« Back
Generated: Oct 13, 2020 10:40 AM
Post last updated: Jul 17, 2020 1:04 PM
it's lovely this time of year
belmarniss in neverwinter expansion content
Permalink Mark Unread

Belmarniss can now sorta muddle along in the local common thanks to aggressive use of comprehend languages to hand-translate books after roping a local into teaching her the alphabet. Also she hates teleport traps with every fiber of her being. Also she has figured out at this point that she somehow leveled in sorcerer instead of wizard during the business with the pirates and has no idea why that happened or whether it will happen again. And she has sold this stupid arrowhead to two different curio shops and given up as it seems to be cursed. And she just needs to keep doing what she does, she guesses, till she can teleport herself home. The Yawning Portal is a nicely ironic name.

Permalink Mark Unread

It's also pretty good as an inn, all things considered; the food's inconsistently spiced and the beds aren't as soft as they could be, but it's clean, and she's able to fall asleep just in time to catch the prophetic dream channel.

A drow woman, stomping around in armor that truly must be seen to be believed, growls at a nearby wizard wearing black-and-red robes. "Do not test my patience, iblith. Would you have me wait? I, the Valsharess? I, the great queen of shadow?"

"No, dread Mistress," he trembles.

"Then proceed with the ritual. I wish to see this being that my agents say has the potential to stop my rise to power."

"I do not believe anyone could stop you now, dread Mistress."

"So I thought. But my agents have resources beyond the means of mortals, and they say this one may yet defeat me... if I do not act."

An illusion of Belmarniss appears, after an amount of arcane fanfare that can't have been strictly necessary for a simple divination.

The Valsharess prowls around the image like a cat examining a bird it doesn't know yet if it can kill. "What is this? This... child... wearing the signet of no house? Have your spells grown faulty, fool?"

"N-no, dread Mistress. This is indeed an image of the one who shall defeat you."

"I will not be defeated." The Valsharess incants a quick spell, and the wizard screams as he dies. "This image shows but a threat which will be dealt with like the others. You, other male. Remove this trash and summon my assassins." A nearby wizard casts some kind of spell which causes the body of the first wizard to vanish, bows, and scurries out of the room.

"And you, iblith," the Valsharess says to Belmarniss' image. "Whoever you are, and whatever threat you pose... you will not be able to hide. My Red Sisters will strike quickly and without mercy."

Permalink Mark Unread

She wakes up, puzzled about the implications for the local functionality of prophecy.

Permalink Mark Unread

Well, points towards the "something is up" hypothesis: there is another drow in her room, carrying a knife that could not be more obviously coated in deadly poison. Currently she's going through Belmarniss's stuff; she doesn't seem to have noticed that her prospective thievery/murder(?) victim has woken up.

Permalink Mark Unread

Well, she didn't intend to level in sorcerer but having done it the opportunity cost is much lower, and the cost of being caught in her underwear before she prepares her spells much less, if she says, "Admonishing Ray."

Permalink Mark Unread

The intruder doesn't even have time to turn around, she just drops like a sack of rocks. Her dagger skitters across the floor.

Permalink Mark Unread

Belmarniss wraps the dagger in the hand towel from the bathroom and ties up the assassin in the bedsheet. She peeks out in the hallway for other attackers.

Permalink Mark Unread

No other attackers, but there is a concerned half-(surface)elf adolescent with a breakfast tray who looks like she was considering knocking. "Is everything alright, ma'am? I heard, um, spells."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Assassination attempt! I don't even know if my insurance even covers me out here. Can I get you to dispose of this poisoned dagger?" She holds up the towel coccoon.

Permalink Mark Unread

"Oh my goodness!" the girl exclaims. She puts her tray down carefully and takes the towel cocoon much more carefully. "I suppose I'll, um, put that in the armory? Or, no, I'll bring it to Father, he'll know what to do with it. I'm so sorry this happened, is there anything I can - well, I can take this dagger. That's what I'll do. Thank you for telling me."

She takes the dagger-in-towel and hurries downstairs.

Permalink Mark Unread

Belmarniss preps spells while waiting for the assassin to wake.

Permalink Mark Unread

The assassin wakes up after a little while! She's quite groggy, and looks deeply surprised to be alive. When she realizes she's been captured, she goes a much paler blue than her usual tone, and swallows heavily.

Permalink Mark Unread

"I bet you've got just oodles to tell me," says Belmarniss, without looking up from sharpening her dagger more than momentarily.

Permalink Mark Unread

"I... tell... nothing," the assassin says in halting Common.

Permalink Mark Unread

"Really?" She flips through her spellbook. "Nothing?"

Permalink Mark Unread

She nods firmly. "No stop Valsharess, iblith qu'ellaril."

The color's coming back to her face pretty quickly.

Permalink Mark Unread

"Really! Why's that?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"Queen of darkness. All Underdark fears she. Humans not stop her, qu'ellaril not stop her, not even- hrkk-"

Blood starts dribbling down her chin, and she grins fiercely. Belmarniss might notice, now, that she's missing a tooth.

Permalink Mark Unread

"Wow, okay, have fun in the Abyss, I guess." She steps into the hallway. "Housekeeping!"

Permalink Mark Unread

The half-elf girl has come back and was once again hovering outside her door. In the meantime she cleared away the breakfast tray. "Hello again! Did you need something?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"My assassin bit her poisoned fake tooth. Can you get her out of my room?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"Oh my word," the girl says faintly. "I, um, I can, I can get Father, I'd be no use at all with. That kind of thing. I can put you in another room in the meanwhile? Or you could get breakfast, I'm sure we'll have it all cleared up in an hour or so."

Permalink Mark Unread

"I'll get breakfast. Thanks, you're a champ."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Well, thank you," she says happily. Then she scurries off again, presumably to get her father.

Downstairs, where breakfast is, there are a few people eating together who look... adventuresome.

Permalink Mark Unread

There's a scarred-up lizardfolk in plate armor with an obviously enchanted visor over his eyes and a composite longbow strapped to his back.

Permalink Mark Unread

There's a kobold with a lute and crossbow, ignoring his food in favor of scrawling in a book.

Permalink Mark Unread

And there's some kind of... mouse-person? Sitting with them, enjoying a bowl of what looks to be plain rice.

They're chatting in the manner of acquaintances, or possibly just unusually friendly strangers.

Permalink Mark Unread

She attempts to whistle in an unintimidating manner while she gets food.

Permalink Mark Unread

No one stops her, though she gets a couple of double-takes and at least one hostile look from the non-adventurer patrons of the inn.

The lizardfolk gives her an appraising glance as she passes. "Are you that fourth adventurer Durnan's been waiting for? If so, welcome. If not, welcome anyway, I'm not stingy."

Permalink Mark Unread

"I don't know if he's been waiting for me specifically but I'm an adventurer, sure."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Great! Want to sit at the big kids' table, then? Deekin can regale you with the best-selling tale of his adventures in Undrentide, and Jojo can tell you how he singlehandedly saved Neverwinter."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Exciting." Plop.

Permalink Mark Unread

"I did have help," Jojo says in a quiet, deep voice. "And I'm not one for boasting, really - I simply do what must be done."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Well, sure, you do what must be done, but then you get to talk yourself up - that's half the point."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Deekin think good story be most of point," the kobold muses, not looking up from his tome. "If no good story, Deekin might as well just stay home."

Permalink Mark Unread

"I mostly haven't stumbled into any adventures that really musted at me. Some people have all the luck."

Permalink Mark Unread

"I suppose there was an amount of luck involved," Jojo says, his nose twitching.

Permalink Mark Unread

"You kidding? You had great luck. That quest was morally unambiguous, epic in scope, paid for by the government... A little bit incomprehensible towards the end by all accounts, but that's nothing for you to worry about, that's the bards' problem."

Permalink Mark Unread

"I haven't actually heard this story, I'm from another planet."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Wow. That one's new on me. Uh, do you in fact want to tell this story or should I?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"Please, go ahead."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Alright. So, there was this big magic-resistant plague in the city of Neverwinter, right? Jojo here was a monk in the service of Tyr in that city, when suddenly the Lady Aribeth, this big-time paladin higher-up, comes to him and says, basically, 'we screwed up.' They'd brought in some magical creatures to use parts of them to make a cure for the plague, but the creatures escaped. So Jojo and some compatriots hunt down the creatures, and they make the cure, and along the way it turns out the plague was actually an enemy action, and Aribeth's boyfriend was in on it. So he gets executed. Now, they're searching for who sent the plague in the first place, and Aribeth's having a real hard time because her boyfriend got killed. Jojo finds out the plague was inflicted by this archmage from Luskan, and whoops-a-daisy, Aribeth vanishes, and next thing anyone knows she's a blackguard leading a Luskan army against Neverwinter. But Jojo found out along the way that the archmage is looking for these ancient artifacts called the Words of Power, and the best idea anybody has is 'find them before he does'. So they do. And it turns out along the way that the archmage is a servant of the ancient lizardfolk - no relation - who ruled the world before the dragons, and they want to turn the planet into an eternal jungle and rule again, and so they're puppeteering this archmage, and that's why the plague and that's why the Words of Power. And then Jojo vanquishes Aribeth in single combat and defeats the archmage and uses the Words to go into the pocket dimension with the ancient lizardfolk and kill their evil queen. And we're all very proud of him."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Cool. What went down with the lizardfolk power vacuum?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"The pocket dimension collapsed without Morag to sustain it," Jojo says quietly. "I believe any who were not personally devoted to Morag and her plan of conquest had already perished in the ice age, however."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Wow, rough day to be a lizardfolk who found a qualm under the couch cushions though."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Yes," Jojo says. "It was the most important thing I have ever done, but it may be the one that has made me lose the most sleep."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Most important thing you done yet," Deekin corrects absently. "...wait, no, missed mood there. Ignore Deekin."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Congratulations, condolences."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Thank you and thank you," he says wryly. "Deekin has a much less mixed story - he mostly destroyed golems and undead. Then again he also published his story himself, so you could read it at your leisure if you prefer."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Will I miss much if I do it with comprehend languages rather than as a language exercise?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"Deekin has always felt Deekin's work highly translatable," the kobold says humbly. "Content universal; language largely incidental. Might miss subtlest wordplay."

Permalink Mark Unread

"I will imagine some subtle wordplay. I don't usually feel like I can use a new language for light reading till I've been fluent in it for longer than this."

Permalink Mark Unread

Nod. "Deekin not fluent in anything except Common and Draconic and old kobold tribe pidgin, sounds stressful."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Being suddenly on another planet is sure an experience improved by access to Comprehend Languages and Tongues."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Deekin certainly imagine so."

He roots around in his backpack and pulls out a slightly beaten-up copy of The Shadows of Undrentide, the cover of which features a human in black armor facing off against a medusa. "Here, Deekin lend you copy. Deekin not want you buying from publisher unless you have to, bastards stiffed Deekin."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Aw, thank you."

Permalink Mark Unread

"No problem, uh... drow... lady... What be drow lady's name?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"Belmarniss."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Nice to meet you! Deekin be Deekin. Scalesinger, but Deekin mostly just get surname for publicity."

Permalink Mark Unread

"I don't have enough publicity to get fancy with so far."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Saving the world and writing a bestseller helps with that, as it turns out. Who'd have known."

Permalink Mark Unread

"I should try that."

Permalink Mark Unread

A human man with slightly greying hair enters the room and heads over to their table; it's Durnan, the owner of the inn. "Greetings, Belmarniss. I am glad that you made it. I trust your accommodations were adequate?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"Everything's been super comfy. Somebody tried to assassinate me but honestly the housekeeper handled that real well."

Permalink Mark Unread

Durnan sighs heavily. "Aye. Tamsil told me what happened. I cannot apologize enough. Once, I would have been able to ensure the safety of my guests, but no longer. The damnable - invaders," he stumbles only very slightly, "come and go as they please, it seems. The enemies of Waterdeep must have somehow learned you had answered our call for heroes; I don't know why they attacked you specifically, but it does not bode well."

 

Permalink Mark Unread

"Are divinatory dreams often a thing here?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"Not common, but not unheard of," he says, confused. "Why?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"On my planet prophecy has been broken for a few decades but I had a dream last night that included some very melodramatic lady identifying me via some spell as a threat to her and sending the assassin."

Permalink Mark Unread

(Deekin, who has been scribbling in his tome, underlines something he wrote down earlier a couple of times.)

Permalink Mark Unread

Durnan's eyebrows raise. "Well, that's very unusual. Usually prophetic dreams are quite vague, and concern events of the future. But I've seen enough to know that having a powerful ally in your corner is something to be grateful for... usually. If someone sent you that dream, it might be a good idea to find out who."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Well, who goes in for that kind of thing?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"I'm not a man of much faith," Durnan admits, "so I don't know which gods might be interested in this little venture."

Jojo speaks up. "It's not likely to be one of the gods themselves; divine visions almost always go to the faithful, and as Durnan said they don't tend to be quite so clear-cut as what you saw. I'd put money on it coming from some high-level mortal caster. Unfortunately, there's no shortage of those. I think our best bet might be to simply keep an eye out for other clues. At least, as Durnan said, it's likely to be someone who wants to help - after all, it woke you in time to intercept the assassin."

Permalink Mark Unread

"The assassin made the rookie mistake of looting before murdering, so that might have happened anyway."

Permalink Mark Unread

Durnan nods thoughtfully. "It's possible that her job was to leave you defenseless for a more experienced killer, but we can't be sure. At any rate, I've gathered you all here for a reason. The city is under siege. Raiding parties of drow and other creatures rarely seen on the surface are attacking the city. We've determined that these attacks are coming through Undermountain."

"But Undermountain has existed for centuries. Why hasn't there been any trouble before?" Garrus wonders.

"That's what I need you all to find out. The labyrinth of Undermountain was created centuries ago by Halaster, a mage whose power may have rivaled Elminster himself. Halaster rules Undermountain with a tyrannical fist; it was his magic that kept the creatures within from pouring out to overrun Waterdeep. Now Halaster has suddenly decided to unleash his creatures on my city, and I want to know what that madman is up to!"

Permalink Mark Unread

"Is it possible the drow agitated for it for some reason and he agreed with them?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"That's the going theory. It's odd that Halaster would ally himself with the dark elves; he's never been too fond of them. But the drow are attacking through Undermountain, and that would be impossible without Halaster either cooperating or out of the picture. And if they somehow took out the archmage, we've got an even more serious situation on our hands."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Do they seem to want anything? Like, are they trying to settle somewhere and you're in the way, or do they want your stuff?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"So far they've been assassinating political figures and former adventurers, for the most part. Magic items and valuables have been taken from those killed, but more in a casual looting-the-dead sort of way than anything that would indicate resource scarcity."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Huh. Prepping for a war, maybe?"

Permalink Mark Unread

Durnan nods grimly. "I fear so. If they are, they're going about it the right way; the Lords' Alliance is reeling from the losses they've suffered in recent weeks, and our military forces are largely engaged elsewhere. This is why we must stem the tide at the source. If the drow retain free access to Undermountain, a war would be untenable."

Permalink Mark Unread

Nod.

Permalink Mark Unread

"Now, as many of you know, this inn is built around one of the stable entrances to Undermountain: a magical well that descends thousands of feet down into the depths of the ever-changing labyrinth. But I don't intend to send anyone into Undermountain unprepared. That would be suicide. I'll offer you what advice and equipment I can. In fact, I think it might be a good idea if-"

The door to the basement swings open, and a fireball bead streaks out and detonates in the middle of a cluster of civilian patrons. Three drow saunter into the room, a priestess and two swordswomen, followed by a handful of ashen-skinned duergar.

"Foul drow! You dare to attack my inn?!" Durnan roars, drawing a longsword from his belt.

"Your inn, your city, your race... all will fall before the Valsharess, fool!"

Permalink Mark Unread

"Ice Spear." Let's skewer that cleric before learning her favorite evocation.

Permalink Mark Unread

The priestess is duly skewered; she screeches in pain and falls to the floor.

The swordswoman on her left sprouts blue-feathered arrows in four locations including her neck; there's a burst of electricity, and she topples to the ground.

Permalink Mark Unread

Jojo is abruptly no longer sitting down but instead is pummeling the second swordswoman, his fists glowing with a soft golden light that leaves burns on her purple skin.

Permalink Mark Unread

Deekin is... humming a strange little tune to himself. The tune fills Belmarniss with a feeling of power, a feeling of precision, a feeling like her body will do exactly what she tells it to do. From the looks of the people around her, it's not lying; the various inn patrons and staff are putting up a shockingly competent show of force against the duergar minions.

Permalink Mark Unread

Wow, Jojo seems like a good Haste target? She hastens him.

Permalink Mark Unread

He's so fast. He hops off the now-unmoving swordswoman and weaves through the shrinking crowd of duergar, felling them rapidly.

Once the duergar are taken care of, Durnan raises his sword. "Adventurers, to the well room! We must secure the entry!" He charges down the stairs to the basement, followed by the three adventurers.

(A white-robed surface elf priestess is channeling positive energy over the wounded and dying, such that they are no longer wounded or dying respectively. There appear to have been few actual casualties thus far.)

Permalink Mark Unread

She heads downstairs. "Why did you build an INN here," she says, not really expecting an answer.

Permalink Mark Unread

Durnan does not have time to explain why he built an inn here, no, though the explanation probably makes perfect sense at least to him.

The well room is... weird. There's a railing separating the part of the room with a floor from the part of the room without; the floor has an outcrop containing the eponymous well, a large elevator-bucket that descends into a deep pit which can be sealed off by a convenient lever. There are several bodies on the floor, guards in the uniform of the Lords' Alliance. There are also several more drow, currently having the living hell beat out of them by an incredibly fast mouse-man and a pissed-off innkeeper with a sword.

After the invaders have fallen, Durnan goes to seal off the pit with the lever. "I don't know how they got in," he mutters. "It should have been sealed, the guards know to pay constant attention, and how did they get in without raising the alarms, anyway? At any rate," he says, turning to the party, "I need you all to guard the well room while I-"

A beholder rises up past the cliffside from behind him and shoots him with a beam that freezes him in place.

Garrus shoots it several times, and it retreats whence it came. "We have to follow that thing before it gets away!" he says, going for the lever.

Belmarniss feels, perhaps unusually, inclined to agree.

Permalink Mark Unread

"Y- waitasec check yourself for enchantment!"

Permalink Mark Unread

Garrus looks very confused for a second-

then he looks at the lever again-

then he slowly backs away.

"Okay! That was bad."

Permalink Mark Unread

Deekin squints at Durnan, then sings at a very particular pitch, and the effect holding the innkeeper in place shatters audibly.

Durnan starts moving again. "Argh! I- thank you, Deekin. Is everyone alright?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"Think so."

Permalink Mark Unread

Durnan dusts himself off reflexively and exhales. "Thank you for stopping him, Belmarniss - I have no doubt that this was planned in advance, that you all would have run into some kind of trap or ambush. I'm going to re-engage the magical defenses that should have already been in place, call in some guards to stand watch, and stay right down here to make sure those defenses stay in place."

He goes to fiddle with a panel set into the wall, and a transparent sheet of force covers the sheer drop. "There. That's got an antimagic field below it - no beholder is getting up that way again. Though there hasn't been a beholder this high up in Undermountain as long as I can remember - the invaders must have brought it with them."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Why did you build an inn here."

Permalink Mark Unread

Durnan shakes his head ruefully. "Adventurers love coming to Undermountain. And where there are adventurers, there's money to be made. You have to understand, there hasn't been so much as an escaped kobold from the place in a century - this kind of, of overflow is completely unprecedented."

Permalink Mark Unread

"If you say so."

Permalink Mark Unread

Deekin makes a note in his tome, which has reappeared. "What can you tell Deekin about Undermountain, while everybody wait for new guards?"

"I suppose I'm as much an expert on the place as anyone can be... short of Halaster himself, of course. I can't tell you what to expect to see - the layout and inhabitants change, not constantly but frequently enough that foreknowledge is close to useless. One thing I do know, however, is that while you can find anything from goblins to gold dragons in Undermountain, things trend more dangerous the deeper you go."

"How we get out once we in there?" Deekin queries, scribbling away.

"Well, you can return to the well's terminus and I'll pull you up. There's not many options besides that, given teleportation is nullified within the dungeon."

"Teleportation not work?"

"Yes. Any magic that takes you from one place to another, even traveling by the planes, is completely forbidden by Halaster's magics. Only his own devices - shimmering portals that take you from one part of the dungeon to another - work inside that place."

"Thanks," Deekin says. "That all Deekin needed to know."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Portals're trustworthy?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"I wouldn't call anything in Undermountain trustworthy," Durnan warns her, "but yes, while their destination is unpredictable they will reliably transport you to a different portal's location rather than, say, disintegrating you."

"I like nobody getting disintegrated," Garrus comments. "That's a positive outcome for me."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Maybe getting disintegrated is really fun but you never hear about it for the obvious reasons. Earlier you were talking about equipment?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"Indeed. While I've sold off much of my old adventuring gear, I keep some items around in case of emergencies, and I want to encourage you all to go through it and take anything you need. There's nothing really game-changing in there, but I know some adventurers prefer to shore up their strengths than their weaknesses; if you've got a flank exposed, a Ring of Minor Resistance can mean the difference between life and death."

Garrus has the decency to look a bit guilty.

Permalink Mark Unread

"Sure, let's rummage."

Rummage rummage.

Permalink Mark Unread

They turn up a couple of Rings of Protection, a middling-tier Cloak of Resistance which Garrus admits to needing pretty badly, an Amulet of Natural Armor, a Belt of Dexterity, and a Robe of Infinite Twine, along with an amount of more or less useless enchanted knick-knacks sufficient to fill up a decently sized treasure chest.

Permalink Mark Unread

"If I weren't sharing I'd take the belt and the amulet and a ring, I've got all the slots open - I think magic items must be easier to make on this planet for some reason -"

Permalink Mark Unread

"Maybe they are, a ring like that's pretty cheap. I've got a belt, and my hide's already pretty tough. Jojo?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"I have a belt as well, and an amulet. Deekin?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"Deekin same as Garrus. Belmarniss welcome to loot choice."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Sweet." She yoinks.

Permalink Mark Unread

And Garrus gets the cloak and the other ring - "I know I said it's pretty cheap, but every time I get a spare couple of gold together I end up thinking about how cool it would be to add something new to my bow or my armor or my belt, so I'm a little short on accoutrements that aren't, uh. Those exact three things."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Maybe I'll spruce up my mom's ring as long as I'm on the planet of cheapo magic items."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Sensible. Undermountain is by all accounts a place of fabulous treasures, so we're likely to stumble across at least some equipment worth keeping anyway."

At this point, a small troop of new guards tromps into the room to replace the old, dead guards who were here before (who have since been removed by that priestess from the common room). Durnan, who had been talking with the priestess, looks up. "Ah, here they are. I'm going to stay in the well room for a while until I'm sure the incident from before won't be repeated; are you all ready to go into Undermountain, or do you need some more time to prepare?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"I'm down a few spells but don't know if it's worth waiting."

Permalink Mark Unread

"I am ready to do what needs doing."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Same here, if a little less dramatic about it."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Deekin ready to take on the world! Or just trap-filled dungeon, that too."

Permalink Mark Unread

"In that case I suppose I'll send you down. Just step onto the platform and say when."

The others do so.

Permalink Mark Unread

"When."

Permalink Mark Unread

And Durnan sends them down.

They spend a few minutes in the elevator. When they reach the bottom, they exit into a room that looks like it might have been lifted from some ancient, evil temple. In the room with them is a circle of glowing red runes, inside of which is a yellowed skeleton.

"Poor soul," Jojo says.

Permalink Mark Unread

"I guess a corollary of cheap items is that the traps are gonna be really extra."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Yes. Now that I think of it, it's odd that the bones would be left undisturbed so long, so close to the entrance... perhaps as a warning to newcomers? Hm."

Jojo leads the way out of the room, carefully circumnavigating the runes. They come out in a large central chamber, where there is a bridge blocked by brightly-colored, glowing pillars in four rows of three. In front of the bridge are four levers, each of which appears to be missing a central rod.

Permalink Mark Unread

"Puzzles," Deekin says knowingly. "Big part of Undermountain be puzzles."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Puzzle dungeons are stupid. Big bad get off on them or what?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"Halaster like puzzles, yes. Halaster like powerful people making mistakes and getting killed, smart people getting treasure, and puzzles."

Permalink Mark Unread

"A simple villain with simple pleasures. Or maybe fiendishly complicated ones, haven't assessed his puzzle design yet." She inspects the puzzle.

Permalink Mark Unread

Four rows of three pillars each stand on the bridge. There are five colors of pillar: blue, yellow, red, green, and white. No row has more than one of the same color of pillar, nor any column. There are four levers in a row in front of the bridge, each with a slot that is clearly missing something rod-shaped.

Permalink Mark Unread

"Gonna guess it doesn't react well to attempts at parts substitutions."

Permalink Mark Unread

"I'm going to have to agree. Well, searching for lever bits isn't the most tedious thing the mad mage could have us doing. Probably."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Probably." Any immediately obvious?

Permalink Mark Unread

Not in the central chamber. There are exits to the north and south. (And the east, but that way is back to the inn.)

"Flip a coin or left-hand rule it?" Garrus asks.

Permalink Mark Unread

She gets out her notebook and starts a map. "Wanna bet the puzzly bastard has heard of the left hand rule?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"Probably," Garrus sighs.

Permalink Mark Unread

"Deekin like idea of going north," Deekin contributes.

Permalink Mark Unread

"North it is." What is north? They. They is north.

Permalink Mark Unread

North they is!

It's twisty-windy, but there's no forks in the road for a while. There's a couple of minor traps that Garrus spots before they can do anything, along with another couple of runic circles that everyone gives a wide berth. Belmarniss's map is looking pretty straightforward so far.

They come to a small alcove containing a treasure chest, lid invitingly open, overflowing with gold coins stamped with Halaster's own face.

Garrus sighs. "Is it wrong that I expected a higher caliber of trap? Is that tempting fate?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"Maybe it gets worse farther down, so that the real art is reserved for connoisseurs."

Permalink Mark Unread

"You might be right."

They pass the obvious trap, and they come eventually to a door with a sign that reads DISTURB NOT THE REST OF THE SLEEPING KINGS!

Permalink Mark Unread

Well, that might be a riddle or it might be some sort of genuine warning or it might be a red herring. "Is this a cultural reference I'm not getting?" she murmurs.

Permalink Mark Unread

"Hall of Sleeping Kings famous Undermountain feature," Deekin says with a hushed sort of tour-guide cadence. "Bodies of ancient humanoid kings Halaster steal from tombs. 'Great kings and queens and sorcerers, all from lands that existed before other lands that have also been forgotten.' They be very old. And here they sleep. Supposedly they not do much unless you try to steal their stuff."

Permalink Mark Unread

"I don't suppose we can rouse them and convince them to be helpful?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"Undead rarely are," Jojo says, scrunching up his nose. "I will admit to a certain desire to put them to rest for good."

Permalink Mark Unread

"I considered being a lich once, maybe they're lovely folks. I admit it's not the smart money option."

Permalink Mark Unread

Jojo shudders genteelly. "I do not think liches stay, ah, lovely folks."

Permalink Mark Unread

From within the Hall of Sleeping Kings, there comes a faint voice. "Is that the telltale sound of adventurers I hear?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"Who wants to know?"

Permalink Mark Unread

“Enserric the Grey. Erstwhile wizard, current prisoner of the eponymous Sleeping Kings of this hall. Must we shout at each other through this door?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"We were just debating waking up the kings and leaning nay, do you suppose it will do that?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"No, I can say with confidence that it will not."

Permalink Mark Unread

She looks at her party rather than unilaterally go for the door.

Permalink Mark Unread

"If they're holding someone prisoner in there, then I do think we have a moral duty to help him," Jojo says.

Permalink Mark Unread

"Agreed."

Garrus is the one to actually open the door. It swings open without a hitch, or for that matter a lock.

The room is in a flattened horseshoe shape, with thrones along the walls each containing a skeleton, or in one case a withered corpse, all in variously ostentatious regalia and bearing ceremonial weapons.

There doesn't appear to be anyone with a pulse on this side of the room; the voice comes from the other side of the horseshoe.

Permalink Mark Unread

"People can lie about being prisoners," she says. "If it's ever convenient for them to assign you a moral duty. Enserric? Where are you?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"Over here," he calls. "I'll explain when you see."

Garrus, an arrow nocked, leads the way.

There's no one over here either, but the voice comes again, seemingly originating from one of the skeletons, who's carrying an ebon-bladed longsword with a strange red glow to it. "Hello. No, I'm not the skeleton, I'm - well, I'm in the sword he's carrying. Enserric the Grey, at your service."

Permalink Mark Unread

 

"So, if you're trying to hitch a ride, I hear they maybe do stuff if we take their stuff. Not that I don't go in for liberating personal property as it were, but I'd like to have that confirmed or denied."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Well, yes, there is that. The catch, as it were, is that these Sleeping Kings do not take kindly to having their belongings removed. I was myself once an adventurer much like you, exploring the infamous Undermountain, when my compatriot Jeets had the bright idea to try to 'nick' the circlet off the Sorceress - the one over by the lizardfolk. I was at that very moment examining the plaque on the throne of Chief Urdon here, when he abruptly resumed animation and stabbed me in the neck. My soul was drawn into his enchanted blade, and here I have sat for the last four or five decades, growing ever more bored."

Permalink Mark Unread

"That sounds really rough. If he should stab me in the neck, will you, like, move on to an afterlife, or what?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"No - the weapon's design was such that my soul was intended to be, well, digested some time ago, but I, fearing oblivion, attempted to escape and return to my body, which had by then been looted by adventurers and consumed by rats. Instead of escaping, I seem to have gotten myself stuck. So I'm no longer being digested, but neither can I be displaced, at least without substantial arcane assistance."

Permalink Mark Unread

"So if he stabs me in the neck I'll still be stabbed in the neck, which is still bad, but at least straightforwardly so. I guess the advantage of this kind of fight is unlimited buff rounds but perhaps you have other advice?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"From what I've seen of the Kings in action, Chief Urdon is the heaviest hitter due to his possession of the black blade, which is quite powerfully enchanted even without its ability to steal souls; your taking it before the bout can properly begin can only help. The heaviest hitter after him is King Krolon, with the greatsword and plate mail. The Sorceress loves her magic missile storms, so if you’ve got Shield in your spellbook now would be the time to use it. And if you’ve got any specific kind of blade you’d like me to be for the fight, from falchion to estoc, just say the word.”

Permalink Mark Unread

"I'm... not especially a sword person but if the rest of y'all are also not especially sword persons I guess I'd take a falx? Also if they all wake up at the same time each of us should take something we do not want them to have at the same moment. Also also does tying them up or finding heavy objects to put on their laps count as taking their stuff."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Deekin could use quality rapier," Deekin muses. "For when spells run out."

Permalink Mark Unread

"I've never actually witnessed anyone try to tie them up, but I know that vandalism in a more general sense counts as violence, which would awaken them. I think the coordinated theft idea holds more water."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Okay, Deekin wants a rapier so he can grab you, I guess, and Garrus can take Krolon's sword, and what are the next two priorities?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"I'd go for the Sorceress' Staff of Defense next, and those three are the ones who'll wake up immediately - if you want to get out you'll have to fight your way through a couple of others, but then there's a tradeoff between fighting more undead at once and fighting armed undead one at a time."

Permalink Mark Unread

"I'm not prepped for undead, I was expecting mostly drow this morning, but if I take the staff I can cast shields out of that, and I dunno if any of you three benefit from fox's cunning but I have it qua sorcerer, and I have lots of true strike and a magic missile. You lot?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"Fox's Cunning is useful, makes my aim a bit sharper, I know that's not usually how it works but for some reason it works for me."

Permalink Mark Unread

"I'm always prepared to fight undead," Jojo says, his tail swishing slightly despite the gravity of the situation.

Permalink Mark Unread

"Deekin got plenty of song left in Deekin, ready to support allies and stab skeletons with talking sword if necessary."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Fox's Cunning, Fox's Cunning." She positions herself beside the throne of the Sorceress so she can duck behind it for cover after she has the rod. "Anything else or should I count down?"

Permalink Mark Unread

Jojo and Garrus seem to have come to an unspoken agreement that Jojo should be the one to take Krolon's sword, and Garrus should stand in the middle of the triangle formed by the sleeping kings' throne.

Permalink Mark Unread

And Deekin readies himself to take Enserric.

"Ready when Belmarniss is ready," he says.

Permalink Mark Unread

"On one. Five four three two one." She yanks and tries for a shield first thing.

Permalink Mark Unread

And lo, she is shielded! The Sorceress stands up while casting a Quickened magic missile, which gets sucked into the shield. She doesn't seem to notice, already casting another magic missile.

Jojo tosses Krolon's sword to the ground and starts punching him in the skull before he's fully gotten out of his throne.

Permalink Mark Unread

Deekin wrenches Enserric out of Urdon's skeletal fist, the blade shimmering into a rapier, and starts perforating the skeleton as much as reasonably possible, humming the same tune from earlier in the inn.

Permalink Mark Unread

And Garrus starts shooting the Sorceress. "Wish we had fewer piercing weapons in this party," he mutters to himself. "Worked with a guy who had a maul once. That'd be nice."

Permalink Mark Unread

Belmarniss staffs herself a Mage Armor. "You want I should hit her with the staff?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"Oh! No, it's fine, let's all keep doing what we're doing."

Permalink Mark Unread

Jojo's duel with Krolon is going well - Krolon gets in one good scratch with his phalanges, but after a particularly devastating open-palm strike, the king's skull shatters and he collapses into a pile of bones. Jojo goes to help against Urdon.

The Sorceress notices after the failure of her second magic missile that Belmarniss is shielded, and hisses with rage. Her hands glow green and she fires off an acid arrow instead.

Permalink Mark Unread

This sort of thing is why she usually has a dispel magic prepped but she didn't want to waste it before the Sorceress noticed the missiles weren't working. She does her best to duck, since spell resistance won't help.

Permalink Mark Unread

The acid, aimed at her torso, splashes across her arm. It fucking hurts!

Permalink Mark Unread

"Fuck fuck fuck," she mutters, getting ready to counterspell the next bullshit, "fuck, fuck..."

Permalink Mark Unread

The Sorceress appears to feel that this is enough deterrence for now, instead turning to cast... some kind of custom multi-target missile spell... at Deekin and Jojo, who are whaling on the surprisingly sturdy King Urdon.

Permalink Mark Unread

Well, dispel magic is versatile.

Permalink Mark Unread

So it is! The missile storm fizzles, and the Sorceress hisses again.

Garrus's next arrow catches her in the eye socket, and with a burst of electricity, she goes down.

Permalink Mark Unread

More or less simultaneously, Jojo's hands flash with golden light, and Chief Urdon's animating force dissipates, causing him to clatter to the floor.

Permalink Mark Unread

"Ow ow ow ow I hate acid ow ow."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Do you require healing before we go on?" Jojo asks, coming over to investigate.

Permalink Mark Unread

"I can walk and cast but I wouldn't turn you down."

Permalink Mark Unread

"It's no trouble, I have plenty of applications left."

His hand hovers about an inch from her arm and glows with that same golden light, and the burns heal over.

Permalink Mark Unread

"Thanks. Rest of these guys wake up on what time scale, Enserric?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"Proximity, not time. You could take a refreshing nap and they'd still be waiting until you get close enough."

Permalink Mark Unread

"I have napped nicer places but that seems prudent."

Permalink Mark Unread

No one objects to this. Before they rest Deekin pulls out a harp and plays another song, which causes Jojo's scratches to heal over.

Permalink Mark Unread

"I'm used to doing first or last watch."

Permalink Mark Unread

"I'm good with middle watch, nobody ever likes middle watch except me."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Deekin take first watch, Deekin always wake up groggy."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Okay, last is mine."

She has a spellcasting adventurer's ability to sleep soundly in a dungeon surrounded by pulverised undead.

Permalink Mark Unread

Garrus wakes her when it's time for her watch. "It's officially your turn to make up fun backstories for all the skeletons you can see," he murmurs.

Permalink Mark Unread

"Aw, wish my friend from back home was here, he'd be good at it."

Permalink Mark Unread

"You should tell me about him in the morning," Garrus says, slithering into his bedroll.

Permalink Mark Unread

Belmarniss preps spells and writes a bit but does come up with Hagan-esque funny stories for all the skeletons.

Permalink Mark Unread

And eventually everybody else wakes up, and her watch is over.

"Want to tell me about your friend while we re-kill the rest of these Sleeping Kings?" Garrus asks while everybody gets ready. "Or we can just trade the stories we made up about them."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Ranger, the shooty kind. Doesn't talk about his family or where he's from but will make up amusing lies on demand."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Huh, that's fun. I've known a lot of people who won't talk about their families but most of them aren't generous enough to lie amusingly about it instead of just clamming up."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Friend have name?" Deekin asks, jotting down a quick note in between pulling his boots on.

Permalink Mark Unread

"Hagan. I joined up with his whole party for a couple adventures, there was a cleric of a god called Abadar, Fazil, and another wizard, Mahdi."

Permalink Mark Unread

Deekin nods, scribbling, then laces his other boot. "Thanks!"

Permalink Mark Unread

Jojo finishes up his prayers and stands up. "Everyone ready?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"Assuming those of you who haven't had breakfast don't want any yep."

Permalink Mark Unread

In that case Jojo will go and aggro the next skeleton in sequence, Lady Fensor. She has a slightly impractical-looking orc double axe, but she doesn't get to use it, because as soon as the monk's fist touches her skull, she collapses into a clattering heap.

"Oh, excellent," he says. "I've been hitting them all with Disruption, but she's the first to actually succumb to the effect."

(If someone was looking fairly closely, they might notice that one of the bones looked different than the others. Whiter, for one thing, and with slightly beveled ends.)

Permalink Mark Unread

"Is there something weird about - that one, I can't tell if it's an arm or a rib or what, it's shaped funny -"

Permalink Mark Unread

Jojo sifts through and picks up what turns out not to be a bone at all, but a shining white rod, of indeterminate composition but obvious significance.

"Good catch. It looks like it might fit into one of those levers from earlier, doesn't it? I think we're keeping this."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Hell of a place to hide one, I wonder if the swap would've impaired her if she'd had a chance to demonstrate."

Permalink Mark Unread

"I couldn't possibly say."

Permalink Mark Unread

They advance through the territories of Revisionist Balorthon, King Bolon (Krolon's descendant, or so Deekin informs them), and the withered corpse, identified as "the Vivisectionist", without any significant casualties, although the Vivisectionist hurls a dart that lodges in Deekin's upper arm, forcing Jojo to heal him before they exit the Hall.

"Sweet, sweet freedom! The taste of fresh air!" Enserric says joyously. "Relatively speaking, of course, on both counts."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Welcome to not being in the same room."

Permalink Mark Unread

“I truly cannot thank you enough.”

From here, they could return to the central chamber, or continue further north on the assumption that one rod will not be enough to solve the diabolical lever puzzle.

Permalink Mark Unread

Belmarniss votes north.

Permalink Mark Unread

The others agree, bar Garrus who wanted to see how the rod interfaces with the puzzle. He’s a gracious loser, though.

They don’t get much farther in before they come to another door; this one is labeled HALL OF MIRRORS. “Don’t love the sound of that,” Garrus comments. 

Permalink Mark Unread

"Are we going to have to fight our evil duplicates or some shit?"

Permalink Mark Unread

“Deekin think that distinct possibility,” Deekin says. “Also potentially mirror of madness, mirror of sucks you into crazy alternate world, mirror of you see treasure and can take treasure out of mirror.”

Permalink Mark Unread

"Oh boy, a crazy alternate world, my ticket home. I kind of think the concept of alignment is bullshit so I'm really curious what an 'evil me' would be like, but if there's no reason we need to be in there, and there might not be, it's not like our evil selves are already a menace that must be destroyed. Also don't care for mirrors of madness."

Permalink Mark Unread

“I agree,” Jojo says. “I find the concept of an evil version of myself quite unsettling, and would prefer not to unleash such evil on the world.”

Permalink Mark Unread

“Does sound like the kind of place Halaster might put one of those rods, though,” Garrus contributes.

Permalink Mark Unread

"Swing back this way if we don't find them all dealing with preexisting enemies?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"Makes sense," Garrus admits. "Alright, bypassing the Hall of Mirrors. For now."

Permalink Mark Unread

They bypass the Hall of Mirrors, Deekin looking moderately disappointed.

The next obstacle they encounter: an ogre, backed by a handful of orcs.

"Death to da small folk!" he roars. "For da Boss!"

Permalink Mark Unread

"Diamond Spray."

Permalink Mark Unread

The orcs go down; the ogre, though gruesomely wounded, stays up and charging.

Then Deekin stabs him, and he goes down.

"Ooh, Deekin feel vital," Deekin says. "Love that for Deekin."

Permalink Mark Unread

Belmarniss looks for funny looking sticks.

Permalink Mark Unread

None on these fools. She finds a shiny chunk of topaz on the ogre.

Permalink Mark Unread

Any of their swag magic?

Permalink Mark Unread

Nope!

...There's some magic behind this slightly discolored bit of wall that's obviously, on reflection, a (nonmagical) secret door. Illusion and transmutation.

Permalink Mark Unread

"Secret door over there. Illusion and transmutation. Who wants to help me drag one of these guys over to try opening it with their hands?"

Permalink Mark Unread

Garrus volunteers!

The door opens without incident, revealing a room with a treasure chest inside! The chest is the source of the illusion and transmutation, or at least the subject of it.

Garrus taps his foot thoughtfully. "Hmm. Is 'behind a secret door' enough reason to trust a treasure chest in this place?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"Not when we have this handy test corpse."

Permalink Mark Unread

The corpse is induced to touch the treasure chest...

which turns into a flock of small bats. They scatter.

"Huh," Deekin says. "Not really trap, not really treasure. Weird."

Permalink Mark Unread

"And too small to eat too. Somebody's just pointlessly showing off."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Archmages be like that," Deekin nods.

They continue along the path, which twists in weird and unnecessary ways several times, and fight a couple more ogres and one troll, each of whom declares his allegiance to "Da Boss" and declares them "small folk" to be exterminated. There's not much challenge (or treasure) to be found, but at least it breaks up the monotony.

Eventually they come to a hallway-terminating door, behind which can be heard much ogreish carousing. "Deekin think this be room of Boss," Deekin whispers.

Permalink Mark Unread

"Buffs for anybody before we barge in?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"Do you mind if use the staff to cast Shield Other on you? I think you might be the most, er, fragile member of our party, and I'm the least."

Permalink Mark Unread

"You will not catch me complaining." She hands over the staff.

Permalink Mark Unread

And Jojo casts the spell and hands it back, and then they open the door.

It's a large room, with several mess tables and a few kegs of unknown provenance; there's a side door. The ogres (of whom none really stand out as a "boss") react to their intrusion predictably: they get up and charge. Jojo charges too, as Deekin begins singing and Garrus begins shooting, and general violence ensues.

Permalink Mark Unread

Belmarniss has another diamond spray for the mob of them.

Permalink Mark Unread

The ogres go down pretty quickly.

"Hmm. I imagine that door leads to this 'boss'... who no doubt heard us taking out his guards, and has had ample time to prepare. Deekin, can you Haste Garrus and myself?"

Permalink Mark Unread

Deekin nods and starts casting.

Permalink Mark Unread

Belmarniss tips over a table to hide behind and cast from.

Permalink Mark Unread

Garrus does the same.

Permalink Mark Unread

And Jojo opens the door.

The ogre who bursts out definitely looks like he could be "da boss".  His skin is a blueish lilac color, his tusks magnificent, and his skin wreathed in a curtain of flame. "Me crush you good!" he roars, before manifesting a Cone of Cold that crashes into the tabletops like a wave. Jojo leaps above the effect.

Permalink Mark Unread

Deekin gets clipped by it, but doesn't seem to be very badly affected; he takes the opportunity to stab the ogre mage in the foot.

Permalink Mark Unread

Brrrr. She hits him with an Admonishing Ray, she has a bunch of that and they can always slit his throat if they need him dead in particular.

Permalink Mark Unread

It strikes the ogre mage cleanly in the torso, leaving an angry purple bruise.

Garrus nocks several arrows in quick succession, and with such a generous target, sinks each one into his opponent's chest.

Permalink Mark Unread

Jojo strikes several times, wincing at the heat, but the glow around his fists doesn't seem to be doing anything. He looks surprised, but doesn't let up.

The ogre mage roars with fury and casts a fireball at the center of his foes' territory; the warding tables catch fire, though they don't let the blast through.

Permalink Mark Unread

She backs up from her table a bit, hits him with another Ray.

Permalink Mark Unread

And Deekin stabs him in the torso -

and the ogre sucks in a deep breath, and coughs wetly, and says, "Truce! Truce! I beg your mercy and implore you for a truce!"

Permalink Mark Unread

"Talk real fast."

Permalink Mark Unread

He coughs again. "I- yes, I'm obviously no match for you, my good friends. But we are all civilized creatures here, there's no need to kill me. You defeated me in good cavalier fashion, so what would you have me do?"

Permalink Mark Unread

 

"You got one of these?" Belmarniss holds up the rod from the skeleton.

Permalink Mark Unread

"Oh! Yes, it was given to me by Halaster shortly before his disappearance." He fishes around in a belt pouch, and offers over a blue rod, which looks like a matchstick in his enormous hand.

Permalink Mark Unread

"Toss it over. What's Halaster's deal?"

Permalink Mark Unread

He tosses the rod gently. "Well, he was the mad king of Undermountain, as I'm sure you know, but as of about three weeks ago he vanished without a trace, along with the magics controlling the monsters - myself included - within the dungeon. And the magics that occasionally caused the dungeon itself to shift; the place has been solid as a rock, lately. Needless to say I decided to capitalize on the opportunity, and began to recruit some followers and spread my influence through this level of the dungeon. Apparently, however, the Faerie Queen to the south had similar ambitions, and our minions clashed in the middle."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Huh. Can you tell us about her and hers?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"I don't know terribly much about her, only that she was once a pixie but that for some reason she's now the size of one of you. Oh, and that her minions are vicious little creatures - I didn't even know grigs could learn necromancy, but they've taken to it like ducks to water. Perhaps the lack of plant life has driven them to madness. She's also got a handful of harpies on her side, but they're easy enough to crush."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Know anything about the hall of mirrors?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"It's a hall of enchanted mirrors - most of them are full of treasure, but one is a Mirror of Opposition, and if you look into it your reflection will come to life and try to kill you. Inconveniently, I have reason to believe it's the hiding place of one of the other rods. -but before you ask, I don't know about the fourth or fifth, I just know that Halaster has a particular fondness for the Hall of Mirrors and he'd hate to neglect it."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Any idea what motivates the reflections?"

Permalink Mark Unread

He laughs, then starts coughing again. "I'm not a philosopher, I just live here. I know they've got everything you have, from spellcasting to equipment to memories, and they want you dead."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Huh. Anything else we might want to know?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"Hrmm... there's a cache of gold and gemstones in my desk, which I've been collecting for no particular reason except general magpie instinct. You're welcome to it, as long as you continue not to kill me; theoretically you could kill me and take it anyway but it'd be terribly rude. Other than that, I can't really think of anything."

Permalink Mark Unread

"How do we feel about not being terribly rude, gang?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"He did surrender," Jojo points out. "I'm inclined not to break my sacred vows."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Paladins," Enserric says with an audible roll of his nonexistent eyes.

Permalink Mark Unread

"It wasn't all that much trouble to take him down in the first place," Garrus points out. "I don't see much problem with letting him walk, on the understanding that if he hassles us any more we won't make the same mistake again."

Permalink Mark Unread

"We will be ever so polite and if you don't need your loot we can absorb it."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Not much use for gold as a full-time denizen of Undermountain," the ogre mage points out. "I'm glad it'll go to such honorable persons. And I swear on my honor that I won't harass you any further."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Delightful. Where's your desk? Oh, also, what do you eat down here? Haven't passed any mushroom farms."

Permalink Mark Unread

"My desk is in my office, the door to which I came through in my attempt to crush you. The monsters of Undermountain are actually sustained by Halaster's magic, and fortunately, like the teleportation ward, it's one of the spells that didn't vanish when he did, otherwise we'd be in quite a pickle and would likely have resorted to cannibalism by now. Not that we are not occasionally anthropophagic, but I wouldn't want to live off my subordinates."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Yeah, that's not sustainable." She pops out from behind the table, doesn't turn her back on the boss, and heads for the desk.

Permalink Mark Unread

It's got a significant quantity of gold coins, a smaller but not insignificant quantity of platinum coins, and a handful of gemstones of varying quality. Assuming she's got the stones appraised correctly, it's worth about twenty thou all told, mostly based on a walnut-sized black diamond.

Permalink Mark Unread

"Do you guys like to divvy up front, or at the end of adventures?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"At the end," Garrus says firmly. "With the exception of immediately useful magic items. If we don't trust one person to carry the loot, something's wrong."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Cool, who won't be staggering around under all this gold?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"Bag of Holding," Deekin says, offering his satchel. "Deekin be fine."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Magic items are so dang cheap on this planet," she mutters, dumping the loot into the bag of holding.

Permalink Mark Unread

Deekin shakes the bag a couple of times, then closes it up and shoulders it again. "Deekin find bag in ruins of Undrentide. Deekin find like six bags of holding in ruins of Undrentide actually, but most of them go to Boss and Boss die in big mythallar explosion so Deekin not have them anymore."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Mythallar?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"Very shiny very magic crystals, held up lost flying cities of Netheril including Undrentide, all destroyed except one, that one destroyed later. Explode very impressively. Detailed in book."

Permalink Mark Unread

"I will start reading it on my next watch."

Permalink Mark Unread

Deekin grins toothily. "Huzzah!"

They leave the ogre mage whose name they never got, and head back toward the central chamber.

Permalink Mark Unread

Before they get there, of course, they reach the Hall of Mirrors again.

"So, we know there's probably a rod in there now - do we go in?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"Do we need them all?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"We don't know that we don't. The ogre said there were five, and there were four levers; on the other hand we have no information on the location of any other rods and so it might be a good idea for us to go for the one we're pretty sure is there, in case one of them is behind a particularly cunning secret door or its owner dropped it down a hole or something."

Permalink Mark Unread

"We could go poke at the puzzle in case two is enough."

Permalink Mark Unread

"That sounds prudent," Jojo nods. "We have precious little information on this puzzle thus far."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Alright, alright. I'm just trying to be efficient, here."

They continue on, and reach the central chamber in good time. There it stands, just as they remember it, with the bridge blocked by a sequence of colorful pillars, and four levers with rod-shaped slots. The pillars are in the following sequence:

R G B

W B G

Y R W

G Y R

Permalink Mark Unread

"We have... a white rod and a blue rod, which probably matters. Every straight path forward would require at least two other colors. Also nothing in the front row is either. We might need four? I don't see us needing five, there's only four slots."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Sounds about right. Well, we can head south and see if the other two drop into our laps; shall we? Or shall we rest, actually, I know I talked a big game about taking that ogre down without a sweat but his minions were kind of exhausting."

Permalink Mark Unread

"I have no objection to resting."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Fine by me. Same watch?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"I can take first watch, give Deekin a break."

Permalink Mark Unread

"And I'm still fine with middle watch."

Resting occurs! Garrus wakes Belmarniss again, but doesn't have a pithy comment this time.

Permalink Mark Unread

She preps spells and starts Deekin's book.

Permalink Mark Unread

Deekin's book is quite well-written, and bears no trace of its author's linguistic difficulties. The prologue briefly details the birth and childhood of a kobold named Deekin, who is runty and does not get along with his peers but is eventually taken under the wing of the great white dragon Tymofarrar, who teaches him reading, writing, and magic. The book then clarifies that this is not Deekin's story, and switches to talking about a young adventurer-in-training named Alan Tagan, the paladin apprentice of a dwarven mystic theurge by the name of Drogan. Alan is a well-intentioned lad, but slightly off; he has a temper, and there's a darkness to him that he does his best to fight and doesn't always succeed. A few incidents are recorded: fights with residents of nearby Hilltop over philosophical differences, a near-fatal brawl with an adult named Toman Bross based on an insult to one of Alan's co-apprentices, and an ongoing feud with a young woman named Nora Blake, cause unknown.

Disaster strikes one day, as kobolds from the tribe near Hilltop attack the village. The reason for the attack: several artifacts under Drogan's care. The casualties: about a dozen villagers, and Drogan himself is poisoned and lies near death. The result: Alan and two of his fellow apprentices are sent to recover the artifacts. Along the way, Alan acquires the ingredients for an antidote to the kobolds' poison, helps a wandering Red Wizard of Thay, and rescues Nora Blake's child from the kobolds who have already killed her husband. Then, he tells her that he's not giving the child back, and she attacks him, and he kills her. When he does so, he experiences the sickening, vertiginous sensation of a paladin's Fall from Grace.

The murder is described with a clinical eye for detail. Alan receives neither condemnations nor apologia. His actions are not explained, because the narrator readily admits that he does not know why Alan did this. Alan looks at the blood on his hands, looks at the sleeping infant in his arms, and looks at the path ahead of him.

The chapter ends as Belmarniss's companions begin to stir.

Permalink Mark Unread

"This is really well written," she remarks to Deekin when he's up.

Permalink Mark Unread

Deekin grins, fastening Enserric's scabbard. "Thanks! Deekin tell story how it happened, but story was good story, so."

Permalink Mark Unread

"I'm noticing that items are cheaper but resurrection seems maybe more expensive."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Um, resurrection if body fresh and available cost about... five thousand for diamond, plus five hundred for caster? Hilltop very poor town, though, no big clerics for raising."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Maybe I'm just spoiled by the insurance system."

Permalink Mark Unread

Deekin shrugs.

Southward the party goes, until they reach a door labeled LET SLEEPING DRAGONS LIE.

"Bad sign," Deekin notes.

Permalink Mark Unread

"Eesh. I guess it was real polite of him to label everything as far as that goes."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Are we sure we don't want to take a look? It could be cute baby wyrmlings."

Permalink Mark Unread

"I guess if we need four then it's probably either this or the mirror, and that's if we decide we definitely want to take on the fey, assuming as tidy a dungeon structure as seems implied so far."

Permalink Mark Unread

"I'm not going to go around assuming anything, but this level has seemed pretty straightforward so far. And yes, I think we'll need two out of three, so it's either dragon and mirror or mirror and fey or dragon and fey."

Permalink Mark Unread

Jojo squints at the door and winces. "There is a moderate aura of evil behind that door. Not overwhelming, as a great wyrm might be, but not negligible like a wyrmling either."

Permalink Mark Unread

"I guess fighting a dragon's a classic I haven't gotten around to, and we're fresh. - The advantage if we're feeling pressed for time of the mirror is that it doesn't benefit from being fresh, presumably they'll match us however we go in even if that's down to cantrips and beat up."

Permalink Mark Unread

"The other advantage to the mirror, as I see it, is that we can send one person to look into it and take out their reflection together from a distance - and pick which one we send, too. I'd rather fight an evil you than an evil Jojo. Uh, no offense intended, it's just, he's so fast."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Thank you," Jojo says wryly. "I do try."

Permalink Mark Unread

"I wanna talk to her first. If she'll talk, if she won't talk go ahead and shoot her."

Permalink Mark Unread

Nods all around. "I'm sorry to ask it of you," Jojo says. "We can at least investigate the dragon, see if we can guess its age and level of danger - my sense for evil is not a fine-tuned instrument, and it is still possible that we could defeat it handily."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Maybe if I go first it'll guess I'm friendly since I'm purple."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Deekin was going to suggest making Silent Image of door, then opening door and looking through illusion door," Deekin says. "Lower chance of Belmarniss getting eaten."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Good idea. If the door opens out."

Permalink Mark Unread

Conveniently, it does!

Deekin casts the spell and opens the door. The room beyond is largely empty, except for a treasure chest and, in front of the treasure chest, a statue of a massive black dragon. Clutched in the dragon's claw is a yellow rod.

Permalink Mark Unread

"I was really hoping for the wyrmlings. This is much less cute."

Permalink Mark Unread

"It wouldn't fit through the door, but probably it's grabbing too hard for a mage hand to get it. ...Mage Hand plus Grease? I didn't prep Grease but I can cast it anyway, if I want to blow that for the day."

Permalink Mark Unread

“I think it’s probably worth a shot. If it doesn’t work, though, I’m going on the record as not wanting to fight that thing.”

Permalink Mark Unread

“That dragon bigger than Old Boss was,” Deekin agrees. “And Deekin not even particularly wanting to fight Old Boss.”

Permalink Mark Unread

Belmarniss nods.

"Grease. Mage Hand."

Permalink Mark Unread

The rod slips out of the stone claw -

and there’s a surge of transmutation magic, and the statue is abruptly a large and furious dragon.

Permalink Mark Unread

Belmarniss flinches but keeps pulling the rod toward the door.

Permalink Mark Unread

The dragon opens its jaws and prepares to spit acid, but the rod makes it out first, and Deekin slams the door. There's the sound of a pressurized jet of liquid hitting the door and surrounding wall, and the hissing of wood being eaten away. The dragon roars, enraged.

"We run now?" Deekin asks.

Permalink Mark Unread

"Yup."

Away they scramble.

Permalink Mark Unread

The dragon's roars echo through the halls of Undermountain, but eventually they outpace the sound.

When they stop running, there's a sound like tinkling bells somewhere nearby, and a girlish giggle.

Permalink Mark Unread

"...Fey," surmises Belmarniss.

Permalink Mark Unread

The giggling stops. "On, my undead minions!" pipes a squeaky voice. "For the Queen!"

Several humanoid zombies and one zombie troll round the corner.

Deekin breathes a cone of cold, snap-freezing the humanoid zombies and frosting over a significant portion of the troll.

Permalink Mark Unread

Jojo punches the troll zombie a few times, staying miraculously clean as any undead gore that flecks onto him burns away in his aura of golden light. His foe collapses in short order.

Permalink Mark Unread

Belmarniss zaps a lesser zombie with an arcane bolt rather than busting out any big spells; this seems like Jojo's job.

Permalink Mark Unread

Indeed it is. The zombies are taken care of in short order.

The pixie necromancer, still invisible, gasps. "My minions! You'll pay for this!"

She casts Crushing Despair.

Permalink Mark Unread

It bounces off Belmarniss's spell resistance. "Steal Breath."

Permalink Mark Unread

An almost imperceptibly tiny puff of air enters Belmarniss's mouth. The sound of bells intensifies as the pixie struggles.

"Glitterdust," Deekin casts, and the pixie is now both outlined in glittering sand and blinded by the same.

Permalink Mark Unread

Jojo snatches the pixie out of the air, pinning her arms in his clenched fist. She tries to bite him, but her teeth don't penetrate his fur.

"Stop that," he says sternly. "You're only embarrassing yourself."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Well, this isn't the Queen, the Queen's supposed to be bigger."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Yes, I imagine this is one of her minions. Could you let up your spell so we can ask her some questions and potentially come to an agreement?"

Permalink Mark Unread

Belmarniss dismisses the spell.

Permalink Mark Unread

The pixie sucks in a breath and opens her eyes, useless as they are due to glitter. "How dare you! I'll have you know that I am the Marquise of Green-on-Yellow, and I will defend the Queen with every drop of blood in my body!"

"I apologize for your rough treatment, but you did attack us unprovoked. We're not here to kill your Queen," Jojo says soothingly. "We're just here to get a puzzle piece from her and we'll leave her in peace afterwards. Besides which, we've defeated the ogre mage and his henchmen, so you'll be free to take over this level unopposed. All we ask in return is the rod in her possession."

The Marquise of Green-on-Yellow blinks a couple of times. "Really?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"Why does everybody assume we're here to kill them and take their stuff?" Garrus asks.

"You're adventurers," the Marquise says slowly. "In Undermountain."

"...okay, point taken."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Also I'm prepping a lot of lethals because we keep running into undead."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Will you lead us to your Queen?" Jojo asks.

The pixie looks around suspiciously. "Alright, fine. But if you try to hurt her, know that the full might of our Queendom will fall upon you!"

"We would expect nothing less," Jojo assures her, opening his fist.

She zips out and leads the party along the corridor, which begins branching and turns into a maze. She navigates it with practiced precision, waiting with ill grace for the party to catch up when she outpaces them.

Permalink Mark Unread

Belmarniss keeps an eye out for any pitfalls she might be leading them into.

Permalink Mark Unread

No pitfalls. She occasionally leads them past a zombie or two, but they remain docile.

Eventually, they come to the center of the maze, which is full of... plant life. Surface plant life, trees and vines, not the fungi that might naturally grow here. A woman who looks like a surface elf with green butterfly wings on her back, tending this strange garden, looks up as the Marquise's bells approach. When she notices the adventurers following her vassal she leaps to her feet and prepares to start casting, but their guide says "Wait! They claim to come in peace."

The apparent Queen stills. "Really?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"We're trying to solve this puzzle that calls for these rods, you might have gotten one recently? That's all we need. Your wings are really pretty."

Permalink Mark Unread

"You're very kind to say so," she says in an oddly bitter tone. "Halaster did give me a rod - he told me to keep it safe. I'll give it to you if you can defeat my greatest enemy in this place, the ogre mage Olgin Hasterean."

"That be ogre mage's name?" Deekin asks, making a note. "He already defeated."

"Really? Then... show me the rod you took from him, and I'll give you mine."

Deekin rummages in his pack for a moment and pulls out the blue rod. "Here it be."

"So it is," the faerie queen murmurs. She shakes her head, then goes over and knocks on the trunk of a nearby tree, causing it to split open and reveal a green rod. "Here is your reward, then. I'm glad to be rid of it, truth be told; taking anything from Halaster makes me uncomfortable."

Permalink Mark Unread

"But you keep things safe for him on demand?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"Refusing Halaster is... very dangerous. I am, in retrospect, lucky he didn't order me to guard it with my life, or I'd have a much harder choice on my hands."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Thanks!" chirps Belmarniss. "Good luck duking it out with Olgin."

Permalink Mark Unread

"If you already cut through his hordes enough to take the rod from him, I won't need luck," she says with a smile. "Good luck on your own quest, whatever it is. Lady Ilsandre, would you lead our honored guests back through the maze?"

The Marquise nods, and does so.

Permalink Mark Unread

Follow follow follow.

Permalink Mark Unread

When they leave the maze, the Marquise waves. "Farewell, honorable friends! Sorry for trying to kill you!"

Permalink Mark Unread

"Sorry for swiping the air out of your lungs! Have fun making more zombies!"

And let's go see if the puzzle can be solved now?

Permalink Mark Unread

Back to the central chamber they go! (The dragon room is, strangely, silent again when they pass by.) Soon they're standing in front of the bridge, facing north.

R G B
W B G
Y R W
G Y R

Permalink Mark Unread

 

"We don't have a red one in particular. I think any other we could make a straight path without. Red one's in the mirror room."

Permalink Mark Unread

"The ogre was right, then. Damn it."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Okay, who can we make least dangerous. I'll do it if I'm the best choice but I'm full of spells and don't fancy using them all up on purpose mid-dungeon in case that dragon has, I don't know, shapeshifted to make it out the door and is prowling around looking for us - Jojo can't be disarmed - Deekin, do you know Silence, it's dismissable but if you cast it on yourself in advance maybe your duplicate wouldn't be able to dismiss it?"

Permalink Mark Unread

Deekin shakes his head. "Deekin meaning to learn it next time Deekin get new second-level spell. Deekin not want to suggest, but maybe tie Belmarniss or Deekin hands so no spells? Belmarniss have Still Spell?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"I don't, and everything I've prepped does want a gesture. Also I'm good at counterspells and will have the same things. But if I can talk her around she'll want to write some things down, probably."

Permalink Mark Unread

"I think it still makes sense to have her hands tied at the start, if reflections universally attack their originals; you can then have a conversation, and if she wants to write something down she can be untied."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Yeah, just giving you advance warning that asking to be untied isn't necessarily a ruse."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Noted and appreciated."

 

Permalink Mark Unread

"I doubt it's worth the risk, but I do wonder what would happen if I were on your belt when you looked in the mirror," Enserric says contemplatively from his place at Deekin's side. "Am I equipment or a separate subject? Would I be exempt as a technical undead? Wheels within wheels."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Let's skip that but I note its theoretical interest."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Yes, let's."

They trek back to the Hall of Mirrors. (They're getting to know this first floor of Undermountain quite well, by now.)

Inside: a hall, containing mirrors. Two dozen of them, along both of the long walls. "We'll stay by the door," Garrus says, tying a length of silk rope around Belmarniss's wrists in a manner that suggests some amount of practice. "Try to stay a few feet away from the mirrors when you look into them, so we don't get confused about who the reflection is when she does pop out. I'll have arrows nocked, but not pulled, so I can intervene if necessary but won't be too jumpy on the trigger. And again, sorry about all this."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Hang on, untie me, I wanna, like, pin a sign to myself."

Permalink Mark Unread

"-oh, in case it gets mirrored? Good idea."

He unties her.

Permalink Mark Unread

She writes herself a note; it's in her native language so none of them can read it. She pins it on.

She lets him tie her wrists again and she walks in.

Permalink Mark Unread

The first mirror she looks in, her reflection looks just like her except that there's a pouch by her feet that isn't there in the real world, full of coins by the looks of it.

The mirror's surface ripples a little, as if she could reach right through it.

Permalink Mark Unread

She sticks a foot in to nudge the bag out.

Permalink Mark Unread

It works! After the bag is claimed, the mirror evaporates. 

The next one has a couple of potion bottles, one orange and one green. 

Permalink Mark Unread

Nudge nudge.

Permalink Mark Unread

She’s able to get one, then the mirror evaporates.

In this manner she leaves a trail of miscellaneous valuables behind her, including a rod which, while not red, is inscribed with swirling patterns and radiates a magical aura.

Then, at the sixth mirror she looks into, her reflection has nothing by her feet, but she has a strange gleam in her eye. The mirror wobbles alarmingly, and then there’s a second Belmarniss in front of the first.

Permalink Mark Unread

Belmarniss's party will not be able to understand the ensuing conversation.

"You -" says the mirrored Belmarniss.

"Read the sign."

"- okay, I remember writing it but -"

"But?"

"- pretty sure if I kill you I get to live and otherwise I die."

"Is that the only difference?"

"...may also have started out in just a generally horrible mood. I think that's all."

"So does it matter, then? If I let you take notes and I keep them -"

"You shouldn't have come in here."

"I don't like lots of what I do during adventures, that's not new."

"You should've made the ogre do it or, better, borrowed a zombie."

"- okay, not thinking of that is on me."

"You didn't try. You're getting lazy."

"I'm sorry."

"Call them in here, untie me, get your damn loot, and give me your notebook."

Belmarniss sighs. And calls, in Common, "I think it's okay."

Permalink Mark Unread

Garrus comes over to untie them, scrupulously avoiding looking into any mirrors along the way. (He still unties Original Belmarniss first, just in case.)

Permalink Mark Unread

Belmarnisses check the remaining mirrors.

Permalink Mark Unread

Original Belmarniss can see treasures ranging from gemstones to a Wand of Fireball to an enchanted lute, and can collect them as she wills. Reflected Belmarniss cannot, and in fact does not even have a reflection of her own.

Permalink Mark Unread

Reflected Belmarniss takes the notebook that isn't going to dissolve in an hour and writes.

Original Belmarniss offers Deekin the lute and the more liquid swag and keeps the wand.

Permalink Mark Unread

"Ooh, Doss Lute," Deekin says happily once he's examined the lute. "Good if we encounter poison." The orange potion he identifies as a Potion of Bull's Strength, while the rod from earlier he identifies as a Rod of Lesser Quicken Spell.

He casts a considering look at Reflected Belmarniss, but visibly decides against saying anything to her, instead scribbling in his tome-under-development.

Permalink Mark Unread

"What," says Reflected Belmarniss.

Permalink Mark Unread

"Deekin considered asking for interview but decided against it. Sorry to bother Belmarniss."

Permalink Mark Unread

Growl.

Eventually Mirror Belmarniss says, "I should recharge your fucking staff."

Original Belmarniss hands it over. Mirror Belmarniss dumps spells into it.

Permalink Mark Unread

And, after exactly an hour has passed, her skin gains a mirrored sheen and she melts away, leaving a red rod where she once stood.

Jojo sighs heavily.

Permalink Mark Unread

The only Belmarniss collects the rod, and picks up the staff again, and takes the notebook, and sighs, and heads back to the puzzle.

Permalink Mark Unread

The party remains quiet as they insert the appropriate rods into the levers, pull them, and create a path through the center column of the bridge. On the other side, there's a stairwell descending deeper into the earth.

When they cross the bridge, there's a little magical fireworks show as the rest of the pillars dissolve. Garrus snorts. "I'm sorry, that was just- so completely inappropriate. Halaster is such an asshole."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Thank you."

Permalink Mark Unread

They descend the stairs in a less awkward silence.

The stairs terminate in a small chamber which has a very different aesthetic from the previous floor: less "ancient temple," more "ancient crypt". (Alright, it's not that different, but after a while spent in the same architectural style it feels like a significant change.) There's one door out; when Garrus opens it, they behold a much larger central chamber than the one on the previous floor, centered on what looks like a bunker, with a pool of water out front surrounded by four glowing pedestals.

There are some drow standing watch around the pool. "Should I shoot them?" Garrus whispers. "I'm shooting them, right?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"Maybe they'll talk. A surprising fraction of encounters today have talked. You want me to poke one with Message, see if I get anywhere and doesn't give away our whole position right away?"

Permalink Mark Unread

Jojo considers this. "Yes, I think we should," he says after a moment. "Perhaps they were conscripted by this Valsharess. Or perhaps they're... drow rebels, nobly opposing their kin?" He shakes his head. "Probably not. Still, we shouldn't kill them without giving them a chance to explain themselves."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Could also be more than one drow country in here. Or religious divisions. Or they think we're above their pay grade. All kinds of reasons to avoid a fight." She casts Message and aims at whoever appears to be in charge. "Hey, what are you up to, why is that pool worth guarding?"

Permalink Mark Unread

The apparent leader is, oddly, male; he's dressed in wizard's robes, and the women around him are holding identical crossbows.

He twitches slightly when the message goes through, and signs something to his subordinates, who perk up. One of them casts Darkness on their position. "Leads to the next level," he says in response. "Who is this? Come out so I can see you."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Comprehend Languages. Message. You gonna attack me if I do that?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"Of course not. We can have a free and mutually beneficial exchange of information."

Permalink Mark Unread

"We can do that right where we are, I can do this all day."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Well, it was worth a shot."

The communication cuts off, as if the drow's spell resistance suddenly engaged.

Permalink Mark Unread

"Doesn't wanna talk," she murmurs. "Buffs and then I'll try to faerie fire them for you, wizard in blue, guards in purple if they're close enough by then. Fox's Cunning," for Garrus, "Haste," for everybody, "Faerie Fire."

Permalink Mark Unread

The wizard lights up for a second, then flickers out. The guards light up and stay lit up.

Garrus shoots two of them; they drop, jittering with electrical energy.

Permalink Mark Unread

Jojo speeds towards the pool. The guards try to shoot him, but he's juking in such a way that they can't get a proper bead on him.

He reaches the pool of darkness and somehow causes his body to start glowing, lighting up his surroundings like a torch. He starts beating up the wizard, who doesn't seem to have prepared for someone to be up in his business six seconds after having been a hundred feet away.

Permalink Mark Unread

Belmarniss casts herself a mage armor from the staff and gets as close as she must to hit the wizard with an admonishing ray.

Permalink Mark Unread

The wizard drops like a rock.

Deekin shoots one of the guards with a bolt from his crossbow, humming his fight song.

Permalink Mark Unread

And Garrus drops the remaining guards.

"Well, that wasn't so bad," he comments. "And if that wizard's still alive, we might be able to get some information out of him."

Permalink Mark Unread

"One of the nice things about nonlethals, yeah, who's got that rope?"

Permalink Mark Unread

Garrus! Garrus has the rope. He ties up the wizard, then has Deekin cast a Cure Light Wounds to get him back to consciousness.

The wizard licks his lips nervously when he observes his circumstances. "How embarrassing," he says.

Permalink Mark Unread

"I tried to talk to you, dude."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Yes, well, I was not about to parlay with the enemy without significant extenuating circumstances. What do you wish to know, o Houseless one?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"I'm from another planet, you know fuckall about my family situation. Folks, what do we want to know?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"Where be Halaster? And why drow be attacking Waterdeep? And who be Valsharess?"

"I have no idea where Halaster is besides 'deeper in Undermountain,' I was assigned to guard a door. The Valsharess intends to conquer your pathetic city, and from there the entire surface world. She was Matron Mother of House Kilath, and she is now Empress of all drow."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Wow, Empress of all drow, what a blowhard. And how do you feel about this assignment in light of the current situation?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"While I recognize that it is pointless to complain of not having been defeated legitimately," the man sniffs, "a party without your particular advantages would likely have been stymied by my arcane powers. Your mouse engaged me in melee combat before I could cast even a single spell, and as I'm sure you know a single spell can be the difference between life and death."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Be that as it may."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Ah, you're asking me if I repudiate the Valsharess. Well, let me see. Given her particular resources, I must say- Detonate."

Apparently this asshole has Still Spell.

Permalink Mark Unread

"Dispel Magic."

Permalink Mark Unread

The spell fizzles. The caster has some very inventive things to say about this in Undercommon.

"Deekin think that be very impolite way of saying no," Deekin comments.

Permalink Mark Unread

"Sure looks like it. Let's stab him."

Permalink Mark Unread

Garrus looks to Jojo.

Permalink Mark Unread

Jojo sighs. "My vows do still allow me to execute a prisoner who has demonstrated that we are unable to effectively contain him, Garrus."

That said, he reaches down and snaps the wizard's neck.

Permalink Mark Unread

And Deekin goes through his stuff. "Hmm, ring... Commander's Ring, good if locked chests in future. Headband... ooh, Vast Intelligence, Belmarniss want? And..."

He extracts three lengths of chain from the wizard's pocket. One is green, one is yellow, one is blue. "Collected puzzle pieces for door! Very polite."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Belmarniss do want." Put.

Permalink Mark Unread

Deekin goes around attaching chains to appropriately colored pedestals, then stops. "Four pedestals, three chains... dang it. Wizard not have all puzzle pieces."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Would've been too easy," Garrus sighs. "Alright, it looks like there's exits to the north, south, and east... east first? It's the only one we didn't have on the last floor."

Permalink Mark Unread

"I guess that's as good a way to check as any. Might be more drow around looking for the last bit though. - bring the bits we have so they don't sneak around us with the last one and go."

Permalink Mark Unread

Deekin nods, detaches the existing chains, and puts them in his bag.

They head east, where there is indeed a door. It's leaning open, and there's a trail of blood leading in, suggesting the dragging of a corpse.

"Doom, doom, doom..." Deekin mutters.

Permalink Mark Unread

Blood still wet?

Permalink Mark Unread

Tacky, not yet fully dry.

Permalink Mark Unread

"Got an invisibility," she murmurs.

Permalink Mark Unread

"I believe I'd be the stealthiest member of our party," Jojo whispers back. "Invisibility on me, I sneak in and see if the final chain is visible and steal it if so?"

Permalink Mark Unread

She nods. She casts it.

Permalink Mark Unread

 

There's a moment of silence. Then, Jojo's voice whispers "It's a nest of rakshasa - five in total, tiger-headed. I didn't see a chain. They were feasting on some drow, so I don't think they noticed me. There was a door past them, but I don't think I can sneak past something that can hear my thoughts. Sorry."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Ugh, hate mindreaders. I'm probably not smart enough to stun them even with the headband. And me without my dispel."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Well, at least it was put to a noble end. If Jojo engages them we can stay out of mindreading range, at least."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Unless one of them gets past me - there are five of them, and only one of me. I'm not complaining, just reminding you of the facts of the situation."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Deekin's song only reach 30 feet," Deekin adds. "So keeping out of range of rakshasas not really best option. Killing rakshasas as fast as possible better option, Deekin be thinking."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Yeah. Ugh."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Shall I cast Shield Other on you again?" Jojo asks. "In case the rakshasa bypass me."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Yes please."

Permalink Mark Unread

He takes the staff, does so, and hands back the staff. "Any other spells before the short-term ones? I think we should prepare for this as a major battle."

Permalink Mark Unread

Belmarniss puts on a shield and mage armor from the staff, sticks a Fox's on Garrus again, grabs her quicken rod, and says, "See if you can place them for a Diamond Spray or a Lightning Bolt."

Permalink Mark Unread

Jojo nods. "Feel free to cast through me, if that's a concern; I'm very good at avoiding spell effects."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Haste."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Righteous Vigor."

And Jojo runs in.

The rakshasa are, as he mentioned, feasting on some drow, and they don't notice him until he starts laying into the one closest to the door and becomes visible again. His fists leave burns instead of bruises, but it looks like the outsider doesn't like them any better for it. It yowls and slashes at him with its kukri, but misses as Jojo dodges and weaves.

Permalink Mark Unread

She gets in range, gritting her teeth. "Quickened Diamond Spray. Steal Breath," she adds, aiming it at whoever among the rakshasas looks like they'd be trying spells.

Permalink Mark Unread

Her diamonds shred through most of the rakshasa, but only tatter the robes of the most important-looking one.

Her Steal Breath sucks a vortex of air from the most important-looking one's lungs, causing him to look highly affronted.

Deekin runs in, humming his fight song, and positions himself between Jojo and Belmarniss so as to cover both of them with the song's effect. He casts Glitterdust over the rakshasa's position, but the flakes dissipate as they touch their skin.

Permalink Mark Unread

Garrus positions himself by the door, and shoots several arrows at the important-looking one. They sink into his flesh, annoying him even further.

Permalink Mark Unread

Two of the rakshasa cast Lightning Bolt almost simultaneously; the first lances towards Deekin, the second towards Belmarniss and Garrus.

Permalink Mark Unread

She mentioned lightning bolt but would have been casting it out of her ring, so she doesn't have a counter even if she'd been specifically expecting that. It crackles around her spell resistance. She pulls another diamond spray out of a pearl of power and follows up with a quickened magic missile aimed at the important one.

Permalink Mark Unread

This time the diamonds splash uselessly against all the targets, but the missiles go through. The caster growls, and casts Ball Lightning. One sphere wobbles towards Deekin, the other towards Belmarniss.

Jojo defeats his opponent, who collapses to the floor with a yowl. He turns to another of the rakshasa, who apparently thinks he might have better luck with an Acid Arrow. Jojo punches him in the throat while he casts it, though, and he loses the spell.

Permalink Mark Unread

Deekin gets shocked pretty badly by the Ball Lightning, but rather than heal he elects to cast "Shadowbard!" His shadow rises out of the floor and begins humming a different song, one that doesn't seem to have any effect on Belmarniss but makes Deekin look a bit less bedraggled.

Permalink Mark Unread

Garrus gets off another handful of shots on the caster, who is starting to look distinctly pincushiony by this point.

The rakshasa Jojo isn't fighting leap past him, one going for Garrus and one going for Belmarniss. Jojo strikes both as they pass, but they don't stop moving.

Permalink Mark Unread

You know what doesn't check spell resistance? Ice Spear doesn't check spell resistance. The caster gets it, hopefully to kill him before he can maneuver the lightning any farther, and she's got one more quicken left, she'll get off a magic missile at the one charging her.

Permalink Mark Unread

The caster is only grazed by the ice spear! The magic missile fizzles against the charging rakshasa's skin! Deekin stabs the charging rakshasa as it passes by, accomplishing nothing!

Permalink Mark Unread

The caster grins tigerishly and casts Lightning Bolt at Jojo. The ball lightning collides with Belmarniss, and does not splash off of her spell resistance.

Jojo leaps over the lightning bolt and continues beating seven of the nine Hells out of the rakshasa he is currently facing.

Permalink Mark Unread

Deekin drops Enserric and pulls an ivory harp off his belt, strumming it furiously as he hums. Belmarniss feels the burns from the ball lightning fading slowly. (Possibly too slowly.)

Permalink Mark Unread

Garrus looses three arrows at the caster, who finally falls, then turns his attention to the rakshasa charging Belmarniss. He fires off another three shots, one of which explodes with electricity in the creature's breast.

It doesn't stop. It swipes twice at Belmarniss with a wickedly curved kukri, following up with a swipe of its claws.

Its compatriot savages Garrus. He ignores the bleeding cuts it leaves, still focusing on the one attacking his friend.

Permalink Mark Unread

"Burning disarm."

Permalink Mark Unread

The rakshasa drops its kukri like it's on fire, which it very nearly is. It hisses at Belmarniss and readies its claws.

Jojo finishes off his current opponent and runs to Belmarniss's aid. Belmarniss's rakshasa attacker falls to the ground after a series of lightning-fast punches.

Permalink Mark Unread

Garrus turns his attention back to the rakshasa in the process of savaging him, draws an arrow back, and sends it into the outsider's eye socket. It topples slowly to the floor.

Permalink Mark Unread

Deekin pants.

"We okay?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"I've been better. I'm not dying."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Greater Path of Glory," Deekin incants.

The floor starts glowing, and everyone's wounds start melting away. It takes a minute for everyone to be back to pristine health, but they've got a minute.

Permalink Mark Unread

"Thanks, that hits the spot."

Permalink Mark Unread

Deekin bows. "Deekin always happy to help."

He picks Enserric up off the floor. "Sorry, Enserric. Battle pretty hectic, Deekin didn't have time for sheathing before take out Dove harp."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Don't make it a habit, please," Enserric says drily.

Permalink Mark Unread

"Thingy better be behind that door without so much as a guard dog on it."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Heartily agreed," Garrus says, searching the bodies. "Are we taking their eyes? They're worth money but it seems a little ghoulish."

Permalink Mark Unread

"At what price do you value your non-ghoulishness? We can deduct it from your cut."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Point taken," Garrus says. "Deekin, can you come over here and help with this?"

Permalink Mark Unread

Deekin cooperatively Mage Hands the eyes into a jar he had in his backpack for "not just such an occasion, Deekin not predict this eventuality, but similar occasion".

The rakshasa are, other than their valuable eyes, remarkably ill-equipped. Soon there's nothing left to do but open the door, behind which is a chamber containing an altar and three shabbily dressed humans. One of them, their apparent leader, moves forward, then stops himself.

"Are you... are you here to save us?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"Uh... well, we didn't know you were here, but now we do, so."

Permalink Mark Unread

"My name is Shareesh. I suppose you could call me the leader of our little band, or at least, as much a leader as any. You see, we three are slaves, bound and forced to serve the mad wizard Halaster."

"What need could one as powerful as Halaster possibly have for common human slaves?" Jojo asks disgustedly. "This is nothing but an abuse of power; he keeps slaves simply because he can."

Permalink Mark Unread

"That's actually very weird. Are you included by the thing the ogre mentioned where you don't have to eat? He said it covered 'the monsters'."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Yes, we are," Shareesh says. "Perhaps he only knows of the monsters, but it applies to any who dwell permanently within these halls - including myself and my brethren, though only three of us remain. Halaster used us for sacrifices and experiments, and occasionally threw us to his monsters for entertainment."

Garrus shakes his head wonderingly. "Guy's a real piece of work, huh."

Permalink Mark Unread

"We didn't fully clear out the level up from here so I'm not sure where you can go that'll be safe. Maybe we can just grab you on the way up once we're done, since you're not gonna starve or anything."

Permalink Mark Unread

"I have a suggestion, actually," Shareesh says cautiously. "This altar which you see beside me is in fact an inactive portal to Waterdeep above us. I believe it amused the mad mage to lock us in with the means of our salvation and no way to use it. But if you can retrieve the portal keystone from the southern section of this level, you can activate the portal and send us back to civilization."

Permalink Mark Unread

"...why hasn't anyone been using it in the latest spillover?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"I cannot claim to know the mind of this Valsharess's minions," Shareesh says apologetically. "Perhaps they do not think one more level of the dungeon a significant obstacle? Perhaps they simply could not bypass the rakshasa outside."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Wow. I guess I'm glad of it when people aren't efficient about being evil but it does make them slightly harder to predict. We wanna do a sidequest, gang?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"I worry about the potential effects of leaving a portal to the surface open in the midst of Undermountain," Jojo says cautiously.

"The portal can be closed," Shareesh reassures him. "Simply remove the keystone from the altar when you are finished with it."

"Then I have no objections," Jojo says. "We cannot leave these poor souls to be devoured by the next monster to pass by."

Permalink Mark Unread

Deekin... is squinting, and humming a little to himself, but has nothing to say.

Permalink Mark Unread

"Who did you get these instructions from?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"Halaster himself told me the operation of the portal when he brought me to Undermountain," Shareesh says after just a second. "I am sorry, it has been so long, and I told it to the others so many times, trying to keep our hopes up, that I nearly forgot where I had learned it myself. Memory is a curious thing."

Permalink Mark Unread

"I am kind of worried that he'd think it was funny to make shit up - like, it might not be a portal at all, which would explain why the rakshasa weren't having a party upstairs, but it might be a portal you can't actually close, or something like that."

Permalink Mark Unread

"He demonstrated it to me," Shareesh says. "I remember the look in his eyes as he drew out the keystone: sadistic satisfaction, and nothing more."

Permalink Mark Unread

 

"You barely remembered learning it but you retained a very confident interpretation of the look in his eyes?"

Permalink Mark Unread

 

"As I said, memory is a curious thing."

The other two slaves have moved, subtly, so that they're standing farther away from the party.

Permalink Mark Unread

"You said southern section?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"Yes," he says. "Please hurry; the rakshasa were our jailors, but they were also our guards."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Hurry don't rush!" she chirps.

Permalink Mark Unread

Shareesh nods.

Permalink Mark Unread

She sidles out of the room, not quite turning her back.

Permalink Mark Unread

The rest of the party follows her out, Deekin also not quite turning his back.

Deekin lets out a full-body shiver when they reach the central chamber. "Belmarniss thinking what Deekin thinking?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"Yeah but let's not do three more of those things right now."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Absolutely."

Permalink Mark Unread

Jojo looks confused. "Three more... what?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"Rakshasa, you twit. The slaves are not slaves."

Permalink Mark Unread

 

Jojo slaps his forehead. "I'm an idiot."

Permalink Mark Unread

"I wouldn't say I'm a hundred percent on it, but he was improvising something for some reason."

Permalink Mark Unread

"I felt nothing off them, but of course that's to be expected, rakshasa have magic, they can cast nondetection-"

Permalink Mark Unread

"Jojo not need to beat self up. Jojo need to beat rakshasa up. After rest."

Permalink Mark Unread

Jojo nods firmly. "Shall we set up camp by the pool and the pedestals? It seems like the most defensible position available."

Permalink Mark Unread

"It's the spot to beat, yep. Suppose the water's drinkable?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"I wouldn't count on it."

They head over to the pool and set up camp. Belmarniss is once again on last watch, and is once again woken up by Garrus.

Would she like to read more of Deekin's book?

Permalink Mark Unread

Yup, spell prep intending on fighting rakshasas mostly and then Deekin's book.

Permalink Mark Unread

After killing Nora Blake, Alan returns to Drogan's home, infant in hand, and talks to his fellow apprentice Mischa Waymeet. She's another paladin, but she's about fourteen years old, and she looks up to him. He explains, numbly, that something terrible happened: that Nora Blake is dead, but he managed to rescue her son. He gives the boy to Mischa to care for until the mess is over. She protests that she's hardly fit to care for a child; he agrees, but asks if she would have him carry an infant in his pack while slaying monsters. She reluctantly takes charge of the infant, and Alan sets out again.

He leaves Hilltop without incident, this time, and encounters a helpful arcane archer, who informs him that a group of the kobolds fled into the nearby Crypt of Ascalhorn after being assaulted by gnolls. He goes in, destroys some undead, and reaches the kobold encampment. The kobolds request that he help them escape the crypt, and in exchange they will give him the artifact they stole, a mummified hand once belonging to the lich Balpheron. Instead he slaughters them. He is furious with the kobolds for hurting his master, furious with his master for being hurt, furious with himself for being hurt in turn. He takes the mummified hand from the kobold leader's claw, and it whispers to him of a hidden power he could learn to wield: one that is less fickle than the holy wrath of a paladin, one that is more useful to his ends. He listens, and he thinks: can I afford to refuse? He takes his first step down the path of the blackguard.

Permalink Mark Unread

She wonders how Deekin got ahold of this story given that he doesn't seem to be present for the events. When he's up she asks.

Permalink Mark Unread

"Deekin come in a little later, not to worry. But Boss was surprisingly cooperative interviewee about stuff before Deekin show up. Deekin think Boss really wanted to get stuff off chest."

Permalink Mark Unread

"But he didn't have reasons for the whole start of darkness bit?"

Permalink Mark Unread

Deekin sighs. "Deekin never able to get straight answer on why Boss kill Nora Blake. Maybe 'keep baby' was mean joke, got out of hand. Maybe Boss think Nora be bad mother alone. Maybe maybe maybe."

Permalink Mark Unread

Nod.

Permalink Mark Unread

"Alright, are we ready to hit these probable bastards? I've got my arrows all lined up."

Permalink Mark Unread

"I'm set but we should have a plan."

Permalink Mark Unread

"We should. Uh, Shareesh seems like obvious bad news, Jojo should occupy him as much as possible. Depending on what his lackeys are like we might want to take them out early or just focus fire on the boss. What else?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"Deekin going to cast Shadowbard before fight," Deekin contributes. "Deekin only realize he had that spell when stuff start to go bad."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Enserric, do you have any powers you wanna mention? I seem to have leveled so I have some fourth level spells now but obviously only the ones I had written down in advance."

Permalink Mark Unread

"I stab things and channel their life force into my wielder in the form of healing energy, that's more or less my raison d'être. Regrettably, unless someone has the ability to sanctify my blade, I can't penetrate the hide of a rakshasa. They're tricky, those outsiders."

Permalink Mark Unread

Jojo clears his throat. "Fortunately, when I prayed to Tyr this morning he granted me a spell for that very purpose. It only lasts for a minute, but it should let all of our weapons penetrate their resistances like there was nothing there."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Good stuff. I've got Lesser Globe of Invulnerability now, I'll want to park in that for the fight insofar as I can."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Oh, that's a very good one. I'll stand by you and shoot anybody who tries to herd us out of it?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"Sounds good to me."

Permalink Mark Unread

Jojo takes the opportunity to cast Shield Other on Belmarniss from the Staff of Defense.

Permalink Mark Unread

Deekin casts Mage Armor on Jojo, as he definitely has every morning since they started adventuring together. "Belmarniss want Mage Armor too? Deekin got lots of first-level spells, usually not use them all."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Sure, thanks."

Permalink Mark Unread

Deekin Mage Armors Belmarniss, then. "Belmarniss got long-term spells to cast before party heads back to root out rakshasa?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"Fox's Cunning, Fox's Cunning. Cat's Grace." Eyeroll. "Protection from Evil."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Thanks," Garrus says of the Cunning.

Permalink Mark Unread

And Jojo leads them back to the rakshasa lair. "Short-term spells, before we move in?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"Haste," Deekin incants.

Permalink Mark Unread

Belmarniss decides to go ahead and use a shield out of the staff, then poises to cast her shiny new sorcerer form of dispel magic with her left hand, and with the right she thumbs-ups.

Permalink Mark Unread

"Sanctify Weapons," he incants, before yanking open the door. "We're here to destroy you, minions of evil!"

Shareesh sighs heavily, shimmering into the form of a rakshasa. "I suppose I owe you their hearts, Ranveer, Amol," he says, looking bored. The two men behind him, now tiger-headed fiends themselves, perform a strange gesture, striking the backs of their hands together. "Let's collect, shall we? Haste."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Dispel Magic. Quickened steal breath."

Permalink Mark Unread

Shareesh looks very indignant to be counterspelled! The Steal Breath slides off his spell resistance.

Jojo lunges for Shareesh, who twirls a double-bladed sword coruscating with electricity. However, with a swift kick to the crotch, Jojo lowers the rakshasa's guard and gets in three swift strikes, which seem to really hurt.

Permalink Mark Unread

Garrus, seeing that Jojo seems to have the leader under control, turns his aim on the first of his minions. He looses a total of six arrows.

All six find their target. The rakshasa drops. "Yes," Garrus hisses gleefully.

Permalink Mark Unread

The second minion looks absolutely enraged, and turns a Cone of Cold on the party.

Deekin is struck full-force; Garrus is clipped. Belmarniss takes a pretty significant hit.

Deekin continues humming, running in to stab the second minion with Enserric. He only manages to pink him, but it's a victory for the kobold regardless.

Permalink Mark Unread

"Lesser Globe of Invulnerability. Quickened Burning Disarm," she adds, of the electric sword.

Permalink Mark Unread

Shareesh grits his teeth and holds on to the burning blade, turning it on Jojo. He swings it so fast it can hardly be seen blurring through the air, but Jojo dodges every strike and returns the favor with his own attacks. He hits once, twice, three times, and Shareesh crumples.

Permalink Mark Unread

And Garrus fills the third rakshasa with arrows, and he falls.

"Wow that was easier than that last fight," he says happily. "I loved that."

Permalink Mark Unread

"If I'd known it would be that fast I would have made different tactical choices."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Better to be overprepared than underprepared, I'd say."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Deekin detecting illusion magic," Deekin says, "hang on."

Deekin casts Dispel, revealing... a sizable mound of humanoid bones in the corner, gnawed clean by feline teeth. "Ooh. Deekin will search for loot."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Best part." Belmarniss mends her pants where the cone of cold froze and shattered the fabric.

Permalink Mark Unread

Garrus, investigating the rakshasa themselves, comes up with a Ring of Spell Storing, a Ring of Wizardry, and an Amulet of Proof against Detection. He hefts the double-bladed sword for a moment, then hisses and drops it. "That's either Unholy or Axiomatic," he says, shaking his hand out, "and I think either means it might be worth it to carry around long enough to get it to a dealer. Thoughts?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"Stuff it in Deekin's bag?" she asks, taking off her ring of protection to investigate the ring of spell storing's contents.

Permalink Mark Unread

It contains a casting of Vampiric Shadow Shield.

"We could wrap it in cloth so it doesn't puncture the interior, yeah."

Permalink Mark Unread

Deekin, from the bone pile, comes up with a Sustaining Spoon, a Decanter of Endless Water, and a slightly battered tome which turns out to be a spellbook. "Ooh. Deekin think Belmarniss want to look at this, maybe?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"Ooh yes I do."

Permalink Mark Unread

The spellbook contains: spells! Its previous owner seems to have been an abjurer, with a habit of doodling on the pages. Stoneskin has little diamonds, Black Tentacles a small octopus, Baleful Polymorph a puppy.

Permalink Mark Unread

Cute. She will transcribe these when they camp.

"Who wants the Spell Storing? It's full right now. And anybody want the Protection?"

Permalink Mark Unread

Jojo takes the ring of spell storing, while Deekin takes the ring of protection.

Garrus is squinting at a spot on the wall; he pushes on it and it pops out, revealing a secret compartment containing a silver coffer. “Garrus wins again!”

He opens the coffer and beholds the contents. “Wow. That is a lot of diamonds.”

Permalink Mark Unread

"Ooooh." Belmarniss puts on the Ring of Wizardry and does a little dance that only appears to include her arms from the elbows down about it.

Permalink Mark Unread

And, searching the bones, Deekin finds the final puzzle chain. “Huzzah! And heroes continued to next layer of sinister dungeon!”

Permalink Mark Unread

"Should we check the south end? There must be something there if the rakshasa didn't just go and get their doodad themselves, though I guess if they wanted to avoid it maybe we do too."

Permalink Mark Unread

"We can, if it seems wise. My objection to letting a portal to the surface stand open in Undermountain remains, and we can't really trust the rakshasa that it could be closed. Is there another reason to go south?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"Oh, yeah, I don't want to open a portal, I'm just kinda curious what was keeping them from doing it."

Permalink Mark Unread

"...I will admit to some curiosity myself, but I do not know if that is reason enough to investigate a potential danger rather than continuing with our quest."

Permalink Mark Unread

"That's legit. Maybe if I end a day with my ring spell free I'll scry it sometime."

Permalink Mark Unread

They head back to the pool and the pedestals. Deekin winches the four chains into place, and the pool suddenly swirls with colors.

The colors keep coming in the same pattern: red, green, yellow, green, blue, yellow, repeat.

"Halaster really good at wasting people's time, maybe not so good at making hard puzzles," Deekin mutters, pulling on the chains in sequence.

Permalink Mark Unread

"At least it's not the one with the three posts and the discs," Garrus says. "I hate that one."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Think we'll get sliding blocks?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"I pray to any god on offer that we don't."

Permalink Mark Unread

The door pops open, revealing another stairwell. Jojo takes point, and they descend into an unworked cavern.

A drow woman steps out of the shadows, holding up her empty hands. "Please, hold your weapons... and your mighty fists, Jojo. I mean you no harm."

Permalink Mark Unread

Belmarniss is super ready to counter spells here but. "Whaddaya got."

Permalink Mark Unread

The stranger breathes a sigh of relief. "My name is Nathyrra. And you're Belmarniss, are you not?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"Love to know where you're getting your intel."

Permalink Mark Unread

She smiles slightly. "Perhaps your reputation precedes you. How many visitors does Toril get from other planets, after all? But my purpose in visiting you was not to tease you with information I can't share, but to share the information I can. Do you have any specific questions for me, or should I start with what I think you'll want to know?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"Why can't you share all your information?" says Belmarniss promptly.

Permalink Mark Unread

"I don't fully trust you yet," Nathyrra says frankly. "My sources say you're important, but I don't know you, and while you've demonstrated ample competence, that's not a guarantee you won't turn on us, and if I shared everything I knew it could be disastrous for my people."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Who're your people?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"Drow, naturally, but not like the ones who have invaded Undermountain and attack the surface. We are... rebels. We want to help you free Halaster so you can stop the forces of the Valsharess from attacking Waterdeep."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Gonna be honest with you, Halaster sounds like a dick."

Permalink Mark Unread

Nathyrra laughs, and looks surprised by the sound. "Um. Yes, I would say that's accurate, but he's also a known quantity. In the centuries Halaster has existed, his influence has remained almost entirely contained within Undermountain. The Valsharess, on the other hand, seeks world conquest, which is in our opinion a larger problem than the occasional kidnapping perpetrated by the mad mage."

Permalink Mark Unread

"I concede this ordering. How'd Halaster get got and what's going to stop him from getting got again?"

Permalink Mark Unread

She shrugs. "That's something we don't know. It might have been some kind of trap that preyed upon his madness. Or maybe she used his notorious arrogance to ensnare him. She's keeping him alive, that much we know. She's probably afraid of what will happen to Undermountain if he dies. But she's been very careful to make sure he can't get out, as well. If the wizard breaks free, there's no way the Valsharess will be able to maintain control over Undermountain; in his own realm, Halaster is a match for anyone, and he won't let himself get tricked again."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Is freeing him safe for those in proximity?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"Not for the Valsharess's minions, but he's got enough of a grip on his faculties to recognize who's on whose side if they've just been fighting in front of him."

Permalink Mark Unread

"What sort of mad is he, can you be more specific?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"He's erratic in his behavior from one moment to the next; sometimes he rewards bravery, for instance, and other times he punishes it, and no one can predict what kind of mood he'll be in. He's also, well, the kind of person who would create Undermountain: he's delighted by suffering, and he doesn't mind spending his resources to cause it. And, though this is probably more of a symptom than a madness in itself, he speaks exclusively in rhyme."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Does he scan, too? - that one's not really an important question. Not reassuring me that he'll greet us as liberators though. Were the wizard and guards minding the door here yours or hers?"

Permalink Mark Unread

Nathyrra grins. "By all accounts he doesn't scan. But as I said, while he might not reward you appropriately for rescuing him, I doubt very much that he'll attack you. And I'm staking my life on that too - I plan to join you for that particular assault. The guards were the Valsharess's servants."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Mm-hm. Doesn't anyone else have any questions about our prospective Halaster-springing backup here?"

Permalink Mark Unread

Deekin raises his hand. "How Nathyrra spell name?"

Nathyrra spells it for him.

Permalink Mark Unread

"I mean, my question is 'how do we know you won't stab us in the back', but I'm aware that's kind of hard to answer. So I guess, 'do you have any proof whatsoever that you're not leading us into a trap'?"

Nathyrra nods. "Good question. As I’m sure you know, anything I tell you could be leading you into peril. But I think you might appreciate the knowledge that there is a secret passage past the upcoming camp of the Valsharess’s drow.”

She details the secret passage and how to go through it. “You could just fight your way through, of course,” she says, “but I’ve always preferred to avoid any fight I didn’t have to take.”

Permalink Mark Unread

"I mean, sure, that's good intel, unless you have just described what is actually a secret passage into some trap or ambush, so it doesn't address Garrus's question very effectively."

Permalink Mark Unread

Nathyrra sighs. "Well, I'd hoped to save this for a later date, but..." She slowly, obviously removes a scroll from her belt pouch and underhand-tosses it to Jojo. "Tyr's Truthtelling," she says. "You can cast it on me, I won't resist, and you can ask me to verify that everything I've said to you has been truthful and I don't intend to lie to you. And any other questions you care to verify, though I reserve the right to hold my answer."

"Where did you get a copy of this spell?" Jojo asks. "Drow aren't known for their Tyr-worship, even drow rebels."

"It's a first-level cleric spell," Nathyrra says. "Even on the blackest of black markets, a first-level spell scroll can't command that high a price."

Permalink Mark Unread

"I was just thinking I wish I had a way to cast the Abadar version from home."

Permalink Mark Unread

Jojo uses the scroll. For a moment, Nathyrra has marble-black skin and wings, but the illusion fades, leaving only the scales of Tyr floating above her head.

"Have you lied to us?" Jojo asks.

"No," Nathyrra says immediately.

"Do you intend to lie to us at any point?

"Not only do I not intend to, I do not know of any circumstances under which I would lie to you."

"Do you intend to cause us harm?"

"I have no intention of harming you unless you harm me first, in which case I will do everything in my power to get away."

Jojo considers. "Do we have other questions?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"Do you believe you'd know about it if you were a patsy?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"Yes. There's only one person I could reasonably be a patsy to, and I trust her implicitly; she's sacrificed a great deal for me."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Why do you think I'm so important?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"The person who I trust implicitly has sources more reliable than my own, and she says you could mean the difference between the Valsharess conquering Toril and being defeated."

Permalink Mark Unread

"What do you plan to do while we continue through the dungeon until the encounter you want in on?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"Scout out the Valsharess's minions and see if there's something we can do about the small army of drow surrounding Halaster. I wanted to reveal myself as soon as you got here, so that we could be on the same page, but I only arrived relatively recently myself, and my scouting is not yet complete."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Arrived from where?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"The Underdark. The rebel base, specifically, the location of which I hope you'll forgive me if I don't immediately reveal."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Wasn't gonna ask."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Thank you. Sorry. Truth magic always makes me slightly defensive."

Permalink Mark Unread

"That's legit. What else do you think we might want to know?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"I was going to save this for after we liberated Halaster, but actually I suspect you'd appreciate knowing it now - I have a second mission, which is to attempt to convince you to come back with me to the Underdark and help defeat the Valsharess."

"All of us, or just Belmarniss?" Garrus asks.

"All of you but Belmarniss especially."

"I feel so special," Garrus says drily.

Permalink Mark Unread

"Is there a reason we can't go there and do that first? Just haven't leveled enough, or -"

Permalink Mark Unread

"Except for the rare occasions when the Valsharess takes to the field herself, she spends her time in a more or less impregnable fortress in her capital city of Menzoberranzan. Our plan is to weaken her forces in the Underdark and taunt her until she's forced to attack us in person, making her vulnerable. Having Undermountain open while we do this would give her the option to ignore us and focus on Waterdeep, giving her a foothold in the surface world. Which would be bad."

Permalink Mark Unread

"And she can't just ignore you if she doesn't have an alternative angle of attack? Why not?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"We don't intend to give her the option," Nathyrra says. "We've identified several key supports for her army, and even as we speak our agents are sabotaging them. If she ignores us, her forces will crumble out from under her. Add to that the fact that her army will devour its own tail if she sits on it too long, and the fact that the Valsharess is actually a very spiteful and impulsive person, and it's practically guaranteed that if we're the only target around she'll come for us."

Permalink Mark Unread

"How's she maintain an army like that?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"She is powerful enough to cover for her faults... which, considering the magnitude of her faults, says something about how powerful she is. And she knows to delegate most of the actual work."

Permalink Mark Unread

"How powerful is she?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"As recently as a few months ago, no moreso than any other Matron Mother. Which is to say, ruthless and powerful, but kept in check by her peers. But then Lolth, Queen of Spiders and goddess of the drow, disappeared... and drow society was thrown into utter chaos. The Valsharess seized on this opportunity. She summoned a powerful Duke of the Nine Hells, an archdevil she bound to her service. Drawing on this enslaved devil's power, she became a conqueror of the Underdark."

Permalink Mark Unread

"An archdevil? That's, uh, unexpected based on my planet's drow situation. I guess less so if she's enslaving him. Any idea what happened to Lolth?"

Permalink Mark Unread

“We don't know. What we do know is that her clerics are not receiving spells, her layer of the Abyss is sealed to entry, and the society she ruled with an iron fist has descended into chaos."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Wow. Uh, what will happen to the power vacuum if and when the Valsharess is out of the picture?"

Permalink Mark Unread

Nathyrra winces. "Still a lot of chaos, to be perfectly honest, but inwardly rather than outwardly focused. The other major matron mothers were exterminated by the Valsharess, and the minor ones aren't powerful enough to take control of a significant chunk of the drow population like she did, so there won't be a conquering army rolling across the Underdark, which is preferable to there being one, we think. I'm expecting to be very busy in the aftermath, propping up the least loathsome candidates."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Exciting. Okay, I think I'm sold."

Permalink Mark Unread

"I'm glad. Do you have any other questions, or shall I return to scouting?"

"Who are you really?" Enserric asks. "Because you're not a scout, you know too much."

Nathyrra blinks. "Oh - that wasn't an intentional omission, actually, I just didn't happen to mention it. I'm the rebel spymaster. Not the only one, of course, but I'm probably the most important."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Is there a way we can identify who's with you and who's lying to save their skins?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"We don't use double agents much - our spies are typically either invisibly watching our enemies, or scriers who stay far from the action. Any double agents who do exist aren't going to be tramping around Undermountain with her footsoldiers."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Okay, but if we find someone who isn't planted among an obvious Valsharess contingent and they're like 'I'm with the rebels, help', how do we tell."

Permalink Mark Unread

"It's unlikely... but not impossible. Oh, I know, you can ask them 'Who does your house serve?' They might say 'the Seer' or 'Eilistraee' if they're faking, but if they're an actual follower of Eilistraee - or they've been around them long enough - they'll know the answer is 'My house serves all who have need'. You'd think it'd be obvious, but most drow find such an answer surprisingly unintuitive."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Cool, good to know. I might look into this Eilistraee character later but it seems not the time."

Permalink Mark Unread

"She's been a very positive influence on my life. But yes, let's save the evangelism for a later date."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Would it be out of your way to show us down the secret passage?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"Not at all," she says.

She leads them to the passage, which as promised is within earshot but not line of sight of the drow encampment. Then she leads them through the passage, and they're past the encampment.

Permalink Mark Unread

"Thanks!"

Permalink Mark Unread

"Thank you," she responds. "Halaster's being held to the east. I'll do my best to find a way around or through the guard post before we next meet." With that, she vanishes back into the shadows.

"Well, that was enlightening," Garrus says.

Permalink Mark Unread

"Enlightening?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"The whole question-and-answer session? We at least know we're not alone, and that for some reason you're extra special. Also that Halaster's being held to the east, apparently."

Permalink Mark Unread

"I don't know why I'm extra special besides being from another planet, or I'd tell you, unless I suppose there was a good reason not to. So far I haven't noticed any extraplanetarynesses of mine that seem to matter."

Permalink Mark Unread

"No ancient secret arcane lore from your homeworld you inexplicably haven't used in any of our fights? No mysterious relic you can't seem to get rid of, arcane tattoo you don't remember getting, conspicuously crown-shaped birthmark?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"Uh, I do have a cursed item that somebody probably snuck into my bag soon after I landed on Toril but it doesn't seem to do anything besides sneak back whenever I dump it. I feel bad for the guy I sold it to before I realized."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Ooh. Mysterious cursed item a classic."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Yep, that settles it, you're our protagonist. Deekin, make a note."

Permalink Mark Unread

Deekin makes a note.

Permalink Mark Unread

"I don't know what it has to do with anything but I guess I might not, sure."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Mysterious item turning out to be important very old trope. Deekin not totally convinced of significance, just going with Garrus's bit mostly."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Do you guys want a look at it?"

Permalink Mark Unread

Deekin nods firmly.

Permalink Mark Unread

She pulls out the weird cursed arrowhead.

Permalink Mark Unread

Deekin squints at it. "...no aura," he says finally. "Weird! But somehow cursed anyway?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"Sure, you wanna swipe it and watch it reappear in my bag next time I get my spellbook?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"Sure!"

Deekin takes the arrowhead and puts it in one of his belt pouches.

Permalink Mark Unread

"Should we get moving towards Halaster? We don't know how long we'll have to travel."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Yeah, good plan."

Permalink Mark Unread

So they do.

They run into a handful of drow along the way, scouting parties for the Valsharess. None of them claim to be rebels; they just start shooting. They're pretty easily dispatched.

Permalink Mark Unread

And eventually they can camp out for the night.

Permalink Mark Unread

Deekin checks his belt pouch; as Belmarniss said, the arrowhead is gone. "Cool! Deekin have to wonder how it teleport without magic aura... maybe just Undetectable Aura? Would be boring, but pretty straightforward."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Maybe it's actually some kind of crustacean, and when nobody's looking it reveals its legs and scuttles back over to her."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Ew!"

Permalink Mark Unread

"I work with the evidence we have!"

They get ready for bed, and for their respective watches. Soon enough it's time for more Shadows of Undrentide.

Permalink Mark Unread

Alan feels conflicted about being a blackguard. On the one hand, it's against everything Drogan taught him, and he feels bad for betraying his teacher (in a way; it's all in the service of stopping the bastards who almost killed him, right?). On the other hand, it feels right. He's powerful, as powerful as he ever was when he was a paladin, and there's no stupid unintuitive rules getting in his way. He can crush his enemies just as efficiently as before (the kobolds aren't subject to Smite Good, but they mostly weren't subject to Smite Evil either). He feels right, for the first time in his life, and it's all because he did the wrong thing.

He encounters a lone kobold on the road. The kobold is frightened of him, but forces itself to speak to him anyway. Introduces itself as Deekin, says it took one of the artifacts from Drogan's home. He asks why he shouldn't kill it now. Deekin says, reasonably, that if he kills it he'll never find the artifact, because it hid the artifact in a place no one else knows about. In exchange for the artifact, Deekin says he must talk to its master, the great white dragon Tymofarrar, and convince him to free the kobold from his service, and forgive it for breaking the artifact. Alan accepts this offer with bad grace, and heads off to visit the dragon's lair.

In the upper reaches of the dragon's lair, he finds a tribe of kobolds. They attack him, fearing the strange human, and he slaughters them to the last hatchling and continues deeper into the mountain, where he finds the dragon Tymofarrar. Tymofarrar, feeling generous, explains that the attack wasn't originally his idea, and that in fact it was orchestrated by the Fey'ri sorceress J'Nah. Alan requests that Tymofarrar release Deekin from his service, and Tymofarrar makes a request of him in turn: kill J'Nah, and the dragon will grant Alan a boon.

Permalink Mark Unread

What a bloodbath.

Permalink Mark Unread

Nathyrra considerately waits until everybody is awake before appearing out of the shadows.

"Hi!" Deekin says brightly.

"Hello again," Nathyrra says. "I have some good news."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Oh yeah?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"You remember the army of drow guarding Halaster? Apparently they brought artillery emplacements."

"This doesn't sound like good news yet," Garrus says.

"The artillery emplacements have three hundred and sixty degrees of rotation, and could be pointed at their war camp."

"There we go," Garrus says happily.

Permalink Mark Unread

Snort. "How many artillery emplacements, how are they guarded, what are the numbers like, all that good stuff -"

Permalink Mark Unread

"There are two, placed atop a ledge to the north of the camp with a bottleneck ramp up to it. The bottleneck is guarded, but I found yet another of those secret passages that leads right onto the plateau; its entrance is also guarded but less heavily, and if we can take those guards down fast enough they won't know we're coming. There are about fifty drow in the camp, most of them low-level crossbow- or swordswomen but with more than a few mid-level wizards and clerics, and about a dozen duergar mercenaries. You can probably see why I don't relish the thought of a head-on fight."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Yeah that'd be kind of a mess."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Conveniently, though, the artillery emplacements are very effective. They accept an offensive spell of up to sixth level from a caster and Maximize it. They can only be used once per minute each, but a maximized Chain Lightning, applied appropriately, could take out about a third of the enemy forces. Combine the artillery with the bottleneck up to the ledge and the ample cover up there, and the enemy’s advantage starts to look slim.”

Permalink Mark Unread

"Don't have Chain Lightning."

Permalink Mark Unread

“I do.”

“What? I thought you were a rogue.”

Nathyrra smiles. “That’s not entirely a misconception, but it’s dangerous to make assumptions in the Underdark - even relatively grounded ones. I am trained in the arts of stealth, yes, but my primary calling is as a wizard.”

Permalink Mark Unread

"Okay, is there a whole strategic plan we're slotting into here?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"Essentially: we assault the tunnel entrance, allowing no one to escape. We take the plateau from the two gunners on duty - they're high-level, but they are wizards without significant support and we will have the element of surprise, so the party should be able to take them. You and I use the artillery to take out as many of the clustered drow as possible, ideally centering the effect on their captains. From there, we defend the plateau, and when the artillery recharges, we use it again to take out the remaining soldiers."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Okay, solid."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Good. We're currently entering the period when the most of them sleep, which is why I revealed myself now; if we assault the tunnel entrance within the next few minutes, we can take the plateau during their off-hours and have that advantage on top of our plan."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Wow, okay, I guess I'm prepped for it as I get but I wish I'd known last night this was happening on this time scale."

Permalink Mark Unread

"I'm sorry. We don't strictly have to do it now, but I worry about excessive delay."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Yeah I can cope just notes for, uh, any future occasions when you enlist a party of adventurers to help you attack a small army."

Permalink Mark Unread

"A situation I certainly hope won't come up again, yes. At least not under this kind of time pressure."

Nathyrra leads them to the entrance to the tunnel. As she said, it's guarded; two swordswomen appear to be playing a sign-language-based word association game. Nathyrra twists a ring on her finger to turn invisible; after about twenty seconds one of the guards collapses like a ragdoll, and Nathyrra reappears only to immediately cut the other's throat. Then she bends down and cuts the first one's throat too.

She beckons the party onward.

Permalink Mark Unread

Yikes. Okay.

Permalink Mark Unread

At the end of the tunnel, there's a large rock. Nathyrra whispers, "There will be two wizards. I can kill one of them. Garrus, can you take the second?"

Permalink Mark Unread

Garrus nods. "That is kind of my job," he whispers.

Permalink Mark Unread

"Ideally we'll be able to take the artillery emplacements before anyone notices we're here - except the wizards, of course, but they shouldn't live long enough to raise the alarm. Then we can cast our short-term beneficial spells before the first strike, and defend the plateau until the emplacements recharge. Any questions?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"Longer buffs now?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"Yes."

Nathyrra casts Heroism for Garrus and Jojo both, and Magic Circle against Evil for Deekin.

Permalink Mark Unread

Belmarniss takes a shield and a mage armor out of the staff, Foxes Garrus.

Permalink Mark Unread

Nathyrra turns her ring and ever-so-carefully rolls the rock out of the way. After a few seconds there's a soft crack, and the wizard in front of the closer artillery piece crumples.

Permalink Mark Unread

The other wizard turns to see what's going on, only to be filled with arrows. He, too, falls.

Garrus crawls out of the crawlspace, followed by the rest of the party. They stay low; the plateau has some artificial cover, probably from Stone Shape, which they're staying behind.

Permalink Mark Unread

"You doing both artilleries?" asks Belmarniss.

Permalink Mark Unread

"It would be better if we fired both at once, to catch the maximum number of sleeping drow - but if you don't have any major area-of-effect damage spells, I can take both."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Got diamond spray, but I didn't know if they had to fire right away."

Permalink Mark Unread

"They do. Diamond Spray should be fine, it'll take out the guards below and give us a bit of breathing room."

Permalink Mark Unread

Belmarniss nods and stands ready.

Permalink Mark Unread

Deekin casts Haste on everyone.

Permalink Mark Unread

And Nathyrra, after a countdown, casts Chain Lightning on a sleeping drow about five hundred feet away.

The crackling lightning rips through eighteen drow in total. They die in their sleep, except for one who resists the spell, and the origin, who survives if only barely.

Permalink Mark Unread

Belmarniss does her Diamond Spray at the same moment.

Permalink Mark Unread

Which shreds some more drow (and duergar) at the bottom of the cliff.

After that, things descend into chaos a bit. There are drow waking up, picking up weapons, and rushing towards the ramp. There are also a handful of drow and duergar who were already up, cleaning weapons or praying or on guard duty, and they're also rushing towards the cliff. Garrus picks some of them off, but there's too many of them for that to keep them away for long.

It's at this point, once a decent chunk of the army has advanced on their position, that Nathyrra casts her second spell: "Transmute Rock to Mud."

Suddenly, two dozen drow sink up to their waists in an enormous pool of mud. The chaos intensifies in their favor; some of the drow are still advancing, but it's slow, since they're having to swim through thick muck. Some of the others, outside the mud, try to take potshots at the party, but with the party taking cover behind the chest-high wall around the plateau, they're not having much luck.

Permalink Mark Unread

Belmarniss fills the bottleneck with a river of wind.

Permalink Mark Unread

This combination of effects makes the wait until the artillery recharges almost leisurely. Garrus continues poking over the wall to shoot promising-looking targets, and crossbow bolts plink off his armor, but his timing is unpredictable and he's heavily armored enough that none of them do significant damage.

Once the artillery has recharged, Nathyrra pops off a Delayed Blast Fireball. She doesn't bother delaying the explosion, just blasts the army into ash and the mud into baked clay.

"I think that might have taken out everyone," she says. She casts Clairvoyance to check. "I'm not seeing anyone left alive, and I'm seeing a lot of bodies."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Rah."

Permalink Mark Unread

She nods sadly. "I don't enjoy the killing either. Not since I found Eilistraee. I just have to remind myself it's in pursuit of a greater goal."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Is it evangelism time or do we need to move on?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"It's not evangelism time just yet. Halaster's being held by a powerful cleric, one of the Valsharess's personal handmaidens. She's got two high-level wizards with her, and eight crossbowers. I think we should-"

Her eyes flick to the empty air on the ramp and widen. "Wait- someone's-"

A voice says "Finger of Death." There's a moment of agony, and Belmarniss...

Permalink Mark Unread

Wakes up somewhere else.

"Greetings, Sojourner," says a resonant voice. "How may I serve you?"

Permalink Mark Unread

 

"You can explain."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Certainly. What would you like me to explain?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"Where am I? I've been morbidly curious if I get remanded to Pharasma or locally managed, if I die here. Did I die or is this a weird hallucination spell?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"This is the Gatehouse, an offshoot of the Fugue Plane, the realm of the dead." He gestures to the many doors lining the walls of the chamber in which they stand. "You are welcome here, Sojourner, as you bear my Relic. And you have not truly perished; I pulled you to this realm at the very moment before your death, and as soon as you are ready I can send you back."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Your relic? ...weird cursed arrowhead?"

Permalink Mark Unread

It's hard to tell, but the strange figure seems to be smiling. "The very thing. It is not cursed, in a conventional sense; it is merely bound to you, as I am bound to it, and as this place is bound to me."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Why?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"That I do not know," he says. "There have been others who it has bound itself to in this manner, but I have never known its exact criteria; I am certainly not its master."

Permalink Mark Unread

"And it lets you - yank me from right before I died - and you're going to send me back - where presumably he just kills me again, if it's the very moment before I die?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"Not quite. I retrieved you from the moment before you died, yes, but I can return you to the moment after you died - his attack will seemingly have had no effect. Had you been injured before you came here, you would have noticed that your wounds would heal over. In addition, should you come to me low on your arcane reserves, you may rest in my realm and prepare your spells anew. The only limit on this power is that it can happen at maximum once per celestial day - suffer a fatal injury twice in the same twenty-four hours, and you will be as dead as anyone else. Which is, of course, not insurmountable, but it is certainly less convenient than my ministrations."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Huh.

Do you happen to know about the 'extradition to Pharasma' question?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"I believe that you would be 'locally managed', to use your term, and sent to the afterlife appropriate to your alignment and worship."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Alignment and what now."

Permalink Mark Unread

"A worshipper matching the alignment of their god is sent to that god's domain. A worshipper with an alignment mismatch is sent to a more appropriate realm for their leaning. A nonbeliever... is sent to the Wall of the Faithless."

There's an old, dull resentment in his voice as he says this.

Permalink Mark Unread

"I believe they exist, I'm not psychotic, I'm just, uh.

 

Rah, rah, Eilistraee, you sound super cool, do you take refugees."

Permalink Mark Unread

"It's something of a habit of hers, yes," the figure says. "She can't hear you at the moment, though; the Gatehouse is beyond her concern. You may want to discuss it with your traveling companion when you return to the world of the living."

Permalink Mark Unread

"I will absolutely discuss it with my traveling companion. Wow, I hate Pharasma's guts but this manages to be worse, congratulations! Okay, so... why are you grabbing possesors of your arrowhead? How did I get your arrowhead in the first place?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"I am bound to the relic, as it is bound to you. I know this is not a full answer to your question, but it is the only answer I can give. And as I said, I do not know for certain the mechanism by which the relic chooses its masters."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Only answer you can give me because why."

Permalink Mark Unread

The figure considers what he can say. "I am not the master of my own fate," he says eventually. "I am many things: the Reaper, the Gatherer of Dust, the Gatekeeper. But I am bound by ancient laws, which tell me what I can say and what I can do."

Permalink Mark Unread

"On the whole are you helping me because you have to or are you on my side more generally?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"An interesting question," the Reaper says thoughtfully. "There are, as I said, limits to how much I can do... but I think I would like to be on your side."

Permalink Mark Unread

"I appreciate that and in particular it makes me more comfortable about falling asleep here. How are you getting your info on me in general?"