Wild Abandon

Dream a Little Dream
Chapter 51

In the Astral Plane

Bakus; scared of Jim; eat dreamstuff, craves paint

Astral conduit; pray; snaps and souls pour out; cords "fix" conduit

Brublind hops into Dirty Willy's dream, eats trash; Rorik looms over Dirty Willy, Demogorgon face under visor, "Oh thank god, I thought you were the other guy!"; Brublind walks away and is pulled under trash by tentacle "The most delicious thing here is you~"; Rorik slices Willy in half with a NAT 20—BOOM

Brublind and Rorik fire out of dream like shooting stars, Jimothy sighs and follows after them with 'Locate Creature'

Brublind and Rorik crash into building. Rorik slams into wall, but Brublind goes through and lands on floor. People scream and run out. Rorik comes inside, sits down and reads while Brublind stops freaking out—he's having a moment

Silhouettes appear in hole—Quasar and Comet! They are protectors of this town and ask who party are

"We are the dreamers." Brublind starts going on about how each world has a dreamer who maintains the dream, and that he and Rorik are dream people. Comet is interested, Quasar sees through it. Brublind offers Comet a vegemite sandwich made out of shiftspice. "Wow, this is awful. Quasar, you want some?" "Wha—you just said it was awful, why would I want some?!"

Quasar tosses her moon shield and knocks Rorik through the opposite wall, pinning him down. She walks out to question him. Seeing things are getting hostile, Brublind gives a sign of good will by fabricating the holes closed again. The wall goes up in front of Comet. Oh… okay. Rorik assuages Quasar's fears and tells her what's up.

Jim crashes into water next to island where the village is, "That is the dreaded Jimothius, beware him." Rorik gives Brublind a look like "WTF". Quasar and Comet posing as Jimothy comes out of water. They have a pose off. Quasar beats Jimothy. There is a suddenly a bell, and eyes go up to a githyanki ship approaching the village!

Party hide, while Quasar and Comet go to meet the githyanki. There's an exchange, and the party mask their presence with magic to prevent the hracknir from finding them. The githyanki leave. It turns out, the githyanki defend the town, but only in exchange for all kinds of goods they fish up from the water bubble the island floats upon.

Villagers come out and say hello to party. They learn that this is a sanctuary for people with terminal illnesses and those who have been poisoned, where they can live free of their afflictions, since there are no biological processes on the Astral Plane. Rorik learns that he is suffering from a death curse. So is everyone else, but Jim is protected, as is Brublind (since he's a slaad)—meanwhile, Rorik is dying, as his soul has been splintered. They scry on Breezy using Brublind's crystal ball and see her inside an "egg" inside a room on the Astral Plane somewhere.

Comet points out that gith hracknir's collect psychic energy readings inside touchstones and that one of these might point them to where Breezy is at. Quasar warns them that if they intend to go to the nearby githyanki citadel, if they get caught, they know nothing about this village. She and Comet are this place's protectors…!

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Fafnir, Far, Wherever You Are
Chapter 50

Brublind arrives at the foot of the mountain where Fafnir resides as his companions plunge into the icy cavern far overhead. He summons a brown bear from his Bag of Tricks, casts 'Longstrider' on it, and begins the climb.

The name 'Fafnir' rings a bell to the transmuter. He recalls a tale told in his old clan of an unparalleled architect named Farrin Kofir. It's said that Farrin and his brothers helped build The Archlight that the Black Antlers now call home, among many other architectural wonders, and that they grew so rich off their trade that they lived in a house made of solid gold and glittering gems. Farrin came to love gold so much that when he felt a client had cheated him, he did everything in his power to destroy them. Eventually, one such client offered Farrin a great treasure to "make amends"—the Ring of Andvari, an artifact created by a legendary magician with the ability to transmute any metal into gold! Farrin killed the man and happily took his prize. Little did the dwarf realize the terrible curse the Ring carried with it, and it is said that his greed consumed him so wholly that his body transformed to reflect his inner nature—Farrin Kofir became the dragon, Fafnir.

Brublind's reverie is broken by an explosion from somewhere overhead, followed by a roar. Surrounded as he is by thick clouds, the slaad doesn't see the enormous chunks of falling ice until they're almost upon him!

"Look out, Blaine!"

Brublind's brown bear is able to zip out of the way and scurry up the cliffside to a ledge, where he finds Jimothy Jones lying unconscious among the remains of an icy pillar, and Mye-kuhl Jancer huddled in a corner, staring at his foot with frustration as he tap, tap, taps it like a metronome.

Meanwhile, the unconscious Jimothy hears the sibilant voice he heard before whispering in his ear.

"I told you it would happen again. While you're here, unable to move, unable to do anything—they…" Jimothy sees the faces of his comrades, "… are going to die. Unless of course, you want my help?" A hand reaches down to the prone Jimothy. The paladin looks up to the figure it belongs to, shadowed by a bright light behind it, nods, and takes the hand. The figure leans forward to reveal its face—Pazuzu!

The demon lord gives a mock bow. "Your wish is my command, 'martyr'."

At that exact moment, Rorik slams into the ground at the foot of the mountain. But a moment later, his eyes pop back open. His entire body is in excruciating pain—the type of pain he hasn't felt since taking Kostchtchie's hammer to the face, but somehow, he survived the fall—and stranger still, he is conscious. He looks around to see the bodies of dead birds all around him in the snow, and finds feathers stuck in the cracks of his armor, as if the avians had broken his fall. He wonders aloud to Enrico (his raven familiar) what that's about, but suddenly remembers Breezy and rushes to make sure she is safe.

What he finds isn't comforting. His Bag of Holding, or rather, its tattered remains hang from an iron spike jutting from the earth, and there is no sign of Breezy whatsoever. Rorik feels his limbs go numb and all the blood leave his face. He falls to his knees in shock.

She's gone.

Up above, Brublind stands his ground as a tempest wind parts the pervasive clouds and batters the ledge, Fafnir beating his mighty wings to try and blow the rest of his foes off of the mountainside. Brublind is able to keep everyone anchored however with some creative use of 'Control Water' to manipulate the ice and snow. Fafnir lets out a growl and swoops in, clutching onto the cliff above the mouth of his cave. Suddenly, from off-camera, Jimothy leaps from the ground and onto the ancient dragon's head! (just to be clear—with 1 hit point)

Not expecting this, Fafnir loses his grip and slams into the ledge, nearly knocking Jancer, Brublind, and Billy the Brown Bear off! Brublind shouts over to the necrodancer, who's rhythmic tapping is broken by the sudden noise, and tells him to do something. Jancer smiles and hops up, pulling out his Wand of Wonder in one sweeping motion and letting out a happy "OO~" as a stream of hundreds upon thousands of butterflies burst from the tip of the rod, covering Fafnir and Jimothy in equal measures!

The supine dragon whips his tail across the ledge and claws at the butterflies as Jimothy unleashes another smite on the bastard. Fafnir roars in pain and rolls back onto his feet, having removed the bugs on his eyes. He stares with hatred at Brublind and swallows the dwarf whole before diving off the side of the mountain to try and throw the goliath off his back. But Jimothy activates his S.H.O.E.S. and digs his hooks in between the beast's scales, holding on for dear life as Fafnir rolls and flips in mid-air, trying to shake his attacker. Jimothy dodges the fiend's attacks and continues to batter into him.

Meanwhile, Brublind casts 'Etherealness' on himself and phases through Fafnir's throat, floating alongside the now plummeting dragon like a ghost. He got out of there just in time too, as the white dragon unleashes one final, desperate gout of frosty breath onto Jimothy. The goliath falls unconscious again, but Fafnir isn't able to stop himself as he crashes to the foot of the mountain, almost crushing Rorik beneath him!

Brublind floats over and feeds Jimothy a 'Goodberry', reawakening him just as Jancer and Benjamin the Brown Bear clamber down the cliffside. The bloody Fafnir rises weakly onto his legs and says,

"I… submit…"

Fafnir collapses into unconsciousness as the giants begin to gather around, chanting the name of their new king, Jimothy Jones! Jimothy holds a fist out to Rorik. The eldritch knight stares for a moment silently, and then bumps his Armor Bro back. He tells the party what happened to Breezy. But before there can be any discussion, Jimothy is crowd-surfed onto Fafnir's back, and the healers patch them all up—their job is not yet finished: Now they must destroy Graz'zt's army!

Taking off into the skies with the four heroes on his back, Fafnir swoops down towards the demonic host and sprays them with his frigid breath. The weaker demons are killed instantly. With the whipping winds preventing their vrock air support from taking flight, a pack of armanites group up instead, and fire off a static shock at the dragon that hits square and knocks the exhausted Jimothy back into unconsciousness. Brublind pops him another 'Goodberry' as they order Fafnir to dive, beating his wings and blowing shards of cold iron out of the snow and into the fiends, scattering them as the metal pierces and burns.

Just then, coming out of the blizzard, they spot one of Graz'zt's Ships of Chaos, struggling to stay aloft. They power-up their entropic cannon and fire it, but Fafnir's superior maneuverability in these conditions allows him to swoop out of the way. Reminded of their battle with Demogorgon, the Black Antlers command Fafnir to dig his claws into the enemy vessel.

"With pleasure!"

The ancient white dragon tears the Ship in half, snapping bone and tendons, and spilling hundreds of dretches out of the cargo hold to the ground far below, where their bloated bodies EXPLODE into clouds of poisonous gas! The remaining demons scatter at the sight of their weapon being destroyed, only to find themselves trapped in an encircling net of giants—all the disparate tribes of Kostchtchie's old army, come to hail their new lord and master!

They rest for the night amid celebrations led by Jancer, but Rorik insists that the party set out immediately to try and find Breezy the following dawn, injuries be damned. They are taken to the root of Yggdrasil so that they can begin the climb to the town of Crux, which has a portal to Sigil, where the party might be able to figure out what happened to Breezy. Jimothy tells his followers to hold the Iron Wastes for the day that he returns to lead them in full-out war against Graz'zt, and promises that, on that day, all the treasures of Azzagrat shall be theirs!

Reaching Crux that evening, Jimothy has to convince Rorik to rest there instead of heading through the portal to a place the locals call a "funeral world" immediately, which they learn is the path from here to Sigil. Meanwhile, Brublind admires the local woodworkers, who create incredibly impressive pieces, running into the party's old attache from Ysgard, Ash. Ash tells the slaad about how to listen to the great mother tree, as she will call out the art that he seeks to make, and DAMN DOES IT WORK, because Brublind makes a masterpiece that blows the dryad priestess and her colleagues away! He arranges to have it shipped to Kalfsgate.

The next morning, they pass through the so-called "funeral world", which their guide tells them is all that remains of the lost city of Moil, which worshipped many gods of death, before eventually falling prey to Orcus. When they tried to turn away from the Prince of Undeath, their entire city was torn from the face of the Prime Material and cast into some pocket dimension for all time, so Orcus could play with them forever more. With Orcus dead, none know where Moil now lies, though it is said that it still holds all the treasures it did in its heyday.

As the story winds down, they reach the portal to Sigil.

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Snowhere to Run
Chapter 49

While the rest of the party deals with the ramifications of planting a magic bean inside a remorhaz (the "remorfications", if you will), Jimothy Jones stirs in a fitful sleep.

The paladin finds himself on a battlefield, surrounded by demons. A hundred feet away is his brave squire, Elspeth Varkestone, being swarmed by fiends! She raises her hammer, which glows with divine energy for a moment, but suddenly fizzles as the beasts leap onto her. Jimothy charges into the fray with his shield forward, driving through the demons like a snowplow. But when he reaches Elspeth, it's too late… the dwarf has been torn to bloody bits.

Suddenly, Jimothy is walking with Rorik down a dimly-lit corridor. An enormous bark-covered arm descends from the darkened ceiling and grabs Rorik, but Jimothy smashes it to bits. Rorik falls to the ground, which gives way beneath him. Jimothy runs over to help his Armor Bro, but he's already out of reach. He watches Rorik disappear, robot arm outstretched, into the void…

Then the smell of burning wood fills the goliath's nostrils as he finds himself standing in the village of his long lost tribe. Armored drow slavers drag away goliaths left and right, and Cora Hale is trying to stop them! Jimothy lets out a roar as he begins laying into the vile elves with Corpsebane. He knocks the helmet off the first to reveal the face of Jorlan Despana! Jorlan laughs at him, and not even Jimothy pounding his face into bloody pulp stops the mocking laughter. Jimothy attacks another—it's Shaela Vae! Again he beats her face in, but again, her laugher does not cease. He feels rage and hatred in his blood as he swirls to attack another, but stops just in time as he sees that it is not another drow behind him, but Cora. The shifter is holding her belly, and Jimothy sees rivers of blood pouring from between her fingers. She collapses, and though Jimothy tries to heal her, it isn't enough. He hears a child cry out, and then… darkness.

"Do you want them all to die?"

"Nyet."

"Then why do you hold to your oath? The fires of faith should not be restrained by useless words. Sacrifices must be made."

"I made promise, I cannot break it."

"Then they will die."

"I shall protect them."

"And what will happen when you cannot…?" Jimothy sees himself falling as September busts through a sewer grate, while Roland Leopold bleeds out with no one to heal him. He sees himself staring at Corpsebane with an ape-like grin as his friends lie dead and Demogorgon brings his tentacles down upon the Mind Flyer. He sees himself totally unconscious as the hell knight devastates his comrades. "Yours is a road fraught with sacrifice, Jimothy Jones. If you ever need my help, all you need do is ask. And remember: the lives of those who have lived many years mean more than the life of one who has not even begun to live. Remember when the Black Stork comes…"

He hears his own voice saying "DIE, DEMON!" and then thunder, before awakening inside a sarcophagus! He pushes the lid off and finds himself in the freezer of the Wave Dancer. He was in Saladesh's coffin. He goes out into the Iron Wastes (unaffected by the extreme cold due to his goliath physiology) to track down his comrades, who are in trouble of their own…

A dragon with tartan scales stares the Black Antlers down. His name is Grackildimyr, and he's pissed that they woke him up with their shenanigans. Mye-kuhl Jancer recognizes the name as that of a green drake who terrorized the forest he grew up in before it vanished, and the necrodancer is able to assuage the dragon. Grackildimyr laments the loss of his green scales, blaming the slaad lord, Renbuu, for his current state. Now he can't fly free without a beast like Fafnir seeing him plain as day—he's been reduced to a doorman! He says that if he ever sees another slaad, he'll kill 'em! Brublind takes one big step behind Jancer.

Nanoc the barbarian says that dragon's were not meant to be spoken to, they were meant to be slain, and charges forward with his sword. Rorik steps in and deflects the blow, telling him to step off. Maevalla the mage and Sprig Ticklenose the gnome calm their comrade and tell him that they should explore the new pyramid, which is ripe for the picking. Jancer claims ownership over the pyramid, and Sprig Ticklenose steps in to negotiate with his party's new-found "patrons", and, although Jancer isn't convinced, Sprig gives his face-palming companions a thumbs-up. They set out.

There is a loud scraping from a cave to the side, and a group of frost giants emerge, staring at the party over the chasm where Grackildimyr is. The tartan dragon awkwardly lowers himself back into the darkness. Jancer (still disguised as Kostchtchie) tells them to bow before their new god. The giants look at each other, uncertain—a silence broken by clapping as a familiar face appears from behind them—Brolaf Fjordson. ( "How is he clapping if he doesn't have hands?"—they were ice hands)

"You aren't a god! You're imposters! THEY'RE the ones I told you about, dudes, the ones who attacked me and stopped me from helping Lord Kostchtchie win the competition!"

"We're imposters?! What about you KROG?!"

Brolaf/Krog laughs off their accusation, and says that the jarl has already seen the glory that awaits her people by following Diancastra, future Queen of the Giants. Rorik says that Jimothy Jones is the one who will be the King of the Giants. Krog says that NO ONE will turn the giants from his goddess. That's when Jimothy arrives.

The paladin is a little confused about whatever the hell's going on, but he challenges Krog (who is visibly shook by having to face Jimothy again) to a battle to prove who is better once and for all. Jimothy shows off his Belt of Frost Giant Strength and says that he's beaten Krog before and is going to do it again.

A brief Deity 'Yo Mama' Off turns into a fistfight, the ice beneath the two breaks, and they are both plunged into the frigid water. Krog taunts Jimothy, pointing out that they're on Diancastra's home turf now! He winds up a punch, but misses horribly, his icy fist stuck in the back of the frozen waterfall (NAT 1). There is an audible gulp, and Jimothy absolutely pummels the orc-souled frost giant, putting Krog in a sleeper hold until he passes out. The giants all kneel in reverence as Jimothy emerges victorious!

Diancastra yells, "Stupid Krog, ya' made me look bad!"

The giant frat boys invite their new leader and his bros to hang out with them, but as the party are making their way around to the entrance, they run into Graz'zt's new general (who they brought along, but was so dim-witted that he didn't realize they were double-crossing his boss), who has just called up the rest of Graz'zt's army on his Sending Stone and revealed where the giants are at! Jimothy grabs the general and takes him inside. Left alone, Jancer sleight of hands Krog's soul gem out of Brolaf's rear-end and places it on his belt, next to the gem holding the frost giant's actual soul.

The party pass through a foyer carved with pictures of frost giants wrestling remorhazes, hunting dragons, and Kostchtchie himself smashing demons with his maul. Rorik goes, "Maybe these guys aren't so bad," before Breezy points out pictures of them stomping on helpless townsfolk and eating stolen livestock. "Oh."

They enter a messy living room covered in crushed skull-cans and dirty clothes. The jarl plops down on a broken couch. Rorik dubs this place 'The Frozone', and the giants say that he's not so bad "for a nerd". The giants seem more interested in sitting around and chilling than anything else, it's only when they learn the demon army is on the way here that they freak out. The jarl tells one of her boys to flush the drugs down the toilet, and wonders how the heck the demons could've found them. Jimothy holds up the struggling general, who Jancer points out is a "nark". The jarl grabs the general and the giants begin to chant,

"Nark! Nark! Nark! Nark!"

While most of the giants head into the bathroom to give the demon general swirlies, Jimothy notices a giant woman in a bearskin cloak stays behind, a white wolf with a bow on its head under her arm. Jimothy asks if he can hold the wolf, and does so, petting the beast gently. The woman, who introduces herself as Ylva Doggystyle (because she dresses up her dogs), then shows them the rest of the winter wolves, as this one is only a pup. The wolves immediately take a shine to the party. One brings Jimothy a severed human arm and they play fetch with it.

Suddenly, there is the sound of cracking and then… CRASH, as a wall of the frost giant frat house is blown open, and a host of demons begins to pour inside!

The Black Antlers and the giants grab their belongings ("Get the booze, bros!") and book it for a secret entrance they can use to escape, which lies beyond the hot tub. Breezy uses a 'Gust of Wind' to hold off the demons for a moment, giving the party a head start. As everyone piles into the tunnel and the mammoth stables beyond, one of Graz'zt's marilith bodyguards, Reluhantis, falls upon Breezy with all six of her swords. "Any who betray the Prince of Demons shall die!" Rorik jumps in the way, and Jimothy, unwilling to abandon his Armor Bro, leaps over with him. Each take three magical sword strikes on the chin before Jancer throws up a 'Wall of Force', allowing them to disengage and escape!

With their foe unable to field their vrocks or chasmes due to the blizzard, the party are able to elude Graz'zt's army and disappear back into the Iron Wastes. The giants tell them that, while their fraternity has accepted Jimothy Jones as their bro-rd and savior, they are but one of many tribes that belonged to Kostchtchie's army. Rorik sighs, as it seems they will have to find and recruit each individual group, but a skald among the giants reveals that, above all else, their kind respect strength, and there is one way for the party to unite all the giants and drive Graz'zt's army out in one fell swoop: subdue Fafnir, Kostchtchie's legendary ancient white dragon mount.

Led high into the mountains, the party decide to camp for the night before attempting the climb up to Fafnir's lair. Popping open a cooler full of beers, the giants and the Black Antlers drink all night. Breezy drinks one and is out almost instantly (her old "masters" never let her drink), while Rorik and Jancer end up being the last men standing, passing out at exactly the same time!

A little hung-over, they scale the mountainside through howling winds and pounding snow, eventually pulling themselves up into the frozen maw of the dragon's cave. Overhead, they recognize a root of the World Tree, Yggdrasil, coiled around the peak. While Jancer remains outside as a "look-out", Jimothy, Rorik, and Breezy fist-bump and head inside. Entering the heart of the mountain, Rorik says they should be very cautious. Jimothy steps forward and shouts, "Dragon, where are you?!" Rorik face-palms, but Breezy screams, as Jimothy is swallowed whole by an enormous creature hanging from the ceiling above them like a bat!

Rorik yells in Draconic, "Wait, dragon, we are not here to fight you, we have come to talk!"

Fafnir looks down at the eldritch knight and unleashes his cold breath on them. Breezy conjures a 'Warding Wind' that protects them from the brunt of the blast, then scowls at Fafnir as she tosses a superheated ball of air ('Fireball') at him. Fafnir gets a NAT 1 on his save and falls from his perch! Rorik sighs, "I guess we're doing this," and casts his own 'Fireball'. FAFNIR GETS A SECOND NAT 1!!!

Lodged in the flesh of the dragon's throat using his hooked S.H.O.E.S. (and now very cold because of the breath that just hit him), Jimothy climbs his way back up towards Fafnir's mouth. He is nearly thrown down the gullet once again as the white wyrm rolls back onto its feet and leaps towards the foolish intruders!

Breezy casts 'Fly' on Rorik, and is just as surprised as he is as a pair of raven-like wings burst from his back. Enrico looks at them, confused, but impressed. Rorik shouts, "I. AM NOT. EDGY!!!" as he slashes six times at the dragon, leaving deep cuts in his hide. Fafnir roars with rage and slams Rorik through a pillar. Breezy charges in with her scimitar, but is struck by Fafnir's tail as it whips around, and is flung into a wall.

Jimothy reaches Fafnir's mouth, but the beast's teeth are shut. The paladin draws Corpsebane and plays dentist, smacking into the dragon's teeth with his mace. Fafnir throws his head back, tossing Jim into the air and catching him in his teeth once again. Rorik gets back up and charges, slicing into Fafnir's belly. Jimothy nearly drowns in the beast's blood as he is vomited onto the icy floor.

Fafnir lets loose another frigid breath that catches the entire party off-guard, and then pounces on them when they're vulnerable. Breezy is pinned beneath a colossal claw, while Rorik and Jim are manhandled by the ancient dragon. Jimothy unleashes a divine barrage on the creature that causes it to back off of the sorceress. Before anyone can celebrate however, Fafnir beats his massive wings and sends the party tumbling head-over-heels up the tunnel they came in through.

Up-top, Jancer is dancing to pass the time as the cave entrance suddenly EXPLODES! Fafnir bursts out and takes flight. Jimothy is able to hold onto the ledge before passing out, while Rorik and the unconscious Breezy are flung into the open air one thousand feet above solid ground. Realizing there's nothing he can do, Rorik glides through the air over to Breezy. He grabs her, lifts his visor, and places his lips on hers—giving her one last breath of air before sliding the sorceress into his Bag of Holding.

As the ground comes up to meet him, Rorik pulls out his journal and writes,

"This may be the end for me. If I do not make it… Isabella, I lo—"

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Cool Beans
Chapter 48

Having protected Rorik's displaced hometown of Riverslee from a demonic army using the Rod of Seven Parts, the Black Antlers prepare to continue their odyssey through the Abyss by going to see Graz'zt in the Iron Wastes.

Rorik wishes his family well, and promises to return Riverslee to its original location. For now though… they are safe. Relatively. Rorik notices as he's headed back to the ship that the crops are wilting as if they've contracted some kind of blight.

The Wave Dancer skirts around the Lakes of Molten Iron as they fly towards the pit to the Iron Wastes. Brublind reads up on the layer—with its biting cold and iron cliffs—and tells the party to be ready for what awaits. Mye-kuhl Jancer goes for a spin on the dance floor, but doesn't feel as funky and footloose as he normally is—his moves are rigid… memetic. The comforting warmth of the Rod dispels any worries about it the necrodancer might have. Rorik climbs up into the room set aside for Breezy in the crow's nest and reads with her.

While Jancer is piloting the ship that night, he sees Jimothy come out onto deck and stare off the prow as if in a trance. Jancer approaches cautiously, and notices the paladin nodding and muttering to himself. Then the half-elf sees a shadowy form sitting at the end of the bowsprit. It's eyes glow golden in a face like a hawk's, with four wings sprouting from a naked man's back, and a serpent writhing where his dick would be, Jimothy following this trouser-snake's motions with his eyes. "Oh no… I know that guy… that's fucking Pazuzu, bitch!"

Mye-kuhl Jancer's eyes go wide as he blows his "Demon Lord Rape Whistle"!!!

Everyone on the ship is familiar with this sound now, and burst out onto deck. Torutori sees Pazuzu and lets out a battle cry in Jimothy's voice—"DIE, DEMON!"—as she charges, slashing at him with her scimitar. The demon leaps out of the way and takes flight with a mocking laugh. Jimothy's eyes roll back as he falls like a felled tree onto the deck.

Rorik arrives aboard Breezy's broom and uses his Goggles of Night to pinpoint Pazuzu, sitting on a roc-claw throne seemingly suspended in mid-air in front of the Wave Dancer. Jancer fires off a 'Lightning Bolt' directly at his serpent-dick, but as it strikes, the demon lord's form seems to disperse as if it were made out of clouds, his piercing eyes and mocking laughter lingering for just a moment longer.

Brublind hears someone coming up behind him (despite everyone being on deck) and turns to see that it is Saladesh! The mummy says that he must have overslept, and was only awakened by the use of the Rod and the presence of a great menace—one of the ancient enemies of his people. He lifts an accusing finger at Torutori, and says that she probably called Pazuzu, as she is one of the cursed kenku betrayers. Rorik recalls myths surrounding the kenku race's loss of their wings that he read in the mystery book he gave Sporp. Brublind steps in and says  that Toru is clearly no friend of that fiend if she attacked him with such ferocity. Jancer wonders why Saladesh didn't wake up during that whole Blood War skirmish and Graz'zt business, but the mummy points out that he's a VERY heavy sleeper. Although… the name "Graz'zt" still sounds oddly familiar to him…

Artorias runs over and cradles the unconscious Jimothy, sobbing uncontrollably. The party can't rouse Jimothy (though he's still breathing), so they bring the goliath to his room to recuperate. Jancer sneaks in and moves Jimmy into Saladesh's sarcophagus in the freezer at one point "to keep his body fresh."

They pass into the Iron Wastes the following morning, and are met by the whiteout conditions of a horrific blizzard. Jancer isn't able to control the ship, and it goes crashing into a snowbank that could very well bury an entire town. Osana points out shapes approaching out of the snow, and Brublind recognizes them as a squad of the armanite demons that Graz'zt had aboard his ship. The armanites agree to lead the party back to their master's camp.

Weathering the subzero conditions like champs, Brublind, Jancer, Rorik, Breezy (decked out in her comfy fur coat), and Saladesh pass through the Dark Prince's impressive, though obviously beleaguered, army, and head into the command tent. Whipcracks greet them. Graz'zt is flogging his general as officers cower against one wall. Graz'zt tells the general between lashings that the only thing he hates more than excuses is being blamed for someone else's failures. The demon prince turns and his demeanor goes back to the "charming" persona they've seen before. He sits and tells the officers that whoever lands the killing blow on the general gets to replace him (the demons instantly fall on each other and their former C.O.).

Saladesh has an epiphany and points at Graz'zt. "I… KNOW you…" The mummy stands and then falls to a knee. "My lord… it has been… so long…" Saladesh explains that Graz'zt is one of the Wind Dukes of Aaqa!!! Everyone is stunned by this revelation, but Graz'zt says that, yes, while the rest of their race fell into seclusion after the Rod of Seven Parts shattered at the Battle of Pesh and the war against demonkind was "won", he joined Asmodeus as one of his archdevils to continue the fight. But that's ancient history. Graz'zt waves Saladesh off, telling the loyal and deathless soldier to do as he will.

Jancer gets down to business: the party are here to make a trade. The Black Antlers want the conjuration segment of the Rod back in exchange for the Pearl of Dagon they got from Orogamos's lair. Graz'zt says that it would be an acceptable trade… IF his people can verify that the pearl has valuable information, of course. Everything is squared away, but before he heads off "to deal with other matters", Graz'zt tells the party that, as his allies, they should give him a hand by making sure that the giant renegades that his army hasn't been able to dislodge from the Wastes are taken care of.

Brublind uses his Crystal Ball to pinpoint the nearest frost giants, and sees a raiding party attacking a nice wooden building. The NEW general is of little help, appearing to be as poorly-equipped to deal with the situation as his predecessor, and the party head out. They get lost along the way and find a strange valley full of iron crypts and a portal to Thanatos, Orcus's old domain, before finally stumbling across the building Brublind saw. They all recognize it as a 'Leomund's Serendipitous Ski Lodge'! Jancer uses 'Locate Object' and senses that the giants they saw are at the bottom of a large slope beside the lodge. There's only one choice…

Rorik pulls out the retriever blade he took and shreds down the slope like a pro snowboarder. The giants are stunned by his sudden and stylish arrival. He steps forward,

"Heed well my words, for I have come to tell you of the ancient prophecies! It is said that upon Kostchtchie's death, another shall rise to take his place, and lead the giant race to glory once more by sitting upon Annam's empty throne! He shall come to you in armor blacker than a demon's heart, and bear the name… Jimothy Jones!"

Just then, the howling wind halts, and the glowing Ghostchtchie of Kostchtchie comes skating down the slope on the backs of a half dozen skeletons!

Kostchtchie (actually Jancer, with 'Enlarge', blue 'Faerie Fire', and his Hat of Disguise; the wind stopping was courtesy of Breezy) tells the giants to leave their spoils and tell their jarl that his prophet has spoken. The giants are not sure their word alone will be enough, but beg for forgiveness for allowing "other prophets" to misguide them before scurrying off.

When the party open a bag, they are attacked by a trio of captives within: a Conan-esque barbarian who's bare nipples are rock-hard from the cold; an elf sorceress in thick purple robes; and a bearded gnome wearing a green cape and a tall, conical red hat. "Kostchtchie" assuages their fears by using his regular Jancer voice, and learns that they are adventurers who came to the Abyss on a quest of their own. The gnome recognizes them as "Brublind and the Armor Bros", and says that he was at the final match of the Ysgard Invitationals! Some autographs are signed and the two parties track the giants back to their lair.

"This must be what Grekas felt like!"

The elf woman recognizes the name 'Grekas', and says that she was at the Battle of Brentil Keep as part of the Selindhelic reinforcements led there by Lady Saeleara of House Sulin! Rorik begins gloating when she admits that she never personally met the wizard however, though she knows that Grekas and Lady Saeleara became very close.

The parties follow the tracks along the bank of a frozen river to where it spills over into a crevasse. To one side, there is a set of slippery-looking stairs carved into the ice of the glacier, leading to a cave. Jancer's half-elf ears pick up the sounds of somebody within. Rorik starts carefully walking down the stairs, while Brublind and Breezy cast 'Feather Fall' on everyone else, allowing them to leap over the frozen waterfall and float to the valley floor. Rorik is suddenly hit by a block of ice kicked out of the wall beside him, and the eldritch knight begins plummeting. Jancer (still disguised as Kostchtchie) is able to grab him, and they land harmlessly down below.

They notice a charred skeleton laying in a snowbank nearby, and Jancer reanimates the blackened bones. The necrodancer likes the sound of his tap shoes on the ice, and does a little jig. Rorik starts to whisper yell to tell the half-elf to stop before a giant sees Kostchtchie dancing, but then Breezy taps him on the shoulder, pointing down to a warm light below the frozen surface of the river. Rorik turns slowmo back to Jancer as an immense centipede bursts out of the ice beneath the necrodancer!

The enlarged Jancer is too large for the remorhaz to eat, though its burning bite still hurts him. Rorik charges forward as he produces his githyanki silver sword and slices at the beast. Jancer's skeletons leap forth from his fanny pack and join Rorik's assault. The remorhaz turns back, swallows Rorik, and nopes out of there, disappearing back under the ice! He's been rem-vore-hazed.

Brublind watches the light emanating off of the remorhaz's super-heated spines go beneath him, and the transmuter casts 'Control Water' to create a whirlpool. The remorhaz is caught up in it, but the whirlpool also causes the ice above it to crack and shatter, plunging everyone but Jancer into the frigid water below. It's nothing more than a nice bracing swim for a green slaad like Brublind though. Breezy takes a deep breath and dives, trying to save Rorik.

Inside the remorhaz's sweltering bowels, Rorik feels his armor heating up and beginning to sear his flesh. He morphs his silver sword into a knife and carves out three holes in the lining of the beast's gut. Taking three magic beans from his Bag of Beans, Rorik plants two. Campfires crackling with blue flame appear, but they have no effect because of the creature's immunities! Screaming in agony at the rising heat, Rorik thrusts the third bean into its fleshy pocket. There is a low rumble…

Brublind and the others are ejected from the icy water as a 60-foot pyramid bursts from the river bottom!

Rorik rag dolls through the air as the pyramid explodes out of the poor remorhaz. He slams down beside his party members. Breezy rushes over to help him, and the eldritch knight gives her a weak thumbs up. Before anyone can do anything else, there's a whoosh from an even deeper crevasse nearby, and a dragon covered in tartan-patterned scales pops it's head over the edge,

"WHAT THEE FOOK IS GOOIN' ON OOP 'ERE?!"

View
Blazing Sap-Gnolls
Chapter 47

Having just narrowly survived a mid-air skirmish in the Abyss, the party are welcomed aboard their old pal Graz'zt's ship.

Climbing a ladder that looks like a splayed ribcage up from the Wave Dancer, Rorik is the first to stand upon the demon prince's vessel, which seems as if it were knit together from living flesh and bone. Out of a skull at the aft, a giant tongue lolls across the main deck, flanked by a line of armanite demons on either side, standing at attention with pikes and white banners marked with the black hand of Graz'zt. The prince himself sits at a long table on the tongue, and waves for Rorik and the others to join him.

Graz'zt shows off his Ship of Chaos. He says that it is but one of many being constructed via a joint effort with the Doomguard of Sigil, and that these marvels of engineering are already turning the tide of the Blood War in the Abyss's favor. It would have never been possible if not for the expert negotiating of his son, Rule-of-Three, who, he notes, is off working on another deal that could prove quite beneficial to "our alliance". Brublind mumbles "hopefully not".

Graz'zt also mentions that Rule-of-Three said that he had run into the party at the Wells of Darkness. Rorik explains that they were taken there after being attacked by a retriever. He carefully gauges the demon prince's reaction, believing Graz'zt might have been the one to send the construct after the Rod in the first place, but he is too hard to read as he places the blame on Demogorgon. Graz'zt's velvety words could convince a mother that their newborn babe was not their own, even as she pushes them from her body.

Brublind brings up his nocturnal encounter with Iggwilv, and Graz'zt's smile disappears. The demon prince walks over and picks Brublind up by the throat. Jimothy and Rorik stand and reach for their weapons, but Graz'zt's armanite personal guard point spears at them. Graz'zt dangles the transmuter over the side of the ship.

"You THINK you can take Iggwilv's attention away from ME?! Do you have any idea who I am?! I am Graz'zt, the Dark Prince, the Prince of All Dem—" He stops… and begins to laugh. "I see now. Iggy, you fox~" He brings Brublind back over the deck and looks into his eyes. "I am a prince, and you, my little slaad friend, are the frog. My blackhearted beloved told me a tale of how her mother had helped break a curse on poor Princess Vasilisa, who had been turned into a frog. It was only by a prince's loving kiss that she was freed." Graz'zt frenches the frog and says, "For you, my sweet Iggwilv~" Brublind croaks.

The slaad tells Graz'zt that he shouldn't worry, Iggwilv is obviously really into him, if her headboard was any indication. The Dark Prince nods and says that she is madly in love with him. Iggwilv enslaving Kostchtchie, Graz'zt allowing the party to take the giant's phylactery, Iggwilv leaving her mark on Brublind—this is just how they flirt.

Speaking of Kostchtchie, Graz'zt says that, lovely as it's been, he has business to attend to in the Iron Wastes. Since the party killed the demon lord, Graz'zt's armies have been attempting to seize the layer, but have thus far been unable to dislodge the "rebels". He intends to… motivate them. He thanks Rorik for slaying Kostchtchie, as it has given him one less problem to worry about.

They part ways with the demon prince, and head south, towards the gate-town of Broken Reach. Graz'zt tells them that the fortress is a neutral ground here on the Plain of a Thousand Portals, and is a great source for information from every layer of the Abyss. It also happens to lie very close to the pit which descends to the Wells of Darkness.

Broken Reach looks like an entire city was dropped into a great pile in the middle of the badlands. The remnants of dozens of failed sieges lie scattered on the plain all around the citadel, although the party can see several small fights taking place here and there amid the debris. A flight of vrock guardians approach (putting Torutori on edge) and try to extort the party, but Jancer intimidates the demons and the Wave Dancer is allowed to dock at the tower. The vrocks warn them that Red Shroud, the mistress of the Reach, will not abide violence between her guests within the city's walls—if they want to fight, take it outside. The party rest and tend to their injuries before looking around town.

Avenues and plazas wind through the fortress like an anthill, filled to the brim with merchants, deserters, and mercenaries. Breezy is incredibly uncomfortable when they pass a slave auction block, and Rorik protectively puts his arm around her. Jimothy asks about bebiliths (as Rorik's custom blade requires a bebilith's acidic poison) and learns that Red Shroud is an avid collector of poisons. Brublind slips the guy some money, and he tells them that there are rumors that a bebilith has been waylaying caravans near the Lakes of Molten Iron. One quick 'Scrying' with Brublind's Crystal Ball pretty much confirms this, as the party witness an arachnoid creature (not unlike an organic retriever) absolutely massacre a gang of demons.

First though, it's off to the Wells of Darkness! They head up to Ahazu's well and hand over the Ring of Mind Shielding containing Fraz-Urb'luu, which the demon lord graciously accepts. Jimothy feels a wave of relief was over him as he is freed from his pact.

Using Jancer's 'Cubic Gate' to once again cheat the Wells, the party begin their bebilith hunt.

Several hours are spent reconnoitering the area, including an attempt at flying over the Lakes of Molten Iron, aborted when the crew began to feel themselves roasting alive. Breezy conjures a cool island breeze to soothe her overheated companions. Rorik says it's a good thing Elspeth isn't with them, as the lakes seem like they'd be the pyrophobic dwarf's worst nightmare. Eventually, the party find a large crater near the lakes that appears to be the place they saw in the Crystal Ball. To the south, they spot a huge dust cloud in the distance. Jimothy is the first to disembark from the ship, running ahead of everyone else.

Rorik chases after his Armor Bro, but stops dead as he crests the crater's lip. The eldritch knight's jaw falls to the ground as he looks down at a very familiar village cradled in the bowl below—his hometown, Riverslee.

He comes up behind Jimothy, who has knocked on a door and is talking to a very frightened old woman that Rorik recognizes as the spinster who lived on the edge of town. He pulls at her face and moves her arm around, trying to reveal her as a demon in disguise, but the woman simply screams, pulls herself free, and slams the door. Rorik is astonished. "It… it was really her, wasn't it?" Jancer tells Rorik that he needs to work on his people skills.

It isn't long before these new arrivals attract attention, and a makeshift militia arrives to confront them, led by someone else Rorik knows very well—his older brother, Roger Law. Neither of the brothers can believe what they're seeing. Rorik asks Roger how in the world Riverslee is HERE, in the Abyss. Roger laughs nervously, telling his little brother to stop joking, but Rorik grabs him by the shoulders, stares into his eyes, and asks,

"Roger, you have known me my entire life, have I EVER made a joke?"

"Oh, I… suppose not."

Everyone starts running around and screaming as panic consumes the rest of the militia. Jimothy goes off to try and calm them down with his aura. Roger tells Rorik that he should come back to the house; they can talk about this unfortunate matter over dinner. The farmhand stares at Mye-kuhl Jancer and Brublind, who are standing behind his brother, with a perplexed look. Roger points out how garish the half-elf is dressed, and Jancer gets up in his face and asks, "It's to attract attention on the dance floor, baby! You ever been on a dance floor in your life, you provincial RUBE?!"

Brublind says, "We can take on other forms if you'd like." The slaad shoots Rorik's brother the bird. Jancer uses his Hat of Disguise to appear as a stereotypical backwoods farmhand, and tells everyone to just call him 'Cotton-Eye Joe'.

The party head back to the home Rorik grew up in, and meet his mother, father, and his brother's new wife, Eliza Isabella Law! Rorik points out the weird coincedence of Breezy's "birth" name being 'Isabella Locke'. Jancer says he's a farmhand so he never learned to dance. Rorik's mother swings a rolling pin at the elf and says there'll be none of that in her house. Jancer uses 'Shield'. "Oh no, it looks like I have magic powers, guess I'll have to go off and join the army!"

Rorik's mother screams and Rorik's father holds her, scolding Rorik for coming back and frightening his mother like this with his weird friends. "First you ban magic, now you ban dancing?! AT LEAST I HAVE FRIENDS NOW, FATHER!"

Jimothy sighs and says, "Can we ignore crazy elf and have nice dinner please?" Rorik notes that, just because the party has gotten use to dealing with Jancer's antics daily doesn't mean his family has yet.

Rorik's mother, obviously fed-up, storms off, telling the party that if they want dinner, then FINE, she'll make dinner. Rorik's father grumbles and lights his pipe, asking Breezy what she does for a living. The mute Breezy sits there awkwardly for a moment before Rorik points out that she's a student of magic! Jancer tells her to give him a big ol' smile, and she does, revealing her shark teeth and startling the old man. He asks what the hell she is, and Rorik says she's a human being. Jimothy looks over at her perpetually blowing hair, shark teeth, and tattoos that seem to shift of their own volition and isn't so sure. The golaith leans over and whispers, "Maybe we shouldn't tell your parents she is witch."

"A WHAT?!"

Rorik decides to save time and introduce everyone. Jancer shouts, "Rorik, you forgot to tell them I'm a necromancer, baby~!" as his undead back-up dancers leap from his fanny pack. Rorik's father falls backwards out of his chair and goes to the kitchen. Fifteen minutes later, they return with the most white bread dinner ever. Rorik likes it though, because it's home cooking for him.

That's when they notice Artorias leaning half-way through the window, drooling hungrily beside Roger's wife. Jimothy tells the story of how Artorias burst out of his chest, and starts showing off all of his scars. Brublind says it's still less rude than the paladin showing them his face. Rorik's mother retches and excuses herself again, while Jimothy takes some food outside to make sure his son doesn't eat any villagers. Artorias eats the plate, but Jimothy pulls it out of his throat and explains that he isn't supposed to eat that. The slaad understands PERFECTLY. Jimothy takes it to the kitchen and cleans it.

Roger tells the story of how this strange fate befell Riverslee. Things began to happen a month ago—strange creatures and lights in the woods—but THIS current predicament wasn't until a week ago. The sky turned all funny, and when they woke up in the morning, it looked like the village had fallen into a sinkhole. Nasty critters wandered in and attacked Roger's fellow lumberjacks, but then the bebilith appeared and killed them. Oddly enough, it had no interest in the men. The village hasn't been bothered since… villagers think it's something of a blessing from Pelor.

While the rest of the party head back to the Wave Dancer, Rorik and Breezy stay in his old room. Breezy sits attentively, petting Enrico, curled up in her lap, as Rorik shows everything off. Breezy sleeps in Rorik's bed while the eldritch knight bunks down on the floor.

The next morning, the party set out into the rocky crags along the crater's edge. It doesn't take long for them to find the bebilith's lair, festooned with demons hanging in various states of dismemberment from the canyon walls. They approach as stealthily as they can, Rorik leading the way by slicing through the webbing with his Macuahuitl of Sharpness. Jancer's half-elf ears perk up for just a moment at the almost imperceptible sound of something moving within the cave. Rorik puts on his new Goggles of Night to stare into the mouth of the cavern, but sees nothing down the twisting passageways beyond but more dead demons on display. As he turns to tell his companions, he sees a spindly arachnid form sneaking up behind Jimothy! Rorik shouts, and the paladin dodges out of the way just as a scythe-like claw strikes out to impale him! The bebilith used another exit to flank them!

Brublind gets sprayed with the creature's acid, and sprinkles a pinch from his Dust of Dryness to absorb the gunk off his skin. Seeing that they have what they came for, the party turn and book it for the Wave Dancer as fast as their feet can carry them! Brublind gives them a leg up using 'Longstrider', while Jancer and Rorik slow their pursuer with an 'Earth Tremor'/'Wall of Force' combo.

The bebilith skitters with nightmarish speed however, and catches up to the party as they're ascending the rope to their ship. Jimothy smacks the beast with Corpsebane to try and deter it, but is grabbed by one of its claws in the process. Before the paladin can be torn from the rope (or worse, allow the bebilith to yank the whole ship down to it), Jancer fires off a 'Lightning Bolt' that zaps the bebilith, causing it to hiss and spasm, giving the Black Antlers just enough time to make good their escape!

It's then that Osana draws their attention to the dust cloud they saw the day before, now recognizable for what it is—an army.

Jimothy is able to ascertain through his military training that, at their current speed, the army will reach Riverslee in less than an hour. There's not enough time to stage an evacuation, and now that the bebilith has been wounded, it definitely couldn't take on so many fiends all at once. Rorik gets in Jancer's face about hurting his hometown's protector, but the necrodancer tells him not to worry, because he's got JUST what they need! Jancer pulls out the Rod of Seven Parts.

Channeling the combined power of the three Rod pieces they have, Jancer weaves a powerful illusion over a small lake of molten iron just to the west. It is a 'Mirage Arcana' of Riverslee! It sits, completely exposed—too tempting a target to resist. Brublind, Jimothy, and Rorik go flying out over the army (made up of hundreds of demons and gnolls waving the banner of the Beast of Butchery, Yeenoghu), and harass them with enough hit-and-run attacks to attract the great mass's attention, redirecting them towards the illusory Riverslee.

The army surges forward into the village, realizing too late that they've walked into a crucible. As the forward ranks try to stop, they are pushed into the lava by the rushing horde behind them. Those few stragglers who do manage to escape are caught by the bebilith, which strikes out from hiding, mutilating any fiend unfortunate enough to come within its reach. The smell of singed fur and cooked flesh fill the air for miles around, and the death screams of the Abyssal host echo out across the wasteland.

The Black Antlers have saved Riverslee… for now.

View
Astrall-or-Nothing
Chapter 46

Pursuing personal goals, the Black Antlers sail their spelljamming flagship, The Wave Dancer, into the place between all other places, the backstage of the multiverse, the Astral Plane.

Most of them were here only briefly while riding Baba Yaga's steeds to Buyan, but Rorik is a bit more experienced, having traveled through the Astral to reach Sigil five months ago. It is a realm of the mind, and the party, especially Jimothy, are surprised to realize that their physical abilities are not as potent here as they might be in the material world. In response to the party's questions, the mimir that has been gathering dust in Rorik's bag flies out and explains that all things on the Astral are actually translations of physical objects into thought-forms. Thus, one's brains are more important than their brawn.

Seeking to prove he is strong no matter where he is, Jimothy challenges Rorik to an Astral arm-wrestling rematch, since he is actually HERE now and not just dreaming, but is still defeated with ease (NAT 20!). The paladin starts doing Astral push-ups, Brublind floating up and sitting cross-legged on his back, with Piper on top of the slaad's head.

Though the party had discussed going to the Abyss as their first stop, in order to fulfill the deal between Jimothy and Ahazu using the ring-bound spirit of Fraz-Urb'luu, Mye-kuhl Jancer has only one destination in mind as he wills the ship forward: Orcus.

An enormous white tube gently wriggles in the distance. Rorik's mimir explains that this tube is an astral conduit—passageways connecting the Material Plane to the Heavens and Hells. It is through these conduits that the prayers of the faithful and the spirits of the dead flow to the divinities of the Great Ring. Jancer says that, whatever it is, he likes the way it moves—just more evidence that the Beat is the base state of the multiverse. Jimothy prays, hoping to see it go into the conduit, but no such luck. They decide not to get too close to it.

An indeterminate amount of time later (not that time exists on the Astral, of course), Osana spots something floating off the port bow. It is a nude, glowing old man with a long beard, as well as a silver "umbilical cord" that trails behind him a few feet before disappearing. Jimothy wants to ask him for directions, and learns that he is a wizard, a wizard who Rorik points out is here through 'Astral Projection'. The wizard introduces himself as Ephemelon. Everyone looks at Brublind, but it is Torutori who opens her mouth, and says in Brublind's voice, "That's a stupid name." Everyone except for Jim, Rorik, and Breezy start insulting the wizard for no reason, and he zooms away.

It isn't long before a large sphere materializes ahead of the Wave Dancer. As the ship approaches, the party can see that the sphere is made up of thousands upon thousands of undead, unable to move of their own volition on the Astral Plane because they lack the mental capacity to do so. Jancer can sense a familiar thrum coming from within the Bonecloud however, and says that they must press on. Jimothy goes to the front of the ship, and raising Corpsebane before him, turns the undead. The bodies retreat, creating a tunnel just large enough for them to pass through. In the hollow beyond, the god-corpse of Orcus floats, almost seeming to reach out towards the new arrivals.

Jancer flies down to the outstretched hand, and heads for the petrified demon lord's screaming maw. As he enters, a shadow peels off of the cavern wall in the shape of a portly mage.

"At last… my champion has arrived."

The shadowy mage continues to speak as he falls onto his hands and knees, his body distorting as it transforms into that of a dretch, telling Jancer that before he (Orcus) can be brought back to the world of the living, there are things that must be done. The dretch bloats and sprouts vestigal wings as it turns into a nalfeshnee. First, Orcus's foremost vassal, Doresain the King of Ghouls, and his followers has to be brought back into the fold to feed the demon prince with their worship. The nalfeshnee's wings expand and its hair catches fire as it becomes a balor. Second, Jancer needs to seek out Acererak, a lich who served as Orcus's high priest before his demise, as the lich was a source of many souls in the prince's domain. The balor's head twists into that of a goat, and a skull-tipped wand appears in his hand. Third, the demon must be reunited with his Wand, stolen by a vile daughter of Lolth after Kostchtchie killed him. Only then can they make all beings in existence dance…

"Right on, baby~!"

Jancer returns to the Wave Dancer with a new purpose, and though his fellows tell him that he's being used by the Prince of Undeath, Jancer assures them that he "has a plan". Jimothy and Rorik look at each other with worried looks, while Brublind remembers the chance he had to collapse a cave onto the necrodancer and wonders if he made the right choice.

Departing, the party find a two-dimensional, sixty foot diameter circle of rippling amethyst color floating in the Astral. Rorik identifies it as a color pool—a color-coded portal connecting the Astral to one of the Outer Planes, in this case… The Abyss.

The Wave Dancer passes through the color pool and appears in the otherwordly green sky over a parched wasteland. Above hangs a heavy red sun, while below is an iron fortress, built upon the lip of a bottomless pit. Thousands of shapes move over and around the fortress, then suddenly, a fireball shoots up at the party's ship. Jancer tries to move out of the way, but…!

BOOM!

Torutori is thrown overboard as the explosion rocks the ship. Breezy leaps over the side after her. The rest of the party spot a swarm flying in their direction from down below. Jancer pulls out his Wand of Wonder, and a 'Fireball' shoots out, engulfing the approaching enemies. For a moment, it seems as if the swarm has been vaporized, but then the devils swoop out of the explosion, seemingly unscathed!

Rorik sends 'Eldritch Blasts' at the swarm to cover Breezy's rescue attempt as best he can, but the imps just keep coming! Brublind uses 'Telekinesis' to grab Torutori himself however, and Breezy zips right on past her. Jim tells everyone to stay close so he can protect them.

The imps fall upon the Wave Dancer, stabbing with red-hot pitchforks. Jancer ducks and dodges around the blows, while Brublind takes quite a walloping. Rorik lazily bats one away as the fiend's pitchfork snaps against his armor, and then holds out his A.R.M.S., three 'Eldritch Blasts' blowing several devils harassing Breezy out of the air. Jimothy also throws a javelin that way, skewering two of the imps—a two-for-one deal (NAT 20)! The devils yank the Broom of Flying out of Breezy's hand however. Rorik shouts and jumps off the ship as Torutori is brought back aboard.

Jancer is able to discern the devils' flight pattern, and snaps his mithril-gloved fingers to send a 'Lightning Bolt' through their ranks. Dozens of the imps are instantly fried, their bodies crashing into the deck and exploding into piles of ash upon impact. Enraged, the flying fiends go after the necrodancer with a vengeance (TWO NAT 20s!!!).

Through the opening left by the lightning, the party spot an armored warrior, festooned in spikes, riding atop a nightmare. The hell knight rears back, and orders his subordinates to "disperse these demon-lovers at once—Asmodeus commands it!"

Jimothy clicks his heels and activates his S.H.O.E.S. The paladin leaps, digging the boot-mounted hooks into the side of the hell knight's steed as he assaults the rider with radiant energy using Corpsebane. The knight kicks Jim in the face with his spiked spurs. Brublind casts 'Fly' on Artorias, and the red slaad happily croaks as he begins flying around, clawing at the hell knight and swallowing whole mouthfuls of imps.

Rorik falls, fiends impacting against his armor as he goes. He catches Breezy's broom, tucks it between his legs, and zooms after the free-falling sorceress, who is desperately trying to slow her descent with a 'Gust of Wind'! The eldritch knight bursts from the swarm of imps, grabs her, and flies back up as fast as he can. Bolts are fired up at them from the fortress below, one piercing Rorik through the leg.

The badly-wounded Jancer casts 'Greater Invisibility' on himself, and rolls out of the imp swarm before firing a volley of 'Magic Missiles'. Rorik and Breezy land beside him.

Meanwhile, Jimothy tries a good ol' fashioned wrasslin' suplex to separate the hell knight and his nightmare. They are evenly matched at first (both got a 22), but Jimothy misjudges the strength of his fiendish opponent, who then completely reverses the move on the paladin and flings him, end-over-end, over the side (NAT 20—30 TOTAL!!!).

Brublind quickly casts 'Feather Fall' on everyone he can see, including Jimothy, only to realize too late that the hell knight is now looming over him from behind. Searing pain shoots through the slaad as the hellfire lance impales him twice. Torutori deflects a third blow against her crewmate, but catches it herself. Her feather coat catches fire and she starts to panic. Furious, Artorias pounces onto the nightmare's haunches, tearing into the foul antipaladin from behind. The nightmare kicks Artorias off, but the distraction gives Brublind the chance he needs to nope out of there by hopping overboard!

With Jimothy's fear-suppressing aura away from the ship, the hell knight shouts a terrifying command to the party, ordering them to "lay down your weapons, or suffer the fate of all those who oppose the might of Baator!" before kicking off the deck in a flash of flame and taking to the air as he rides, lance out, towards the falling Jimothy.

Rorik, who had begun charging to save his comrades, suddenly feels a wave of supernatural dread crash into him, stopping him in his tracks. Torutori stomps out her burning coat, and stands with sword-drawn and knees quaking over Osana, who is cowering by a ballista. Artorias simply jumps after Brublind, hands over his eyes.

Breezy, though shaken, activates her broom and heads full-tilt for Jim. She grabs the goliath just as the hell knight's lance comes in for a killing blow. The devil's nightmare snorts flame as its rider growls, "Never get between a hell knight and his prey." Rorik watches on, horrified and unable to do ANYTHING, as one, two, three blows land on Breezy. The sorceress, Jim, and her broom go plummeting towards the plain below as she falls unconscious.

Jancer starts to shake his shoulders and tap his feet as he says, "You think you're bad? You ain't bad—you ain't nothin'! Just wait 'til I get through with you… because you KNOW I'm BAD, BABY!" He grabs his crotch with a "WOO~!", thrusts, and points upwards as a 'Finger of Death' springs forth, hitting the hell knight square in the back!

Fiery blood spurts from the gaps in his armor as the touch of pure negative energy pulses through his body. He turns slowly towards Jancer, his eyes coals of malice as he comes about.

Brublind glides over onto Artorias's back, and reminds his slaad brother that he can fly. Artorias looks as if he's just been told the meaning of life as he turns his fall into a magnificent barrel roll back up onto the deck of the Wave Dancer. As he lands, the remaining imps begin to retreat as fast as they can. Brublind lets out a "Heh", and Torutori tips her hat at him as she mimics the "Heh". A shadow blocks the sun behind the slaads. Osana and Toru's faces drop.

Suddenly, Jimothy comes to (NAT 20 DEATH SAVEAGAIN)! He realizes that, while he is feather falling, Breezy is not, and dives after her. He wraps his arms around her limp body and gives her a 'Lay on Hugs' as they slowly descend.

Rorik lets out a sigh of relief, then a flash of green light brings his eyes back up to the hell knight, who has just been struck by a beam of energy that blows him and his steed apart! Everyone's eyes turn to look into the smoking maw of a gargantuan skull that serves as the prow of an even more gargantuan ship. A handsome and all too familiar giant with obsidian skin steps forward with a smirk…

"Ah, my favorite adventurers! You should have told me you were coming. I would have made your welcoming party much more… enjoyable."

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A Very Merry Black Antlers Ilmatermas
Chapter 45

With Grekas recuperating in Vesh after his many travails, the Black Antlers finally return home to Kalfsgate, just in time for the joyous start of summer: Ilmatermas!

Henrietta Fairwind is the first to welcome them back, and tells the party that, while they were away, a group of no-good scallywags tried taking over Kalfsgate. She takes them into the great hall, where a dozen men are held aloft in a rope net, including an unpleasantly familiar dwarf, Dirty Willy.

Rorik Law grabs Willy, carrying the dwarf out onto the balcony, scaring the piss out of him (literally) after motioning to toss him over the side to the crashing sea at the feet of the Archlight two hundred feet below. He intimidates Willy into coming clean (for once in his life), and the dwarf tells him that he was hired by Rokesh Dar of Vesh, who is none too pleased with the party for various reasons. The party decide to release Willy's conspirators (disappointing Henrietta, who wanted to hang them), but give orders to leave Willy in the Tarmarsh—a bog to the north filled with blood-sucking stirges.

With that unfortunate matter taken care of, the party rush to set up for Ilmatermas!

First matter of business: the Ilmatermas tree. Jimothy Jones notes that they'll need to find an evergreen, to represent the endurance that Ilmater grants in the face of hardship.

As they're headed out for a little lumberjacking, Gerald the treant calls out, telling them to be careful with their axes and such, else "someone might get hurt". Rorik uses his Macuahuitl of Sharpness to chop down a ten foot tree that they set up in the town square. They wrap the tree in red ribbon, and Sporp is held up by Rorik (who is, in turn, held up by Jim) so that the myconid can put the star on top of the tree.

Pirates begin to gather, wondering what's going on, and Jimothy explains the joys of Ilmatermas! Jancer conjures 'Dancing Lights' all around town, illuminating the night. Everyone holds hands in a circle around the tree as they sing carols. Brublind rides in on an animated sleigh, and pulls presents from a Bag of Holding, handing them out to the crowd.

Gifts include:

  • Personal Sending Stone to Sporp from Jancer
  • Mithril Glove to Jancer from Elspeth
  • Fungal wand to Sporp from Rorik
  • Books on planar mysteries to Rorik from Breezy
  • Bag of Tricks to Brublind from Pleedleplop
  • Scabbard of Holding to Rorik from Jim
  • Dust of Disappearance to Brublind from Elspeth
  • Dancing Monkey Juice to everyone from Jancer
  • Wrist-mounted Disco Ball to Jancer from Jim
  • Broom of Flying to Breezy from Rorik
  • Ring of Protection to Cora from Jim
  • Belt of Frost Giant Strength to Jim from Cora
  • S.H.O.E.S. (Spring-loaded Hooks for Obtaining Elevated Spaces) to Jim from Rorik + Jaraltanth

Everyone enjoys a nice dinner, trying out their new gifts—Breezy zooms over the city on her broom, Jim wrestles a bear produced from Brublind's Bag of Tricks, Sporp tries out his new Sending Stone—before the Black Antlers finally retire to the Archlight. Waiting for them in the great hall… is Nolzur.

Nolzur apologizes for any trouble he caused them, and explains that Grekas, or rather, Fraz-Urb'luu, told him that they were agents of dark forces, intent on killing the eladrin and claiming the Rod of Seven Parts for some nefarious purpose. He realizes now that the Demon Lord of Deception had… well… deceived him.

Nolzur tells the party that, three centuries ago, the Company of Seven sought the Rod of Seven Parts. He personally created a bas relief in the dungeons beneath Castle Greyhawk, and, with the help of Zagyg and Tasha, or rather, Iggwilv, imprisoned Fraz-Urb'luu, in order to gain possession of "this". Nolzur pulls out his paintbrush, screwing the bristles off, leaving only the lusterless black handle—the illusion segment of the Rod of Seven Parts.

The quest for the Rod eventually tore their group apart, Nolzur reminisces, and he begins to cry as he admits that he'd rather have kept his friends than gain the seemingly limitless power that the Rod gave them—losing his illusory paradise and seeing the love that the party have for one another has punctuated that for him. Jimothy kneels and places a hand on the old man's shoulder, assuring him that his suffering was for a greater purpose, and the painter nods, and hands Jimothy his piece of the Rod. Jimothy wipes the tears of the penitent from Nolzur's face. If they understand the risks involved, Nolzur offers to show the Black Antlers how to combine the three segments of the Rod of Seven Parts that they now hold.

When the Rod was used to end the ancient war between the Wind Dukes of Aaqa and the ravenous demon hordes of the Abyss, the pure instrument of law that it was merged with the raw energy of chaos. In order to put the pieces together, one must scribe runes in the lost script of Aaqa using a brush made from the hair of lawful good, neutral, and chaotic evil beings. Elspeth offers a hair from her head (lawful good), while Jancer offers a hair from his chest (neutral). At that moment, Brublind notices something on the table: an envelope stamped with the six-fingered hand of Graz'zt. Within is a brief "Job well done" and a curly black hair, supposedly from the man himself (chaotic evil). While they have the proper components for the brush, Nolzur does not know the runes. Luckily, the party doesSALADESH!

While the mummy and the master painter get to work, the rest of the party agree on a plan. For the next two months, they'll pursue some personal goals, placing their quest for more pieces of the Rod on the back-burner before things get really wild.

Jimothy travels north with Elspeth and Cora. The shifter stays behind at Brentil Keep, sure that Maltravakis will give her a verbal lashing for neglecting her royal duties. Before leaving, Cora tells Jim something in private. When he returns, Elspeth sees that he has a big, stupid grin on his face. Cora gives him a kiss, and the goliath paladin and his squire continue north, to the citadel of the Knights of the Bloody Hand.

They are welcomed by the man who took the orphaned Jimothy in as a boy, and trained him in the ways of Ilmater. He is impressed by the tales he's heard of Jim's exploits, and shows him off to the recruits in the yard, one of whom asks Jim for his autograph. Jimothy and Elspeth have come for two reasons—first, to officially induct Elspeth into the order, and second, to train to become shield masters.

Over the next week, the two paladins go through various tests—protecting yourself as you charge through a barrage of spells, using your shield as a weapon, and defending those who stand beside you in combat.

Jancer checks up on Liana Alamode's dance studio in Vesh. Flying atop his undead dragon, Shoalhydris (now covered in illusory bronze skin using Nolzur's Marvelous Pigments), the necrodancer is stopped mid-air by guards from the Broken Tower, who question his reasons for being here and his choice of mount before escorting him down to the city. Liana's dance studio is hopping, and Jancer drums up even more business by using Shoalhydris like a skywriting plane, taking the elf and her daughter, Annie, for a ride too. Jancer can feel the dragon's suppressed will trying to overcome his necromantic control.

One night, Jancer awakens to find himself in a chair, women in masks and robes standing in a circle around him. He recognizes one of them as Liana by the way she holds herself. They are the Church of the Whirling Fury, a cadre of demon hunters dedicated to Gwynharwyf, and they want Mye-kuhl Jancer to join them (if only they knew about the half-elf's deal with Orcus). After the initiation, Mye-kuhl learns that his mother is one of the women as well! He tells her that he ran into Jermlaine, and agrees to go have brunch in the morning with her and the Alamodes. First though… he is left alone with Liana and shows her that he can dance standing up, as well as laying down.

Back at Brentil Keep, Jaraltanth attaches Rorik's new prosthetic arm, the A.R.M.S. (Automated Rig for Magic and Swords) system. The eldritch knight crushes a can in his powerful new grip. "Groovy."

Rorik goes to show it off to Breezy, who is absolutely delighted. The sorceress shows off her own new outfit—a cute blue dress and matching witch's hat. Grekas arrives later that day, having recovered enough to travel. He asks Rorik in detail about the rift they encountered near Orogamos's lair, and says that he'll head there as soon as possible to try and stitch the planar tear shut. First though, Grekas has something for Breezy—the eladrin used his influence in the Order to get her study-abroad privileges, with Rorik as her tutor! Breezy hugs Rorik, and Rorik gives Grekas the firmest handshake he's ever had. Grekas says it's the least he can do for his "biggest fan".

Brublind awakens to find Iggwilv standing over him, but the transmuter is unable to move, as her 'Power Word: Stun' hits him. She stabs her talon-like fingernails into the green slaad's forehead with a cold smile, digging deep into his flesh. A searing, silent pain shoots through Brublind's frozen body as the gem in his brain is ripped free by Iggwilv, who admires herself in its facets. "We are going to have fun together, you and I." As the witch turns to leave, she sees the headboard stolen from her room in Graz'zt's palace, and stands confused for a moment before teleporting away.

Hectus Stoneflayer, the dwarf assassin in a birdcage hanging in Brublind's room, says "… what the fuck was that?" Brublind jumps, surprised this dude is still alive. Hectus has survived by eating stray rats and drinking rainwater that came in through Brublind's open window. Brublind casts 'Reduce' on the dwarf and lets him out, asking if he'd like to go get a drink. The party members in Kalfsgate go for a late-night pub crawl, but by the tenth tavern, everyone except for Hectus is pretty smashed. Pleedleplop holds Sporp's fungus cap back as he throws up some rank spores. Brublind gives everyone a 'Goodberry' to help them feel better.

The Black Antlers reconvene in Kalfsgate on the 8th day of Gruminar. Jaraltanth has moved the functioning spelljammer helm of the Back-up Dancer to the Wave Dancer, allowing the party's flagship to fly once again. Elspeth, Pleedleplop, and Sporp decide to stay behind to deal with some business of their own, while the rest of the party hop aboard the Wave Dancer for an adventure across the planes.

The Wave Dancer rises from the sea, the world below shrinking, until they leave even the clouds behind. Torutori's eyes gleam with child-like wonder as they soar into the sky, while Osana holds onto the mast for dear life. Artorias jumps up as the ship rises, as if expecting to glide for a moment, but just smacks back into the deck as it rises to meet him. The moon passes by as the ship continues to rise, up through a layer of scintillating silvery clouds that glitter as if they were filled with stars.

The Wave Dancer breaks through the cloud cover, and the party find themselves staring out into the endless expanse of the Astral Plane, inviting them to whatever awaits…

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Ring False
Chapter 44

 The Black Antlers seek to free their friend, Grekas, as well as the Prince of Tindomeel, from the legendary artist Nolzur, but must first survive a battle with the Company of Seven, who hunt them even now…

Rorik

The Company step out into a sunlit glade, the warmth of midday on their faces. It is a brief moment of respite amid the exacting trials devised by their prey. All is peaceful until…!

Bugbears leap from the brush and grab Murlynd, throwing the cowboy over a shoulder as they disappear back into the trees. Keoghtom and Quaal fire shots to try and stop the kidnapers, but to no avail! Heward plays a tune on his pan flute to 'Conjure Woodland Beings', and four pixies answer the call. With the faeries' help, the party easily track the bugbears back to a rickety cabin.

They bust their way inside, and find a trapdoor leading down into a series of tight tunnels. Nolzur, aged by a ghost's horrifying visage, needs to ask for Quaal and Heward's help descending the ladder.

Tapping the ground ahead with a painted cane, Nolzur finds a tripwire, and convinces Keoghtom to disarm it (despite Keoghtom being fed-up with the disrespect). Turning a corner, the party find themselves staring down the mouth of a cannon fifty feet down a corridor. The three goblins manning the weapon start threatening the party, but Nolzur steps forward before the cretins can act, swirls his paintbrush, and, with a 'Prismatic Spray', slays all three—the first struck by lightning, the second dissolved by acid, and the third frozen solid by cold.

Slipping around the cannon into a sprawling central chamber filled with cooking fires, dirty bunks, and piles of trash, the Company of Seven catch the eleven goblins within by surprise. Two of them sprint towards a lever on the wall, while five move to the middle of the room and stand straight as possible on a red X. As the lever is pulled, a box cut with murder holes drops onto the goblins on the X (crushing the fifth one, who was out of position). Heward is impressed by the choreography, but orders his pixie minions to cast 'Confusion' on the goblin box.

The sound of goblins attacking one another emanates from the box ("Confusion now hath made his masterpiece."), and Keoghtom further adds to the chaos by casting 'Fog Cloud' around it too, blinding the little buggers. The rogue tumbles into the cloud and disappears as goblins begin firing crossbow bolts at him.

Quaal and Nolzur take half of the goblins outside, while Heward takes the others. Heward's pixies turn invisible and start looking around the room for Murlynd. Ape-like ululations pierce the air as two bugbears suddenly strike at the party from hiding, swinging their morning stars with deadly force. Quaal and Heward both get clonked.

Keoghtom eats some ointment for the stress, and then stabs through a murder hole with his sword, catching a box-goblin in the eye and killing it. Quaal tosses one of his Feather Tokens into the air, and it extends out into a glowing whip, which lashes out at one of the bugbears, but the creature is much quicker than one would expect for its size and dodges. Heward charges in and starts throwing punches at the bugbear bugging him.

With a masterful stroke from his 'Chromatic Blade', Nolzur stabs one goblin and spins on his heel, slashing right through a second goblin's neck. Quaal feints, but as the bugbear dodges, the druid's feather-whip wraps around the back of its neck from behind and yanks upwards, strangling the beast (NAT 20!). As Heward continues brawling the other bugbear, Nolzur runs forward and thrust his blade right up through the brute's stomach, disemboweling it.

All the goblins are slain, except one, who flees into a side tunnel. The Company give chase, and enter a throne room. Three goblins stand within, one wearing a hat and holding up a fuse, which is attached to a large pile of dynamite! Tied to a chair with his own Rope of Entanglement is Murlynd! The goblin leader lights a match and threatens to blow this whole place sky high if they don't surrender!

Keoghtom offers ointment for the goblin leader's skin problems, but the leader points out that he's tried all sorts of lotions and ointments, to no avail. Heward offers the goblin "these three fairies" (not his companions, but the actual pixies) in return for Murlynd's release instead, and this catches his attention! As the goblin counts out on his fingers to confirm that it's a good deal, Keoghtom shrugs and starts to leave, turning invisible and sneaking back around into the room.

Heward begins handing over the pixies, but Keoghtom sneaks up behind the goblin leader and slashes his throat. He grabs the goblin's hat and puts it on, claiming that he is now the Goblin King! Everyone is stunned. Murlynd leaps out of the chair as if the magical rope "holding" him wasn't even tied, shouting that the fuse was lit!

The dynamite goes off, and as the explosion hits them…

FIGHT!

The Company of Seven and the Black Antlers are both thrust back into Nolzur's art studio! The hunt is over, but now the REAL battle begins!

Jimothy and Cora are the first to move, heaving one of the cluttered tables, and sending it crashing into their foes on the far side of the room (NAT 20—29!!!). Keoghtom dodges, rolling for cover and firing crossbow bolts into Mye-kuhl Jancer, who he recognizes from the dance club.

"Ooh, you liked my club, baby~? Well have another taste!"

Jancer casts 'Otto's Irresistible Dance' on the rogue, who starts grooving uncontrollably. Rorik runs forward and uses a 'Lightning Lure' to yank Nolzur towards him, the old man skidding onto another table and sending paint cans flying! From his cage, Grekas shouts, "Well done, Rorik, well done!" Rorik blushes. Faced with this armored knight, Nolzur draws a screaming visage that fills Rorik with a supernatural fear that psychically assails his mind!

Cora produces her katars and charges, leaping over the table Keoghtom is hiding behind as black dragon scales appear out of her arms. She stabs the rogue in the leg as he attempts to dodge out of the way. Her eyes flash with frustration as she tries to kill him. Murlynd fires two rounds at Cora, burying one in her shoulder, while the other is deflected by her scales. He puts his 'Hunter's Mark' on the barbarian, telling her that she "ain't nothin' but a wild animal."

Quaal casts 'Stoneskin' on Keoghtom, and Cora's katars scrape ineffectively against his rocky epidermis. She grits her teeth as she gets angrier. Heward rights the table thrown at the Company, and he leaps up onto it, beginning a rousing song for his comrades on this eve of battle!

"Cheer up my lads, 'tis to glory we steer, to add something more to this wonderful year~!"

He is abruptly bucked off as Brublind casts 'Animate Object' on it, the table rearing back like an angry stallion.

Keoghtom tries to use a 'Fog Cloud' to slip away, but he cannot escape Cora's grip. Jimothy kicks over the table onto Keoghtom, and swings Corpsebane, dispersing the fog in a blaze of radiant power as he brings the mace down onto the rogue's head. Red paint splatters everywhere. The paladin notices a frog wriggling in what remains of Keoghtom. Cora growls at Jim as he kills the rogue. Her eyes sunken and as green as the acid on her claws, which sizzle against the goliath's armor…

"HE WAS MINE!"

Murlynd fires a pair of 'Branding Smite'-enhanced bullets through Cora's chest, causing the enraged barbarian to turn on the cowboy, who grows to twice his height in front of her (Quaal casting 'Enlarge' on him). Cora leaps towards him, blood and acid mingling in her mouth. Nolzur, free from the now screaming Rorik, rushes to a painting of a flying saucer in a starlit sky over the silhouette of some mountains.

Quaal sends a 'Guiding Bolt' swirling into Rorik, knocking him unconscious. Jancer moonwalks over to the cage where Grekas and the Prince of Tindomeel are locked up. He asks if they are alright ("I know I hate being confined") and tells them to stand back as he lets loose a blast from his Wand of Wonder. The cage begins glowing with pink 'Faerie Fire'. "I hope that makes it a little nicer in there for you guys."

Jimothy hears a croak behind him as the paint-coated frog grows into a green slaad! Seeing this, Nolzur grabs a gem from his belt and thrusts it forward, the slaad hissing at the sight of the gem. Brublind understands as it says, "No…! I will not be controlled…!" Nolzur sees Jancer and tries to bind him with a painted rope, but the necrodancer leaps out of the way.

"I refuse to let you hurt them!"

Murlynd peppers Cora with bullets as she slashes at him. Jimothy heals Rorik, getting him back onto his feet, before moving towards Cora. Rorik comes back to his senses and slashes at Quaal. The blades strike the druid, but no blood comes out. Identical wounds open up on Murlynd. Quaal thanks the cowboy—his noble protector, who tips his hat, exhausted. Jancer fires a 'Lightning Bolt' into Nolzur from his Staff of Power, knocking the old man onto his back as he grasps at his chest. Heward shouts, "NO!"

Jancer hears Grekas say behind him, "Good… kill him!" Jancer is taken aback, turning around, and spotting a new, but familiar ring on the wizard's finger. It is dark, shaped like gargoyle wings, with a glowing amethyst inset into it, with the name 'Fraz-Urb'luu' glowing on the band. Quagmiran's signet ring!

Brublind, realizing that Nolzur has enslaved one of his brethren, casts 'Shillelagh' on his quarterstaff, and marches over to the painter, ready to bash him over the head like a caveman. Heward interposes himself between Nolzur, Brublind, and Jancer with a 'Thunder Step', throwing the necrodancer backwards, into the glowing bars of the cage.

Jimothy turns and watches as Cora rips Quaal apart, red paint spraying everywhere. A draconic shadow looms behind her as the black scales spread further across her body and her eyes glow with green rage. Jim realizes that his girlfriend has not only lost control, but been possessed! He rushes over to help her, getting slashed with acid-drenched claws in the process, but fills her with a divine energy, forcing the evil spirit of the black dragon Bochaladaxx out of the barbarian's body.

As Cora and Jim high-five, Murlynd faces off with Jim for a little PVP (Paladin VS. Paladin) combat, ensnaring him with his Rope of Entanglement. Nolzur creates a 'Chromatic Blade' with his paintbrush and thrusts up at Jancer, but is entranced by his Jacket of Scintillating Colors, pointing out that he's wanted flail snail dye forever. Jancer notes that the jacket's worth a fortune, as it's from the Embergut collection, made right before the dragon mysteriously vanished. He then cracks Nolzur over the back with his Staff of Power. Heward immediately begins tending to his downed companion. Jancer stops. Grekas shouts,

"What are you doing?! You won't be able to free us, or more importantly, GET THE ROD, unless they're dead!"

Jancer looks, and notices something. The Prince of Tindomeel's body is a zombie… animated by Grekas. Or rather, whatever spirit is TRULY inside the Ring of Mind Shielding is controlling Grekas.

"Ooh, you ain't got ME fooled, baby~ You think you're some kinda smooth criminal, don't'cha?"

Brublind tries to strike Nolzur, but Heward attempts to fend him off. The transmuter smacks him full force! Jancer tells him to stop as paint-blood goes splattering across the ground from Heward's mouth.

Cora frees Jim from Murlynd's rope, and the paladin murders the cowboy down as another green slaad appears from where Quaal's body fell. "See ya' later, giant cowboy."

Rorik runs to where Grekas is, and the eladrin pleads with the eldritch knight to free him, as Jancer's "gone mad". Jancer tries to persuade Rorik that they've been played for fools, jumping in front of the fighter as he draws his Macuahuitl of Sharpness to slice through the bars of the cage. Jancer suddenly falls as he feels his muscles tighten up, and he is completely unable to dance! He blames Grekas, but the elf points to Nolzur,

"I would NEVER, Rorik, you know that, HE'S the bad guy here!"

"You're right, Grekas would never do that… but you're not Grekas."

Rorik blasts the wizard with three 'Eldritch Blasts' square to the chest, blowing him backwards onto his ass. A wave of 'Confusion' washes over him for a moment—should he have just hit Grekas—his personal hero? He looks again. No, it may wear his skin, but this person doesn't carry himself like the Grekas he knows. He slices through the bars of the cage, Cora tears the bars free, and Jim jumps inside, overpowering Grekas and yanking Quagmiran's ring off of his finger!

The Prince of Tindomeel's body collapses immediately. Grekas goes limp as Jim hefts the elf over his shoulder.

Brublind gets frank with Nolzur, and points out that the battle is ended. He tells him to release the slaad. The painter considers for a moment, then asks Heward to help him up… one last time. He undoes his belt, with all the gems on it, and hands it to the bard, who hands it to Brublind. He tosses the gems into the air.

"MY PEOPLE…! YOU ARE FREE!!!"

The six green slaads who had taken the forms of the Company of Seven let out a victorious croak as they grab the gems and thrust them back into their foreheads. They take off in different directions, happily ripping into the fabric of the demiplane, leaving terrible, colorful gashes as the paint realm begins to melt away around them.

Cora slaps Grekas back to consciousness, and he whispers something to Rorik, "Grab ahold of me…" Everyone does. Jancer extends a hand to Nolzur, who takes one last look at the paradise he created for himself as it collapses all around the party. He grabs Jancer's hand, and Grekas teleports them all away… reappearing safe and sound inside the Broken Tower of Vesh.

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Art of War
Chapter 43

Sucked into a demiplane within a painting, the party endeavor to rescue Grekas and retrieve another bit of the Rod of Seven Parts!

They find themselves cast into an art studio, cluttered with half-finished projects. Brublind picks up a set of paints from a nearby table, giving them a big whiff and croaking happily at the telltale scent of magic on them. Rorik tells him to be careful, he might get high, but the transmuter just turns to him with a smile. He evidently had an uncle who liked to take in the fumes before getting to work. "That is… concerning."

Continuing cautiously, the party stumble across a line-up of seven people, identical to the adventurers in the painting! One of them steps forward as the others drop into fighting stances. The old, dark-skinned man—Nolzur—is covered in splatters of paint, and his eyes narrow as he takes these intruders in,

"He told me you would come after him! I know why you're here, and I won't allow you to succeed!"

Jimothy tries to speak with him, but the painter reaches into his robe and produces a paintbrush. Rorik draws his sword and Cora flashes her claws in response, while Jancer feels a familiar sensation in his pants, a new one to Brublind, both of whom notice as their Rods grow hot and erect, pointing toward the paintbrush's lusterless black handle. IT IS THE ROD SEGMENT THEY SEEK!

Nolzur pulls back a curtain to reveal a cage with not only Grekas inside it, but the long-lost Prince of Tindomeel as well! The painter says it will be the last that the party sees of these two before they die. Rorik charges, intent on saving his hero, but Nolzur brandishes his brush, and the room around them melts, the Black Antlers flung away to some distant corner of the demiplane.

With only a goal in their hearts and a set of paints for huffing, they had best prepare themselves, for they are now hunted by the Company of Seven…!

Jimothy

Seven adventurers make their way down a dark corridor, 'Light' spells illuminating their faces:

  • Nolzur, the painter, still looking like an elderly Morgan Freeman.
  • Zagyg, a wild-haired, wild-eyed, portly old mage.
  • Tasha, or, as the Black Antlers know her, Iggwilv, a dark beauty.
  • Murlynd, a lawman with two firebrand pistols at his hip.
  • Quaal, a young druid outfitted in feathers upon feathers.
  • Keoghtom, an agile rogue with a jar of ointment.
  • Heward, an old-timey bard with a flute and frilled collar.

They enter a domed chamber, its walls decorated in a variety of sea motifs. Across the way is another door. As Murlynd steps forward, into one of the pools of water that dot the room, there is a sound that fills the chamber, echoing all around—an ominous clack-clack-clack… as, suddenly, from holes in the ground emerge…

two ordinary crabs!

Murlynd reaches for a pistol, but Quaal holds out a hand to stop him. The crab on the left snips menacingly at the party. Zagyg tells his comrades that he had a pet crab named "Lefty" when he was a child, and they may yet be friends, crouching down and extending a finger to the left crab. It pinches him for ONE DAMAGE! Zagyg lets out a little squeal and giggles, joking with Tasha that the little guy is almost as prickly as she is. The woman gives a slight smile.

Nolzur considers the walls, pointing out that surely the art is what they should be looking at, not the wildlife. Quaal says that Mother Nature is the greatest artist, and Nolzur rolls his eyes. Heward steps forward with a jingle, and picks up the crab on the right. It doesn't snip him!

Taking this as a clear sign that the left crab is indeed as evil as he sensed, Murlynd spins a gun out of the holster, and with one shot—BANG!—kills the beast. Such is the brutal reality of crab-on-cowboy combat. "Just like the pilgrims." Murlynd blows the smoking barrel of his gun and tips his hat as they audibly hear the door on the far side of the chamber unlock. The party begin to approach, but Nolzur holds out a hand, telling them that that was TOO simple, there is likely a trap or worse if they simply continue!

Everyone looks at the crab that Heward is holding. Quaal casts 'Speak with Animals' on himself, and goes over to talk to the creature. It says "Thanks, that guy was a dick", but then Tasha steps up, slaps the crab out of Heward's hands, and stomps on it with her stiletto. It dies. Nothing else happens. Murlynd says, "I reckon that's what they call 'equality under the law', pardner".

Quaal prays for the souls of the crabs, while Heward points out that "A coward dies many times, but the valiant taste of death but once. These crabs lived with bravery, unflinching!"

Zagyg leans in, "I think you mean, unpinching! Oh-ho!"

The party head through the door…

Jancer

They appear in an alleyway, lit by harsh lights that buzz with energy. A line of undead waits in front of a set of double doors, blocked off by a golden rope, and flanked by a pair of bouncers. Both wear suits—one is a ghoul in sunglasses, the other a minotaur skeleton. He snorts and points to the back of the line as Nolzur tries to get in.

Keoghtom says, "This place is pretty weird~"

Murlynd does a double-take, "Oh my g—SHUT UP, KEOGHTOM," and slaps him on the back of the head.

Nolzur nods, "He's been eating too much of that ointment."

"I don't have a problem… you do~"

"YOU HAD A PROBLEM WHEN YOU STOLE MY RECIPE!"

"Now it's everyone's recipe~"

Iggwilv saunters over and realizes that the undead waiting to get inside are wights—"Guys… I think this place is wights only." Keoghtom intimidates his way to the front of the line with his effeminate presence. The bouncers nod to each other, letting the party into the club. A dizzying beat thrums from the doorway, and everyone (except for Zagyg and Tasha) finds themselves uncontrollably drawn to dance.

Heward's eyes go wide, "O music, we are but slaves to thy brutish beats, and men have lost their minds!"

Keoghtom, Zagyg, and Iggwilv head over to the bar inside. The bartender is Bonesley, a skeleton in a maid outfit! He serves the drinks with Stygian black ice, and holds his hand out as if expecting some sort of payment. Keoghtom gives him a handshake, downs his drink (Nat 20 to resist ice—"IT'S ALL THAT OINTMENT!"), and casts 'Invisibility' on himself as he gets the fuck out of there. Tasha gets white girl wasted (wight girl wasted?), while Zagyg stays behind as the others are swept up in a skeletal conga line. Nolzur recognizes it from stories his prisoners told him.

They wind their way through the writhing mass of bone and flesh, passing a stage where a group of undead are dancing, led by Mye-kuhl Jancer. Nolzur points out that the half-elf is one of their targets, and Keoghtom tries to climb onto stage to kill him. No cigar however. He drunkenly pulls out his crossbow and fires it off into the crowd, "Oh yeah, it's a party now!" The music skips a beat as the Company is funneled into an open area of the club, where the crowd clatters and cheers for a bandaged breakdancer.

It's Saladesh, all decked out in bling! Murlynd moseys forth and enters a 'Compelled Duel' with the mummy. DANCE-OFF! Saladesh spins on his head like a dervish. Heward inspires the cowboy, who twirls and flourishes his guns to the beat. The invisible Keoghtom gets kicked in the jaw as he tries to sneak around, but steps on the mummy's bandages and COMPLETELY throws him off (NAT 20!) as Murlynd does the Happy Prospector Dance. The skeletons "Ooh" and "Aah". Saladesh grimaces as Murlynd switches into an old reliable square dance. The mummy spins, spins, and spins! The air kicks up into a cyclone as he begins to levitate, his gold-speckled wrappings whipping around in the wind like beautiful ribbons (NAT 20!). Murlynd is good, but Saladesh is better, apologizing to his master for having to go all-out… just this once. Not prepared to be served so badly, the cowboy tips his hat. Tasha, incredibly drunk, flashes the mummy lord of the dance.

Everyone is exhausted as they step out onto the edge of a clearing of flickering, colorful panels arrayed in front of a tall DJ stand, atop which is MC Sporp! Keoghtom pushes Murlynd onto the dance floor with him, telling the cowboy that he has to make up for his sins. It is so sudden that Keoghtom steps out onto a panel that 'Viciously Mocks' him! Though used to such insults from his companions, Keoghtom is nearly slain by the psychic assault. Murlynd steps onto a blue panel that seems safe. Nolzur observes, and recognizes the pattern of the panels. The Company cross and barely make it to the far side.

Murlynd backhands Keoghtom. Nolzur whispers that they should draw dicks on his face when he's asleep with his own ointment. Keoghtom is so hurt that he suggests they sleep. "SHUT UP, KEOGHTOM!" Nolzur slaps him with a 'Mage Hand'. Keoghtom eats ointment to make himself feel better. Tasha and Nolzur are both hit by double exhaustion (TWO NAT 1s!!!). Tasha vomits as she regain her senses, "You won't… mention this… to anyone…!"

Pushing open the exit door, bright light fills their vision as the beat fades…

Brublind

They step into the belly of a sphere. Up one side of the sphere is a jungle, while a rocky wasteland stretches up and over their heads on the other. Above them, on the far side of the sphere from where the party arrived, appears to be a pedestal with a bow on it. Floating in the center of the spherical chamber is a bronze orb.

Quaal tries speaking to the jungle plants, but there is no reply. The place is silent. Artificial. Keoghtom investigates the bow and arrow pedestal. He asks "Murtle" what he thinks of it (Nolzur slaps him in the back of the head), but the cowboy can't make head nor tails of it. Nolzur checks out a strange pole in the middle of the jungle, climbing it with Keoghtom's help (NAT 20!). He says under his breath, "Thank you… friend," and blushes when he realizes that Keoghtom actually heard him. He isn't able to reach the bronze orb from there though.

Murlynd draws his revolver and shoots the orb, but it has no effect. The bullet pings back and almost hits him. Tasha grins, "Nice shooting, Tex." Keoghtom goes over to use the bow on it instead, and there's a metallic hum as fog fills the room. Nolzur begins to berate Keoghtom, and suddenly, lightning shoots from his mouth and strikes the orb. Rain rises from the earth, as does a blue ghost.

Quaal points and Keoghtom says, "You can see that too? Oh jeez…" as he shoves more ointment into his mouth. Lightning bursts from his lips and strikes the orb, another ghost materializing alongside the booming thunder.

One ghost hits Nolzur with a withering touch. Keoghtom hits the undead with a crossbow bolt, and the painter creates a 'Chromatic Blade' with his brush, slicing through the monster and destroying it. Tasha casts 'Magic Missiles' at the other ghost and blasts holes through its form. As she speaks the verbal component of the spell however, lightning blasts out of her mouth and another ghost materializes.

The wounded ghost rushes the exhausted Tasha and possesses her, turning her magics on the rest of the Company. Heward is attacked by the other ghost, but the bard rolls out of the way. Quaal uses 'Protection from Energy' to try and protect from the lightning, while Murlynd moves towards Tasha to exorcise the spirit from her body. Keoghtom fires a crossbow bolt that scatters the ghost attacking Heward immediately. The clouds turn more blue with each fallen ghost.

As Murlynd slips in the mud as the possessed Tasha charges Keoghtom and attempts to get him away from the bow on the pedestal. She is too exhausted however, and Quaal is able to run up, grab the bow, and strike the orb again. Its surface seems to pulsate. Murlynd exorcises the ghost from Tasha.

The ghost bursts out of her and bares its horrifying visage at the Company. Tasha, Nolzur, and Keoghtom age by forty years in the face of this supernatural fear!

Slaying the final ghost a moment later, three of them are now old as hell, especially Nolzur, who was old to begin with. They continue firing arrows at the orb, which reverberates with every strike. Lightning bursts from the orb and strikes the now muddy wasteland. Quaal notices something white begin to slither in the grime.

Keoghtom leaps towards the white shape, which suddenly bursts from the mud underneath him, revealing a massive bone naga!

Murlynd uses his Rope of Entanglement to pull himself up onto the bone naga alongside Keoghtom, and rides its head through the mud as he draws a pistol and fires off a 'Branding Smite' into its skull. The serpent rears back with a roar and unleashes a bolt of lightning from its maw, which hits Tasha square in the chest. Tasha the crone's form boils and pops in an explosion of paint. Nolzur rushes over and grabs a large frog that plops down in the paint, shoving it into one of several gems attached to his belt. Keoghtom is able to finish the bone naga, which collapses into the mud. The fog turns red!

Murlynd slaps Keoghtom again. The rogue says, "Hit me one more time, motherfucker, I fucking dare you~" Nolzur shakes his head and laments that this is exactly what tore their party apart.

Grabbing the bow, the party let loose one last volley. The bronze falls from the orb as the room around them dissipates. The Company see a scene play out before them—a fellow playing an instrument beside a bedridden man.

The images fade into the fog…

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Come Shell or High Water
Chapter 42

After peacefully talking their way past the kuo-toa and freeing the captured Pleedleplop, the party feel a powerful current rush through the cave, announcing the arrival of an angry dragon turtle.

The two kuo-toa guards with the party book it out of the prison, swimming full tilt for the living area. Orogamos spots them and rushes forward, snapping his jaws shut on both of them in one bite, turning angrily towards the tunnel to the prison, where stands Rorik Law. The one-armed eldritch knight is thrown back as the dragon turtle lashes forward with a claw, reaching angrily into the rocky corridor. A growling voice like a thunderbolt rumbles from its throat,

"INTRUDERS! THE ORCS, THE VESHANSYOU ALL THINK TO STEAL FROM ME! NOW YOU SURFACERS HAVE THE DISRESPECT TO ENTER MY VERY LAIR?! THE SECRETS ARE MINE!"

The cavern quakes at the dragon turtle's rage. Rorik points out that they have to find the "pearl of dark and forbidden knowledge" that has clouded the creature's mind. Pleedleplop points out that he saw a cold light emanating from the back of the undersea cave when he was first imprisoned, perhaps it is related. Jimothy steps forward, telling his comrades to find the pearl while he distracts Orogamos. Cora kisses Jimothy on the helmet and says that she knows he's got this under control before following after Pleedle and Rorik down a side tunnel. Elspeth stays behind, ready to help Jimothy anyway she can.

Back in the prison, Brublind grabs the conch shell that one of the guards used to free Pleedleplop, and uses it to get the orc wrestlers out of their bubble cell. Water suddenly fills the void around them and they start to drown, but Brublind comes in for the save with some 'Water Breathing', apologizing. He motions for them to follow him towards the exit.

Mye-kuhl Jancer looks at the limbless sea-troll wallowing in the third cell, and decides to let it out. "I can't leave them in there like that! It's way too cramped to do any dancing~!" Water fills the cell, and as it touches the scrags's stumps, the flesh begins to tremble as it starts to REGENERATE!

Jimothy recognizes Orogamos as the dragon turtle he gave money to at the Free Captains' Regatta, and calls out to him. The beast pulls it's claw from the tunnel, only to be replaced by a massive blue eye, staring directly at the tiny goliath paladin and his dwarf squire. Jimothy pulls out a satchel of gold and points out that the party is not here to steal from Orogamos, but to give him tribute!

This proves enough of a distraction for Pleedleplop to lead Rorik and Cora out to the farthest reaches of the lair, where an undersea step-pyramid rises from the cavern floor, topped by an angler fish-shaped shrine, from which dangles the light that the kuo-toa described. As they approach the source, Rorik can see that it is a glowing pearl… and hear what sounds like ominous whispering in the water around it.

Brublind and Jancer arrive behind Jimothy a moment later. At seeing the dragon turtle, Jancer has a knee-jerk reaction of calling to his new skeletal bronze dragon. There is a loud explosion of rock as the undead dragon bursts from its chamber behind Orogamos, who turns, absolutely shocked that the bronze dragon is "still alive". Brublind takes this opportunity to cast 'Polymorph' on the dragon turtle, which suddenly shrinks, becoming a giant clam.

Jimothy and Elspeth both stand, eyes wide and mouths agape. The orc wrestlers pat the two wizards on the back, but their reverie is cut short as the ravenous sea-troll bursts into the tunnel behind them, teeth gnashing! Jancer uses 'Misty Step' to get out into the main chamber and pulls the merrow corpse over to him, waving it around in full-view of the troll, who zooms right past the party and grabs the mutant, tearing into its succulent fishy flesh. While the giant chows down, Jancer points out that there's more where that came from if the troll plays his cards right!

The party joins Rorik, Pleedleplop, and Cora at the temple, just as the eldritch knight plucks the whispering pearl from its resting place. The light within goes out as he does, and the whispers turn into a screech that stabs at the ears of everyone nearby. Rorik, Jimothy, Pleedle, and Elspeth are able to shake off the maddening voices, but Cora, her mind disturbed by… other matters, falls prey to their sibilance. Her pupils dilate and she leaps onto Jimothy, stabbing him in the back with her katars.

Cora withdraws, and realizes with horror what she did. She is reminded terribly of an incident three years previous in the elf city of Selindehel, and starts to swims away as quickly as she can. Jimothy follows after her, Elspeth barely having a chance to lay hands on him to heal his wounsd. The dwarf calls out to her friends, but suddenly, she and Rorik are grappled by something that they can't see!

Jimothy finds Cora in the tunnel, clutching her head and sobbing. He's never seen her quite so vulnerable. She tells him to leave before she hurts him, but he stays and asks what's wrong. She explains that she is afraid of hurting the people she loves when she's in her berserker rages. She's lost herself in them before… and she feels herself lose more and more control everytime she enters one. Jim puts his hand on her shoulder and reminds her that, together, they have nothing to fear. She lets out a long exhale, stands, and punches him on the shoulder before going in for a teary kiss.

Rorik escapes the powerful current as it attempts to thrash him against the cavern wall, though the effort exhausts him. Unable to draw his blade with the pearl in his hand, the eldritch knight slam dunks it into Mye-kuhl Jancer's Bag of Holding, which the necrodancer is holding open nearby. He reaches for his sword, but is grabbed by the leg by the current and dragged backwards again. Meanwhile, Brublind casts 'Control Water' to successfully halt Elspeth's unseen foe, which he realizes is a water weird! Elspeth's weapon flares with divine light as she strikes blindly at the elemental.

Brublind immediately realizes upon casting his spell that he's made a BIG mistake. His concentration on the 'Polymorph' spell ends, and the dragon turtle EXPLODES back to its original form!

The whole cavern quakes, and the dragon turtle rushes to the back of the cavern, where it finds the intruders finishing off the temple's water weird guardians. Pleedleplop goes into a fighting stance instantly, ready to pummel this foul creature who has made slaves of his brothers and sisters. With the pearl's insidious whispers gone however, Jimothy tries to assuage the turtle's fears. He does a masterful job (NAT 20!), and the fuming dragon turtle stops to listen. Pleedle is confused, but stands down.

After some negotiations and talk of economics and finance (of which, to the entire party's surprise, Jimothy Jones seems to be a savant), Orogamos and the Black Antlers come to an agreement. In exchange for 600 gold a month, dance lessons from Jancer, and rights to the cargo of those ships he sinks, Orogamos will defend the waters of the Corspepickers' Lagoon and Tiamat's Teeth from any who would oppose the party, including the Veshan pirate-hunters, of whom the Master of Gales was so concerned about. Brublind happily hands over 3000 gold (five months payment) in advance, as this deal will almost totally negate the offer Rokesh Dar made of lending them mercenaries bought with his money to defend THEIR territory.

With that, the party depart. Pleedleplop gives Orogamos an apologetic fishy bow, glad to hear that the turtle is helping make the kuo-toa under its protection "stronger", but promising that he will be keeping an eye on things here. Jancer convinces the sea troll to accompany them (intimidating him into not laying a finger on their crewmates). Elspeth starts wondering aloud what it would take to exploit the mineral resources in the dragon turtle's cave, curious if Brublind's magic and Jaraltanth's tinkering skill could do the trick.

Mye-kuhl Jancer is the first to surface, posing as he rises slowly out of the ocean in front of the Snu-Snu Sisters. He seems to stand on the water for a moment, and then, with a spin and an "OW!", shoots up into the air as the enormous, skeletal form of his dragon rises beneath him. The orc twins fall back in their outriggers, at once awestruck and terrified by this undead monster towering erect over them. Jancer leaps down and assures them that the dragon is a friend, telling it to let the twins pet her skull. The necrodancer feels how willful the dragon is, pushing back against his commands in a way that even his ghouls don't, but it does as he says. The orcs are impressed and shower Jancer with compliments. Jancer flirts with the living twin, and then turns to the undead twin and whispers in her ear, "I always liked you better than your sister," with a wink. The zombie bites her rotten lip, causing it to fall off.

Returning to the orc village, a celebration feast is held. The party tell the orcs of their agreement with Orogamos, and offer the orcs a place in their budding kingdom if, Jancer suggests, the tribe helps provide the dragon turtle with undead servants to help out around his lair.

Jimothy does a little wrestling, and one of the wrestlers joins the party's crew as thanks for saving her. Cora picks up her man, carries him over to the feast tables, and sits with him on her lap as they feed each other tasty island meats. Rorik looks on wistfully. He misses Breezy, who's back at the Broken Tower, studying to be a mage. Brublind's craftsmen buddies thank him for saving their people once again—"Yes, it was all me." Pleedleplop interjects, telling the orcs about how Brublind has helped his people as well!

The next morning, they strike out north, sailing towards Vesh.

Day 1

On the voyage, Torutori approaches Brublind, offering him a bottle of rum for taking her side a few days ago. The transmuter takes a swig and asks the kenku if she really took Elspeth's toy soldier. The kenku nods, saying in Brublind's voice, "Something stupid," as she produces it from her feather cloak. He asks why she took it, since it is just a toy, as far as he knows. She tilts her head towards him and says, "Memories" in one voice, and "You're our lucky charm!" in another, turning the figurine over in her hands. Brublind holds up the bottle, and the glass begins to change shape in his hand as he casts 'Fabricate', transforming it into a crystal raven. Toru cranes her neck and looks at it, saying "Shiny".

Brublind holds it out to the kenku, "Trade?" Toru hands over Elspeth's toy soldier and takes the fabricated raven (NAT 20!). The transmuter gives her a nod, and she tips her hat back at him as he goes off to Elspeth's room. She is surprised to see him, but when he hands her the toy, her eyes widen. She is a little lost for words, but thanks him for getting it back for her, admitting that she was actually thinking about braining "that thieving bird" herself. Brublind asks why the figurine means so much to her, and Elspeth tells him,

"Well, it… it was my brother's. Before he died. It's all I've got left of him. Keep it for good luck… ya' know."

Day 2

Mye-kuhl Jancer is piloting the Wave Dancer when Elspeth leans against the throne-like spelljamming helm, asking him how he's been holding up through all the stuff that's happened over the past couple of months. "It's been a while since just you and I had a talk." Jancer says he's done like he always has, moving through life to the beat of his heart. Elspeth nods,

"Aye, I've been trying to do that more myself. Owe that to you, Mye-kuhl Jancer. You've, uh… you've helped me come out of my shell quite a bit since we first met. All've ya' have! I sure would'a never thought about dancin' in front of other people before our lessons, that's for sure. It's always been hard for me ta'… let people in. But you've been a friend…"

Elspeth stands and takes Jancer's hand, pulling him off the throne. She leads as they dance, and, for the first time ever, Jancer is thrown off his game, stumbling a bit. Elspeth smirks, joking that she's supposed to be the one with "two left feet".

Day 3

Rorik looks for Sporp, and finds him drinking in the hold of the Back-up Dancer, alongside a rat. The drunk Sporp says a cheer for Rorik, and gives his adopted rat friend ("Nibbles") a little drink too. Rorik notices that the rat's head looks deformed, as if its brain were visible just beneath the skin… similar to the cranium rats he saw after joining the party in the Underdark.

Rorik tells Sporp that they'll be getting to Vesh in a few hours, and asks the myconid if he'd be at all interested in paying Breezy a visit at the Broken Tower, noting that they can pay a visit to the library there if they do. Sporp asks if they have books like the unsolved mysteries one that Rorik gave him, pulling it from his bag, where he has it lovingly tucked beside his spellbook. Rorik gives him a smile and a nod, and the myconid goes in for a hug. Rorik notices Nibbles the rat nibbling on Sporp's foot, and pushes it aside lightly with his own.

Not long afterwards, they sail into the harbor of Vesh, the Broken Tower reaching into the overcast sky from atop its butte. The party take the painting that they found to the mages there, so that they can perform the ritual to enter the demiplane within in relative safety. As Rorik speaks the words, "Better Days", the painting before them swirls into a vortex of color.

Brublind, Jimothy, Jancer, Rorik, and Cora blue skidoo into the portal to save Grekas from whatever fate has befallen him…

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