One of the founders of our hobby and one of the most unsung contributors to Dungeons & Dragons, Len Lakofka has passed away at the age of 76.
Along with the many adventures, classes, spells, and rules he created, Len was also father of the Suel in Greyhawk, designer of their gods, and namesake of the Lendore Isles.
The value of his work goes without saying, but his presence will be sorely missed. The adventures of Leomund go on.
Though Sans Pite had quite a lead on our adventurers, they made all haste to the City of Greyhawk. Since traveling east to the coast of Whystil Lake would certainly entangle them in the skirmishing between the humanoids of Iuz and the goodly forces of the Vesve elves, the Wolf Nomads, and the woodsman forces of Lord Locks, and the Wood elves refused to allow them passage through the center of the forest, the group decided to take the round-about route back east to the Sepia Uplands, south beside the Clatspurs, along the High Vale to Highfolk, down the Velverdyva to Dyvers on the Nyr Dyv, finishing up the last leg of the journey on land past the northern edge of the Gnarley. They traveled right past the ruins of Castle Greyhawk, but chose to continue on to the city to try to catch the traitorous knight and his Iuzian contacts at the safehouse mentioned in the high priest's notes from the Caves of Chaos.
Upon arriving in the City of Greyhawk, the adventurers were initially overwhelmed by the sights of the metropolis. Sensory overload saw them wandering a bit aimlessly for a while until noticing that their pouches were empty or missing when Blump tried to purchase a sweetmeat from a marketeer. Realizing they needed to focus, they made their way to the Iuzian safehouse. This proved disappointing since the location turned out to be a building recently burned to the ground by a suspicious fire. Nothing remained but ruin.
Hoping for some helpful information, they went to the constabulary and inquired about the known location and associates of Sir Bluto Sans Pite of Perrenland and/or the owners of the now burned safehouse. They were becoming frustrated at the wall of bureaucracy being erected before them when it suddenly ended. A Captain of the Watch interrupted the desk sergeant and asked the group to accompany her. She led them to a private room where they sat waiting. An hour later, the Captain returned with a rather stern, confident woman who introduced herself as Constable Fanshen. After grilling the PCs about their purpose and background, she told them that she wished to hire them as outside investigators in a recent series of thefts. She explained that three very powerful weapons had been stolen the day before and that their description of Sir Bluto Sans Pite matched the description of an individual scryed as involved in the thefts. As this 'Sans Pite' was unknown to her and her subordinates, she hoped that the PCs could help track him down and bring him to justice. She gave them a copy of a cryptic note left for each of the victims and explained the references that lead to White Plume Mountain as the location to which they had been taken.
With Zeke acting as negotiator and Rickson reigning in the rogue's extreme ambitions, they eventually agreed on a 10,000 gold piece reward for the live return of Sans Pite or 5,000 for his dead body. Constable Fanshen conceded that the return of the weapons was officially out of her responsibility since the private owners of those items chose to hire their own mercenaries to affect the return of the stolen items. Thus, the return of the weapons was not her concern and that they were free to negotiate rewards from the owners on their own terms.
Thus informed, the party embarked a Renee barge (showing a letter of mark from the constable that promised payment), and crossed the Nyr Dyv to Admundfort. Though the Renee did not invite the PCs to join in their nightly reverie, they did enjoy hearing the story-telling of the wise-women on deck in the evenings from the cramped beds they were provided. From Admundfort, they took ship to the Shieldlands' mainland and crossed via horseback beyond the border castles into the Bandit Kingdoms. Here, they were much more cautious and, though able to bluff their way through most villages, they had to draw swords, then make a mad dash across the open plains into the Tangles before losing a patrol intent upon arresting them for refusing to pay a toll (bribe).
Eventually, following the constables' directions, they made their way to Dead Gnolls Eye Socket at the foot of White Plume Mountain. Skirting the Twisted Thickets, they made their way to Yellowreach, the nearest thorp to the spire. There, they made inquiries and discovered that there was only one known entrance to Keraptis' legendary lair - a cave halfway up the conical slope. They purchased supplies to replace those they'd used and prepared to assail the challenges the wizard promised within - their purpose to exact revenge upon the haughty Sans Pite that had harassed them as young adventurers and, hopefully, to get their hands on some legendary magical weapons.
Of course, I could have wished for a little bandit/Orc/Goblinoid trouble along that lengthy ride to White Plume Mountain!
I know, I know. I hated skipping over all that potential for encounters during the lengthy trip, but they were already 6th level and I knew they would be over-powered for the main adventure if I did too much. Plus, they really wanted to experience the classic adventure, so we went straight to it.
The adventurers made the easy climb to the cave halfway up the slope of the mountain. Entering the windy cavern, they stepped carefully to avoid the muck covering much of the floor while the wind whistled in and out of the cave in time to the subterranean movement of the earth. Searching carefully, they discovered an iron trapdoor under an inch of mud near the back. A bit of brute force opened it to reveal a long spiral staircase descending into the darkness.
Following it down, they stepped from the staircase into a flooded passageway heading east. Wading through a foot of murky water, they slowed as they neared a turn in the ten foot hallway. Zeke advanced stealthily and peered around the corner. Seeing nothing but a continuation of the hallway running north at the end of the light shed by his magical dagger, he advanced until he saw a large figure move atop a mound in the center of a four way intersection. The figure rose on lion-like haunches, stretched eagle-like wings, and spoke to him from the face of a beautiful human female.
"Welcome, elf. Approach and speak with me a while. I hunger for intelligent conversation."
Zeke cautiously complied, but froze when the creature commanded him to stop.
"Approach no further without my permission, young one, on pain of death."
Zeke noted that the passage continued behind the creature and branched both left and right of her, but at angles away from him. He also noted a strange, magical rune carved into the stone of the ceiling directly in front of him. He stood less than 20 feet from the creature, but felt that a single spring from her powerful legs would bring her to him despite the confined space preventing use of her wings.
Zeke decided to try to sweet-talk the obviously vain creature and convinced it to let him and his companions pass if he could answer her riddle. The riddle she posed was answered correctly without much need for deliberation by the party, which rather miffed the powerful creature. But, a deal was a deal and Zeke had chatted with her a bit and included some nice flattery. Thus, she allowed them to continue their travel along the northern passage as they had requested.
Continuing on, they noticed another magical rune, that no one was able to identify, on the ceiling behind the creature. Just beyond that, was a small, circular antechamber that appeared to be nothing but a water-filled pit when prodded with Rickson's ten-foot pole. Further on, they entered a 50 by 50 foot room and watched as a horrendous-looking woman rose from the water before a staircase leading out of the far side. Zeke, whose elven eyes allowed him to see dimly to the staircase, then Blump, who could see that far in the dark, felt their minds assaulted as they met the gaze of the witch. Though Rickson could not see the threat and had not been attacked, he launched himself across the room at the threat he knew existed by his friends' exclamations. Unfortunately, he didn't get far as the firm flooring ended and he plunged into water over his head. Blump ran to his aid as he failed to get his head above water due to the encumbering quality of his fine armor.
Zeke quickly made use of his new, magical, boots and ran up the wall onto the ceiling. From there, he ran straight over to the hag and sliced her shoulder with a well-placed swing of his sword. Screaming, she dove into the water. At the same time, Rickson found himself being attacked by a giant humanoid lobster. Though it's claws caused grievous wounds, what purchase they made upon Rickson's body was broken with the assistance of Blump. Zeke ran back and the three dispatched the chuul while the hag returned to harass them from a distance. Eventually, Zeke had to dive into the water after her to finish her off, but succeeded and found some minor treasure for his effort.
Though Zeke and Rickson were wet and feeling a bit nauseous (having contracted filth fever from the polluted water), the three advanced up the steps to dry ground. Passing a normal dungeon door on their right, they advanced to a stout, iron door further down the passage. Unfortunately, they found it locked and they were unable to bypass it. So, they backtracked to the first door they had seen. This opened to another ten-foot passageway heading east. Strangely, it narrowed a bit into a circular passage, ten feet in diameter, which rotated slowly. It's interior was painted with a black and white swirling pattern that seemed hypnotic as the tunnel spun. Studying it carefully, Zeke noted that it seemed to be covered with a wet coating.
Not being able to agree on the safest way to pass through the spinning tunnel, Zeke stepped back and, taking a running leap, dove into the black and white spiral, sliding upon his belly most of the way along its 40 foot length. Surprisingly, a flaming bolt shot forth from a slit in the wall at the other end of the tunnel, missing Zeke, but striking the greased surface he slid upon and setting the tunnel and Zekiel alight! Rolling as fast as he could, he emerged from the end of the burning tunnel and continued to roll to put out the grease flames that were burning his body.
Added to that trouble, more bolts were fired from the arrow slit and a Melf's Acid Arrow spell added it's painful burn to the fire upon his skin. Fortunately for Zeke, his magical armor had a secondary protective quality that minimized any acid damage he suffered. Unfortunately, after he got the fire put out, the lack of acid damage was apparent and the caster began alternating Magic Missile with the previous spell for more obvious effect.
When the fire died down, the other two tried to run through the spinning tunnel. Their ankles failed them both, however, and they went down like sacks of potatoes. Tumbling with the spin, Blump and Rickson tried to regain their feet, but found the effort difficult. Zeke moved to the side of the arrow slit so that he couldn't be targeted and the other two eventually made it to the end. Blump used his shield to block the arrow slit and the ranged assault stopped.
Zeke worked on a locked door on the side wall and succeeded in opening it. Standing on the other side was a bastardsword-wielding warrior who stepped up to engage Zeke in the doorway. Behind him was a wolf-headed woman who began firing Scorching Rays at Zeke from a wand in her hand. Attempting to dodge both the magical rays of fire and the swings of the warrior's sword was taxing for Zeke, but he felt up to the task. Plus, he had his friends behind him to help. Unfortunately, Rickson, the paladin, was no friend of his.
Blump felt a searing pain across his back as Rickson's brilliant blade sliced downward through his armor as if it were incorporeal, sending him sprawling. His wardog pounced at his master's attacker while Blump regained his feet, but the dog was no match for the anti-paladin. Blump scored a hit upon the traitor before his wardog was struck down, but Zeke was tied up against the other warrior and Blump's armor and shield were useless against Rickson's weapon. Rickson cut the gnome down as Zeke defeated the warrior, but there was nowhere to run for the rogue. Turning to fight the traitorous anti-paladin, Zeke found his armor - both magical leather and elven chain - offered no protections against Rickson's attacks. Between the sword and the wand, the elf fought bravely, but fell to their combined assault.
Rickson knew what the wolf-headed sorcerer was thinking - his magical helm gave him telepathy, though his victims didn't know it. Now, he read in her mind the desire for an alliance with him as his skill as a warrior had impressed her greatly. As she moved to stem the flow of blood from her fallen bodyguard, she suggested to Rickson that he do the same to his former comrades as she had some interesting plans for living victims.
With the power of the Helm of Telepathy, Rickson had learned the truth of his comrades' friendship for him. They saw him as a meatshield and constantly hid treasures from him, proving that those professing to be goodly were only pretenders. Thus, he felt no qualms about having switched his allegiance from Heironeous to his more powerful and wise brother, Hextor. The wisdom of doing so was becoming more and more obvious to him as he read the minds of those he encountered. Now, he would befriend these two dungeon guards and discover what they knew about Sir Bluto Sans Pite. That was a warrior after Rickson's own heart. That was a man Rickson could trust in battle as a brother.
Well, just getting into this; I'm about halfway actually, but who's counting? Anyway, pretty cool I really like how deadly it is! Is this from the original B2 module and just adapted, or is it the remake one?
I'm sorry for the long delay, folks. Since it has been so long since these events took place, I'll have to focus on a few of the highlights. But, they were fun and I want to conclude this before we begin the Giants series.
Django - Human Fighter 6th;
Shananana - Satyr Fighter 6th;
Ragal (Quickdraw) McGraw - Human Rogue 5th/Assassin 1st;
Zion, the Zealot - Human Wizard 6th;
Jimmy - Dwarf Fighter 6th.
A new group of adventurers braved the mountain for a crack at the weapons of legend and successfully answered the riddle posed by the Sphinx. This large group assaulted Snarla, the werewolf sorcerer, her bodyguard Burket, and their new ally - the anti-paladin, Noskir (formerly the paladin, Rickson). They successfully defeated the evil trio and rescued the bound Blump and Zeke, who had been bitten by the werewolf and knew that they had been infected. Blump was successful in preventing Rickson/Noskir from dying with the quick use of healing magic and the two took their unconscious and bound companion out of the mountain to seek aid for their various maladies.
The new group forced their way through the large, iron doors sealing off the northern passage and took the time to remove the doors from their hinges as they didn't want such obstacles to swing shut on them if they had to retreat quickly.
Soon, they came to the end of the tunnel and discovered an oddly domed, circular room in which a giant crab guarded a long treasure chest. The warriors charged in and engaged the beast, but Ragal held back and studied it for weaknesses. While the warriors sought opportunities to penetrate the monster's shell, its claws inflicted serious wounds upon them. Worse, Django was caught up in one of its claws and was having the life squeezed out of him. Zion pummeled the crustacean behemoth with evocations, but it proved too tough a nut to crack.
Finally, Ragal was confident that he had spotted a vulnerable location in the underside of the crab's shell and moved in. The crab's legs stabbed at him, but he managed to avoid being pinned beneath any of them. Unfortunately for Django, the crab focused on the victim in its claws, rather than the potential threat beneath its bulk. It closed it's second claw around Django's torso and pulled the top of the fighter's body apart from the bottom half. As the rest of the adventurers froze in shocked horror, Ragal (who hadn't been able to see the death of his companion) struck.
Positioning his long blade in a crevice between two of the exoskeleton's plates, he shoved upward and forced it back and forth, slicing many of the crab's internal organs in half, mirroring what had just happened to poor Django. The crab staggered, dropped the pieces of Django's body, then crashed down upon the stony floor of the cavern. Ragal was just quick enough to dive clear to avoid being crushed.
Unfortunately, several arrows had punctured the membrane holding back the boiling water around and above the 'cavern' and the holes began to tear and let in lots of water. The party quickly opened the chest and discovered a small horde of treasure. Grabbing it all, they ran, leaving Django's body along with that of the giant crab. They ran past the heavy iron doors, which lay unhelpfully off their hinges as the PCs had left them and raced toward the entrance. The sphinx rose expectantly at their approach, then had a serious change of attitude when the wave of boiling water crashed around the corner upon the heels of the fleeing adventurers. The sphinx bolted for the exit, smashed the door open, and escaped. The party was hot on her heels, but suffered some severe burns when the boiling water caught up to them as they climbed the ladder to escape out the trapdoor. Once safely outside and out of the way of the hot water spraying from the entrance cave, the adventurers divvied up their treasure. Having struck the killing blow, the group decided that Ragal should have the honor of wielding Wave, the legendary trident.
DM's note: When the giant crab grabbed Django, I rolled a natural 20, then another natural 20 to confirm the critical hit. The guys all encouraged me to go with a house rule that three nat 20s in a row equals automatic death. Everyone was in agreement, so I rolled again. Yes, you guessed it - a third nat 20. Django was dead, dead, dead.
Shananana - Satyr Fighter 6th;
Zeke - Elven Rogue 6th;
Rickson - Human Paladin 6th;
Zion, the Zealot - Human Wizard 6th;
Kuanta - Human Fighter 6th.
The adventurers made their way down the mountainside to the village of Yellowreach where they waited for the rushing waters filling the dungeon to subside. There, they met Blump, Zeke, and Rickson, who had managed to acquire the magical aid necessary to remove the curse of lycanthropy from the gnome and elf and the Helm of Alignment Change which was the cause of Rickson's conversion to an evil alignment and loss of paladin status.
Not all the members of either group were willing to return to the depths of Keraptis' lair. Ragal (Quickdraw) McGraw felt his luck was running out and sold Wave to Zeke, who was happy to test its powers out on a return trip. Rickson was eager to atone for his failure to resist the allure of the lies told him by the deceiving Helm, but Blump believed that there was much he was called to do to assist the poor folk of Yellowreach and begged off adventuring for a while. Shananana, the satyr, hadn't seen enough excitement for life yet, so was eager to continue the adventure and Zion was eager to accumulate more magical treasure. The others bowed out, but a stranger asked to accompany the expedition and was accepted - an additional blade was a welcome addition - so Kuanta joined up.
A month later, when the water level had receded sufficiently, the group returned and, again, encountered the sphinx guarding the intersection of passageways. This time, she insisted on a competition wherein the party would trade riddles with her and pass only if they could answer more of hers than she could of theirs. The party lost the contest, but insisted the sphinx let them pass none-the-less. Rising on all fours, she glowered down upon them all from the top of the pile of bones she used for a bed and dared them to put her guardianship to the test. Unwilling to accept defeat, the party attacked. The long, bloody battle resulted in many of the group being subjected to the harmful magics of the runes on the ceilings of the passageways and vicious wounds from the claws and teeth of the sphinx. However, the sphinx was killed and all members of the party remained alive. They did have to use up much of their store of healing potions, however.
Successfully bypassing or defeating several esoteric encounters along the way, the group arrived at a long, tall cavern. Fifty feet below the ledge the party stood upon, the cavern was filled with a bubbling pit of super-heated mud. At intervals across the cavern hung about a dozen wooden disks, each attached to a single, large chain rising fifty feet to the cavern ceiling above. It was obvious that without the ability to fly, the unsteady disks were the only way across. Geysers periodically spewed boiling mud across the path. Worse, a fall to the cesspit below would likely prove fatal.
Zeke possessed magical boots that allowed him to cling to walls and ceilings like a spider, so he ran across the ceiling to the other side to be sure there was a safe landing for the others to arrive at. He suffered the effects of several sprays from the geysers, but had timed his run well, so the effects were minimal. The others tied themselves together and took turns jumping from one disk to another, holding tightly to the chains as the geysers soaked them with hot mud, and slowly made their way to the far end of the cavern. They hoped there was another way out...
There wasn't. They opened a door at the end of another long tunnel to nothing but darkness. Zeke bravely stepped in and felt for the dimensions of the room he guessed was on the other side of the door. Soon, however, he was assaulted by something that struck him and moved away too quickly for him to follow. The blow was deathly cold and weakened him. Again, the attack came from the pitch blackness and he was too slow to follow. This time, however, it was accompanied by hollow laughter.
Ctenmiir, the dwarven hero, succumbed to the lure of undeath and embraced his new existence as a vampire. He retained the legendary warhammer, Whelm, that had been gifted him by a mysterious wizard and helped him save, then betray the clan whose members had created it. Now, he thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity to toy with foolish adventurers that came looking for it. His lair had been made magically dark by his wizardly lord, so no light from any but the most powerful source could cross the room's threshold. Thus, the dwarven vampire flew past the intrusive rogue striking alternatively with his magical hammer and the deathly cold of his clawed hands. His ability to sense life substituted nicely for his inability to 'see' in this unnatural darkness.
Rickson raced into the darkness to assist his companion while Shananana and Kuanta waited in the hallway so that the enemy couldn't retreat out that way. Unfortunately, Zeke and Rickson only succeeded in stabbing each other accidentally, so they retreated into the hallway. It was a narrow hallway, however, so when the vampire managed to slip past them in gaseous form unnoticed in the flickering light of their torches, they were hampered in their attempts to reach him as he struck Kuanta from behind.
Kuanta wasn't fairing so well, so he fell back and was replaced by Shananana who also suffered worse than the damage he was able to deal to the vampire. Zeke, then made use of his magical boots again and ran up the wall to strike at the vampire from above. The combination of two flanking blades was too much for Ctenmiir to defend against, so he retreated through the open doorway into the dangerously heated cavern. Zeke and Shananana were both able to strike successful blows against the retreating vampire, however, and forced it into gaseous form. It moved along the wall, looking for a crevice in which to escape, but Zeke quickly followed with his magical boots. Zeke was faster than the vampire in gaseous form, but his weapons couldn't permanently kill it. All he could do was interpose himself between the cloud and the wall or ceiling and hurt it each time it came near. As he did this, Zion fumbled for a magical wand the group had found earlier and experimented with the words carved into its side. Surprising himself, his companions, and most of all the vampire, the wand shot forth a cone of freezing snow and ice which destroyed the undead creature completely.
As a further surprise, when the vampire's gaseous form evaporated in the violent expulsion of frost, a warhammer magically appeared in its place and fell into the spumy mud below. Zeke ran down the wall, reached into the muck, and grabbed the weapon at great cost to his arm's health. Having retrieved the weapon, Whelm, which they had been seeking, the companions recrossed the steamy cavern, tended to their wounds, and made camp to rest and recover from the weakness the vampire's claws had imposed on their bodies.
Nice! Is this the Return to White Plume Mountain adventure?
Nope. It's the original, though I am running my campaign using the Pathfinder rules, so some of the monsters and their powers are slightly altered. Also, I'm using the 3.5e rewrite of the adventure, so they changed a few monsters (e.g. the kelpie was replaced with the sea hag and chuul and a harpy was added to the slippery floor room).
Check above shortly because I added more to the post.
Higher, higher, burning fire. Making music like a choir!
Shananana - Satyr Fighter 6th;
Zeke - Elven Rogue 6th;
Rickson - Human Paladin 6th;
Kuanta - Human Fighter 6th;
Zion, The Zealot - Human Wizard 6th.
After recuperating and throwing off the chilling effects of the vampire's attacks, the heroes made their way toward the exit. Approaching the sphinx's intersection, they were surprised to see it occupied. Two giants with red skin, horns, and flames rising at intervals upon various parts of their bodies stood, giant curved swords in hand, blocking their path.
"I, Nix, say to you halt, you miserable peons!" "I, Nox, say that you shalt surrender your weapons!"
The party was a bit unsure what to make of these flaming giants and their oddly rhyming demands, so stopped their advance and began to discuss the possibilities amongst themselves.
"Give them up, weaklings, and we'll let you go free." "Give them not, sneaklings, and we'll slice you in three!"
Shananana tried to wave the flaming giants to silence as it was difficult to focus on decision-making with such bad rhymes booming down the hallway, but the inconsiderate creatures continued to taunt the adventurers.
"Hand to me Wave and I'll grant you a wish.
Nix is your fave, you smell like a fish!"
"Give over Whelm or you'll wish you weren't here.
Nox's realm is one you'll fear!"
Shananana's eye's narrowed as he tried to focus on the point Zion was making about the magical emanations he was detecting from the weapons, arm bands, and assorted jewelry worn by the fiery monsters blocking their path. He tried to ignore the inane blather being spouted by those flaming brobdingbats, but it was just too irritatingly annoying. Zeke caught Shananana's mental struggle and knew what was coming.
"Attack," Zeke calmly spoke to the huddled group, and as one, they turned and charged.
Zeke and Zion only advanced a few steps and began to pepper the giants with quarrel and spell while the satyr and human warriors attacked with swords. As the party divided itself into two groups a wall of fire magically sprung into being between them. The three warriors didn't even notice it as no heat emanated from the side facing them. Zeke and Zion, however, felt the full force of the fire and had to fall back a bit to avoid further burns. Worse, the wall of fire prevented them from seeing what was happening in the fight.
What was going on was that the warriors ran right into an illusion. The efreeti waited for the warriors to attack their illusionary doubles, then hit them hard from the sides. Giant-sized falchions sliced down upon the bodies of our heroes and dealt them grievous injury, but our heroes were no longer the wet-behind-the-ears newbies who trembled in their shoes when the bully Sans Pite, towering over them upon the back of his steed, chastised them for being the worthless, common chaff that they were. No, now, they were seasoned veterans, ready for the unexpected; expecting the unseen. Thus, blows that would surely have decapitated or dismembered them in the previous year now were turned aside or evaded to a healthy degree by their recently earned warrior instincts. The warriors battled the evil genies as best their blades could serve them.
Zeke braved the flames and, charging through them, joined his comrades in battle. Zion dispelled the first Wall of Fire and resumed his spellcasting, but another was erected by the second efreet. This one he had more trouble defeating. The efreeti battered the party with sword and scorching rays of fire from their fingertips, but the party returned the affronts with sword, trident, and warhammer. Soon, Zion succeeded in defeating the magics of the efreet and doused the second Wall of Fire. He then joined his fellows in an attempt to use some of his more personal (touch) spells on their opponents. Nix remained strong, but Nox began to suffer under the combined attacks of the party of adventurers. So, Nox retreated down the westernish hallway. Though the party hadn't traveled in this direction before and had no knowledge of where it led, Zion chose to chase down the fleeing efreet. Losing sight of Nox while rounding several corners, Zion relentlessly continued his pursuit. He cautiously passed through a few rooms and was mounting a staircase leading out of the next when the Invisible efreet suddenly appeared before him and grabbed his shoulders. Before Zion could open his mouth to speak the words of a spell, Nox winked and the world swirled around them. Zion was too disoriented to do anything but wonder as his surrounding slowly returned to normal - well, it wasn't spinning any more.
The world Zion found himself in was one of flame. He immediately began to burn, but Nox's giant hand nearly crushed his head and his discomfort minimized. A city made all of brass stood behind the efreet. Buildings of gigantic proportions rose above immense brass walls. Flames flickered from the rooftops and danced along the parapets. Nox winked again and snapped his fingers. Immediately, the flames underfoot, as common as grass on Oerth, began to lick over his feet and up his calves, bringing forth screams of agony, uncalled for, but undeniable, as his legs caught fire. Again, Nox's enormous hand palmed Zion's skull and compressed it to the point that Zion nearly forgot the pain of the fire. Then, he did forget the fire's pain as it quickly disappeared. Realization slowly dawned on the hapless wizard as Nox grabbed him and dragged his miserably burned form through the streets of the molten city to the dungeon in the efreet's family villa.
The rest of the party was more fortunate. Though Kuanta had been overwhelmed by their adversary, the group's tactical teamwork successfully overcame Nix's defenses and they even disrupted his attempt to flee magically. Nix surrendered and sued for his life. He offered to grant his three conscious foes any wish that he was capable of effecting in exchange for their agreement not to slay him. This, they accepted, and they made their wishes.
Shananana was frustrated at the group's lack of healing without the presence of a cleric in the party so demanded that Nix provide him with a magical item that would cast a healing spell upon demand. Nix promised that he could do such a thing, but that it would be a bit more limited in its application than Shananana hoped. The satyr accepted that and Zeke decided that was an excellent idea. Having the ability to heal oneself instead of having to rely on an unpredictable ally was certainly something a rogue, such as himself, could find advantageous. So, he made the same wish. Rickson, however, did not want to do anything remotely selfish, as he still felt he needed to atone for his previous failure. So, he wished for world peace. Nix promised to see what he could do and Rickson nodded satisfaction.
After Nix produced the requested goods and departed in a puff of smoke, Zion returned from down the western hallway from which he had disappeared in pursuit of Nox. Shananana and Zeke quickly set their new, magical, healing Ioun Stones to spinning above their heads and, seeing that Kuanta yet lived, filled Zion in on the outcome of the battle and queried him about his own luck. Zion explained only that he had searched for Nox, but had lost him and decided to return instead of continuing into the unknown alone. The truth of the matter, he kept to himself.
After serving Nox as a slave in the City of Brass for nearly two years as a magical researcher and item creator, Zion was approached by an elderly wizard whom he'd seen occasionally, but never spoken to before. Escorting the younger mage through the halls of the library to his personal office, the wizard introduced himself and engaged The Zealot in pleasantries. Among other esoteric magical theoretics, he explained that time advanced differently here than on the Prime Material plane. Though Zion appreciated the chance to chat with a more experienced wizard, he was nervous about failing to keep to the schedule his master had approved for him. Upon voicing this concern, his host promised to get to the point. He explained that he was familiar with the situation that Zion now found himself in and promised that he could free Zion and return him to the Flanaess. He only asked one thing in return. Eagerly, Zion agreed - whatever the cost, he would gladly pay it for freedom.
"It is done, then," said the wizard. As he gathered the components for a planar teleportation spell, he bid Zion remember that he owed him a favor for granting him his freedom. "I will call on you to aid me as I have aided you, young one. Remember me. I am Tzunk."
DM's note: What Nix did for Rickson was arrange for the paladin's soul to enter into and possess his magical longsword upon his death instead of traveling to the outer plane of his god's abode. Thus, Nix's contribution to world peace would be immortalizing a paladin's desire to continue to serve weal upon the Oerth.
Zion felt mentally, and physically, drained and insisted that the group return to town to rest. The others didn't argue as none of them wanted to risk more fights in their current condition. Once back in Yellowreach, however, Zion begged off returning to the mountain, explaining that there was much research he needed to get to and wished the others well. In just a few days, however, the rest of the group was eager to have another go at the dungeons of Keraptis. The third, and most intriguing prize yet awaited - the infamous sword, Blackrazor.
Upon returning to the dungeons below White Plume Mountain, the party was surprised to see the efreets again standing guard at the four-way intersection. As they approached, however, they realized they were being confronted by a different pair.
"I am Box!"
"And, I am Cox!"
"And you we challenge here!"
"Fail but once,"
"And, on Rob Kuntz,"
"You shall not pass, we swear!"
"A rhyming game,"
"Is oh, so lame!"
"So, let us nobler be."
"Lay down your arms,"
"Enjoy our charms!"
"We'll party merrily!"
Our heroes, to a man, stood mouths agape as Box and Cox recited their introduction. It began with the efreets standing shoulder to shoulder, then gesturing with their arms, and finally dancing a small jig. As they finished, it was in everyone's mind that this was a most unusual manner for efreeti to behave, so the reason for it must be important.
Rickson concentrated on the aura of vileness he felt emenating from the firey creatures while Shananana and Kuanta speculated on whether Cox's nickname might be 'Dix' and who this Master Kuntz might be. Zeke, however, noted that these two genies stood a bit taller than had Nix and Nox, that they wore more highly valued jewelry, and that their skin was etched with far more tattoos than that of their previous efreeti foes.
Zeke stepped forward and demanded that they be allowed to pass after answering any riddle the two chose to offer them, as had the previous passage guardians. Box and Cox agreed, but with a twist: they would ask a riddle and, if the party answered it correctly, it would be the party's turn to ask one of the efreeti. They would continue to take turns until one side failed to answer correctly. The first answer given by any member of either party would be held as the official answer. The party agreed and the contest began. It went well for both sides through a series of about four riddles apiece, until Kuanta was certain of an answer and blurted it out without consulting the rest of the group. Unfortunately, it was incorrect, but Box and Cox generously agreed to allow Zeke to answer for the rest of the group and accepted his answer as correct. They then failed to answer the next riddle proffered to them and granted permission for Zeke, Rickson, and Shananana to pass. Kuanta, however, was denied permission to accompany the group.
The three assured Kuanta that they would be back soon and passed into the westerly passageway. Kuanta, however, would not be denied and walked right past Cox. The efreet drew his giant-sized falchion from his back in one fluid motion and brought it down upon the fighter. Kuanta was knocked, bleeding, into the water covering the passage floor and Cox raised his sword to deliver the killing blow. Kuanta's friends were not willing to allow this to happen, however, and rushed back to their companion's aid. A great battle ensued with the genies, immune to heat themselves, dropping Fireballs at their own feet to engulf everyone in the melee, surrounding the enclosed battlefield in Walls of Fire, shooting Scorching Rays from their fingertips, causing the warriors' weapons to burn hot in their grasp or their armor to flame upon their skin (Heat Metal), and causing the very air to burn in a firey hurricane (Pyroclastic Storm), all while administering horrendous wounds with their flaming weapons. Our heroes returned the affronts with the power of their arms - two of which were now equipped with the legendary weapons, Wave and Whelm, which proved to have a few very useful magical powers in combat. Even turning invisible wasn't enough to prevent the adventurers from deducing the whereabouts of the efreeti Maliks, however, and the two firey giants' bodies were reduced to bloody, burning heaps upon the floor. Immediately, though, they dissolved into steamy clouds and escaped out of the dungeon.
It proved a pyrrhic victory, however, as Kuanta was cut and burned beyond life. The bloody water had prevented his body from being completely consumed in the flames, at least. The three - Zeke, Rickson, and Shananana - wrapped what was left of their friend's body in a bedroll and stuffed it into Zeke's Bag of Holding and proceeded to investigate the westerly passage as they had initially planned.
The satyr, the elf, and the human continued their exploration of Keraptis' dungeon. Zeke discovered an open pit blocking the corridor and tested it's depth. This was easy enough for Zeke and Shananana to swim across, but Rickson's armor weighed him down and he had to have a rope tied around his torso and be drug across by his companions. The filth of the dungeon had mostly been washed away by the boiling water it had been inundated with previously, so the swim was not too unappealing.
The next portion of the hallway proved a bit more vexing, however, as copper plates covering the walls caused all metal items to heat up extremely quickly when passing between them. Zeke, in front, only felt a bit warm as he was adorned in only leather armor, but Shananana's breastplate and Rickson's full set of plate armor caused them more serious burns. Finally, they just had to splash their way down the hallway as quickly as they could as removing the plates from the wall proved too difficult. At the other end of the copper-covered walls, they reached a room with a short set of stairs leading up out of the water on the far side. They stopped to rest and recouperate some of their health, but a secret door opened next to the passage they had just entered the room from and a host of ghouls rushed out at them.
Seasoned adventurers, such as they were, they knew the ghouls posed little threat to them, except for the chance that any successful scratch, no matter how trivial, could cause paralysis. With only three of them, and being quickly surrounded, they fought defensively - doing everything they could to protect themselves and each other from the claws and teeth of the undead. Zeke did eventually succumb to the paralytic touch of the beasts, but most had been dispatched by then and Rickson and Shananana were able to win the battle before the ghouls could make a meal of their companion. Searching the small room from which the ghouls had emerged, the three discovered what appeared to be a small giant bound to the ceiling with iron staples, beyond the leaping reach of the ghouls. It failed to respond to their queries, so Shananana used his healing magic to revive it. The imprisoned individual turned out to be Rock Hammerhand Boulderbeard, a goliath (or half-giant, as he explained to the party). The human, elf, and satyr had never encountered such a creature before and were quite impressed with his physical might. He proved friendly and asked to join them after describing his capture and torture after the defeat of his own party of adventurers not two days previously. The three were happy to add yet another warrior to their ranks and welcomed Rock to their group. Rock told them the chest of weapons and armor stored tantalizingly out of his reach in the far corner was his own equipment and asked to be allowed to claim it. The others agreed, and Zeke grudgingly removed the items he'd already sequestered within his Bag of Holding and handed them over to the half-giant.
Rock Hammerhand Boulderbeard
Finally, they had an opportunity to restore their health with Zeke's and Shananana's newly acquired Ioun Stones and Rickson's potions (he was unable to make use of his special paladin abilities until he had atoned for his betrayal of his companions). At that moment, they caught snatches of a beautiful song being song. Intrigued, the four advanced up the staircase and around a short corner to a dungeon door. The song was apparently being sung on the other side and by a wonderful female voice. Cautiously, they opened the door and were amazed at the beauty of the singing. Stepping into the room, they stopped at the edge of a five-foot wide pit that split the floor from the left-hand wall to the right. Another pit, like the first, crossed the floor about 40' distant and a door exited the room on the other side. Shananana easily hopped the first spike-filled pit and promptly fell to the floor as his hooves slipped on the magically-smooth surface. His momentum carried him to the far pit. Scrabbling for purchase with his hands, legs, and dagger proved ineffective and he slid over the edge into the second pit.
His cries of anguish sparked his companions to action. Rickson tied the Rope of Climbing around Zeke's waist and planted his feet firmly while Rock did the same behind him. Zeke successfully hopped the short distance over the pit and slid, on his feet, toward the second pit. Rickson pulled the rope taught just before Zeke reached the edge of the pit, but he only got a glimpse of Shananana writhing upon the poisoned spikes at the bottom. As the rope reached the end of its length, it snapped him back and he began to slide back toward Rickson. This unexpected development was merely irksome, but as Zeke prepared to jump the first pit, back to the side with friction, an arrow pierced his calf causing his leg to fail him and he plummeted into the first pit. Rickson witnessed the arrow emerge from the far wall, but had no time to even shout a warning before it hit his friend. He and Rock were able to prevent Zeke from falling all the way to the bottom, however, as he had been spooling the rope as Zeke returned his way.
Unfortunately, this made Rickson a stationary target, and though neither he, nor Rock, were lured toward the source of the song as had been the song-loving satyr, he was hard-pressed to maneuver his shield into position to deflect the arrows that now flew at him. Zeke sped up the magical rope quickly, despite his wounded leg, to find that Rickson had suffered only a couple of arrows to weak spots in his armor. The three of them then jumped back through the door, out of the line of fire.
There, they made their plans quickly and returned to the battle. Shananana had managed to pull himself from the spikes he'd been impaled upon and staunch the flow of blood with his Ioun Stone, but the poison had weakened him. He needed help out of the pit so that he could discover the identity of the beauty that was singing so wonderfully to him. Rickson realized that the back wall of the room was an illusion as he had watched carefully for the arrows that emerged from it in his direction. He prepared his longbow and Rock took ahold of the magical rope that was still tied to Zeke. After removing the arrow from his calf, Zeke and the others jumped from the doorway and faced down the long room.
Zeke jumped the first pit and slid toward the second. An arrow pierced the illusionary curtain and sliced the rogue's side as he spun himself to avoid the worst of it. Rickson saw it emerge and returned fire. He was rewarded by a squawking screech and the cessation of the singing. Rock held the rope tightly and Zeke dropped to the floor and slid on his belly to the other pit. Rock pulled the rope taught as Zeke began to slide off the edge and Zeke grabbed the edge as he was being pulled back so that he was held in place at the pit's edge. Another arrow was fired from behind the illusionary wall which pierced the sturdy leather covering Zeke's back enough to cause him to release a gasp of pain and grit his teeth. Rickson returned fire, but heard only the clack of metal striking stone from behind the illusion.
Rock eased up on the rope and Zeke pulled himself over the edge of the second pit a ways, lowering his arms so that he could reach down far enough for Shananana to jump up to catch hold of them. At Zeke's shout, Rock backed up, his incredible strength pulling Zeke and Shananana up out of the pit. Zeke shouted for the satyr to hook his hooves on the edge of the pit to stop their movement, then he pushed off and slid himself over to the wall. Arrows occasionally rained upon the two, but Rickson was able to answer quickly enough to keep the unseen archer moving, so firing slowly. Zeke commanded the Rope of Climbing to release him and attach to Shananana just in time to prevent the satyr from slipping back into the pit. Simultaneously, he brought his feet to the wall and was thrilled to discover that his Boots of Spider Climbing worked there. He ran around the pit and through the illusionary wall to confront the singing archer that waited there.
Zeke didn't know what to expect beyond the illusionary wall beyond the fact that there was an archer that needed to be put to the sword. Sprinting along the wall with his magical boots, he ran right through the wall a short distance from the pit he'd just pulled the unfortunate satyr from. He had to pull himself up short before running into another wall that didn't look illusory at all. At the other end of the room he now found himself in, stood a hag with vulture-like wings and legs. She was pointing a knocked longbow right at him! Ducking and rolling to avoid the arrow that flew at his gut, Zeke came up with bits of rope and other disgusting detritus attached to his armor, weapons, arms, legs, hair, and every other bit of body and equipment sticking out from his torso. This caused him a bit of unfortunate entanglement and the harpy (for that was certainly what this creature was) jumped into the air and, with a single flap of her wings, covered the distance remaining between them and descended upon Zeke with her sharp, filthy claws.
Her weight dropped the elf to the floor and her claws pinned his shoulders to the bed of filth covering her lair. Zeke tried not to gag as the stench of her body wafted over him.
"What a fine, fat boy you are, elf!" cooed the harpy. "You'll make a fine treat for Meg Mucklebones." "You don't really mean to eat me, do you, ma'am?" asked Zeke, squirming to test the strength of her grip.
"Oh, indeed I do!" she cackled, bending to bring her face down close to his.
"That would be a shame," Zeke coughed, "because someone as fair and lovely as yourself, Miss Meg, deserves far better than scrawny me. Don't you think?"
Cocking her head with a coy smile, Meg asked, "Think me fair, do ye, elf?" "All the heavenly angels must envy your beauty," the rogue lied through his teeth.
Meg threw back her head and laughed a screeching cackle, then stroked Zeke's cheek with a filth-encrusted hand, drawing blood with her claws. "What a fine meal you'll make, be the rest of you as sweet as your tongue!"
Just then, the other three members of Zeke's team came barreling through the illusory wall. Zeke used this distraction to raise his leg to kick Meg in the back and send her flying off of him. She used her wings to catch herself and avoid sprawling upon the floor, but still ran right into the paladin's holy sword. Turning to his right as he caught sight of a winged creature flying toward him, he swung a powerful blow across the harpy's chest, just missing her throat. Her wing-beats assaulted his nose with her foul smell, but he advanced as she attempted to back away from his magically sharp blade. The satyr's blade removed one of the harpy's claws and the goliath jumped into the air and tackled her, descending in a bone-breaking heap on the floor. Meg, being trapped by the arms of the half-giant, began to croon again, hoping to charm some, or all, of her intended victims, but Zeke, having regained his feet, swiftly stepped over and removed her head.
Searching the filth of her lair was difficult, but they did discover some coins and a couple of unopened potion vials. After a bit more healing, they continued onward through the door on this side of the room. Beyond it, a short, passageway, and another door, they entered a simple room with a strange and perplexing addition.
Our heroes cautiously entered the stone room, glancing around to see if there was anything else of interest. Water-filled barrels almost didn't register, but two-seat kayaks were worth a couple seconds of consideration. That's all they warranted, however, as their intended purpose appeared obvious.
From a six-foot diameter hole in the west wall, emerged a flowing stream which filled the lower half. The bottom of this hole, however, was a full foot above the floor. The stream floated, magically, through the air, made an impossible turn, and exited the room via an identical hole in the north wall. Small fish swam lazily with the gentle, eastward current. Experimentation determined that the water was harmless and lukewarm and the fish were no threat. The entrance and exit tunnels for the stream were dark and turned corners before their light sources reached their limits. It was decided that Zeke, possessing Wave, would swim ahead and scout, but he returned after a distance to report that the tunnel twisted and turned with no end as far as he had gone alone. The process was repeated, but the others embarked two kayaks and followed after only a short wait.
Wave led Zeke swiftly and easily along the dark, half-submerged tunnel, assuring him, empathically, that there were no aquatic dangers within a threatening distance. After travelling an indeterminate distance along the twisting tunnel, Zeke spied a light ahead. Soon, he emerged from the tunnel into another, larger room. He had just enough time to see that the stream floated through the air in this room before a net was thrown over him and he was dragged from the water to crash upon the cold, stone floor. Bruising his hip was the least of his worries, however, as his assailants began stabbing him with pikes.
Echoes of alarm reached the ears of the other three and they paddled their kayaks as quickly as they could. Rock was having the most difficulty as he was forced to stoop low to avoid cracking his forehead on the tunnel's ceiling. As Shananana and Rickson emerged from the tunnel, they, too, were showered with nets and dragged from the water. Having prepared before emerging, however, they had their swords in hand and quickly began to cut their way free. As Rock emerged behind them, no more nets were ready to capture him and he rolled from the stream and his kayak shattered upon the dungeon floor, freeing him to jump to the attack.
Their assailants proved to be men - armed and armored as cheap mercenaries, except for one. That one was of huge proportions and was armored in full plate from head to toe, his helm obscuring his face. That did not prevent Zeke and Rickson from identifying him, however. They immediately recognized the device emblazoned upon his shield. It was Sir Bluto Sans Pite - the very one they had pursued all this way from the northern Vesve. Zeke shouted curses at the knight and promises of castration and worse as he struggled to throw off the entangling net while dodging the pointy ends of pikes on either side of him. Realizing he was not going to have the opportunity to assault the hated warrior, Zeke called for his companions to focus their efforts on Sans Pite.
Shananana and Rickson, fighting back-to-back, were surrounded by four mercenaries and Zeke was being attacked by two more, but the goliath, hearing his new friend's directive, charged the evil knight. The two giants clashed, shield to shield and sword to warhammer (the others had gifted the half-giant with Whelm since none of them were comfortable wielding such a weapon), falling to blows that would have quickly decimated warriors of lesser skill. The battle progressed slowly at first as the heroes had to fight defensively, but once they managed to drop a couple of their ambushers, it turned quickly in their favor. Rock, however, was not as fortunate. Facing Sir Bluto alone, he was holding his own, but receiving more punishment than he was giving. Sir Bluto realized his own party was being beaten, so he bull-rushed Rock and pushed him completely back through the stream, tripping over Zeke, and landing on his back. Sans Pite then moved quickly to assist his warriors against the satyr and paladin. This combination proved much more challenging for the two, but Zeke overcame the defense of one of his attackers after freeing himself from the net and Rock was able to trip the other from his prone position. Zeke then dove under the magical stream and, charging Sans Pite, stabbed him in the back with his three-pronged fork.
Rock grappled his opponent and began to squeeze the life out of him. Shananana and Rickson charged the two mercenaries still standing while Sans Pite turned to face the furious rogue. The traitorous knight knocked Zeke down with a powerful blow from his shield as Rickson cut down his opponent and Rock broke the neck of his. Shananana's opponent turned to flee and dove into the stream, swimming as fast as he could toward its exit into the far wall of the room. Rickson immediately moved to intercept Sans Pite before he could attack the disadvantaged rogue, so Zeke drew forth his rope of climbing and threw one end down the stream to land across the fleeing mercenary's back. At the same time, he commanded it to attach itself to the man's leg. Unexpectedly, this worked, but Zeke didn't have enough purchase to stop the mercenary swimming with the power of the current. Fortunately, he slid into the goliath, who held him in place and Shananana caught the mercenary and ran him through, turning the water downstream a bloody pink.
Rickson battled desperately against Sir Bluto until his companions reached his side. Their combined attacks were simply too much for the powerful knight to defend himself against and he eventually fell with hateful curses upon his lips. The group looted his body and those of the mercenaries and set about searching the room for any unseen exits.
Sir Bluto's bastard sword was a powerful, magical blade, but it was obviously not the sword, Blackrazor, that the group was now looking for. So, failing to find any hidden exits from the room, they decided to continue following the stream. There was only a single two-man kayak, however, so they began arguing over who, besides Zeke, would have to swim.
"You're the one that broke your kayak, so you can tough it," demanded Shananana of Rock. "Besides, it'll take my fur much longer to dry than your skin." "How many ranks does he have in his Swim skill?" Rickson asked of the goliath.
"With a name like 'Rock'?" was Zeke's sarcastic reply.
So, it was decided that Rickson (in full plate armor) and Shananana (with delicate fur) would ride within the kayak while Rock would hold onto the back and be dragged along so that he didn't have to crawl or try to walk in a stoop for however long the stream traveled.
Unfortunately, it didn't go very far this time. It soon returned them to the room wherein they had first discovered the magically levitating stream. They searched this room for secret exits as well, but found none, so returned to the room of Sir Bluto Sans Pite's demise. After a lengthy and meticulous search, they discovered a secret door carved masterfully into the rock wall. It opened to a strange key found upon the body of the slain knight. This they opened to discover a long, dark, and narrow hallway which ended in a blank wall. Another secret keyhole was discovered therein and, again, it opened a door to a larger hallway ending in a relatively normal dungeon door.
Listening against the door discovered the sounds of clacking on stone and an occasional splash. Opening the door revealed an immense room, strangely configured - its floor was a series of large terraces converging upon a central area with a single, large door in its far wall. The first and third terraces were full of water and all proved to be covered (and walled on the interior sides) with a clear, and probably magical, force field. Within each terrace were a handful of magical beasts which moved to congregate near the adventurers, who had just entered.
The muffled roars of the manticores on the ground floor could just be heard through the covering, and Shananana had some fun taunting them by dancing upon the force field above their level, while the others searched for a way down to the door at the bottom. A shoot, of sorts, was discovered in the far corner, which allowed access to the second tier. Unfortunately, the two enormous crayfish-like creatures within that watery level had followed them to that point and waited expectantly for a meal. Rock was brave and volunteered to go first. Downing a potion of Water Breathing, he slid down the shoot into the waiting claws of the beasts.
Swinging his warhammer effectively proved extremely difficult underwater, so he switched to his sword and began stabbing at the crushing claws attempting to grab him. Zeke followed with Wave and had an easier time poking holes in the beasts. Downing potions of Water Breathing themselves, Shananana and Rickson soon arrived and joined in the fight. The giant lobsters (hammer claws) had an annoying habit of attacking, then backing up a few feet, which forced the adventurers to have to swim forward in order to make their own attacks against the creatures. Since moving even five feet while submerged took serious effort in combat, his reduced the warriors' effectiveness in addition to the difficulty of swinging a weapon under water. Despite the difficulties, the party was victorious and moved quickly around to the shoot leading to the next, dry level of the inverted ziggurat.
This level was populated by three monstrous scorpions. Not only did each one have two giant claws with which to attack the warriors, but also a stinger that would strike in the center after the claws attacked from flanking positions. These attacks caused serious harm to the party of warriors, but their healthy bodies shrugged off the worst effects of the poison, at least. They were, however, suffering grievous wounds and didn't like the idea of facing the two seacats that swam within the third, watery, terrace.
Rickson requested the blessing of Heironeous and was granted a temporary reprieve from his sanctioning. An angelic spirit was sent to indwell the paladin's sword, as it had in times past, and lent the weapon the quality of force magic. Thus, Rickson was able to stand outside the force wall and attack the seacats through it without allowing them to attack him in return. This tactic proved effective at first, but the seacats soon became wary of approaching him and kept their distance. Rock then stepped up and wielded Whelm against the force-glass. It took many strikes, but little, by little, cracks appeared until, finally, a hole was shattered in the wall and the water rushed out. The seacats, of course, eventually were swept through the hole also, but the force ceiling over the manticores' level caused the water to collect into a pond above those beasts and the seacats swam about within it, trying to reach out to catch the adventurers in their claws. The group chose to ignore them and enter the hole. It was then a simple matter to walk around to the shoot leading to the manticore lair.
The manticores were a wily pair - nearly insane in their captivity, but canny enough to resort to tactics instead of manic melee. They had witnessed the party's successful battles against the creatures on the other levels and chose to back up as far as they were able and meet the intruders with volleys of tail spikes instead of tooth and claw. Rickson volunteered to go first as his armor provided the best protection of the group and he was quickly followed down the slide by Rock, Shananana, and Zeke. All four raced toward the mythical beasts as soon as their feet hit the floor, while doing their best to dodge the pointy missiles being flung in their direction.
Rickson's shield stopped most of the missiles, but he suffered a few to his legs and one clanged off his helmet. The others also suffered a few flesh wounds, but they all arrived for melee on their feet. A fierce battle commenced wherein the huge, winged, lion-like monstrosities sliced, bit, and pummeled the warriors and the warriors did likewise in return. With the seacats swimming circles above, hissing cries of frustration, the battle raged on until both manticores were defeated and Shananana and Zeke were raggedly bleeding in pools of blood - not just their own.
Rickson found that he had regained the ability to channel the righteous healing energy of Heironeous and brought them all back from the brink of death. Now, they thought, would be a poor time to engage another enemy. So, they waited and rested, soothed by the swirling water stirred above by the hungry seacats.
The four warriors took turns standing guard while the others slept. Each was relieved to wake to discover that the magical force ceiling hadn't dissipated and inundated them in their sleep. After about six hours of restfulness, they rose and prepared themselves to seek the black sword beyond however many more dungeon doors and rooms full of opponents the mission required.
The door was large enough to allow an ogre to pass comfortably. It was a thick, oaken construction banded in iron and locked with a complicated lock. With some concentration however, Zeke was able to defeat it. The door opened into a long hallway filled with a light mist. At the far end could be seen the door's twin. Detecting no traps, Zeke allowed Rickson to take the lead and the four proceeded down the hallway. The mist smelled oddly and made their heads spin a bit, but Zeke was able to pick the lock in the next door after determining that no sound was coming from the other side.
This time, the door opened into a luxurious apartment. A magically-lit chandelier hung from a 25-foot high vaulted ceiling decorated with scrollwork and mosaics. A light haze of smoke filled the air and dulled the colors in the richly embroidered tapestries covering every inch of wall. To the right, an enormous fireplace sat - a small pool of bubbling lava serving in place of a log fire. Thick carpets covered the floor and a divan fully 12 feet long and 5 feet deep was nearly buried in silken pillows. More pillows were piled near a 6-foot tall hookah in a corner near the fireplace. Dwarfed by the giant water pipe he was smoking from, stood a rather dapper-looking halfling who raised his eyebrows and immediately smiled in delighted surprise when Rickson led the group into the room.
"Fenseq, at your service," said the halfling with a bow. "Do not be nervous."
Shananana's head immediately began to hurt. Zeke and Rickson felt a vague instance of deja vu. Rock didn't even notice the halfling's rhyme.
"I am kidnapped - held for ransom. Magically entrapped, and then some!" explained the halfling.
Shananana's head began to throb, but Rock thought the friendly halfling was a very pleasant chap who deserved help in escaping the prison Keraptis had put him in. Zeke was more interested in finding the most valuable items in the room to stuff into his Bag of Holding. Rickson, however, began to scan the room for signs of evil, beginning to his immediate left and slowly progressing around the room.
Zeke peeked behind the hanging tapestries while Shananana stepped back into the misty hallway to clear his head outside of the smoky room and Rock approached Fenseq and proffered his enormous hand in greeting. As Rock struck up a conversation with their small host, Rickson detected a faint aura of evil from just behind the goliath. He tried to focus on it, but it seemed a blur and may have simply been a mistake. Then, suddenly, it occurred to the paladin that magic may be in use to hide an evil threat and he called a warning to his friends and moved to study the wall behind the halfling.
Misinterpreting the intentions of the paladin advancing toward him with sword drawn, Quesnef, the ogre-mage, turned himself Invisible and made us of his Slippers of Spider Climbing to stealthily run up the wall and onto the ceiling. Shocked surprise registered in all four warriors, but Rickson had the presence of mind to continue the use of his holy ability to detect the presence of evil. He had sensed the faint evil aura move toward the wall and upward immediately after Fenseq disappeared, so turned his gaze upward to the ceiling fearing that whatever evil was present had grabbed the helpless halfling. His senses detected an evil entity on the ceiling directly overhead, so he shouted the fact to his companions and they readied themselves for an attack. Rock began calling for his new friend, Fenseq, not knowing what had happened to him while Zeke and Shananana watched Rickson for an indication of the location of their enemy.
Quesnef decided that it was time to make an end of these meddlesome oafs as the paladin had ruined his ploy to maneuver them into forcing him to accompany them out of the mountain in order to get out of the agreement he had made with Keraptis without actually breaking its letter. So, he called upon his innate magical ability to spray a cone of deadly frost from his fingertips and aimed it right at the paladin's face. As the spell burst from his outstretched fingers, Quesnef's Invisibility was dispelled. Rickson caught sight of the Halfling standing upside down on the ceiling and brought his shield above his head just in time to protect himself from the worst of the cold. Rock, however, stood mouth agape as the Cone of Cold enveloped him from head to toe.
Zeke stepped to one side so the chandelier's chain wasn't between him and the Halfling and hurled a dagger at the offending twerp while the satyr sheathed his sword and drew forth his bow and knocked an arrow. Quesnef growled at the line of blood the dagger left across his brow and countered with a spell of Darkness covering the doorway and most of the room. He then ran down the wall to grab his greatsword, which hung above the very same doorway, as yet unseen by the adventurers upon entering the room.
Having already battled the vampire dwarf, Ctenmir, in magical darkness, Zeke became extremely perturbed. It was a trick he was quickly growing to despise. But, it was what it was, so he prepared as best he could by drawing forth his sword and remaining outside the globe of darkness. Though the chandelier was enveloped within the darkness, the fireplace was not and the lava lent the remainder of the room a dim, red light. Rock shook himself back to reality and hefted Whelm while Rickson spoke to him and moved back-to-back for better defense. (These two didn't realize that the darkness didn't fill the entire room.) Shananana backed out of the room entirely and down the misty hallway until he emerged from the magical darkness. Only the glow of his magical sword indicated that he had reached the limit of its effect.
Quesnef made hit-and-run attacks against the paladin and goliath until they heeded Zeke's suggestion and moved toward him and escaped the blinding dark. Quesnef also moved out of the darkness, up high on the ceiling and tried casting more harmful incantations at the three, but his efforts were only mildly successful and he suffered as much harm from the daggers, arrows, and pieces of broken furniture hurled at him by Zeke, Rickson, and Rock. Hearing the calls between these three and Shananana, the ogre-mage realized that the satyr was alone in the hallway and ran through the darkness to attack him.
Shananana saw the ogre-mage emerge from the darkened portion of the hallway before him, but was prepared to meet his opponent, sword held in the guard position before him. Quesnef charged the smaller swordsman with his oversized greatsword held aloft, ready to deliver an overhand chop that would split Shananana from shoulder to crotch. The satyr fighter, though strong, could never stop such a blow from the powerful ogre-mage, but he didn't have to. It was a simple matter to deceive his opponent into believing that was what he hoped to do, then to step aside and angle his own blade to simply deflect the ogre's downward slice a little farther out. The greatsword gouged a great chip from the stone floor and the contact stunned the beast for just a split-second. That was all Shananana needed to swing his own blade over the ogre's weapon, up his arms, and across his throat.
With blood spurting from the deep wound, the ogre tried futilely to speak the words to summon another Cone of Cold, but the breath necessary for the task just wouldn't come. All Quesnef could do was feebly wield his greatsword one-handed in an attempt to defend himself against the satyr's attacks while unsuccessfully trying to stem the flow of blood from his neck with the other. As the ogre backed into the darkness, Shananana shouted that fact to his companions and they rushed, blindly into the darkness in the room and came upon Quesnef from the back. Trapped between enemies intent on his destruction, Quesnef transformed his body into a cloud and flowed, unseen, through the darkness, back into his room to hide within the smoke of the hookah.
The warriors four were initially quite perturbed that the ogre-mage had apparently escaped them, but Rickson led them back into the room and indicated the evil creature's hiding place. He silently thanked Heironeous for allowing him this minor holy gift in his time of need as the group gathered around the water pipe. As one, they struck the glass with their four magic weapons, shattering it and cutting the magically gaseous ogre-mage down in that combined blow. As the shards of glass fell to the floor, so too did the reconstituted body of the insidious ogre-mage.
Quesnef's greatsword proved to have no magic whatsoever, but when Rickson and Rock overturned the enormous divan, they discovered a long chest hidden beneath it. Within, rested a greatsword with a blade as black as the midnight sky. Starry bursts sparkled within its inky blackness and the blade seemed to call to all four warriors to wield it in pursuit of any goal they chose. Zeke was content with Wave and Rock preferred the warhammer to the sword, so was not willing to trade Whelm for it. Rickson was leery of possessing such a weapon and besides, his own sword was a holy gift consecrated to Heironeous himself. Shananana, however, was pleased to claim the sword for his own. He drew Blackrazor forth from its prison and held it aloft. As he did so, its form changed into that of a longsword fit for him to wield. He could feel the sword's desire for blood, but sent thoughts of patience to the intelligent blade, promising adventure and blood when the time was right. Buckling the golden scabbard covered with cut pieces of obsidian to his waist, Shananana led his companions out of the dungeons of White Plume Mountain.
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