Archive for February, 2007

New Old Friends

Sunday, 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.

Long Time No See

Sunday, February 11th, 2007

The next morning we awoke and ate Adric’s magical breakfast. We spoke a bit with Dyson and Rand as we did. Dyson is a member of an adventuring party that was based in Mulhorand until their encounters with the Ascended – the winged kobolds – led them to Waterdeep in search of information regarding some prophecied, apocalyptic event. There, he said, the Ascendeds attacked him and his friends. Most of them were killed, he thinks, but one of them threw him through a portal in Waterdeep that deposited him here, thousands of miles away, in Rashaman. That was a few days ago and he’s desperate to get back to Waterdeep to look for his friends but has no way back. As it happens, Rock and I needed to take some of the treasure we’ve recovered to Waterdeep – and we’d already discussed harvesting scales from the corpses of the dragons frozen in the lake inside the mountain for fifty thousand years to add to the TTC’s commercial inventory – and so we began to contemplate taking Dyson with us. In part this would be (one hopes) to put him at ease regarding his friends and in part it would let us assess the truth of his tale. It’s easy enough to believe that there was another adventuring party on the trail of The Mother – another term which Dyson recognized right away – but still, we know a great deal more of what all this is about than anyone else and we were still in the mode of trying to hide that knowledge from others.

The… seven? of us? I think so. The seven of us went down the crevasse again and began to explore the chambers underneath the mountain. Aside from the dozens – perhaps hundreds – of dragons frozen in the ice as they had tried to make their escape we found one hole bored out of the ice so that one could descend and enter into the ancient elven weapons-works themselves. We had to get a small, metal door open and then climb down a ladder into an initial sort of anteroom. During the battle those many millenia ago the building had been breached and water had begun to pour in everywhere; moments later, the water had all been frozen at once. Ice covered the floor of this room to about waist depth and in that ice we saw the perfectly preserved bottom half of some humanoid race, the top half, that above the ice, having decayed to naught but bone. Certainly some welcome wagon they have here, I thought as we trod stolidly past.

It would have been easy to believe that this place was nothing more than a tomb at this point but Rock was already tracking footprints, very faint, of unknown age but not too terribly old. We strongly suspected they were the prints of BOB in one of his man-sized forms – either Muad or the Faerath. We knew he had been here perhaps as recently as a few days before. As we wound our way down spiral staircases and through ancient security doors, the rooms became progressively larger. We were clearly in one of the Font-produced structures that’s largely spherical in shape. The next significant chamber we entered seemed to be deep inside the structure; it had a spiral staircase descending through the middle but there were open-air levels to either side onto which one could step from the stairs. One side had been effectively blocked by the rushing in of water right before it was all frozen in place. There was also the ancient, decayed corpse of an enormous dragon, the very one that had smashed in the wall so that the water began to pour through. I had to wonder at the determination those dragons had to destroy this place: they breached the mountain itself so that they could try to flood the whole building with the lake that formed one of its layers of protection? Did they think they would be able to escape, or were they so ready to end this war that they were willing to flood it from top to bottom with water even when they knew that the effort of certainty would require that they die at the bottom of it themselves?

Said dragon had, when it came in through the wall, crushed a strange and vaguely nondescript bit of mechanics when it landed. On the opposite landing its counterpart and twin was still intact: two metal hoops, one smaller than the other and sitting inside it, mounted at perpendicular angles to one another so that they spun in opposite directions – one over and under like a mechanical grass cutter and one from side to side like an egg beater. I turned on Greater Arcane Sight and could see that the device in question was a negative energy generator: a device that would produce the very stuff of anti-life. I couldn’t see an ON switch anywhere, which was good, save that it meant that neither could I see an OFF switch anywhere. We descended carefully past it and Rock continued to track the foot prints of our quarry off to the left from the bottom of the stairs, up to an enormous, circular door in the wall.

A little careful negotiation with the door led us to open it and find a long, circular tunnel. It had filled with water at some point and frozen solid, but the ice had been carved away by some means. We trod along it into a room that was surprisingly, well, sterile. It was all metal and glass, including little chambers behind thick glass that sounded different from normal glass when rapped upon. There were also man-sized cylinders of glass here and there around the room, some broken, but three intact: two filled with what looked to be metallic wasps and a third filled with tiny motes of fire. There were also small glass containers not unlike an oversized wine bottle which obviously had been crafted to fit into small portals at the base of each cylinder. Whether the elves had meant to collect the metallic wasps or motes of fire for some purpose we did not know.

Moving on we found more stairs and then a long hallway with doors to either side. The walls had placards reading WEAPONS LABORATORY here and there, and we had our suspicion about the wasps and such upstairs confirmed: this wasn’t a place where the elves merely built weapons. It was a place where elves tried to develop new ones out of whatever nature provided. I had to wonder what Badl thought of all this but couldn’t bring myself to ask lest it seem like prying or… I don’t know, taunting of some sort. It is times like yesterday when I most acutely feel something like shame at my High Elven heritage.

We carefully opened each door and in each room we would find more or less the same thing: some creature of a doubtless dangerous but not exactly menacing nature held in captivity. It was a wonder to me that these things were still alive, but then, they were mostly elementals or slimes or things unknown to us until later: a room with six lightning elementals trapped and howling – doubtless mad from millenia without contact or freedom – in more glass cylinders, a room with some being of utter darkness but capable of simplistic, almost childish communication via motes of light against the surface of another glass chamber, a room with what seemed to be a slime made of money. There were some rooms that were empty, no doubt chambers where they “tested” – ie, tortured, bred, manipulated and then abandoned – more short-lived, conventional forms of life. At the very end we found what seemed to be a sort of office with a few work tables in it.

The tables were largely empty except for one where there had once sat three objects but now two remained, the third indicated by its absence in the dust on the table. The two present and one missing objects, however, were of immediate interest: they were the white, gray-streaked stones like the one we had taken from the half-demon upstairs, the stones that allowed flight in the presence of this modified, mountain-spanning Undeniable Gravity enchantment.

No sooner had we congratulated ourselves on our find than an enormous slime rose up behind us and attacked. It was a short battle, but it reminded us that given this place’s nature – a facility where the ancient elves tried to weaponize animals and other entities – we should be more careful. We inspected the desks and, after destroying one to learn its workings, opened the others in a more conventional manner and found inside small tools and other indications that this was one of the various rooms used to create more traditional crafted items such as necklaces that would allow flight. It was obvious what BOB had done: he had come here, knowing that these stones had been left behind, and retrieved one so that his appointed guardsman, the half-demon, would hold the advantage of flight when we showed up to investigate.

But what else had brought him here? Or was it really as the half-demon had said, an enormous trap?

Regardless, we were here now and there were creatures still held by the evil work of ancient elves. Together we resolved to go back to the other beings still held captive and try to communicate with them to ascertain which ones desired freedom and which ones we could help. We turned back to the room of lightning elementals first and there Badl was able to speak with them and determine that yes, they were mad, but they desired freedom above all else. Badl could cast a Banishing that would send most of them back to their native plane, releasing them forever, but that would only be six of the eight in the room. We couldn’t face leaving two of them trapped for who knew how many more millenia so I asked one of the remaining ones if they would be able to contain the electricity that makes them so dangerous if one of us simply smashed the cylinders in which they were held prisoner so that they could walk out. “You are made of water and standing on a metal floor,” he said sadly. “I would kill you instantly regardless of anything I did.” We discussed our options and agreed that it was likely we were going to spend another night here anyway, so we could come back the next day and release the remaining two with another Banishing.

Next was the money-slime, which appeared to be simply that: a slime made of money. The explanation was simple enough once one of us thought of it: the elves were fighting dragons. Dragons have hordes. Deposit a slime that looks like a big pile of coins and gems in the horde and the dragon lies down to sleep on top of a bed of its own enemies. The notes we could find on the ancient elven displays – like the little “scroll” I carry of that ancient gardener’s at the embassy to the Netherese – indicated that the slimes were simply too slow and stupid. We left it to its own devices and that was that.

The last one was the room with the creature of pure darkness. It certainly seemed pleased to see us – it drew little smiley faces and such with the motes of light at its inexplicable command – but we could no more have a conversation with it than we could my left boot. (To be honest, we probably have a spell somewhere between us to have a conversation with my left boot, but that’s neither here nor there.) We decided to leave that one for now and head back to the main chamber where there was another big, round door that we imagined led to another big hallway and more chambers of tortured, abandoned beasts. BOB had not gone that way – we had, in coming inside and going to the workbench where there had been three medallions to allow flight (yes, we took the two remaining) then tracking back almost to the exit, retraced his every step – but we are curious. We are adventurers. Opening doors that say DO NOT OPEN is what we do.

We checked the door and, no sooner than we had found it free of traps and opened it up, a voice rang out across the chamber. It sounded tinny and slightly flat, like an imperfect aural illusion. In a calm, female voice speaking the ancient tongue of the elves it said: “Security breach. Deploying defensive measures. Security breach. Deploying defensive measures. Security breach…”

I had refreshed my Greater Arcane Sight before and now, as that remaining generator’s circular blades began to whirl in perpendicular directions to one another, I saw a halo of negative energy began to grow around it and sparks dance around inside.