Kingdom of Aeristine

5 Horsemen of the K-OZpocalypse
A Paladin's Existential Dilemma

Well we came to terms with Perconius and continued towards the entrance to the lower level. It was guarded by a massive metal golem. But as Kalli approached with the key, the bulky form shuffled off into an indentation in the wall, and let us pass into a sort of revolving stone door, which then led into a tiny dead-end chamber with a strange design in the floor. We all crowded into the cramped chamber and Kalli placed the key on the floor.

The floor design began to wriggle and writhe, and I became totally entranced. I could see Hrolf got what I was looking at too, but the others didn’t seem to notice the profound awe that could be seen by staring ever more deeply at the shifting designs. The whole floor seemed to swirl down into a surreal stairscape that took us through some kind of hyperdimensional space.

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Before long, the stairs melted and flowed into shapes, designs, feelings, mathematical concepts, and galaxies. At one point I woke up and lived an entire lifetime as a giant cockroach. I mean, it was trippy! It reminded me of my days back in seminary. In any event, I came out of the trip just as we reached the bottom of the stairs and stepped out onto a broad concrete platform. One look at Hrolf’s dilated pupils told me that he was still tripping though.

To the left in a stone wall was a door. Kalli shoved it open, and a hot, musty wind wafted through. Beyond was a rough cavern, darlky lit by the warm glow of lava pools. Hot mud geysers could be seen burbling up sulfur bubbles. A winding path led through the cavern to a golden door on the far side. Looked too much like a trap.

Turning back, we went to the opposite door on the right of the concrete platform. As we approached, we detected a buzzing, staccato, almost musical sound. We opened the door to reveal a square chamber containing a wrinkled old man writing at a wooden desk. Every surface seemed to writhe however, and to our horror we realized there were thousands of insects on everything! The man would absently-mindedly pause in his scribbling to munch on a bug.

Kalli gathered her composure, and addressed the old man. He responded with startling gravitas, explaining that he was Asaru, the Keeper of the Hall. Kalli questioned him for a while, and he pontificated on the Chaos Lords the dwelt within the Hall, and on how they were much fabled for granting supernatural boons to those petitioners who they deemed worthy. They seemed to talk in circles for a bit, and the old man gloated over his writing, relating tales of Shiv, Nightlord, Kara the Traveler, Arcady the Reaper, and Erok the Beautiful. We finally left (and Blake spritzed some perfume in the disgusting chamber as we closed the door).

We inhaled deeply of the relatively fresh air on the concrete platform, and huddled to discuss our next moves. (Kalli rants about us check log)

After a moment, Perconious went on ahead to scout. But three winged apes swooped down from above, rhyming some devilish threats! see log We attempted to convince them that WE were the chaos gods, and unbelievably they bought it! They landed and began to bow to us. We commanded two of them to leave, and the third to dance for our amusement and give us back rubs.

Finally we moved forward and the platform narrowed into a corridor lined with ghastly statues. The first one we came to seemed to be the Shiv that the old Keeper of the Hall had spoken of. It was a horrifying amber impression of a zombified corpse, but with an antlered head and bat wings, glowing a sickly yellow. Blake and Perconious used their powers to become invisible, and attempted to sneak by it, but the statue began to move! It gestured for our unseen comrades to halt. It’s monstrous head tilted down to regard them and inquire about the nature of their supplication. Blake, thinking fast, sliced his palm and squeezed out some blood for the deity… but it wanted more. It wanted death. So, Perconious summoned the flying monkeys back, and Kalli unfeelingly slashed one of their throats. The others bared their teeth and began to resist, so Stefan, Syberian, and Reynard began beating one down, while the last was impaled by Blake’s electrified spear and conked by Hrolf’s hammer.

The Shiv statue’s stag head bent down and began to slowly swallow the nearest monkey corpse, opening its mouth impossibly wide and drawing the quivering body in like a python would. Then it stood up and offered us a prize! Blake and Hrolf stepped forward and were transported through a shimmering yellow gate, to a magical room they would later describe as full of disease and decay. There, Hrolf retrieved an amber mace named Typhus, and when they returned, the heretical dwarf seemed to fall in love with it, immediately discarding all other weapons and staring into its amber flanges longingly.

We continued down the hall. The next statue was a featureless humanoid, flickering with a yellow-green light. It began to screech as we drew near.

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Perconius Revealed
lasers, weirds, mirrors, illusions

We now had 7 of the little crystal arrowheads and checked the door across the hall for presumably the last piece. We opened the door to reveal four glassy-eyed 8’ tall statues of gargoyles, holding gems evidently representing the four elements. Each gargoyle sported four arms.

I prayed for Sanctuary, should these statues reveal some threat, as the more martial of our party crept in to investigate. Reynard pulled out a sack of sand to “indiana Jones” one of the gems (in reference to some scholar-adventurer from a parallel universe that I saw in a dream-vision from Ronan one time), but when he touched the blue gem it abruptly shattered into dust! The door then slammed shut with a kind of reverberating electrostatic hum, sealing out Blake, Kalli, and Ander! Immediately a hissing sound began to emanate from the statue before Reynard.

It smelled like vomit, and we all started itching. Hrolf had the presence of mind to recognize a gas attack of some sort, and his heathen god allowed him to conjure up a Zone of Sweet Air around those of us trapped in the room. I then prayed to Dispell any magic sealing the door… there was a “zap” as though an electrical field had discharged, and seconds later Reynard went charging at the door, barreling it open, and bowling over Blake the bard just beyond. I then swirled up the air into a Dust Devil, and dispersed the extant gas.

We took a deep, clean breath, and returned our focus to the statues. Stefan now touched his Fire Axe to the red gem. It, too, shattered, and now part of the floor began to rumble! The Baron then quickly moved to touch the “wind” gem, which similarly shattered, as Hrolf bent to the part of the floor that was rumbling and prayed to Shape stone handles out of the floor… he and Stefan grasped them and lifted a large cobblestone block up and out. Inside was the last crystal arrowhead! Hrolf grabbed it and we withdrew from the room before anything else could go wrong..

We instructed Ander to seal the door back up so no more gas could leak out through the temple, and moved to the outer door area. Blake and Reynard approached, dodging a few darts that whistled out from some fell trap. They began to open the door. Its outline began to glow, as trails of sparks traveled around the frame. Kalli stepped up next to the door… just in time for a fire trap to explode in her face! She was comically singed, not too badly. Now the doors opened, revealing a trapezoidal room lit by a glowing blue sword embedded in a hunk of black crystal. Eerie! Kalli stepped in, followed by Siberian. Our new gnomish comrade waddled up to it, grabbed it, and flexed her bulbous muscles as she yanked it out. The doors slammed shut (of course)! Inside, I am told that the walls and ceiling became transparent, and it was like a mirror-room, with a skeleton clinging to the ceiling. Jewels on the hilt of the sword in the gnome’s hand began emitting beams of light. Kalli quickly removed her helm and placed it over the sword hilt to block the beams, but then the sword levitated itself up to stick into the ceiling near the skeleton. Our implacable paladin followed it up, smashing the sword, which plunged the room back into darkness as the walls became opaque once again. They found a crescent-shaped object in a drawer in the crystal pedestal and came back out, whining about how us “gentlemen” let the ladies deal with that scenario on their own.

Reynard signaled that the next door was clear, so we opened it to reveal a small chamber with a 10’ diameter pool of softly glowing water. Peering down into it, one could detect the glitter of coins about 15’ deep. Kalli looked wary, as though she detected a malevolent presences, but Stefan casually flipped a coin into the pool and watched it sink into the depths. Blake generated a Wizard Eye which floated down after the coin to scry on the bottom, and he told us he saw some kind of case with handles down there. Kalli leaned over to try to make it out, but a watery pseudopod snapped out and tried to grab at her! She slashed it with Francis, and Stefan stepped in and struck with his Ice Axe too. It didn’t like the cold, and it wrapped around the armored half-elf, yanking him to plunge into the pool and dragging him to the bottom!

Hrolf purified the water to banish one of the water weirds, but there were still more! I prayed to create my own Watery Fist pseudopod to play tug-o-war with Stefan’s body, and Kalli took a deep breath and dove down after the Baron, motor-boating her way through the water weird as she swished her Bag of Holding through the water, hoping to disrupt the thing’s tentacular grasp on Stefan. Hrolf finished purifying the water, we dragged a sputtering Stefan to the surface, and then managed to retrieve the case, which turned out to contain a copper coffer. While Stefan and Kalli dried off using my Towel +1 from Ignax’s Bath House, Reynard unlocked the coffer, revealing a small mithril rod.

Then Ander came trotting back up, having sealed the last door, and urged us to continue on. We did so, and Hrolf opened the next door into a chamber of mirrors. The dwarven priest withdrew a vial of the “holy water” from that Temple of Knowledge in Phlan, and spattered the ink all over the mirrors to make their reflective tricks more obvious. Still, uncharacteristically-clumsy Kalli blundered into one, the rest of us struggled to stifle a chuckle. But she then discovered a mirrored chest, containing gold, gems, bracers, a ring, and yet another mithril pin. On our way out, we decided to smash the mirrors in our wake, but doing so revealed a secret compartment in the room! Here was a large pile of gold and treasure, a crystal ferret figurine, a want, another mithril rod, and an amulet that seemed to speak to Stefan! It’s name was apparently Agothanon and it could heal its wearer.

As we walked to what might be the final room, we began tinkering with the pieces we had collected, and assembled the rods, pins, crescents, and arrowheads into a kind of chaos symbol. Was this the key we needed? The last door’s seams began to glow and spark like the previous set of doors, and then opened to reveal… a massive Beholder! Hrolf squealed a little, as he and Stefan slammed the doors back closed.

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I began to Pray furiously as Blake conjured up some Mirror Images of himself to distract the abomination, and we kicked the doors back open. Kalli charged in flailing at the thing, which seemed to flicker as she struck it… she found a light beam behind it and struck that. Now a few odd things happened at once. The Beholder disappeared. Blake’s Mirror Images disappeared and he turned to stone. Ander Rockhead disintegrated. A sphere appeared near where the Beholder had been. Presently, Ander the dwarf reconstituted, and Blake appeared to soften and return to flesh. Kalli grabbed at the sphere and Hrolf trotted up to tap it with his axe. It shattered and dropped an adamantium piece! How much of what just happened was an illusion or hologram? Ander ran over to look at the adamantium piece, almost in a frenzy, and Kalli, startled, slashed at him… her blade passed through! He flashed and then appeared as a 6’ tall human! “Hold,” he said, and introduced himself as Perconius and congratulated us on finding all the key fragments. He wanted us to go forth to the lower levels. Stefan and Blake tried to seize him but he disappeared again in a swarm of insects! We heard footsteps. Blake cast Detect Invisibility and I prayed for True Seeing. I almost didn’t spot him but… there he went! I darted off after him, chasing him up the stairs, Kalli hot on my heels. Blake spotted him and launched a few Magic Missiles. Finally at the top of the stairs, I tackled him!

He plead for us to spare him, and we figured out that he was under some sort of geas to stop the Temple. He claimed to worship some kind of mystic/magic god. We decided to spare him, though Kalli asked for his heirloom ring of invisibility. To the lower level!

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No Time for Losers
We Are the Champions

So as we’re standing there catching our breath, a grungy dwarf came scuffling up behind us, and when he saw us called, “Oi there, you lot!” He introduced himself as Ander Rockhead and expressed an interest in hanging out with us. His comrades (his brothers) had died here, and he ran away and left them to die. What kind of person would do that? I glanced sidelong at Hrolf, who seemed disposed to trust this Rockhead (at least enough for him to be a trap-detector, since most of Reynard’s gear had dissolved in the black pudding). We would accept his presence.

We headed onwards. The next door revealed a medium chamber with five seemingly sandstone statues of classical adventurer archetypes arrayed in a pentagon around a central glowing chest. Of course we went in, inspecting first the walls and statuary.

At some point, Kalli lightly tapped one of the statues with the flat of her blade, and a chunk of the arm fell off and shattered… revealing a cloth sleeve beneath! The sleeved arm began to move and clench, cracking off more of the sandy shell, which must have not been stone but rather thousands of years of accumulated dust! These were real adventurers, not statues; they had just been in stasis. Soon the face broke out, and the rest of the form emerged from the crumbling dust shell. The other four soon began stirring as well, cracking out of their hibernation.

It took them a moment to come to their senses and realize they had been frozen in time for a while, but when they did, Kalli introduced us. They asked me about Ronan, and of course I extolled all the virtues of the Swiftfooted One, and in turn I politely inquired as to which ancient, primitive superstition they subscribed to, and they stammered something about some Kara god or something absurd like that. I resolved to save their souls by converting them to Ronanism, although their cleric (Anselm) did mention something about believing in a traveler god – perhaps an earlier incarnation of Ronan? Anyways they introduced themselves and claimed to have been some kind of great Champions of Chaos back in the olden days.

Without warning, the robed one began levitating in the back of the chamber.speaking booming, frightening words. Quick-thinking (or overly-jumpy?) Blake slung a tangling Web spell up at her, adhering her to the walls! She immediately retaliated by flinging a sizzling bolt of lightning down at us, painfully jolting our huddled group… but the sparks ignited Blake’s webbing and a sheet of flame FOOSHED through the chamber, singeing everyone. Kalli drew Francis (who hates mages as we know) and rocketed up to where the mage was sliding down the wall covered in blackened web strands, slashing into the robed Champion to produce a gout of blood. Stefan brandished his axe and charged in too, hacking into one of the other four Champions still on the floor. Another of them (a stout warrioress with a giant two-handed sword) leapt upon the chest in the center of the room, and bounded off of it backwards towards Kalli and the robed mage, spinning in the air to THWACK it resoundingly into Kalli’s armored back, slamming her forward into the wall above the sinking mage. Another warrior Champion charged the door where Hrolf and I stood, dumbstruck. But Reynard took the piss and vinegar out of him before he reached us with a bullseye in his chest. He staggered forward into a cleric sandwich, with my flail and Hrolf’s axe coming from either side to score rib-crushing hits. Finally, Stefan came out of nowhere from behind the poor bastard to put an axe in the back of his skull, then danced back into the melee in the center of the chamber as our assailant crumpled to the floor.

I muttered a prayer for his soul. I thought of the alacrity with which death had claimed him, after it had so shortly before seemed as if he had come alive for a reason! After being frozen and helpless to act for thousands of years, he was finally resurrected into the flow of time for some purpose; his millenia-long imprisonment surely must have seemed that it must have some sort of meaning, however scant… well that idea had been butchered and left in the gutter in the space of two seconds.

Towards the back, Kalli recovered her composure and chopped back at the acrobatic swordswoman, scoring a vicious hit. The swordswoman fell to her knees, and cried “I surrender,” offering her sword hilt-first to Kalli in a gesture of submission. Kalli glared for a moment then reached out to grab it – but was shocked and jerked her hand away! It turned out to be an enchanted sword of Chaos, only touchable by truly chaotic souls. The rest of the Champions followed the swordswoman’s lead, and surrendered too.

Reynard moved in to figure out how to open the chest as Kalli turned to heal the wounded mage by the Laying of Hands. In the chest Reynard found another crystal arrow shard along with a ring and some vials of liquid. We then left the chamber, and commanded the Champions of Chaos to evacuate the temple. As they filed up the stairs to leave, we headed back to the apartment of the archmage’s ghost, to rest. There, we met a taciturn, freakishly muscled, female gnomish treasure hunter named Siberian who joined our party.

Soon we moved on to explore another door. Kalli opened it, revealing a room that was just covered in blood. A skeleton leaned against the back wall, a sword hilt protruding from its ribs. Kalli stepped in to investigate, and the door slammed shut behind her! We could all hear unearthly shrieking as we stood by helplessly, as 14 wraiths swarmed out of the blood-soaked walls, ripping at Kalli’s soul! We finally pried open the door to witness the malevolent spirits ravaging our scrappy paladin, who hunched on the floor, pallid and withered and clutching her Holy Symbol to her chest. Blake’s fire magic and Ronan’s Holy Power cleared out the foul wraiths and we pulled Kalli from the room to heal her… but some of the wounds she had suffered were not of the flesh, and could not be touched by our ministrations.

I prayed that her soul would recover from the trauma of a close encounter with such vile denizens of the negative material plane.

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The Ghost of Chaos Past
Screw(g)ed

Around this time I collected my thoughts and snapped back to the present. We were still in the temple. Raynard had just found a hidden door leading into the center of the structure. There was another large black statue holding what appeared to be a very big, very real sword. Kalli inched around it, then we followed, eyeing it suspiciously, but nothing happened. We continued past some disturbing bas-relief sculptures in the walls, and more corpses on the floor. At the center were some steps, illuminated by glowing gems. One of the corpses moaned and began to stir, but I detected no evil ghoulishness… it wasn’t a corpse after all, but a grievously injured selkie (sort of a human-seal creature)! She groaned about “beware the living statues” and passed out again, but Kalli and I were able to rouse her once more with Ronan’s healing energies.

Once recovered, the selkie explained that she was the clan chief of the lake, that she was leading a recon party to investigate this newly-raised island, and she warned us of life-draining things that had slain her party. She gave us a small crystal arrow shard, and became incoherent, but was well enough to begin following us around as we continued our surveying patrol through the strangely symmetrical and elegantly designed temple of chaos.

Double doors of a deep red metal met us next, and there were holes by the seams, but the doors seemed to carry a powerful enchantment resisting opening, and were warm to the touch. We found another statue, and this time Blake approached, thinking to loop a rope around its legs to trip it up if it came alive… but it seemed to sense his intention and stood tall, bellowing something about being “The Gatekeeper.” Kalli responded that she was the keymaster, but the statue said that the key was “not complete.” We deduced that he was referring the crystal shard from the selkie chief… were there more pieces? The statue now stood still and silent, and we moved on.

Around the next corner, the selkie suddenly shrieked in terror and dashed off. I took off after her, but just as I was about to round the corner in pursuit, I heard a blood-curdling scream, then rounded the corner and saw… nothing! She had vanished into thin air. I muttered a blessing and returned to the party.

We now continued through a disguised door – a pivoting bas-relief wall panel that Raynard had discovered. We found three more dead selkies and an iron box. Another similar hidden door revealed a pile of dusty bones, but this time the door seemed to be talking to Hrolf… then it addressed us all! The odd portal babbled something about wanting to “eat” bodies, and offered to give us another crystal key piece and join us on our quest if we would feed it. Highly unorthodox! But my comrades put it to a vote, and our sensible spokesman Stefan informed it that we could not take it with. Nonetheless, the thing insisted, and jostled itself off of its mounting, hobbled over, and stuck itself to Hrolf’s backpack! We continued on, marveling.

Another hidden door (they weren’t hard to find once you figured out the pattern) led to a really quite tastefully furnished apartment. There was an elegant canopy bed, an oaken dining table with finely wrought chairs, and a bookshelf brimming with old tomes. But there was also a shimmering ghost of an old man looming over us! He politely introduced himself as an old arch mage, and asked us to explain our quest. He told us that some terrible events had transpired 1,300 years ago, but that then a “Great Alliance” of good and neutral forces had worked together to banish the Lords of Chaos to the bottom of the infinity lake. He explained that this dark power was in the next level down in this temple, then gave us another shard of the crystal key. Before we left, Blake felt bad for the old coot being all locked up in this tiny room for centuries, and so created an illusory nature scene around the walls, so as to give him something novel to look at for a while. The old man was delighted and granted our bard the boon of a Cone of Cold scroll.

We continued on to another secret room, which was a chamber painted all black but for a blood red circle in the center of the floor. In the middle of this circle could be seen glinting the final crystal shard. Wise Stefan, sensing a trap, barked orders to the thief to go retrieve it. Raynard tied a rope around himself and handed the other end to us, to pull him out if things went south somehow, then strode boldly in to the dark room. As he approached the red circle, the entire floor started bubbling… it was a giant Black Pudding coming out of stasis! It burbled up Raynard’s legs and gooey tendrils wrapped about him, his armor and equipment hissing as the pudding’s acid dissolved it! The rest of us immediately unleashed all manner of spells, fire, spiritual hammer blows, etc on the bubbling blob, and Raynard shrieked and fled back out the door, his legs dragging through the sludge with a sucking sound, but he was moving too slowly! Kalli gave a tremendous yank on the rope, and jerked the poor Black Fox over the threshold, the flesh on his face hideously dissolving as he screamed and collapsed on the ground. I rushed over to the writhing lawyer and did some triage to stabilize him as Blake detonated a massive fireball in the pudding room. The thing still gurgled! I continued to Cure Raynard’s Serious Wounds, saving what was left of his face, as my comrades Stefan and Hrolf turned up the heat in the pudding room with jars of oil and more magical flames. Finally the pudding was immolated and the fires burned out. We could see the ruined remains of some of Raynard’s weapons and equipment. Blake gave the now naked thief his extra cloak, and the rest of us contributed a few items to temporarily re-equip him. I don’t think he’ll ever eat pudding again without some PTSD flashbacks.

We moved on to a completely pitch black room, which somehow caused our light sources to dim as we entered. They continued to dim further as we moved further in, eventually going out… but brightening again if we retreated back the other way. Curious. We could barely make out a large, padlocked iron chest far into the room. Stefan approached it, but before he could touch it a jet of mist spurted out from the chest and enveloped him! He subsequently began to glow a bright phosphorescent yellow even in the dark room. He shrugged, picked up the entire chest, and hustled back out to the rest of us to set it down in the hall. Kalli unsheathed Francis and struck at the padlock, blasting it apart. The chest sprung open, and about 50 tiny skeletons leapt out in a wave! Kalli slammed the chest back shut before anything else could come out, but the 50 little monsters were now skittering around the floor and jumping up to claw and bite us! Hrolf and I were able to Turn several of them while Blake blasted a few apart with magic missiles, but then a few crawled up Hrolf’s pants! We all managed to crush or blast a bunch of them, but then a fearsome apparition appeared, howling “DEFILERS!__” at us as it flung a phantasmal tendril at Raynard, and began sucking away his soul! In the space of 10 seconds, the poor bastard appeared to age 10 years before our very eyes. He screamed in anguish and fled, and Hrolf and I turned out holy powers against the dark nether-thing, but it was too powerful for us! We all began to assail it with our most strongly enchanted weaponry, and this had better results and seemed to hurt the thing. In its death throes though, another sucking ethereal tendril found Stefan and aged him 40 years, until Kalli and Francis struck it a final blow causing it to dissipate at last. Raynard came slinking back. We couldn’t heal his soul-injury, but to his credit, the indomitable rogue was ready to go again!

We found the last shard of the crystal key in the chest, and paused to determine our next steps.

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Blazabloopdimpiddle
Writings of a Road Warden

From the journal of bishop, father, pope whatever he is Deacon as written by Kalli Silverhand, Road Warden of Ronan

We had entered the Temple of Blazabloopdimpiddle or something and were seeking out the great chaos that was about to be freed upon us all. The party was locked in a vicious battle with the foul undead in an old guardroom; I was sending them back to their much overdue rest when I heard a cry from Hrolf: “The damned elf has gone and stirred up two giant salad monsters.

Sighing in frustration, I set upon the zombies with even greater zeal while listening to my companion Blake complain about how they were immune to everything. Slaying the last zombie, I turned to go help my comrades when I heard a “pop” of magical transportation. I wondered what had happened but then i smelled sweat mixed with Armour polish and knew that his Lordship Stefan, “look at me: I got testicles so of course I can rule,” Mayor of Phlan had arrived.

I had no sooner approached the room when the creatures let out a great wave of force and knocked both my companions to the ground. Blake and I at once engaged the creatures, slaying them. We then searched the area and found a secret entrance to another room. We could not find the latch to open the door, when Blake (who i did not know had been working out) suddenly grabbed the door and ripped it open. I must say he was impressive as he stood there heaving, all covered in sweat with that cute little half grin he has) …sooo the door was guarded by a 10 foot tall obsidian statue with a huge sword. We debated if we should attack but we were worried this might be one of the Guardians meant to keep the evil in.

The party decided to leave it alone for now and check the rest of the outer temple. We searched several more rooms, some of which Blake kicked open with such might that I was sure he was under a spell of gorgeousness – umm i mean strength, strength. It was then that we got to the end of the hallway and saw a golden sword laying on the floor. Suddenly it started to come forward… what magic was this? But it was not magic, but rather a gelatinous cube! It struck out and hit me, and I was paralyzed by its toxin and fully engulfed! I thought this might be the end but my companions were to prove me wrong – Hrolf and Stefan both struck it mighty blows and Blake used his wand of ice blast to destroy the creature and turn it into a puddle. Hrolf used his prayers to free me from my paralysis, but I was covered in ooze. I felt like the floor of the love god’s temple after mass.

We found some strange items of magic within the creature but i will leave that to the padre when he wakes up.

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Infinity Lake of Chaos
A Dwarf's Dark Dreams Draw us to Deadly Doom from the Deep

Now the King’s army had left Phlan at this point, but the Duke’s army was there to witness our glorious victory over the malevolent demon-dragon. To recognize our valor and service to the realm, the Duke elevated Stefan to the landed nobility, granting him control over a territory amounting to a full quarter of the duchy, and dubbed him Lord Stefan, the new Baron of Phlan! Kalli could be heard grumbling something about glass ceilings, and Raynard muttered something about affirmative action for half-breeds, but luckily the Duke did not hear. In any event, the rest of us were also elevated as un-landed lords (a station above our previous position as “high citizens” of Burke), and we all took powerful positions in Lord Stefan’s executive cabinet. Personally, I was granted the title of High Priest of Phlan, to minister over all the different religious bodies therein.

We took a much-needed break after our encounter with Tyranthraxus, and I took Kalli to one of Ronan’s convalescent homes where she could recover from the trauma of dismemberment. After being fitted with a mithral and brass-dragon-bone arm, the Swiftfooted One saw fit to heal her flesh and graft it cleanly to the new arm, which was then magically animated by a local mage. Subsequently, she spent a lot of time praying gratefully in Ronan’s temple, and was favored for her piety and great deeds with an invitation to become a Warden of the Roads – our faith’s order of paladins. I beamed with pride as she humbly gave away all of her valuables to Blake and dedicated herself to this new path of righteousness. We decided to make Phlan a trade and travel hub, and began constructing paved roads between the neighboring cities.

After some months, our happy routine was disrupted by a portentous nightmare had by Hrolf. The dwarven priest came to us and explained his dark vision: it seems that there was an ancient dwarven settlement called Isar that was build on the shores of an infinitely deep lake up in the mountains, to guard over a source of ancient evil chaos called Bundeshatur, that had lain submerged in its depths for generations now. In Hrolf’s dream, that source was stirring and beginning to resurface. I thought this a bad omen, and despite wanting to seek vengeance on the Red Mage, we all agreed that Isar must be investigated and this potential threat quelled before anything else. We hired some lackeys to run the city while we romped around, and headed off on horse to the ancient dwarven settlement.

After riding hard for a week, we came to the ancient site. But now, instead of the city Hrolf was expecting, we found only rubble and body parts! We also observed a new island protruding from the lake… was this Bundeshatur? We set up camp on the lake shore, and found a random guy named Bobby wandering around. We invited him to hang out with us.

That night, Hrolf was visited by another dream: an old bloody, broken dwarf with a disembodied voice foretelling the overthrow of the world, and exhorting Hrolf to beware the sign of chaos, and seek the chaos key. He shared this with us in the morning, and we set about preparing to invade the island. We took an abandoned fishing skiff and set out toward the small island, and found a large flat building there made of unusual stone covered in sludge and moss.

We came ashore, and found a round, valve like door. Blake incanted a Knock spell, and it ground inwards, back, and down into the floor, dust hissing out at us as we coughed. Raynard gingerly padded in first, senses alert for traps and danger. When he didn’t scream or spray blood all over, we slowly filed in after him.

Slinking down the hallway, we came upon an alarming number of corpses strewn about the floor. Suddenly one leapt up and snarled – a ghoul! Blake blasted the stinking body apart with magic missiles, but more began to rise. Kalli kicked and slashed down the hall while I turned back and brandished by holy symbol, blasting a couple more into dust with Ronan’s might. Following Kalli, Hrolf used his own holy magic to destroy several more, but then a wave of them washed over the diminutive cleric, biting and paralyzing him! Raynard waded in with his sword, clearing them off Hrolf while Bobby thunked arrows into the eye sockets of a couple more, and we mopped up the rest while Hrolf recovered. We then dragged their mangled bodies back into the pit where the door had sunk into the floor.

We continued on to another door down the hall. Kalli opened it and she and Blake went in to find a strange inscription – and a stone slab fell behind them, sealing them in! The rest of us could hear a terrible grinding and the walls slowly scraped inwards, trying to crush our comrades. Hrolf prayed to shape a hole in the stone slab, but to no avail… was the seal protected by magic? I tried to dispell any enchantments… the slab seemed to flicker almost imperceptible, but remained in place. Suddenly Blake appeared alongside us, having Dim Doored out, leaving poor Kalli behind! Then the sound stopped, the slab lifted back up, and we saw into the room once more… it contained only the gooey. pulpy remains of our brave friend. :(

Clued in by the flicker we saw earlier, we made a concerted effort of incredulity… and realized it was all an illusion! Kalli wasn’t smooshed after all, but she was just laying there on the floor unconscious – she must have psychosomatically blacked out. We revived her and continued on.

Next we came to small room full of bones and webs. I produced a small holy flame and hurled it in to cleans the webs, but then a shiny object fell from the ceiling. It was an emerald bracelet. Our new follower Bobby ran in to grab it, put it on, and then started to act funny… like he was having a conversation with the door. We continued on, and it seemed as if Bobby now wanted to converse with every door, and that they were in fact telling him arguable useful information, such as that there might be 4 guys in the next room… there were and we got the drop on them. But then we were beset by ju-ju zombies! Our weapons (except Francis) had little effect on the agile ju-ju’s. They were very hard to kill, climbing around and hanging by their toes from the ceiling, but our magic and might prevailed after a drawn-out struggle.

We paused to gather our wits and heal, and I may have lost consciousness for a while because I have only a fuzzy recollection of what happened next… I will leave it to the noble Warden of the Roads to relate the things that followed in her forthright but disjointed style.

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An Enigma Wrapped Up In a Demon Inside of a Dragon
Epic Boss Fight: Tyranthraxus

We caught our breath after the Hedge Wizard had fled. Blake then used a Wraithform spell to move easily through the walls to scout out the rest of the labyrinth. He safely returned, and described our best route to the central stone tower, and we filed out again one by one.

Vexatious Vines

Turning down a few corridors, we noticed the hedge walls grow darker, thornier, and less floral. Suddenly in one long passage, thick choking creeper vines erupted from the walls and snaked around us all! Before we knew it, they encircled my comrades’ legs, torsos, arms, and even throats, and began to squeeze! Luckily the magic of my Ring of Free Action seemed to keep them from finding a good grip on my person, and I frantically ripped open my pack to dig out my old Scroll of Protection From Plants. I found it and began to read aloud as Blake summoned a Wall of Fire along one hedge wall, immolating half of the offending vines. The others made every attempt to hack and slice and fire spells at the vines coming from the other wall. I finished reading the magic words, and a sphere of herbiphobic energy pulsed about me, pushing the vines back 10’ around me. Unfortunately they didn’t let go of my comrades, who were consequently shoved hard back up against the thorny hedge walls along with the vines!

I took a zen moment to collect my thoughts, watching my comrades struggling to breathe as they sawed at their bindings. I had not known exactly what the scroll would do, and now I had inadvertently prevented myself from getting close enough to help anyone. At a loss, I simply prayed for Ronan’s blessings. This must be why the secular humanists complain about us faithful – that we pray instead of doing anything concrete to actually solve problems – but alas I was doomed to sit passively in safety and comfort while I watched my friends struggle for their lives mere steps away. Still, perhaps Ronan’s invisible hand intervened at my request, for my friends’ tenacity eventually overcame the vexatious vines. All glory to the Swiftfooted One! We hacked and burned the last of the vines, and moved on with my scroll’s magic warding off any further vegetative defenses.

Attack of the Cookie Monster

A few twists and turns later, some of my party began remarking on the delectable scent of baking cookies. I could smell naught, however, and suspected they were coming under the influence of some fell illusion. Ben Ken was the most powerfully affected, and he finally shouldered us all aside and began jogging ahead, frantically looking this way and that for cookies, muttering about how he just had to have some. I think he was really starting to unravel after the trauma of having all his ribs broken and reset in the battle with the fire giant. Anyway, Stefan took off after him and it was a good thing too, for halfway down the next corridor was a large, spiny plant with wicked-looking jaws not unlike the one we had seen back in the Hedge Wizard’s chamber. It turned out that this vile shrub was producing an insidious cookie-smelling pollen that was meant to lure in prey to be devoured. Stefan caught Ben Ken by the hair just as the mad wizard was about to dive headlong into the gaping clam-like jaws, hoping for some cookies inside (he would’ve found only death), and yanked him back to safety. But Ben proceeded to Grease himself up and squirmed from the half-elf’s grasp, diving to slide once again toward the source of the compelling scent. But just then Kalli and Stefan charged forward, hacking the plant to shreds as the wild-eyed mad wizard began to wail and sob… I guess that’s just the way the cookie crumbles!

The Tower of Incomprehensible Architecture

Not twenty feet from the “cookie monster,” the stone wall of the central tower could be seen. We approached, and Hrolf’s sharp dwarven senses noticed a secret door! He figured out the mechanism and slid it open, revealing a dark but empty square chamber. We filed in, glad to be out of the menacing hedge maze, and began exploring. Kalli slowly moved around the perimeter, tapping the walls with her shield, until at one point her shield just slid right through – an illusion! She then stepped through and found a staircase leading up. We all slowly ascended, with Reynard meticulously checking for traps. The stairway opened out into a landing, which then gave way to another stairway going back down. This lead to a door which Kalli opened, revealing a pitch black room.

The sound of clinking chains reverberated off the stone walls in the darkness. Blake tossed a Light coin into the inky darkness, and we immediately beheld a grotesque form scurrying out directly towards us! It came up just short of Kalli’s face, at which point it was yanked back by the chains that held it fast to the chamber’s floor. It was a womanly form, only atop its head was a writhing nest of snakes. “LOOK AWAY,” shouted Kalli, deducing that this must be a legendary Medusa, capable of petrifying with a glance. She turned away too, pulling out a small mirror to regard the ragged creature, and began to interrogate it. The Medusa spoke in broken Common, punctuated with gutteral howls and ghastly shrieks, but we gleaned that she had been imprisoned by “The Flaming One” who must be the tower’s master. Ben Ken argued that we ought to release her, but I was concerned that she was A) dangerous just to look at, B) incorrigibly evil, and C) apparently insane and liable to attack even her liberators. Saying that we would decide whether to free the captive monster or not later on, we then closed the prison door again and continued on our way.

Farther along, I found another hidden door quite by accident. It lead to a nicely appointed parlor room, in which sat a lone man in some kind of officer’s garb. The room contained fine couches, tables, tasteful decorations, and a delectable spread of snacks and beverages waiting to be eaten… even a platter of cookies, which Ben Ken immediately went for and began gobbling (I may have snuck a cookie or two myself, and a cup of coffee). Kalli approached the man who regarded us coolly, and he said something about waiting for our delivery for Commander Jinheeris – did he take us for messengers or movers? It would make sense considering my Order Of Parcel Service robes, so we decided to go with it, and Kalli demanded to see “the boss” so he knew we had arrived. This made the officer grow agitated, but his anxiety relaxed when Blake magically put him to Sleep, and laid him down on a couch. ZZzzzzz

Our scrappy warrioress then knocked on the next door and boldly opened it, only to duck as a Fireball sailed into our the midst of our parlor! It detonated right by the sleeping officer, killing him and burning the rest of us badly as it upended and scorched all the furniture. We all ran from the burning room into this next room, a sort of office, with a snarling wizard crouched behind a desk. Hrolf and I prayed for all of our burns to heal over, as the rest charged the offending mage swinging blades and slinging spells. Kalli slammed the desk back into him and ran him through, though as he gasped his last breath he leveled a wand and released a freezing blast of Cold magic on the rest of us! We shook it off without too much damage and relieved his corpse of that wand and a glowing ring.

But now, surveying the carnage, I couldn’t see Ben Ken. Had the mad wizard wandered off? Before moving on, we all dashed back the way we had come in search of him… and sure enough we found him back in the Medusa’s cell. He was spraying jets of magical Acid at her chains, attempting to release her! Kalli darted in, grabbing him and hauling him back up away from her, and slicing off her menacing head as her snake hair hissed in protest. Whew! She gingerly picked up the head and stuffed it into a bag to take with. We castigated Ben and dragged him back up to the offices, from which a stairwell lead up. Blake paused before ascending, read a scroll, and carefully brewed some kind of potion that he seemed to think would protect him from demons. We all enjoyed the brief rest and choked down some burned cookies, then resumed our climb.

Tangling with Tyranthraxus

Reynard now took the lead, and sneaked quietly up to the top of the stairs, followed by Ben Ken who had made himself Invisible. The two peeked out into a large open-air chamber. There was looming Tyranthraxus himself, a massive bronze dragon taking up almost the entire space! He was flanked by a pair of imposing, fully armored warrior-knights. He looked directly at the inconspicuous duo, unfazed by their attempts at stealth, and addressed them courteously in a booming dragon voice, inviting the rest of us to come up. We obliged, and he recognized us as “The slayers of the White,” referring to Siegfried, the elder white dragon patriarch (and his mate and their offspring). Kalli used Francis the sword to hover up near Tyranthraxus’s face, and noticed a shimmering aura of fire around him as she looked him straight in the (remaining) eye and began to bark interrogative questions, demanding to know what the meaning of his mischief was. Meanwhile, Hrolf quietly intoned his Dimensional Anchor prayer, ensuring the dragon couldn’t pull a fast one on us. Eventually, growing tired of Kalli’s yammering, Tyranthraxus reared back and let loose a billowing cloud of raw Repulsion! It enveloped us all. I scrunched by eyes shut and held my breath, and fought off the urge to flee. But Hrolf and Ben Ken couldn’t resist, and turned tail to scramble back down the stairs. Hrolf had the sense to realize he was under the influence of a magical effect, and at the bottom of the stairs he must’ve prayed to his blasphemous dwarven god to Dispell the effect, for a moment later he came lumbering back up, hurling his flaming axe at the dragon. The mad wizard Ben Ken, however, was just unraveling further and further, and he kept frantically running all the way back out the hedge maze. (We don’t know what became of that tortured soul; he may have finally snapped completely, or perhaps he joined up with the Hedge Wizard as his apprentice, or maybe he was devoured by more of the creeping choker vines.)

In any event, battle had now been joined atop the tower. Stefan barreled into the first warrior-knight, their weapons ringing off of each other’s armor in a flurry of expert attacks and counters. Kalli was bowled backwards in the air by the Repulsion, but spun around, grabbed the Medusa’s head from her bag with her free hand, swept it around to petrify the other warrior-knight. I prayed to Ronan, and by His grace called down a searing Flamestrike from the heavens onto the dragon’s back… but it had no effect! Somehow the dark powers of the demon inside must be protected from holy magic. Kalli then then flew back in towards Tyranthraxus’s face, arm outstretched holding the head right up to the dragon’s eye. Tyranthraxus seemed to smirk, then his great dragon jaws snapped forward around the head, chomping down around it and taking Kalli’s arm off at the elbow! He stared coldly at the warrioress as he swallowed, and she screamed in agony and rage but managed to swing her sword arm back around cleave deeply into the dragon’s nose. His great head swung to the side as he snorted blood.

The dragon’s gaze fell on the axe-wielding half-elf harrying his armored minion. Tyranthraxus bared his teeth, and the seemed to be crackling with electrical sparks… sure enough, his jaws widened and he breathed a devastating lightning bolt down on poor Stefan, who’s skeleton could be seen convulsing in his fried body for a second.
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He stood there dumbstruck and smoking, as his warrior-knight foe paused to see if he would regain his senses in a moment of touching professional courtesy. Kalli, enraged by her dismemberment, slammed Francis into the side of the dragon’s head once again, Reynard began loosing arrows at him, and Hrolf hurled his axe. At this onslaught, the dragon vanished! He couldn’t have teleported thanks to Hrolf, so he must’ve just gone invisible…

Meanwhile I trotted up behind Stefan and prayed for his recovery from that exceptionally high-voltage electrocution. While Ronan couldn’t seem to directly harm this demonic enemy, at least we could indirectly aid the demon’s enemies, and so Ronan’s powers healed the staunch half-elf. Stefan took a deep breath and launched himself at the warrior-knight once again, and with renewed fury hacked through his armor to deal a killing blow. Still smoking, he then stumbled into something – the dragon’s invisible leg! He bit his axe into it and the dragon reappeared, swiping down with a massive claw, OVER the offending half-elf, at ME! I pivoted in time to avoid impalement, but was knocked back on my butt and burned by the inexplicably flaming claw swipe. I rolled to put out the flames and crawled away back towards the relative shelter of the stairwell. Behind me, Tyranthraxus cast a spell on Stefan, this time Holding him frozen in place. He reared up, about to chomp down on his immobilized, crunchy fried snack, but Blake detonated a Fireball on his head just in time to distract him, and Kalli hacked again into his back as Reynard peppered him with arrows, occasionally finding a chink in his scales. Hrolf came up to me and helped me stagger to my feet, and the both of us then prayed intently, focusing our holy energies to Dispel the evil magic paralyzing Stefan. It worked! He shook free of the spell and stepped back.

Kalli now maneuvered back around to Tyranthraxus’ face and began shouting insults at him. He growled back some pompous line about how oh-so-great he was, and that Snor-Snar was nothing without him (perhaps the dragon’s original name, prior to the demonic possession?). Kalli taunted him again, and received a flaming claw swipe in return. But then she swooped back around to drive her blade right into the center of his skull! The great form crumpled to the floor, wheezing “Thank you” as it fell, and a cloud of fiery radiance was expelled with it’s last breath. This cloud hovered over us for a moment, then rasped something about retreating to a “pool of radiance” or something, then flew up out of the open-air room and vanished.

We had defeated the monstrous, demonic adversary! We dug Kalli’s arm out from the dragon corpse’s esophagus, and I was able to Repair the Injury to the bone and reattach the arm, but the flesh was still dead and Kalli would need a higher level of medical care than I could provide in the heart of an enemy fortress if we were to save it.

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Into the Inner Bailey
fire giants, ogres, and hedge wizards, oh my!

Continuing to storm the castle, we now filed through the inner wall towards the courtyard. We could hear snorting from the towers above us, and a heavy thumping reverberating through the ground.

Kalli, Blake, and Raynard wasted no time, and began to climb up the side of the first inner tower. Meanwhile I walked to the corner and peered around, to see a hulking fire giant patrolling down the corridor towards us. Another appeared around the side of the other tower 50 yards to my right.

Up above, the climbers had come upon two squads of ogres on the tower tops, and could see a vast hedge maze in the center of the castle. Raynard dropped down on the ogres, viciously assassinating a couple.

“Case closed,” he announced with his new lawyerly affectation. He and Kalli then proceeded to engage in melee combat with more ogres.

Blake lobbed a fireball over at the next tower across the wall, which burst somewhat feebly, singing the ogres there. He rapidly followed it up with a second more powerful blast, which finished the job… smoking chunks of ogre meat rained down upon us.

By then the fire giant who had rounded the far tower corner had us in his sights. Ben Ken conjured a puddle of Grease before him to interfere with any possible charge, and I intoned a prayer to Chill the Metal in his armor – fire giants hate feeling cold! He spotted us spellcasters though and began just ripping chunks of stone off the rampart walls, and hurling them at us! One rock beamed me after I finished my prayer, slamming me back and nearly breaking my arm. The giant bellowed as he began to feel the freezing bite of metal on his skin, and charged! He lumbered right over the grease pool, barely noticing it, but then Ben Ken turned around, bent over, and wafted a Stinking Cloud at him. This slowed his charge as he coughed and hacked, distracted.

Stefan decided to charge at the first fire giant that was still lumbering down the corridor beyond the first tower. His ice axe bit into the giant’s chest, and Hrolf came trundling up hot on his heels. A moment later, Kalli dropped down from the tower above, hovering behind the giant with her magic sword, and slicing into its back! But the giant just reached back, grabbed ahold of the warrioress’ midsection, and used her to deliver a powerful overhead slam to the half-elven axeman before him! WHAM, that put Stefan on his back, and I could imagine that he could now see a little spinning ring of birdies over his head.

The second giant, coughing and freezing, continued galumphing towards Ben and I. He swung his tremendous club around at me; I ducked and the club went sailing over me, right into an incredulous Ben Ken! I heard at least a dozen bones crack as the poor bastard went sailing down the hall through the inner wall we had come through, back out into the outer bailey. Not feeling up to single combat with an angry fire giant, I quickly darted down the hallway after my battered comrade, for some triage work on his shattered skeleton. As I approached, I could see him gritting his teeth and coughing blood, as he managed to sit up and fling an Acid Arrow past me at the giant’s leering face peeking down the hallway. That would give him pause! He bellowed again, the stood up and stomped off after Stefan and Hrolf. I reached Ben and began praying for his bones to knit back together.

Having stabilized the mad wizard, I jogged back to the inner bailey just in time to see Raynard drop down from the first tower too, attempting to stab the second giant… but the great creature grabbed him in mid air and began flailing him around like a club! I sprinted up, whipping my enchanted flail in great circles and then… CRACKING the iron weight at great speed directly into the giant’s ankle! It let out a piteous howl and fell to it’s knees, dropping the rogue, and then falling to it’s side and moving no more.

Stefan had now come to his senses and crawled from the carnage. He stood up and charged back in, this time burying the head of his ice axe into the center of the last fire giant’s chest! That giant too fell over dead, but backwards and directly onto Raynard. Ouch. We managed to pull it off of him, and paused to catch our breath. I prayed a benediction for the dead monsters’ souls.

We got word that Cadorna, the wealthy merchant who originally hired our company and subsequently screwed us over (sending us through phase-spider infested forests to the gay Nazi Bane-worshippers to be executed), was skulking somewhere in the inner bailey. But we decided to forge on with our primary mission, and head into the hedge maze.

It was dark and foreboding, full of thorny plants and glistening black flowers. There were 3 paths to choose… Ben Ken chose the leftward path and we all followed. A little ways down the path, he came upon a door, and yanked it open… to reveal a surprised hedge wizard, who immediately blasted Ben full in the face with a Ray of Stupefaction! The mad wizard stumbled back, confused, and wandered off further into the maze. I chased after him to see if I could help, and summoned some snakes about me to protect me as I babysat this stupefied imbecile. Kalli shouldered her way past me into the doorway in pursuit of the assailant. But inside the room, she found only a huge man-eating venus fly-trap plant with several waving tendrils that darted at her, wrapping about her limbs and drawing in towards its gaping maw. Stefan followed her in, and began hacking at the tendrils with his axe. Raynard entered too, shooting arrows at the plant’s “face.” The plant then turned it’s attention to the angry axe-wielder, grabbed Stefan, and yanked him off his feet and into it’s mouth! It began gnawing at his armor as his arms and legs flailed wildly.

Kalli escaped, and came to find me, asking me to pray for True Seeing, working under the hypothesis that the plant could be simply an illusion conjured by the hedge wizard who had suspiciously disappeared. I complied, but after my careful research, the evidence failed to support her hypothesis. We were then forced to accept the null hypothesis: it was not an illusion after all, and thus, by deduction, must be a REAL PLANT MONSTER CURRENTLY INGESTING OUR HALF-ELF. Finally, Raynard slew it with his hail of arrows, but just then a fireball then tore through the corridor as the hedge wizard made his escape.

Whew! What else would this sinister maze have in store for us?

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Full Frontal Assault
rooting out Tyranthraxus

Finally it was down to Tyranthraxus’ personal forces, holed up in a well-fortified keep. Our company volunteered to spearhead the final assault. Our job: to breach the defenses and admit the elven war host.

Our quarry had gathered his veteran elite troops around him, and had entrenched in a well-constructed fortress in Phlan. Before our brave company stood the main gatehouse – a 40’ tall structure behind a pair of massive 30’ wrought-iron gates. Behind those was a heavy iron portcullis. Behind that was a small chamber full of traps and murder holes, after which was yet another portcullis and set of iron gates. On the roof of this structure lurked a quartet of abominable duergar – a grotesquely misshapen and sadistic subspecies of dwarf that normally live miles below the surface and are almost never seen above ground (Tyranthraxus’ influence must go deep indeed!). These four clutched wicked crossbows and swept their beady eyes back and forth across the field before the gates, waiting for someone foolish enough to approach the main entrance. Flanking the gatehouse were two massive 50’ stone guard towers crowned with battlements. Atop each one, a roaring giant stood sentry, hefting boulders aloft. Each giant was surrounded by a squad of elite hobgoblin snipers crouching behind the crenellations, sunlight glinting off the barbed steel points of the arrows they held drawn at the ready. Coming off from each guard tower, a long 30’ tall rampart wall stretched into the distance to either side. Rows of more hobgoblin archers lined these walls, their cruel eyes glaring at us hatefully. Every now and then, colorful garb indicated the presence of sorcerers or shamans among their ranks.

The drums of our elven war host pounded behind us, and Kalli decided it was time to begin the assault… by air. Our new, naked comrade Ben Ken (now greased up for some reason) used a Featherfall spell and then clung to Kalli as she drew Francis the magical sword and launched upwards, to surmount the leftward rampart wall. Blake used a Fly spell and bestowed a Levitation spell on Stefan, then took off after Kalli, the warrior in tow. Raynard took off sprinting beneath them all, also heading towards the left wall. That left Hrolf and I in the field facing the gatehouse, our war host behind us, waiting for the gates to be breached. Our foes wasted little time, launching a salvo of fireballs and boulders at the two of us, lost in prayer. Our gods saw fit to save us from most of the damage, though a large rock bounced off the dwarf’s hard head, and a fireball singed us both.

But now Ben Ken began the aerial onslaught, with a fireball of his own that blasted a group of hobgoblin archers off of the leftward rampart, clearing a landing zone for our assailants. As he and Kalli touched down atop the wall, a beam purple energy struck the warrioress full in the chest, seeming to sap her of strength! Meanwhile, Blake and Stefan broke off, and headed more centrally and higher up to the leftmost guard tower. Here, Blake appeared to attempt to shove the Levitating warrior over the crenellated wall and down behind the line of snipers, but as soon as his hand broke contact, the half-elf just floated there helplessly in mid-air… right in front of an angry giant! The great creature grabbed a club and swung mightily at Stefan, who luckily absorbed the worst of the blow with his shield, but tumbled back in the air several feet. Blake then darted back down to land near Kalli on top of the left wall. Below, meanwhile, Raynard had reached the base of the wall relatively unmolested by archers thanks to Ben Ken’s distraction, and the crafty rogue began to scramble up the face of the wall itself, finding improbable handholds as he went.

At the limits of the defenders’ range, Hrolf and I continued to pray furiously, he to his blasphemous dwarf god for Immunity to further Fire spells, and myself that Ronan would grant me Sanctuary from my enemies’ attacks. Then we both began to advance, slowly but resolutely, towards the gatehouse.

Up above, Stefan had managed to maneuver himself back to the tower ledge, and touched down enough to cancel the Levitation effect. He wasted no time and began hacking into the nearest couple hobgoblin guards with his axe, stepping back from the raging giant. Down on the wall, Francis (who hates mages) pointed out the warlock who had ensorcelled Kalli, and, though weakened, she focused her fury, brandished the magic sword, and charged at and sliced into the poor fellow. Francis squealed with glee as the blood flew. Behind her, Ben Ken began to pepper the defenders of the tower up above with Minute Meteors, distracting some of the guards and facilitating Stefan’s ferocious slaughter, until a couple of clever hobgoblins flanked the axe-wielder and held him at bay for a moment… but his martial skill eventually proved that to be a futile tactic. The raging giant in the first tower had used the moment of Stefan’s distraction to clamber up on the edge of the tower wall, and now attempted to pounce downward to crush the foolhardy half-elf… but the clumsy brute missed and succeeded only in shaking the whole tower, disturbing the aim of his archer allies. For his part, Blake used a Dimensional Door to teleport over the far side of the gatehouse, appearing high over the rightward rampart wall.

Down below, fortified with faith, Hrolf began his fearsome dwarven charge. His little legs began pumping and he steamed forward, shield held before him, tromping slowly but inexorably to his destination – the iron gates. I began running at the gate too, quickly outpacing him. The duergar and some of the hobgoblin archers above opened fire on the encroaching clerics… but Ronan had seen fit to make me hardly noticeable (not a threat worth wasting ammunition on) and so my poor dwarven comrade suffered virtually all their hail of slings and arrows. Incredibly, this sustained volley could not stop his slow charge, and though a few missiles struck home, they did not prove deadly enough to sway my stalwart comrade’s determination, and he charged on leaving a trail of his own blood behind.

Blake began unloading a magical salvo on the defenders on the right side. A fireball detonated atop the second guard tower, blasting a few hobgoblins off to fall to their deaths, and singing the other roaring giant. The wily bard then summoned a Wall of Fire all along the top of the right rampart wall, catching several of the archers lined up in the blaze. Quite a few, however, leapt back in time, or leapt off forwards to hang onto the outer lip of the wall.

Back on the left, Ben Ken lobbed another fireball at the first tower, yelling “Broken Arrow!” as Stefan hunched down to avoid the worst of the blast, which finished off the remaining hobgoblin snipers. But it just further angered the giant, who then managed to get ahold of the now crouching Stefan. Grabbing the armored warrior with a crushing grip, the monster actually lifted him up and began swinging him about like a club! As Kalli flew up to assist, the giant swung Stefan at her, narrowly missing again and again. Before long, Stefan brought his axe down on the monster’s hand, prompting his grip to release… sending the half-elf right over Kalli (who deftly ducked) to tumble down 20’ where he landed with a painful thump on top of the leftward rampart wall. He was going to feel that one in the morning! Perhaps a trip to the chiropractimancer would be in order.

At this point I finally reached the great iron gate doors, still escaping any particular notice from the defenders. I prayed for a serendipitous Column of Wind to whip up, and Ronan saw fit to allow a sudden powerful gust to bodily lift me up, up, up all the way to the roof the gatehouse, and up and over the oblivious duergar crossbowmen…

…and to deposit me gently down just a few yards behind them on the roof. Hrolf was closing in on the gate now too, and had the duergar’s full attention, as he was ranting and raving about his god’s divine retribution. Without pausing his charge, at one point he threw a hammer, which hurled end over end to strike one of the vile duergar full in the face, smashing his misshapen nose into his brain and instantly killing him! This served, of course, to firmly cement the rest of the duergar’s attention on this onrushing zealot barreling in towards the gate right below them. Their crossbows thrummed as they continued to fire down on him, ignoring the friendly human priest standing right behind them chanting increasingly fervently… something about purifying flames from the heavens to cleanse the earth of the unrighteous, certainly no cause for alarm.

Reynard had finally scaled the leftward wall, strung his bow, and began sniping at the giant and other guards who appeared on the wall, covering Stefan as he struggled back to his feet, joints cracking. Stefan took a deep breath, and then began hacking at the tower door, thinking to enter and ascend from the inside stairs. He made splinters of the door and entered, finding inside the various mechanisms that operated the portcullises and gate doors, and decided to begin opening the first gate.

Up above, Kalli now stood on the wall of the first guard tower, facing the raging giant. She darted in and out, sliced at it weakly as Ben Ken scrambled up beside her to perch on the corner of the tower… but another hobgoblin guard had come up too, spotted him, and launched a flying tackle at the mad wizard… who sidestepped and watched the poor hobgoblin tumble over the wall to fall 50’ to the ground below. Kalli was holding the giant’s attention as Reynard peppered it with arrows. Finally she feinted in, eliciting a charge that drew the monstrous creature off balance, and a final blow pushed it over the edge – it. too, fell down to its death below in the field outside with a resounding crash.

Across on the leftward tower, the second giant saw what Kalli had done to his friend. He picked up the charred body of a hobgoblin, and heaved it across the gap right at her! The crumbling corpse slammed into her, knocking her back against a battlement, briefly stunning her.

Below the second giant, down on the rampart wall, a hobgoblin warlock backflipped over the wall of flame, clung to the outside of the wall, and skittered in towards the guard tower like a nightmare spider.

Kalli regained her composure, stood up, held Francis aloft, and went rocketing up, over the gatehouse, to descend on this new giant assailant in the rightward guard tower. As she flew, Ben Ken conjured an ethereal bow back on the first tower, and shot a magical Acid Arrow across the gap beneath Kalli, striking the giant full in the face! He bellowed in pain as his face started melting.

Having dispatched the rest of the guards along the leftward wall, the Black Fox now stole into the leftward gatehouse behind Stefan, to take over the operation of the mechanisms that would admit our war host. Stefan, relieved of this duty, opened the tower door leading out the gatehouse roof, and was a bit startled to see me praying calmly right behind a line of snarling deep dwarves, apparently unnoticed. With a wink and a gesture to stand back, I finished my supplication to Ronan, and indeed in His infinite wisdom, He saw fit to send down a searing blast of celestial fire, a Flamestrike from the sky that engulfed the duergar in a brilliant column of incineration, wiping the blight of their existence from the surface of the earth. Stefan’s eyes widened a bit and he grinned.

Up above, Kalli drove into the second giant with a flurry of blows (her strength seemed to be returning) as the acid continued to melt his head, trickled down his ear canal and finally melted his brain. His hulking form collapsed in mid-swing at Kalli and he too dropped to crash below on the ground. Francis then began to call out the location where the other Spiderclimbing mage was skulking, and again Kalli rocketed up into the sky, down to his position on the wall, and impaled him.

Raynard had finished opening the gates and portcullises. Our assault had been withering to the defenders atop the walls and towers, but now another wave of enemies (the second shift?) began pouring out of the bases of the guard towers inside the castle walls! There were a couple more giants, a few more duergar, and many more hobgoblin archers and warlocks. One of the new warlocks hurled a fireball at Blake to the right, striking him in the chest! The airbourne bard flew out of the blast, blackened and smoking, then lobbed a fireball of his own right back at the warlock, engulfing him and a few other hobgoblins in the blast. Leave it to The Decanter to fight fire with fire.

Reynard then scampered up to the roof of the first guard tower to take up a sniping position, and began thunking arrows into the giant that had come out of the same tower on ground level, and who had just picked up a duergar corpse and was swinging it around like a club at Kalli. Behind this giant I saw a warlock creeping out from the tower as well, seemingly gesturing and intoning the words to some heinous spell. I called out to the world of insects, and sensing a colony of army ants, I asked Ronan to bend them to my will. It worked! A column of them skittered out from the cracks in the ground, and they zeroed in on the offending warlock, marching up his legs and swarming over his flesh, biting and crawling in his mouth and eyes. He would have trouble finishing that spell now.

Then a group of hobgoblins and duergar rushed over to the second gate (the doors between the inside castle courtyard and the gatehouse) where Hrolf was about to come through, and quickly slammed the iron doors shut, barring them once again and trapping the dwarf inside! Poor Hrolf’s assault was frustrated, but he quickly began Stoneshaping the walls around the iron doors’ hinges in hopes of just collapsing the whole gate. I then stepped forward to the ledge of the gatehouse roof, and looked down upon the squad of enemies that were preparing to attack should Hrolf manage to emerge… I called upon the holy power of Ronan to Hold them where they stood, and indeed they became held fast. As I debated whether it would be too evil to drop down and simply Create Water down their throats, drowning them where they stood paralyzed, the mad wizard Ben Ken leaned out above me from the corner of the first guard tower, and summoned a Mount. He sent the large horse tumbling off the tower, to violently crush my frozen victims! What a way to go.

Blake swooped in then, strafing Magic Missiles at anything that moved, while Kalli dispatched the second tower giant. Stefan charged over across the courtyard at the last remaining giant, but tripped and fell at his feet. The giant began to shake with laughter, until Raynard’s perfectly aimed arrow punctured his thick skull. He sunk to his knees and collapsed, dying.

(A moment later, Ben Ken’s summoned mount, now dead and mangled, disappeared back from whence it came. Some farmer’s daughter’s favorite prancing pet no doubt, and the family’s livelihood. Poor Peggy-Sue would never understand why her beloved horse had disappeared one day, to reappear a bloody broken mess moments later.)

Girl_at_Funeral.jpg

In any event, we had now subdued the gatehouse’s defenses, and breached the gates! Next time we would assault the inner bailey.

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Cry 'Havoc!' and Let Slip the Gnolls of War
in which we repel Tyranthraxus' monstrous horde

Coming back down from the rooftops of the haunted island keep, we encountered a strange creature indeed – it was a naked human, hunched in a dark corner, clutching a knife and gnawing on a dead rat! It turned out he was a fugitive wizard, who had fled Phlan after the initial attack long ago, by swimming out to this abandoned island keep. It was said to be haunted, but he never encountered any ghostly denizens. Once he grew accustomed to a diet of mostly rats, he became quite comfortable living there alone, and used his magic to create ghostly dancing lights and other apparitions to keep the fearful superstitions alive in the hearts of the populace of Phlan. In this way, he kept strangers and explorers at bay, and had the entire keep to himself… until we arrived. An odd fellow, to be sure, but nevertheless this Ben Ken as he called himself proved friendly enough. The years of solitude must have left him hungry for company and adventure, for he decided to tag along on our mission and get involved in the war for the realm. I loaned him my Towel +1 from Ignax’s Bathhouse, and the green Hatchetmen’s sash, to clothe himself in temporarily. We returned to the mainland together and headed out to the Northwest of Phlan to see what discord we could sow amongst Tyranthraxus’ monstrous ranks.

As we headed out of Phlan, a messenger caught up with us and brought us word from the Duke. It seems that recruiting was going well, with thousands of soldiers and scouts being drafted from among the lower castes of Burke. Additionally, gnomes, halflings, and other voluntary militia were filing in from the surrounding countryside. The Duke was also being reinforced by a legion of the King’s own men, and the coalition forces were entrenching in a long siege line from East to West across the center of the realm.

Encouraged by our Duke’s determination to hold the line, we headed into a region of known troll activity, to see if we could persuade the vile creatures into betraying Tyranthraxus. No such luck.

On our way Westward into the swamps, another messenger caught up with us, bringing word of the first major battles of the war. Tyranthraxus had made the obvious move. He sent a large force of ogres and orcish skirmishers directly at the center of the coalition siege line, hoping to fracture it at the town of Glenbarrow. Had it worked, the tactic would have been incredibly demoralizing to our comrades. As it turned out, many brave human militiamen, bolstered by hardy dwarven mercenaries, lost their lives at the Battle of Glenbarrow, yet the attackers were repelled! “They came, they saw, they ran like a bunch of whipped dogs,” boasted the messenger. Meanwhile, we were informed, a naval fleet carrying marines had departed from Burke and was headed up the coast towards Phlan, when it clashed with a smaller force of Tyranthraxus’ ships. Luckily, the enemy ships had recently been damaged by an encounter with a sea monster from the deep, and so our boys had little trouble sending them to a watery grave.

We continued on our way, slogging into the swamplands to parley with the various bullywog tribes that made that moist territory their home. Here we had some success, persuading the chief of one particular tribe that his best interest lay in an alliance with the human King. Just when he was marshaling his warriors to accompany us though, a black-robed mage appeared in the village and had a secret meeting with the chief. After that, the leader of the frog-folk turned chilly towards us and nullified our agreement. Curses, foiled again! We hustled out of town before we could be bushwhacked by Tyranthraxus’ treacherous minions, and continued West.

On our way into the forested outskirts of Helirne, another messenger tracked us down. The news had turned sour. It seems that some of the dragon’s forces had assaulted one of our walled towns, and had managed to take it with only minimal casualties. In another spot along the siege line, there was a massive battle in which the Duke’s men were routed by a monstrous host, although in that instance the enemies’ ranks were sorely depleted. The silver lining was that not one, but two of our biggest coalition armies were approaching that location, so it looked like the depleted monstrous army would not be able to hold their prize for long.

We now headed into elven territory, and began to treat with the leaders there. This was a long and drawn-out affair of diplomatic pomp and ceremony… it is always thus with the elves, but they could prove powerful allies so we persisted.

While enjoying their hospitality (and possibly making a few half-elves), another coalition messenger reached us. He brought word that the two aforementioned large armies had engaged the enemy. The King’s own infantry had thrown themselves with foolhardy abandon at the now dug in, but outnumbered, monsters, only to be bloodily repelled. Cleverly, though, a large force of the King’s calvary used the distraction to come around from behind the trench lines, destroyed their position, and ran down every last survivor! We also heard tell of a fortuitous flash flood on one of the rivers, which evidently had drowned quite a few gnolls – the unit’s morale was broken and they slunk back to their homelands with their tails between their legs.

Finally we reached an accord with the elven leaders, and they dispatched a generous force of their warriors to accompany us back towards Phlan for a concerted assault on the enemy HQ. We began the long trek downriver together.

Halfway there, another messenger brought news. The King had recruited a large force of mercenaries who mounted an assault on Tyranthraxus’ own personal army. It was a resounding success… a heroic scout sniper had taken out one of the dragon’s eyes with a well-placed arrow, causing him to flee and his monstrous army to lose morale. They were then completely defeated! The Duke tried to press some of the orcish warriors into service on our side, but most of them fled back to hide in their orc holes. Then the Duke’s forces had teamed up with Team Rocket, our old rivals, and they had engaged a unit of ogres… but an assassin struck at Team Rocket, taking them out of commission.

We continued marching downriver, using various magics to speed us along our way.

Nearing Phlan, we came upon another messenger waiting for us. She related that Tyranthraxus had recovered from his injury, and had mustered another large personal army. They had struck at the King’s army, decimating them and driving the survivors back beyond the siege line.

But now Tyranthraxus had pulled his battered legions back to Phlan to lick their wounds and re-strategize. Though the enemy was well-fortified there, and numerous, It was time for a final assault. Our coalition hammered its way into the city, resorting to close-quarter tactics in this urban environment, and steadily driving Tyranthraxus’ undisciplined beasts back to the edge of town. Eventually a siege line of goblins, hobgoblins, and trolls hunkered down inside an abandoned castle, and managed to repel two massive assaults (by land and by sea) for several hours. Finally, as we rolled into town with our elvish war host in the eleventh hour, it was our faithful servant Hef who led a charge of mighty minotaurs to batter down their last defenses and root them out.

Only Tyranthraxus and his personal guard remained in a highly-fortified keep.

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