to strike a young girl who looked to be no more than ten years old.

Finoula wasn't going to have any of that. Dashing forward on her pony Daisy, she called "Hold off!" in her no-nonsense voice. The soldier with raised fist looked, startled, at the approaching ranger and apparently recognized her; most of the kingdom was familiar with the Adventurers Guild members who had brought so much wealth and prestige to Kordovia over the years since their founding. He sullenly lowered his fist and the girl looked over to Finoula, eyes widening as if in recognition, although the ranger couldn't recall ever having met her before.

"What's going on here?" she demanded as she dismounted from Daisy. Binkadink arrived at her side, likewise dismounting from Obvious, his awakened jackalope mount. Behind them, Aithanar brought the wagon trundling up. "Why are you threatening this girl?"

"She--she's a witch!" the soldier sputtered.

"He's just afraid of me because I'm mute!" replied the girl. Finoula puzzled over that statement until she realized, with a start, she hadn't actually seen the girl's mouth move when she spoke - what she had assumed was speech was really, the more she thought about it, more like the communication the heroes often shared over a Rary's telepathic bond spell. Putting a comforting hand onto the little girl's shoulder, she faced her and asked, "What's your name, sweetie?"

<Genevar,> replied the little girl, and Finoula was right: she hadn't used her voice at all to respond. That, at least, explained her claims of being "mute."

"It ain't natural!" the garrison soldier complained. "She's some kind of monster, messin' about in our heads!"

<There's not much in yours to mess about with!> taunted Genevar. <Mostly just thoughts about your cousin, and I'll bet if she knew what you--> Finoula had to grab the man's fist in her hand as he took a swing at Genevar in mid-sentence. "Get out of here, both of you!" she snarled at the sellsword. "We'll take care of her!"

"She's a freakin' monster," grumbled the soldier, but now that the other heroes were stepping out of the back of the Vistani wagon and approaching they opted not to make any further scene - not with this many potential opponents.

"What going on here?" demanded Gilbert Fung as the two soldiers scuttled off, glaring back at them on occasion as they continued their patrol. Behind him, MARCI approached and, as was her habit, sent her red eye-beam cascading over the new acquaintance. Genevar stood patiently without any show of fear as the beam scanned down her body from head to toe.

"Non-human entity," MARCI announced.

<Yeah, I thought that was pretty much already known, MARCI,> Genevar spoke telepathically to the others. <I'm a mute - you know, a mutant.>

"Wait, you know MARCI?" asked Binkadink. The humanoid construct had not been able to tell them much of her past from before they'd rescued her from the house of Henrietta Higgenbotham, a shrieking hag who'd found MARCI wandering in the Vesve Forest and taken her back to her run-down cottage for further study. According to the mechanoid, she had experienced damage at some point and a portion of her memories had been irretrievably lost.

<Well, maybe not that particular one, but yeah, I know about MARCIs: 'Medical Android - Red Cross International.' We come from the same world.> At that, Gilbert spun to look at the construct that had more or less adopted him as her master. "You not from around here," he said. "I knew it! Spelljamming vessel bring you here!"

<What's spelljamming...> began Genevar, before apparently digging the answer out of Gilbert's thoughts. <Oh. No, not like that. We're from a different reality altogether. So is Obvious, for that matter.>

"Yep," agreed Obvious. Binkadink looked in amazement at his awakened jackalope - and suddenly, with a smile, he realized he'd finally realized what the prophecy he'd received back in the Purple Mage's manor had meant: "One you cherish will prove to be from much farther away than you might imagine."

"Then how you get here?" demanded Gilbert. Genevar explained there was a sort of gate constructed beside a cottage in the forest and that it opened for an hour or so, with at least a month between intervals. <But while it's opened, you can just walk right through from one world to the other. And it will be ready to open back up tonight, so we all need to be ready. You guys are coming with me back to my world.>

"We are?" asked Darrien, smiling. "Why?"

<Because that's what you do,> Genevar explained. <I've seen it. I get snatches of visions of the future - or at least the most probable future; it isn't always 100% accurate. But you guys come with me to my world and help revive the Eradicators.>

"Eradicators?" asked Hagan. "Who are they? They don't sound like anyone we'd want to revive."

<No, no, they're good - they're superheroes, like Iron Man, only real. They helped fight off the hybrids during the first days of the Shadow Times, keeping the humans safe as the DNA bombs created the unstables. And then they were never seen again, but legend says they'll return at the hour of greatest need - and I saw you all there with me, discovering their hidden flying base, right after you fight the apidox!>

"Wait, wait, wait!" grumbled Gilbert. "Slow down! One thing at a time. Who this Iron Man?"

Genevar sighed in frustration. <Let's try it this way,> she suggested, closing her eyes and spreading her arms out as if in benediction.

Immediately, a flood of sensations swam over the heroes' minds, as the little mutant implanted memories directly into their heads. Iron Man, it turned out, was just a fictional "superhero" - a human who wore a suit of powered armor to fight off equally fictional menaces - but the Eradicators had been real, from the beginning of the Shadow Years, before civilization had fallen. They were a group of six superheroes: Banshee, Goliath, Ogre, Spriggan, Titan, and Wraith. Each wore a suit of powered armor like this Iron Man fellow, only four of them were much larger than a human, with the "superhero" sitting inside and controlling the larger construct from within. When the bombs went off and groups of people and animals started mutating, transforming into hybrids of various different species, these Eradicators kept the normal populace safe from the emerging monstrosities. Of course, that had been hundreds of years ago, and in the meantime Gamma Terra had taken on a new shape, with the human civilization fallen and the ruins of their cities being plundered by the survivors: clusters of pure strain humans but also groups of mutated humans and a wide variety of animals who had mutated into new forms, many of them attaining humanlike levels of intelligence.

Gilbert shook his head at the sudden feeling of being overwhelmed by information. "Okay, got the background story," he said. "But explain about this gate - how that work?"

<There's a pair of small buildings on my world, with a set of columns in a courtyard between them. After about a month, the buildings have generated enough power to open a gateway between the two columns. That gateway leads to your world, this world, but only if your end of the gateway has been powered up, and here it requires a jolt of electricity, like from a lightning strike. Your gate has a lightning rod in place, so when lightning strikes it, if the generators at my end have built up enough power, the gateway opens and you can walk through from one world to the other. And then, after about an hour, the gate closes again - and stays closed until it builds up enough power in about a month. From that point, it just needs another bolt of lightning to hit your gate from your end and boom - gate's back open.>

"Sounds interesting," admitted Binkadink. He looked to the others. "You guys feel like checking it out?"

"It sounds like we'd be stuck there for at least a month," pointed out Finoula. "Unless we can awaken these Eradicators and get back within an hour, which I imagine isn't very likely. Can we afford to be gone that long?"

<Your littermates are all there on the other side,> Genevar pointed out to Obvious.

"Can we go?" pleaded the jackalope to his gnomish rider. "I want to bring them back here!"

"I'm in," declared the gnome, patting his riding mount - and best friend - on the neck. "We're both going."

The others all followed suit; it seemed like it would be an interesting experience and if Genevar had already "seen" them rescuing the Eradicators, who were they to try to defy Fate? They had some decisions to make, though, starting with who all would be going through the gate. Darrien and Finoula decided against bringing Grumps Junior, Wrath, and Daisy, as this Gamma Terra sounded like a pretty dangerous place. Malrin, too, would be staying behind, but not because of the danger; rather, they needed her to remain in place to activate the gate from this end with a call lightning spell in a month's time, to prevent them from being stuck in this other world. Aithanar, however, would be coming along; he was their animal groomer, after all, and Obvious had five littermates they'd hopefully be tracking down in the next month; they'd need tending to. (That was the argument he gave, in any case, although if he were being truthful he couldn't stand the thought of being separated from Finoula for a month or more.) And Binkadink instantly decided he'd have Malrin cast an awaken spell upon each of the jackalopes once they all made it back to Oerth - and maybe a bunch more, if they could find them, so Obvious could start a family here.

"But if Malrin stays behind, there go our source of healing!" argued Gilbert.

"We'll have MARCI," Binkadink pointed out.

"She all out of healing doses! And can't make more!"

"Not here," said Finoula. "But back in her own world, she can probably find whatever plants or herbs or whatever she needs to create her mixtures."

"We should probably see if we can grab a bunch of those too, so we can plant them over here," Binkadink suggested. There was no telling what all they'd find in this entirely new world that they might want to bring with them back home. But in the end, Malrin gave Darrien her staff of healing so he could use it as needed to heal any wounds they might sustain on Gamma Terra, and Binkadink recommended everyone stock up on healing potions beforehand. (They all hit his Uncle Winkidew's potion shop as a result, practically cleaning him out of his inventory.) Malrin also passed her brother the portable hole she normally carried for the group; it had come in handy on many an occasion.

And then, once all the preparations had been made, the heroes headed into the Vesve Forest, following a ten-year-old mutant girl from another world to the gateway that would take them off their own planet.

The Vesve Forest was a vast place, easily several times larger than the entire kingdom of Kordovia, but Genevar led them unerringly to where she wanted to bring them. <There it is,> she announced, indicating a bunch of trees than looked no different than the trees elsewhere all around them. "Where?" asked Binkadink from the saddle, but then Obvious stepped forward another step and a wooden structure came suddenly into view. The cottage looked old and weathered, like it hadn't been tended to for some time. There was a smaller structure jutting off to the east side of the building; judging by the barnlike double doors, a stable and storage for a wagon. But over on the western side stood the structure they'd apparently come here to see: a pair of stone columns capped by a curved plinth, with a tall, metal rod sticking up from the column closest to the cottage - apparently the "lightning rod" Genevar had spoken of. And that wasn't all that had changed in the moments between two steps, either: the trees all around the cottage had suddenly became bare and twisted.

"Hmmm," mused Gilbert Fung. "Hallucinatory terrain spell. Made permanent, look like." Just to test the theory, he backed away until the cottage and its immediate environs disappeared from view. Then, stepping forward, he pierced the illusion spell and saw the hidden cottage once again. "Whoever live here, want to keep hidden."

"It doesn't look like anybody lives here - or has, for a very long time," pointed out Darrien.

"Still, we be careful."

While Gilbert led a group of the other adventurers to check out the unopened gateway, Hagan decided to go check out the attached wing of the wooden cottage. The double doors opened easily, letting out a scent of decay: mildewing hay and the still-detectable odor of death and decay coming from the two skeletal horses, each lying in a pile of bones in a separate stall. As expected, there was a wagon off to the side, as well as a door leading into the cottage. Warily, Hagan approached it (while Wezhley, his weasel familiar, spun around on the half-orc's shoulder and kept a wary eye on the horse skeletons, half convinced they would rise up and attack). It was locked, and a closer examination led the sorcerer to believe it was magically locked - likely by an arcane lock spell.

Darrien came to the same conclusion when he tried opening the main entrance into the cottage and found it magically locked as well. Binkadink and Obvious came up behind him (the gnome fighter had no expertise in examining magical gates; he left that to the spellcasters), the little gnome dismounting once Obvious made it clear he'd stay outside if at all possible - the jackalope didn't fit easily inside dwellings built to a human scale.

Malrin and Gilbert examined the gate, with Mudpie and MARCI following in their master's wake, as usual; Genevar also opted to keep close to them. There were various runes etched along the columns and the crosspiece, which Gilbert identified as having conjuration and teleportation connotations. Genevar looked on in confusion while he gave a short lecture on their significance and didn't even bother peeking into his mind to get an explanation of what the heck he was talking about. It sounded all magicky to her, like the old legends of Merlin or Harry Potter.

Finoula and Aithanar explored the ground in the gateway's vicinity, the ranger's sharp senses having detected the glint of what looked like bone. Sure enough, it was a human skeleton, likely that of a woman due to its size and the decaying robe still clinging to its skeletal frame, half-buried in the dirt on the far side of the cottage. Finoula could see the robe, despite the weathering it had taken over however many years out here in the open, had several parallel rips along its side, possibly made by something with very large claws. It was complete supposition at this point, but Finoula got the sense this was likely the woman who had owned the now apparently abandoned cottage, and she guessed she had been a wizard, constructing this gateway in hidden seclusion behind her permanent hallucinatory terrain spell.

Darrien called over to Malrin to bring her chime of opening and Hagan left the dead horses to their stable, heading back out to the front as the druid used her magic chime to open the arcane locked front door. She then stepped inside, heading off to the left of the entry hall, where there was another door to the west. Darrien followed her into the building but headed straight ahead through an abandoned kitchen with cobwebs hanging in all corners and a stain on a counter apparently all that remained of some sort of vegetable matter long since rotted away. There was another small room at the end of a short hallway (with a door leading to the stables) which turned out to be a simple bathroom. Giving Obvious a pat on the neck, Binkadink grabbed up his reverberating glaive (because you never knew) and entered the building, heading over by Malrin. Hagan followed.

There was another door along the western side of the building and Finoula found it to be arcane locked as well. Fortunately, she had a chime of opening of her own and after grabbing it out of her pack she used a charge to unlock the door. As she did so, though, she thought she heard the sound of a door being yanked open from an inner room and wondered if the others had made it inside. Gilbert and the others followed her into an arcane lab of some type, with alchemical equipment arranged for potion creation and vials containing a half dozen or so finished products sitting labeled in a wooden tray.

While Darrien went further into the building, discovering a small bedroom past the kitchen, Malrin opened the door from the entry hall into a library. There was a single plush chair as the room's only furniture, but the walls were all covered with shelves of books and scrolls. However, that wasn't the only item of interest in the room: along the back, a door had just slammed open and in the doorway stood a glowing sword sheathed in flames. It hovered for only a moment before darting at the elven druid, slashing down at her. Malrin rolled with the hit but a deep cut ran across her left shoulder down to her breastbone. She backed off at once, stepping back outside to let the more experienced members of the group deal with this threat while she cast a healing spell on herself to close the wound across her upper chest.

Binkadink stepped forward into the open doorway to the library, hoping to contain the floating sword and prevent it from getting to anybody behind it. He slashed it with the blade of his own weapon, setting the glaive humming in power, but it was impossible to tell if his strike had caused any damage - probably not, he thought, as that blade looked an awful lot like the Mordenkainen's sword spell that both Gilbert and Hagan had each cast in the past - plus the added flames around the sword's blade, which probably just meant it was a spell variant. In any case, the gnome fighter wasn't sure how to go about "killing" a spell effect - although he was willing to give it a try.

Aithanar stepped through the open doorway from the laboratory to the library, thinking he'd heard the sounds of combat coming form that way. And sure enough he'd been right: there was Binkadink fighting a flaming sword hovering in place. But then another longsword materialized in the air, clashing its own blade of force against the one wreathed in flames. This new sword was a Mordenkainen's sword spell just cast by Hagan in an attempt to allow Binkadink to back off without taking any damage himself.

Darrien opened a door from the empty bedroom and found himself in the back of the arcane lab, just as the others were following in Aithanar's wake to see what was going on in the library. What was going on, at the moment, was the flaming sword whirling back the way it had come and stabbing down at Aithanar, who tried in vain to fend it off with his own unsheathed blade. A deep cut across his right bicep caused him to cry out in pain. At that, Binkadink rushed fully into the library, attacking the floating sword - some kind of magical defense spell, he reasoned, likely triggered when they forced their way into the house - not expecting to be able to destroy it but perhaps able to deflect its attention away from Aithanar and onto himself; despite their size difference, Binkadink knew he could last much longer against pretty much any opponent, compared to the nimble elf.

But then Gilbert stepped into the library doorway, took in the scene before him, and cast a disintegrate spell upon the floating sword. It winked out of existence at once. Then, after making sure everyone was okay, he rubbed his hands in glee at the sight of the library and opened up his Omnibook, ready to spend the next couple of hours transferring its contents into the infinite pages of the magical tome that served as his spellbook, research library, and spell scroll storage device all in one.

While he was doing that, Malrin healed up all those who needed healing and the others examined the lab equipment. Binkadink declared the potionmaking equipment was all in good repair and was certain his Uncle Winkidew and cousin Jinkadoodle could put it to good use, once properly cleaned up. Aithanar was designated the group's communal potion-holder, taking custody of the seven finished potions in the rack. But as the sun started sinking into the sky, the group decided everyone - even Obvious - should stay inside the cottage, where it was somewhat defensible if necessary. Genevar could tell, through her prophetic glimpses into the future, that the gate wouldn't be opened until it was full-on night, and that furthermore there was some kind of guardian who might make an appearance before then.

"What kind of guardian?" asked Hagan.

<I don't know,> admitted Genevar, shivering in fear. <Female. Deadly. With tight skin.>

"Sounds like undead," Gilbert observed, which was another word - and concept - with which Genevar wasn't familiar. Apparently on Gamma Terra the dead didn't come back to unholy life after their passing; that was one thing in its favor, at least.

It wasn't long afterwards that a horrible moaning erupted from outside the building. The group had all decided to huddle together in the arcane laboratory, it being the largest room inside the cottage. Finoula tilted her head in concentration, pinpointing the sound as coming from just outside in the general area where she had found the skeletal remains of what she imagined was the female wizard who had lived here before coming to a grisly end outside. Putting together what she knew about the various forms of undead and the legends she'd heard from her mother growing up, she hesitated a guess: "A banshee?"

That put certain thoughts directly into the forefront of Gilbert's mind, for he had an irrational hatred of all forms of undead. He also had a vast storehouse of information about the various types of undead, and he rapidly skimmed what he knew about banshees: they were troubled female spirits, angered at their deaths and filled with hatred for the living, capable of emitting cries capable of slaying all who heard them....

"Need to spread out!" warned Gilbert as the undead spirit of Selune Travers, the wizard who had built the well of many worlds outside only to be slain by a 9-foot-tall hyena-man who walked through the gate before she'd been able to experience for herself the results of the device she'd spent decades of her life building, glided through the wall and into the crowded lab. Of all of the group, only Hagan was close enough to a doorway to heed Gilbert's advice; he and Wezhley slipped into the library as the banshee appeared in the room behind him. Gilbert slapped his hands onto Mudpie's flank and Genevar's shoulder and cast a quickened dimension door on the three of them, sending them immediately outside the front door of Selune's cottage. But he'd gotten a glimpse of the banshee before he disappeared from the room and could feel the results of even the brief visual contact: he felt physically diminished in almost every way - weaker, slower, and physically drained of his vitality.

Most of the others in the room were feeling the same: Darrien, Finoula, Aithanar, Malrin, and Obvious also felt a physical draining sensation at the banshee's sudden appearance in the room with them; only Binkadink had been facing away from the undead apparition as she entered the room, and MARCI, while seeing the banshee just fine, had no adverse affects from the creature's horrific appearance.

And then, before any of them had a chance to react, Selune opened her undead mouth and howled a wail of torment. All but Binkadink and MARCI dropped to the floor, dead, like marionettes whose strings had been suddenly cut all at once.

From outside, Gilbert heard the scream but was well outside its area of effect; he silently congratulated himself on saving at least those who were within his immediate reach. He ran back into the house - he'd dispelled the arcane locks on the outer doors earlier - and entered the foyer, heading towards the library. The door was open (they'd left all the interior doors open so they could better hear anyone trying to approach), and he mentally ran through his spell selection to see if he had something available with which he could attack the banshee without having to be there in the room with her. Then, finding an optimal solution, he cast a Mordenkainen's sword spell of his own and sent it flashing through the library to attack the banshee in the lab after Gilbert focused on the undead creature's appearance and last known general location. The sword whizzed by Hagan and into the laboratory, where the blade of force cut into Selune's incorporeal form, causing her to hiss in pain.

Binkadink dropped his reverberating glaive, realizing two things at once: despite its magic, there was a good chance any strike he made with it would pass right through the banshee's incorporeal body; and Tahlmalaera, currently configured as a ghost touch weapon, was laying there in Finoula's open hand. He dove at Finoula's side, scooping up Tahlmalaera in a two-handed grip and bringing it slicing into the spirit-woman's side as he rose back up to his feet. But in finally facing the banshee, the gnome too felt the effects of her horrific appearance, as his sighting of her weakened him physically.

"Stay here," rumbled Mudpie to Genevar as he raced inside the cottage, following his master. Gilbert imbued his familiar with a magic circle against evil spell and sent him thundering through the kitchen and bedroom, showing up at the open door to the arcane laboratory. There, floating before him, was Selune, facing off against Binkadink wielding Finoula's magic longsword.

Hagan, realizing the advantages of Gilbert's strategy, cast another Mordenkainen's sword spell and sent his own force-blade into the other room to attack the banshee. She now faced three separate blades, one wielded by a gnome fighter on extended stilt-boots and the other two wielded from other rooms by spellcasters relying upon the power of their arcane mastery. Given the three opponents, Selune slashed her claws out at her only living foe, sending her incorporeal hand deep inside Binkadink's body and draining some internal makeup of his personality, using the stolen power to heal some of her immaterial wounds. But that didn't stop the little gnome from fighting on; he used Tahlmalaera to strike again and again into the banshee, cutting her down faster than she could heal herself up with power stolen from his own living body; at either side, the twin Mordenkainen's swords did their own part as well. And then Mudpie stepped up behind Selune; realizing his massive fists could easily pass right through her without effect, he instead used the magical battleaxe Gilbert had given him to carry when he was at his current, hulking size, the weapon much too big for anyone else to wield effectively. The weapon was unfamiliar to the familiar when he wasn't under the effects of one of Gilbert's castings of the Tenser's transformation spells but he brought it crashing down upon the banshee nonetheless. Selune seemed surprised at this attack from an unexpected direction, and that was all Binkadink needed to drop her for good. She dissipated into nothingness before she'd had an opportunity to bring her deadly howl back into play.

"Good job, everybody!" Gilbert said as he stepped into the room - only to find the remains of five of his slain friends.

"We can't go through the gate now," said Hagan, stepping into the lab behind the heavyset mage. Binkadink, his battle against the banshee won, had dropped his borrowed longsword and buried his face into the fur of his jackalope's neck, muffling the sobs that shook his body.

"No, it wait until tomorrow," Gilbert agreed. "Mudpie: go fetch Genevar, bring her in here!" As the elemental lumbered back through the cottage to do his master's bidding, Gilbert bent down over Aithanar's corpse and pulled out the portable hole he carried folded up in a belt pouch. "We put bodies in hole, get Moradin clerics to use true resurrection scrolls to bring them back to life tomorrow. Then we return here, open gate, go through."

That's exactly how it played out. The Head Cleric of the Temple of Moradin, Duerna Forgewife, opted to cast the true resurrection spells herself, and after the five slain heroes had been returned to life they gave themselves a couple of hours to get their minds clear of the stress of the situation before declaring themselves ready to press on. (Genevar was amazed at the entire process, not only that casting magical spells apparently worked here in this world but that the dead could actually be restored to life.) It was late afternoon when the group returned to the cottage of Selune Travers and prepared for their excursion into another world.

"I wish I was going with you," Malrin said wistfully. "Everybody stay safe."

"We'll miss you!" Finoula said, giving her fellow elf a farewell hug. "But we'll see you in a month!" Aithanar gave his older sister a goodbye hug as well; the others mostly made do with waves and farewell greetings. Then the druid cast a call lightning storm spell, directing a bolt of electricity to arc down out of the sky and strike the metal rod impaled into the top of the stone column supporting the gate between worlds. The energy did the trick: within an instant, the area between the columns had filled with a crackling screen of energy.

<It's open!> Genevar said. <Let's go!>

Those who were making the trip had lined up before the columns; as one, they stepped forward into another world. In one moment, they were standing in a forest area of twisted, barren trees and in the next they were in a clearing with a single-story building before them made of some glimmering metal - and with three hungry-looking spider-sharks directly before them.

Each of these mutant creatures was exactly what they sounded like: a shark's body, ranging from five to eight feet long, with eight hairy spider legs growing out of their sleek sides; their partial arachnid nature was also evident in the fact they each sported not the normal two but a full set of eight glossy black eyes. There were the normal gills along their flanks but the creatures were quite obviously breathing air just fine.

Before any of the heroes could overcome their shock at these odd, hybrid monsters the spider-sharks struck. Beams erupted from the eyes of each of the three monsters, targeting Obvious, Mudpie, and Darrien. Each set of eye-rays struck true and the targets each felt a tingling sensation like they were being shaken by rapid vibrations. None of the rays had the desired effect - stunning the spider-sharks' intended prey into unconsciousness - but it was only a matter of time; most prey could only take so many blasts from the stun rays before they fell to unconsciousness. In the meantime, the spider-sharks surged forward, crawling rapidly to those closest to them - in this case, Aithanar, Obvious, and Mudpie - and snapping at them with mouths full of sharp teeth. As the monsters got closer, the heroes could see each spider-shark had a set of arachnid pedipalps at the sides of their mouth to help draw in victims.

Hagan was the first of the heroes to react, aided in no doubt by a healthy dose of arachnophobia. His polar ray was probably a bit of overkill, as it froze the spider-shark it hit into a solid block of ice which then shattered under its own weight on the eight narrow spider-legs - but Hagan wasn't taking any chances the abomination might live to get even closer to the half-orc than it already had. He shivered uncontrollably at the very sight of these monstrosities.

Darrien had stepped into the gate with an arrow already set into his Arachnibow so he'd be ready for whatever they might encounter on Gamma Terra, and he not only raised it and fired it at the nearest spider-shark, he followed it up with a handful of others, one after another. That monster fell under the onslaught of arrows before it had gotten a taste of any of these strangers from another world.

Finoula killed the third one by transforming herself into a living bolt of lightning, courtesy of her magical amulet. She pivoted through the spider-shark's corpse and resumed her elven form against the front wall of the northernmost metal building. From this vantage point, she could see the gate extended between two metal pillars, each partially embedded into a section of building. The entire complex, she saw, was ringed by a series of standalone obelisks, rectangular in shape unlike the circular pillars flanking the gateway home. Finoula couldn't see through the gateway to her own world; the gate was a shimmering field of energy - and would remain in place for about an hour, if what Genevar had told them was accurate. Finoula's sharp hearing also picked up a low-level hum, but she assumed it was from the gate being generated before her.

Binkadink, astride Obvious, moved forward into the clearing, glaive ready to strike if any of these spider-sharks gave any indication of still being alive, but the twitching, spidery legs were just muscular reactions - death throes, it seemed. Gilbert, Mudpie, MARCI, Aithanar, and Genevar stepped forward as well.

"These monsters here when you come through to our world?" Gilbert asked their ten-year-old guide.

<No, the place was empty. Spider-sharks like to travel in packs, though - they probably just wandered in here.>

This particular spider-shark pack was a bit larger than the three the heroes had already killed, however - those three just happened to be on that side of the gate when it was activated. The other four in the pack, three of them horse-sized and the leader over twice that size, scrambled from the south over the buildings on either side of the gate and attacked. Two sets of stun rays shot out from two sets of eyes to strike Obvious, while two other spider-sharks each targeted Mudpie and Aithanar. (The earth elemental was completely immune to the stunning effects but the spider-sharks didn't know that; they just saw a large opponent who could quite possibly be delicious - a belief that would be immediately dispelled if any of them ever tried taking a bite out of Mudpie!) Once again, their attempts at biting their intended meals failed as the heroes quickly dodged out of the way.

Once again, Hagan's intense dislike for spiders and spider-related creatures caused him to bring one of his more powerful spells to bear, although the chain lightning spell killed outright the spider-shark leader, it only fried up one of the smaller creatures but failed to slay it. Binkadink finished that one off with his glaive, while Darrien took another down with his Arachnibow as Finoula advanced and used her flaming burst whip of thorns on the last one. A solid punch from Mudpie crushed the final spider-shark's skull in and it joined the rest of its pack in twitching death.

Everyone quickly checked around in all directions, waiting to see if there would be another wave of these creatures, but it seemed the spider-sharks had all been slain. Mudpie started dragging their bodies out of the way by stacking them up against the wall, the followed his master and a group of the others in examining what looked to be the main door to the northern building. There was a sign of some sort on the wall beside the door; examining the unfamiliar characters, Gilbert asked Genevar, "This some sort of writing? What it say?"

<'Transdimensional Conduit Generation Complex.'> Genevar translated. Gilbert just shrugged; the term meant nothing to him, but he assumed it was this world's version of the gate the banshee-woman had built when she was still alive. He tried the door but it was locked; rather than wait for one of the chimes of opening to be deployed, he ordered Mudpie to open the door. It resisted all of three punches from the elemental's solid stone fists before buckling open off its hinges.

Binkadink decided to check out the small building to the east, which jutted up against the eastern pillar generating the gate. That door was unlocked; opening it, his little gnomish heart soared at the elaborate machinery displayed within - none of it the least bit comprehensible to the fighter, but certainly appreciable as a very complex bit of technology. (His Uncle Winkidew would undoubtedly drool at the sight, he knew.) But there was nobody inside so the gnome closed the door, got back in the saddle, and turned to pass by the building and see what was over on the southern part of the complex when he heard the same low-level humming Finoula had detected earlier. However, he was much closer to the exterior columns than the ranger had been and Binkadink could tell the noise was coming from these rectangular obelisks.

In fact, he decided they bore more than a little resemblance to the sonic pillars that had protected the Titanslayer sword in the lower depths of Carceri. Testing a theory, Binkadink fished out a copper piece and, from the saddle, flipped it into the space between two outer columns. Sure enough, it hit an invisible wall of some type which sent a cascade of subsonics vibrating through the general area. It was some sort of sonic fence, the gnome decided.

Hagan, in the meantime, was not convinced there weren't any more of these spider-sharks about and decided to verify for himself the truth of the situation. Casting a fly spell, he rose some 60 feet straight up into the air, high enough that he could see over the gateway to Oerth and the long, low building at the rear of the complex - and sure enough, there were no more of those horrible mutants to be found. From his vantage point he could see rolling hills of grass in all directions; this small complex of one-story metal buildings had been built far from other habitations. He saw a road leading from the side of the complex off into the distance, but this road was built of no substance he'd ever seen before in his life. This truly was a strange world indeed!

Finoula and Darrien had moved past the small building with the machinery inside while Binkadink was checking it out and advanced to the long building to the south. There was a single door facing them and it was unlocked; Darrien entered cautiously. The large room before him looked to be some sort of lounge area, with tables and chairs and some strange-looking devices on several of the tables. There were two hallways, one at either end. Randomly taking a left and heading to the longer hallway to the east, the archer was surprised when what sounded like a klaxon went off - apparently he'd triggered some sort of alarm? But then he got an even bigger surprise when, darting out from the shadows behind one of the tables in the back - a rather strange table indeed, covered in green felt with a series of round, multicolored balls sitting on the surface between holes in the corners and the sides - came a massive dog wearing a leather saddle. Odder still, the dog seemed to be making the klaxon sounds, or at least did up until the point he tried clamping his teeth down upon Darrien's leg.

Finoula entered the room and saw the giant podog attacking her fellow ranger. She instinctively tried calming the creature, making soothing sounds while acknowledging her surprise that the beast looked rather like a larger version of the mastiffs she'd seen before on her own world. But the podog was not interested in being soothed, so Finoula forced the issue by casting a hold animal spell on it. That did the trick.

Back in the northern building, Gilbert and company found themselves in a reception area of some sort, with a pair of double doors directly across the room and a single door along the western wall, over by a desk. Gilbert deployed Mudpie as the door opener, having him smash through the double doors. "You wait here, we check it out," Gilbert said and MARCI stayed behind as ordered, while Aithanar held his longsword at the ready to protect Genevar, their guide in this strange place.

Gilbert and his familiar didn't get very far, though; they turned a corner to the left and advanced a mere handful of steps before triggering some sort of defense system which shot waves of subharmonics that had the heavyset mage collapsing on the floor. Mudpie dragged his master back to the reception room, where Genevar suggested there was probably some sort of badge required to get further into the building. Explaining to Aithanar what they were looking for, the elf found a set of security badges inside one of the drawers in the receptionist's desk. MARCI, meanwhile, scanned Gilbert's unconscious form and announced he should wake on his own in a minute or two. The group opted to stay where they were until he regained consciousness on his own.

Back in the southern building, though, there was a bit more excitement going on - for the podog's klaxon noise (a perfect rendition of an actual klaxon he'd heard earlier in life, administered via the mutant canine's sound impression ability) had alerted his master, Resnick of the intruders. Resnick, a mutant wanderer, grabbed up his Mark V blaster, stepped out of the bunkroom he'd been hiding in since the pack of spider-sharks had chased him and his loyal podog Grey into this complex the night before, and fired off five shots at the stranger standing before his unmoving riding mount. Three of the shots hit Darrien square on and he fell over, still feeling the effects of the spider-sharks' eye rays.

Hagan heard the shots fired and flew over to the southern building's door - he wasn't sure what had made those noises but he was willing to bet they weren't good. Binkadink and Obvious, already heading that way, hurried even faster to see what was going on.

Finoula, already on the scene, activated her lightning amulet and blasted through the gun-toting mutant, emerging in the hallway behind him. Resnick staggered under the attack but didn't suspect the silver-haired dame had actually become the bolt of lightning that struck him; in his experience, it was more likely she'd shot him with a blast of electricity and then used some mutant power to bend the light waves around her body, cloaking her in invisibility. But before he had a chance to try to detect her, another mutant ran into the room, this one half Resnick's height and wearing a ridiculous helmet with antlers on it - unless those were his own antlers, which wasn't outside the scope of possibility.

Resnick wasn't taking any chances; as he popped out the energy cell from his blaster and slapped in a replacement, he sent his inherent mind blast power in a beam of coherent energy from his forehead to the little antlered guy (his bladed weapon looked sufficiently dangerous) and Binkadink froze in place, unable to move or even to think.

Hagan stepped into the room and Resnick took the half-orc as another mutant. The sorcerer sent a polar ray Resnick's way, but the nimble mutant easily dodged it and Hagan snarled at the wasted spell. But then Finoula reactivated her amulet and blasted through Resnick a second time as a bolt of living lightning, angling her way out of his body so she easily avoided the three-and-a-half-foot-tall gnome, reforming into her elf body in midair and landing surefootedly just past him.

And then Obvious entered the room and the fray, biting and clawing at Resnick. This, at least, was a foe the mutant recognized: it was a hopper, although oddly enough this one's fur seemed to be staying the same color despite his surroundings. Resnick easily avoided the hopper's attacks - he was, Finoula noted, moving at a much quicker pace than anybody she'd ever seen except for those quicklings in the Land of Faerie and anybody under the effects of a haste spell. But, not liking the odds or the fact that his trusty steed looked to be just as stunned as the little antler-man, Resnick dashed over to Grey, put his hand upon his steed's back - and the two vanished. Now it was Hagan and Finoula's turn to wonder if they'd turned invisible or not, but the mutant had opened a portal between the spaces and dimension doored himself and his podog outside the complex; if these weird mutants had made it in here, he'd assume the spider-sharks were long gone by now.

Binkadink blinked himself back to sensibility, the mind blast having worn off, while Finoula bent over Darrien to see if he was okay. He was breathing, at least - that was a good sign. Binkadink, in the meantime, headed into the room the mutant human had exited from, seeing if he could learn anything about him. He'd left some interesting stuff behind: a steel canteen full of water, a cloth bag of marbles, something that looked like two spyglasses side by side (and which, when placed over the eyes, allowed the gnome to see for great distances; there was even a little knob between the two eyepieces that adjusted how close the image was within the lenses), and something that looked a bit like a sunrod but which Genevar later explained was a road flare.

When Gilbert finally awoke, the group gathered up together again and gave the northern building a quick exploration (once Genevar had affixed security badges to their armor and clothing), but there wasn't much else to see. Genevar cautioned them from touching anything in what she termed the "control room" as she feared changing the configuration on any of the equipment could cause the gate to sync up with somewhere other than Oerth the next time it was used, in a month. But by the time they had explored to their satisfaction that there was nobody there in the complex with them, the gate had shut down in the courtyard.

"That it - we here for the next month!" observed Gilbert Fung.

"How are we going to get out of this complex?" Binkadink asked, after explaining what he'd learned about the sonic fences.

"How did the spider-sharks get in?" asked Darrien. A quick walk around the complex gave them their answer: one of the 12 sonic pillars had, over the centuries since its construction, stopped working, and as a result there was a gap in the invisible fence that could be traversed without harm. Once it had been pointed out, both Genevar and Obvious recalled they had each wandered in through that section, neither realizing the potential danger of the rest of the fence - it had just looked like a bunch of metal obelisks ringing the complex.

"So now where do we go?" asked Hagan once they had exited the Transdimensional Conduit Generation Complex. "Where is this Eradicator Base located?"

<Nobody knows,> Genevar replied, causing a brief moment of panic when the heroes thought they'd been lured into a month-long wild goose chase. <But I saw it in a vision, floating in the sky, and we were all standing in a desert. There's only one desert I know of in the area, so we should head that way.>

"Which way that?" asked Gilbert. Genevar pointed and started walking. The others followed.

The group had only traveled for about half an hour, during which time Genevar explained in brief a quick history of her world, when they were suddenly enveloped in shadow, as if a dark cloud had suddenly occluded the sun - although the sky was as bright as it had been a moment ago. Binkadink looked down and saw they were all standing inside a circle of shadow, making him think immediately of a weak version of the darkness spell; Aithanar noted a series of "branches" sticking out of the shadow-circle all around them; Finoula shaded her eyes from the sun and looked up - and then cried out in alarm: "Spider!"

Sure enough, floating in the air above them, about 80 feet up, was an enormous spider with a bloated abdomen, one three or four times proportionally larger than any spider any of them had seen before. Hagan gave a cry of terror and reacted instinctively with his most powerful spell: meteor swarm. Four blazing projectiles went flashing up at the balloon spider as it lowered itself towards its prey, to explode upon impact. But though the spider had been obviously hurt in the explosion, it didn't look like it had been turned away from its goal.

Aithanar had no ranged weapons and thus stood protectively before Genevar, vowing to die before he let anything happen to their only guide. Darrien pointed his arrow-loaded Arachnibow at the incoming monster, smiling to himself at the appropriateness of his chosen weapon in this battle. He sent a wave of arrows up at the balloon spider, each one sticking into the thing's carapace but likewise not causing it to alter its trajectory in the least.

Judging the distance between them, Finoula activated her lightning bolt amulet for the fourth time that day, blasting up at the balloon spider, ricocheting off it, and resuming her elven form near where she had started. But the floating arachnid had by then chosen its meal; twisting its bloated abdomen behind it, it shot a thick strand down at the brown-furred hopper, the tip of the strand barbed like a harpoon. And despite its arachnid appearance, this was no line of webbing it had generated from its body but rather a tail-like extension of its abdomen it could shoot out and then retract back into its mostly-hollow back section. The harpoon struck Obvious in the upper right shoulder and penetrated completely through, the barbed tip sticking out of his right side. Obvious screamed in pain as the balloon spider retracted the strand, reeling up its prey so it could bite him to death and start sucking out his life-juices. Binkadink was still in the saddle as his riding mount and best friend was being raised up off the ground to his eventual doom.

The balloon spider was a large enough foe that Gilbert was confident he could target it with a maximized chain lightning spell without accidentally hitting either Binkadink or Obvious. Such was indeed the case, although once again the spider took the damage without seeming to flinch. Meanwhile Obvious, in terrible agony, tried extracting himself from the harpoon before the follow-on fall to the ground was likely to kill him, but he couldn't manage the feat - the harpoon was embedded in too deep. Binkadink decided his best bet was to climb up the strand and get to the spider before Obvious was brought within biting range; climbing up out of the saddle would also have the added benefit of removing the weight of the gnome and his armor from the jackalope, hopefully reducing the pain Obvious was taking from the jagged harpoon. Grabbing up his glaive, with which he hoped to slay the balloon spider, Binkadink noted the spider was now rising back into the air since he'd snagged himself a snack - and then the gnome slipped, his hand sliding off the strand while he tried climbing and holding his glaive in his off-hand. Binkadink plummeted back to the ground, landing with a whoof of expelled air as the world spun crazily about him.

Hagan cast another meteor swarm at the balloon spider, wanting to kill it before it flew out of range - he could always cast another fly spell upon himself to chase it down if it came to that, but he hoped they could slay it beforehand. The flaming meteors struck true once again and this time, if the half-orc wasn't mistaken, it looked like the spider was starting to feel some of the pain they'd been inflicting upon it.

Aithanar, seeing Genevar was in no danger, ran up to Binkadink and pulled out a potion of fly they'd just taken from Selune's lab the day before. The gnome gratefully drank it down, grabbed up his dropped glaive, and rose into the sky, off to rescue his jackalope, who was now only 50 feet away from the spider and some 30 feet above the surface of the ground.

Darrien continued pin-cushioning the spider with arrows while Finoula repeated her lightning bolt amulet maneuver for the fifth and final time that day. Gilbert followed suit with a lightning bolt spell of his own, glad to see they were steadily wearing down the arachnid beast. Hagan applied a third meteor swarm wondering if this dreaded thing was ever going to die.

But Gilbert was thinking ahead on how they were going to save Obvious if they did manage to kill the balloon spider. He cast a fly spell on himself and flew after Binkadink, calling out his plan. Binkadink flew up to his jackalope and swung his reverberating glaive for all he was worth against the strand, which seemed as strong as a steel cable - but he managed to sever it, and then Gilbert cast a quickened fly spell on the wounded jackalope, who wove a wobbling course back down to the ground, away from the predator out to make him a meal.

Darrien pumped another five arrows into the balloon spider before it drifted out of range, but it was Binkadink who managed to get in the killing blow: he flew up to the creature's head so he could stab his glaive into the thing's head, directly in the center of its ring of eyes. That was all it took; the eight legs went limp and the balloon spider floated away at the vagaries of the wind. Binkadink flew back to his wounded friend's side, to see that the others had managed to pull out the horrid harpoon and Darrien was already sealing off the wound with Malrin's staff of healing. "You okay, buddy?" Binkadink asked his jackalope.

"Been better," Obvious replied.

But once his wounds had been healed by magic, Obvious expressed a desire to resume their trek. He, after all, had not forgotten Genevar's promise that there was a good chance they'd meet up with his littermates. He fervently hoped she was right; he'd love to see his siblings again - and be able to lead them back with him to the better world he'd discovered.

- - -

And that was it for this adventure, the one where I finally got the PCs to Gamma World. I'd been planting seeds from the very beginning of this campaign, too: the "sonic yuan-ti" were Gamma World hissers; the "Yeenoghu" avatar was simply an ark (a nine-foot-tall humanoid dog-man); Burroc the thought master and his invisible blight (winged worm) are both from the Gamma World campaign, as is MARCI and Obvious. Each of them wandered through the well of many worlds, although this particular setup is really a "well between two particular worlds".

Hagan's sudden arachnophobia is a direct result of his player Harry's sudden arachnophobia; he absolutely did not like the spider-shark minis I'd created using plastic sharks with black pipe cleaners for spider legs. I'm not sure where that came from, although my oldest son Stuart also has a deep fear and loathing for spiders - it must (sporadically) run in the family.

Logan is absolutely thrilled because he believes the Eradicators the PCs are being sent to revive are likely long since dead and the PCs will be instead gaining their mech suits. All I can say is that he and I sometimes seem to share a brain - we often call out "Wavelength!" when we both are about to say the exact same thing (which happens quite frequently) and at the end of this campaign I'll have to share a particular story about how our "shared wavelength" sometimes interferes with our two separate campaigns. So while I won't admit to anything just yet, there's a very good possibility he's hit the nail on the head with his guess. (If nothing else, he has the history of having done exactly that time and time again on his side.)

I also alerted Dan that between this adventure and the next, "off camera" as it were, MARCI will have found the local plants she needs to synthesize the healing mixtures she administers to the PCs as needed (or used to, until she ran out), so she can "load up" on her doses and be fully restocked. She'll be back to being the primary source of healing during Malrin's absence for the next four adventures, while the PCs explore Gamma Terra.

- - -

T-Shirt Worn: One of my two TARDIS shirts from "Doctor Who," since the PCs traveled to an alternate reality this adventure and that's a trip the TARDIS has made on several different occasions.
 
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Richards

Legend
ADVENTURE 75: HOOPLA

PC Roster:
Binkadink Dundernoggin, gnome fighter 19​
Darrien, half-elf ranger 19​
Finoula Cloudshadow, elf ranger 19​
Gilbert Fung, human wizard 19​
Hagan, half-orc sorcerer 19​

NPC Roster:
Aithanar Ivenheart, elf fighter 7​
Genevar, humanoid mutant​
MARCI, humanoid construct​

Game Session Date: 18 April 2020

- - -

Gilbert stepped outside the stone tower, closed the thick, wooden door behind him, and said the command word that shrunk the entire building back into its pocket-sized form. Then he handed the Daern's instant fortress to Aithanar, who placed it inside the portable hole he carried. That taken care of, the elf folded the hole back up and put it one of his belt pouches for safe keeping.

<That is a remarkable piece of technology,> enthused Genevar. <I don't even think the Ancients had anything like that!>

"Pfah!" snorted Gilbert. "That not technology - that magic!"

<"Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic,"> quoted the mutant girl.

"Oh yeah? Who say that?"

<It's Clarke's Third Law. He was an Ancient scholar.>

"Never heard of him. Come on, we ready to keep heading for that desert of yours." Having spent the night in the Daern's instant fortress rather than risk sleeping out under the stars in a world with roving packs of spider-sharks, the group was rested up and ready to go. And having planned on an extended excursion into Gamma Terra, they'd taken the precautions of stocking the fortress up with sufficient provisions. Furthermore, before they made camp for the night the previous evening MARCI had found the plants she needed to synthesize the various medicinal compounds she created within her mechanical form and had announced this morning she was now fully stocked with what Gilbert referred to as "injectable potions." Finoula had made sure to dig up several of the plants to keep them on hand inside the fortress.

"How far away is this desert again?" asked Darrien.

<At least a week, maybe closer to two, depending on what we might encounter on the way.>

"Don't you know?" asked Binkadink from Obvious's saddle. "I thought you could see the future."

<I can. But I can't see everything about the future, just glimpses of it now and again.>

"But you're sure we'll make it to the Eradicator Base?" prompted the gnome. "We're going the right way?"

<I assume we're going the right way - that's the only desert I know of, and we were in the desert when I saw us find Eradicator Base. But it doesn't matter. I saw us discover the base so we're going the right way no matter which way we go. We'll get there in the end.>

"I wish I had your confidence," muttered the gnome under his breath, forgetting the mutant girl could hear his thoughts as well if not even better than she heard his words. Still, the group continued their trek from the previous day, heading west from the gateway between worlds that wouldn't open again for almost another whole month. They passed through fields of brownish grasses and forests of small, twisted trees before reaching a rocky area with clumps of ruined walls and the occasional partially-destroyed building, some of them covered in part by the ground itself; the centuries since the buildings had been constructed were taking their toll and the altered earth was reclaiming what mankind had built.

Suddenly Obvious stiffened and lowered his head to the ground. "What is it?" asked Binkadink, looking around in the saddle to try to spot whatever danger had alerted his mount.

"My siblings!" Obvious answered aloud. "I can smell traces of them - they passed this way within the past couple of weeks!"

"What, all of them?" asked Finoula. "Is that normal for jackalopes, to stick around with their siblings after attaining adulthood?"

"No, it isn't," Obvious replied. "And we didn't - we each went our separate ways. But this..." - he took a few sniffs of the ground to make certain - "...this isn't all of them, only four of the five. But come on! Let's go find them!" The eager jackalope was ready to pounce on ahead at full speed, but Binkadink held him back with pressure from his legs and a gentle tug on his reins.

"Let's not go bounding ahead of everybody else," he warned his mount. "We'll stick together - right?" He looked to the others for support.

"Sure," replied Hagan. "Genevar's already said we'll get to Eradicator Base no matter how long we take or which way we go, so I don't imagine making a side-trek to go find Obvious's brothers and sisters will make much of a difference to our schedule." Obvious led the way, keeping his nose to the ground, and now that the two rangers knew the other jackalopes had come this way they found the occasional bit of evidence: a paw-print here, a clump of fur stuck to the bark of a tree there. Eventually, the trail led them to a dilapidated, one-story building ahead in the distance, its roof intact but several chunks of walls missing here and there. To the north of the building stood a large pile of dirt; just before it was a ramped pit leading down toward the building. As one, the group stopped and lowered themselves to the ground, seeing what they could see of the operation going on, for they could hear the sounds of picks and shovels hitting earth and stone. Somebody was undergoing some sort of excavation project here, and it certainly wasn't the jackalopes doing the digging - they wouldn't need tools to do so.

As the group watched (Binkadink pulled out his twin spyglasses, which Genevar told him were called "binoculars"), a pair of green-skinned men dressed in rags walked up the ramp-pit with a wheelbarrow filled with dirt, one pushing the wheelbarrow to the dirt pile and the other helping dump it onto the mound with a shovel. Then another load of dirt and rocks were lugged out of the pit, this time by a jackalope pulling a wooden cart. Another pair of green men tossed the rocks from the cart onto the dirt pile.

"The jackalope's wearing manacles," Darrien whispered to the others. Sure enough, even without the binoculars the others could see how the antlered rabbit was hobbling; a short chain attached his right front leg to his right rear leg, ensuring he couldn't run - he could barely even walk. Obvious startled making a very unrabbitlike growling sound in the back of his throat.

"Those green guys the ones in charge?" Gilbert whispered.

"Nope," replied Binkadink, still looking through the binoculars. "There are giant rabbits on their hind legs, standing guard, hiding in the shadows of the building. Looks like they've got swords and longbows."

<Hoops,> interjected Genevar.

"Where?" whispered Binkadink. "I don't see any hoops. What are they for?"

<No, the humanoid rabbits - they're called "hoops." And the green men are "grens.">

Darrien asked for the binoculars and scrambled away from the others, belly-crawling to his left and giving the excavation site a good viewing through the magnified lenses. Then he returned to tell the others what he'd seen. "There's a couple of women on guard duty, too - they look pretty much human, but they've got - no kidding - bunny ears."

<Viera,> identified Genevar. <They often work with hoops.>

"Okay, let's back away slowly," suggested Gilbert. "We cast combat-prep spells, then we go forward, free Obvious's family." Once sufficiently back and out of sight, the heavyset mage cast a stoneskin spell upon himself and his earth elemental familiar from a scroll. Hagan cast the same spell upon himself and his own weasel familiar, while each of the rangers granted themselves the effects of barkskin and longstrider spells. Binkadink unstoppered a barkskin potion and drank down its contents, while Gilbert followed up with a fire shield spell cast upon himself and Mudpie and then a Rary's telepathic bond spell on everyone. <We ready?> Gilbert asked over the link, getting positive responses from the rest of the group.

<Okay, Aithanar: your job keep Genevar safe - she our only guide here. MARCI, you stick by Genevar, too.>

<Intruders!> came a sudden cry over the telepathic link - or at least that was what it sounded like, as the voice came directly into everyone's heads. They looked over at the building they'd been approaching and saw the three visible hoops on guard duty were all looking directly at them, fitting arrows to their longbows. A fourth stepped away from a partial wall and did the same, and then four arrows went flying towards the heroes. The two hoops at the east of the building had both targeted Hagan, while the two on the west side had chosen Finoula and Darrien as their targets. But the heroes had been prepared for battle and managed to avoid the incoming missiles - a good thing, too, for these hoops were almost nine feet tall and the arrows they shot were much larger than those a human-sized person would use.

Darrien whipped his own arrow into his Arachnibow and gave back as good as he got - better, in fact, as his feathered shaft ended up in the throat of his hoop target, followed seconds later by another small cluster in the upright bunny's chest. The hoop coughed blood and fell to the ground, dead. Hagan took out one of the hoops who had targeted him, slaying him with a well-placed meteor swarm spell that singed the fur from the hoop beside the one he slew.

One of the vieras stepped up to take the place of the hoop Darrien had slain and she had a longbow of her own. She also had an open-flapped pouch at her left hip and before firing her arrow she stabbed it down into the pouch, revealing some sort of fruit - it looked something like a cross between an apple and a plum - impaled on the tip of her arrowhead. She fired this weapon at Darrien, striking him but not with enough force for the arrowhead to pierce his armor - but the strange fruit exploded upon impact nonetheless, nearly knocking the half-elven archer off his feet. Unseen, another of these viera archers over by the excavation pit, telepathically warned by the hoops, held an arrow at the ready in her own longbow; she also had an open pouch of explosive fruit at her hip but had not "primed" her arrowhead with any of them, knowing once the fruit's skin was pierced she had only a matter of seconds before it exploded. Two more vieras by the pit readied their weapons for combat, but these two wielded longswords, not bows.

Finoula raised a hand to her magic amulet and said the command word that sent her flying across the distance to crash into the hoop as a bolt of living lightning, then pivot from his body and blast through the viera archer as well before resuming her elven form just beyond the bunny-woman's reach. Both foes seemed damaged by the surge of electricity coursing through them but neither had been killed by the attack.

Spurring Obvious forward - although in truth the jackalope needed no encouragement, given he was rescuing his siblings - Binkadink brought his reverberating glaive swinging into the just-electrified hoop, nearly slaying him outright. Gilbert took the time to fish his twin foo lion statues from his robes and drop them to the ground while speaking the command word that brought them to instant life. "You help Aithanar guard girl!" he commanded as he and Mudpie stepped forward. Hachi and Tsumezhao ("Tooth" and "Claw") growled their acknowledgement, taking position on either side of Genevar and Aithanar, the elf's sword out and ready to strike any enemy who might approach.

Suddenly, four more hoops exited the building and advanced upon these unknown enemies coming up on their excavation site from the south. One stood by the hoop Hagan's previous spell had singed badly, while the other three headed west, over by where Finoula, Binkadink, and Obvious were engaging the hoop and the viera archer. Hagan found another pair of overly-large arrows headed his way and one grazed his sleeve, drawing blood; Wezhley hissed in anger at the effrontery of these silly bunny-men attacking his master. The three hoops at the west all shot at Binkadink and the gnome felt a strange sensation right before they let fly with their arrows: it was if his red dragonhide armor, which normally provided him with ample protection in just about any combat situation, suddenly wasn't there! Looking down, he saw two of the arrows had found their mark and were sticking right through his armor, which the hoops had somehow made ethereal - or something very much like that - right as they attacked. He yanked the shafts back out of his shoulder and rib, ignoring the pain in the heat of the battle, and flung them aside.

Darrien activated his ebony fly and flew it over the three hoops and the viera squaring off against Finoula, Binkadink, and Obvious, landing over by the top of the ramping pit. From this vantage point, he could see almost a dozen of the grens, cringing along the sides of the pit in terror at the sounds of battle nearby. There was also a hulking brute of a man, about the same height as the hoops but sporting two heads - side by side like an ettin - and four arms, two on each side. This creature was swinging an enormous pick and had just broken through the rock at the deep edge of the pit wall, exposing an open chamber of some sort on the other side. But Darrien couldn't see inside the exposed chamber, for the two-headed mutant's body was in the way. He was also somewhat distracted by the arrow the viera archer guarding the pit shot at him, the shaft digging into the side of his bicep and coming out clean through the other side. Before he had time to react, she'd stabbed a fruit with another arrow and sent it flying at him, its explosion killing the ebony fly beneath him, forcing the figurine of wondrous power back to its statuette form. Just that quickly, Darrien was back to standing on the ground.

Hagan cast another meteor swarm, targeting the hoop reinforcement and taking him out as well as the one beside him, now the unlucky recipient of the fiery explosions of two adjacent meteor swarm spells. Another fiery explosion occurred at the same time over on the other side of the building, this one the result of a pair of arrows fired at Obvious with those explosive fruits embedded on the arrowheads. Fortunately for Binkadink, his red dragonhide armor absorbed most of the explosion but Obvious had no such protection. Finoula blasted through the hoop and viera archer again as a living lightning bolt, dropping the archer from the attack.

Over at the excavation site, one of the viera swordswomen scrambled down the side of the pit, stepping on a gren's shoulder to do so. Then she was right by the orlen slave, pushing past the monstrosity with her sword out and at the ready. She called for the orlen to follow her into the darkened cavern and he had no choice but to obey. The other viera charged Darrien, her longsword also being put to good use. But Darrien dodged her swing, backed up a step or two, and peppered her full of arrows. She fell to the ground and did not get back up.

"Let's move forward," suggested Aithanar, not wanting to bring Genevar into harm's way but not wanting to get separated too far from the others, either. Hachi and Tsumezhao kept apace, with MARCI following obediently behind. Before them, Gilbert and Mudpie were closing the gap towards the combatants, which had prompted the elf's actions.

Inside the lower level of the building - a level the hoops and vieras knew from blueprints they'd found above in the chamber of their god but hadn't been able to get to through the sealed door leading to the stairwell in the center of the larger circle of the structure - the viera swordswoman sent her blade stabbing through the throat of a badder dwelling in the chamber they'd just pierced into; the badders had a colony down here, it looked like; this was, by the looks of it, a birthing chamber. But the viera was more interested in the room just beyond, which was directly beneath the room of their god above: a cell recharging station! She grabbed an energy cell from a shelf, placed it into the red column of light beaming down from the ceiling, and watched as the power level indicator on the side of the cell increased dramatically. Then, grabbing up the heart of her god from the red beam, she waved the orlen over and they headed for the stairs: perhaps they'd be able to open the door to the upper level from this side.

Binkadink's glaive swung at the hoop before him and as the humanoid rabbit dodged away from the gnome's blade, Obvious caught him up in a toothsome grip, clamping down hard upon the hoop's right arm and holding the grip tight. The hoop frantically tried extricating himself from the jackalope's bite, with no luck. Two of the nearby hoops immediately targeted Obvious with their arrows, but even getting hit with a pair of javelin-sized arrows wouldn't get the jackalope to release his prey.

Recognizing their brother, a few of the other jackalopes hobbled slowly toward Obvious, the one in the lead looking like he wanted to take a bite out of the grappled hoop herself. Darrien had to look twice to make sure he saw what he thought he saw, for the jackalope's fur was changing color as she moved, blending in with her surroundings. He looked at the others and saw they were doing the same, perhaps even without conscious volition; this, at last, explained Obvious's name, for Binkadink's loyal steed's fur only changed color when the gnome cast a prestidigitation spell on him.

The hoops before him now slain, Hagan cast a fly spell upon himself and lifted himself into the sky and started heading directly over the building from which the hoops had emerged. The structure, he could see, had originally been two overlapping circles, looking somewhat like an "8" with the insides filled in. He flew on a bee-line course to the ramped pit, where Darrien had just slain one of those weird bunny women and was leaning over her corpse - the ranger saw a key worn on a chain around her neck and had figured there was a good chance this might be the key that opened the shackles hobbling the jackalopes.

Finoula killed a hoop with her longsword Tahlmalaera as the remaining viera archer shot Darrien with another of those explosive fruits embedded on the tips of her arrows. He retaliated in kind with his Arachnibow, slaying her instantly.

Downstairs, the viera and orlen saw another badder guarding the door to the stairs - and better yet, he had a passcard on a lanyard around his neck! While the viera cut him down with her sword - he'd been armed with a primitive morningstar but she'd gotten the drop on him before he had a chance to use his weapon - the orlen saw another pair of the humanoid badger-men approach. He fended off an attack by one of them, using his large pick as a sort of shield, while the other badder turned tail and fled through a back tunnel that looked like it had been dug by hand. Probably getting reinforcements, the orlen thought with one head while the other concentrated on keeping alive long enough for the viera to slay the badder with her sword. Then, once that had been accomplished, they raced up the stairs - the badder's passcard did indeed allow access through the door - and back to the upper level, where the viera eagerly anticipated bringing her god back to life.

While Obvious continued worrying his grappled hoop, swinging him around by his grip on the hoop's arm, Binkadink leaped from the saddle and ran forward, striking one of the hoops who'd been shooting at his mount with his arrows. A magic missile spell went whizzing over the gnome's antlered helmet to strike the hoop as well, courtesy of Gilbert Fung, slowly approaching from the rear of the building. Behind him, Aithanar led his charge over to the building, where he decided the safest place for Genevar was likely inside the structure; there were several gaps in the walls on this side by which they could enter. The hoop. however, was still in the fight and struck at Binkadink with his overly-large longsword.

With a great effort that left scraps of flesh and fur in Obvious's mouth, the hoop finally escaped from the grip of the jackalope's rodent teeth and fell back. Finoula ran forward to help, casting a protection from fire spell upon herself as she did so - she wasn't sure what those explosive apple-things were all about but didn't particularly want to be taken out of a fight by a piece of fruit!

Outside, as Aithanar sent Genevar inside a gap in the outer wall and the foo lions and MARCI followed, the elf's keen hearing picked up a strange sound among the sounds of battle: it sounded like a dull roar and the beating of drums. Stepping momentarily back outside and looking to the southwest, close to the way they'd come, he saw a cloud of dust approaching - and, causing the cloud of dust, an enormous elephant-beast of some type running alongside a great number of what looked to the elf like werebadgers. He quickly alerted the others to the incoming force over the telepathic link they shared courtesy of Gilbert's spell.

Binkadink slew the hoop he'd been fighting and then spun at the sensing of another form approaching him from behind, but it was just a hobbled jackalope. "Hold still - I free you," he said in the simple language of burrowing mammals, sure that the jackalope would be able to understand him - after all, Obvious had understood him just fine when they had first met. The jackalope did as instructed and Binkadink's reverberating glaive cut through the chain, allowing Clover full movement once again. Behind the gnome, Obvious slew the hoop he'd been fighting, goring him with his antlers and then leaping on top of him when he fell to the ground, crushing the beleaguered hoop's rib cage.

"Clover!" Obvious called to his sister, seeing Binkadink had freed her with his weapon.

"Obvious!" Clover called out in joy at seeing her older brother.

"Inside - safe inside!" Obvious called, ushering his little sister into the building with a nod of his antlered head. "People with me, friends!" he explained, using the burrowing mammal language; unlike him, his siblings had not been the recipients of an awaken spell and had no further speech abilities beyond their own simple language. Running past them, Gilbert Fung cast a spectral hand spell upon himself, not quite sure yet how he'd employ it but deciding now was as good a time as any to get it ready. Mudpie kept pace with his master.

Darrien used the key to unshackle another hopper, this one Quickpaws, the only male among the four the hoops had currently pressed into service, cutting him free from the leather cords connecting him to the wagon he'd been pulling. Then, unable to communicate with the great beast and not having anyone in his immediate vicinity to fight, he headed for the ramped pit, along the sides of which the grens still cowered. Darrien knew there was a bunny-woman loose in the lower level somewhere and he didn't know what all she might be doing in there: getting reinforcements, for all he knew. Hagan flew above the pit, ready to cast a meteor swarm down at the grens until he saw they were all just harmless slaves, armed only with shovels and wearing nothing but loincloths - these were no enemies! He called down to them to remain where they were, out of harm's way, until he realized they didn't understand a thing he was saying; he'd need Genevar to translate telepathically. But it didn't look like it mattered much at the moment, anyway - they were already hunkering down in place so they were about as safe as could be expected at the moment.

The viera had by this time made it back to the chamber of her god and installed the heart - an energy cell - into its chest cavity. This "god" was a humanoid robot, 25 feet tall - actually, even a bit taller than that, given the hoops had welded a pair of metal "bunny ears" to the back of its head to make it appear more in their own image. But the viera hit the switch on the wall that opened the roof and raised the circular platform upon which the Mecha-Hoop stood, the Ancient technology still working just fine after all these centuries. She grabbed up the handset that controlled the god, ordering it to attack anyone not meeting the description of a hoop, a viera, a gren, a hopper, or an orlen.

Finoula saw the badders and their armadillephant were getting much closer now, noticing one of those strange badger-men rode upon the top of the massive pachyderm's head. But then her attention was distracted by the rumbling noise from the building as the roof pulled back and the Mecha-Hoop was raised to the roof level. With a sudden blast of fire from its feet, the humanoid construct flew forward, landing with a reverberating thud on the ground before spinning about and facing the pit. Darrien, still at the top of the pit, saw the towering construct looming above him and leaped to the ground as the Mecha-Hoop pointed an arm his way. Some sort of weapon extended up out of his forearm and there were suddenly bits of metal being shot his way at velocities he wouldn't have believed were possible.

Hagan immediately cast a polar ray spell at the Mecha-Hoop but found with some surprise his spell didn't make it all the way to the metal man: there was some sort of wall of force or something blocking the way. The ray of cold hit this invisible field of force, briefly illuminating it as it struck.

Finoula had also seen this odd effect and used her lightning bolt amulet to blast at the Mecha-Hoop, further damaging the force field surrounding the construct to the point where it winked out. She ended up back in elven form off to the side of the pit-ramp.

The Mecha-Hoop swung both arms out wide, blasting both Hagan and Darrien with its twin chain guns. And just that fast, there was a sort of electric hum as the thing's force field snapped back in place, not yet back to full strength but getting stronger every second as it built back up in power.

Binkadink and Obvious were now inside the building, the gnome having had to call to the other jackalopes in their own language to get them inside where it was safer. He stashed them in a curving hallway while he headed to the north, from where the sounds of the roof opening up had come from. Opening a door, he saw a workroom of some type, with odd tools he'd never seen before - and, more importantly, the viera holding a small box in her hand and giving the robot instructions the gnome couldn't understand, while a two-headed mutant with four arms stood beside her.

<Genevar!> Binkadink called over the Rary's telepathic link. <Are you within range?>

<I'm here.>

<There's a bunny-woman in here with me, controlling the golem! Tell her to make it stand down, or I'll kill her!>

<I can't, not without seeing her! And I'm trying to contact the badders outside, to see why they're storming this way!> The mutant girl, with Aithanar as an armed escort, had stepped outside to get within visual range of the rampaging badders and their armadillephant. Unable to get a translator, Binkadink stepped forward and brought the flat of his blade crashing down upon the viera's head. She crumpled to the ground, unconscious. The gnome looked over to the orlen, and it immediately dropped its enormous pick and raised all four hands in a gesture denoting its complete harmlessness. Binkadink set his glaive down and started tying up the unconscious viera with some cords he found lying about.

Gilbert was now assisting in the fight against the Mecha-Hoop. <Need to take down shield around him, but it keep coming back up!> he called to others, taking the force field down with a disintegrate spell, while Darrien took the opportunity to scramble through the hole in the back wall of the pit-ramp, where the golem's metal projectile attacks couldn't follow. As he dashed inside the lower level - and saw the dead badder on the ground before him the viera had slain - he cast a cure serious wounds spell upon himself, sealing up the first bullet holes he'd ever received in his life as an adventurer.

About this time, Genevar's telepathy had pierced the red-hot anger of the badder army. <The badders had an encampment in the lower level of the building!> she reported to her new friends from Kordovia. <The viera massacred one of their pregnant females and slew another pair of guards - they're here to slay the hoop and the viera!>

<Tell them the hoops are all dead!> Binkadink returned over the mental link. <And there's just the one viera left, and I've got her subdued!>

There was a moment's pause before Genevar replied, <I can't get through! They're really mad -- too mad for communication!> With a snarl, Binkadink scooped the bound viera up onto his shoulder - he had to raise his gnomish stilt-boots to their full extent to carry her, as she was over twice his own normal height if you counted her bunny ears - and rushed back to one of the holes in the outer wall. By now, the armadillephant and the rushing badders were almost within touching distance; the gnome tossed her out onto the ground before them and several badders veered her way, crushing her bound body with their wicked-looking morningstars.

The spellcasters had been kept busy with the Mecha-Hoop in the meantime. Hagan had managed to get a polar ray to hit the robot itself while its force field was down, dealing it some damage but leading the half-orc sorcerer to believe it was at least partially shielded from cold energy. Finoula, fearing the robot's chain guns, had fled back inside the building, but fortunately for Gilbert, Mudpie, and Hagan, the Mecha-Hoop's internal logic circuits had apparently decided the advancing badder army posed a potentially greater threat to the hoops and vieras, for it trained its twin chain guns on them, spraying a hail of bullets their way.

<You know, maybe we let them fight it out!> suggested Gilbert, dodging back inside the building and commanding his earth elemental familiar to earth glide down into the ground, where it was safe. Mudpie wasted no time sinking below the surface of the earth.

<We should help the badders!> Finoula countered. <They're the injured party here!>

"Fine!" grumbled the heavyset mage to himself, not bothering to make his objections noted over the telepathic link. But he cast another disintegrate spell on the Mecha-Hoop's force field, bringing it - momentarily at least - down once again. This allowed Hagan to cast a chain lightning spell on the robot, which looked to do a bit more damage to the construct than the half-orc would have thought. <I think it's vulnerable to electricity!> he observed over the link.

<Good to know!> Finoula replied, using her lightning amulet to send her blasting back out of the building and into the robot's metal chest, through its internal systems, and back out behind it while its force field was still down. And then, that quickly, the shield was back up again.

By this time Darrien had made it through the lower level, up the stairs, and caught up with the orlen in the workshop. The four-armed creature pantomimed its friendliness and unwillingness to fight and the half-elf ranger gave it a quick thumbs up to indicate his understanding.

With a crash, the armadillephant's curving tusks went pounding into the Mecha-Hoop, bringing its still-regenerating force field back down and then sending the robot flying backwards with the force of his forward momentum. But the robot's chain guns fired again, slaying the badder perched on the armadillephant's head and sending blood and bits of bone flying from the pachyderm's armored head.

<I try something,> Gilbert said and invoked the words to a limited wish spell, hoping to turn the metal man to solid stone. But the spell had no effect, causing the mage to swear to himself - verbally only, as Genevar was only ten years old or so and he didn't want to have to explain what those words meant. (Again, he wasn't thinking about the fact Genevar could read minds - it was not something the heroes were finding easy to remember about the little girl.)

But now that they knew an electricity overload was its weakness, Hagan and Gilbert gave it a one-two spell-punch, the human wizard casting a scorching ray that took down the force field long enough for the half-orc sorcerer to cast another chain lightning spell at it. It fell backwards and was trampled to pieces by the rampaging armadillephant, the massive claws on its forefeet ripping off one of the welded-on bunny ears in the process.

After that, the badders calmed down, enough so that Genevar was able to open telepathic communication with them. They were invited into the building to see for themselves no hoops or vieras still survived and assured the Kordovians wanted no part of the building: it was the badders' to keep - and now they could live on the top floor as well as in the sublevel below, whose tunnel led to their larger burrow some ways away. Finoula passed over the passcard the viera had taken from the badder guard she'd slain downstairs. The badders allowed the hoppers, orlen, and grens to go free; the hoppers would all be coming with the Kordovian adventurers (and their brother, Obvious) while the others were free to go their own ways and make their own lives in Gamma Terra.

Obvious made the introductions (the jackalopes universally expressing delight at the adventurers' ridiculous names: "They didn't mean anything!"); besides Clover and Quickpaws, there were two more sisters: Droopy-Ear and Twitchy-Tail. "But where's Digger?" asked Obvious. "Wasn't he with you?"

"He was," Clover replied. "He escape. Two weeks ago. Find help. Never come back."

"We'll find him," Obvious promised and Binkadink patted his mount's furry neck, silently indicating he was there with him every step of the way.

- - -

So, as a result of this adventure, we now have four more jackalope riding mounts: Finoula chose Clover; Darrien now rides Droopy-Ear; Hagan picked Quickpaws; leaving Gilbert with Twitchy-Tail. We figure MARCI, being the heaviest, will ride behind Binkadink on Obvious (as the gnome is the smallest rider) and Genevar can ride with Hagan and Wezhley while Aithanar's more than happy to ride behind Finoula. Once we hunt down Digger (the goal of the next adventure, naturally), Aithanar can get a riding mount of his own - not that I imagine he's in any particular hurry.

I should mention the viera are not normally part of Gamma World; they're apparently from the "Final Fantasy" franchise, which my son Logan and nephew Harry are into big time. So when I saw an opportunity to add them in as allies to the hoops, I took it. And given my version of Gamma World is more "DNA virus bomb" themed than "radiation-caused mutations after a nuclear war" they seemed like a logical fit. That was the same reason I grafted an armadillephant into this adventure, despite it being originally designed for D&D: it fit thematically and gave the badder army a power boost they desperately needed.

Incidentally, I used Paizo's "Tech Dungeon" Flip-Mat for the two-level complex the hoops and viera were camped out in. It worked fine, up until the point Darrien and Finoula were on the lower level but I couldn't flip the map over because most of the action was still happening on the upper level. At least all they were doing down there was traveling and not fighting anybody.

Finally, for the Mecha-Hoop, I taped some cardboard bunny ears onto the back of a HALO armored toy Logan's had in his room for many years.

- - -

T-Shirt Worn: My "Iron Man" T-shirt, to represent the Mecha-Hoop the hoops and vieras were worshiping.
 
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Richards

Legend
ADVENTURE 76: THE LAWS OF ZONTOK

PC Roster:
Binkadink Dundernoggin, gnome fighter 19
Darrien, half-elf ranger 19
Finoula Cloudshadow, elf ranger 19
Gilbert Fung, human wizard 19
Hagan, half-orc sorcerer 19​

NPC Roster:
Aithanar Ivenheart, elf fighter 8
Genevar, humanoid mutant
Hans, Brotherhood of Zontok dwarven ranger 6
Klause, Brotherhood of Zontok dwarven ranger 6
Kristoff, Brotherhood of Zontok dwarven ranger 6
Leon, Brotherhood of Zontok dwarven ranger 6
MARCI, humanoid construct
Nikolai, Brotherhood of Zontok dwarven ranger 6
Odin, Brotherhood of Zontok dwarven ranger 6​

Game Session Date: 2 May 2020

- - -

The sound of buzzing flies alerted the travelers to the presence of the corpses ahead even before the smell kicked in. The Kordovians had been on the move for nearly two weeks now, searching for Digger, the last of Obvious's litter-mates. His other four siblings had become used to the life of a riding mount and seemed to enjoy it, or at least not be bothered by the extra weight - rather negligible, given their builds. And while the scent-trail of their missing brother was old, every once in a while they'd find a clump of fur stuck to a bramble or a jackalope paw-print in a patch of dried mud showing them they were still on the right path.

Ahead, though, was the decaying remains of a hyena-headed humanoid, its body sliced open in several places that told the more combat-oriented of the heroes the creature - an "ark," Genevar informed them - had likely been killed by a bladed weapon. Binkadink realized they'd seen a similar creature themselves on their own world, had fought and slain it, in fact - although at they time they had supposed it to be an avatar of Yeenoghu the gnoll demon-god.

Near the rotting ark were the bones of a much different creature, something along the lines of an elk or a moose, with a great, curving rack of antlers. Darrien clued in to the identifiable feature showing this was not a creature from their own world of Oerth: the skull had eye sockets for six eyes, three on each side of the head. Unlike the ark, whose carcass had been left to rot where it had fallen, the mutant elk looked to have been carefully stripped of meat and skin, perhaps by hunters.

"You think whoever did this still around?" asked Gilbert from atop his jackalope mount, Twitchy-Tail. Behind him sat Genevar, their local mutant guide; his earth elemental familiar Mudpie was currently the size of a small pebble and housed in a front pocket of his robes. MARCI, who usually stuck close to the only pure strain human in the party, was currently riding behind Binkadink on Obvious, the only jackalope of the five to have been awakened to full human intelligence.

"I doubt it," replied Finoula, who had dismounted Clover to check out the two bodies. "These have been here for a good couple of weeks at the least." Seeing nothing of value on the ark's corpse, she climbed back up onto her jackalope mount, Aithanar pulling her into place before him. The contented grin on the young elf fighter's face showed he for one certainly enjoyed the current riding assignments.

"Digger!" called Quickpaws in the shared language of burrowing mammals. Hagan, sitting upon the male hopper's back, had no idea what his mount had said until Binkadink translated. "He's picked up the scent," the gnome said. "Lead on, Quickpaws," he replied to Obvious's brother, and Hagan found himself the lead rider in the jackalope formation hippity-hopping through the grasslands.

Another dozen miles or so later the group saw tents up ahead in the distance and Gilbert called for them to halt. "Not sure what we might encounter up ahead," he warned the others. "Best we go in ready for combat." The rangers each reacted by casting barkskin spells upon themselves, while Hagan cast a stoneskin spell upon himself and his weasel familiar Wezhley, who sat perched on the half-orc sorcerer's shoulder, enjoying the view. Gilbert cast a Rary's telepathic bond spell on the group and a comprehend languages spell upon himself; they had been relying upon Genevar's telepathic powers to translate for them, for nobody in the strange world of Gamma Terra seemed to speak any languages familiar to the Kordovian heroes, but the heavyset mage deemed it important that at least one of them be able to understand what was being said if Genevar was somehow taken out.

<Okay, we ready?> Gilbert asked over the link. He got acknowledgements to the affirmative and Hagan spurred Quickpaws on, the others following in line.

The tents, they saw as they got closer, were six in number and arranged in a circle, with a campfire in the middle and a series of metal poles stuck into the ground in a large square just beyond. Inside the square were four large, antlered quadrupeds - living members of the same species whose bones they found by the slain ark, judging by the six eyes on each mutant elk. Adjacent to the impromptu corral was a large rectangle of some light-colored metal with a small railing on each side, its purpose unknown.

There was a movement by one of the tents, as the flaps opened and what looked to be a dwarf stepped out. This dwarf wore tanned leather hide armor and had the sides of his head shaved, leaving only a strip of hair along the top, the same color as his thick beard. He held a waraxe in one hand and reached inside his tent to grab a spear as the group approached.

Before anyone could say anything, Genevar spoke hurriedly to the group. <Obvious, whatever you do, don't say a word aloud in front of these men - they'll kill you if you do!> she warned.

The dwarf called out a few words in an unknown language and Genevar spoke to the group again. <I'm going to telepathically translate everything said between us,> she said. <I don't usually do so because it gives me a splitting headache, but it's really important that they think we can speak their language. Go ahead and talk to them like normal; they'll hear their own language being spoken.> In the meantime, three other dwarves had come out of their tents, armed with the same types of weapons. They weren't overtly hostile, but their bearing said they were willing to fight if necessary.

<I didn't know you had dwarves on your world,> said Aithanar.

<We don't. Or that's not what we call them. These are humans, only mutants, like me. They just all have the same mutations, making them shorter and thicker than normal, plus they can see fine in absolute darkness.>

<So...dwarves,> argued Aithanar.

"Greetings," said a red-haired dwarf, stepping forward to meet the group as they brought their jackalopes to a halt just outside their campground. "What brings--Servants!" This last was said with astonishment and awe, as the four dwarved each dropped to a knee and lowered their gazes to the ground before them. The heroes all dismounted from their jackalope steeds and looked back and forth among each other in confusion. MARCI took the opportunity to scan those kneeling before them. "Non-human entities," she reported back. To her programming, only pure strain humans - those without mutations - counted as "human" (although Gilbert had ordered her to confer "human" status to the other adventurers, a process that consisted of overwriting her files on the status of each hero).

"Um...please rise," Gilbert said hesitantly. He wasn't sure what was going on but at least these dwarves didn't look like they were about to attack them.

The four dwarves rose as bidden and looked in awe at the heroes. The Kordovians couldn't help but notice their gazes were reserved particularly for Aithanar, Darrien, and Finoula. "We are honored by your presence among us, great Servants," said the red-haired dwarf. "I am Nikolai. How may we help you? Are you here to judge us, to observe our devotion to the Laws of Zontok?"

Seeing that the question had been addressed to those among the heroes with elven blood, Finoula took it upon herself to answer. "We seek a jackalope, like the five we ride. It was separated from the group and we wish to return it to its family."

Nikolai seemed slightly puzzled by this odd quest, but far be it for him to question the words of a Servant, those working directly for Zontok Himself! "We captured a hopper a few weeks ago," he admitted. "Our leader, Kristoff, took it as his own riding mount after his herdbeast" - here he indicated the pen of four mutant elk behind him - had been slain in combat with an ark. Kristoff is off on a scouting party with one of our other men, but you are welcome to remain here as our honored guests until they return." He turned to one of the other dwarves. Hans - get the stew cooking!" Hans dashed off to the cook fire to comply, obviously wanting to make a good impression in the eyes of these Servants.

Nikolai led the group to the center of the camp, where he ushered them to sit around the fire. Hans had a stew-pot over the flames and the smell of cooking venison told of a good meal ahead. "If I may," hazarded Nikolai, "may I ask why Servants of Zontok travel in the company of mere men, and mutants like the stunted one?" This last comment, Binkadink realized, was directed at him - apparently these mutated human "dwarves" had never seen a gnome before and assumed he was just another form of mutated human.

"Why do you think it unusual?" Finoula countered. "Do Servants not travel with men, if the reason is sound?" She had absolutely no idea if this was a logical answer or not but it sounded like "Servants" were something along the lines of "Angels" and this Zontok was the dwarves' god. She found she didn't mind being mistaken for a celestial being and was willing to play the part if that was what it took to get their hands on Digger. And as obsequious as these dwarves were being, it didn't sound like asking for them to hand over Digger upon his return was going to be any problem at all.

"But of course, if Zontok wills it," replied Nikolai. He looked expectantly for Finoula to expand upon her answer but she didn't seem inclined to do so. He turned to Gilbert Fung. "Have you served the Servants long?" Gilbert just frowned, considering the best answer, prompting Nikolai to ask, "You do know the history of Zontok, don't you? You do know who you serve and the importance of our holy mission?"

Before Gilbert had a chance to get argumentative, Finoula stepped in. "This would be a good time for you to explain, for the benefit of those among us who are not true Servants," she said. "I would hear how well you have taken the history to heart." That, she reasoned, would put Nikolai on the defensive, thinking he was being tested by the Servants of Zontok and would veer him off the mental path of why these particular Servants were traveling with people who had no idea who this Zontok god was.

"Certainly," agreed Nikolai with a grin - if he thought he was being tested for his devotion he was certainly under the belief he was properly prepared. The other dwarves looked at him as he began his tale, occasionally darting glances at the elves and half-elf to see how well Nikolai's oratory was being received.

"In the beginning," intoned Nikolai, "there was darkness and void without form. And then Zontok said, 'Let there be light!' - and lo, there was light.

"And Zontok then created the heavens and the earth and the seas and all manner of animals to populate his world. And He created mankind in His own image and sent him out to populate the world. Zontok then went up to His castle at the top of the world and looked down upon the earth, to see what mankind would do with the gifts He had given them.

"For some time mankind flourished, spreading out among the world and living in harmony with nature. But then, mankind discovered warfare and broke into separate tribes to make war upon each other. Great was their cunning, creating more and more powerful weapons over the years to slay the other tribes, until they poisoned the air and the land and the seas with their warfare.

"Zontok looked down upon the poor earth and said, 'If mankind wishes to wage constant war, I will create new life to destroy mankind, that they may perish and be replaced with new masters of the earth.' And then did Zontok open the minds of the beasts, giving them great cunning and the ability to fashion their own weapons to eradicate mankind.

"And the Beasts Who Think Like Men did bring mankind to its knees, nearly wiping them off the face of the world. Only then did mankind recall the early days before warfare and how plentiful was the food and how pleasant the lands and the seas and the clean air. And mankind cried out to Zontok, begging forgiveness and asking to be restored as the masters of the earth.

"Zontok replied to His creations, 'This I will not do, for you have lost favor in My sight. But you may earn back My favor – and your right as rulers of the earth – by defeating the Beasts Who Think Like Men. Prove to Me your worthiness to once again inherit the world and all will be as it once was.'

"And that is our most holy edict: to seek out the Beasts Who Think Like Men and slay them. Only then will the world return to the paradise it once was."

Nikolai looked at Finoula expectantly. "Very well said," she praised him. "You have learned well."

"It was my adherence to the teachings of Zontok that led me to recognize you immediately," the red-haired dwarf replied. "For the Servants in Zontok's castle are said to be very much like men, but smooth of face with ears that come to points. And it is said Zontok occasionally sends His servants to wander the world to see how well mankind is faring in its task to slay the Beasts Who Think Like Men."

"We recently slew a band of hoops," ventured Binkadink, hoping to elevate his own reputation among the Brotherhood of Zontok from "stunted one" to "warrior capable of taking out the Beasts Who Think Like Men."

"Hoops!" spat Nikolai in disgust at the word. He was about to elaborate when there was a commotion from the other side of the camp: another dwarf came riding up on a herdbeast. "Nikolai!" he cried as he approached the camp. "Kristoff's been taken--we were ambushed by hissers!"

Hissers, Gilbert recalled, were what they had referred to as "sonic yuan-ti" when they met up with a trio of the snake-men in the Vesve Forest, another group of Gamma Terra emigrants who had crossed the dimensional boundaries into Oerth. But before he could explain this to the rest of the Kordovians over the Rary's telepathic bond Nikolai was upbraiding the newcomer for his actions.

"Be still!" Nikolai hissed. "Have you forgotten the Laws of Zontok?"

Odin, properly chastised, slipped from the back of his herdbeast and took a calming breath, his head held high. "Forgive me, Nikolai - I forgot my composure in the excitement."

"Forgiven," answered he red-haired dwarf. "Now report."

"Kristoff and I were ambushed by four hissers," Odin replied. "Nikolai's hopper was knocked out immediately, and in falling over it pinned him to the ground where he was helpless to use his weapons. He ordered me not to aid him, but to return here immediately to gather a rescue party."

"And do you see the wisdom in Kristoff's orders?" asked Nikolai.

"I do," Odin replied. "I could not have taken out four hissers by myself. To try to do so would result in my own capture and possible death."

"Quite right. Was Kristoff still alive when you left?"

"He was." The Brotherhood men knew hissers often captured their food for later consumption - there was a good chance Kristoff and the hopper would have been taken alive, since the snake-men ate infrequently.

"Come," said Kristoff, turning back to the fire. "We have guests." Odin nearly died in astonishment in seeing Servants sharing their fire. Nikolai addressed the group of visitors, looking at Finoula as he spoke; he'd apparently taken her as the chief of Zontok's Servants among the trio. "It would seem Zontok has provided an opportunity to observe us in action against the Beasts Who Think Like Men. You are welcome to accompany us and observe first-hand our zeal in following the Laws of Zontok."

"We will fight by your side," offered Binkadink.

"That will be most welcome," agreed Nikolai, thinking the Servants would not have brought along human and mutant allies if they weren't allowed to assist. He turned and led his band toward the corral as Odin remounted his herdbeast. The heroes all remounted their jackalopes and Binkadink filled Obvious in on what was going on. "We're going to take out the hissers who just captured Digger," he told his loyal steed. Obvious relayed the information to his siblings, using the burrowing mammal language that the Brotherhood would not even recognize as speech if they heard it.

Odin led the group to the point where he and Kristoff had been ambushed. The grasses had been crushed under the weight of the hissers' heavy bodies, indicating the way they had gone. Drag marks on the ground indicated Digger and Kristoff had been pulled behind, likely unconscious. The group pressed on, following the indicated path.

Eventually the trail led to a set of buildings out in the middle of the prairie, a metal-mesh fence surrounding them. There had apparently been a gate at the end of the gravel-strewn road leading up to the buildings, but it had been pulled away many decades ago and tossed aside.

"Before we go in, we have preparations to make," Finoula advised Nikolai. "Blessings of Zontok to bestow." That was perfectly acceptable for the dwarf, who halted his men with silent hand signals while the others cast their spells. Knowing these "sonic yuan-ti" were capable of sonic bursts of significant power, protection from energy and resist energy spells were applied liberally among the combatants and their riding mounts. Darrien considered the advantages of increasing the size of the jackalopes and herdbeasts but was ultimately talked out of it, given the prisoners were likely inside one of the two buildings and the riding mounts were already large enough that getting them through a door would be a tight squeeze. He did cast a bear's endurance spell on his own mount Droopy-Ear, to give her a bit more stamina for the battle ahead.

Then, seeing the other spellcasters had finished their own magical preparations, he dropped an arrow into his Arachnibow and looked around as Droopy-Ear inched forward, her bunny nose low to the ground as she followed Digger's scent. However, they only got several feet past the open gate and onto a strange, black stonelike substance Darrien had never seen before on his own world when there was a flash of light and he felt a burning sensation in his shoulder. Looking up, he saw a hisser perched on the roof of the larger of the two buildings, holding what looked like just the central portion of a crossbow. Another hisser rose up - it had been laying prone on the roof beside the other one - and shot at him with the not-quite-a-crossbow, which sent a beam of light like a focused scorching ray or something his way. He dodged this second beam and, hunched forward onto Droopy-Ear's back, coaxed her forward to the side of the larger building, where a set of closed double doors in a sort of alcove allowed for some respite from the rooftop snipers.

Hans followed quickly in Darrien's wake, wanting to stay close beside the Servant with the smaller ears. He threw his spear at one of the rooftop hissers as he did so but didn't see if he'd hit before he and his herdbeast were along the side of the building. Another of the Brotherhood, Klause, rode up beside him; the snipers couldn't get them all if they charged forth as one.

Hagan raised himself up onto Quickpaws' broad back and could see a third hisser at the back of the roof, bringing his own laser rifle to bear. Casting a sunbeam centered over the trio of hisser snipers, the half-orc was pleased to see at least one of them had been blinded by the searing light of his spell.

At her request, Aithanar steadied Finoula as she stood up onto Clover's back, then activated her lightning amulet. Just like that, her body transformed into a living lightning bolt that blasted into the body of the hisser who had shot Darrien and then changed course to blast through the one beside it, this one apparently now blind from Hagan's spell. She regained her elven form up on the edge of the building's roof. Aithanar, now the only one astride Clover, scooted forward and guided her into the open gateway, sending her to the left behind the smaller building and the fence, where they'd be out of view of the hisser snipers.

Nikolai and another Zontok dwarf, Leon, rode forward on their herdbeasts, tossing spears up at the two hissers at the front of the building's roof. The third hisser, however, brought his laser rifle to bear on Finoula, who saw a red dot floating on her armor before a beam of energy broached the gap between hisser and elf and sent a wave of fiery pain lancing into her torso. At the same time, the blinded hisser beside her, unable to see his target, sent a cone of sonic energy her way, thinking there'd be no way for her to dodge that. But she didn't even bother, the sonic waves being absorbed by her protection from energy spell.

The third hisser shot his rifle at Hans down below, scoring a hit and a cry of pain from the mounted dwarf.

Over behind the smaller building, a group of eight furry bodies crawled out of holes along the building's structure at ground level. Aithanar caught their movement from the corner of his eye and turned Clover to face them, his longsword in hand and ready to attack what looked to him to be nothing more unusual than dire rats. But this was not his home world and these were not dire rats; like most creatures on Gamma Terra they were mutants, these going by the colloquial term "squeakers." As one, they each focused their sonic attacks upon the elf and his jackalope mount, but like Finoula they had been protected against sonic attacks by spells cast before entry. Clover, however, winced under the combined attack; she'd only had a resist energy spell cast upon her and the concentrated amount of sonic waves from the eight squeakers overcame her protection. She staggered but did not fall.

Binkadink saw the main action was taking place on the rooftop and sent Obvious bounding forward, through the open gateway and then hurtling up onto the roof with a giant upwards leap. The gnome's reverberating glaive cut down the hisser sniper; on the gnome's orders, MARCI dropped down off of the saddle behind Binkadink and recovered the slain reptile's laser rifle. This she passed down to Darrien right before he climbed down from Droopy-Ear's back. Then, Arachnibow back in place on the ranger's back and this strange new weapon in hand, he stepped inside through the double doors.

Gilbert, astride Twitchy-Tail with Genevar behind him, cast a fireball spell at the squeakers. They squealed in pain, but while they were all singed and burned none of them had been slain. Seeing this, Hagan followed up with a chain lightning spell, resulting in eight dead bodies on the ground before Aithanar and Clover. The elf waved his gratitude to the arcane spellcasters.

Hans followed Darrien into the building. A blanket had been hung from the ceiling to prevent the light from the windows in the double doors from penetrating into the large, open area beyond, but there was enough to allow the half-elf to see there were piles of demolished furniture piled up against the back walls. Outside, Klause dismounted from his herdbeast and followed the others inside.

Up on the rooftop, Finoula activated her amulet once again and blasted through the two remaining hisser snipers, only one of whom could still see. She took another shot from the laser rifle of the hisser from the back for her actions, while the blind reptile tried biting the elf upon her return to physical form - but, unable to see her, missed by a long shot.

And then two more hissers arrived on the scene, each having been patrolling around the fenced areas going in different directions. They rounded opposite corners of the larger building, one of them facing the open gateway and the other seeing Gilbert and Genevar riding on Twitchy-Tail directly before him. This one sent his sonic blast forward, and while Gilbert and his jackalope mount were able to weather the damage Genevar, weakened by her continual attempts to keep open the telepathic translation effect allowing the Kordovians to communicate with the Brotherhood dwarves, slipped into unconsciousness. Gilbert had just enough time to grab her before she slipped over the side of the hopper's back.

But Binkadink and Obvious had spotted the patrolling hisser below him and the jackalope leaped down from the rooftop directly upon the startled snake-man. Binkadink's glaive came slicing into the reptile's skin, nearly slaying it outright. And they weren't the only ones dropping down from the rooftop, for over by the double doors MARCI hung by her metal fingers and dropped to the ground. As she landed, she saw the hisser approaching from the back of the building, and then Odin raced past her on his herdbeast, his waraxe out. The hisser sent a sonic blast out at the two as they approached but it didn't slow either of them down; Odin's blade cut through the thick, scaly hide of the hisser while his trained war-mount gored the reptile with its impressive rack of antlers. The hisser hissed in pain, spraying blood as it did so. Leon and his herdbeast came riding up behind Odin, bringing his own axe to bear. Over towards the front of the building, Gilbert had Twitchy-Tail back off away from the hisser currently fighting Binkadink and Obvious and cast a spectral hand spell. He wasn't quite sure yet what he was going to do with it but he'd at least decided these hissers were best fought at range.

Inside the larger building, Darrien opened a door and entered a smaller room. It contained a desk with a weird chair that had little wheels on the bottom of it and a bunch of odds pieces of metallic equipment of unknown purpose. Through a window on the east wall he could see Gilbert and an unconscious Genevar astride Twitchy-Tail. There was another closed door to the north; opening it, Darrien spotted a group of six dire rats; the squeakers blasted him with ineffectual sonic waves - all of which were absorbed by his resist energy spell - before he switched back to his Arachnibow and webbed the little buggers in place. Then he, Klause, and Hans cut them down at their leisure.

Hagan sent Quickpaws through the open gateway, killing off the patrol hisser facing Binkadink with a simple magic missile spell; it had looked to be on its last...well "legs" wasn't quite accurate for a creature with the lower body of a snake, but the concept still applied. Up on the rooftop, Finoula killed the two remaining snipers with a third use of her lightning amulet, slaying them both. She gathered up the laser rifles, certain they could be put to good use by the heroes.

Leon and Odin continued their attack on the hisser, joined now by Nikolai. The hisser managed to bite Odin and pull him from his herdbeast, coiling his serpentine body around the struggling dwarf. But then Gilbert's spectral hand came flying forward, touching the hisser and discharging a maximized vampiric touch spell through it. That weakened the snake-man to the point where a single chop from Nikolai's waraxe was all it took to cut the hisser down. Odin crawled gratefully from the creature's loosening coils.

Looking about, there seemed to be no further combatants in the immediate area. Regrouping, Finoula handed the rifles she'd taken from the slain snipers to Nikolai and Hans; they seemed familiar with the weapons. Darrien passed his on to Odin for the same reason, preferring the familiarity of his Arachnibow. Aithanar volunteered to stay outside with the jackalopes and herdbeasts while the others searched for the Brotherhood's captured leader and Obvious's brother, Digger. He peeked inside the smaller building, which housed a rusted, armored wagon of some sort with narrow windows along the front and sides; the wheels had odd projections along their outer surfaces. The squeakers they'd killed had apparently been nesting underneath the vehicle.

MARCI revived the unconscious Genevar; Gilbert had bestowed "honorary human" status to the little mutant girl to allow the medical construct to apply healing to a non-human entity. Hagan cast a more powerful spell on her to absorb sonic energy so she wouldn't be taken out again. And then Darrien led everyone through the upper level of the larger building, finding a kitchen area, bathroom facilities, and three separate bunkrooms but no kidnapped dwarves or jackalopes. "Got to be another level to this place," mused Gilbert.

"And I think I know where it is," replied Darrien, leading them to the room with the slain squeakers. There was a closet-sized area in the corner of the room with a set of metal doors set in its front face. While the half-elf started trying to pry the doors apart using his scimitar, Genevar walked up beside him and pushed a button on the side of the doors. Immediately, a groaning noise from below them indicated the imminent arrival of an elevator. "So much for any element of surprise," sighed Finoula.

The doors opened to an empty room, which Genevar said would take them down to a lower level. The problem was there wasn't a whole lot of room inside this elevator room and five dwarves, five Kordovian adventurers (as Aithanar was staying behind), a mutant girl, a human-sized medical construct, and two familiars all needed to get down to the lower level, preferably all at the same time.

"Teleport?" suggested Darrien to Hagan.

"Not without seeing where we'd be going," replied the half-orc. "Going in blind's likely to end up with us inside a solid wall."

"Crystal ball first, then?" Darrien persisted, looking at Gilbert. The mage shook his head. "We wasting time," he said, adding over the mental link, <...and best if we not show our magic to these Brotherhood dwarf guys. They probably want our magic stuff as much as we want their blazer rifles.>

<Laser rifles,> corrected Genevar.

<Whatever.> In the end, it was decided Binkadink and the five Zontok dwarves would ride the elevator down; Hagan and Gilbert would cast fly spell on themselves (the heavyset mage offered to carry Genevar) and hover above the elevator (Genevar showed them a hatch in the roof which allowed them to crawl up above the elevator room), while Darrien and Finoula would walk down the sides of the elevator shaft above the elevator car using their cloak of the white spider and boots of spider climbing, respectively. As for MARCI, she'd be safely inside the portable hole until needed; Wezhley'd be fine on Hagan's shoulder and Mudpie fit nicely inside Gilbert's pocket, still the size of a pebble.

Everyone took their places inside or above the elevator, then one of the dwarves pushed the "down" button Genevar had shown them. The doors closed and with a mechanical groan the room descended dozens if not scores of feet below the surface of the ground.

There were two hissers waiting at the bottom for them, these two armed not with laser rifles but scimitars and "whackers" (Genevar called them "golf clubs" but didn't bother explaining the term). But the dwarves had been ready for anything and as the doors opened and the two Beast Who Think Like Men were revealed directly ahead, Nikolai, Hans, and Odin opened fire with their laser rifles as the two hissers sent a pair of sonic blasts reverberating into the enclosed space of the elevator. They'd no doubt expected their prey to drop at once, Gamma Terra not knowing the ways of magic and the hissers thus unprepared for resist energy and protection from energy spells.

Klause and Leon surged forward, axes swinging. Binkadink did likewise, extending his reverberating glaive so he could strike from behind the dwarf directly ahead of him. The dwarven riflemen had concentrated fire on a single foe, the hisser to the left; Binkadink did likewise, hoping to take one of the two hissers out quickly. But these hissers were slightly bigger and definitely tougher than the ones they had fought upstairs; in a way that was actually comforting, as it might indicate the tougher fighters were reserved for guarding those things important to the hisser nest - like captured prisoners.

With the elevator partially emptied, Finoula was able to crawl through the hatch on the ceiling and drop down into the car itself; she brought her flaming burst whip of thorns to bear upon the hisser to the right. (It was getting crowded over there by the leftmost hisser!) Gilbert dropped through the hatch as well, casting a ray of enfeeblement at the leftmost hisser guard. Binkadink's blade slew the beast, bringing his glaive swinging over to the right to score a deep cut across the torso scales of the other one.

Darrien dropped into the elevator car and sent an arrow at the remaining hisser guard, who by this time had probably realized he was facing more than he could handle. To his credit, he didn't seem to even consider abandoning his post, even while being shot at by lasers. Instead, he struck forward with blinding speed and bit Leon, grabbing the startled dwarf up in his arms and crushing him with the coils of his serpentine body. But then Hagan dropped into the elevator and slew the hisser guard with a well-placed polar ray spell. The dwarves looked at their weird mutant allies with looks of surprise; they were wielding powers the Brotherhood had never seen before! No wonder they were allowed to travel with Servants!

Klause turned to the left and approached a wide, metal door with a round wheel that spun counterclockwise. He then tugged hard at the door, which opened slowly into the tunnel junction. Inside was a room across a moat of sorts, with a narrow walkway bridging the gap between tunnel and the room beyond - which, Finoula saw as she followed Klause into the strange room, was hanging from the ceiling by four large pillars in the corner. But there, laying bound in the middle of the hanging room, were the unmistakable forms of Digger and Kristoff, the movements of their chests giving silent indication both still breathed. Klause, Finoula, and Nikolai began frantically untying the bound captives.

"You stay up there, where safe," admonished Gilbert to Genevar, standing on the roof of the elevator car. "We check this place out." Seeing the captives were being untied and awakened, Gilbert crept down the corridor to the right, passing a pile of crates on four large, wooden pallets and bound in some transparent material. Darrien had paused to give the boxes a quick examination; Binkadink followed Gilbert down the corridor, Leon and Odin trailing in his wake, their weapons out and ready for further combat. Darrien, in the meantime, wondered what the symbols on the crates might mean; he recognized it as writing but didn't know the alphabet used on this strange world. And even if Genevar had been there to read the markings on the crate to him, he'd have no idea what "MREs" would mean. And he didn't dare ask any of the dwarves, as he was supposed to be one of these celestial "Servants" who worked directly for Zontok and knew everything already. Oh well - it probably wasn't important.

Hagan flew down the corridor, passing Gilbert and company and rounding the corner. While the area just outside the elevator had been illuminated by some everburning torches that didn't flicker, the corridor leading this way was shrouded in darkness. But the half-orc could see just fine in the dark, as could the mutant "dwarves" - and the sight Hagan saw when he turned the corner was a strange one indeed.

First of all, he discounted the three hissers standing protectively just ahead - he'd seen hissers before and these seemed not quite as big as the guards they'd just taken down; plus they were just armed with scimitars and those "whacker-sticks," not laser rifles. But behind them was an enormous, metal pillar, rising up past the top of the ceiling of the corridor; Hagan got the impression the ceiling of the room beyond was close in height to the surface of the ground outside - an easy 100 feet. The pillar was in the middle of a cylindrical room, with a stairwell of interspersed stairs and flat surfaces going all around the outer walls of the vertical shaft. The pillar itself must be massive, judging by the four buttresses at the bottom, likely giving it some sort of structural support. But of primary interest to the half-orc sorcerer was the creature whose lengthy body was wrapped around this massive column: it was a hisser, but one with a female shape and a cobralike hood around her head; this was likely a hisser queen and she was easily five time the size of the three normal-sized hissers below her.

Hagan had taken all of that in in a matter of a second or two, then ducked back around the corner and explained over the link to the other Kordovians what he'd seen. Finoula, Nikolai, Kristoff, and Klause stepped back out into the tunnel junction, followed by a wary - and nervous - Digger. Finoula passed on to the dwarves what Hagan had told her over the link.

Gilbert cast a haste spell on himself, Binkadink, Darrien, Finoula, Hans, Leon, and Odin - all those within range at the time of casting, since he realized he Brotherhood dwarves would not leave this place with Beasts Who Think Like Men still alive, even if their primary goal - rescuing Kristoff and Digger - had been accomplished. Better see what it took to see this thing through to the end, then!

Binkadink strode boldly around the corner; he had no darkvision but the everburning torches on the antlers of his helmet provided enough illumination for him to see the hissers straight ahead and make out the basic shape of the pillar Hagan had described. Odin followed, raising his laser rifle and shooting the center hisser. Then Darrien stepped around the corner, shooting a barrage of arrows at the same hisser; he'd learned the value of concentrated fire on a single foe. Hans then added his own rifle to the mix and the middle hisser died before it could even try to fight back.

Hagan stepped back around the corner and cast a chain lightning spell on the two remaining hissers, who stood side by side in front of the wide, white column behind them. Klause, spurred by the holy cause of Zontok, raced forward, waraxe in hand, but before he could reach the hissers the hisser queen spat at him, the venom striking the dwarf in the eyes and blinding him instantly. And then the hissers closed, sending waves of sonic energy before them - surprisingly, with no visible reaction from their intended prey.

Finoula raced up to one of the hissers, striking out at it with Tahlmalaera's flashing blade. Behind her, Kristoff ran up with Nikolai's borrowed waraxe. Nikolai had a bead on a hisser with the rifle and sent a laser beam burning into the side of the reptile's head. Gilbert cast a maximized chain lightning spell on the two hissers, causing them a massive amount of damage each but dropping neither. Leon charged one of the hissers, bringing his axe-blade slicing through reptilian scales. But it was once again Binkadink who scored the killing blows, bringing his glaive to slice deep into the neck of one hisser, nearly decapitating it, and then swinging it deep into the belly of the other, gutting it. Both fell before the gnome, neither one rising.

That left only the hisser queen herself. Odin approached and shot her from below; Darrien did likewise, albeit with arrows from his Arachnibow rather than with laser beams from a sniper rifle. Hagan cast a meteor swarm at the hisser queen, striking unerringly with each meteor and blissfully unaware of the dire consequences had even one of his conjured burning rocks hit the lower stages of the Olympian missile the hisser queen was wrapped around. While Klause, hands to his burning eyes, stumbled away, the hisser queen slithered down the body of the ICBM, sliding along one of its four stabilizer fins and sending out an even more powerful version of the sonic blast employed by all hissers. She hissed in obvious irritation when none of her foes dropped at her sonic barrage.

Finoula activated her lightning amulet again, blasting directly into the hisser queen and rebounding off close by where she had started. Nikolai, Hans, and Odin continued firing their rifles at the hisser queen and while it seemed like her thick scales offered some amount of protection they were clearly wearing her down. Kristoff and Binkadink approached from opposite sides and brought their blades to bear against the scaled monstrosity towering above them, while Gilbert cast a cone of cold spell up into her face, ensuring he wouldn't hit any of his allies in the process. Fittingly, it was one of the Brotherhood who brought the killing blow, his waraxe cutting deep into the hisser queen's snakelike body and causing her to drop to the ground, dead - it was all Kristoff and Leon could do to scramble out of the way before she fell directly on top of them.

"We did it!" exulted Kristoff.

"Zontok is well and truly pleased with your efforts," Finoula intoned, thinking it was something a Servant would say under these conditions.

Several hours later, back at the Brotherhood camp, the two groups prepared to go their separate ways. "It was an honor to serve alongside the Servants of Zontok," Kristoff said. "I thank you for my rescue, and in addition to the hopper, I gladly give you these." Three of the dwarves each passed forward their laser rifles to Aithanar, Darrien, and Finoula, who solemnly accepted them. (Darrien almost failed to keep up a solemn appearance as he'd secretly been hoping for a chance to get his hands on one of these laser rifles, to see if he could train himself in their use, and was overjoyed the opportunity had been literally handed to him.)

"Go forth, and continue to do the will of Zontok," Finoula replied; she was quite enjoying being the celestial representative of a god, even if she was fairly lacking in knowledge of the god's particular ethos. Then she mounted up on Clover, by herself this time; Aithanar was now riding Digger, with Genevar behind him. (She'd pointed out, to Gilbert's annoyance, there was "a lot more room" riding with the slim elf than the heavyset human.)

As the Kordovian band rode their six jackalopes off towards the desert where Genevar was convinced they'd find Eradicator Base and rescue the superheroes who would in turn help save the world of Gamma Terra and the Brotherhood dwarves packed up their camp, taking down their tents and the poles of the collapsible corral and storing them on the hoversled one of the herdbeasts would pull behind it as they sought out the next group of Beasts Who Think Like Men to kill, the little mutant gratefully dismantled the telepathic translation field she'd been concentrating on keeping up and running during their dealings with the Brotherhood of Zontok. But before she did so, they all heard the first verses to a holy song the Brotherhood dwarves sang heartily among themselves:

"Oh, you'd better not pout, you'd better not cry, you'd better not shout, I'm telling you why: the Zontok Laws are coming to town...."

- - -

This was an adventure I'd been long waiting to spring on the players. It had as its genesis a comic book I had written and drawn for my little brother; when I was in high school, my two younger brothers and my little sister and I played three RPGs: AD&D (1st edition), Gamma World, and Champions. When I went off to college, our campaigns pretty much came to a stop, so I thought it would be cool to make them each comic books of their respective PCs' exploits after the events of the three campaigns we'd been running. So for the first three Christmases after I started college, I did one comic for each sibling; a D&D comic for one, a Gamma World comic for another, and a Champions comic for the third. Then, in each of the next two years, I switched which games were assigned to each sibling, until they each had a comic for each of the three games at the end of the third year.

In any case, "The Laws of Zontok" was originally the comic I made for the youngest of my two little brothers, in which his PC met up with the Brotherhood of Zontok, a new "cryptic alliance" I'd designed for the Gamma Word game - basically, a group of people who mistakenly worshiped Santa Claus as a god. The basic plot was the same as the 3.5 D&D adventure I eventually wrote up for this campaign - the protagonists meet up with a group of Brotherhood raiders and help them take out a hisser nest, complete with an oversize hisser queen - but I added the whole "Servants" thing once I realized this time around I'd have D&D elves in the picture. But the trappings are all there, from Zontok's "castle at the top of the world" (the North Pole, naturally), to the edicts against shouting that got Odin in trouble when he reported Kristoff's capture, and the Brotherhood's penchant for riding "herdbeasts" (mutant reindeer) into battle. Even their names were clues, with Kristoff and Nikolai being stand-ins for "Kristopher (Kringle)" and "(Jolly Old Saint) Nicholas" and "Klause" being somewhat obvious in hindsight. Even "Leon" is "Noel" spelled backwards; Hans and Odin got added in without obvious Santa references because not everything should be a clue (although now that I think about it, Odin's a guy from the "north lands" with a white beard...).

I did up stats for the Zontok dwarves (I made them each a 6th-level ranger) and their herdbeasts and let each player run one of them as well as their PCs for the assault on the hisser nest. I had enough dwarf minis to go around, but the "herdbeast" minis ended up being one reindeer, a buffalo, and three goats.

In any case, I put the hisser nest in an Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) site for this version of the story because Dan and I both started our Air Force careers as missile launch officers at Minot Air Force Base, North Dakota a couple of decades ago and I thought he'd appreciate it. (Plus, how often do you get to use an ICBM site in a D&D adventure?) He pegged right away that the fenced area with two buildings had the same general structure as the Minuteman III alert facilities where we used to pull alert and was suitably amused. And while there wasn't a whole lot of treasure in this adventure, Joey at least is pretty happy with a laser rifle for his PC; the other two went to Binkadink and Finoula.

- - -

T-Shirt Worn: My "Happy Happy Happy" T-shirt featuring Phil Robertson from "Duck Dynasty," since as a long-bearded guy he was the closest thing I had as a stand-in for Zontok - or the mutant "dwarves" who worshiped him.
 

Richards

Legend
ADVENTURE 77: WASTING BRAINS

PC Roster:
Binkadink Dundernoggin, gnome fighter 20​
Darrien, half-elf ranger 20​
Finoula Cloudshadow, elf ranger 20​
Gilbert Fung, human wizard 20​
Hagan, half-orc sorcerer 20​

NPC Roster:
Aithanar Ivenheart, elf fighter 8​
Genevar, humanoid mutant​
MARCI, humanoid construct​

Game Session Date: 16 May 2020

- - -

Two days into the desert, the thrill and excitement of new experiences was starting to wear a little thin among the hoppers. They'd become perfectly content with having the Kordovians ride on their backs; the weight was negligible and in return they were fed on a regular schedule and got to continue to hang out with their litter-mates, which was nice. And when they had first encountered the desert, when the rolling plains had given way to the sands of the vast desert Genevar explained covered a good chunk of the center part of the continent, the hoppers were excited to see a completely new environment. But after two days of hopping through the burning sands, even with frequent breaks - Finoula's decanter of endless water was put to quite frequent use - it was starting to get a little old.

"How much longer do you think it's going to be until we find Eradicator Base?" asked Binkadink from the saddle of his jackalope Obvious. He took the opportunity to wipe the sweat from the back of his neck with a handkerchief, already soiled from frequent use.

<I have no idea,> admitted the mutant girl from her seat behind Aithanar on the hopper Digger. <All I know is we find Eradicator Base shortly after you guys fight the apidox.>

"And this apidox a giant bee?" asked Gilbert from his perch on Twitchy-Tail. He was alone on the jackalope's back; being the largest of the heroes, it made more sense for little Genevar to ride behind the much-thinner elf Aithanar than be cramped behind the portly mage. Even MARCI had been reallocated to sharing Binkadink's saddle on Obvious, there being much more room sitting behind a three-foot-tall gnome than a human wizard twice Binkadink's size. And Gilbert's earth elemental familiar Mudpie was currently the size of a pebble, sitting at the bottom of one of the pockets in the wizard's robes. It was much easier on Twitchy-Tail than lugging around a 16-foot-tall creature who easily outweighed her.

<Yeah - about the size of that balloon spider you fought.>

"Keep an eye out," suggested Finoula, bringing her hopper Clover moving forward. "The sooner we find this apidox, the sooner we can get out of this desert heat.> She was glad they at least got to spend the evenings inside their Daern's instant fortress. And they felt secure enough inside their magical dwelling they didn't even bother setting out a watch other than MARCI and Mudpie, neither of whom needed any sleep.

The hoppers fell back into the single file they'd settled into while traveling through the dunes, with Obvious taking the lead. Chatter decreased once again, as talking generally caused thirst. Only Genevar continued prattling on, giving the rest of the heroes a mental rundown of whatever subject came to mind with the easily-diverted attention of a ten-year-old girl.

Genevar had been explaining about some of the cryptic alliances to be found on Gamma Terra - the Knights of Genetic Purity, who slew mutants on sight; the Radioactivists, who worshiped the Radiant Divine Glory of the Atom; the Zoopremacists, intelligent mutant animals who believe the Time of Man is long gone and it's now time for them to rule - when there was an explosion of sand immediately before Obvious. The jackalope reared, startled; Binkadink only managed to stay in the saddle by hanging onto the reins and MARCI only did likewise by gripping the gnome by the shoulders. Behind Obvious, the other jackalopes came to a halt, wondering what was going on.

Crawling up out of the desert sands was an enormous scorpion; if it had any mutations other than its enormous size they weren't immediately apparent by any visual cues. Darrien urged his hopper mount Droopy-Ear off to the left side of the formation as he pulled the laser sniper rifle from his back and took aim. He pulled the trigger, half expecting the beam of fiery energy to somehow be deflected from the creature's armored carapace. But the beam of focused energy hit true, carving a notch into the giant mutant scorpion's side, near its right front leg.

Hagan brought his own jackalope mount Quickpaws to the right and mirrored the ranger's actions, although he cast a meteor swarm spell instead. Four flaming rocks appeared at high velocity and slammed into the arachnid's body, each one exploding into flames as it hit.

The scorpion retaliated at once with its primary offensive power: a pulse of EMP energy that cascaded over the entire formation of hoppers and their riders. Everyone's bodies crackled with sudden electricity, stunning four of the hoppers into immediate unconsciousness - only Obvious and Digger were spared, and they had both been severely burned by the lightning coursing through their bodies. MARCI's artificially-constructed body shut down; she slid, frozen into immobility, off the side of Obvious's saddle to fall into the desert sands. Darrien's laser rifle also shut down, the little green light showing it charged and ready winking out at once.

<It's an empion!> Genevar called out telepathically. <They're really dangerous!>

"Then let's get you out of here!" replied Aithanar, kicking Digger with his heels and encouraging the hopper to high-tail it away from the empion at top speed. It wasn't an act of cowardice; far from it - Genevar was their only guide on this strange world and keeping her alive had to be a top priority. Aithanar well knew his fighting prowess wasn't anywhere near the ability of the other heroes' but he could certainly do his best to keep the ten-year-old mutant girl safe from harm. And Genevar had been hit hard by the EMP blast, much harder than any of the others, although nobody had escaped being singed to some degree by the mutant scorpion's blast.

And then, just to make matters worse, another of these empions crawled up out of the desert sands off to Gilbert's left. He saw it erupt out of the ground as he regained his feet, his unconscious hopper Twitchy-Tail having been dropped immediately into unconsciousness by the blast. This one seemed different, though, as its upper body seemed covered in warts - and then Gilbert realized with sudden growing horror those weren't warts, but hundreds - if not thousands - of baby empions crawling on top of what must be their mother! Each baby was the size of a normal scorpion from back home in the deserts of Oerth and they immediately started crawling forward - in such numbers it seemed they were flowing off of their mother's back, down her legs, and making their way towards him and his downed mount, an obvious source of food.

Binkadink, aware that MARCI had slid off the saddle, leaped off himself with instructions for Obvious to get their downed medical construct to safety while he charged the empion before him on foot. His gnomish boot-stilts increased his speed as he crossed the distance between them, his glaive swinging down at the empion's head as the creature's claws snapped at the little gnome. Obvious obediently clamped down on one of MARCI's metal feet, got a good grip on it with his rodent teeth, and started dragging her backwards in the same direction as Aithanar had taken Digger.

Gilbert cast a prismatic spray spell in the direction of the mother empion and her thousands of advancing spawn, thinking it the best way to whittle down their numbers in a hurry. The spell did just that, sending hundreds of the spawn hurtling off to a random plane, turning hundreds of others to stone while coating others in a wave of acid, others in burning flames, and still others in a blast of electricity the wizard couldn't help but notice had absolutely no effect. Others curled up and died, no doubt having been poisoned by the spell. But the adult empion, her carapace burning with acid, advanced rapidly in his direction, undeterred by the damage she'd taken or the loss of hundreds of her offspring.

Finoula pulled Tahlmalaera from her scabbard and used its magic to infuse her downed hopper Clover with a heal spell. Clover struggled to her feet and Finoula called for her to flee the scene, pointing in the direction Obvious and Digger had taken. Clover didn't understand the elf's words but didn't really need to; she fled at once in the direction Finoula was pointing.

Darrien pulled a potion of cure serious wounds and poured it down Droopy-Ear's throat; the hopper sputtered but woke up, the singed fur and burned skin beneath it healing up as she regained consciousness. Droopy-Ear needed no coaxing to flee the scene, following after Clover who was calling on her siblings to run in the universal language of burrowing mammals.

Hagan's mount Quickpaws was still unconscious but the half-orc picked himself up off the desert ground where he'd been thrown, made sure Wezhley was still okay (the canny weasel familiar had gotten a grip on his collar as they fell and remained on his master's shoulder in that manner), and then fired off another meteor swarm spell, this time at the female empion approaching Gilbert with pincers wide open, ready to snap him up. The fiery explosions accompanying Hagan's spell took out another several score of the swarming empion young scurrying below and alongside their mother.

The male empion grabbed up Binkadink in a pincer claw and squeezed tightly, pinning the gnome in place. Binkadink made sure his hands were free and he still had a good grip on his reverberating glaive, trusting in his red dragonhide armor to keep him from being cut in half before he could bring this monster down. But then, in a swift stab too quick to avoid (especially under his current predicament), the empion's stinger caught the gnome in the throat, pumping venom into the little gnome's system. Almost immediately, he felt his vitality dropping; he felt as if he'd just run a mile in the desert sand and could feel his heart pumping as if fit to burst. This, he realized, was not good! But there was no sense in dwelling upon it - he put all of his waning strength into another strike at the empion holding him, feeling the sharp blade of his glaive slice into the beast's hardened carapace. It looked like it was going to be a contest of which one could bring the other down first, and Binkadink vowed he'd be the last one standing in that particular competition.

The female empion swerved suddenly, ignoring Gilbert to snap Hagan up in her claw and try to pinch the life out of the half-orc sorcerer. Gilbert took the opportunity to cast a quickened fly spell on himself, elevating his position by 60 feet straight up. From there, he figured, he was safe from anything these mutant scorpions could dish out...until he realized he wasn't sure how often the empions could generate those electrified pulses, and even if it was only once a day the female hadn't used that particular attack just yet....

Obvious dropped MARCI in the sand, figuring he'd dragged her far enough away she should be safe for now. He urged his fleeing siblings on, looking with worry at Twitchy-Tail and Quickpaws, both of whom were still unconscious, and at his friend Binkadink, caught in the serrated grip of the male empion's left pincer. But Finoula had by now advanced to Quickpaws's side and was pouring the contents of a potion down his throat; Obvious called to his brother and Quickpaws stumbled to his feet and hippity-hopped over his way.

Hagan was having no luck escaping from the female's grip and realized he'd never be able to overpower her in any case. But he didn't need to; Gilbert flew down in a nosedive, tapped the half-orc on the shoulder, and cast a dimension door spell that took the two of them 60 feet behind the empion whose claws were now both suddenly empty.

With his laser rifle suddenly useless, Darrien dropped it to his side and pulled out his trusty Arachnibow. Then he pulled a rapid succession of arrows from his quiver of Ehlonna, burying the shafts one after one into the carapace of the empion squeezing the life out of Binkadink. The gnome was still giving it his all, bringing his glaive slamming time and time again into the creature's hardened shell, but he was visibly weakening. Obvious came suddenly charging in, antlers lowered and stabbing at the side of the claw holding his gnome friend.

Hagan cast another meteor swarm spell at the other empion, the spell taking care of the last of the nearby swarm of empion young - none of this particular brood would be surviving to adulthood! But the female survived the half-orc's spell assault, crawling over to the unconscious Twitchy-Tail, grabbing her up in a pair of serrated claws, and taking a bite out her stomach, letting her entrails drop to the burning desert sands. Gilbert, horrified at the loss of his riding mount, cast a cone of cold spell that almost dropped the empion there and then; the female seemed to be hanging onto life by the merest of threads. Finoula scrambled up onto the empion's body and stabbed down at it with Tahlmalaera, blackish blood oozing up out of the wound when she pulled her blade free. But then Darrien finished it off with a round of arrows around her eyes; the female empion dropped the lifeless Twitchy-Tail and then followed her, falling lifelessly to the sands.

Binkadink extracted himself painfully from the claws of the male empion, the half-elf ranger's arrows having finished it off as well. The gnome fumbled in his pack, pulling out a potion of neutralize poison to make sure the venom injected into his neck wouldn't be doing him any further harm. Gilbert checked to see if the gnome was all right. "I got one limited wish spell on hand," he told Binkadink. "Could use it to get venom out of your system...but thought I'd try to bring Twitchy-Tail back."

"By all means!" agreed the gnome. "I'll make do." Gilbert nodded (he'd been pretty sure Binkadink would rather have Obvious's sister returned to life than his own vitality restored at once) and thought about what wording he'd use with his spell. Wishes were tricky things; the universe generally didn't like being rewritten at the behest of a spellcaster and defaulted to the easiest way to comply with the wording of the spell. Finally, he decided on the best likely approach. Casting the spell, he said, "I wish I had cast a protection from energy spell on Twitchy-Tail, focusing on protecting her from electricity, immediately before the mutant scorpions attacked." Binkadink couldn't help but notice the wizard had eschewed the use of his normal sing-song way of talking with its truncated phrases and skipped words; Gilbert was smart enough not to want to take any chances on the spell going awry due to poor phraseology.

Everyone looked expectantly at Twitchy-Tail, dead on the ground before the slain female empion. She was suddenly not even there; the dead mutant scorpion was alone in death save for the scores of petrified and burned bodies of her spawn. Twitchy-Tail appeared among her other siblings, all gathered around Aithanar who tended to them; her personal timeline had been rewound and replayed in a different fashion after Gilbert's spell had been cast - now she had survived the male empion's initial blast and been encouraged by Gilbert to flee with her siblings. Gilbert made a mental note of the spells he still had stored in his head, ready to be cast, and sure enough the protection from energy spell he'd prepared that morning was no longer there. He sighed in relief.

It was several minutes later that MARCI "rebooted," the electromagnetic pulse that had taken her out having run its course. Darrien noted the little green light was back on his laser rifle and nodded in satisfaction, although he'd done just fine with his Arachnibow. MARCI spend the next several minutes scanning everyone and administering her healing injections to those who needed them most. She took a sample of the empion's venom for analysis, so she'd be able to work up an antidote. That, however, would take the better part of a day; Binkadink would just have to make do in the meantime. "I'm fine," he reassured everyone, climbing back into Obvious's saddle and pulling the medical construct up behind him. "Is everyone ready?"

They were, and he led the way further into the desert, not sure which way they were going but assured by Genevar's premonitions that whichever way they went would end up being the right way.

It was several hours later they realized they were being followed. They'd taken a rest break, Finoula dismounting from Clover and passing her decanter of endless water around, when Darrien noted a plume of dust in the distance, back the way they'd come. Binkadink pulled out the unfamiliar "binoculars" from his pack, looking through the lenses and experimenting with the dial between them until he could get a clear image. "Two people, riding...some kind of weird horse - they have normal horse legs but another pair of spider legs, it looks like! What's with all the spider mutants around here?" he wondered aloud. Hagan's expression of distaste showed he shared the gnome's sentiments.

Binkadink continued his observations. "There are six people jogging alongside the spider...horse...things," he said. "They're carrying some kind of rifles like those we got off the sonic yuan-ti. I mean, the hissers."

<Uh oh,> said Genevar.

"You know who they are?" asked Gilbert. "They some of those 'cryptic alliance' people you tell us about?"

<Describe the men on the spider-horses,> Genevar asked Binkadink. <What are they wearing?>

The gnome twisted the knob some more, bringing the image back into focus, for the group had gotten closer since he'd first started watching them. "The mounted guys are wearing black leather armor and some kind of round helmets. The six guys running alongside are wearing some kind of green...clothing, it looks like. No armor, just shirt and pants. Black boots and helmets, although their helmets are green. And they don't really seem like running through the desert's much of a problem for them."

<It isn't,> Genevar agreed sadly.

"You know them?" Gilbert pressed on, not having gotten an answer from her yet.

Genevar sighed. <The two on the spider-horses are two of my dads,> she admitted. <They're probably tracking me down, so they can take me back with them.>

"Wait, you have two dads?" Finoula asked. She mentally recalled what Genevar had said. "I mean, more than two dads? How many dads do you have?"

<A bunch.> She looked over at the adults around her with questioning eyes. <You guys know how babies are made, right?>

"Think we got the general idea down," Gilbert snickered.

<Well, when they gene-spliced me together, they took genetic strands from several different males from the group, trying for the best variant. That's what my name means: "Genevar," short for "Genetic Variance." They were trying to expand upon the mental capabilities of members of our particular offshoot of humanity - I think that's probably how come I get flashes of the future.>

None of this was making much sense to the heroes of Kordovia. Finoula focused in on one aspect of what Genevar had said. "What offshoot is that, exactly?" she asked.

<Serfs,> Genevar told them. <We're sometimes called "thought masters." The adults get these geometric markings all over their faces-->

"Burroc!" exploded Aithanar. "That piece of crap that dominated Helga and me for all those weeks and made us his mental slaves while he healed up that wound in his leg!" Hagan knew very well who Aithanar was referring to - he was the first guy he'd helped the Kordovians fight after their return from wildspace.

"You one of them?" Gilbert demanded.

<I was born one of them,> Genevar conceded, flinching from the anger evident on Gilbert's face and even more evident in his thoughts. <But I ran away - I don't want to be part of them! I escaped, and found your world, and I want to go back there and stay there with you! Only first we have to find the Eradicators-->

Finoula hushed her with a raised hand. "If you don't want to go with them, you don't have to," she assured the little mutant. She turned to the men to make sure none of them were going to raise any objections; they didn't. "What can we expect?" she asked Genevar.

<Well, they're not going to want to take "no" for an answer,> Genevar explained. <They're pretty much used to getting what they want. They'll try to dominate you to do what they say if you don't do so on your own.>

"We know that much," Gilbert said. "They evil?"

Genevar thought it over. <I never really thought about it, but yeah - the way you guys from Oerth deal with things, they're big-time evil.>

"You going to be okay with it if we have to kill them?" Gilbert pressed, casting a magic circle against evil spell on himself.

<I'd rather you didn't have to,> frowned Genevar, <but if it comes down to it...I just don't want to have to go back with them. So...yeah.>

"Prep spells," ordered Gilbert, as Binkadink kept the advancing forces in sight through the binoculars. The portly mage linked everyone together with a Rary's telepathic bond spell while both rangers cast their standard barkskin spells. Hagan cast a stoneskin spell on himself and Wezhley while Darrien enhanced his riding mount, Droopy-Ear, with both a bear's endurance spell and a cat's grace as well. Then, gathering the six jackalopes together, he cast an animal growth spell on them all. "Humans get small!" gasped Twitchy-Tail, and Obvious explained to his sister that the opposite had happened: they had gotten bigger. The hoppers all thought this was incredibly fun.

As a precaution in case he got separated from his mount, Darrien cast a longstrider spell on himself. Binkadink passed the binoculars over to the half-elf as he gulped down a potion of barkskin himself and pulled out his magic horn, giving it a long, steady blow. The magic circle against evil spell snapped in place around the gnome and he put the horn back into his pack. "How they doing?" he asked Darrien.

"Coming up over the next dune soon," he replied, passing back the binoculars to Binkadink. "We should be able to see them just fine."

"Are we going to attack immediately?" Hagan asked.

"We let them say their piece first," Gilbert replied. "They decide not to take 'no' for answer, then we give them what for."

<Those six with them are android troopers,> Genevar offered up. <Mechanical people, like MARCI.>

"More like the opposite of MARCI," argued Binkadink. "She heals - they have rifles."

The heroes spread out in a line, waiting for the approaching thought masters and their retinue to approach; Aithanar and Genevar, riding Digger, were some ways behind the line, keeping the adolescent thought master safe behind the others. Up they came, over the dune, and Hagan suppressed a shiver of revulsion at the appearance of the spider-horses: besides the four arachnid legs between the more equine ones, the beasts also each had eight shiny eyes like a spider and a bloated abdomen that looked quite capable of generating web-silk.

The thought masters slowed as they approached, allowing the androids to move on ahead and spread out in a line before them. <We have no desire to fight you!> assured one of the thought masters, broadcasting his thoughts directly into the minds of the assembled heroes. <Just hand over the girl and we'll be on our way!>

"Girl don't want to go with you," Gilbert replied. "I think she stay with us."

<That's not for her to decide,> the thought master answered. <She's not yet of age - her poison-claws haven't even had time to grow in!>

Gilbert opened his mouth as if to reply but only arcane syllables spilled from his lips. Almost immediately, a quickened Evard's black tentacles spell sprang into being, the writhing appendages of the spell wrapping around the first four androids and the thought master and his mutant mount on the wizard's right. Darrien, seeing combat was now under way, raised his Arachnibow and fired at the ground between the other two androids, causing a web spell to erupt between them and cover them in thick, sticky webbing. He followed with a string of follow-on arrows, each of these focused on the thought master behind the two he'd just webbed up.

With an impassive expression on its androgynous face, the android at the edge of the circle of writhing tentacles managed to extricate himself, stumbling out onto the desert sands. The one beside him tried to do the same but failed, that one being already too far entwined by rubbery tentacles. The other two, however, managed to free themselves and brought their rifles up, scanning for and choosing their targets. Those bound up in Darrien's web spell tried without success to free themselves, despite their metal construction they hadn't been built with much more strength than that possessed by the average human.

Finoula raised a hand to her throat and activated her amulet of lightning. She fled from Clover's back as a living lightning bolt, crashing through the bodies of the thought master and his spider-horse mount, rebounding through one of the webbed androids, and reforming on the ground beside her oversize jackalope mount in the mere blink of an eye. The thought master and the spider-horse fell to the ground, dead, a strange weapon looking like the metal head of a morningstar with retractable spikes falling from the serf's hands, the telekinetic weapon not having been used even once in the battle. But as the thought master died, he called out a single telepathic word: <Grandfather!>

Gilbert cast a maximized chain lightning spell on the thought master caught up in the Evards' black tentacles spell; the extra height afforded by being mounted allowed him to be seen just fine by the Korvovian wizard. Arcs of electricity went flying from him to hit his aracho-equine steed, the android bound by tentacles before him, and the three who had escaped out the sides of the mass of rubbery appendages. The thought master and the spider-horse both died at once; the androids were scorched but not slain.

And then, with a wavering in the air like a phase spider arriving on the material plane, "Grandfather" made his appearance, summoned to the physical world by one of its descendants. This was a massive, pulsing brain, easily 30 feet from front to back, held aloft at least 50 or 60 feet in the air by eight thick tentacles in a ring along its brain stem. It seemed to be raining smaller brains from its undersides, but these ended up being much smaller, separate creatures: "brain frogs," each a halfling-sized brain with four froglike legs, which hopped along beneath the walking brain.

Gilbert, momentarily shocked at the sudden appearance of this monstrosity, began the words to a quickened wall of force, trying to erect a barrier between the heroes and the walking brain before it could attack. In this he was only partially successful: the wall of force snapped in place, but even at 30 feet in height it wasn't tall enough to be a barrier between the crown of the walking brain's central cortex and the wizard, especially since his mount Twitchy-Tail had been enlarged to twice her normal size. A beam of focused mental energy came lancing from the front of the walking brain to strike Gilbert in the forehead and he was instantly stunned into immobility, as Twitchy-Tail first backed away from the odd-looking brain-on-tentacles and then spun in place and raced away. Virtually unnoticed, the brain frogs hopped forward, seeking out their victims; through their link with the walking brain, they knew the exact location of the invisible wall of force and moved to hop around it.

Hagan looked up at the walking brain and saw nothing but a nice, soft mass of brain tissue just itching to be hit with a meteor swarm spell. The half-orc sorcerer did just that, sending four flaming meteors swarming up to the elevated brain to explode upon impact. In the meantime, Aithanar urged Digger to race off to the side, away from the walking brain towering above them. Genevar clung to his sides with terror in her eyes; "Grandfather," she knew, was an advanced mutant lifeform and the repository of the accumulated knowledge of generations of thought masters who had been brought before it just before their deaths - as well as the knowledge ripped from the minds of the victims the walking brain had grasped in its tentacles and drained of all intellect - but the massive thing just creeped her out; she didn't want to ever have her thoughts and memories trapped inside that monstrosity!

Binkadink pointed his glaive at one of the freed androids and had Obvious charge forward, allowing him to bring his blade slicing into its metal body with a ringing sound. Obvious followed his charge with a bite of his enormous rodent's teeth, clamping down on the android's shoulder and raising him up off the ground. Darrien continued pumping arrow after arrow into one of the androids still caught up in his web spell; the thing was barely discernibly humanoid any more, its upper half covered in thick webs and bristling with arrow shafts.

A blast from another android's rifle came flashing at Obvious; Binkadink, anticipating the shot, managed to tug his mount's reins enough to get the jackalope to dodge his massive head in time to avoid the shot. But the android Obvious had been chewing on escaped from his teeth, dropping back down to the ground and backing up to line up a good shot. Binkadink sent his glaive swinging down at the android's arms to prevent the shot from being taken. But another android fired its weapon, hitting Obvious straight in the middle of his furry chest.

It had no effect. Not wanting Genevar to come to any harm, the thought masters had armed their android troopers with stun ray rifles and while the blast had hit Obvious full-on it wasn't yet enough to drop the massive jackalope. Meanwhile, the three androids still caught up in the webs or the writhing tentacles failed to make any further progress on their attempts to escape.

Finoula, by now, had noticed the brain frogs hopping beneath the massive walking brain and cast a stone spikes spell directly before them, aimed in a wide arc. They impaled themselves on the sharp, projecting spikes rising up from the desert sands, being slain by gravity and their hopping gait, which made avoiding the stone spikes impossible. Only two of the dozen or so survived, and those only because they had randomly wandered off to try to follow Aithanar, Genevar, and Digger, who had been the physically closest to them when they had popped into this plane.

Despite the fact Gilbert had been taken out of the fight - his mind was still completely stunned, his body motionless, the wizard staying in place on Twitchy-Tail's back only because the hopper was taking particular care not to bounce him off - his spells continued and the Evard's black tentacles finally finished crushing the android it had caught within its ebony appendages.

The walking brain ambled forward, the tips of its thick tentacles expertly avoiding the stone spikes Finoula had scattered before it - so expertly, in fact, the elven ranger suspected it had some weird mental abilities that took the place of sight, for she could see no eyes present anywhere on the thing's physical form. One tentacle dashed out with surprising speed, wrapping around Finoula's waist and dragging her back over to it, crushing her with a surprising level of strength. She struggled to free one arm, trying to get her hand up to touch her amulet of lightning which, she knew, would be the easiest way for her to escape its crushing grasp.

Hagan saw Finoula being crushed in a tentacle of the walking brain and urged his mount Quickpaws forward. The jackalope seemed hesitant to approach the massive aberration, but apparently trusted the sorcerer with the funny name that didn't actually mean anything enough to do as he was asked. He leaped up, gaining enough height in mid-leap that Hagan was able to reach over and tap the tentacle with his hand, channeling a spell through it as he did so.

By the time Quickpaws landed and started veering away from the walking brain, the Otto's irresistible dance spell had taken effect and the massive brain was no longer walking so much as hopping about on the tips of its tentacles in a complicated pattern that was no doubt its closest approximation of "dancing."

As the dancing brain capered behind him, Binkadink brought his reverberating glaive down into an android's head, dropping it instantly, then swinging his weapon cross-ways to carve deep into the chest of another one beside it. The first construct made no further attempts at movement, its internal systems having been rendered incapable of such an action. At about the same time, Darrien's arrows finally took out the first of the webbed androids and he automatically, without missing a beat, switched targets over to the other one. It tried feebly to free itself from the web and now it too started springing arrow shafts all over its body.

There were now only two androids capable of free movement and they both tried shooting Obvious with their stun rifles. The jackalope dodged one shot but was hit by the second; still, it failed to knock him out - no doubt to the increased vitality he had thanks to his increased size from Darrien's enlarge animal spell.

Finoula finally freed her arm, activated her amulet, and went blasting up into the underside of the massive brain above her before angling off back to the ground, avoiding the area of stone spikes. The walking brain continued its tentacle-tip capering, looking rather foolish but more importantly focusing all of its attention, such that it couldn't target anyone else with the mind blast beam that had taken out Gilbert Fung so easily. That made the walking brain an even easier target for another meteor swarm spell from Hagan. Binkadink destroyed another of the androids with his glaive, while Darrien finished off the second of the webbed androids with his arrows. Then he spun in place and started firing up at the massive brain towering above him. A concentrated effort between Darrien and Hagan finally brought the thing tumbling down to the ground in a thrashing of rubbery tentacles; Finoula just barely leaped out of the way before it would have landed directly on top of her.

Binkadink sent Obvious to round up the rest of his siblings, most of whom had by this time fled out of range, while he gathered up the six stun rifles the androids had carried. (He had to wait until Gilbert snapped out of it and deactivated his Evard's black tentacles spell before he could get them all.) "Six of us, six of them," he said, passing a stun rifle to each of the heroes.

"Are you okay?" Finoula asked Genevar, looking down at the bodies in the sands before them.

<Yeah, I'm fine,> replied the little mutant. <Can we go?> She was studiously avoiding looking at the bodies of either of her dads or the massive walking brain lying in the sand.

"We certainly can," agreed Binkadink, climbing back up onto Obvious's saddle. Then he led the group away from the scene of carnage, to wander aimlessly in the desert until they found the apidox they were destined to fight before rescuing the Eradicators and bringing them back to a desolate, shattered world.

- - -

I saw an image of a brain frog once using Google Images and decided right then and there I had to use it in a D&D adventure some day. When I later saw an image of a walking brain (apparently from an old black-and-white science fiction movie of the same name) I made the same decision. Eventually, I decided these would make good adversaries for the Gamma World portion of this campaign and statted them up. (The brain frogs didn't get to do much, but if they had managed to leap onto a PC's head they could attempt to dominate the PC and steer him or her over to the walking brain to be drained of Intelligence.)

The brain frogs were easy enough to make as flat tokens but the walking brain gave me a much harder time. I had decided I needed a stand-up, 3D miniature rather than just a flat token; fortunately I had a package of construction paper which had been depleted of just about every color but pink. So I started out with the crafting of the brain, gluing strips of pink construction paper together to get the basic "brain" shape and then filling in the gaps as best I could with more strips. Then I had to figure out a way to support it on eight tentacles, and this proved to be a much bigger challenge. Eventually, I hit upon an easy solution: Harry likes "bendy" straws for his milk and we had picked up a bag of 300 or so for a couple of bucks. I grabbed up eight pink ones and eight peach ones and discovered they could easily be stuck one end into the other. So I stuck the non-bendy ends of eight pink straws into the non-bendy ends of eight peach straws, then stuck the bendy-ends of four pairs of the pink straws together. I built a base out of heavy cardboard, making eight sets of cuts along the outer edges such that the eight sections (each the width of a straw) could be folded upwards and slid into the bendy end of a peach straw. That done, I ended up with four sets of "tentacle legs" - I taped the tops of the front two together and did likewise with the back set, then cut a long strip of pink construction paper just slightly smaller in width than the gap between the bendy tops of the straw pairs. With my straw-tentacle platform base thus created and rather sturdy, it was easy enough to affix the brain in place above it with clear tape. It won't win any miniature awards, but it was a cool prop to plop down on the table when it shifted into the Material Plane at the behest of the thought masters. It's just a bit of a bummer when I realize I spent a lot more time crafting the silly thing than it ever got to see use in the game.

- - -

T-Shirt Worn: My red "Iron Man" T-shirt, to represent the android troopers. And as I wasn't sure how long it would take to play through this adventure, this was also potentially a good representation of the Eradicators, if we finished the adventure early and decided to get a start on the next one, in which the Eradicators will finally make their appearance. (Good thing I have a second Iron Man T-shirt to wear for the next time we play!)
 
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Richards

Legend
ADVENTURE 78: ERADICATOR BASE

PC Roster:
Binkadink Dundernoggin, gnome fighter 20​
Darrien, half-elf ranger 20​
Finoula Cloudshadow, elf ranger 20​
Gilbert Fung, human wizard 20​
Hagan, half-orc sorcerer 20​

NPC Roster:
Aithanar Ivenheart, elf fighter 8​
Genevar, humanoid mutant​
MARCI, humanoid construct​

Game Session Date: 30 May 2020

- - -

"There!" cried Binkadink, pointing up into the sky.

The others looked to where he was pointing. There was a spot of color in the sky ahead and then in the blink of an eye, for the briefest second, a much larger shape - but one that vanished almost immediately. The larger shape had looked to be something along the lines of an inverted step pyramid, three levels deep with each level smaller than the one above it. When it disappeared again after less than a second, however, the original spot of color remained and that turned out to be a yellowish insect, crawling upside-down in the air.

Immediately, the heroes whipped out their various rifles, not to shoot at the insect but to get a better look at it through the scopes; Binkadink had instead pulled out his binoculars and was getting the insect into focus. "It looks like a bee, all right!" he said to the others. "Is this the apidox?" he asked, passing the binoculars over to Genevar, who was sitting behind Aithanar on Digger's strong back.

Genevar looked up at the insect, which seemed to hover in mid-air. <That's it!> she said telepathically to the others. <It's starting to make a nest at the bottom of Eradicator Base!> The little mutant frowned in thought. <If it builds a nest there, it could mess about with the base's propulsion unit or muck up its anti-gravity....>

"What happen then?" asked Gilbert.

<Then Eradicator Base will fall from the sky, and if the Eradicators are inside, in suspended animation, they'll all die!> Genevar had no actual idea the Eradicators were in suspended animation inside their cloaked, flying base of operations - it was just a reasonable explanation for her as to why they suddenly disappeared centuries ago during the early days of the Shadow Years, when the DNA bombs went off and the mutagenic viruses started turning people and animals into monsters. Legend said that the Eradicators would one day return, at the time of their greatest need, and Genevar desperately wanted to believe that...but she was well aware the legends said the same thing about King Arthur and he'd never bothered showing his face.

"So we need to take out the apidox no matter what," mused Finoula. The heroes had plenty of different ways to head to the top of the flying base using a variety of magical means at their disposal and she had been giving some thought about possibly bypassing the fight with the apidox altogether. But if its presence on the bottom of Eradicator Base threatened the base's stability, they'd have to kill it or at least drive it away.

"It doesn't look like it's noticed us yet," observed Hagan. As he said that, the inverted pyramid flickered into visibility for a half-second, appearing and disappearing like a flash of lightning.

"Prep spells," replied Gilbert and the others responded immediately by casting those pre-combat spells they were used to having in place when about to enter a skirmish. Darrien and Finoula cast their traditional barkskin spells on themselves and then the half-elf cast both a bear's endurance and a cat's grace spell on his jackalope mount, Droopy-Ear. Hagan and Gilbert each cast a stoneskin spell upon themselves and their familiars and then the half-orc sorcerer cast the same spell on both Aithanar and Genevar. He followed that up with a fly spell upon himself and, at Binkadink's request, another upon Obvious. "This will be fun!" said the awakened jackalope enthusiastically.

Gilbert cast a shapechange spell upon himself but held it at bay for now; he could always assume a different form as needed with the spell already in place. He then cast the traditional Rary's telepathic bond spell on the entire group and, after Genevar reminded everyone that an apidox's stinger held a particularly virulent venom, the heavyset mage drank a potion of neutralize poison just in case it was needed. Finoula did the same, while Darrien cast a delay poison spell upon himself before dropping his figurine of wondrous power to the ground and activating his ebony fly.

"We ready?" Gilbert asked the others as he set his slingshot of rock shrinking and Mudpie, currently the size of a pebble, down on the ground before him. Then he shapechanged into a red-skinned pit fiend and bent to retrieve both his slingshot and his familiar.

"Ready," replied the others and then Gilbert, Hagan, Obvious, and the ebony fly rose into the sky, the last two carrying Binkadink and Darrien respectively, flying up towards the oblivious apidox and the flickering Eradicator Base above them. Back on the ground, Aithanar raised his stun rifle and Finoula fingered her lightning bolt amulet while MARCI, Genevar, and the hoppers grouped together, looking up at the scene of impending battle.

In mid-flight, Hagan cast a polar ray up at the apidox - he'd have preferred hitting it with a meteor swarm but was afraid he might damage whatever technological magic kept the floating base in the sky. The spell-ray struck true, freezing a patch of ice onto the mutant bee's right wing. Another ray blasted up beside him, this one fired from Aithanar's stun rifle; it too struck true. Then a blast of living lightning flew up at the apidox, hit it just behind the creature's narrow neck, and then rebounded back to the ground, where Finoula resumed her elven form. Obvious charged straight for the insect, Binkadink's glaive slicing through its thick outer carapace as Obvious's antler-tips did likewise. Darrien chose to send his ebony fly off to the right, firing multiple shots with his laser sniper rifle as he did so.

Thinking the others could handle the apidox handily, Gilbert flew to the top of the floating base and was surprised to find the invisibility effect that kept Eradicator Base hidden from view from below did not apply to the top of the structure. From his vantage point, he could look down upon the top level, an empty deck in the middle surrounded in a ring by a series of one-story buildings, each about 10 feet tall with the exceptions of the corner buildings and the long one to the south, each of which stood 15 feet tall. There were numerous doors all along the buildings, leading the wizard to believe each was likely a one-room structure not connected to the others from the inside. Two other features of note caught his eyes: the two projections sticking out from the long building to the north, each pointing towards the center of the upper deck, and the three large squares carved into the middle of the deck, looking to be something along the lines of covered pit traps.

As Gilbert dropped down to the corner of the top deck and landed, he loaded Mudpie into his slingshot and fired him at the floor. Upon impact, Mudpie reverted to his full, 16-foot size and his master cast a quickened fly spell upon the towering earth elemental. Gilbert was well aware that Mudpie was not comfortable being separated from the solid earth below him and this spell at least would allow the elemental to return to the ground under his own power if something were to happen to Gilbert. Unseen by the pair, four spherical figures rose from the corners of the structure, each propelled by a series of silent, whirling blades rising up from the central sphere like a beholder's eye-stalks. Four metal constructs built in the shape of a spider also lurked along the building rooftops, each of the eight devices aiming their visual cameras at the pair of intruders standing on the deck before them.

Hanging below Eradicator Base the apidox, slow to respond to outside stimulus, was just now realizing it was under attack. Hagan cast another polar ray at it and Aithanar fired another shot from his stun rifle before the massive insect darted forward, grabbing at Obvious with its front limbs and stabbing at the jackalope with its wicked stinger as it stretched its abdomen down beneath its body. The stinger stabbed deep into Obvious's stomach and the venom did its work almost instantaneously, stopping the jackalope's heart. His involuntary thrashings caused him to wriggle free from the apidox's grip and both he and Binkadink plummeted down to the desert ground beneath them. Both hit the sand hard, sending plumes of dust billowing all around them, but while the gnome fighter crawled back up onto his hands and knees a moment later, Obvious was quite dead. His litter-mates crowded around him, nudging his lifeless form in an effort to wake him up.

Up on the top deck of Eradicator Base, several of the doors raised up, releasing the humanoid forms housed within. The first was a blaster droid, who stepped out of his alcove and immediately sighted at the towering, red-skinned figure standing in the northwestern corner of the deck. Recognizing it as a non-human entity, the blaster raised its left arm and - its targeting capabilities enhanced by the four security drones flying above the corners of the base and the four skittering, spiderlike security bots scampering along the rooftops, all of whom were connected together in a remote link not unlike the Rary's telepathic bond spell the heroes had active - shot Gilbert in the back with his energy weapon. Two more humanoid constructs stepped out of their stations, the doors having risen to let them out, and approached the intruders. These droids had stunning devices affixed to the ends of their arms and had been programmed to take any hostiles alive for possible interrogation. Electrical surges sparked at the ends of their weapons as they advanced.

<Obvious is down!> Finoula called to the others over the link, then activated her lightning bolt amulet again and blasted up at the apidox and back down to the ground again. Binkadink, roaring in a wordless fury over the death of his riding mount and best friend, pulled the laser sniper rifle from his back and fired shot after shot up at the apidox; it was his only way of getting his revenge since his one method of getting up to the mutant bee at the aerial base had just been slain. From his perch upon the ebony fly, Darrien fired his own laser rifle at the apidox.

Two more doors opened up and a pair of humanoid droids exited from their alcoves; these were shock troopers with electrified claws in the place of hands. They too advanced upon Gilbert and Mudpie, who had noticed the imminent approach of a half-dozen metal constructs clanging along the metal floor. Looking at the approaching horde, Gilbert also noticed the security bots skittering along the rooftops and the drones flying overhead, all pointing at him with their camera-lens eyes. Then another door opened and a grappler droid approached, this one less human in appearance than the others; it was boxy, with arms sticking out from its sides ending in metal pincer claws and its head was a flattened disk with sensory apparatus sticking out in various directions. It too veered Gilbert's way, claws open for grasping.

Despite the powerful, fiendish form he currently wore, Gilbert had no stomach for hand-to-hand combat against a riot of metal constructs with unknown powers. He stepped to the side and leapt into the air, flapping his powerful wings to escape - but not before one of the subduer droids managed to zap him with its stunning device. Still, that was all the various robots could do before Gilbert dived over the side of Eradicator Base, casting a maximized enervation spell at the apidox who had proved to be quite deadly after all and was still fighting on despite having been bombarded with spells and rays for all this time. The spell drained a bit more of the mutant bee's vitality and now it was possible to see the creature's moves were becoming somewhat more sluggish; the multiple stun rays were starting to take effect, it seemed.

Mudpie was not a fan of aerial flight but he was also not a fan of keeping his master unprotected, so with a stifled scream he leapt over the side of Eradicator Base and slammed a boulderlike fist into the apidox's face - after all, the earth elemental had no fear of being injected with venom. Hagan cast a third polar ray spell at it and Aithanar continued firing his stun rifle from below. But the apidox was looking for nearby victims to attack and while Mudpie was right there in its face it recognized it as not being edible. That being the case, it flew past the flying earth elemental and made a bee-line for Gilbert, not at all discomfited by the wizard's pit fiend form. Gilbert was unable to dodge out of the way in time and the insect's stinger stabbed deep into his side; the wizard took comfort in the fact that this fiendish form made him immune to all poisons.

Up on the Eradicator Base's upper deck, three more doors opened and the three soldier droids stepped out, taking up defensive positions since there were currently no enemies in view. The grappler, shock troops, and subduers followed suit. The blaster droid stood in the center of the deck, arms raised and ready to fire at any enemies who might approach. But while the security bots kept their camera eyes deployed to cover the entire upper deck, the four flying drones all flew over the sides of the flying base and dropped down until they could see the apidox in combat with several flying members of species unknown.

Finoula blasted up at the apidox again, transforming her elven body into a living lightning bolt, resuming her normal form once back down on the ground. Binkadink continued firing up at the beast with his laser sniper rifle, screaming in fury all the while. Finally, the combined efforts of the various heroes overcame the mutant bee's defenses and its wounded body plummeted from the air, the stun blasts finally having overcome it. It crashed down into the desert sand in an explosion of grit and Binkadink immediately dropped his rifle, pushed past the mourning jackalopes to get to his glaive by Obvious's cooling body, and went rushing over to the downed apidox with his blade held high. Then, before the stunned insect had a chance to recover, the gnome brought his reverberating blade crashing down at the narrow neck holding its head in place. With one downward slash the apidox's head fell to the side of its body.

With the apidox out of the fight, Darrien landed his ebony fly back down by the jackalopes to regroup. Gilbert and Mudpie joined them (the earth elemental with no small sense of relief) and the portly mage - still quite heavy in build even as a pit fiend - briefed the others on the metal constructs he'd seen up on the top level of Eradicator Base.

"We can go over that later," Binkadink interrupted. "Can you--?"

Gilbert knew exactly what the gnome was asking. He walked over to the side of the downed jackalope and shooed Obvious's siblings aside. Then, reaching down to Obvious's furry muzzle, he placed a clawed hand onto it and cast the words to a limited wish spell. Concentrating fiercely, Gilbert rewound time for just the two of them, plucking Obvious out of the way of the apidox's stinger at the last possible moment. Thus, while the jackalope had now still been hurt in battle his wounds had not been fatal; with a start, Obvious crawled back up onto all fours and MARCI approached to inject him with a healing dosage from one of her finger-needles.

That done, Gilbert went back to discussing what he'd seen on the deck of Eradicator Base. "Got bunch of mechanical men running about with weapons built into hands up there," he said. "Only one with any ranged attacks, though."

<It's probably a standard defense setup,> suggested Genevar. <The Eradicators wouldn't want mutants from taking over their base while they were in suspended animation.>

"We not mutants!" Gilbert argued.

<Well, you look like you are - at least from a human perspective,> countered Genevar. <Well, except for you, Gilbert...when you're not a big devil-man.>

"Maybe I drop pit fiend form, see what these metal men do when they see real human like me," mused Gilbert. He looked around. "Okay, we try new plan. Everybody ready?"

Darrien remounted his ebony fly. Binkadink did the same with Obvious, whose fly spell was still in effect, but he promised himself he'd just use his jackalope buddy as a means of transport to the floating base; he wasn't going to send Obvious into battle against these "robot" things. Gilbert, Mudpie, and Hagan flew back up to Eradicator Base under their own power, with Binkadink and Darrien following on their aerial mounts. Finoula activated her lightning bolt amulet for a fourth time, but this time when she blasted herself up to the bottom of Eradicator Base she resumed elven form before returning to earth, staying adhered to the bottom of the floating base with her boots of spider climbing. She felt around on the invisible structure, trying to find a door or window.

Binkadink had recovered his laser sniper rifle but kept it on his back while he held his reverberating glaive in both hands. As they approached, he used his weapon to slice into one of the security drones spying on them from just below the level of the bottom of Eradicator Base. Seeing the ease with which he brought it down, he sent Obvious to go intercept another one and sliced through it as well.

Gilbert landed on the rooftop of the northern central building and resumed his human form. Then, a quickened spell at the ready just in case, he stepped forward to the edge of the roof and started to try to address the robots. The blaster droid immediately swiveled his rifle arm at the mage and Gilbert cast his readied dimension door spell, sending him 40 feet backwards in midair, where Mudpie caught him easily by the shoulders. The earth elemental held his master safely until Gilbert concentrated on another form, shapechanging into an astral deva. In this form he could fly at will with his feathered wings, but more importantly he had a tongues ability that would allow him to communicate with the defensive force of trigger-happy droids. Of course, they'd be able to tell he wasn't a human while he wore that form, but one thing at a time.

The soldier droids had massed over by the building where Gilbert had been, energy blades rising up out of their mechanical hands. Hagan flew up over the side of the base and, seeing a mass of metal constructs arrayed out before him, finally got to cast the meteor swarm spell he'd been holding off on so as not to damage the engines keeping Eradicator Base afloat in the sky. He targeted the grappler droid, and the grappler was destroyed instantly by the four flaming meteors that struck its metal body. The subsequent explosion damaged the other defensive droids to various levels of degree, but none of them were likewise rendered incapable of movement. Still, it had been an expressive explosion, a view echoed by Wezhley, cheering on his master while perched upon his right shoulder.

The blaster droid, however, now had a viable target and shot a ray at the flying half-orc sorcerer, the blast just barely missing Wezhley as well. The subduer droids approached, sensing the possibility the flying mutant might fall within reach.

Having failed to find a hatch anywhere along the bottom - and realizing even if there was one it would take forever to find when the invisible base could only be seen for a half-second or so every few minutes as the field flickered off and on - Finoula walked cautiously up the side of Eradicator Base, eventually coming back to the top. She found herself on the same rooftop Gilbert had just recently fled in desperation. On her way up she saw Binkadink and Obvious going drone hunting; they destroyed a third drone before the fourth and final one scooted back up to the top of Eradicator Base, where it was hopefully safer.

Obvious dropped onto the roof of the observation platform at the northwestern corner of Eradicator Base and Binkadink leaped down onto the deck, his glaive ready to deal damage to these metal robot-men-things. Darrien popped up at the other end of the base, picking off the spiderlike security bots with his own laser rifle. Two of them fell in just over as many seconds as the ranger aimed and fired, as adept with this strange new weapon as he was with his own trusty Arachnibow.

Their security drones and bots being picked off - there were now only two of the spiderlike constructs and one flying drone - the droids all followed the instructions of the unseen controller and scurried back to the nearest recharging station, the doors slamming closed once they'd entered. Then they plugged into the receptacles and were charged back up, the worst of the damage they'd sustained fixed on at least a temporary basis - if they survived this assault they'd no doubt need further attention by the repair droids.

Gilbert landed on the rooftop he'd so recently abandoned and took the moment of non-combat to cast a bear's endurance spell on himself. Even though switching forms using the shapechange spell healed a bit of damage each time a new form was assumed, Gilbert was a cautious man and liked ensuring his own safety whenever possible - you never knew when some giant brain-on-legs was going to zap your mind into temporary oblivion on this crazy world!

Hagan, eager for the robots to return so he could blow up more of them, passed the time waiting for them by casting a magic missile spell at the last flying drone, sending it crashing over the side of the base. And then the doors opened along the inner sides of the top deck of Eradicator Base, the recharged droids emerging to deal with these enemies. The subduer droids were the first out, one of them attacking Binkadink who was more than happy to attack right back. Finoula ran across the rooftop, unfurling her flaming burst whip of thorns as she did so and sending the tip of her weapon snapping down at the droid attacking her gnomish friend. Binkadink's glaive scored a groove across the thing's chest and sparks erupted from where he'd hit it; apparently it had taken some kind of internal damage from the strike. Obvious leaped down and flanked the subduer from behind, not only striking the metal construct with his antlers but perhaps more importantly preventing it with his bulk from getting back into its recharging station.

The shock troopers were the next to exit, the tips of their built-in hand-held weapons sparking as if in anticipation. They headed over towards Binkadink and Obvious, currently the only intruders within range.

Darrien, noticing the charge in his laser rifle was getting low, stowed it on his back and replaced it with his Arachnibow. Then, pulling arrow after arrow from his quiver, he destroyed the last two spider-bots in rapid succession. Gilbert flew forward and cast a maximized chain lightning spell on the assembled droids, destroying outright all but the two subduers and the two shock troopers, from whose bodies smoke arose, testifying to some internal damage of their own from the spell. Seeing this, Hagan followed up with a chain lightning spell of his own - and now there was only a sole subduer droid left on the field of battle. Binkadink's reverberating glaive made short work of that one.

The way now looking clear, Binkadink sent Obvious back down to fetch Aithanar, Genevar, and MARCI, leaving the other five hoppers below to fend for themselves for awhile. Once he'd ferried the trio up to Eradicator Base, though, he returned to his litter-mates' sides. They were happy to see him, if somewhat confused as to how he was no longer dead any more (not that they were complaining).

Now that he was in astral deva form, Gilbert's inherent tongues abilities allowed him to read the words on the signs printed in the strange language of this strange world. He had MARCI check out the buildings labeled "Medical Bay" (in which she was able to restock some supplies she could use in her own internal medical stashes) and "Droid Repair" (which she reported contained spare parts of no use to her own mechanical design). And then, seeing the two small rooms jutting out of the front of the central building to the north (a combination "Briefing Room/Lounge," which Gilbert opted to bypass for now) were both labeled "Stairs," he opened to door to one of them and headed down to Deck Two.

Lights came on as he entered the middle deck, illuminating the entire level. There was a walled-off room in the southwestern corner and a pair of long tables against the east and west walls, upon which sat various tools of some type, but of more immediate interest were the six humanoid forms made of molded metal and that odd substance Genevar had called "plasteel." Three of them were the size of a normal human and these stood on raised platforms between the two sets of stairs leading up to Deck One, the one in the middle obviously built for a woman. The three larger shapes stood on platforms in the northwest, northeast, and southeast corners of the deck. The signs on the fronts of the platforms identified the "superheroes" on display: Titan, Ogre, Banshee, Wraith, Spriggan, and Goliath.

<Guys!> Gilbert called to those above. <Found what we looking for!>

Everybody rushed downstairs to see what Gilbert had found. They stood with mouths wide open in awe - except for Genevar, who looked around in confusion. <This is their armor,> she confirmed, <but where are the Eradicators?> She indicated a series of yellow stripes along the southern wall. <Their aircars are missing. Don't tell me they aren't even here!> The ten-year-old mutant looked about ready to cry, her hopes of finding her heroes and bringing them back from what she assumed had to be stasis of some kind looking to be shattered.

"There's another level below us," pointed out Binkadink. "Maybe they're down there." Genevar insisted on checking out the room in the southwestern corner first, but it was just a repair shop filled with spare parts, calibration equipment, and various tools.

A single set of stairs led down to Deck Three. But a quick walk through the many rooms on this level showed that while this was the habitation level - complete with six bedrooms, a lounge area, a kitchen and dining area, latrines, and the engine room keeping the entire structure airborne - there was nobody there. Nor, Genevar was sad to see, were there any stasis chambers.

<They've got to be here somewhere!> she insisted. <Or a clue as to how we can find them!> She ran back up the stairs, to the top deck, insisting they hadn't checked all of the rooms up there. Sure enough, they hadn't - as became apparent when they opened the door to the room next to the "Communication Room," this one simply labeled "Controller." Gilbert shapechanged out of his astral deva form, taking on his true appearance as the controller droid spun to face them.

The controller had been built in only a vaguely humanoid form; its head was a half-sphere atop its blocky body with an antenna sticking straight up and its hands were mechanical claws from which smaller, more dexterous "fingers" could be extended. Without contact from any of its security bots or drones, or any of the various defensive droids it sent into battle to defend Eradicator Base from the incursion of mutants, it realized it was - for the first time since its construction, several hundreds of years ago - truly on its own.

However, the heavyset man standing immediately before it, although wearing quite ridiculous-looking clothes made of what looked to be homespun cloth, appeared to be a pure strain human. The controller verified this with an invisible scan of Gilbert's form. "Pure strain human status confirmed," it said aloud in its unknown language, then focused its attention to those standing behind the man. From the pointed ears and green skin coloration it could see using only its visual senses, these were surely mutants of some sort!

"It okay, they with me," Gilbert said, his incomprehensible words translated immediately by MARCI. The medical android translated the controller's follow-on statement for Gilbert's benefit: "I have a message from the Eradicators, to be given to the first pure strain human to appear on Eradicator Base."

"Let's hear it," Gilbert replied, MARCI once again translating for him.

The controller spun in place and activated a switch. A screen above it came to life, showing the image of a dark-haired man. He began speaking, MARCI translating for the benefit of Gilbert and the others crowding in behind him.

"My name is Harrison Carey," the man said. "You probably know me better as Titan." He turned, showing a group of five figures seated behind him. "These are my friends and loyal companions, Victoria Richard, Banshee; Axel Jacobi, Wraith; Logan Pierce, Spriggan; Daniel Fredericks, Goliath; and Alexander Mann, Ogre. We've...we've all seen better days. This video message is serving as our last will and testament."

<Look at them,> Genevar said with a wistful expression in her mental voice. <They're starting to mutate.>

Sure enough, the ten-year-old mutant had caught on at once what the camera was just now focusing upon. Victoria had a pair of fangs starting to protrude past her upper lip and her skin was growing patches of scales. Axel's nose had darkened and what at first had looked like a beard proved to be fur sprouting all across his face, giving him a distinctive ursine appearance. Logan's face looked fine, but the bones in the fingers of his left hand had apparently dissolved, leaving the five ringed appendages growing out of his left hand - which wriggled as if of their own accord - looking like nothing so much as a bunch of wriggling earthworms. Daniel had no teeth, but the beginnings of what would likely become pedipalps were growing along the sides of his mouth; his spidery appearance was enhanced by the six black eye-spots growing on his forehead. Alexander had white feathers growing in his eyebrows and his hands were twisted things of scales and sinew, well on their way to becoming talons.

A sudden movement drew the attention to the pair of small, feathered wings rising up from Harrison's shoulders; his facial features, upon closer inspection, looked to be somehow feline. "We were stupid," Harrison admitted. "We tried to get some of our family members to safety and we all got the virus. We're turning into abominations, the very things we've been killing in the streets as they manifest." Harrison looked plaintively at the camera, the pupils in his eyes quite noticeable vertical in shape. "We're not going to let this run its course. We're done for: we'll let the controller at Eradicator Base hand over everything to the next human who shows up free of the mutant virus. You, whoever you are: you'll find our combat armor downstairs on the second level. Find others like you, pure-blooded humans free of the taint of mutation. Carry on our mission, as best you can. And as for us...." Harrison raised a pistol to his head; behind him, the others did likewise.

"Humanity will prevail!" Harrison called out, and then the screen went black to the sounds of six small explosions. Wordlessly, the controller switched off the screen.

Getting the controller to accept the others as "honorary humans" was easy enough; Gilbert merely commanded the droid to annotate its scans of each hero as "human" in its internal logs and then that was that. MARCI downloaded her files of the Common tongue of Kordovia to the controller and just as easy as that it was capable of communicating to them in their own language. They learned Eradicator Base had landing struts and a ramp that could be extended from the southern part of the top level, so they had the controller land the structure and extend the ramp so the six jackalopes could be brought on board. While it was on the ground the Kordovians took the opportunity to remove all traces of the apidox's attempt at constructing a hive on the bottom of the base, not wanting it to interfere with the operation of the anti-gravity field that kept the flying building in the air.

That just left two decisions to be made: how to get Eradicator Base headed back to the Transdimensional Conduit Generation Complex where they had first entered this world (and which was their only way back) and how to decide which Kordovian was going to take on the role of which combat armor "superhero."

On that latter front, Finoula was the easiest: as the only woman in the group, she inherited the Banshee armor. With assistance from Genevar, who knew the most about what each armor system could do, they decided Gilbert would take the Goliath mech; it had a hatch that opened in the middle of the construct's body, so he could cast spells through it as needed, closing himself in after spellcasting had been completed. Binkadink took the Spriggan armor, but that was because the previous owner, Logan Pierce, had been a small man and the gnome fit best in the cockpit of the vehicle. Darrien took on the Ogre suit and Aithanar the Wraith suit; like Finoula's these were less piloted vehicles like the other three and more like enchanted armor one wore, although in this case this was enchanted with technology. (Genevar assured them their armor was much more like this "Iron Man" fellow the little mutant kept on about.) That left Hagan in the Titan armor, but in his case it had been preordained by a message in a table, carved there by Pythagoras Greymantle after his mind was broken by the Far Realm. "One day I'm going to be a titan," he recalled the message had said. "Looks like today's the day."

It took some doing (since they lacked what Genevar called "GPS coordinates," whatever they were), but the group finally found their way back the way they'd come and Eradicator Base floated serenely over the Transdimensional Conduit Generation Complex. "We even a couple days early," Gilbert gloated. "Give us plenty time to practice in these metal suits."

- - -

And that ended our five-adventure excursion into Gamma World. The six heroes now have either combat armor or a combat mech to pilot in the last two adventures of this campaign. I knew from the beginning I wanted to visit Gamma Terra at some point in the campaign and since I had the idea to tie in Iron Man type combat armor I also decided this should occur only at the tail end of the campaign.

For each of the six superheroes, I found an image I wanted to use and designed the armor's capabilities around the picture. I used the tracking method used in Star Fleet Battles, in that each suit has a number of points per round that can be allocated to different systems: life support, mobility (in the case of the mechs), and their various weapons and other powers. (Some have force fields, some have pulse guns, some have jump jets, Wraith has an invisibility field like the entire Eradicator Base and Banshee has a sonic scream, etc.) At the end of this session, I went through the various systems for each armor and gave the players their sheets to study between now and our next session (in two weeks if the current pattern holds).

So the next adventure will take place when Malrin casts a bolt of electricity at the lightning rod at the Oerth end of the gateway between universes and the heroes can return to their own world. Genevar, MARCI, Obvious, and his five litter-mates will all be permanent emigrants to Oerth; Logan's already planning on hunting up the poorly-crafted pipes of the sewers that summon rabbits and similar creatures instead of rats (from their early adventure, "Bad Hare Day") to summon dire rabbits, which he knows exist on Oerth, so the jackalopes can find mates outside their own immediate family structure.

The apidox was a plastic bee I bought for a buck at Target years ago; the various defense droids were the handful of "Rogun Robot" toys we still had around from when my boys were little.

Incidentally, Aithanar made it to 9th level at the end of this adventure - that's probably the last bit of leveling up in this entire campaign.

- - -

T-Shirt Worn: My "Iron Man 2" T-shirt featuring Iron Man and War Machine, to represent the combat armor and mech suits of the Eradicators.
 

Richards

Legend
ADVENTURE 79: THE FINAL ORC WAVE

PC Roster:
Binkadink Dundernoggin, gnome fighter 20​
Darrien, half-elf ranger 20​
Finoula Cloudshadow, elf ranger 20​
Gilbert Fung, human wizard 20​
Hagan, half-orc sorcerer 20​

NPC Roster:
Aithanar Ivenheart, elf fighter 9​
Genevar, humanoid mutant​
Malrin Ivenheart, elf druid 15​
MARCI, humanoid construct​

Game Session Date: 6 June 2020

- - -

Learning to pilot the Eradicator combat machines (Genevar called them "mechs") took a bit of practice, but this was made much easier with the help of a telepathic mutant who could read the local language and explain what all of the controls did - after telepathically "communing" with the artificial intelligences (Genevar called them "programs") that helped run the devices. Binkadink took to the Spriggan armor like a duck to water, spending practically his every waking moment inside the mech, parading up and down the decks and learning to maneuver this massive metal body as well as he could his own. He even practiced using his reverberating glaive - extended to its maximum length - in the mechanical hands of the Spriggan mech. It took some getting used to (and it made him feel like his glaive was much smaller than he was used to), but he got to be pretty good with it.

Hagan was getting proficient with the Titan armor as well, but in his case he didn't have all that much to learn: Titan had six shoulder-mounted grenades but the targeting system for that was fairly simple (he practiced without live ammunition to get down the basics), and other than that the mech wasn't all that complicated. Hagan was pretty sure he'd still be relying upon his spells much more than this metal robot suit's hydraulic punches, no matter how much power he could channel into the system's strength.

Gilbert had politely learned the very basics of how to run the Goliath mech but then subcontracted the whole scheme to his earth elemental familiar, after polymorphing him back to human size. "Got too many powerful spells to be cramped inside metal armor thing!" the portly mage complained. So Mudpie spent the time learning the ins and outs of piloting the Goliath mech; one side benefit was he didn't need to waste any power keeping the life support system on-line, as he didn't need to breathe.

Finoula, Darrien, and Aithanar had it much easier: the Banshee, Ogre, and Wraith systems were more along the line of magic armor they wore (although Genevar insisted there was nothing magical about it, it was mere technology - but the others failed to see the difference). Still, once they learned how to put on the armor they could move about on their own from the start and it was a simple matter to learn how to activate the various abilities built into the combat armor systems: Wraith's invisibility field, Banshee's sonic scream, and Ogre's shoulder-launched missiles (the targeting of which, like Titan's grenades, were practiced without the actual armaments in place). Wraith and Spriggan had pulse guns as part of their armor and Titan and Ogre had lower-level pulse blasts, but these weren't intrinsically much different than targeting the stun rifles and laser sniper rifles the group had accumulated during the last month.

Once the heroes had retraced their steps to the Transdimensional Conduit Generation Complex - their entry into this alternate world - from the air they had the controller droid who ran Eradicator Base land nearby while they checked it out to ensure all was still in working order. Genevar confirmed the power was still building that would allow the portal to Oerth to open in several days' time. Thinking long-term, Gilbert had the repair droids see what they could do about mending the defense droids the Kordovians had destroyed when first encountering the floating base (even if it meant making one good robot out of the parts of several others). He also gave orders for the repair droids to see what they could do about mending the sonic fence surrounding the Transdimensional Conduit Generation Complex; no need to allow spider-sharks or whatever else wander in here during their absence. Finally, Gilbert decided that once the heroes and their jackalope companions returned to the world on the other side of the portal, the controller was to return Eradicator Base to an aerial position hovering unseen above the Complex, there to remain until Gilbert returned to give the controller further instructions - he wasn't necessarily sure they'd ever return to this strange world but it would be nice to have things in place ready for their return if it became necessary (or even just desired).

On the day the Kordovians were to return to Oerth, the six new Eradicators stood in the courtyard of the Transdimensional Conduit Generation Complex, with Gilbert riding his jackalope Twitchy-Tail and MARCI and Genevar astride Obvious; lined up behind them were the rest of Obvious's litter-mates. "Should be any time now," observed Gilbert.

Back on Oerth, due to the different rates of rotation between the two worlds, it was already late at night. Malrin stood by the abandoned cottage of the dead wizard Selune Travers, looking up at the lightning rod rising from one of the stone columns forming the well of many worlds. It was a dark night, heavy with clouds, such that neither the stars nor the two moons could be seen and the elven druid had half expected lightning to strike the metal rod without any prompting on her part. But when the rains that had threatened all evening failed to come, Malrin took matters into her own hands and cast a call lightning spell that brought an arc of electricity crashing down to strike the lightning rod, lighting up the hidden grove for a brief moment.

The space between the two stone columns, topped by a curving arch of stone, illuminated with a silvery energy field of an almost liquid consistency. Then, from this vertical plane of shimmering waves stepped a few humanoid figures. These were beings the likes of which the elf had never seen before and she instinctively made a mental survey of the attacks spells she had at hand, for these metal golems looked fearsome - one held an enormous...gun of some type, its long barrel like that of a crossbow but without the cross-pieces, the whole thing attached to the construct's chest by thick cables. But then, alongside these metal giants hippity-hopped a form with which Malrin was much more familiar: it was Obvious, with MARCI and Genevar on his back. "It's okay," Obvious assured the elf. "That's Binkadink in there." The Spriggan mech looked over at Malrin and raised a mechanical hand in greeting.

Behind Binkadink in the Spriggan mech strode Goliath, piloted by Mudpie, then Titan - and Malrin could see Hagan and Wezhley inside the thing through a viewport, the little weasel jumping around excitedly on the half-orc sorcerer's shoulder, apparently glad to be back home. Malrin's astonishment rose as five other jackalopes accompanied the six metal humanoids, one of the antlered bunnies ridden by Gilbert Fung. "We back!" he announced. "You miss us?"

"You're just in time!" replied Malrin, looking back through the trees the way she'd come. "I think we're under attack! I saw a blast of fire in the sky a few minutes ago - it might have been a signal arrow." Chalkan's arcane archers were stationed in blinds up in the trees ringing the kingdom, on the watch-out for orc and goblin armies approaching, as they'd done every six months or so for the last two decades. When spotted, the archer sent an arrow high into the sky, imbued with a fireball spell to warn the kingdom of approaching enemies. "But it was from pretty far away," she added.

"Well, let's go check it out!" decided Gilbert, urging Twitchy-Tail forward. The other jackalopes followed, one of them - Aithanar's Digger - taking the time to lower himself to the ground so his new master's sister could leap upon his back. The mechs ambled along, pushing their way through the trees.

As they approached the edge of the Vesve Forest, they could see a burning tree ahead. Getting closer, they could see it was one of the arcane archer perches - apparently the orcs and goblins (or, most likely, their handlers) had gotten wise to the Kordovian first line of defense and warning and managed to lob a fireball or similar spell at the ranger in the blind before he could get off a warning. That would explain the fact that the warning shot Malrin had spotted was from much farther off; the group approaching by this station had managed to take the arcane archer stationed here, meaning they were able to infiltrate deeper into the kingdom before being spotted and the warning going out.

Gilbert cast a Rary's telepathic bond spell on the heroes (remembering to include Malrin, as she hadn't been with them in the past month), which allowed them to communicate with each other - even those not currently inside Eradicator armor, which had their own communication method which Genevar had tried to explain but which none of the Kordovians really understood. (Most by this time had simply assigned "advanced technology" as another type of magic currently unknown on Oerth.)

<Get combat spells ready!> Gilbert advised over the link. He cast a stoneskin spell on just himself, as Mudpie was too far away - and encased inside the Goliath mech - for him to share in his master's protective spell. Ah, he be fine! Gilbert thought to himself. He then cast a shapechange spell upon himself, choosing not to change forms just yet but glad to have the spell already in effect in case he needed it at a moment's notice.

Malrin cast a stoneskin on herself as well but the rangers didn't bother with their normal pre-combat spells; after all, their new Eradicator armor would give them much more protection than the barkskin spells they normally cast. Likewise, Darrien opted not to buff up his jackalope mount, Droopy-Ear, as the heroes had decided they wouldn't be bringing the hoppers into combat; Obvious would keep them hidden at the edge of the forest, along with Genevar, once they'd delivered Gilbert and MARCI to the battlefield.

The group marched out of the forest within visual sight of the garrison fort closest to Battershield Keep, the one where the former King Galrich served as the sellsword Slayer. The mercenaries were out in full number, fending off attacks by orcs, goblins, and what could only be orogs - orc/ogre hybrids bred for combat. If the garrison men had started out in orderly ranks they were no longer so, the chaos of war scattering them all around their stone fort. Dozens of bodies of all the races involved were already strewn about the battlefield, the fight having already been going on for some time before the arrival of the heroes just returning from Gamma Terra.

Finoula ran forward to get herself in position. Before donning her Banshee armor, she'd removed her ioun stone and lightning amulet so she could wear them outside the Eradicator armor. (She was still miffed she couldn't wear her boots of spider climbing over her Banshee armor - knowing if she did, they'd likewise be destroyed the first time she deployed the Banshee's jump-jets: a thrust system that propelled her through the air for short distances, the thrust coming from the bottom of her feet.) Then, having lined herself up as she wanted, she activated her lightning amulet and transformed herself - Banshee armor and all - into a living bolt of lightning that went blasting through three goblins and as many orcs, killing them outright before altering course and reverting to her armored elven form halfway up the side of the steep hill leading to the garrison fort.

At Gilbert's direction, Mudpie plucked him up off of Twitchy-Tail and deposited him on the shoulder of the Goliath armor; now the heavyset mage was doing a fine impression of Hagan's own weasel familiar, Wezhley. But as Mudpie piloted the Goliath armor closer to the enemy, Gilbert cast a quickened Evard's black tentacles on a group of powerful-looking orc barbarians climbing up the other side of the hill from Finoula. He then followed that up almost immediately with a waves of exhaustion spell encompassing the same orc barbarians and a group of nearly goblins rushing to go attack a guardsman already fending off a pair of orcs. Mudpie punched a nearby orc on the head with his hydraulic fist as he passed, crushing the burly fighter into paste. He didn't slow his pace at all.

Aithanar activated the invisibility field incorporated into the Wraith armor's design, fading from view as he approached the battle scene. He pulled up his pulse gun and fired at an orc, blowing his head clean off with the blast of energy that went streaking his way when the elf pulled the trigger. Aithanar grinned wildly inside his armor; for once, he felt he was truly pulling his weight in a fight alongside the much more experienced members of the Kordovian Adventurers Guild.

Hagan cast a fly spell upon himself and the Titan armor and the metal mech rose into the sky. He aimed himself at the top of the stone fort, planning to use it as a lookout platform from where he could see where his offensive spells could be best deployed. He worried for a moment whether the stone structure could support the weight of a 15-foot-tall metal combat mech, but decided he didn't need to actually land on the roof of the fort - it would be safer if he didn't put it to the test.

Malrin had leaped off of Digger's back and was running forward towards the combat as her brother's hopper mount high-tailed it back to the safety of the forest. She saw a group of orcs bunched together and decided they'd make a fine group of targets for an entangle spell. Orcish curses echoed across the battlefield as the beastly warriors found themselves being attacked by...grass! And what was worse, the plants growing up from the ground were effectively taking them out of the fight, a horrible fate for fearsome warriors eager to kill the humans before them. They'd have been fine with dying in battle against a superior foe - what orc could ask for more? - but to be grounded from battle by plants was humiliating!

A pair of orogs had made it up the hill and were making short work of the garrison men by the base of their fort, cutting them down like wheat. Darrien cast his own entangle spell on another group of orcs and started up the steep hill to aid the guardsmen up there fighting the savage orogs. On either side of the hill, though, orc skullslingers were also attacking scattered pockets of guardsmen, their primary weapons bolas made from the hardened skulls of those they'd slain in previous battles. And all around, sneaky goblins crept close to their foes but just far enough away to stay out of immediate danger themselves; they preferred throwing spears and shooting arrows at men already distracted in hand-to-hand combat with the larger, more dangerous foes. But the goblins' spears took down more than a few of the mercenaries fighting for the defense of the Kordovian kingdom.

Binkadink raised the Spriggan's pulse gun and aimed at an orog up at the top of the hill. He fired and hit him but the brute refused to fall, roaring his defiance at the strange metal man approaching up the hill. But he turned away from the mercenaries he'd been attacking, allowing them to gang up on the other orog, cutting him with their blades as he seemed unable to defend against three swordsmen at once.

And then, out of nowhere, a monstrous form materialized at the western side of the garrison fort's hill. With a leg-span of nearly 50 feet, the monstrous spider looked down at the Spriggan mech before it and pounced, its wicked mandibles catching Binkadink's armored suit around the middle. Venom dripped down from the tips of its fangs but failed to penetrate into the Spriggan's sealed interior. Binkadink noted the numerous spikes rising up from the arachnid's legs and guessed it was from somewhere in the Lower Planes; apparently there was a spellcaster somewhere among the enemy, and a pretty powerful one at that if capable of summoning forth a monster of this size and strength!

Just as suddenly, a dire bat appeared in the sky directly before Hagan in his Titan mech. It scratched at the mech's metal chest with its clawed feet and tried to bite through the plasteel viewport at the front of the mech's head area, attempting to get at the half-orc sorcerer inside. Neither attack did much but leave a trail of saliva across the front "window" of the mech, but Hagan likewise decided the bat was likely fiendish in nature, judging by the horns ringing the top of its head like a crown.

Finoula approached a group of orcs and goblins trying to overrun a garrison mercenary and tried out her sonic scream, causing the enemies to drop their weapons and instinctively cover their ears. The mercenary, out of range of the Banshee's attack, took the opportunity to stab the closest orc through the neck, slaying him instantly.

This crazy! Gilbert thought to himself, flipping to the back of his Omnibook where he kept his scrolls in magical storage. He flipped the pages to a time stop spell and cast it, watching in satisfaction as everything froze into position all around him. Taking advantage of the extra time he now had to deploy a bunch of tactics all at once, he pulled Hachi and Tzumezhao, his foo lion figurines of wondrous power, and dropped them to the floor, calling out their shared command word as he did so. He then cast an invisibility spell upon himself and, not having the spell he wanted available in his current mental inventory, flipped the pages at the rear of his Omnibook until he found a scroll of see invisibility - he was pretty sure none of these orcs, goblins, or orogs were capable of summoning forth a fiendish monstrous spider of that size and suspected an invisible spellcaster somewhere in their midst. Finally, he used another scroll to cast a fly spell upon himself and flew over to the top of the stone fort. However, with his see invisibility spell already in effect, he could now see there was a female drider on the fort's roof - a drider he hadn't been able to see before casting his spell! Looking around the battlefield, he also saw a male drow sorcerer or wizard standing behind a group of orcs and goblins, no doubt watching invisibly at the progress of his beastly allies.

As the time stop spell ran its course and Gilbert fell back into the normal flow of time, he called out over the Rary's telepathic bond spell what he'd seen: <Drider spellcaster on rooftop, drow spellcaster to the east! Finoula, drow on your left, up on top of hill!>

As one, Hachi and Tsumezhao, rising to their full size in front of the fiendish monstrous spider, clamped down on the spider-leg closest to them. Mudpie also swiveled the Goliath armor and sent a hydraulic fist crashing into the massive arachnid's head. Just now approaching the battlefield, MARCI stepped forward and cast her red beam over the bodies of several guardsmen lying in the dirt. "Dead," she identified. "Dead. Pulse detected." Stepping up to the third body, she injected him with a stimdose that had him fluttering his eyes open and grabbing up the sword that had fallen from his hands when he'd been knocked out by an orc's blow. Ignoring the metallic construct who had just revived him, he jumped to his feet and raced to the nearest orc, ignoring the fact he was standing beneath a spider so big he'd taken its legs as slender tree trunks.

Hagan punched the fiendish dire bat, nearly knocking it out of the air. It struggled to maintain its position n the sky, reeling drunkenly but eventually managing to get its bearings. Hagan was willing to bet it had never before been punched as hard as the Titan mech had just punched it.

Aithanar shot up at the fiendish arachnid with the Wraith pulse gun, grinning as a chunk of flesh exploded from its body and a dark ichor dripped from the wound. Then Malrin sprinted at the spider, wildshaping into a tyrannosaurus as she did so. The monstrous dinosaur was of a large enough size to be a natural threat to the fiendish arachnid, clamping her daggerlike teeth into one of the eight legs near where it connected to the body. And Binkadink turned to attack the spider as well, using his reverberating glaive extended to its full length. The weapon was quite impressive with the full strength of a 15-foot-tall armored mech behind it!

The arrival of the heroes had certainly made quite a difference in the course of the battle already, but the orcs, goblins, and orogs weren't giving up yet - they surely knew they had drider and drow spellcasters on their side and they still had superiority of numbers over the mercenary guardsmen, at least. Darrien cast a freedom of movement spell upon himself and waded through the edge of his entangle spell to make it up the steep slope of the hill to the top where the orogs were still thrashing at the few human warriors still alive up there. They were doing their all against the orog fighting them, and as Darrien watched a quartet of orc warriors skirted around the back of the garrison fort, ready to attack the guardsmen from behind. Pulling out his Arachnibow, he managed to slay two of the orcs in rapid succession, glad he'd spent time on Eradicator Base learning to fire his magic bow while wearing the bulky Ogre armor.

Another summoned combatant materialized on the field, this one another spidery being but nowhere near as large as the massive fiendish spider to the west. Finoula recognized it as a bebelith as it scurried towards her, forelimbs ready to rend her armor and mouthparts opened wide to bite. She felt the fangs pierce the sides of her armor, sliding between the layers to pump venom into her torso, causing a burning sensation as the poison did its work. She felt her heart pumping faster as the strength left her body. To make matters worse, the drow sorcerer popped back into visibility as he cast a magic missile spell at Finoula, apparently deciding that exposing himself to full view in the midst of combat while taking out a female foe was worth the risk.

But there was no way Finoula was going to stay here in the demon's clutches, not when the single touch of her amulet and a command word sent her blasting through the bebelith as a bolt of living lightning. She arced over through a couple of orcs at the top of the hill for good measure, then pivoted and blasted through the drow sorcerer on her way back to the ground far enough away from the bebelith to force it to waste time reaching her - time she could put to good use. The orcs and drow were slain instantly, whereas the bebelith seemed entirely unaffected by the electrical attack.

The fiendish monstrous spider bit at the tyrannosaurus who was in turn biting at it, while Mudpie threw another powerful punch at the creature with the full might of the Goliath mech's hydraulic systems. In midair, the fiendish dire bat again tried biting the Titan mech with no discernible effects. Gilbert flew up and over the top of the keep and cast an acid fog spell over the roof, catching the invisible drider spellcaster within its billowing clouds. The drider made no cries or indications of pain, but Gilbert knew she had to have been affected. Still, one disadvantage of the spell was she was now obscured within the cloud and thus couldn't be individually targeted with further spells, only those which affected an area. But Gilbert had a few more of those on hand, so he wasn't overly concerned.

The foo lions continued biting at the giant spider's legs, while Aithanar kept firing his pulse gun at the thing. Malrin dodged to the side and bit a chunk of demonic flesh from the spider's abdomen with her dinosaur teeth. Together, they were taking the fight out of the summoned arachnid.

Hagan ignored the fiendish dire bat and cast a chain lightning spell down at the orc barbarians still trapped in Gilbert's Evard's black tentacles spell, arcing off blasts to strike a bunch of other orcs and goblins in the immediate vicinity and the orog making its way towards Binkadink in the Spriggan armor. The goblins were slain instantly; the orog and orcs were brought near to staggering - none of them looked to be worth much in the fights to come, but still they fought on.

Darrien slew two more orcs with his Arachnibow and then started shooting at the bebelith. Binkadink slew the fiendish monstrous spider with a crippling blow from his reverberating glaive, the full power of the Spriggan mech behind it. As a summoned creature, the spider returned to its Lower Plane when it was slain, not polluting the battlefield any further with its corpse.

Then a quartet of lights shot up out of the acid fog cloud covering the top of the garrison fort. A simple dancing lights spell, the four glowing balls of light took alignment in a diamond shape and then started spinning in a circle. Gilbert surmised this was a signal, of the same sort the arcane archers used when sending fireball arrows up into the sky to warn of an impending attack. Sure enough, the remaining orcs, goblins, and orogs looked up, saw the lights in the otherwise dark sky, and turned back to the Vesve Forest, slinking off the battlefield - the lights were apparently a signal to retreat. Unseen inside the acid fog, the drider cleric cast a word of recall spell that instantly teleported her off of the rooftop and across the miles to the designated rally point, where she could begin the trek back to home and to safety.

The orcs, orogs, and goblins, when opportunity allowed, took time from their retreat to grab up any metal weapons dropped by the men they'd slain. The bebelith, however, had no desire to retreat; it scurried forth and caught up a mercenary in its jaws, ripping the armor from him with its fore-claws as it pumped venom into his system. The soldier, not as seasoned a fighter as Finoula, died instantly; as for Finoula, she could still feel the effects of the venom but was fighting on. The fiendish dire bat was in no mood to retreat, either, and continued its fruitless attacks upon Hagan in the Titan mech. Hagan punched it to death and its body disappeared before striking the ground.

But just because the foes were in retreat was no reason for the battle to be over. Finoula blasted her way through a line of fleeing orcs and an orog as a living lightning bolt, regaining her armored elven form in front of a line of slain corpses. She nodded in appreciation to herself. Gilbert dropped lower, directly in front of a group of enemies, including the bebelith. He cast a prismatic spray spell at the group, watching orcs get burned alive and goblins get poisoned into immediate death; the bebelith, however, was randomly struck by a blast of electricity, to which it was completely immune.

Mudpie's greater stride in his Goliath mech allowed him to catch several fleeing orcs and pound them into mush before they could escape the kingdom. Hachi and Tsumezhao, without the fiendish spider to chew on any more, bounded up to an orog and brought him to the ground, ripping at his arms and throat until he was dead. Aithanar, deciding he'd go after the toughest-looking foes, shot another orog with his pulse gun, dropping him instantly. Darrien was picking off orcs and goblins with his arrows, firing as fast as he could.

But the entire army had not been centered on this one particular garrison fort; the combatants had spread out and attacked Kordovia in a wide swath, some of them apparently making it into the capital city, for streams of orcs hurried towards the Vesve Forest, some of them carrying human women over their shoulders. That was a first - in the past, they'd limited their "war trophies" to metal armor and weapons from the soldiers they slew. The heroes spread out as well, trying to slay as many of these attackers as they could before they escaped.

<Do we follow them?> asked Binkadink over the telepathic link.

<Best we stick together!> replied Gilbert. <We better as a powerful front all in one place - split up, we easier to take down one at a time!> He also knew the futility in trying to track down an entire army on the rout, with everyone entering the forest by the quickest means available. He saw the bebelith wink out of existence, the duration of the spell that had summoned it apparently having expired.

One orc in particular was running straight at Gilbert. He readied an attack spell before he noted the orc was a woman waving her arms wide. "It me, Mudpie!" she called out, using her son's childhood nickname. Gilbert landed on the ground before his winded mother, reincarnated into an orc body after her slaying by assassins from her homeland. Harriet Fung briefly told her son of her recent exploits since the previous orc wave, when she inserted herself among the attacking ranks as they retreated back to their hidden home base.

"Orcs think I part of different group, take me into ranks. We return to cave in forest. Then we teleport to different places underground. We end up in--"

"--a drow city," finished Gilbert, earning him a swat on the arm.

"Mudpie!" fumed Harriet. "You already know this, why you send me in as spy?"

"Mom, I swear, we just found out now - there was a drow spellcaster and a drider in with the orcs and goblins and whatnot. I figured, based on the power of their spells, they were the masterminds behind the attacks. They are, aren't they? It's drow sending them after us?"

"Yes, it drow all right - entire drow city, called Arachnespinnacle. They got teleport circles all through Underdark - it only safe way to teleport that far underground."

"Tell me you know how to get us to this Arachnespinnacle," prompted Gilbert.

Harriet playfully slapped her son's arm again. "Of course I know way back - what kind of spy you take me for? I know command words to teleport circles, too!"

The others regrouped around Gilbert and his mother and were caught up on Harriet's tale. "Drow!" hissed Finoula. As an elf, she had no love for the drow - and the feeling was quite mutual, for the dark elves hated their surface cousins above all others.

"Should we go follow them now?" asked Binkadink, eager for continued battle.

"No, we wait, rest up, go when we at full strength," Gilbert replied. "Want Mom to draw us out map of drow city, so we make plans on how best to attack. We should check in with the Queen, too, let her know we back and we know who behind attacks."

"It'll give us time to bury our dead, too," observed Darrien. There were a lot of dead soldiers strewn about the battlefield - and this was just one pocket of fighting among several.

As it turned out, there were some personal losses among those slain in this most recent attack. Galrich Slayer's body was found under a pile of enemies, an arrow sticking out of an eye socket; apparently he'd been shot through the eye but fought on until he was overpowered by a group of orcs, but still managed to take out a half dozen by himself before succumbing to his wounds. The group talked about having the former king resurrected, but they also realized he had finally been reunited with his loving mother in death: Queen Kathenta, who'd died giving birth to Galrich in an orc encampment. "We'll ask Queen Kaelanna," suggested Finoula. "She'll best know his wishes."

But that wasn't the only death that hit hard. Several garrison forts to the north, a group of bodies had been burned to a crisp, the victims of repeated fireball attacks, it looked like. There wasn't much left to identify the bodies...but one of them wore a ring on his finger bearing the Ivenheart crest. Malrin and Aithanar recognized it at once as the ring their father had worn as the oldest male in his line; after Aroban's death, the ring had been passed on to Castillan. The bounder's identity was further confirmed by the ring on his other hand, which Castillan had had custom-made to allow him to dimension door three times per day.

"They will pay for this - the drow, all of them will pay!" swore Malrin, before breaking down into tears. Aithanar comforted his sister as best he could.

"We make plans at once," promised Gilbert. "This the final orc wave ever come out of the forest to attack us!"

- - -

So, getting back to that "wavelength" that I seem to have with my son Logan (who plays Binkadink in this campaign and is the DM for the "Raiders of the Overreach" campaign)....

When I first devised this campaign I knew that waves of orcs and goblins were going to be a long-term plot line, one I envisioned being taken care of at the very end of the campaign. I had decided the orcs and goblins were slaves to the drow, who didn't want to waste time and resources arming their slaves when the occasional raid on the surface would not only weed out the unworthy but allow them to scavenge for metal weapons and armor from those they slew. I figured their Underdark city would be heavily shielded from divination spells and the way back to their city - from a cave in the Vesve Forest, which was one end of a teleportation circle node leading to the Underdark - would make it nearly impossible for the Kordovians to be able to find where these attacks were coming from.

So, when we finished up the "Durnhill Conscripts" campaign (that Logan DMed), he informed us his next campaign was going to start off with our new PCs as slaves to a drow city in the Underdark. I had to just laugh quietly to myself - damn that "wavelength!" (Despite Logan looking more like his mother's side of the family than mine, he and I practically share the same mind sometimes.) So the big reveal in this campaign kind of ended up being a bit of a letdown, but I think the PCs are stoked enough about having Gamma Word armor/mechs that the "unoriginality" of the drow city is lessened significantly in their eyes.

So, the next adventure will be our last. Due to some scheduling conflicts, we won't be able to play in this campaign until sometime in July. We also need to decide who all will be going on the adventure: the five PCs, of course, as well as Malrin and Aithanar, with Harriet Fung as a scout. I think the general consensus was to leave Obvious and the other jackalopes behind; they're still kind of wavering on bringing Genevar or not. ("Who brings a ten-year-old into a war?" - "But it's a ten-year-old with prophetic visions of the future!") So we'll see how that turns out.

In any case, I'm feeling the same way as I did about closing out my last campaign: sad to see the end of these characters but eager to see what the next campaign will be like. (The next campaign will be called "Dreams of Erthe" and will feature a pantheon of gods patterned after the PCs from my first campaign with this group, "Wing Three." I think I'll start up a thread for that one pretty soon.)

- - -

T-Shirt Worn: My TSR Silver Anniversary T-shirt, because among the many D&D monsters it has featured on it (in an illustration by none other than Tony DiTerlizzi) is a goblin.
 
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Richards

Legend
ADVENTURE 80: AN AUDIENCE WITH THE MATRIARCH

PC Roster:
Binkadink Dundernoggin, gnome fighter 20​
Darrien, half-elf ranger 20​
Finoula Cloudshadow, elf ranger 20​
Gilbert Fung, human wizard 20​
Hagan, half-orc sorcerer 20​

NPC Roster:
Aerik Battershield, dwarf fighter 15/dwarven defender 5​
Aithanar Ivenheart, elf fighter 9​
Father Bendrick, human cleric 12 (Kord)​
Genevar, humanoid mutant​
Harriet Fung, orc sorcerer 6​
Malrin Ivenheart, elf druid 15​
MARCI, humanoid construct​

Game Session Date: 11 July 2020

- - -

"Thank you all for coming," said Father Bendrick. "Please, have a seat."

The heroes walked into the Temple of Kord and took their seats along the banquet table that had been spread with all manners of delicious-looking food. There were 11 seats around the table, exactly as many as needed, for Mudpie and MARCI did not eat and would not be partaking of the heroes' feast the head cleric of the Temple of Kord had prepared before their excursion into the Underdark to bring an end to the attacks that had been plaguing Kordovia for the last two decades.

"Let us give thanks," said Father Bendrick once everyone was seated. "Holy Kord, we thank You for the feast spread before us. We ask that it, through You, give us the strength needed to perform the task put before us. We pray for the strength to achieve our goals, and for the strength to die bravely in battle should it come to that." He looked around the table. "Let us eat," he said simply.

As everyone started filling their plates, Gilbert - usually never one to delay the consumption a fabulous meal - observed, "I notice you say 'we' awful lot during that prayer."

"Indeed," replied the cleric. "For I will be accompanying you. As the head cleric of the Temple of Kord, the church upon which this kingdom was founded, it is my duty to bring the fight to the enemies of our land." He smiled and added, "You may notice there are not often very many practicing members of the faithful in attendance on any given week of services. That is because our most fervent adherents are most often found on the front lines of combat during the attacks. Our turnover rate is quite high, due to the frequency with which our most earnest young clerics die on the battlefield fighting the orcs and goblins attacking our homeland. Now that we know the source of these attacks and are able to bring the fight to them, there is no way I will stay behind."

"Are you sure you're up for it?" asked Darrien. "I mean, no offense...."

"None taken," replied the cleric. "I may have some gray in my hair and beard but I have plenty of fight left within this old frame." He frowned over at Genevar, though, who was helping herself to a frosted pastry. "I must question the wisdom of bringing a child into battle, however. How old are you, little one?"

<I'm ten,> Genevar replied telepathically. <But I'm old enough to come with! Plus, I can help - I can see things that are going to happen...well, sometimes I do.>

"I'll be stickin' with th' wee lass," Aerik Battershield replied. "An' with Harriet as well," he added, indicating Gilbert Fung's mother, currently wearing the orcish form into which she'd been reincarnated after having been slain by assassins from her own distant homeland, far across the sea. "I'll not be lettin' anythin' 'appen to either o' 'em." Unnoticed at the far end of the table, Finoula was sitting quietly at the table, putting butter on a muffin, thinking wistfully that this was exactly the type of heroes' feast Ingebold used to prepare before the group would head out into adventure. A single tear threatened to spill from her eye at the thought of her fallen Battle-Sister.

"So, we know the way to the city?" asked Father Bendrick as Aithanar surreptitiously wiped at Finoula's eye with a cloth napkin. He patted her hand, realizing exactly where her thoughts were at the moment.

"I know way into city," Harriet Fung replied. "Underdark passageways, but teleportation circles cut travel time down. I remember command phrases used - no drow think simple orc woman pay attention, or be able to activate them herself. It take maybe two hours, tops, get to Arachnespinnacle. But we run into drow garrison along way; will have to take them out, no way around it." On her shoulder, her raven familiar Kurotori picked at the nut she offered him. Across the table, Hagan was doing likewise, offering a grape to his own familiar, Wezhley, as the little weasel sat perched on his shoulder.

"I'm just worried about the people who got taken back with the orcs who escaped," Hagan said. Unlike previous raids on Kordovia, where the orcs and goblins had seemed mostly interested in gaining armor and metal weapons from those they killed, this time some of them had abducted women from the kingdom. Hagan's own half-orc heritage had been the result of a loving marriage between his human mother and his orc father at the far side of the Vesve Forest, but he knew many half-orcs were the result of interactions of a far less willing nature. "Should we really have taken the time to pick up those scrolls and potions and get those last weapons upgrades? And eat this meal? Shouldn't we be heading out immediately? Those women...."

"Scrolls needed for better chance at success," Gilbert replied. Based on glimpses of possible futures Genevar had seen - where she saw the need for the heroes to be able to "turn into clouds" and "fall the wrong way" (unfamiliar with magic, the mutant girl had been unable to specify the spells involved) - the heavyset mage had determined they should all have potions of gaseous form at hand and he'd been sure to pick up a scroll of reverse gravity. While he was at it, he loaded up on a lot of other spell scrolls he felt might be useful, for once they entered the Underdark there would be no turning back to fetch anything left behind; teleportation magic was notoriously unreliable that far below the earth, making the permanent teleportation circles a necessity for such magical travel, even if they only allowed transportation from one fixed point to one other. Teleporting any distance beyond simple line of sight was asking for trouble in the Underdark; you could find yourself reappearing inside solid stone or in a random location with no way of knowing where you were.

"Women fine for awhile," interjected Harriet. "They not harmed by orcs yet - all new slaves turned over to drow women for inspection first. Some may serve drow inside hollow stalactite. Only those no good for such work given back to orcs. We get to them in plenty of time."

"And that will be our primary task," added Aithanar. "Once we get to the city proper, Aerik, Harriet, Genevar and I will break off from the rest of you and rescue the women taken from Kordovia. Harriet knows the barracks where they'll be kept - it's separate from the slave quarters the orcs and goblins and whatnot are housed in."

"I will join your group, then, I think," added Father Bendrick. "I feel my place is seeing to the safety of my people, even though my heart might cry out for combat."

"Then eat up," Gilbert replied, helping himself to a hearty slab of ham. "This spell make sure we immune to poison and fear for rest of day. It good way to start mission."

In accordance with the spell's requirements, the group spent an hour polishing off the meal, but the time was spent going over their plans and strategies. By the time they had finished they all knew their particular goals and Harriet had familiarized them all with the general layout of the drow city of Arachnespinnacle. The city itself was housed in a massive cavern and the drow resided in a gigantic, hollow stalactite hanging down from the ceiling. This stalactite was covered in balconies and windows, providing the various drow spellcasters housed in the city plenty of locations from which to fire down at any attackers. On the ground of the cavern were the standard types of buildings one might expect to see in any city, but these were reserved for the slaves and the members of the other races allowed into the city for trade purposes. Spiders of all sizes had free reign of the place and a permanent collection of webs ran from the stalactite to the ground and the sides of the cavern.

"We ready?" Gilbert asked the others as he pushed back his chair and stepped away from the table, as full as he could ever recall being. The group exited the temple and six of them put on their powered combat armor or climbed aboard the mechs they had brought back with them from Gamma Terra, another word entirely.

"Ready," replied Hagan, giving a thumbs up from his pilot's seat inside the Titan mech. Wezhley still sat on his shoulder, looking out through the forward viewscreen and seeming to enjoy himself.

"Ready," echoed Binkadink from inside the Spriggan mech. One mechanical hand held the gnome's reverberating glaive, the weapon which seemed so oversize in the little gnome's hands looking more properly scaled when held by the mech.

"Ready, Master," answered Mudpie from inside the Goliath mech. Gilbert had decided he'd had better things to do than learn how to pilot a humanoid construct from the inside and had farmed out the job to his earth elemental familiar.

Aithanar, Darrien, and Finoula all indicated their readiness as well once they were strapped into their technological armor and Harriet Fung led them out of the capital city of Kordovia, headed towards the Vesve Forest on its eastern border. She led them unerringly to a simple cave, looking like nothing more than an overhanging jut of rock sticking out from a hillside. Nothing grew within 100 feet or so from the spot and there were no markings on any kind on the solid stone underfoot to indicate this was anything but a natural rock formation out here in a forest clearing. But when Harriet barked out a short phrase in the drow language, an intricate circle made up of glowing lines appeared all around them; a teleportation circle, Gilbert surmised. But there had been no indication there was anything magical about the site and the heavyset wizard was willing to bet it had been obscured by nondetection or Nystul's magic aura spells hiding all traces of its magical nature. No wonder Chalkan and his arcane archers had never been able to track the retreating orcs and goblins back to their lair; any tracks would have stopped at the rock-covered ground and there were no indications that there was teleportation magic at play in the area.

"We ready?" Harriet asked everyone as they stepped inside the confines of the circle. Upon the affirmative response, she said another short phrase and they were all whisked away to the blackness of the Underdark.

The group reappeared in a similar teleportation circle some unknown distance away and an unknown depth below the planet's surface. All was not dark, though, for the Kordovians had brought some light sources with them: the three mechs, for instance, all leaked light from their control consoles out of their front windows and Binkadink's everburning torches strapped to the antlers on his helmet shone through just as brightly from inside the Spriggan mech. All together it was ample light for the topsiders to spot the two drow guards who had been set there to protect their all-important teleportation circle providing access to the surface world.

However, with their latest raid having occurred the day before, they were more concerned about other Underdark denizens trying to use the teleportation circle created by drow for use by the drow than they were of surface-worlders using it to penetrate the Underdark - such a thing hadn't even crossed their minds before now, so sure were the drow of the precautions they'd taken from allowing their handiwork to be discovered. But they spun about, startled at the sudden illumination coming from behind them, and their eyes widened in shock as their mouths gaped open at the sight of Binkadink, in the Spriggan armor, leaping forth on a pair of mechanical legs and bringing a reverberating glaive slicing laterally through the torso of the first drow and continuing his swing into the body of the second. Neither guard had the first notion of what they were up against before it no longer mattered, for they were dead on the ground.

"That plenty easy," Gilbert observed. "Where next, Mom?"

Harriet led them all out of the cavern in which the teleportation circle had been carved and into a tunnel that stretched off to the right and left. "This way," she said, taking them off to the right. "Next obstacle is drow garrison. Place has shrieker mushrooms along sides of tunnel, in front of iron gates - no way to go in quiet, they alert guards even if you invisible." That caused Aithanar to retract what he was about to suggest, for his Wraith armor had an invisibility field that wrapped light waves around him so he could walk around unseen. But he realized the shriekers would detect his movement via the air currents even if there was no light spilling from his armor, so there was no way for him to scout ahead and try to open the gates to let the others pass through.

It was over a half hour's trek to reach the garrison, during which time there were only a few times the tunnel branched off into other directions, but each time Harriet kept the group on target. When she indicated the garrison was just around the next bend, Gilbert called a halt. "Time for prep spells," he declared. He started with the traditional Rary's telepathic bond spell, linking himself with Binkadink, Darrien, Finoula, Hagan, Malrin, and his mother. Upon himself he cast the spells magic circle against evil, stoneskin, darkvision, comprehend languages, and shapechange, taking the opportunity that last spell afforded to transform himself into a lithe, drow woman - practically the exact opposite of his own normal appearance. He also drank down a potion of resist acid. Normally, Mudpie would have shared in those spells with his master, but Gilbert realized there was no real way to keep his familiar within arm's reach when the elemental would be piloting the Goliath mech.

"What's the deal with the hot drow chick getup?" asked Binkadink. "You planning on pretending we're your prisoners or something?"

"Not likely," Gilbert replied. "They just less likely attack me if I look like this."

"Best keep your mouth shut if you expect to pass yourself off as a drow," suggested Finoula, casting a longstrider spell upon herself and then following it up with the spells bear's endurance, cat's grace, protection from fire, and - recalling with a shudder the tales of drow and their fetish for giant spiders - repel vermin.

Hagan cast a protection from fire spell upon himself as well, and then he and Malrin ensured the elven druid, Gilbert, and everyone inside Eradicator armor or a mech had a freedom of movement spell active. Malrin also cast a darkvision spell upon herself and then wildshaped into owl form.

Darrien cast bear's endurance, cat's grace, darkvision, longstrider, protection from acid, and resist cold spells upon himself, then declared himself ready.

Binkadink had no spellcasting power of his own but did have an uncle and a cousin in the potion-making business; he drank down potions of resist acid and protection from cold and had Hagan cast a fly spell on him and received a comprehend languages spell from a scroll from the back of Gilbert's Omnibook.

<I think that about it,> Gilbert thought to the others over the mental link. <Let's go!> And, despite the shapely female drow form he currently wore as protective camouflage, he made sure he was towards the back of the group as they turned the corner, with Genevar, MARCI, Father Bendrick, and Aerik Battershield.

The group tromped down the stone corridor, their footsteps echoing fiercely through the Underdark tunnel. The shriekers began wailing as they got within sight of the barred iron gates closed before them; on a ledge directly above stood six drow crossbowmen, their weapons aimed at the approaching mechs (for it was Spriggan, Titan, and Goliath taking the lead) and their eyes boggling at the sight of these walking mechanical constructs, the likes of which had never been seen before on Oerth, above ground or below.

Glancing nervously at each other, the drow aimed their weapons and fired as one - to no discernible effect. But Gilbert, playing it safe as always, took the opportunity to upgrade his personal defenses with a protection from arrows spell.

However, he then switched gears and strode forward, altering his shape as he did so. His curvaceous female drow form ballooned out, quickly attaining his own corpulent proportions and then far exceeding them as his limbs faded back into his body and he rose up into the air, now wearing the form of a beholder. Ten eyestalks swiveled around, looking every which way, as his central eye stared up at the six drow on the overhanging balcony from what must be the second story of the garrison - but then he quickly shut it, so the anti-magic cone wouldn't interfere with his friends' ability to cast spells in the area directly ahead of him.

Mudpie trundled forward beside his master in the Goliath mech, ignoring the drow completely as he maneuvered the metal hands through the bars of the iron gate and tugged. There was a shriek of tortured metal (to go along with the screams of the shrieker fungus, which had yet to abate) but the gates held true - for the moment, in any case. Hagan cast a wall of fire along the balcony, burning all six of the drow crossbowmen to death at once, before Binkadink strode up in the Spriggan mech and brought his reverberating glaive crashing down upon the locking mechanism keeping the iron gates from opening. Mudpie had no trouble after that pulling the two doors open toward him, revealing another set of barred gates at the far end of a tunnel some 60 feet or so in length. There were two doors on either side of this short tunnel and a ceiling some 15 feet above the floor - just enough room for the mechs to fit without bending over.

Darrien moved up to the first door on the left, trying to open it to no avail - it was locked and he couldn't pull it open, even while wearing the Ogre armor. But he did notice a crack in the stone floor and followed it to the wall's edge, where it joined with a visible line across the length of the edge where floor met wall. <Looks like we got a trap door from wall to wall over here,> he warned the others. He looked up at the ceiling and saw a series of holes leading into the floor above, but it was too dark inside the unlit dwelling to see any details about the room directly above. Still, the holes worried him enough - they could easily be used to allow an archer to shoot directly down at those in the tunnel - that he warned the rest of the group over the Rary's telepathic bond about this feature as well.

Finoula walked up to the first door on the left and, finding it locked, used her chime of opening to unlock it. Then she stepped inside, with Malrin in owl form perched upon her shoulder. She was in a narrow hallway, but in the room just beyond she could see from the dim light coming in from behind her a pair of drow pushing a metal bar mounted on two upright poles across the room. Behind them she could hear the unmistakable sound of stone on stone and the elven ranger deduced they were removing the supports that would allow the pit trap in the tunnel to be triggered.

Malrin came to the same conclusion and, copying Hagan's tactic that had worked so well with the crossbowmen, cast a wall of fire directly across the bodies of the two drow struggling to push the bar. They died screaming and the metal bar remained only as far as they had gotten it moved thus far, less than a third of the way across the room. It looked like the pit trap wasn't going to be able to be primed after all. But then the hall was suddenly filled with figures, as drow fighters spilled out of two doors along either end of the hallway Finoula was traversing, rushing at her with rapiers flashing.

At the same time, the door immediately in front of Darrien opened up and the half-elven ranger was confronted with another fighter, who stabbed at him with his rapier, getting a full-on hit to the chest...which was easily deflected off the Ogre armor. Darrien grinned at the drow's shock, certain the dark elf could probably see his face through the armor's face plate even in the dim light.

But then the drow stood petrified before Darrien - quite literally, having been hit by a flesh to stone ray from one of Gilbert's beholder eyestalks. Another ray went flashing into the still-open door behind Finoula, slaying one of the drow advancing upon her with a finger of death ray. Mudpie piloted the Goliath armor into the tunnel as, behind him, Harriet and the others advanced now that it seemed to be safe.

Darrien heard orders being given in the room up above him and instinctively looked up, giving him just enough time to dodge out of the way as boiling oil came pouring down through the holes in the ceiling. Hagan warned Finoula and Malrin what he was about to do immediately before casting a delayed blast fireball through the open door behind Finoula. The elven ranger took heed at once, dodging back out the door and holding it closed behind her. There was a whumph! sound and a chorus of screams as the fireball exploded in the hallway filled with the tightly-packed bodies of drow fighters spilling out of the two barracks rooms.

The Spriggan armor stepped forward into the tunnel - now somewhat slippery as the stone floor was covered in boiling oil - and Binkadink brought his reverberating glaive smashing through the wall just past the door, the stone chunks crushing two drow soldiers heading towards the door from the feasting hall. Malrin flew from Finoula's shoulder to land on the top of the Spriggan armor, while Darrien raced through the hole in the wall Binkadink had just created. There was another fighter approaching from the back of the dining hall; Darrien peppered him with arrows from his Arachnibow - appropriately enough, originally a drow weapon - and the fighter fell to the floor, dead.

Another drow stepped out from the kitchen where he'd been getting a plate of food, raised his crossbow, and fired, but once again the Ogre armor deflected the incoming bolt and Darrien wasn't the least bit harmed. Gilbert flew into the room and shot a ray from an eyestalk, instantly slaying the offending drow.

Mudpie headed straight for the far set of gates, intending to smash them open as he realized they'd all need to exit in this direction if they were going to continue on to Arachnespinnacle. But then two drow clerics levitated down from the balcony above the gates, shooting spells through the iron bars of the gates, one sending a flame strike at Binkadink and Malrin while the other targeted Gilbert, still in beholder form, with an unholy blight spell. Hagan, seeing the drow women, responded with a polar ray at the cleric on his right, covering her body in a rime of frost that came close to slaying her outright. Binkadink strode forth and finished the job with his glaive, stabbing through the bars of the gate. Darrien stepped back through the hole in the wall and shot a cluster of arrows at the remaining cleric, several finding their marks but failing to bring her down.

Finoula activated her lightning amulet and went streaking across the tunnel, blasting between the bars of the still-closed gates and through the body of the second cleric, finally slaying her. She remanifested while still outside the back gates. Malrin flew just behind Finoula, fitting her body sideways between the bars and then heading up to where she could see over the balcony. There were two more clerics up there and the elven druid warned the others over the telepathic link.

In the large room over the middle of the tunnel, a pair of drow fighters tipped over the vats of oil the clerics had heated with their spells, causing the liquid to drip down onto the area just before the back gates. Mudpie was caught in the area but managed to dodge out of the way even while inside the Goliath armor - not needing to sleep, he'd been able to put in much more training than any of the other mech pilots and had mastered the art of running a mech until it performed almost as well as his own unliving body. Pushing open the gates, he stumbled outside, nearly - but not quite - slipping in the burning oil pooling by his feet. Hagan advanced just behind him.

Gilbert sent a disintegrate ray from an eyestalk aimed directly above him and flew up into the room containing a pair of drow fighters and the now-empty cauldrons that had held boiling oil. Two more eye rays shot out, one slaying one fighter while the second failed to petrify the other into nonliving stone.

On the back balcony, one of the two remaining clerics in charge of this garrison fort cast an unholy blight spell on the Goliath armor just now trudging into view below her, while the other raced through a side door and into the main room, where she cast a blade barrier spell, causing a wall of flying weapons to manifest in a line cutting through the area where Gilbert floated in beholder form. But Binkadink, piloting the Spriggan armor through the back gate, realized his mech was tall enough to allow him to use his glaive against the drow cleric on the balcony and did just that, killing her with one blow.

Darrien, seeing all of the action was now apparently happening upstairs now, dashed back inside the hole in the wall he'd just exited, running down a hallway past the feast hall and up a set of stairs he found back there. In the tunnel, Finoula and the others moved up, after Gilbert announced there was no more boiling oil available for anyone to pour down on them. As he was passing on this information, he sent his beholder body forward through the wall of bladed weapons, altering shape once again until he stood in the towering form of a pit fiend. He grinned widely at the drow fighter blanching at this powerful devil standing before him, partly at the dark elf's look of horror and partly because in changing shape he'd healed up most of the damage the blade barrier spell had managed to inflict upon him. Gilbert didn't even bother using any of his spells on the outclassed drow fighter, opting to simply rip him apart with the teeth and claws of the devilish form he'd adopted.

In a desperation move, the sole remaining drow cleric tried casting a bestow curse spell upon Gilbert but the pit fiend form had an innate resistance to spell energy and the spell fizzled against this unseen barrier. Gilbert grinned all the harder, realizing perfectly well just how unnerving the grin of a pit fiend could be. Then Darrien popped up from the hallway around the corner from the stairs, pumping arrows into the cleric's body from the side while she faced Gilbert. That was enough to cause her to drop her attention momentarily from Gilbert, and he took the opportunity to rush forth and rip her to shreds with his claws. She fell to the floor in a bloody mess.

<Think that it for this place,> Gilbert announced, and a quick look around confirmed he was right. Everyone gathered up by the back gate and then Harriet Fung led them further into the darkness of the Underdark tunnels, on their way to Arachnespinnacle.

They approached two more sets of teleportation circles and Harriet put them both to good use - they encountered no resistance, the drow apparently having opted to fall back instead of have a token resistance try to prevent their use. <They probably muster their forces in city, try to fight us off there,> Harriet opined.

In less than an hour the group was there at the gate to the drow city. A truly massive set of metal doors stood closed and barred at the end of the tunnel. Above the door stood an enormous statue of a spider, the whole thing looking to have been carved straight from the wall above the door, which slanted inwards towards the city. On either side of the massive doors stood two pillars of smoke, rising lazily in the air.

<Betcha anything that thing animates to attack us,> Binkadink hazarded, indicating the spider statue.

<What about it, Mom? There a password into city so spider stay still?>

<No idea, Mudpie,> Harriet replied to her son, using the childhood name she's given him and which he'd repurposed once it came time for him to call a familiar into service. <I was at back of line of orc slaves when we come to city - if there password to enter, I not hear it.>

Gilbert cast a true seeing spell, hoping to gain some clues as to the situation with trying to get past the spider; maybe there were some runes they could avoid or something. He didn't get what he expected from the spell, although it definitely was a good thing he'd cast it, for in doing so he saw the four columns of smoke for what they really were: yochlol demons, the fabled "handmaidens of Lolth," each looking something like a cross between a roper and a melted candle. He warned the others over the link, then shapechanged back into a female drow, hoping to either fool the demons or at least prey upon their natural inclination not to attack drow women, many of whom were clerics of Lolth the Spider-Goddess, patron deity of the dark elves. Then, stepping forward, he cast a prismatic spray spell at the four yochlol.

The first ray struck a yochlol and coated her with acid, a poor happenstance for the demon was immune to such attacks. Another immediately petrified the next yochlol in line, turning her to unliving stone in less than heartbeat. The third yochlol immediately disappeared, having been plane shifted to a random plane - somewhere remarkably unpleasant, Gilbert hoped. The last yochlol got hit with a beam of pure poison, to which she was also immune. Oh well, Gilbert thought to himself, least I took out half of them.

Mudpie moved up past his master and brought a technology-enhanced punch to one of the remaining yochlol. Hagan cast a polar ray spell at the other one, Binkadink stepping up in the Spriggan armor and sending his reverberating glaive crashing into that one as well. He'd hoped the one-two punch of spell and blade would have taken out the demon, but such was not to be.

Darrien moved forward in his Ogre armor, pulling out his scimitar, recently enhanced with the holy property (as was Finoula's longsword Tahlmalaera), sure to be anathema to a demon from the Lower Planes. But the half-elf ranger paid for the effrontery of attacking a yochlol with a holy weapon; through the pain brought on by the blessed blade, the demon sent her will to grab Darrien's mind and sway him into unwilling service. <Slay your companions!> the yochlol demanded - and Darrien turned to comply.

The other yochlol did likewise to Binkadink, dominating the gnome into doing her bidding. The Spriggan mech pivoted in place, ready to go attack the other Kordovians. Worse yet, on the wall behind the yochlols and above the massive doors leading into the drow city proper, the spider statue ripped its legs from the surrounding stone and crawled down the wall, mandibles open wide to crush those before it. Its mouthparts closed around the Titan mech, as Hagan did his best to try to maneuver it out of the way to no avail.

Activating her lightning amulet once again, Finoula blasted her way through the spider-shaped elder eidolon, ricocheting back near where she'd begun her attack. One of the yochlols was striking at the Goliath mech with her tentacles as Malrin cast a summon nature's ally spell to bring in some reinforcements. Rising up from the ground almost immediately came a trio of huge earth elementals, two of which began pounding at the stone spider while the third brought a boulderlike fist crashing down upon one of the yochlols.

Gilbert flipped to the back of the Omnibook where he stored his spells scrolls and cast a stone to flesh spell upon the elder eidolon. For a short while, its rocky carapace softened to flesh. <Get it now, while it weakened!> the mage called over the link and the others scrambled to comply. Gilbert switched back to his pit fiend form, flapping his wings and flying over to land beside Darrien and Binkadink - and have his still-present magic circle against evil spell temporarily suppress the domination effect taking over their minds. <You two better stick close to me until we take out those demons!> he suggested.

Mudpie turned and brought his attention - and the technologically-enhanced strength of his Goliath mech - to the spider behind him, still biting the Titan mech. Hagan finally managed to wrench his mech from the arachnid's mouth, staggered back a step or two, and let fly with a polar ray right at the spider's head - while it was temporarily susceptible to such spells, as its normal, golemlike defenses were no longer in effect, although the half-orc knew it was only a matter of a short amount of time before it would resume its stony appearance and its full defenses would be back into play.

Binkadink, however, wanted to take the yochlols out before they could do any more damage; the spider was a powerful adversary but he doubted it could take over anyone's mind like these roper-demons could. His glaive cut completely through the body of one yochlol, killing it immediately, and cleaved over into the body of the other. He was pleased to see it too was dead when he pulled his blade out of its body.

That left the elder eidolon as the city's only defenses outside the city gates. Darrien brought his Arachnibow up and fired off a series of rapid-fire shots, burying the arrows up to their shafts in the spider's fleshy body. It's rocky coating re-emerged almost immediately thereafter, but by that time it was too late: with a reverberating crash, the eidolon fell to the stone floor, its rocky limbs breaking off and scattering across the entry cavern as the animating life-force left its slain body.

Gilbert called the three earth elementals over to him and, resuming his human form, used his slingshot of rock shrinking to reduce each of them to pebble size and scooped them up in his other hand. He then took the moment of non-combat to cast a fox's cunning spell upon himself.

Binkadink and Mudpie, putting the full power of their giant mechs to use, wasted no time pulling the city doors open. And there before them, stolen weapons taken from the bodies of the soldiers they'd slain in Kordovia, were the orcs, goblins, and orogs who had survived the latest assault upon the surface world and had been stationed here to attack anyone and anything who made it this far into the city of Arachnespinnacle. The slaves knew too well that to disobey their drow masters was a death sentence, but they had no illusions that they were anything but disposable cannon fodder whose lives were being used merely to waste some spellpower on the part of the attackers. And that's about all they were worth, for Gilbert, Hagan, Malrin, and Father Bendrick sent waves of area-attack spells into the slave forces, slaying them almost instantly.

The Kordovian forces lined up and entered the city of Arachnespinnacle. At a nod from Gilbert, Harriet, Aithanar, Father Bendrick, Genevar, and MARCI broke away, Gilbert's mother taking them along a side alley toward the building where the Kordovian women would be housed. Aithanar activated the invisibility field around his Wraith armor, fading from view as he powered up his pulse rifle. Anyone thinking about getting in their way would be learning very quickly just how bad an idea that was!

The others moved forward into Arachnespinnacle. As Harriet had described, the city was housed inside a truly massive cavern, whose most prominent feature was the enormous stalactite hanging down from the ceiling several thousand feet in the air. The stalactite was pocked and pitted with windows and small balconies, nearly every one sporting a dark face as the drow looked down to see if they could spot the attackers who dared to bring the fight to their own city. Strands of spider webs stretched from the stalactite to the ground, the walls of the cavern, and the ceiling, forming makeshift bridges for those capable of traversing them. And sure enough, there were spiders everywhere you looked, of a wide variety of sizes and colors, crawling upon the webs and on the cavern walls, along the walls and ceilings of the stone buildings scattered beneath the overhanging stalactite, and in the narrow, twisting alleyways between the haphazard buildings.

And on the ground before the heroes, ranged in a wide arc so as not to be taken out by a single area-effect spell, stood the next wave of the city's defenders: a trio of drow sorcerers, a similar number of armored drow fighters, a female drider cleric of Lolth, another normal-looking drider standing beside a draegloth abomination (a drider twice the size of the others, whose "drow" portion was that of a drow-demon hybrid), and an armor-ripping bebelith.

The drow sorcerers were the first to react, and they'd apparently just been waiting for the enemy to finally show its face for them to strike out with the attack they'd already coordinated among themselves. As one, a trio of chain lightning spells went flashing out, all three of them centered on the Goliath armor, as Mudpie happened to be standing in the middle of the formation of heroes and by targeting him as their primary they were able to branch out to all of the others.

Unfortunately for them, there was no way for them to know ahead of time that the mechanical humanoid figure they saw before them was a mech being piloted by an earth elemental, or that said elemental served as the familiar to a powerful mortal wizard - and whose status as a familiar granted him a measure of spell resistance. Two of the chain lightning spells fizzled out immediately upon striking the Goliath mech, only the third one getting past Mudpie's arcane defenses and activating normally. Almost all of the heroes ended up being harmed to some extent by the one spell that made it through, but the effect was nowhere near as devastating as the drow spellcasters had hoped.

But then, in a wavering field like a mirage, a colossal spider suddenly manifested before the heroes, the reddish color of its fur and the jagged spikes and protrusions running down its abdomen attesting to its fiendish nature. The drider cleric who had summoned it here gave it orders to slay all of the attackers before it and it scampered forward to comply. This time it was Binkadink, in the Spriggan armor, who was crushed in the grasping mouthparts of the spider-being they fought; the gnome felt a wave of evil energy being pumped through the thing's mandibles as it brought a smite good attack to bear.

Gilbert counterattacked, casting a quickened Evard's black tentacles spell that caught up the draegloth abomination, a pair of drow fighters, and one of the sorcerers in the embrace of the rubbery appendages growing up from the ground. Gilbert's proficiency with this particular spell, through frequent battlefield use, ensured none of the victims caught up in the tentacles' embrace would be escaping through any means but their own eventual deaths.

But Gilbert wasted no time enjoying his spellcasting success. Realizing every drow in a window or standing on a balcony overhead was a potential spellcaster, he used his slingshot to fire Malrin's earth elementals up at the stalactite; upon striking the outer edge, the elementals regained their normal size and used their inherent earth glide abilities to phase through the outer stone of the stalactite and enter the hollow dwelling of the drow. They lashed out at any drow they saw, pulping them beneath their pounding fists. Gilbert then resumed his pit fiend form, the shapechange spell still active and allowing him to alter his form at will.

Mudpie sent the Goliath mech lumbering forward and brought a metal fist pounding into the body of the fiendish monstrous spider biting Binkadink's mech. Hagan cast another polar ray spell but targeted the drider cleric, not wanting her to be able to replicate her summoning of additional allies; they already had enough enemies to fight! Binkadink managed to bring his glaive to bear against the spider's head, getting it to release him at last.

Darrien picked one of the drow sorcerers not being strangled by black tentacles and sent a flurry of arrows at him, likewise wanting to take out a spellcaster as quickly as possible. With the five mechs and combat armor systems in play, he figured they were more than a match for any physical enemies they might encounter; it was the spellcasters who could mess things up so fast for them.

But then, from her balcony at the highest level of Arachnespinnacle's stalactite, the Matriarch of the drow and leader of the city - and High Priestess of Lolth, the most powerful spellcaster to be found in the entire population center - picked as her target one of the metal constructs doing so much damage to her forces below: the one wielding a glaive, of all things - and cast her spell. Inside the Spriggan mech, Binkadink felt a strange tingle at the pit of his stomach, and got out the first few words of a warning over the telepathic link - <Guys, I think--> - before the implosion spell ran its course and his entire body (all three feet of it) was compressed into a mass no larger than a seed.

The others heard the little gnome's cry of shock and pain over the link and its abrupt ending and had no doubts that Binkadink had just been slain.

The bebelith scampered up, ready to try to rip open one of these metal constructs - it couldn't be sure, but it seemed as if there were people inside them! Finoula ignored the demon, using her amulet to go crashing through a drow sorcerer as a bolt of living lightning (killing him immediately), then rebounding through the normal drider (slaying it as well) and blasting through the fiendish monstrous spider before regaining her elven form, still wearing the Banshee armor.

The creatures bound in the Evard's black tentacles spell struggled to free themselves, to no avail. Already the sorcerer had succumbed to the crushing tentacles, the air squeezed out of his lungs and the life already having left his body; by the looks of things, the two fighters weren't too far behind him.

Malrin had been holding off on this maneuver as her magic dinosaur tooth only allowed her to do so once per day, but she judged now was the time if she was going to do it at all. With a simple mental command, she wildshaped into a tyrannosaurus and bit a chunk of foul-tasting flesh from the abdomen of the fiendish spider. That was too much for the arachnid, who had already taken plenty of punishment from the other foes it had been fighting; as a summoned creature, it vanished upon its death.

But then, on a signal from the Matriarch, the spellcasters on this side of the stalactite fired down at the intruders with everything they had. A massive attack of concentrated spellpower, incorporating fireballs, flame strikes, a mass inflict light wounds spell, an attempt to blind Malrin (which fortunately failed, as the elf-in-tyrannosaur-form was able to shrug off the effects), a pair of chain lightnings, a flesh to stone spell (also targeted at Malrin; apparently the drow were frightened by the sudden appearance of a fearsome dinosaur in their midst, but Malrin successfully avoided this spell effect as easily as she had fended off the blindness), and a series of magic missiles. None of the heroes came out of the spell-barrage unscathed, although some weathered the storm better than others.

Then, to add insult to injury, the sole remaining drow sorcerer on the ground with the heroes cast another chain lightning spell at almost the same time as the drider cleric cast another fire storm spell. That was too much for Malrin to handle; with a massive thud, the tyrannosaur form fell upon its side and then wildshaped back into the form of an attractive, if quite dead, elven woman.

The fiendish spider grabbed up the Goliath armor and bit it, crushing the metal sides in and knocking Mudpie out; Gilbert could feel the consciousness leaving his familiar over the empathic link they shared. He'd been thinking about how best to get Binkadink restored back to life, and now Malrin needed resurrected and his familiar needed healing as well. This attack was not going as smoothly as he had hoped it would; he fervently prayed that his mother was not meeting the same level of resistance as Gilbert's team was up against, for he knew Harriet's spell repertoire was not geared for combat.

<Everybody gather up on me!> he cried over the link. <We can't take any more attacks from stalactite forces!> As the heroes moved to comply, Gilbert mentally explained his plans to Hagan. Once everyone was close enough together, Hagan shoved Malrin's body into the portable hole, rolled it back up, and cast a teleport spell that brought everyone - even the unconscious Mudpie in his crumpled Goliath mech and the Spriggan mech no longer containing a living Binkadink - directly beneath the stalactite hanging down over the city. That put them out of the view of those in the windows and on the balconies; hopefully it would take them a moment to realize they hadn't just fled but were still very much in the city.

<Somebody open Mudpie's hatch!> Gilbert commanded, and Hagan tried to do so but the crumpled metal made it impossible for even the Titan's enhanced strength to open. Hagan kept working on it, feeling the metal start to bend back into shape, but with Mudpie unconscious they'd have to open it from the outside if they were going to get to him to revive him.

<You guys okay?> asked a new voice over the link. It took everyone a moment to realize this wasn't anybody who'd had the Rary's telepathic bond spell cast upon them but rather Genevar, the Gamma Terra mutant who communicated telepathically because that was her only way of talking - she, like the other members of her race, was mute.

<We've taken a bit of a beating,> Finoula responded, <but we're mostly okay. Binkadink and Malrin are dead-->

<What? Oh, no!> came Genevar's anguished cry.

<--but we can bring them back to life, given time,> Finoula added. That had been something the little mutant had forgotten; she was still getting used to how "normal" magic was on this world, but she'd seen Gilbert cast limited wish spells to return jackalopes back to the world of the living.

<How are you doing?> Darrien asked. <Were you able to find the women?>

<Yeah, Father Bendrick's getting them all out now,> Genevar replied. <Where exactly are you guys?> Darrien explained they were directy beneath the stalactite and Genevar said their team wasn't that far away.

<Well, get them all to safety,> Gilbert commanded. <We'll probably have to count that as as much a win as we going to get - too many spellcasters in that damn stalactite.>

<You need to take out the stalactite?> Genevar asked. <I saw a way you can do that!> She quickly explained the fleeting vision she'd had, of a possible future that looked like it might just be coming true.

<We can do that?> Gilbert demanded querulously, wishing he'd paid more attention to the proper operation of the mechs rather than handing it off to Mudpie to figure out. But then there was a series of cries coming from the area where the heroes had just teleported away from; they'd been discovered by the remaining forces they'd been fighting, and who were now rushing over to them, the bebelith in the lead.

"Crap!" snarled Gilbert. He needed more time!

And then things got even worse, for another form materialized in the space between the heroes beneath the stalactite and the drow forces heading their way. This was a spider, about the size of the bebelith demon but sporting the ebony-skinned head of a drow woman with white hair. Gilbert gave an involuntary gasp as he realized this was none other than Lolth herself - or, more likely, as aspect of her: a mere fraction of her godly power given manifest form upon the Material Plane, no doubt summoned by the Matriarch herself.

Lolth skittered to face the heroes and her face crinkled into a hateful scowl. "Interlopers!" she snarled in the drow language, for the Demon Queen of Spiders would not stoop to speaking any other, lower language.

Gilbert was about to respond in the way he knew best - an attack spell - when he felt a form pass by him, pushing him out of the way (no small feat, given he was still wearing the form of a 12-foot-tall pit fiend). It was Father Bendrick, holding up his holy symbol and calling out, "Use me, Mighty Kord - allow me to be your vessel upon this Oerth!"

Father Bendrick continued his path straight towards the aspect of Lolth, only each step was longer than the one before it for the elderly cleric was growing in size by the second. Not only that, but his face was de-aging, his beard shrinking in length and darkening in color. Finally, as he stepped directly before Lolth, he was Father Bendrick no longer, but an aspect of Kord - and one known to Aerik Battershield, at least, for this particular aspect of Kord, God of Strength, wore the face of Cal Trop, one of the Wing Three adventurers who had been a companion to Galrich Slayer and Aerik Battershield.

The godly aspects went at it with every ounce of strength and power at their disposal, while the Kordovians scrambled to put their plans into action before the drow armies got to them. Finoula explained to Harriet what they were about to do and cautioned her to make sure she, Aerik, Aithanar, Genevar, and MARCI took the kidnapped Kordovian women out of Arachnespinnacle by any means they could, in any direction. <We can meet up later,> Finoula promised, <but for right now, you've got to get them all out of the city!>

<Can do!> Harriet promised the elf over the link.

By now, the Evard's black tentacles spell had slain all who had been caught up in its embrace. Gilbert looked worriedly at the drow forces advancing upon them and cast a time stop spell. That gave him a breather, however short, to get some of the things he needed done attended to.

The first thing he did was cast a limited wish. Surmising that Binkadink had been taken out by an implosion spell and knowing what he did of the limitations of that spell, he carefully worded his wish: "I wish Binkadink had consumed his potion of gaseous form immediately before the implosion spell had been cast upon him." And then, realizing he had just enough time to cast one more spell, opted to go with a wall of force spell to create an invisible barrier between them and the drow forces almost within range.

Time started up again all of a sudden, the bebelith running headfirst into the invisible barrier Gilbert had just erected as Hagan finally ripped the hatch off of the Goliath mech - it wasn't like they were going to need it for much longer, anyway. He sent one of Titan's mechanical hands to pull the unmoving earth elemental out of the pilot seat of the mech and laid him carefully down upon the ground. Darrien approached and cast a cure light wounds spell on the downed elemental, giving him just enough of a boost to raise him back to consciousness. "What happened?" rumbled the earth elemental, looking ready to leap into battle with whoever had been responsible for his current predicament, even if he was currently only at human size, a requirement for him to fit inside the Goliath mech. But then, at his master's direction, he climbed back into the Goliath mech, now in "open air" form for there was no way to reinstall the damaged hatch.

"What about Binkadink?" asked Hagan.

"I got him," answered Finoula, using her chime of opening to cause the Spriggan's hatch to open. Binkadink rolled out of the mech's cockpit, still in gaseous form, as Finoula climbed up into the seat to replace him. "It's cramped in here!" she complained. "How do I get this thing to move?"

Binkadink, back alive (or, more accurately, now never having been slain in the first place) after having had, for some unknowable reason, unstoppered his uncle's potion of gaseous form while in the midst of a fierce battle, was still linked telepathically with the others despite his current nebulous nature. He briefly explained to Finoula how the main controls worked; at her insistence, her first lesson was how to scoot the seat back to give her more leg room.

The Matriarch, up on her high perch, was aware the aspect of Lolth she had summoned was fighting somebody below the stalactite but couldn't see what was going on. She grabbed up a crystal ball and focused her concentration on trying to scry on what was going on directly below her; without any visible enemies or directions from the Matriarch, the other spellcasters held off on further spellcasting for now (with one or two exceptions, naturally, like those who were being attacked by the earth elementals Gilbert had flung up at them with his slingshot). Down below, the drider cleric and the sorcerer had reached the wall of force and were feeling their way along it, trying to find the edge so they could continue their attacks on these interlopers.

Gilbert flipped through the Omnibook and found the spell scroll he'd stashed there for this very reason: reverse gravity. Casting it, he and the other heroes rose up into the air, sliding up the sides of the stalactite hanging down from the center of the cavern. They landed on the ceiling of the cavern, upside down, and immediately Mudpie and Hagan began running in opposite directions around the base of the hanging rock formation, the Titan mech heading clockwise and Goliath going counterclockwise. Finoula, due to her inexperience with piloting a mech, stayed right where she was.

<I'm in place!> Hagan called, once he'd traversed what he figured to be about a third of the way around the base of the stalactite. Mudpie indicated his own status to Gilbert once he'd also run about a third of the way around the other side of the stalactite.

<Now!> Gilbert commanded, and Mudpie climbed out of Goliath's cockpit, to earth glide into the ceiling while Hagan popped open the hatch to the Titan mech before he and Wezhley each drank a potion of gaseous form tailored to their own size and body mass. Then, as clouds of vapor, they flew down from the mech, headed back to the front gates of Arachnespinnacle. Gilbert, Darrien, and Finoula all drank down potions of their own; Binkadink was already in a gaseous state and had headed down upon Gilbert's command.

<We ready, Genevar!> Gilbert called once the heroes had all made it to the open gates. In passing, they'd seen the aspects of Lolth and Kord were still having it out, while the drow and drider forces, as well as the bebelith, had found their way around the wall of force and were falling up the stalactite, doing their best to follow their prey up the reverse gravity spell effect; they hadn't seen the heroes drink down their potions and had no idea they were even now fleeing as fast as sentient clouds of gas could flee.

Harriet Fung had led the group out of Arachnespinnacle by a different route than the one they'd used to enter it; this was a trade route she'd heard would eventually lead to a svirfneblin city. But the important thing was it was a means of escape away from the drow city, and one with twisting passageways that put the city out of sight almost at once.

"Ye comin', little one?" Aerik asked.

<In a minute,> Genevar replied, closing her eyes and concentrating on the task she'd told Gilbert she could do. And she was pretty sure she could do it, too, although she'd never really tried it before. But just as the young mutant was able to communicate telepathically with the Kordovians despite not knowing how to speak their language, she knew speaking any language was likewise within her grasp...even the electronic language of machines.

<Initiating contact,> Genevar thought at the control computer of the Goliath mech.

<Contact established,> the Goliath AI replied. Genevar repeated the telepathic contact with the artificial intelligences responsible for the Spriggan and Titan mechs, establishing a link between the three of them.

<Synchronize countdown timer,> Genevar commanded.

<Countdown timer synchronized,> reported back the three machine intelligences in unison.

<Initiate self-destruct sequence,> commanded Genevar.

"Are ye comin', lass?" demanded Aerik. "We've best be goin', an' soon!"

<Coming!> replied Genevar, her task done. She scampered after the overprotective dwarf and the two hurried to catch up to the others.

The bebelith reached the Titan mech and found the hatch wide open - odd. Sure enough, it looked as if there was a little chair inside for a person to sit on - weird. The demon had never before seen a hollow construct built so somebody could ride inside it; it couldn't for the life of it imagine why somebody would go to all the trouble. But still, this was a type of armor, of sorts, and there was nothing a bebelith liked better than to rip open metal armor - it was just a pity there was nobody wearing it at the moment, because that was the really fun bit: rending open the armor to get at the screaming mortal inside and then rending through the meat and the blood and the viscera....

The drider cleric approached the Titan armor currently being ripped to shreds by the overeager bebelith. "Wait, what's that--?" she began but never got to finish.

The central stalactite of Arachnespinnacle housed all of the drow nobles of the city; those not of drow blood - the slaves, the tradespeople - were forced to live in the simple stone buildings on the floor of the cavern. Knowing the stalactite would be a favorite target of the enemies of the drow, the Matricarch had seen to it that the stone structure hanging from the cavern ceiling was protected from a wide variety of spells: stone shape, earthquake, and transmute rock to mud spells would have no effect upon the stone of the drow's dwelling, for example. It was sealed off from extradimensional travel, from teleport and dimension door spells passing from one side of the outer walls to the other, and from all types of scrying and other divination spells. The Matriarch felt she had truly done everything she could to protect her people in their hanging dwelling, miles deep below the surface of the Oerth.

She had not, however, had the foresight to shield it from thermonuclear explosions, not even from those of nuclear engines small enough to be used as power sources for mechs.

With a joint explosion caused by all three mech power sources going critical at the same time, the stalactite was severed from its perch at the top of the ceiling and it hung there for a brief moment before it began its plummet to the stone floor below. Spider webs snapped, their tensile strength nowhere near that needed to support a structure the size, weight, and mass of the drow habitation stalactite. The tip crashed into the stone buildings below the stalactite and the rest of it followed suit, crushing to paste everyone inside the hollow dwelling as the cavern filled with stone dust.

Fortunately, by the time the drow city of Arachnespinnacle came to a crashing death, Harriet Fung and the others were well down the tunnel they'd been traversing. They were close enough to hear the death-knell of the city - sound traveled for great distances in the echoing tunnels of the Underdark - but far enough away not to feel any of the aftereffects of the explosion. The gaseous heroes were likewise far enough away not to have their cloudlike bodies blown apart from the blast; they remanifested back into their solid bodies.

"Everybody okay?" Gilbert asked. Everyone was; Gilbert cast a message spell to make sure his mother and her group were all okay as well. Once he got a reply from her ("We all fine, Mudpie!") he cast another message spell instructing her to stay where she was; they'd be coming to get them and bring them back home to Kordovia. Mudpie earth glided out of a wall soon thereafter and together, the members of the Kordovian Adventurers Guild headed back through the ruins of Arachnespinnacle to go retrieve the Kordovian women they'd come to rescue.

- - -

And that's how we wrapped up the Kordovian Adventurers Guild campaign after five years of play. After the adventure was over, I went around the table and asked each of the players what they thought their PCs would do post-campaign. Here's the general consensus:
  • In the days to follow, Gilbert became the court wizard to Queen Kaelanna, acting as her primary adviser.
  • Binkadink married Voopie Meadowclover and together they had a large family of happy gnomish children.
  • Finoula had thoughts of joining the Sisters of Ehlonna, following in the footsteps of her younger sister Feron Dru. However, when asked how she'd respond to a proposal of marriage from Aithanar Ivenheart, she realized she didn't necessarily have to go join the Sisters right away; after all, elves lived for centuries and there was no immediate rush....
  • Hagan and Darrien decided they'd help rebuild Kordovia after these latest - and final - attacks by the orc and goblin slaves of Arachnespinnacle. Beyond that, who knew?
  • Castillan and Galrich opted not to return to the living; they'd earned their final rests and looked forward to an eternity with their loved ones who had passed away before them.
  • Malrin Ivenheart, however, was more than happy to be restored to life - how else was she going to be able to be the Maid of Honor at her little brother's wedding?
For the aspect of Lolth, I printed a female drow's face on cardstock, cut it out, and plopped it over the head of a Huge fiendish spider D&D Miniature. For the aspect of Kord, I used a plastic Burger King toy of Thor, but fashioned a cardstock image to wrap around his helmet and give him a new face: specifically, Cal Trop's, which was Dan's face with a goatee draw on with marker. (Cal Trop had been imbued with Kord's own blood during the Wing Three campaign; I thought it was an appropriate afterlife for him to, upon his death, be used as an aspect of Kord whenever the God of Strength needed to send an avatar to the Material Plane.)

- - -

T-Shirt Worn: My black "Chaotic evil means never having to say you're sorry" shirt - perfect for the drow.
 
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