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Pigs Are Good People

Summary Report

March 4th, 2008

So, in the end, that was the last session. We destroyed or liberated all of BOB’s forms and killed BOB himself, escaped the glowing goop of unformed godstuff and escaped intact. We took the Fae’rath back to Evermeet to let him be the problem of the High Elves and there he sort of turned into their war leader and dealt with the Drow invasion. We returned Venture to his life doing whatever Venture does.

In the following session we didn’t so much play as discuss: the godstuff infused Na’san and Malthalus so that they merged into one weird being. We and the DM agreed that the Tinker Trading Company would be capable of pulling together enough forces to face Na’san/Malthalus/godstuff and all of its draconic and Ascended forces and that, yes, we would have Mytheria installed as the new god of the dragons.

The downside of that? Chromatics have ruled the roost for too long and Metallics had pretty much gotten used to other gods. Nobody makes the switch, Mytheria is a weak god and the Chromatics start a whole new war with basically everyone.

Oops.

We saved the day but the TTC may have kind of fucked up the world.

I’m sure we’ll be back there to fix it, though, in time.

We opted, after this, to move on to new characters and in fact reboot the setting entirely. We’re playing 3rd level adventurers as of this update and that’s really, really fun. I play a Tiefling because my characters always have to be freaks. You’d be surprised how useful it is to be able to speak Infernal, though.

Endless Wells of Light and Dark

September 17th, 2007

We all grabbed hands and I cast another Teleport to drop us right back into the air over Malthalus. Muad Ter’thalas was still pressed against the wall, a look of shock – I take great pleasure in that – on his face. The Ascendeds were flying all over and the kobolds were shrieking like crazy. I pointed at Muad and said, “There!”

Adric released an Invisibility Purge and as soon as they appeared they started to be noticed. Rock let loose arrows from his hiding place and spells started going off left and right. Mytheria dropped his elven disguise and took his full form, that of an enormous golden dragon. The Concordant Killers moved to protect Muad and we pulled back onto the enormous – 75 or so feet to a side – slab of glowing stone on which the form of Malthalus lay limp and snoring. Na’san appeared there, too, and started working a spell on Malthalus. Muad and his bodyguards charged us and out of somewhere a stone half-sphere formed around us to lock out the kobolds and Ascendeds. The main players were all squared off now, on the dais, and Na’san had worked some magic to wake Malthalus again.

Adric tried to banish the Concordant Killers but it only worked on one. Badl turned into an enormous bear and went for Muad. Rock went after the remaining Concordant Killer. Malthalus staggered to her feet and Mytheria charged her, locking the two dragons in fierce battle. Trover and I set off spells in every direction and Adric threw open one of the portable holds and drew the Font from it. Elminster had said it would know its master and so we hoped against hope that it would tear him free.

Muad’s eyes settled on the Font and both he and it were surrounded with white, hot energy. We could see a pair of ghostly hands – smoking from the energy surrounded Muad – peel back with a scream and suddenly Muad was standing thirty feet away with one hand on the Font. There was a little glowing gate where Muad had been and Azrael appeared in it, grinning. Badl rounded on him and they fought while Muad bellowed, “Show me the elf! Show me the Fae’rath!” and sent his own spells into the mix.

Azrael died almost immediately from Dyson and Badl alone.

A moment later, a new form appeared: a tall, gaunt, scar-laiden man with blue skin and a shock of white hair, odd wrappings billowing slightly from a breeze though there was no wind. He carried a scythe and both Trover and Dyson cried out, “Venture!”

“He’s our friend,” Trover called, “BOB’s taken him over!”

Muad lifted a finger and pointed at Venture and cried, “DISINTEGRATE!” and a beam of red death shot from his hand. Venture scowled and spun the scythe with both hands and – I swear to you, I was there, I saw it – batted the spell with the blade and sent it back on Muad. Only seconds after being freed from BOB’s control, Muad Ter’thalas was turned to dust by his own spell. Glittering metal goods and clothing fell out of the air and the Font, which had floated beside him, shuddered for a moment and then crashed to the floor.

A single shard of the Font’s exterior, roughly the size and shape of a dagger blade, was punched out by the impact and spun across the floor.

The Font began to hum.

Adric grabbed his holy symbol and cast Exorcism on Venture and another shaft of white light burned BOB’s hands. Venture staggered forward, freed from BOB’s control and looking around in confusion. He must be a warrior, however, because it was only a moment before he’d found his footing and looked back at the portal and raised that scythe high.

The dwarf – all armor and dodge and quick reflexes – appeared in the portal. Venture raised his scythe and cried out, “BLOOD FOR SEKMET!” and charged. Badl – by now a bear the size of either of the ancient dragons on the dais with us – reared on his hind legs and bellowed and he and Venture and Dyson all fell on the dwarf as one.

Adric turned his attentions on Rock, fighting the Concordant Killer all on his own, and healed him almost entirely with a single spell. I was slinging spells at Malthalus, trying to chip away at her enormous form with orbs of sound and electricity and Mytheria was locked in a fierce fight with her, the two of them slashing and biting and hammering at one another as great rivulets of their blood ran down the dais and over the edge. Malthalus raised one claw towards the ceiling of the dome and cast a Disintegrate on it so that the Ascendeds would have a way in and I cast, the next moment, a Sonic Fog over and around the hole to slow them down, then put another right under it to slow them further. Trover was singing and casting spells and singing again.

The noise in that sphere – the shouting and cries and groans and tearing flesh and clashing weapons and spellwords and oaths and curses – was enormous and under it all I could hear the hum of the Font.

It was getting louder.

Light was starting to shine from the hole on one side.

Adric had noticed it, too, so he grabbed his holy symbol once again and I heard him praying under his breath. In a flash the Font was gone – but we could still hear it humming, muffled, through the portal into the extra-dimensional space where BOB kept his body and his stable, and the light from that portal grew a little brighter.

Eventually I landed the fatal orb on Malthalus and she fell in a great heap. Na’san was trying to help her but he was like a mosquito to Mytheria and got about as much attention. The gold dragon turned on the Concordant Killer and Adric set off more healing spells that closed the wounds on Rock and Mytheria and even Trover and me and Adric himself and, sure enough, Badl and Dyson and Venture.

We looked that way, now, and Badl had wrapped himself – a bear twenty feet on any side – around the tiny, struggling dwarf. With a final groan and a sick crunch we watched Badl crush the dwarf like an egg. Blood and gore fountained from what few openings there were in the dwarf’s armor and Badl roared in triumph.

We paused a moment, watching that portal, knowing BOB now had only one form left: the Fae’rath.

We were distracted, though, by Malthalus staggering to her feet, blood still running out of open wounds, scales a little dimmer, shadowy wisps of magic flowing around her. I still had Greater Arcane Sight active and so it was that I saw the magic as it took effect: Malthalus had just risen from the dead as a dracolich.

She called a taunting challenge at Mytheria and he turned away from the Concordant Killer to charge her again and I started casting more spells. Na’san still worked to help her but again he was nothing compared to the two of them. We all turned our attention back to the portal and this time when it opened to let the Fae’rath out we could clearly see BOB wrapped around him, whispering endlessly into the Fae’rath’s ear, the light coming out of that extra-dimensional space was almost blinding and the hum of the damaged Font was even louder than the battle.

The Fae’rath put up a fight, certainly, but as Dyson and Badl and Venture dodged and moved in Trover and I were casting spells like crazy. The Fae’rath dropped a force cage around Trover and Adric so that Adric couldn’t heal them but Adric got off another Exorcism so that the Fae’rath staggered forward, shaking his head, and the body of BOB was all BOB had left, straining against a barrier between his space and ours as though fighting to come through it.

Trover poked one finger through the bars of the force cage and I heard him say, “Orb of Force!” A faint ripple of light shot from his finger and walloped BOB as the others cut deep wounds into him and his tiny, spindly, grey body very simply exploded from the impact.

I fired another spell at Malthalus causing her to die – again – with Na’san under her massive bulk so that when she slumped to the floor she crushed him beneath her.

Light still spilled from the open portal and the Concordant Killer lowered his weapon. “My contract is finished,” he pronounced and he was gone in a flash.

Out of the corner of my eye I saw the last remaining gem in the ring of wishes Trover carried went out. There was a muffled shatter and I could see the magic go off: someone, sometime, long before Trover and Dyson and their friends had found that ring, had wished that Malthalus phylactery would shatter so that she would permanently die. So, that’s what that wish had been.

We regrouped and looked around. The light from the portal had started to pulse and strobe so that beams of light and beams of darkness issued forth. “It’s all the power of a god,” Badl said, “Both creative and destructive.”

“We,” I replied, “Are getting the fuck out of here.”

We were two minutes two late. The barrier between BOB’s dimension and our world was torn down and what I can only refer to as God Goop washed out, shooting light and dark everywhere. A beam of darkness – negative energy, I could tell, and the light was positive – struck Trover. Another beam, this one of light, struck Adric and then the spot where Dyson would have been if he hadn’t simply not been standing there when it moved across his path.

That man could dodge an enchanted arrow.

Two beams began to converge on me, then, trapped between them. In a moment I could tell the dark one would get to me first and as it did I reached into the gears of the universe and set of my Moment of Prescience spell and with my will forced the negative energy ray to stop and let the positive one wash over me. It burned, blinding bright even with my eyes closed.

“Greebo!” I panted a moment later, “Get me that shard of the Font!” Rock crammed the things dropped by Muad and Azrael and the dwarf into a portable hole and we ran back together at the center of the dais.

We all grabbed hands – including Venture and the Fae’rath – and I cried out, “Teleport!” and we reappeared next to the gate into the land of the dead. Trover both looked ashen and wilted, but I positively glowed. Adric could barely lift his backpack. We ran through the gate together even as the pulsing light of the mindless god once trapped inside the Font began to flicker around the far end of the cavern.

We appeared in the land of the dead, safe at last, Venture and Dyson and Trover greeting one another and talking a mile a minute. Adric summoned up his strength to cast Restoration spells on himself and Trover and they both recovered immediately.

“Whitten, you look… different,” Rock said. I looked down at my hands, legs, etc., making sure nothing had changed. “No,” Rock said, “You look… prettier.”

And that, my friends, is why one should always jump in front of a positive energy ray.

(Author’s Note: Whitten gained 5 Charima in return for losing 5 Intelligence. This is the best thing that could ever happen to a Sorcerer. Adric lost a bunch of Strength in return for a bunch of Wisdom, also great for a priest.)

Plane Shift: Elventree,” Adric intoned and the world was torn away for a moment and then we landed in the grass outside our beloved hometown. I made for the tree and the shop to start examining goods while Adric beat a path to the temple of Mystra to see if Elminster were still there so that we could report what had happened.

I put the ruby monocle over my right eye and cast Analyze Dwoemer reading off the abilities of all the gear we’d taken from the forms of BOB we hadn’t been able to rescue. Badl and Dyson and Trover and Rock and the Fae’rath set to talking immediately. I wrote down everything – a bunch of belts that enhanced every ability the wearer had (+4 to all stats), some armor, some weapons, some scrolls, a book of strength, a book of intelligence – Adric and I of course made use of them to undo the price of our enhancements by the positive energy beams, in later days – and various these-and-thats.

And then I went upstairs and went to bed. It had been a very long day.

Cradle to Grave to Cradle

September 17th, 2007

We paused for a moment, inspecting the destruction. True to our mercantile ways we stripped these Ascendeds of their masterwork weapons, as well; respect for the dead is sometimes outweighed by a quick estimate that their goods were worth 100,000 gold coins. At the time I wasn’t even willing to think of them as people, to be honest. They were animals who wanted us dead and taking a few baubles from their fallen just seemed like a good way to rub salt in the psychic wound. Now, looking back, I have to wonder whether that was the elf half of my heritage, so eager to look down its nose at the fallen.

This stupid belt is going to make things so complicated; but I digress.

“Hey, Dyson…” I paused and looked back at the portal. “Didn’t you have friends who’d died who couldn’t be found in the land of the dead? And isn’t that fortress back there hidden from Kelimvor’s view?”

We turned around and went back through the portal, back into the fortress, and searched the two low buildings in it. One was a combination brig and bunkhouse and all it held were the corpses of Ascendeds. The other, round and open, contained within it a simple shrine: a figurine of an Ascended standing on the far edge of a wide, shallow dish with its arms outstretched as though to protect whatever was placed there – and what had been placed there were a few dozen small, clay jars with runes scribed on their caps, huddled together. Adric and Badl examined them and pronounced them soul canisters.

Disgusted, I picked up a newish one and threw it down on the stone floor to shatter it and release whatever was held inside. The image of a contemporary elf appeared in a sort of fog and looked around blankly then started to wander away. Dyson and Trover both exclaimed, as it was the image of a friend of theirs, one of the ones unable to be found in the land of the dead. The Ascendeds had captured their souls and hidden them away, rendering them unable to be resurrected, to return in any way, to keep hidden the secrets any enemies had managed to uncover. Uncertain how to proceed, unsure what to do to tell someone in Kelimvor’s service that these spirits were here, I raised my hands and started to cast a Sending.

“We’re on the wrong plane,” Adric said, “You can’t reach Berol from here.”

“I’m on the right plane,” I said, then I moved my hands through the right motions and pronounced, “SENDING: KELIMVOR.”

Some days it really pays to have met a god or two.

Ticking off words on my hands I said, “Hi, it’s Whitten, how are you? At a fortress hidden on your plane, lots of souls in jars. Can you help? Thanks!”

Adric boggled at me, the spell completed. I shrugged. “We met. It’s a long story.”

A moment later, a voice boomed in reply. I REMEMBER YOU, it said. THAT’S ODD. MY AGENTS ARE EN ROUTE. The front gates of the fortress crashed open a moment later and a few dozen, well, I’d guess one would call them angels, were standing there. At the head of the squadron flew the ghostly, pallid form of an ancient insect-man wearing the holy symbol of Jergal. He was the first of the insect men to die, the first priest of the first god of death. In silence they moved into the little shrine and picked up canisters, one after the other, smashing them on the ground so that the souls within could be released back into the natural cycle.

“Well, thanks,” I said to the insectoid. “We’ll, uh, we’ll be going then.”

With that, we went back through the portal and back into the world of the living and I don’t mind telling you that I was glad to be shot of the place.

The drums were still beating and as we moved in their direction we came to a large lake with a single small boat at its shore. Never one to take chances, Rock picked up a stone and tossed it into the water and, of course, the surface of the lake shifted and rose to form an enormous – lake-sized, as one might imagine – creature. It shimmered with fluid movements and challenged us. “Who dares to enter the place where gods are born? Why do you come here?” We hemmed and hawed a bit and then Trover took matters in his hands and produced a magical shout to try to get the creature to back down. Unfortunately, he just pissed it off and away we went with the fighting. A few minutes later the thing was dead and we’d made it to the other side of the lake. There, as though erupting from the very rock walls of the natural cavern, we could see the columned and stepped entrances to what were obviously temples: Waukeen and Kelimvor and Charess and many of what Adric and Badl said were the newer powers. We peeked inside to find small but fully-formed houses of worship.

The world is such a strange place.

We proceeded towards an exit from the cavern and found it to be a broad, high tunnel. As we walked down it we listened to Adric and Badl tick off the names of gods and goddesses, older shrines and temples laying farther and farther ahead as we moved. Finally we came to one for Lothander and Adric excused himself to pray. Dyson did the same when he saw the one for Tymora and Trover ducked into a shrine to Oghma. Rock and Badl and I moved on ahead in search of our own various gods’ homes and I went into the tasteful but ornate shrine bearing the kiss of Sune. Rock found the one for Meilikke, ringed in saplings. I saw Badl still moving forward but couldn’t see anything for Silvanus.

I don’t know what the others said to their gods. I asked Sune for help, certainly, for a bit of bravery and some good luck. I didn’t bargain with Her but I did say that if this all turned out alright it would be really nice to hear from some of the friends with whom I’ve lost touch over the years. I could cast a Sending to Telisaren anytime, I know, but I don’t. He’ll show back up when or if he wants. Still, it’d be nice to know. It would be nice not to have to peek into his room every now and then to see if that coin’s fallen over yet or if it’s stall standing on one edge, where it landed that last morning in Elventree when he woke up and flipped it and it landed on its edge and he left without a word. Rowan, Donth, Haktor, Llannen, even the priest of Tempus who’d fought beside us years ago, all disappeared into the mists with hardly a word. Would it be asking so much to know that they were OK?

That in mind, I prayed and left the shrine to find the others emerging from theirs. We moved on ahead and found Badl at Silvanus’ shrine, an enormous and ancient oak tree with moonlight playing among the leaves, even here in the middle of a cave that felt like it was a million miles below the earth. He sat underneath, praying.

Next to it was a simple ring of stone columns and in the middle a half-column with a stone bust of a dragon sitting on it. A yellow stain rain down the face. Rock tracked a bit and pronounced that there were disturbances in the dust that he was certain were the footprints of Azrael, the human archer face of BOB. That made this the Mother’s original shrine and BOB had paused a few moments to defile it on his way by. It and the tree of Silvanus were at the edge of a cliff, the very end of the road.

Below us in the dark we could make out – and scouted to confirm – thousands of frenzied kobolds being tended, egged on and abused by a legion of Ascendeds. We’d heard in Underhome that all the kobolds were gone – everywhere – like they’d up and gone someplace and here they were. They danced and fought and thrashed and threw themselves around and sometimes into enormous, raging bonfires, working up a mass wall of emotion and faith.

The drumbeat was much louder here, insistent, urging, building in tiny steps so that one barely even noticed the pace quicken or the volume grow or the persuasion of that beat building in one’s bones.

Another quick scouting mission told us that Malthalus – the one who plays the Mother’s heart – was ensconced on a raised slab of glowing white rock atop a pool of inky black nothing in a chamber on the far side of the kobolds. There, surrounded by more kobolds and Ascendeds, she played an enormous, ancient drum with her hands. Rock had gone there with Trover’s help and stayed behind to keep us informed of what went on while Trover came back to work on a plan with the rest of us.

“We have a dose of the sleepy-dragon dust,” Badl said with a smile. “I think we could put that to use.”

A quick conference and brain-storming session produced a plan and Badl, Trover and I were the ones elected to carry it out. I turned us all invisible, we each did various things to be able to fly and the three of us flew down, over the cavern, over the stench and fury of a few thousand kobolds worked into a frenzy by their Ascended handlers. We landed at the near end of a tunnel through the rock wall into the auditorium space where Malthalus played. Greater Arcane Sight told me the tunnels had alarms and an Invisibility Purge active on them so Trover cast a Dimension Door to get us to the far end and stay invisible. Upon arriving in the auditorium we stopped for a moment to look around. None of the Ascendeds seemed to have See Invisibility or True Seeing active. Malthalus didn’t see or notice us. The slab of square, white stone on which she sat seemed lit from within, casting her face in wild patterns of light and dark, enormous shadows of her hands and the drum playing along the high ceiling.

I looked farther around and saw three glowing blobs of intense magic – invisibility along with any number of buff spells – pressed against one wall. The middle one was small and shifting and shimmering so that I realized it was BOB and he’d just changed forms. I cast See Invisibility and he – in the form of Muad Ter’thalas – resolved, flanked by two Concordant Killers. He had a True Seeing active and he waved at us and smiled.

I smiled back, blew him a kiss and then turned back to the others. “Let’s do it,” I whispered. Badl and I each took hold of one of Trover’s belt loops. With the precision of our plan firm in our minds we each took, in order, the actions assigned to us:

Trover cast a Dimension Door to put us in the air a few feet in front of Malthalus.

Badl opened his tiny hand and blew a cloud of sleepy-dragon dust right into Malthalus’ face.

I whispered, “Teleport!” and the three of us disappeared with a rush of air and reappeared between the shrines of the Mother and Silvanus, next to our companions.

“Rock says…” Adric said, pausing, his Telepathic Bond with Rock letting him hear what happened on the far end, “Rock says she just collapsed, asleep. The kobolds and the Ascendeds are going crazy.”

We could hear that the drum had stopped.

It was time to attack.

Two Steps Forward

June 24th, 2007

There was no time to waste, after that. Adric woke me up and Trevor and we sent a Sending to Badl to meet us in Sess’uadra. We teleported there and met with Berol who, it seemed, hadn’t slept all night. “My god had to subdue Tiamat’s spirit after she arrived in the land of the dead,” he said, “And I could not sleep during that time. Tiamat was not ready to accept her fate.”

Berol had tried to scry for them in the plane of the dead – where we have long known the Ascendeds go when they step through their summoned gates – and had discovered much to his displeasure that there is a part of the land of the dead which not even Kelimvor can see. There, we imagined, is where the Ascendeds have their stronghold. We quickly ate breakfast and then Adric summoned a Greater Plane Shift for us to cross over into that dimension and meet our friends.

Rock, Dyson and Mytheria had quite a lot to report. In the distance we could see a smoldering and battle-scarred fortress. There, they told us, the Ascendeds had fought an extremely long battle against beings that were half demon, half angel. “Concordant Killers,” Mytheria told us. “The hired men of the gods and other powers.” Adric was able to fill us in a little more on them: if any one of them is killed then the rest of them swear a blood oath to find and destroy the killer. With that in mind we set off towards the fortress in vague hopes of being able to find out where the Ascendeds were going. We knew now, thanks to Ba’nall, that the Ascendeds were after BOB. If they went this way, so must he have gone.

Adric also reported to all of us about the conversation he’d had at the temple to Mystra in Elventree, where he’d met both with the high priestess and with Elminster, who was there waiting for him with the Font in his possession. The Font, Elminster said, is the depersonified power of a god from the ancient elven pantheon, the one they had overthrown and enslaved before they arrived in this world. He still didn’t know how to use it but he did know this: it knew its master – Muad – had been taken from it and it wanted its master back. What, Elminster posed, did we think would happen if we dropped the Font in front of Muad while he was under BOB’s control? He said he believes the Font is probably powerful enough to break BOB’s hold on Muad and once Muad is free he will almost certainly want to turn on BOB himself.

For now, though, we had to find BOB and that meant finding out where the Ascendeds had gone after assaulting and entering the fortress in front of us. Upon flying around behind and above the fortress we saw signs of a vast battle, mounds upon mounds of dead Ascendeds. In the back of the fortress was a large portal and, standing in front of it, was one Concordant Killer. Upon spotting us it took to the air and called out that we should surrender so that our deaths would be quick. I called out asking if we could talk about this and the reply was in the negative.

So much for avoiding that blood oath.

All the meleers kicked off their boots of flight and Mytheria shifted into his draconic form – enormous and terrifying but unable to break through the fear-warding properties of Adric’s magical breakfast the way Tiamat had done – and went in to press our assault. A long and frustrating fight ensued, with the Concordant Killer – not at all beautiful in its angelic features, melded as they were with demonic ones – repeatedly dispelling our ability to fly, trapping Mytheria, etc. Eventually I summoned up all my abilities and reached into the guts of the universe with all my gifts and the skill granted me by Moment of Prescience to force the Killer to speak with us.

“I can prove that the entity who hired you will betray you and your brothers and that if you let us pass you will save your and their lives and efforts!”

The battle paused and the Concordant Killer looked at me, then floated over. I did nothing aggressive, just stood there without armor and without a weapon in my hand, as it approached.

“You have my attention,” it said.

I quickly walked it through our history with BOB and the fact that the Ascendeds currently chasing him and with whom the Killer had just obviously had a fight had been BOB’s allies for something north of fifty thousand years up until this morning. I explained that we had no interest in killing Concordant Killers, that we knew of the blood oath and that we would be perfectly happy to part ways in peace. In passing I mentioned that we are merchants and the Killer asked, “Merchants? Perhaps you can make a counter-offer to complete with that to which we agreed with this… BOB.”

“What did he offer you? What was the deal?”

“Sixty thousand gold, ten for each of you. He did not mention this…” It glanced at Mytheria. “Dragon, however. If he had, we would have charged more and sent two of us rather than one. He is in breach of contract.”

We did some quick math and produced a cape we had gotten from Alex’s belongings that morning and none of us could use. “This,” I said, “Plus six thousand one gold will exceed the sum paid you by BOB. We would pay you this to leave us alone and let us through that portal.”

“Agreed,” the Concordant Killer intoned and, with his loot in hand, he simply teleported away. It did, of course, cross our minds to ask him to join us against BOB but his price was too high and he was already down on spells just as we were – and besides, he told us, BOB has two more Concordant Killers as bodyguards and they will not fight one another.

Once he was gone, we ran around the camp looting dead Ascendeds of their magical items – we are merchants, after all – and then prepared ourselves to go through the portal the Concordant Killer had protected. What we would find we couldn’t possibly guess but if we had to, we’d bet on the Spine of the World, the last place of power, the Cauldron of Birth.

We stepped through and found scores more dead Ascendeds and one dead Concordant Killer. Was that in addition to the two guarding BOB, or had he been whittled down to one?

Exploring ahead just a few yards we found a large underground lake with a small exit on the far side. From it, in the very far distance, we could hear drums.

Someone was playing the Mother’s heart.

The Bigger They Are

June 24th, 2007

We knew by now that it was almost certain that Tiamat was somehow going to be summoned into the city to try to defend it from Mulhorand’s assault and that Azrael/BOB was going to take advantage of this to kill her and leave her seat vacant as a goddess. Two quick Sendings later, we had alerted Berol that the god of the dead might want someone on-hand to observe the death of a deity and we’d alerted Mytheria, the ancient gold dragon we’d met outside the Anauroch Desert/Netherese Empire, to the events we believed were about to unfold. Mytheria responded immediately – from right behind us, teleporting without a second’s hesitation. “Let’s get this show started,” he said, and off we went.

There is a huge temple to Tiamat at the center of the city, where she killed their old god – whoever he was – and where the fires lit by their fight still burn over a decade later. Trevor and Rock and Dyson snuck ahead to scout out the place, getting into the temple and reporting back telepathically that there was a huge avatar of Tiamat that had been constructed and partially covered in dragon scales – gee, wonder where they got those – and there were piles of dead bodies and chanting priests around the base of it. Knowing we would have to act quickly if we were to disrupt the summoning, we each unleashed whatever we could on the frame of the avatar; area-of-effect magic went off across its faces and the front of its “body” and even though parts of it fell apart, the high priest leading the incantations sacrificed himself underneath it and what had one instant been little more than a shoddy approximation moved with life, took substantial form and turned into… Her.

I can’t describe a goddess, even an ugly one; though that’s a part of it, I suppose, that she wasn’t ugly. She was not just a dragon or a lot of dragons or even a lot of dragons mashed together, she was Dragon. She was everything terrible and horrifying about them. Her form filled the temple and she wore one head for every color and type of chromatic known in the world. She shook off what tiny pin-pricks we’d done to her form before she inhabited it and then turned to kill any remaining priests with a single swipe of her various limbs. YOU SUMMONED ME TOO SOON, she bellowed. I don’t know why, I don’t get that part, but the sight of her blew right through whatever protection from fear and terror had been bestowed by breakfast that morning and left most of us screaming and running in fear.

Fleeing outside, she followed after us though not with us as her focus in particular. Instead she simply turned on anyone and everyone in sight, killing, eating, smashing. Free of the confines of the temple she took to the air and scanned the city for a foe to fight. Six hundred feet or so to north, we knew, was Azrael. He stood atop a roof with his bow ready to let the arrow fly. On the southern edge of the city, Mulhorand had toppled the walls and was easily crushing what remained of the Untherian defenses. Blue dragons, tamed for use as mounts by the elite Untherian guards, were falling from the sky left and right.

Azrael bellowed a challenge and Tiamat turned, ignoring the invasion, soaring towards him.

I noticed, flying by, that a priest of Kelimvor ran out onto the roof of a building, threw on his holy symbol and produced one of their holy books and began to chant.

Gates began opening all over the city and Ascendeds began to pour out, soldiers and casters, and among them many squads equipped with the wingless, mutilated dragons they raise and use as weapons of war.

Tiamat paid none of this any heed, even as we flew alongside her and cried out that she listen to us. Azrael pulled back the string on his bow, loosed the arrow, and it struck Tiamat in the chest. She plummeted to the ground, buildings collapsing from the force of her fall.

Ascendeds surged in around her as she stood again and, unable to fly, let loose with all her might and batted them away like flies to continue her approach towards Azrael. Dyson and Rock were moving as fast as they could to get to Azrael but Tiamat was even faster. Badl had swooped around trying to find the arrow itself but couldn’t, lost as it was between the giant plates of scales covering her body. I tried to cry out to her again but as she took the last few steps towards Azrael he flickered and Alex appeared in his place.

The halfling reached into one pocket and came out with a handful of pink dust – so familiar to us, given it was Alex we’d once lowered into one of the dispensers in the tomb of Stormcloud, the dust having been used to keep him asleep for a few thousand years while his body wasted away and died – and with a single puff the halfling thief blew the powder right into Tiamat’s face.

She immediately collapsed, unconscious, across a city block.

Dyson and Rock arrived and between the two of them sliced Alex to pieces – literally – in the blink of an eye. Rock reported, later, that in the moment he died it seemed that Alex shifted his expression to one of peace.

It was too late, though. The streets teemed with Ascendeds and they launched harpoons or something like them into her hide and then pulled them back out so that Tiamat bled from a thousand open wounds at once. Her form shuddered briefly and that was that. The spark was gone. A cry went up from the Ascendeds and without another thought they reopened their Gates and thousands of them turned around and marched right back out of the city.

Dyson, Rock and Mytheria barely took a moment to tell us they were following the Ascendeds before they were through, themselves, and gone. Badl announced he was retiring to his grove to commune with his god. Adric cast Word of Recall to get back to Elventree and I cracked open my bags, produced a scroll of Greater Teleport and Trevor and I left for the same destination with Alex and his belongings. Adric, we knew, had taken off for the temple of Mystra to try to get them to study the Mother’s Heart. I showed Trevor to a guest room, marched into the storefront and notified the staff that we would need coffee in two hours. Then I went out onto the front yard and laid down in the sun and got what sleep I could after watching a goddess die.

Powers & Places

June 24th, 2007

After the first round of bolts we tore out of the cars of the dwarven train and assaulted the Dwerger who had ambushed us. With a word I turned Rock into a Stone Giant and he and Badl – in the form of an Earth Elemental himself – set about destroying the elementals that had attacked the train. Adric and I turned on one of the ballistae crews and Dyson threw a bead of force to entrap the second crew. We made quick work of our foes and soon the only ones left were those in the force cage Dyson had thrown down around them. I turned myself into a gold dragon to intimidate them after I realized their leader had warned them to sit down and wait it out; at that point their leader teleported away, leaving his men behind to face their fate. After the cage wore off we bound them and we, and the survivors from the train, marched the remaining distance to Spessarite where we handed them over to the local authorities.

The destruction of the track meant that Spessarite – where one of the cave-ins had happened already – was well and truly cut off from Underhome itself. The local chieftan, a member of the Gold Dwarf nobility, told us he would send a crew to make repairs but had no idea how long they would take. In the meantime, he was expected at a convocation of the nobility – called to court by the Queen of the Gold Dwarves – in two days and that he had way too much on his hands already. After some negotiations we managed to take two tasks from his total burden: he would allow us to investigate the cave-in area and Badl would be his representative to the Queen in two days. We got a little shut-eye and then went down into the mines to see what we could find there.

Our theory at that point was that the mines probably brushed up against the region underneath or next door where the City of Dragons had once been and that the mine had been caved in near the entrance so that the Ascendeds could work undisturbed to unearth whatever it is they had been sent there to find. Badl did some reconn work for us in Earth Elemental form and then we magically cleared a tunnel through the cave-in – quite long and obviously artificial – so that we could pop out the other side and keep looking. Once there we didn’t have far to go before we found what we were seeking: a recently excavated exit from the mine tunnel proper into a huge, cavernous and obviously ancient space. Taking flight, we entered it and started looking around… just in time to see a red dwarf and a team of Ascendeds facing off against dozens, perhaps hundreds, of ghostly dragons.

The dwarf looked up at us and then gave an order to his troops: keep the dragons busy, we didn’t matter. Off he went through a cave and we were quick to follow. Obedient to their master, the Ascendeds did nothing to stop us from following after BOB in dwarven form. Down a twisting tunnel of cavern, part natural and part worked, we flew after him until we found him again, locked in combat with another Ascended. This one, however, was actively fighting BOB and was, we noted, wearing a leaden circlet around its head we’d seen before on Mindflayers to restrain their own mental powers against others.

We had no idea exactly what this meant but, give the Ascendeds are all at all times in extrasensory communication with one another as part of a hive mind, we could make a pretty decent guess. We quickly joined the fight on the side of that one Ascended. In the periphery, at the edge of the available light, we could make out another fight: ghostly kobolds – normal sized kobolds – warring with more ghostly dragons. Against this backdrop we threw ourselves into the fray against BOB once again.

The thing about the dwarf shape he was using, it turned out, is that he’s basically impossible to hit. Rock managed to get in a swing at him and Dyson managed to stick him a time or two but even magic would just slide right off him as he twirled and spun out of the way or otherwise simply seemed to shrug off anything we could land on him. The fight was going nowhere fast and the Ascended was already in bad shape, even with Adric pouring healing magic into him, but eventually it became clear that every once in a while we would land a hit and the dwarf would – in the very long run – be beaten. So, BOB changed his tactics.

Dyson told us later that, standing behind the dwarf as he was, he saw a faint image of the grey-skinned being we saw in the scry of Alex all those weeks ago. It faded into view behind the dwarf, arms up and moving as though he were a puppet-master and the dwarf were on strings, for just a fraction of a second and faded again as the dwarf disappeared and in his place materialized what was unmistakably the Fae’rath, ancient king of the elves and the one the Monster From Between Planes had told us could “make and unmake” the world around him.

We plunged back into the fray and were able to do a great deal of harm to the Fae’rath even as he dropped bomb after bomb of magical might. Spells were going off left and right, too fast to count or keep track of. Dyson landed one vicious flurry of blows that left the Fae’rath slumping slightly – though he hovered just a few inches off the ground – and wincing with pain. In the next second he cast a spell that sent waves of dark energy in all directions so that we were all stunned and frozen; those closest to him were sent flat onto their backs by the sheer force of destructive power emanating from the Fae’rath. The word he spoke when he cast that spell was what made my spine crawl, though, the activation word used as he completed it: “Cease.” Frozen as I was, I had the rod of silent spell-casting in my hand and summoned up my wits and managed to get out a “Cease!” of my own as I sent one last Orb of Electricity at him. He couldn’t have had more than a few breaths left in him but he faded from view and made his escape all the same. The rest of us lay or stood frozen where we were for a long minute or three and, finally, the effect wore off. We gathered back together for healing and then turned as one to the Ascended whom BOB had tried to kill. We wanted, as you might expect, to know exactly what was happening.

The Ascended told us his name was Ba’nall and that he had come here because Ascendeds are forbidden from coming to this place. He explained that the circlet was used to block his race’s hive mind from reading his thoughts; he had put it on and torn himself from that communal existence after suspecting that BOB’s actions were not strictly in accord with the Mother’s own goals. He had come here in search of the evidence he hoped would convince the rest of his race that the time had come to reveal BOB as a traitor to their cause with his own self-serving agenda. We assured him that he was quite right about BOB’s aims but that we had no idea what was here and were here for in effect the same reason. With that we made a temporary alliance to see what was here and what we could do with it and set off to explore.

One of Rock’s swords is still enchanted with the sacred light of Adric’s god and so we held that before us to clear a path between the ghosts – ethereal but still deadly in enough numbers and there were plenty more than enough here – as we set about exploring. It appeared that this was, in fact, the City of Dragons and that in ancient days they had kept kobolds as slaves. There were great dormitories sized to kobolds and their spirits ran out in worn, hodge-podge gear in an eternal rebellion against the spirits of their former masters. Were any destroyed by either side another ghost would immediately step in to take its place. They had been fighting down here for what were probably millenia and would, no doubt, be doing the same millenia from now. Eventually we made our way into the city itself which was more like an enormous, dragon-sized beehive than anything else. Spirits of sleeping dragons slumbered in silence along the walls of an enormous cave, as big as the city of Underhome. At one end stood what looked like a portal or gate and at the other were enormous steps up into a gargantuan temple with a statue in front of it: a huge dragon with a humanoid rider mounted on its back. We elected to check out the temple first and, inside, found that the statue was of Stormcloud and the rider on its back was an immortalized image of Muad Ter’thalas. The building itself was huge and spacious with artwork depicting what we took to be various miracle tales of the draconic goddess, assumedly The Mother.

Turning on Greater Arcane Sight, however, I nearly went blind from the light of a single object encased in thick glass under the floor where an altar might be in some other god’s temples: an enormous, discolored, whithered heart. A tiny silver strand led away from it to… somewhere, someone, in the astral plane.

The Mother’s Heart, we realized, and thought of the ancient dragon that we were told “plays the Mother’s heart.” We all stood in silence and studied it for a moment. Ba’nall told us he didn’t really understand the significance of this but we were able to work one out for ourselves: if the Mother had a physical heart, the Mother wasn’t exactly entirely a goddess. The heart itself I could tell was a massively powerful artifact and so I reached into my bag and produced my ruby monocle, socketing it into place over my right eye. “Analyze Dwoemer,” I pronounced, and magical information and citations sprang into being all across my field of vision:

Artifact
10x day: Wish, you name it. At least a dozen different spells – polymorphing into an ancient dragon, healing, Wish, everything and all cast at maximum power – were available to the wielder. It would help if the wielder were a dragon, though, or it would drain the life right out of them in a few very short minutes. It would help even more if they were an evil dragon.

It wasn’t hard to figure out what to do. Lickity-split I disintegrated the glass from on top of it and we spread one of our Portable Holes under it and foop it was gone. Damned if we were going to let BOB get his hands on that and damned if the Mother was going to take her throne as goddess of dragons if we could drive the world’s biggest stake through her heart at a moment’s notice.

At that point we also decided maybe we could use all the help we could get and so we cast a Sending to Trevor asking if he was able to rejoin us; he agreed and so Dyson and Badl and I used one of the scrolls of Greater Teleport to get to Waterdeep on a moment’s notice. We checked back in on my landlord – still alive again – and did some minor shopping (the captain of the guard in Underhome had ordered four crates of apples). Before bedding down in my apartment we checked in at the Untherian Embassy to confirm that they had heard the goods had been delivered only to find out something we should have seen coming: the Untherian Embassy was abandoned. Asking around got us little more except that in the last day the embassy had abruptly and silently pulled up tent-stakes and the staff and all residents were gone instantly.

Not good.

We met up with Trevor, and jumped immediately to the temple in the City of the Dragons to meet back up with Adric, Rock and Ba’nall. Ba’nall, it turned out, had been able to identify the portal on the opposite side of the city: a gate to the lair of the Stormcloud, Muad’s former mount and champion of dragons. We decided that would probably be a good place to pilferexplore but before we could do so those among us with the keenest eyes spotted a sparkle of light in the middle of the city, between us and said portal: a Gate, out of which stepped Muad Ter’thalas, half a dozen Dwerger and three of the caster Ascendeds. Muad reached out and barely waved a hand and the three Ascendeds turned to dust, killed in an instant. “Go and find them,” Muad ordered the Dwergers, then in a flicker the ancient elf had been replaced by none other than Azrael, the Untherian master of arms for the noble house that had bought so many of the ancient weapons crafted by the elves in their war against the dragons. In his hands was a large, elaborately worked wooden longbow. “I’ve got a job to do.” He melted back through the Gate and the Dwerger melted into the darkness, headed towards us and the temple.

“El’s bow,” Dyson said. “It’s an Oathbow. It’s enchanted to kill dragons.”

Ba’nall reached up and tore off the lead circlet he’d been wearing, wincing momentarily as he was reconnected to the hive mind. When he opened his eyes a few seconds later he shook his head and smiled. “My brothers know what I have seen,” he said. “They know that BOB is a traitor to us.”

So, BOB had tricked us once again. He had a dragon bow. The Untherians had all retreated back to their capital and notched in the bow in Azrael/BOB’s hands had been one arrow with a glittering tip made of black stone veined with gray streaks, the very stone we knew from first-hand experience was itself enchanted to prevent flight.

Azrael was going to kill a very big dragon and in Unther there could only be one such dragon: Tiamat.

We were low on spells, weak, tired, hadn’t slept, but neither had BOB or any of his forms. The Fae’rath was already nearly dead, the Dwarf weakened somewhat, Muad Ter’thalas had been casting spells of his own and now Azrael was going to kill a god. We had no time to rest or plan. Our only option was to move immediately to Unther and try to stop whatever was about to happen. We all grabbed on and in an instant were standing in that alleyway where we’d set up the extradimensional mansion a day or two or however many before. When we’d left, that time, Unther had been tense but at peace. This time, flying up to see what was going on, we could see the armies of Mulhorand outside the walls of Unther, drums pounding, gargantuan, jackal-headed men lumbering towards the walls with their fists out.

The war was finally going to be over, one way or another.

From Light to Dark to Light Again

June 24th, 2007

The museum was quite lovely, as museums go, and the curator was indeed there and ignorant of the fact that he should have closed the museum hours before. Any interest we showed in any one item sparked a torrent of explanation and erudition from this one little dwarf who loved the history of his people. After a few minutes of being led around we heard the familiar bamf! of a teleport depositing someone nearby and out stepped the captain of the Underhome city guards, the one who’d advised us to be here.

“Ah, good, you made it,” he said, and with that he settled into serious conversation with Adric and Rock and Badl and Dyson. I kindly distracted the curator by asking to see some huge tapestry I’d been told he had and offering to discuss with him our own historical findings. He excitedly agreed and off we went into some other room in some other wing where he showed me The Tapestry.

It didn’t have a name, he told me, because no one knew what its name had originally been. It was huge – it could have wrapped around the treehouse many times – and what it showed absolutely froze the blood in my veins. According to the curator, it portrayed an ancient battle, the conflict itself lost to history, in which the dwarves asserted themselves as a power in the world. A leader with no name or known identity had arisen to drive back the barbarian races that crowded in on the dwarves from all sides and, with the aid of a mysterious being, crushed them all. Here’s what I saw, though: a red dwarf – like the one who was so eager to specify the location of the Mulhorandi embassy in the Netherese Empire five thousand years ago – decked out in armor and shield and weapon and standing over a horde of slavering representatives of other races with a dark shape flying across the sky in the background. It couldn’t have been more clearly Stormcloud if that shadowy form had been wearing a nametag.

I explained some of this – but not all, because it was clear the curator preferred his illusions and lore to any real research – to the curator and went on to tell him that not only was the world older than ten or twenty thousand years but that at least a hundred thousand years before the insectoid ancestors had been wiped out in a cataclysm and had existed for unknown time before that. He mainly waved it off as the ravings of a tall person. I am routinely upset and fascinated by the reactions of authorities to the things we ourselves so clearly know to be true.

By that time, the captain had finished his conference with the others and they offered this summary: there are two varieties of strife currently afflicting the Gold Dwarf nobility. First, there have been a couple of abrupt cave-ins in gem and ore mines on the periphery of the city. These cave-ins have occurred in tunnels worked for more than a generation, mines that were known to be completely safe even by the standards of these highly experienced and deeply safety-minded dwarves. Second, there has been a rash of assassinations and attempted hits on the children of various nobles and it would appear that the Dwerger are being hired as assassins for these hits. This itself confirmed what we’d been told by the Dwerger between the time we captured him and the captain of the guards in turn captured us: that the Ascendeds had hired a cabal of Dwerger assassins to relocate temporarily to a location closer to Underhome than normal so that they could take a series of jobs striking at the scions of Gold Dwarf nobility.

Given that this place either was, itself, or was right next to or on top of the ancient home of the dragons, our first theory was that the cave-ins were orchestrated to provide cover while BOB and his forces dug around looking for the draconic capital itself and that the assassinations were meant to distract the nobility and create a context in which the cave-ins themselves might be seen as expressions of landed rivalries. We resolved to go immediately out to Spessarite, one of the outlying towns where a mine had caved in, to investigate. The captain thanked us for our unofficial attention to this matter and noted that of course he couldn’t authorize us or protect us once we were out of his presence. We acknowledged that warning and he showed us to a station for the major underground transport here: large, metal carriages being pulled on a chain on a track rather like those used for mining. Scrunched or spread out in tiny seats, under a roof too low to allow us to sit up much less to stand, we joined a number of dwarven equivalents of hillbillies, all gaping and gawping at us as we clambered into their tiny vehicles. The chain pulled tight and then with another series of clatters we took off at high speed, the caves and occasionally another station just sort of whizzing by as we took the express out to Spessarite. I longed for the journey to be over quickly so that I could stand and stretch my legs but it was likely to take us the better part of an hour to get there.

I got my chance to do a bit of walking around much earlier than I’d expected, however, when the chain pulling us snapped and the tracks twisted up and mangled ahead of us as a bomb went off on the tracks and two enormous earth elementals burst forth from the rock and the mud to begin tearing at the cars on the train.

In the gloom, off to one side in this somewhat more open bit of tunnel, Dyson could make out eight dwarven figures arranged in two teams of four apiece, each of them working vigorously to load enormous ballistae with what appeared to be thousands of normal bolts – crossbow bolts – tied together into one mega-bolt with lengths of rope. We all ducked down and heard a sick twang! from each ballistae as the bundles tore apart on firing and thousands of bolts riddled the train cars.

I have no idea why we keep thinking it’s a good idea to let dwarves shove us into metal boxes and then get yanked and lowered this way and that by various chains.

Now You Don’t

June 24th, 2007

As we flew in over Unther, the first thing we noticed was that there’s very little of it left. Mulhorand has conquered, well, everything except the very rim of the farthest corner of the Untherian coast. That this happens to include the Untherian capital, however, guaranteed that the slim arc of land in question was not going to stand for much longer. Unfortunately, Unther is the only land in the realms that venerates Tiamat, the (chaotic, evil) goddess of dragons. Stuck between saving a goddess we already know and dislike or letting her fall to a new power entirely was not an easy decision but when it comes right down to it that old saying about the devil you know carries a lot of weight.

We coasted in over Mulhorandi camps and some of their soldiers interacting rather generously with the Untherian serfs in their remaining outlying agricultural villages. The peasants were not being pillaged or abused. Mulhorand had arrived, conquered them and started feeding them. I could feel myself starting to think about maybe at some point in the vague future second-guessing what we were about to do – try to arm the Untherians against the Mulhorandi – but I bit that back in favor of helping what I view as the greater good: keeping The Mother from having a vacant godhood waiting to be filled.

We arrived and made our way to the home of the noble who had arranged the purchase. I’ve already forgotten his name. His master of arms, however, was an Untherian named Azrael who came out to inspect the goods. Finding them to his (rather sadistic) liking, we made the deal and got the hell out of there. I cast a magical mansion in an alleyway behind an inn and the rest of us went to sleep or on watch in the doorway while Badl set out to do some reconnaissance work in the villages outside the main city. Upon his return I heard him tell Adric that the villagers mostly don’t venerate Tiamat and mostly don’t love Unther and mostly are grateful when the Mulhorandis arrive. We expressed a few doubts about what we’d done but went on about our business – this was at best a side trip on the way to trying to catch BOB disrupting yet another political or social system to create a diversion while he stole some ancient knick-knack, and we had to keep our heads in the game.

On taking flight again we found the trip to Underhome – the capital city of the Gold Dwarves, marked in ancient records as the home of the Dragonflight in the time of Muad Ter’thalas’ and the Faerath’s war against/with them – uneventful. We stopped at a small farm and Badl approached them to ask directions to the city itself. He was told by a dwarf – deeply suspicious of us – that the proper means of approach would be to visit the above-ground trading post outside Underhome and inquire there for permission to visit. We did so and, upon arriving, found a heavily armed and fortified encampment of Gold Dwarf forces arrayed around a tiny trading post. A dwarven soldier of some sort greeted us on our arrival and when we asked about going down below he told us we would need to go into the fort itself to ask permission of the military guards.

So far, so good. Not having to kill anyone or anything to get into a place of power would be a nice change, after all. We went in, spoke with some other soldiers about our situation and finally were told that we would need to speak to Eric, one of their priests and the most senior member of their staff present at the moment. A Gold Dwarf wearing what looked for all intents and purposes to be a barbed, iron, full-body fishing bobber came in and sat with us, asking us the purpose of our visit. We unrolled our poster of BOB and his many forms and launched into our tale. Remember, by this point we had decided to abandon discretion or secrecy; the more people who knew of BOB and his capabilities, the better. Eric listened with interest and said that yes, that would probably qualify us for entry into Underhome so that we could pursue our researches, etc., assuming the authorities down below agreed with us. He said he would need a few minutes to have our entry cleared and the elevator prepared for us and off he went.

We sat around for a few minutes congratulating ourselves and then he reappeared and asked us to follow him. Leading us out of the fort and behind it, he showed us to four metal boxes on chains that are used to lower people or goods into the port of entry for Underhome. We piled in and Eric began the mechanism to lower us. We sank slowly into the dark, chains rattling and gears and other mechanisms clanging, and then with a jerk the metal box ceased to descend and the shaft of light from above winked out as the metal door was sealed shut. With a sharp ping! one of the chains hold us up gave way and the metal box shifted with a shriek to one side so that it was hanging sideways from its normal trajectory.

Down below, the lights of magic spells lit up and Dyson – wearing his darkvision goggles – called out that there were two Ascendeds and two dark dwarves – Dwerger – at the bottom of the mine shaft.

The fight itself was brief. So many of us can fly or otherwise take care of ourselves in open air that it wasn’t really much of an issue to keep from falling. A few Sonic Fireballs and an Orb of Electricity or two, plus a variety of stabbings and shreddings from everyone else in the party, left us alive and well with one dead Dwerger and one live one and two Ascendeds who had abandoned their compatriots the moment the tide turned against them. Adric did once get knocked unconscious during the fight but I called out to Snowdown to meet me beside him and cast Revivify through me into him to bring him back immediately. After that the rest of us shielded him with our bodies so that our foes had no chance to repeat that sticky circumstance.

Rock and Dyson scouted ahead at the bottom of the shaft to tell us that it opened into a huge shipping and receiving complex, a cross behind a warehouse and a dock, sort of, as Adric and Badl and I watched over our dark dwarf prisoner. Badl sat on his chest and looked hungrily upon him while I fought back giggles. Adric sat in concentration, communicating telepathically with Rock, seeing with his eyes. Eventually Rock and Dyson saw a squad of what looked like dwarven – Gold Dwarf, not dark – security forces marching through. They hid, but the dwarves have long grown accustomed to the shadows underground and found Rock and Dyson lickity-split. The squadron announced itself as agents of the authorities of Underhome and, given we had no reason to believe them already corrupted, we willingly surrendered ourselves – except for Badl and our prisoner – to them with a peaceable mien. We explained our experience of being sent down in a metal box that was booby-trapped and attacked by Ascendeds – leaving out the Dwerger for now – and when their commanding officer heard that it was Eric who had sent us down he looked wary and surprised. “Eric’s been missing for days,” he grumbled at us. “C’mon, we’re taking the lot of you downtown.”

That they did, walking us – quite politely – into the dwarven city of Underhome. It is a strange place, squat buildings and slightly narrow streets and contained entirely in one immense cavern. There was a guards station – these were city watch, not soldiers – nearby and they took us there to ask us a few questions. Once there we came a little more clean about everything, showing them the poster and telling them why we were here. We described “Eric” from top-side to them and they nodded in confirmation and then shook their heads at the trickery. Once it was clear they were releasing us – and we had cleverly confirmed that the punishment for being a dark dwarf in Underhome would be relatively humane treatment in a prison cell, not some barbaric ritualized torture or something – we told them about the Dwerger and that one of them was still alive and where to find him. Then we engaged the captain of the guards, who had been interviewing us, as to whether there were any political shenanigans or other troubles afflicting Underhome, explaining that this was BOB’s way, to create strife and capitalize on the distraction. Every single dwarf hemmed and hawed and hurried to let us go. The captain refused to discuss it but was quite emphatic that we should visit the museum of history they had in the city, one devoted to the history of the Gold Dwarves in general and Underhome in particular. There was a specific tapestry he wished us to see, he said, and noted the museum is often open later than posted hours because the curator forgets to go home at night, so devoted is he to his work.

We nodded and agreed that was something we should see, then set out to find another alley next to another inn, in which I could summon a magical mansion to be our temporary haven. We went to sleep, finally, and rested well for the remainder of the day. When we awoke that night – and bathed and put on clothes freshly cleaned by my ethereal house-staff – we ate our meal and agreed to go visit the museum in question. If the captain wanted us to see it so badly, it was probably worth seeing. This sort of thing is referred to, I am given to understand, as a clue.

Now You See Me

April 21st, 2007

Here’s the funny thing about Detect Scrying: those who are scrying you can see you cast it and, since they themselves have the ability to scry, the odds are good they’ll recognize it when it’s cast. We went back to my apartment and, amidst the wreckage, cast Detect Scrying and Permanency. Immediately, three scrying lights showed up around us. Two winked out immediately but a third persisted. With repeated efforts I was able to dispel it, but the caster of that one must be a serious mage. My pet theory, of course, is Alex but I’m not going to go around discussing that at length.

Dyson talked to the city guards and we went down to the morgue and identified the bodies of his friends: an elven wizard, some sort of elemental-hybrid monk and an elven druid. We asked the priests at the morgue to cast Speak with Dead so that Dyson could ask them if they wanted to come back; when they tried, the priests weren’t able to get anything to come back at all. A little magical investigation turned up a surprising bit of news: their spirits aren’t on the plane of the dead. Were they taken from there? We know the Ascendeds have traveled to it before with a Gate spell. Did they escape from it in some fit of confusion or something? Is one of the Powers involved in this keeping them from returning? I sent word to Berol to ask him to consult with his god as to the disposition of their souls and in the meantime paid a nominal fee to have their corpses magically preserved for later.

That done, we did the last of our magical shopping and then Dyson walked us out and down the city streets and into a back alley in a secluded street and showed us where the portal was that brought him to the foot of Featherbane Peak on the night the Ascendeds attacked him and his friends. It dropped us off not exactly at the mountain itself but a teleport got us there with minimal trouble. We spent that evening boxing crates of weapons into our shiny new portable holes and then made bunk for the night so that we could tackle the problem of the various elementals trapped in this place – and our deal with The Creature From Between The Planes – with fresh slates in the morning.

Dyson, Rock and I took turns on watch and it was on my watch, very early that morning, that I heard whispering from amongst the sleeping bags. Creeping over, I found that the Barderian was reading from a scroll. I kicked the scroll out of his hands and cried out to awaken the rest of the party; the Barderian himself blushed deeply and indignantly asked for some privacy. I asked what he was doing and he said he was casting a Sending. I asked why and he said because he was on a mission. We agreed to let him go into the hallway outside and do his thing, whatever it was, after our various tempers had subsided. Dyson crept out there and listened in and heard the Barderian reporting on his clanmate: “He didn’t make it on his own,” he said, and we then confirmed what we’d suspected: the Witches rule this place, and the Barderian was their spy to judge the capabilities of the clansman who wants to be Iron Lord. I apologized for my reaction, later; we’ve had a rough few weeks and it’s hard to trust anyone.

The next morning we made quick work of releasing the elementals who were still held prisoner. Upon returning to the factory wing we found that The Creature could move freely and had, true to his promise, released Trevor from his grip. We asked him if, before he left, he could tell us anything he might remember, answer a few questions, etc. He agreed, but I got the sense it wasn’t out of gratitude; not that he regretted his freedom but that a concept like gratitude is completely alien to a being like itself. I Alter Self‘ed into an elfy-elf of the Muad Ter’thalas style and The Creature said that yes, she remembered those beings, they were the ones it had followed from between the planes when it came to this world. “This was a place where they made things,” she said, “And they harnessed my power to Unmake so that they could shape their metals into other things.” I made myself into an approximation of The Fae’rath and it said yes, it remembered that one. “Be wary of that creature,” he said, “For he can Unmake, as I can, and also Make.” It told us that by the time the dragons attacked this site, all those many millenia ago, that the production of weapons had basically ceased. Our assumption now is that BOB used this as a honeytrap, a target of value in appearance only, meant to lure the dragons in where they would be contained and killable.

And with that, The Creature took its leave.

We teleported back to the top to find that the Ascendeds had erected a teleport barrier in an attempt to keep us here. We could teleport within it, however, so we jumped down to the base of the mountain, walked out, bid the locals a fond adieu and then teleported away, over a series of jumps, to Waterdeep to finalize our deal with the Untherians. They were pleasantly surprised to see us return so soon and asked where we had found weapons of such craftsmanship. Pleasant chuckles were exchanged all around at the thought we would reveal our source to them. “There might be more where these came from,” we told them as we cut a deal to sell them 2/3 of the total we had brought – knowing there were dozens, perhaps hundreds of times that remaining in the factory at Featherbane Peak – “But we can’t guarantee that and of course we can’t reveal their origin.” The Untherians didn’t put up much of a fight; they agreed to our terms and thus paid us enough to cover the costs of the portable holes – which are ours, and we keep in the deal – and come out with a tidy profit.

And to think, sometimes people scoff when we say we’re merchants.

They asked when we’d be able to deliver the goods and with a smile I replied, “Today, I expect; send word magically that we’ll be there this evening. It’s the only way you can beat us there.”

We also sold the Untherians a few sacks of the normal, common dragonscales Rock and the others and I had harvested from the ancient corpses trapped in the ice (who knew I’d have such a profitable use for Scorching Ray?) and we asked them for what purpose they wanted them. “Decoration,” they said. “The nobles and the army are quite fond of dragonscale decorations on their armor and in their homes, naturally.” We nodded that one off and took our leave, checking in on my landlord and then making preparations to depart. Trevor told Dyson he had some business to take care of in Waterdeep. “I’ll catch up somewhere along the way,” he said. “I always do.” They said their goodbyes and then the rest of us started teleporting down to one of my locations relatively near Unther. Adric cast a Wind Walk on all of us once we were within a few hours’ flight and the Tinker Trading Company once again took flight over pastoral lands we knew would soon give way to war and destruction – a war we were arming to preserve the villainous regime we know in the name of harming the one we most hate.

New Old Friends

February 11th, 2007

The sparks that danced about inside the generators began to be flung out of it and, wherever one landed, a man made of darkness and stars would unfold itself out of that speck of unlight.  “I’m on it!” I said and I dashed up the spiral stairs until I could just see the base of that generator from just below it on the stairs.  Steadying my hand I pointed my finger and cast Disintegrate on the generator to make it stop.  It worked – one arm disappeared and the other twisted and crashed so that the generator came to an abrupt halt – but there were still five of these dark beings and they were rushing towards me.

The fight was longer than the one we’d had against the slime and this time I was caught smack in the middle of it.  Wands came out all over to cast what heals we could as Adric and Rock and I tried to fend off the shadow men.  Rand pulled out an enormous axe, gave a terrifying cry and charged into melee, giving rise to how we now refer to the songster with attitude:  Bardarian.  Dyson produced two daggers in a blink of an eye and tossed himself end over and into the fray.  Though the fight was hard and we were seriously wounded from time to time, we were eventually able to wear them down.  Adric cast a spell to make himself huge and powerful and he and Rock and Dyson were able to beat the shadow beings to death while Badl did his best to keep me alive and I tried to use spells against them.

Eventually it was over and we much more warily proceeded into the tunnel.

There were no footprints leading into the tunnel but, about halfway down it, there were signs of a trap having gone off and, amidst the scorch marks, there were abrupt bootprints and signs of blood and dirt.  Rock began tracking them and they led us down another set of stairs.  Rather than a hallway with doors on it, however, as on the other side of the complex, these led us to an enormous workroom filled with tables upon tables and, on those, weapons upon more weapons.  There were swords and these weird mace-like things we’d picked up here and there that seemed to be electric pokers.  There were crossbows and ballistae and, most surprising, there were sparkling and unfinished examples of the constructed defenders we’d encountered in the tomb of the Faerath and the tomb of Stormcloud, the animated suits of armor.  They weren’t suits of armor, they were men made of metal.  A few dozen stood at attention in precise formation on one end of the room.  There were pulleys and little tracks like for coal carts and a pit down the center of the room and, on either side, dozens, perhaps hundreds of metal crates filled with weapons.

The weapons were all made of steel of the finest quality you’ve ever seen – even the crossbows, even down to the strings on the crossbows.  These were gleaming and powerful weapons that were easily of masterwork quality.

They were just sitting there, piled high, ready to be shipped out, waiting fifty thousand years to be discovered again.

As we explored the room carefully, Badl suddenly turned with purpose and walked in the direction of an enormous set of double doors on the far end, slightly ajar.  Then Dyson turned and followed.  Then Rock started to do the same but shook it off, turning to the rest of us:  “A voice just told me to go through that door.”  We all looked at Badl and Dyson for a moment and then took off after them.  Rand seemed to fall under the voice’s sway, too, and the rest of us heard it but were able to shake free of its urging.  As we approached said doors, they swung open and inside we saw a creature held behind enormous bars – eight of them, two still charged with electricity, the reason the elves had held those lightning elementals we’d mostly freed on the other end of the complex.  The creature itself is impossible to describe:  shapeless with many tentacles of indeterminate number.  There were eyes, lots of them.  Otherwise, nothing was the same about it moment to moment.  One moment it would be slimy and green, the next it would be smooth, the next scaled and purple.  Any attempt to get a single image of it and hold it in my mind makes that image just slip away.  It’s impossible to tell you anything about it other than those few facts.

Standing in front of it, with one tentacle wrapped around his body, was a half-elf to whom Dyson cried out:  “Trover!”

We thought about attacking, of course, but the creature already had a hostage and thus far we had found the creatures that didn’t attack us to be amenable to conversation in this place.  We opened with a polite greeting and the beast “spoke” to us in Common but its voice didn’t seem to come from its body.  It told us that it had been alone for a very long time until this Trover had arrived and now it would have company again and so none of us were to leave.  It was very direct and simple.

It was lonely.

We asked it if we could free it and it said yes, all it needed was for the last two bars to be deactivated and it would be able to leave.  We asked it what it would do when it was able to leave and it said, “Travel again.”  We asked if it would free Trover if we freed it and it said yes, certainly.

Then we circled back and pressed it on the “travel again” thing, and found this out:  the being, who has no name, is from “the space between the planes,” as it called it.  It is native to there, wherever that is, and many tens of thousands of years ago it had seen the elves in their travel from their world to this one.  It was intrigued, as it had never seen anything other than the beings native to that non-space, and followed them.  Eventually they noticed it and trapped it, and here it had been ever since.  Why had they kept it?  Because they could tap its power to unmake things, unravel them from existence, to shape blocks of steel into the weapons we’d seen in the room outside.  Then the attack had come – another dragon had breached the wall of this room and more water had rushed in to be frozen in place – and the elves had left and it had been alone ever since.

We asked it where it would go if we released it and it said, quite simply, home.  We asked it what it ate, what did it do for fun, etc., to try to assess whether releasing it would be dangerous and we were shocked, at every turn, to learn that it was a pretty harmless being, all told.  And so we promised it that, yes, we would release it.  “We can’t until tomorrow,” we explained, “But we will!  We promise!  And in the meantime a few of us need to leave briefly but we’ll be back in a few hours time.”

The being made us promise that we would not try to take Trover with us and that some of us would stay with it, a request to which Badl and Adric acquiesced so that only Dyson, Rock and myself would leave for Waterdeep.  “You cannot teleport from here, however,” the being said.  “The Ascendeds have erected a teleport barrier.”  And so we teleported to just inside the circle of feathers, the area of effect of the Undeniable Gravity, walked outside it, then began a long series of teleports all the way to my apartment in Waterdeep.

Which had, we noted upon arrival, been very nearly destroyed when someone very violently searched it from top to bottom.  Rock took two seconds to study the claw marks and foot prints and determined that it was Ascendeds who had torn the place apart.  Of course, it’s where our WANTED posters in Waterdeep say to report any information on BOB.  We quickly ran downstairs to check on my landlord, a nice enough little mouse of a man, and found him dead.  Horrified, I went to the front door of the building and opened it to find two Waterdeep City Watch members standing guard.  They were as surprised as we were and quickly started asking questions.  I explained as best I could in the circumstance that I lived there, I had teleported in from abroad and that I had no idea my apartment had been broken into and ransacked.  We were told that the Watch was going to send a priest around to cast a Speak With Dead and I told them to leave the body there so I could have my landlord raised (which I did – he was very grateful and I don’t have to pay rent anymore).

Dyson showed us to a few magic shops where we could try to offload some inventory and where I bought the components needed for my new spells (including Mordenkaiden’s Magical Mansion, squee!) and then we started asking around about where we might be able to find a buyer for a large quantity of dragon scales.  Rock and I had brought five or six sacks of common dragon scales (all chromatic, no metallic, etc.) with us to sell.  We were able to find one shop owner who said he wasn’t interested, personally, but that we could sell all the dragon scales in the world to the the Untherian Embassy.  We cocked our eyebrows and got a shrug in response.  This was sufficiently interesting to warrant a side trip and so off we went to the Embassy of Unther, that nation almost destroyed by Mulhorand.

I should note that I don’t feel any pity for them.  Much as I dislike the Mulhorandi slave economy, Unther is a nation devoted to the worship of Tiamat, goddess of the dragons and as evil as it gets.  Unther has been so thoroughly conquered by Mulhorand in recent years that there’s only a rim of a few Untherian cities left in one corner of their former lands.  Upon arrival at the embassy we showed some underling some of the scales and he dashed off excitedly to bring us some noble or another who was authorized to make purchases.  He studied the scales and said yes, he would pay 20,000 gold for them and, by the by, where had we found them?  “Oh,” we said, “You’d be surprised what you find in the world if you look hard enough.  So why do you want them?”

The Untherian noble, whose name I’ve already forgotten, told us that Untherian troops and especially their noble officers wear dragon scales of all chromatic types on their armor as a sign of favor and obeisance to Tiamat.  We shrugged it off – they probably have more nefarious purposes but the armor of their ceremonial guards at the embassy certainly bore that out as being at least partly true and besides, the survival of Tiamat might be instrumental in preventing The Mother from (re)taking the position of god of dragons.  As much as it hurt to take Untherian money, we had to look at the big picture on this one.  As we concluded the deal I was sure to give them one of the TTC’s cards and one of the WANTED posters and no sooner had we unrolled it for the noble to examine than he pointed at the Ascended pictured on it and said, “Where have you seen these beings?”

“We were there when Candle Keep was attacked by them,” Rock said.

“They are what are attacking us now,” the noble said.  “Do you know what they are?”

So… we told him.  We didn’t tell him everything, but we told him that they work for an ancient draconic force or god or being called The Mother and that she seeks to become the god of dragons.  Then we lowered our voices, even there, in private, and asked him if perhaps the forces of Unther would find themselves able to kill more of these Ascendeds if they had some of the finest weaponry ever created in the history of the world?  The noble arched one eyebrow and we produced one of the steel crossbows from the ancient elven war-factory.

He examined it and then nodded.  “How soon can you get more?”

“Tomorrow.”

“Bring as many as you can.  My superiors will want to examine the weapons, but I think we can make a deal.”

We shook hands and I tried not to look at the multi-headed icon of Tiamat on the wall (or the ceiling, or the floor, or the inside of the door, or inset into the door handles, etc., etc.) as we left.

“What now?”

“We go find Dyson’s friends, go blow the cash on a scroll of Detect Scrying and a scroll of Permanency, and we go pack up as many crates of weapons as we can.”

So, that’s what we did.