As we considered our options in terms of what to do about the Ascendeds scrying the temple, and the various unfriendly critters inside said temple, I tied a rope to my waist, cast Detect Secret Doors and set off through the sandstorm with the rest of our party holding onto the other end of the rope. Circling the roof, I confirmed that there was only one secret door I could find, and it was inside the small wing which sat atop the mithril globe – the same room we’d seen guarded by a mage and two thugs, and whose entrance bore a warning that the Mulhorandi Ambassador himself wished the room sealed.
Upon my return we quickly discussed our options.
Rock advocated that he and I and others go there and simply kill all the Ascendeds. While I had no doubt that he and I could do so, I feared that we’d burn everything we had for the day on that, leaving us sitting atop a temple filled with enemies and down several of our many defenses. Rock’s enthusiasm for what he calls “villain-killin’” was admirable, but even I felt it might be unwise. Instead we settled for a bit of reconnaissance; I turned each of us into eagles and we soared up over Adric’s sandstorm and out to espy the camp from afar. As we watched, the Ascendeds concluded their scrying and opened another Gate, through which marched eight of the armored Ascendeds, 160 normal kobolds and one red half-dragon.
As we watched, the Ascended formed ranks and began a disciplined march from their camp towards the Mulhorandi Embassy. Rock and I were quickly into the air and back to our friends to warn them of the enemies’ approach.
“They’re going to be pretty surprised to see this place excavated,” was a general conclusion, and we wondered whether their surprise might buy us some time or would simply encourage them to assault the Embassy all the more quickly.
“If we can let the two sides do some fighting first, we might get a glimpse of the Ambassador and we can pick our side from there,” Adric suggested.
“Should we try to warn the Set-worshippers inside to encourage a hasty battle?” someone else asked.
“We should let them start fighting and then we should force our way into that room, steal the artifact and teleport the hell away from here,” I said. “Today there are us, an army of Setites and an army of kobolds. Everybody’s here for the same thing, whatever McGuffin is inside that room. Tomorrow, I’m willing to bet there will still be us, the Setites and the Kobolds – but someone is going to have the McGuffin, and it might as well be us.”
“Villain-killin!” cried Rock, but I was quick to assuage his fears of a day without judicial bloodshed.
“Oh, we’ll kill villains, don’t you worry. Let’s just do it after we have whatever shiny is hidden inside, OK?”
“Well, how do we get it?” Badl asked.
“I don’t know,” I replied, “We run in, we spot the glowing whatever, we throw a sack over it and we teleport out!”
“What if it’s built into the place?” asked Nigel.
“I don’t know!” I replied, “That’s the point! It’s adventure!”
With that, we agreed to try to raise an alarm amongst the Setites upon the Ascendeds’ approach to encourage the quick onset of battle. Rock produced the magical bags that produce small animals and sent a boar and a cat into the Embassy with orders to find some of the jackal-men that guard the place. The rest of us hid in the sand a short distance away to observe. After a few moments, the boar returned but obviously it was the worse for wear as it was blooded and broken and animated only by the hellacious wasps that roam the halls of the Embassy. We watched as it emerged, obviously being used as a spy by the Setites inside, and in moments it was obliterated by a column of magical flame. The Ascendeds had clearly arrived and the red half-dragon clearly had magic to mimic the nastier half of his heritage.
A few moments later we noticed a few kobolds climbing up onto the roof of the embassy and reaching the apex of the same dome we had mounted earlier in the day. Whether they meant to cave it in, mar it in some way or merely enjoy the view was unknown, as I obliterated most of them with a sonicball. Apparently thinking this meant the gig was up, the Ascendeds’ forces blew a hole in the far side of the Embassy from us and we heard battle commence.
“Now’s our chance,” Katarina announced as Shadow reported back from his surreptitious inspection of the inside. Together we were transported directly through the walls and into the very room itself – the one behind the NO ENTRY BY ORDER OF THE AMBASSADOR OF MULHORAND door – where we found… a blank room. Shadow poked his head through the wall to keep watch and the rest of us set to examining the place for secret doors or unknown magic.
In short order we had determined that the room was blanketed in illusion and had managed to see past it; rather than a storage room we were in a plain room with a round trapdoor in its center. The doors out were warded in many magicks, and Shadow reported mere seconds after we arrived that a huge, black creature was lumbering down the hallway in our direction, its stride quick and with an obvious purpose. I read a scroll to seal the doors and Badl – thinking quickly and well – snapped his Immovable Rods into place against the center of the frame where the two doors met. Katarina bent over the lock with her tools and soon we heard both the lock click and the roar of an entity on the other side of the main doors: “WHO DARES TRESPASS IN THIS PLACE,” it bellowed, and we all knew that could be the voice of only one thing: The Ambassador.
Statecraft must have been murder back then, I thought to myself. Alas, there was no time for quips as the monstrous representative threw his weight against the door shattering my Knock spell and pushing even the Immovable Rods back a few inches. I polymorphed Rock into a Stone Giant and Badl transformed into a Dire Bear, then cast Animal Growth on himself. The two of them pushed back, and between them and the rods they held the door in place for a few precious seconds. As light sprang from the opened portal into the Mithril sphere below us, Adric threw up his hands in prayer and called down needles of light. Meanwhile Nigel and I each unloaded a spell but saw them wash off the Ambassador without effect.
At this point I should describe the Ambassador. Statecraft truly must have been murder in those days, because the Ambassador wasn’t someone I’d invite over for light appetizers, free drinks and some trade talks. He was enormously tall, stooped over in a hallway with fifteen-foot ceilings, and his entire body was made of something so black and smooth and absorbant that light seemed to fail to find its way back from him. He was somewhat like Shadow, but his form was terribly substantial compared to Shadow’s incorporeal state. When his fists swung he could chip gobbets of stone from marble walls and when he opened his eyes they twinkled like the dead stars of ancient skies. With a moan he would set dark energy upon us that burned living flesh and as soon as I realized I wasn’t going to be 100% effective against him I took on my favored flying form and dove down through the now-open trapdoor to at least see whatever was concealed in such a place.
When he saw the open trapdoor in the room and some of us starting to go through it, he cried out again: ONLY I CAN TOUCH THE SOURCE.
It was full of plants – brown-green weeds and stems wrapped around one another from years of growth and grown so fat with the foul brown ichor drunk by the jackal-men and used by them as a venom that it ran from their leaves and flowers into troughs placed underneath them so that it could be carried away and out of sight; whether processed first or fed directly into the pool where the jackal-men relax was unknown and unimportant. The plants themselves might be the McGuffin, I thought, save for the fact of the blue-white light that filled the room, spilling up out of a gap that circled the entire room where the floor met the curved walls of the mithril sphere. Nigel and Katarina dropped in after me and Katarina pointed to the center of the floor: “Another trapdoor,” she said, and in seconds she had swung it open to reveal an enormous and brightly-glowing sphere attached to a pedastal which was, in turn, sunk into the subfloor of the sphere.
“The shiny!” I cried, and Nigel and Katarina and I were on it in a flash. Detect Magic nearly left us blind when we cast it, and in the half-seconds we could stand to gaze on it we could learn only that it had multiple auras and effects – and, importantly, that the pedastal to which it was attached was something else, not a part of the magical mechanism itself.
“Let’s get this thing in a bag and get the hell out of here,” I said.
Meanwhile, upstairs, the Ambassador had wreaked untold havoc on Rock, Adric and Badl, but the three of them had put up a terrible fight in return and after punishing blows from Badl and Rock, and the vengeful magic of Adric, the Ambassador… ran. As Badl summoned an angry rhinoceros which in turn sank its horns into the Ambassador’s thigh, the Ambassador disengaged and disappeared by some magical means leaving my friends to take a couple of moments to regroup. No sooner had they caught their bearings, however, than they realized that the battle between the Ascendeds and the Setites was moving closer along the halls of the Embassy. Badl dropped a sleet storm in the Hallway to slow their progress, and indeed a few dying kobolds only barely managed to make it through before dropping dead before my companions’ feet. With a flash and a whiff of brimstone, however, the red half-dragon appeared before them and gazed up and down at Rock (in the guise of a Stone Giant), Badl (in the guise of a truly dire Dire Bear, fifteen feet long and as many feet wide) and Adric. A moment passed and the half-dragon opened his mouth: “Godsdamn, how many kinds of creatures inhabit this place!?”
“Sixteen!” Rock roared in reply. “If you count yourself!”*
With that, Rock raised his sword and charged the half-dragon. He struck so deep and so true, his sword biting so far into the half-dragon’s chest, that what Nigel later explained was called a “contingency spell” went off, something the half-dragon had prepared ahead of time in case things went poorly. As blood sprayed in all directions, so too did a spell familiar to my companions if of an unexpected element: a fire-based Acid Fog roared into life around them, emanating from the red half-dragon himself.
Badl and Rock backed out of the effect, losing sight of the half-dragon and thus unsure whether he had been struck dead.
As all that was happening, however, Nigel had pointed his finger at the pedastal which held up the Magic Whats-It and said, “OK, aiming…”
“Please don’t miss,” I said, hands on the silvery orb to try and catch it when the pedastal was disintegrated.
“Adric can regrow any limbs…” Nigel replied. “Probably.”
Pointing very carefully, he uttered a word and the air filled with ozone as the pedastal simply ceased to be. The orb – weighing several hundred pounds – crashed to the ground and we drew my blanket around it as quickly as we could. None of us, of course, could lift it, so none of us could hold it while I teleported us away.
“Stone Giant,” I said as I pointed at Katarina, and in an instant she dwarfed us all and lifted the blanket with the orb insde easily over one shoulder. “Now grab my hand.” She did so, and I couldn’t help but laugh a little. “Aren’t you glad you walked into our store?”
A moment later she, the orb and I stood in our cave back in the mountains that ring this ancient desert.
As soon as we were gone, Nigel flew back up through the trapdoors and announced their need to depart. Rock, Badl and Nigel each reached for Adric’s robes as Adric cast Word of Recall to return them to the cave. Within a moment we were all together again in the cave with the glowing orb, hundreds of miles from the battle that still raged within the ancient Embassy’s walls.
“We should speak with Mytheria tomorrow,” Adric said.
“And I will cast Legend Lore to see what I can learn of this orb,” Nigel added.
With that, we slept with great relief.
The next morning, Adric communicated an invitation to Mytheria and we told him of our caper. He complimented our daring-do, and warned that half-dragons are mad and terrible beings, the red ones being most feral of all. Nigel cast Legend Lore on the orb and learned a short rhyme that told us something of its importance to Alec/Muad Ter’thalas:
When Muad Ter’thalas brought his ancient band
From the godless world of the elves, this device –
favored trinket and foundation of cities – was among
his most prized possessions.**
So Alec wanted this personally. And we stole it right out from under his nose. Delicious.
Badl decided to scry our foes from the day before to see what could be learnt about their fates, and on scrying the half-dragon he saw that being sitting on the dunes outside the Embassy, healed whole and resting his chin on one fist as he stared at a track of oversized footprints leading south, away from the Embassy, across the sand. Clearly those were the footprints of the Ambassador, headed on foot in our direction. We felt pretty safe, though, given how far away we were at this point.
The half-dragon, surrounded by dead and wounded kobolds, stood up and dusted himself off with a weary sigh. “The Orb is gone,” he said to no one, “The Ambassador is gone and the heroes are gone.” Turning to a specific kobold, now, he pointed roughly at him. “And you,” he said to the wounded kobold, “Get to be the one to tell Alec about this.”
Sucks to be that guy.
* He’s quite right, too, if you count all the polymorphs and Alter Self spells active: the thug jackal-men, the mage jackal-men, the Ambassador, hellwasps, humans, a gnome, an ape, a tressym, a shadow, kobolds, Ascended, a half-dragon, a winged elf (I can’t remember the technical term), a stone giant, a dire bear and a rhino.
** This is from memory, and is NOT remembered correctly. I have it written down in my character notebook, however.