Adventure Date: January 12, 2008
Last Updated: January 9, 2009
Day 230 - Early Morning
The lich's fiery eyes flared as it finished its chanting. "What did it do?" Nuria thought in alarm. "I can't tell what it did…It did something, but what?"
Not knowing what the lich did, but thankful it didn't kill him, PW swung his rapier with renewed gusto. His enthusiasm almost proved his undoing. Focused on attacking the lich to the exclusion of everything else, PW stumbled over some rubble but managed to recover before the lich could lash out at him.
"Guide me, Ironhand," HHH breathed. With that, focusing positive energy into his hand, HHH grabbed the lich's arm and funneled the energy throughout the lich's body. Writhing in pain, the lich broke free, its bones starting to flake.
Unrolling the scroll received from the bizarre statue, Nuria shouted out the words of command that allowed her to warp reality. As her voice reached a crescendo, she willed reality to match her desires. "I wish that I, HHH, Ebreck, Xana, and PW were at full hit points and vitality." A feeling of power and well-being suffused them all. They were ready to end the battle.
Ebreck prepared to launch Waymaker to disrupt the lich's next spell. The lich, sensing that the dynamics of the battle had shifted towards his enemies' favour, determined that it would obliterate as many of its opponents as possible. Needing time to regroup, the lich began casting a minor enchantment that would reduce his enemies' effectiveness. Its arms began to pass in an arcane pattern. Taking his cue, Ebreck launched Waymaker, narrowly missing the lich's head. Nuria's eyes widened; she knew the lich was summoning illusionary images to frighten them. Ebreck and PW were surrounded by ghouls and demons of indescribable terror, and cowered in panic. Beginning a new spell, Nuria again recognized the lich's intentions, but was too late to prevent the arcane energy from being released. Suddenly, an orb of the darkest night engulfed HHH, Nuria, and Smokey.
"I know you're still here!" HHH bellowed as he swung Miranda. Connecting solidly twice, the lich's body jerked back uncontrollably.
"Spells aren't working," Nuria thought. "I need to get up close and personal." Quickly intoning a spell, Nuria's form morphed and grew until she resembled a being of fantastic proportions. She became giant-sized, with overlong arms, stooped shoulders, a low forehead, and thick, powerful limbs. Her voice, no longer sweet and gentle, roared out in triumph.
Though the dead know no fear, the lich seemed taken aback by this change in tactics. Almost absently, it called forth a blast of cold on HHH. Dodging nimbly, HHH avoided most of the flash of frost, though he was still partially caught by it. Turning back to the lich, it suddenly disappeared.
"Where did it go?" Ebreck hollered in alarm. Scanning the area quickly, he could see no trace of the lich. "Did it teleport?" he asked Nuria. Not waiting for a response, HHH, acting on a hunch, swung Miranda in the spot where the lich was last seen. Expecting to meet nothing but air, he was pleasantly surprised when his hammer bashed solidly into his unseen foe. "I see you!" he shouted with glee. Miranda lashed out again and again. Suddenly, the lich appeared, stricken, and fell to the floor.
Checking quickly for evil, HHH detected the lich's source of evil: its crown. Smashing the crown, a low wail seemed to echo across the room.
"So what do we do now?" Xana asked.
"We need to rest and plan our next move," PW replied. "Though we have prevailed, one of number has fallen."
"Should we use the demon's heart to bring Agrona back?" HHH asked, with a hint of sarcasm. "Or do you think he'll pull another Lazarus?"
"Let's wait and see," Ebreck stated. "If he's not up and about by tomorrow, then we'll need to bring him back. Otherwise, why waste the resources…" (WHERE'S THE LOVE????)
As Nuria checked the lich's remains for magic, the rainbow-like sphere in the middle of the room disappeared. The lich's bracers, ring, and cloak radiated strong magic. A dark glimmer caught her eye. Picking through the lich's bones, Nuria removed a diamond, dark as midnight. With an experienced eye, she gauged its worth at about 5000 gp.
Directing HHH to pick up the magical accessories from the lich's body, Nuria turned to the rest of the group. "There's nothing left of interest. Let's return to the previous room with pillars and set up camp."
Going back to the pillar room, the party searched the room for traps and secret passages, but found nothing. Meanwhile, Nuria, curious as to what the magic items did and miserably failing to resist the temptation, tried to blindly activate each item. Fortunately, nobody died and nothing seemed to occur. Nuria let out a little screech of frustration.
Moving to see what was bothering Nuria, PW looked over her shoulder and saw her fiddling with the cloak and bracers. "So what do they do?" Not noticing the venomous look Nuria shot at him, PW tried on the cloak and tried to activate it. Again, thankfully, nothing seemed to occur. "Pass me the ring and bracers. I might need all three to get these things going…" Donning them both, no effects came to light. "Ah well, maybe we were not meant to use these things…"
"Let's just rest up, okay," Nuria grumbled.
The party woke and prepared themselves to face the day's challenges. Agrona was getting breakfast ready as the others broke down the camp.
"How do you want your eggs?" he asked.
"Over-easy," PW replied. Then he did a double-take. "What the…Weren't you dead?"
"I got better," Agrona answered back. "Now, how do the rest of you want your eggs?"
Drawing Xana away, HHH whispered to her, "That ain't natural." Xana nodded in agreement. "We must keep a close eye on 'him' to make sure he ain't tainted with evil. I still can't get a clear impression of where he stands ethically. And that worries me."
Everyone else, though confused by Agrona's return, were just happy that he had returned. As the minor celebration subsided, HHH moved away from the group. A small tear rolled down his cheek as he fondly remembered Henrietta. She had served him well, never breaking faith and always supporting him. There had been many a time when her fury had tilted the balance in their favor. Now she was gone, but the party needed another staunch defender. Bowing his head in prayer, HHH pleaded with his deity, Ironhand, for further support. Sending out a heartfelt supplication, someone responded. A squat, muscular creature covered in wild, thick fur coalesced in front of HHH. She sat back on her haunches, her legs ending in wide, clawed feet. Her pointed snout sniffed the air, searching for the one who summoned her. HHH, his heart heavy with sorrow for his friend's loss, but grateful for Hennietou's arrival, reached over to his new mount and ruffled her fur. "Welcome to the family," he whispered.
Refreshed from her rest, Nuria analyzed the dweomers of the magic items. The bracers had very strong defensive magic on them, granting a +6 bonus to the owner's armor. The ring was another powerful tool: it proved capable of storing spells (up to 5 levels worth). The cloak proved to have versatile magic; it was a Cloak of the Winter Witch, granting its wearer cold resistance +10, boosting any cold damage from the wearer's spells by +1 per die, but rendering the wearer very vulnerable to fire (+50% damage from fire attacks).
"How shall we distribute these wonderful gifts?" PW queried.
After a brief discussion, it was decided that there would be an item swap. Xana received the Rod of Extend Spells as well as the Cloak of the Winter Witch. Ebreck received the Ring of Spell Storing, after Agrona placed a Plane Shift spell upon it, and passed the ring of Mind Shielding to PW.
"We never really looked around the room yesterday," said Ebreck. "Let's take a quick look see."
The party entered the large room where they had defeated the lich the day before and began searching the room for hidden areas. Nuria approached the altar and began to gently tap it, listening for any hollow spots which may indicate a secret compartment. Her efforts paid off; in short order she found a false panel that seemed to be covering a small opening. Calling PW over to assist her, she stepped back and let the halfling do his thing. In short order, PW found and disarmed a poison needle trap and opened the locking mechanism holding the panel shut. Opening the panel, PW spied a small lever. Shrugging his shoulders, he pulled the lever. Suddenly, the altar swiveled on hidden hinges and opened to reveal a fairly large compartment hidden under it. The compartment held few items: 2 books and a belt. HHH stepped up and checked for evil on the items but detected nothing. Nuria checked for magic and found that the belt and both books radiated magic. Before she could determine the nature of the magic, PW's small hand shot by Nuria and grabbed the belt.
"Cool!" he exclaimed as he quickly put the belt on.
"No!" everyone else yelled, expecting the worst. But nothing happened. Strolling over to the books, PW commented, "Nice belt. Feels good on me. Oh, watch out for that book," he said as he pointed one of them. "There's some glowing writing on it that looks a little dangerous." Nuria's hand had been straying towards it.
Nuria glanced at the book and noticed the glowing glyphs. Recognizing the danger, she quickly moved her hand away. Waving her arms in a brushing motion, Nuria cast a spell to erase the glyph, neutralizing its threat. Opening the book, it turned out to be a spell book with a very extensive repertoire of spells. "Mine!" she said gleefully. Looking at the other book, it seemed to be an encyclopedia of techniques on exercises to improve a person's balance and reflexes. "This will be most beneficial to you," Nuria said as she passed the book to PW. "You do know how to read, don't you?" PW stuck out his tongue, but cradled the book lovingly.
"So what does the belt do?" Agrona wondered.
"I can't check it until tomorrow," said Nuria. "Until then, we could just do trial and error to see what it does." As she was saying this, PW was surreptitiously palming some of Agrona's gold coins. With a wry grin, she continued. "So far, it doesn't seem to have harmed or changed PW."
While a game of 'pass-the-belt-and-try-to-lift-things-heavier-than-you' occurred, the party completed its search of the area. An hour later, nothing was found in the room and no clues to the possible use of the belt became apparent. "Okay," HHH grunted impatiently, "it's time to go."
Approaching the western door, PW placed his ear against it. Hearing no sound, he started looking for traps. "What's this?" he asked himself as he fingered a thin cord. A sharp twang rang out as a scythe sliced down in front of the door. Caught off guard, the blade cut PW deeply. Rushing over, Agrona caught PW and placed soothing hands on his wounds.
Seeing PW was no longer severely injured, HHH beseeched his deity to bless the party. A feeling of fresh vigor suffused the party. Pushing the door open, the party strode forward.
Taking the point, PW darted between the shadows as he moved towards the threshold of the doorway. The next room was large and partially caved in. The far wall had collapsed into a pile of rubble. On the eastern wall, a doorway stood. On the northern wall, 2 tapestries hung on the wall depicting black cloaked men stalking various beasts. Upon closer inspection, the beasts appeared to be gold and silver dragons. In the southeastern corner of the room, a table stood strewn with measuring devices, some unknown organic matter, and beakers, some empty, 3 filled with a blue liquid. HHH examined the filled beakers, but couldn't determine the nature of the liquid. As he reached for them, Miranda flared in warning. HHH suddenly had a premonition that the liquid was poisonous. Gingerly, HHH picked up the vials and moved them to the far corner to smash them with his lance. A sense of danger still flitted in the back of HHH's mind. To prepare himself and Hennietou, HHH surrounded them in a field of holy energy to protect them from any evil influence. Ebreck and PW searched the room, but found nothing.
Moving to the eastern door, PW found no traps and heard no sound. He did note that the door was ancient. HHH pushed on the door with his lance; the door disintegrated under the pressure. Poking his head in, HHH noticed that the eastern wall was collapsed and a large door was found on the southern wall. What drew his attention was a giant pentagram in the middle of the room with a corpse at its center. As he looked, the candles at the pentagram's points flared. Smoke and brimstone filled the pentagram as a large, multi-armed female appeared in it. Her face was of otherworldly beauty; from the waist down, though, her body tapered to a massive, green-scaled tail. "We've got trouble!" HHH warned.
Nuria warped space/time for the party, increasing their speed. The demon, unnaturally fast, slithered up to the door and tried to strike at HHH. HHH's protective field flared around him and stopped the demon's attacks. Seeing that it couldn't hurt him, nor reach the rest of its enemies, the demon glided to the side of the doorway to reduce its exposure to attacks.
Xana summoned a huge earth elemental using the Rod of Extending Spells. The rock started to churn beside the demon as the elemental started to form. Ebreck rushed past HHH into the room and pulled out the six-armed statue out of his backpack. Thrusting the statue forward, he commanded, "Cease and desist! Return to the abyss!" The demon, nonplussed, swung at the now-exposed Ebreck and struck him deeply.
PW jumped from shadow to shadow, entering the room behind the demon, and ran towards the pentagram. "Let's see if I can get rid of this thing without getting ourselves killed," he thought to himself. HHH and Henrietta moved into the room and prepared themselves. Agrona, not in immediate danger, cast Turn Anathema to turn chaotic enemies.
Nuria, in an attempt to banish the demon, cast Dispel Evil. The demon turned toward the newly-formed elemental and slammed it with its swords and tail. The elemental lashed out in retaliation, connecting solidly. Xana, to bolster her elemental ally, summoned another huge earth elemental beside the first. Ebreck stepped back and drew his bow. Filled with fury, he drew the string back with such ferocity, he threatened to burst the bow. Taking stock of the situation, he was forced to ease back on the string. Meanwhile, PW reached the pentagram and poured holy water upon it in the hopes of severing the demon's link to the Prime Material Plane. Though the pentagram was ruined, the demon remained. "Well, I tried," he thought. Rushing back towards the demon, he drew his rapier. HHH poured a Blessed Oil onto his lance braced himself to attack. Agrona summoned a sword of force, a spiritual weapon, to strike at the demon.
Nuria ran up to the demon and placed her hand on its side, discharging the arcane energy within her to force the demon back to the abyss. As the magic lanced out, it struck an invisible barrier surrounding the demon and dissipated. The demon turned its malevolent gaze towards Nuria. The elementals tromped over and interposed themselves between Nuria and the demon. Striking out at the elementals, the demon raged. The elementals stood toe-to-toe with the demon, exchanging blows. Xana changed into a hawk to increase her maneouverability.
Ebreck braced his bow to draw and almost tripped on rubble found on the floor. As he stumbled, the six-armed figurine fell to the floor. PW created an illusion of another elemental out of shadowstuff beside the demon to distract it. HHH, spurring Hennietou, coached his lance and charged. The demon dodged the blow, snaking its body around the lance, as well as Hennietou's flurry of strikes. Agrona moved closer to engage the demon.
Nuria started to step forward, disappearing, only to reappear the next instant beside Ebreck. The demon, no longer blocked by HHH's protective aura, struck out at him. Blades and a tail whipped his body mercilessly, though some of the damage was passed to Agrona. The elementals struck the demon, as Xana summoned a third earth elemental.
PW moved behind HHH to help support his next attack on the demon. "I'll distract it to give you an opening," he whispered. Unfortunately, HHH rushed his attack. Swinging wildly, he struck his own helmet and knocked it askew, blinding himself and causing his head to ring. Unable to stop the impetus of Miranda, he kept swinging in the hopes of hitting the demon. Regrettably, Miranda missed the demon cleanly and struck PW instead. "That's the last time I help you!" PW shouted. Hennietou, sensing her rider's misfortune, raked and bit the demon to little effect. With a quick glance, Agrona took in the situation. Calling forth positive energy, he cured the collective wounds of the group.
Nuria picked up the six-armed statue and tried to activate it blindly with her arcane powers. Nothing seemed to happen. The demon turned its attention to the earth elementals and managed to crush one of them completely in the coils of its tail. The remaining elementals rained blows on the demon. Xana flew to Agrona and healed him of his wounds.
Ebreck's arrows streaked out and buried themselves in the demon's vitals. "Take that!" As the demon writhed in pain, PW's rapier slammed home twice, in quick succession. The demon's tail whipped about wildly. It was fortunate that the demon was distracted, for HHH took the opportunity to adjust his helmet on his head. Hennietou struck the demon with claw and fang. Agrona tried to dismiss the demon back to the abyss, but the demon's will proved too strong, and it resisted the impulse.
"Enough of this nonsense," Nuria thought. Beginning a familiar chant, a ball of fire appeared in her hand and seemed to launch itself at the demon. It struck it full in the chest, as flames cascaded over its body. The demon shrugged off the mighty blow and turned to the pest that tried to force it off the plane. The demon tore into Agrona, and his blood fell like rain.
The elementals tried to draw the demon away from Agrona, but it kept its focus on him. Xana flew past Agrona again and cured some of his wounds. Ebreck's arrows continued their assault on the demon, causing electricity to skip along its body. PW's rapier was a blur, slashing repeatedly. HHH was having worse and worse luck. Rushing his attack again, he almost knocked himself out of his saddle and was forced to hang on desperately. Hennietou managed to gauge the demon deeply.
Agrona cast a spell of destruction, hoping to obliterate the demon. The demon's resistance proved too much, and the spell fizzled harmlessly. Bolts of mystical energy leaped from Nuria's fingerprints and pierced the demon. It gasped in agony. "Let me live…I will grant you a wish if you let me live…"
The elementals didn't heed the demons cry and continued their assault. Xana flew over HHH and cured his wounds. Ebreck let fly with another volley of arrows. As the last arrow left his bow, he tripped on the rubble again and fell to the floor, stunned. Though helpless, his arrows sped towards their target and buried themselves in the demon's left eye. The demon's shrieks filled the room and echoed in the party's skulls. Slowly, the demon melted into a pool of vile liquid.
Nuria inspected the statue to see if there was any change as the demon disappeared, but nothing occurred. Nuria and Agrona cured the party's wounds as they prepared to move on. Ensuring that there was no danger, the party opened the southern door. It led to a giant, rubble-strewn staircase. Pulling out the Rod of Seven Pieces, the adventurers followed the pull of the rod down the stairs. When the reached the bottom of the staircase, they knew they were very close to the final piece of the rod.
The staircase ended in a rough-walled room. A pair of double doors loomed before them. PW verified that there was no threat surrounding the doors and opened them. The room on the other side of the doors narrowed into a 5' corridor. The dark corridor had a 20' ceiling, and seemed to continue for a fair distance.
"It's a trap you know," PW said.
"Since we know it's a trap, we are better prepared to deal with it," HHH mused. "Our major difficulty is the lack of light."
"I'll take the lead," Ebreck volunteered. "I'll have a better chance of seeing what lies ahead." Moving in a single file behind Ebreck, the party began navigating the narrow path. Suddenly, a blinding flash of light burst ahead of them. A waft of ozone was their only warning as a bolt of lightning tore through the group. Beating a hasty retreat, the party sought refuge on either side of the double doors.
"Let's see what we are up against," said Nuria. Grasping the Rod, she summoned an invisible eye to explore the corridor. The arcane eye traversed the corridor and reached its end: a doorway with an eye glowing upon it. As the arcane eye explored the corridor, Agrona healed the party of their wounds.
"Hmmm," Nuria reflected. "The eye on the door could be the trigger for other traps. We need to blind it."
"I can hit it if I can get a clear target," Ebreck guaranteed. "Paint the target, and I'll hit it."
"I'll see what I can do," Nuria replied. Closing her eyes, Nuria cast a simple, but useful spell. Suddenly, the eye on the door was outlined with faintly glowing light. Ebreck drew and launched a trio of arrows into the center of the eye. "I think it's blind now," Xana declared.
"Just to make sure we don't stumble into any more traps, I'll open the door at a distance," proposed Nuria. Casting a Knock spell, the door slowly creaked open. Mentally guiding the arcane eye past the doorway, it suddenly winked out of existence. "What the..? Something strange is going on here…"
After a quick consultation, the party wanted to determine the nature of the trap. Firing lit arrows through the doorway, the party could see that there was a very large room past it. Nuria moved the glowing light that surrounded the eye on the door through the doorway. As the light passed the threshold of the doorway, it too winked out of existence.
"It seems to only affect magic," Agrona concluded. "We need to know how powerful this effect is."
PW and Ebreck skulked down the hall to the doorway. Carefully attaching a string to a cursed scroll that Nuria had given them, they tossed the scroll into the room. Reeling in the scroll, PW could tell that it had lost all magical enchantment. Trying the same experiment with a +1 longsword, they found that the sword maintained its charge. As PW turned to relay the information to the rest of the party, a voice boomed out. "My patience wears thin. Come and meet your doom." Before the words finished echoing down the hall, PW felt a foreign sensation wash over him, threatening to overwhelm him, but he managed to maintain control. Turning back to warn the rest of the party, he watched as they were engulfed by a blast of flame!
Ebreck and PW rushed back to rejoin the rest of the party. Unfortunately, Hennietou succumbed to her baser instincts and entered into a fit of rage. Tearing off down the corridor, HHH in tow, they moved towards the unexplored room. As he passed Agrona, HHH tossed his belt of potions to Agrona. "Hang onto these!" The rest of the party moved closer to Nuria as she chanted a spell. Ebreck placed his hands on Agrona, surrounding him in a protective field. "There. You should have no fear from fire for a while," promised Ebreck. As Nuria completed her spell, the party flashed out of existence, only to reappear in the far room.
The party took stock of the situation. They were in a huge, circular room. Its diameter seemed to be at least 50'. A lone door stood opposite the narrow corridor. Standing between the party and the door stood a skeletal figure clad in ancient robes and bits of armor: another lich. As the party prepared themselves, the lich released another ball of flame! The heat proved too much for Nuria as her body withered away from the blast.
Seeing Nuria fall, the party was galvanized into action. PW grabbed the Rod of Seven Parts out of Nuria's hand and rushed the lich. "Keep the lich busy," Agrona yelled. "I'll resuscitate Nuria." With that, he pulled out the Nanorian Stone, placed it on Nuria's chest, and lay on top of her to shield her from further harm. "Hope that this is as good for you as it is for me," he joked.
Xana, shaking off her uncertainty, summoned a greater earth elemental beside the lich. As she summoned her ally, she felt a twisting of the spell; the lich had done something, but the spell still seemed to work. She was worried. "What just happened?" Ebreck moved away from the others and rained arrows on the lich.
The lich turned towards Ebreck and screeched out words of power. Ebreck disappeared. From his point of view, he entered an elaborate and confusing labyrinth. "Crap! This isn't real!" Trying to escape the effects of the spell through sheer force of will, Ebreck remained trapped.
As Ebreck vanished, HHH and Hennietou rushed up to the lich. Furiously swinging Miranda, he struck a telling blow. "Another earth elemental ally! Xana, you've outdone yourself!" he thought to himself. Expecting the elemental to club the lich, he was shocked when it turned towards him and bashed him. "What the…? Xana, call off your pet rock! He's hitting the wrong guy!"
Xana panicked. "I'm not controlling him! The lich must have done something!" Unable to dismiss her creation, Xana was forced to dispel it. The elemental crumbled back into the earth.
Meanwhile, Agrona kept applying pressure on Nuria with his innominate bone. With the help of his ministrations, Nuria's body jack-knifed as she took in a shuddering gasp of air. Weak as a kitten, she looked dazedly around. "…" Placing his hands on her, Agrona channeled positive energy through his wristbands into her to heal her wounds. "Up and at'em! We got to smash another bag of bones!"
Agrona got up off of Nuria and slipped some gold coins under her waistband for some strange reason. As he was doing this, the lich pointed at him, and he fell to his knees, stunned. HHH struck the lich with Miranda, causing some of its ribs to crack. Henrietta kept tearing at it in mindless fury. PW rushed forward and struck the lich with the Rod of Seven Parts. Xana summoned a pillar of holy flames which swallowed up the lich. Nuria got to her feet, wondered why there were gold coins jingling in her waistband, and cast a spell to protect her from fire energy.
The lich, incensed, called down a curse on HHH to cause him great harm. Staggered by the spell, HHH felt his vitality drain out of him until he had almost nothing left. "A little help over here," he cried out. Before anyone could react, Miranda flared and healed him of the damage caused by the lich's spell. PW, seeing that HHH was better, smashed the rod over the lich's skull. As he stepped back, another pillar of holy flames engulfed the lich. Ebreck was still trying to get out of the illusionary maze.
"Heads up!" Nuria shouted. A ball of fire rushed towards the lich and caught it and PW in its blast. Amazingly, PW managed to dodge the flames and emerged unscathed.
"You are proving to be a greater annoyance than I anticipated," grated the lich. Taking a step towards the open doorway, he suddenly vanished and reappeared right in front of it!
"He's on the ropes!" HHH cried out triumphantly. Spurring Hennietou into a charge towards the lich, HHH walloped it with Miranda. Xana, seeing that she could do more good in her elven form, quickly reverted and drew her staff. "Halloo!" Ebreck shouted. "Can anybody hear me?"
"I hope you are not too fond of those eyebrows, HHH!" With that, Nuria launched another fireball at the lich. The blast engulfed the lich, HHH, and Hennietou. Hennietou managed to slip between the licks of flame, but HHH wasn't so lucky. "My eyebrows!" he cried in dismay. "Oh, no! I'm ugly, now!"
Taking a quick step back, the lich thrust out its arm and called forth a blast of arctic snow. The cone of devastating cold caught HHH, Hennietou, Nuria, and Agrona. Overwhelmed by her wounds, Nuria traveled to a new plane of existence. Agrona, already stunned, lay severely injured. HHH and Miranda kept attacking as PW rushed forward to help. "I think it's time I made myself a harder target." With that, Xana made herself invisible as she moved towards Agrona.
The lich, off-balance, rushed to cast another spell. In its haste, it left itself wide open to attacks by HHH and Hennietou. Though they struck with great effect, they couldn't stop the magic once started. Suddenly, PW and HHH were frozen in place. Conscious of their surroundings, they were unable to move. Hennietou continued her assault.
"We are in deep trouble," Xana breathed. Rushing over to Agrona, she prepared to cure him.
"Maybe, it's like a bad dream," Ebreck thought to himself. "I just need to wake up." Closing his eyes, he clicked his heels together and began to chant, "There's no place like home. There's no place like home. There's no place like home." Opening his eyes a little, he saw he was still trapped…
The lich, thinking that Xana was its remaining threat, focused its attention on her. It summoned bolts of force to pierce her. Undaunted, she kept moving towards Agrona. Frustrated at being held, both HHH and PW broke free of the force holding them in place. Hennietou ripped the lich a new hole as Xana healed Agrona of some of his wounds.
"I got it!" Ebreck exclaimed. "I'm trapped in a maze. But I can use Waymaker to help me find the path out of here!" With that, he gripped his trusty axe. The maze blurred and seemed to shrink in on itself. Only one route remained, and Ebreck took it. "It feels great to be out of that annoying maze!"
Whirling around at the sound of Ebreck's voice, the lich unleashed a sickly green ray that struck Ebreck square in the chest. Reduced to fine particulate matter, Ebreck's freedom was short-lived.
"NOOO!!!" HHH, tears streaming down his cheeks, leaped off Hennietou to grapple the lich. "You are done!" Channeling all of his positive energy into his hand, he slammed his fist into the lich's chest. Light flared out of the lich's body as it crumpled to the ground. HHH walked over to its crown. Evil emanated from it, an ancient, vile feeling. Lifting Miranda over his head, HHH crushed the crown into a million shards. Collecting the lich's robes and cloak, HHH collected his allies' remains. Without warning, the cavern began to shudder. Boulders shook loose and crashed to the floor. "What's happening?" Xana cried.
PW felt an incredibly strong urge to move to the unopened, southern door. An overwhelming sense of longing pushed him to open the door. Almost against his own volition, he unlocked the door. Ignoring everything around him, he entered the room. Coins beyond count were scattered over the entire room's floor, but he paid it no heed. He quickly thrust his arm into a large pile of coins, a prince's sum, and withdrew a rod. The alien feeling left him as suddenly as it appeared. Glancing around him, he shouted to the others, "Time to go!"
The rest of the party rushed into the treasure room. As they entered, PW yelled, "Grab what you can!" Snatching as many coins as they could, they huddled as close to PW as they could get. Using the rod, the party changed realities and appeared in a pastoral landscape, but it was unlike any landscape they had ever seen. The land seemed so vibrant and alive. The sky was a crystal blue, but as they looked up, they could see an untamed wilderness, all forests and jungle, resting above their heads. The appearance of this other layer above their heads was very unsettling.
"Where are we?" Xana asked.
"We're home," HHH said in awe. "We are on the Twin Paradises of Bytopia. From what I can tell, we are on the Golden Hills where Ironhand resides." Looking about, he continued. "Let's look around. We're safe for now."
Before they could move a dozen steps, Hennietou stopped in her tracks. The earth around them erupted as a score of huge badgers broke through the ground. Each was ridden by a gnome clad in heavy armor, and the gnomes did not look happy. "Who goes there?" the lead gnome asked.
HHH stepped forward. "I am HHH. I am a devout follower of Ironhand. My friends and I are in need of assistance. We are on a great quest to bring hope to our world. The forces of chaos and evil are raping our land, but we may have found the means to heal the damage being done."
The lead gnome looked at the party closely. "You may pass. Whatever aid we can give you will be provided. Follow me." With that, the gnome guided his mount to a nearby set of hills. The party entered a hidden valley nestled between the hills. Within the valley, a large and prosperous village of gnomes resided. The gnomes, curious about the visitors, approached cautiously but in a friendly manner. The gnome warrior led the party through the crowd. Though he said nothing, the other gnomes seemed to sense what was needed and rushed to get healing supplies and food for the party.
The gnome warrior led the party to a humble home. "Please rest in my dwelling. Ask anyone for whatever you need, and it will be provided. I must return to my duties." Without another word, he turned and left. "We didn't even learn his name," Xana said. Exhausted, the party lay down to sleep. It was the first time they hadn't felt threatened in a very long time.
The party awoke feeling refreshed and renewed. "First things first," Agrona pronounced. "We need to bring back our friends." Gathering the necessary materials from their supplies, Agrona began the long incantation to return their friends' spirits to their mortal shells. In a short period of time, Nuria and Ebreck were breathing on their own. Before they could ask, Xana told them, "We won. We have the last piece of the rod."
HHH paced. "I'm going to go explore the village," HHH stated. "I'll be back shortly." Without waiting for an answer, he left.
Nuria focused her attention on deciphering the magic items. Through careful analysis, she determined that the book that PW had been carrying around was a Manual of Quickness of Action which would raise his dexterity by 1. The belt was a Belt of Giant Strength +2. The lich's cloak was a Cloak of Stone which gave its wearer a +5 bonus whenever they tried to hide or move silently. On top of that, the cloak allowed its wearer to meld into stone twice a day. The lich's robes turned out to be a Robe of Stars. It allowed its wearer to travel to the Astral Plane at will, it gave a +1 bonus to its wearer's saving throws, and it had 6 single-use +5 shurikens.
As Nuria was busy, the party emptied their pockets of the coins they had collected. Overall, they had amassed enough fortune so that each player could get 12300 gp to spend as he or she saw fit.
PW sequestered himself from the others. It was finally time. Entering into a trance-like state, he started the ceremony to summon another shadow companion. Dancing and weaving between flickers of shadow caused by multiple candles, his spirit reached out to the shadowstuff and asked for help. A piece of the darkness separated itself from the other shadows and began to dance in step with PW. As the ceremony ended, the shadow remained behind. "Hello Gloamtou."
HHH walked to the main temple found in the center of the village. Ascending the stairs, he was stopped by a pair of angelic gnomes. "What is your business here, warrior?"
"I seek an audience with Ironhand," HHH answered. "We go to face evil that may end life on our plane. We need to be ready for the challenge. I come to plead my case before my patron so that he may change Hennietou's claws into cold iron. I do not want to fail in our quest."
A pained look crossed the angel's face. "I'm sorry. We know of your plight and some of the difficulties you have encountered. Know that Ironhand has not been sitting idly by. He has been going out and battling the threat you have challenged on many different planes. He has left us as guardians for his people in his absence. Unfortunately, he can not assist you at this time. Do not lose heart. You have the means to win." Heartened by this knowledge, HHH went to rejoin his companions.
The party had been greeted by the rest of the village. Their immediate needs were being treated. Seeing this, HHH approached the village blacksmith to make some magic items for him. After much haggling, HHH walked away with a good deal.
Later on in the day, the group of adventurers reassembled at their temporary base of operations. "We need to get back to see how the battle against Orcus progresses," Ebreck said. Looking around at the others, they all nodded agreement. After sending their thanks to the villagers, the heroes gathered around Agrona. Intoning words of power, the party shifted back to the world of Greyhawk. They appeared in front of Leukish, now a smoldering pile of rubble.
"Not again!" Xana cried.
"The demons are moving quickly," PW said. "We need information." Turning to Nuria, he asked, "Nuria, can you take us to the Assassins' Guild?"
Gathering around Nuria, the group was teleported out of sight of the ruins of Greyhawk. They walked to the Assassins' Guild from there to meet with Andre. As they approached the guild's gates, they noted that everything within the guild's walls were plush and growing. A lone person stood at the gates to greet them.
"I am too tired for pleasantries, Gregory," PW explained. "We need to see Andre." Gregory turned and guided the group to Andre.
"I am happy to see you still live," Andre began. "I know you are tired so I will cut to the heart of the matter. Most of the major capitals and urban areas have been destroyed. There are no real assembled forces to defend Greyhawk. The demons are proving to be an effective force. Their hordes simply overrun their opposition, smothering them with their sheer numbers. Most of our allies are dead or in hiding. The only notable ally that is still around is Elizar."
"Thank goodness he's still around," PW said gratefully. "We have the last piece of the rod and we need him to assemble it."
"In anticipation of your return, Elizar has instructed me in what he needs to complete the rod," Andre said. "He will need a flawless gem to focus the necessary arcane energies." With a heavy heart, PW passed an exquisite diamond, worth an estimated 5000 gp, to Andre. "It will take some time for him to get here. While you wait, please feel free to rest. We can help keep you supplied, though you have to understand that at this time, getting certain supplies may prove very difficult, if not impossible." Finished, Andre dismissed the group.
"Thank you," Nuria said. "Before we leave, do you have any knowledge on the use of the Rod of Seven Parts?"
"Our knowledge is extensive, but we know nothing about this artifact," Andre said apologetically. The party filed out and went to the barracks to rest.
Two days had passed since their audience with Andre. During that time, the party had started restocking their supplies. The morning bell rung out as dawn broke. A gentle knock at their door caught the party's attention. PW went to open the door. A young trainee stood at the door. "Elizar is here and he is waiting for you in the lord's office." The party followed the young man to Andre's office.
They entered the room and were greeted by Elizar and Andre. "Events are moving quickly and you are being left behind." Elizar began. "Most traces of society have been obliterated. Demons are randomly appearing across the land. There doesn't seem to be any pattern to where they are being sent. I sense that Orcus is getting closer to entering this plane of existence. If he succeeds, all will perish. Where is the Rod?"
Nuria passed the Rod and its final piece to Elizar. Elizar quickly strode away. As he left the room, he called out, "It will take 2 days to assemble the final piece. I will also research how to use the Rod to stop Orcus."
Nuria turned to Andre. "Does Torlorn still stand?"
"Yes, it does. It is in good standing, though the land around it is now inhospitable." Then Andre strode away as well.
"Let's continue preparing for battling Orcus," HHH said.
Everyone had been training feverishly for the past 2 days. PW had completed reading his manual, finished the training outlined in it, and felt more dextrous. Once he closed the book, it crumbled to dust.
Elizar materialized in the party's quarters. "Here is the Rod." Passing the Rod of Seven Parts to Nuria, he began to outline its abilities. "With this rod, you can Heal your wounds once per day. As a whole, you will be able to cast Greater Restoration once per day. The Rod now acts as a +5 Quarterstaff. The thicker end can bludgeon your enemies while the thinner end can pierce them. The Rod's most powerful ability is to be able to bring the dead back to life. This power, though, would unleash the Rod's power in a Retributive Strike and scatter its pieces to the winds."
"How do we use the Rod to stop the onslaught?" Nuria asked.
"You must use the Rod of Seven Parts to banish Orcus. You must cause the Rod to release all of its energies. The only way to do this is by using the Rod to cause a Retributive Strike."
"What does that mean?" PW questioned.
"The Rod is made up of chaotic energy. The creators of the Rod of Seven Parts forced perfect order on ultimate disorder. From this dichotomy, incredible power could be harnessed. Due to the nature of its creation, the Rod is constantly trying to break free of the force of imposed law. Unbelievable energy holds the pieces of the Rod together. The Retributive Strike unleashes all of this energy in a single burst. Know this: whoever does releases this energy will most assuredly be lost beyond all recovery." The party sat and absorbed this knowledge.
"Where is Orcus?" Agrona asked.
"I don't know where Orcus will appear."
"Well then, how do we find him?" Agrona pressed. "Will you help us destroy him?"
"Finding him is your problem. I have provided more than enough assistance. Under no circumstances will I fight Orcus directly. Whether or not Orcus wins, I will pay in the after life."
Seeing how crestfallen the party became, Elizar seemed to relent. "I don't know how long it will take to find where Orcus will appear. I will continue my research. There are forces actively working to block my powers."
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