Archive for June, 2007

Two Steps Forward

Sunday, 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

Sunday, 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

Sunday, 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:

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

Sunday, 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

Sunday, 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.