Adventure Date: March 15, 2008
Last Updated: January 6, 2009
Day 238 - Midday
Agrona fumed, "By Heironeous' Sword, next time you guys decide to run from a battle, let me know! I don't like staring down a dragon on my own!"
"What are you complaining about?" Ebreck snapped back. "You didn't get blasted by its glacial breath!"
"True," Agrona mused. "I still don't like being left out of the loop…"
With that, the party checked there surroundings. They had entered a large, 40' x 60' room. The room was devoid of any furnishings and its only distinguishing characteristic was the double door found opposite of where the heroes had entered.
HHH started to chant to his deity. "Let us prepare for what comes." A glow surrounded his body, focusing on his arms, and he felt his deity's blessing wash through him. A feeling of power pulsed through his body. Tossing his Gauntlets of Ogre Power to Ebreck, he stated, "I have no need for these anymore. Use them well." Donning the gauntlets, Ebreck felt his strength increase as well.
Meanwhile, Nuria face twisted at the tartness of the good berries she ate. A sensation of well-being suffused her being. Opening her eyes, she quickly scanned herself. Her body was still scarred with hoar-frost and her limbs throbbed at her returning circulation. Seeing Nuria's discomfort, Agrona approached and pulled out his strand of holy beads. Grasping the beads in his right hand, he passed them over Nuria's body. The beads glowed; Nuria's body glowed as well as her wounds began to knit themselves.
"I have to protect myself better, next time," Nuria thought to herself. Quickly intoning spells, she felt herself bolstered by additional vigor, though she knew the power of unlife was supplying the extra stamina. A shield of force flared into existence, floating directly in front of her. "Is everyone ready?" Nuria asked. Looking at the nods of assent, she continued, "Let's get going."
PW skulked up to the double door and listened for any signs of enemies on the other side. Signaling he heard nothing, he opened the door. Glancing in, the heroes were first amazed at the next room's furnishing. In contrast to the room they were in, the next room was furnished with many benches, chairs, and tables. Opulent tapestries hung along the walls, glorifying the forces of the tanar'ri and their victories. Gems and precious metals embossed the walls and ceiling.
The party's eyes next settled on the group of 8, heavily cloaked and cowled humanoids in the center of the room. It was hard to tell who was more surprised, but it was easy to determine the intentions of the cloaked ones. "Death to the unbelievers!" Drawing weapons, they moved to engage the party.
HHH quickly prayed for his deity's blessing for him and his companions; they all felt the deity's presence within themselves, guiding their strikes. At that moment, PW rushed into the room and struck the first opponent he met. Xana's flesh bubbled and took on a rough and hardened appearance. The next moment, she strode forward as a large Earth Elemental, prepared for combat. Nuria side-stepped to get a better view of her opponents. Arcane words flowed from her lips as her hands traced a complex pattern. Suddenly, an ice storm struck the 3 rearmost opponents. Gloam 2 glided forward and lashed out at PW's opponent, but somehow missed him.
Ebreck drew an arrow and fired at PW's adversary. It struck feather-deep into his shoulder, but he seemed to ignore the severe wound. Rushing to fire again, Ebreck fumbled with his bow and dropped it. Agrona, hoping to open the field of battle, pointed his fist at PW's enemy. A blinding light flared from his fist and pierced cleanly through the dark cloak. Pitching over, he was dead before his corpse hit the ground.
Seeing his stricken companion, one of the cloaked figures turned coward and fled through a side door. As the figure rushed out the door, half of the room became enshrouded by darkness, covering the enemies' motions.
"We need some light!" HHH cried out. Xana, her voice sounding like grinding boulders, countered the darkness with a dome of daylight. The moment the darkness disappeared, the heroes could see the cloaked-ones were fleeing towards the side door. "Oh, no you don't!" PW yelled. With that, he ran forward to try to delay the last 2 opponents from fleeing the room.
"I think the time for subtlety has passed," Nuria whispered to herself. "Heads up, PW!" With that, a ball of balefire leaped from her hands and crashed beside PW. The explosion caught all 6 of the cloaked figures, blasting their flesh from their bones. Receiving the smallest of warnings, PW was still able to avoid the licks of flame via a superhuman effort. Seeing the area cleared, the heroes entered the room and started searching it. A quick perusal of the corpses showed that they all carried symbols holy to Orcus, Demon Prince of the Undead. "We have to catch the one that got away," pressed Ebreck.
HHH stepped through the side door and entered a massive room. The room itself seemed to be L-shaped, though the heroes couldn't see the rest of the room around the corner. Within the 220' x 220' portion of the cavernous room was an imposing statue of Orcus. Appearing to be made of pure onyx, the statue glared down at the party with its ruby eyes. Ebreck followed the acolyte's tracks around the corner. Based on the distance between footprints, the acolyte had been fleeing with all due haste.
As Ebreck tracked their opponent, HHH began approaching the giant statue of Orcus. Donning his Golembane Necklace, HHH hoped to determine if the statue was animated (and thus a threat) or not. Before he could reach the statue, the echoing sound of a gong rang out from around the corner. Rushing to discover the source of the sound, the party rounded the corner. There, they gazed upon rows of duergar dwarves lined up to greet them. The acolyte, well behind the duergar, wielded a mallet as he struck a giant gong again and again. The gong sat beside a large pair of double doors. The battalion of 50 duergar raised their arms in unison and charged the party.
The party lost sight of the acolyte as they turned their attention to the immediate threat. Thinking quickly, Nuria summoned a bank of yellowish-green fog that engulfed the charging duergar. Choking and gasping for air, 30 of the duergar collapsed, never to rise again. The rest, undaunted, continued their charge. They staggered forward, poison coursing through their veins, but their desire to kill overcame the agony they felt. Ebreck fired arrow after arrow at the duergar. Dropping one dark dwarf and severely wounding another, Ebreck almost dropped his bow in his haste to draw another arrow.
Xana, in her earth elemental form, stopped suddenly. Frozen in place, her arms were flung unexpectedly upward in supplication. A firestorm ripped through the duergar, leaving behind 8 charred corpses. Agrona and PW peppered the survivors with bolts from their crossbows. Finally getting within striking distance, the surviving duergars drew their own crossbows and fired a volley at the party. Most of the crossbows were deflected by armor, though Ebreck and Xana felt their sting penetrate their defenses. HHH, hoping to engage the twisted dwarves, rushed forward brandishing Miranda.
Before reaching the duergars, 2 of their number collapsed, the poison having finally finished them off. Nuria, seeing Ebreck was short on arrows, pulled a quiver of magical arrows from her magical haversack and passed them to Ebreck. Restocked, Ebreck fired a deadly barrage. Five more duergars fell dead in its wake. Xana rushed forward to engage the duergar. Agrona and PW provided cover fire. As PW raised his crossbow to shoot, his cloak became entangled in the crossbow's string. Cursing his luck, PW was forced to carefully untangle his cloak to prevent damage to his crossbow. Quickly glancing up, he saw the duergar take aim. Their volley of bolts struck Xana, HHH and Ebreck, but didn't slow them.
HHH and Nuria rushed forward to eliminate the remaining duergar. As they braced themselves to strike, another volley of arrows flew over their heads. Striking the duergar, they all fell dead. "Sorry to ruin your fun," Ebreck cried out, "but it was taking you guys too long to kill them."
"When have you ever been this bloodthirsty?" Agrona asked.
Ebreck responded in a hard voice. "They were duergar."
Nuria examined the duergar remains for any magic items, but found nothing. PW's face took on a more serious expression. "We need to deal with Orcus' statue." With that, he started trotting over towards it.
"It just seems to be a statue," Xana explained. "If it was a threat, it would have attacked us from behind when we were engaged with the duergar."
PW's expression never changed. "Doesn't matter. It needs to be dealt with. Come on, Ebreck." Tossing a flask of holy water to Ebreck, the pair continued on their way to the statue. Xana felt uncomfortable with the situation. "Why is he so adamant? Are his actions his own?" Vowing to keep her eyes on PW, Xana moved to follow PW and Ebreck.
Eager to catch up to the acolyte who escaped, HHH donned his Amulet of Adaptation and passed through the poisonous cloud that Nuria had summoned. Opening the double doors, he entered a large room, about 180' x 80', littered with tables and stools. Cards, dice, and chips were scattered on the tables and floor, as if quickly flung aside. Pitchers of dark ale and plenty of mugs were strewn on the tables. A large stairway leading to the upper levels was in the room, as well as another large set of double doors opposite the one that he had passed through. Quickly scanning the room, he listened at the double doors, but heard nothing. Looking up the staircase, he noted that it went up around 50' or 60', but didn't see anything unusual. "Time to get the rest of the party."
Back at the statue, Xana's suspicions continued to grow. "He's too focused. He's never this focused. He's bordering on obsession. Something is definitely wrong." Coming to a decision, Xana suddenly grappled PW. "What are you doing, crazy woman?!?!" PW screamed. "You aren't acting like yourself!" Xana yelled back. "You would never take the time to desecrate a statue if it wasn't a threat!"
"Fine, fine, fine," PW grumbled. "I just wanted the statue's eyes. I just didn't want to seem too greedy."
"What?" Xana screeched. "You got me this worked up, worrying about you, thinking you were possessed or something else horrible, and you just want some stupid, shiny stones!"
"Aacchh!" PW gasped. His face turning purple, he managed to wheeze out, "Do…you…mind…loosening…your…grip…a little?"
"Oops. Sorry." Xana gently lowered PW to the ground. Feeling himself to verify his organs weren't crushed too far out of place, PW managed a wry grin. "How about you help me get the rubies in question to make up for squeezing the breath out of me?"
Ebreck, oblivious to what was happening, or not really caring, was splashing holy water on the statue. Xana, carrying PW in her right hand, hoisted him up to the statue's eye-level. Quickly prying them out, PW eyes glazed over. "These beauties are easily worth 250000 gp each; a prince's ransom, or at least a duke's!" Xana, still a little suspicious, scanned the rubies for magic surreptitiously, but found no traces of magic on the rubies or the rest of the statue. "I guess I am being paranoid."
Rejoining the group, minus HHH, PW proudly showed off the prize he acquired. "And it only took 2 cracked ribs to get!" he bragged. Nuria, excited at the prospect of buying more magical toys, dumped the saddle from her magical haversack (Sorry HHH, Henrietta, and Hennietous). Watching Nuria's magical cloud dissipate, the party rejoined HHH.
Agrona called HHH over. "HHH, a moment. Before you run off into combat again, I need to renew my protective spell on you." Taking the platinum rings they both wore, Agrona prayed over them. Returning HHH's ring, Agrona replaced his on his finger, renewing the mystical bond between them.
Ebreck had been tracking the acolyte and noted his trail went up the staircase. PW, curious about the rest of the complex and having found no traps on the double doors, cracked them open. A huge room, with a pit in its center, came into view. Seeing no one else around, PW opened the door fully and stepped into the room. Besides having a pit, the room had multiple doors lining the walls. Stepping closer to the railing that ringed the pit area, PW glanced up. PW noticed a floor 50' or 60' above the one they were on, with another balcony overlooking the pit. Looking down, he saw the bottom of the pit 50' or 60' down. The pit floor seemed to be an arena, with 3 sets of double doors and a single door lining the arena's walls. "Well this is getting us nowhere," PW thought to himself. "Let's see what's behind door number one."
Moving towards the doors, he listened carefully for sounds of alarm. Instead, he heard raucous laughter, cheering, and muffled conversations. "That's odd." Moving to the next door, he heard the same things. Examining all the doors resulted in the same outcome. Wishing to see what the laughing was all about, PW asked Gloam 2 to investigate. Gloam 2 glided towards the door, but stopped suddenly. "That's really odd. What could stop a shadow from passing?"
Relaying what he learned to his companions, they decided on their next course of action. "I'm really curious, too, about what is behind the doors," Xana admitted. After a quick discussion, they set their plan into motion. Nuria stepped up to the first door and cast Silent Portal on it. PW then carefully cracked the door open and glanced inside. What he saw made him freeze in place. He gazed upon a large, L-shaped room. What stopped him in his tracks was the very large number of gray dwarves located in the room who were gambling and guzzling a substantial amount of ale. Gently closing the door, he whispered to the rest of the party, "Time to leave. Let's not piss off the drunk dwarves."
As the party backtracked to the staircase in the previous room, Ebreck covered their tracks. Once at the staircase, Ebreck took the lead, following the acolyte's trail. Noting that the acolyte took the steps 2 at a time, Ebreck followed, stepping exactly where he had stepped. The rest of the party took Ebreck's lead and placed their feet carefully up the stairs. At the top of the stairs, Gloam 2 scouted a little ahead. The staircase opened up to a corridor. Two doors were found on the left by the stairs and one on the right. The corridor itself continued and was intersected by 2 separate, but parallel-looking, corridors. Gloam 2 peeked around the corner of the first corridor and found it turned after a short distance. Peeking around the corner of the second corridor, he found it turned after a short distance as well.
The party decided to examine the doorways before continuing. Opening the first left hand door, they saw it opened into a 90' x 70' room. Bunks lay against the walls, with weapons and armor organized around each bunk. A set of double doors could be seen on the other end of the room. Finding no traps and hearing no sound from the other side of the door, PW opened the door gingerly.
An inferno engulfed the party. Ebreck and PW, acting quickly, hugged the wall and avoided the flames completely. Nuria, protected by her spell, reappeared unscathed from the center of the blast. The rest of the party did not fare so well. Agrona's armor went red-hot as the flames danced around him. HHH brushed off the blast; Xana's elemental form started to bake under the intense heat. In the midst of the blast, Gloam 2 let out a mournful cry as he was blasted into oblivion. As the fires died down, PW doubled over, whelmed by grief at the loss of his companion. "Not again!" he screamed.
Nuria, sympathetic to his loss, went over to comfort PW. Trying to avoid his feelings of loss, Agrona focused on healing the party. Directing his holy energy, he laid curing hands on himself and Xana. PW wiped tears from his eyes as he rose to his feet. "I won't let them beat me down!" His face grim, he went to see what was so important behind the door; it had better have been important for the price they paid. Glancing past the double doors, PW saw, to his horror and disgust, another set of double doors. "You've got to be $#!^^!*% me! This is so not what I was hoping to see!" Moving forward recklessly, he began unlocking the next set of double doors. As he prepared to fling the doors open, Nuria stopped him with a gentle touch. "Your death won't bring him back, nor will it serve any purpose," she said quietly. "You will have your chance to avenge his loss when we destroy the architects of this entire scenario."
Nodding grimly, PW stepped back as Nuria checked for magical traps. A mystical symbol flared before her on the center of the door, and it did not bode well. Telling the others to step back, she attempted to remove the threat by erasing the symbol. Passing her hands in a wiping motion over the glyph, it seemed to disappear. "It's safe now." Moving back, PW stepped up and examined the doors carefully. As his fingers passed delicately over the seam of the door, he felt a very thin tripwire, completely invisible to the naked eye. Tracing the tripwire to either end of the door, PW jammed the trap's release mechanism. Confident, he pushed the doors open.
As they opened, the party was blinded by light cascading off of stacks of bars of precious metals. Nuria and PW's jaws dropped, and they both developed drooling problems. Bars of gold, silver, platinum, and electrum were piled higher than a tall human. A quick count revealed that there were 1100 bars of gold, 4000 bars of silver, 380 bars of platinum, and 550 bars of electrum. With a practiced ease, PW hefted several of the bars to test their weight. In a self-assured voice, he called out, "Each bar has 1000 coins of each type of metal. I'm pretty certain that we are raiding the duergar's treasure trove." A satisfied grin was etched on his face.
Faster than light, Nuria ditched random, unimportant (at least to her) stuff from her magical haversack. Tents, rations, cloaks, they all went flying. Hefting 10 bars of platinum, she slid them in gently into her haversack. Ebreck, not to be left out, ditched his bedroll for a bar of platinum. "I think we've taken all we can," Xana stated. "Let's continue our quest." Dragging Nuria out of the treasure room, the party returned to the hallway.
Opening the door on the right, the party entered a plush, well-adorned room. Holy symbols, encrusted with jewels, and accoutrements associated with Orcus filled the room. The decorations had a feminine air to them. "I think we're in the high priest's room," Ebreck mused. A lacy bra caught his attention. "Make that the high priestess' room." Xana had begun examining the tapestries lining the walls. Each of them celebrated victories over the deep gnomes and praised Orcus' glory. Another door, partially covered by a tapestry, led out of the room. The party entered a small office, stocked with books. Since none of them radiated magic, the party left the room to continue their exploration.
Opening the other door on the left, they found it led into a large, well-lit hallway. The hallway itself was L-shaped and had 2 doors along its walls. One could be seen at the end of the hallway, while the other was near where they had entered. Cautiously opening the door, the heroes found it entered onto a large balcony that overlooked a pit. The balcony seemed to be the viewing area they had seen before; many chilled ales and wines could be found on the balcony, as if they had been recently left there. At the other end of the balcony, the party opened another door.
This area opened up into a hallway with 6 doors. Examining each door, they found that they could hear lots of people talking on the other side, but their voices were too muddled to make out the words. "It's definitely common they're speaking in," Ebreck asserted. "But I can't make it out." Stepping away from the doors, the heroes planned their next move.
"We could try to sneak in," PW stated, "but is it worth it? Sounds like there's a lot of them and we're no closer to getting to Orcus. He's the real threat!"
"Agreed," Agrona said. "Let's double back to the top of the staircase and explore the 2 side corridors. We still haven't found that acolyte who got away."
"I can still track him," Ebreck assured. With that, the party doubled back to where they entered the floor and began tracing the acolyte's steps. As Ebreck was following the trail, he stumbled over a loose tile. Falling over, he kicked up so much dust that he covered their quarry's tracks.
"Okay then," HHH breathed. "He couldn't have gotten far. Let's try one of these doors." Opening a nearby door, they entered another hallway. Statues, all resembling Orcus' minions, lined the walls. Most of the statues represented powerful undead in Orcus' thrall. HHH, donning the Golembane necklace, went to examine the statues to ensure they wouldn't animate and attack them. Finding them to be harmless, he turned to address the rest of the party. At that moment, Nuria released a fearful scream and ran back the way they came.
Xana changed into a dire tiger and gave chase. Agrona, afraid of alerting any sentries, silenced Nuria's screams with a spell. Xana tackled Nuria, and they tumbled end over end. Nuria gave a mighty struggle, pushing and pulling on Xana (I know, I know; you're all waiting for another intense scene with strong lesbian undertones, but I don't have HHH's "creative" talents, so I'll just leave it to your sick and twisted imaginations on how Xana subdues Nuria).
Nuria stopped her struggling and seemed to regain her composure, but she refused to return to the statue-filled hallway. "No, no, no, no, no…" Nuria couldn't stop moaning. Her eyes were wide and she couldn't stop shaking.
"We can't just leave her," Ebreck said.
"Tie her up and I'll carry her on my shoulder," HHH replied. Everyone gave him incredulous looks. "What? It's the most efficient way of crossing the hallway and keeping her with us." Nobody could refute the argument; shortly thereafter, Nuria's hands were tied and she was unceremoniously tossed over HHH's shoulder. Bouncing on his shoulder, the party began to cross the hallway.
A deep-seeded fear gripped Nuria. "I must escape! They've all turned traitors! I must escape! They've all turned traitors!..." The thoughts repeated themselves in her mind. Moving quickly, Nuria began squirming to loosen the rope that bound her. Slipping free, she clubbed HHH on the back of his head. As HHH stumbled, Nuria wriggled free and began to run back the way they had come. Xana, still in the form of a tiger, gave chase and tackled her again.
"Okay," Ebreck concluded, "we need to tie up more than her hands." Seconds later, Nuria was trussed up like a pig. Once again on HHH's shoulder, the party finally passed through the hallway and entered another room. The room was completely dark, but empty. HHH noted that Nuria stopped fidgeting. Putting her down, he saw that a level of sanity had returned to her eyes. Untying her, she plopped down on the floor. Nuria couldn't explain what happened, but she was still disturbed by the experience. Crossing the room, the party opened another set of double doors. As the doors opened, a field of magical darkness swallowed the party.
Nuria cast a field of daylight to nullify the darkness. What was revealed when the darkness vanished took the party aback. Rotting corpses, floating apparitions, vile undead were marching toward them, wailing piteously. They numbered about 100 and their glares left no illusion as to their intention.
HHH and Ebreck prepared their weapons with oils of Bless Weapon. Moving forward, Agrona prepared to blast the corpses with holy energy. Stepping back, Nuria sent forth a ball of fire that smashed into the undead ranks. Though almost 20 of their number fell, the rest never stopped their approach.
PW began pelting the undead with bolts, while HHH joined Agrona to engage the undead. Ebreck's arrows tore through a translucent spectre, dispersing its unholy energy. Xana, to slow the shambling advance of the abominations, summoned 4 fire elementals to combat them. Agrona presented his holy symbol confidently, gathering his holy energy to turn back the tide of evil. As he began to rebuke them, his symbol turned red hot. Dropping it, Agrona watched as his Symbol of Heironeous melted into slag. "Thus is the fate of all who oppose Orcus!" The voice rang in Agrona's head. Nuria, seeing Agrona's plight, cast an ice wall to slow the undeads approach. "Time for a tactical retreat!" PW cried. "We're picking off individuals, but we're not taking down enough. They'll be all over us and we won't stand a chance!"
"Let's move out of the room, and we can engage them in smaller groups as they pass through the doorway," HHH recommended. The party moved back towards the door. The fire elementals, fighting with an incomparable fury, ripped apart the undead ranks before they were overwhelmed. Backing up, the heroes prepared themselves.
"We need time to prepare for our counterattack!" PW cried. Signaling the others to step behind him, Agrona summoned a circular blade barrier, traversing the undead's path. Incorporeal undead, wraiths and specters, managed to glide through the physical ice barrier, but the moment they tried to cross the blade barrier, their front ranks were shredded. The other undead kept gliding forward; they were able to partially slide between the spinning blades. Nuria surrounded herself with a magical shield while Xana summoned 3 more fire elementals to destroy the wraiths and specters before they reached the party.
HHH cast a protective spell against evil around himself as he hefted Miranda and stepped back towards the doorway. The fire elementals engaged the wraiths and specters, the two groups destroying each other. The other undead finally managed to collapse the wall of ice and lurched towards the party. As they encountered the invisible barrier, they were eradicated. Mindless, rank after rank continued to walk into oblivion. Soon, all the undead were destroyed.
Dismissing the blade barrier, Agrona and the party approached the back of the room to a set of double doors. These seemed different from the others, more ornate and somehow more menacing. Xana called out, "Agrona, wait!" Turning to see what was the matter, Xana handed a wooden replica of his holy symbol. "I saw that you had yours destroyed," she explained. "I warped some wood into the right shape. HHH, can you come over here to bless this new symbol?" Walking over and without breaking stride, HHH pulled out a vial of holy water, sprinkled its contents onto the symbol, and said a quick benediction. "It's holy," was all he said.
The party continued to approach the double doors. A feeling of anticipation and expectation began to well within Agrona. Stopping the others, he simply said, "This is it. This is where we face this world's greatest threat. Before we go on, I just want to say that it has been an honour and a pleasure." The others looked at him with questioning looks. "I don't know how I know, but I know that this is it. Remember, defeat is not an option. We must destroy our enemies."
Taking his words to heart, the party prepared themselves. Agrona cast a Shield of Law on the party, bolstering them defensively. He also cast Deathward on PW to prevent any magical death effects from taking hold of him. Xana cast Stone Skin and Barkskin on HHH while handing her energy clasp to PW. Ebreck cast Barkskin on himself as Nuria cast displacement on HHH. "We're ready," Ebreck stated simply. "Let's do the deed."
Approaching the doors, chanting could be heard on the other side. Determining quickly that the doors weren't trapped, PW unlocked them and pushed. The room they saw was huge, around 420' x 280'. Inside the room was a large, square-based pyramid. The pyramid itself seemed to have 2 levels. The ceiling was 40' above each level of the pyramid, increasing in height as the pyramid did. The room was far from empty. Ranks upon ranks of duergar could be seen on each level of the pyramid. Saluna the succubus could be seen flying above the first level of the pyramid. Gwardo and Crimson turned towards the sound of the door opening; Gwardo began rallying the duergar on the first level of the pyramid as Crimson, though surprised initially, grinned maliciously and waved the party forward. The main stairway leading to the first level was blocked by a towering humanoid with bat wings. Lurid flames danced over its skin. In one of its massive clawed hands, an enormous, serrated blade was held; a whip licked by tongues of fire hung from its other hand. The balor roared its challenge and stepped towards the doorway. Chanting could be heard on the upper level, but nothing could be seen from the party's vantage point.
Nuria stepped through the threshold of the doorway and felt her magical defenses melt away. Throwing herself back, she managed to stop the rest of the party from stepping through. "It's a trap!" Chanting quickly, she, HHH, and Ebreck winked out of existence, only to reappear on the first level of the pyramid directly behind Gwardo.
"Surprise, ugly!" Ebreck shouted as he shot at Gwardo's unprotected back. Ducking and weaving, Gwardo somehow managed to avoid all of Ebreck's arrows! Gwardo shouted words of power and a wave of hatred spread out from his body and washed over Ebreck, Nuria and HHH. Undaunted, HHH charged Gwardo and slammed him with Miranda. Only slightly staggered, Gwardo stepped up to retaliate.
Meanwhile, PW shadow walked into the room and dashed towards the stairwell. The duergar swarmed HHH, Nuria, and Ebreck. Crimson, wearing red, spiked armor, stepped up to PW and swung his greatsword to great effect. Gwardo flung powder into Ebreck's face, hoping to incapacitate him. Holding his breath and ducking, Ebreck avoided its effects.
Xana turned to Agrona to quickly plan their next move, but stopped what she was going to say. Agrona's face was twisted into a mask of pure hatred and he yelled his challenge. "Don't do it!" Xana pleaded. "It's a trap!" Agrona completely ignored Xana and charged through the magical field. Though he lost his protective spells, what happened next took all the combatants by surprise. His body glowing, a horrid scream began to build. The scream seemed to come from everywhere and nowhere, and the duergar paused in wonder. Agrona continued to rush towards the Balor, his death seemingly assured. An ethereal presence leaped out of his body and coalesced in front of him. Cloaked in fire and standing over 10 feet tall, large, batlike wings snapped out as a long, sharpened tail whipped wildly behind it. Covered in scales, the enormous humanoid smiled a toothy smile as its saliva dripped like venom. The Pit Fiend roared its challenge and grappled the balor.
Seeing PW thrashed by Crimson's greatsword, Xana was greatly troubled. "They need my help!" Coming to a decision, Xana summoned two huge earth elementals to attack Crimson. Nuria, needing to bolster herself and her companions, cast a spell to hasten their movements. Ebreck, seeing Saluna preparing to swoop on them, fired a barrage of arrows at her. The arrows plunged deeply into her body; she cried out, her body melting as she died. HHH, trying to cover Ebreck swung his hammer defensively, but only managed to strike Ebreck. PW, trying to rejoin the rest of his companions, shadow walked past the Balor and Pit Fiend, and tumbled through the duergar.
An aura of hatred surrounded Gwardo that buffeted Ebreck, Nuria and HHH. Stepping forward, he laid his hand on HHH. A feeling of dread and doom filled HHH as pain lanced through his body. Crimson, put upon by the elementals, swung his greatsword wildly at them. The duergar attacked the party, trying to knock them off-balance. A Blood Fiend suddenly appeared, flying above the top of the stairs of the first level.
Agrona sent forth a firestorm to clear a path for PW up the stairs. Hammering the opponents in front of PW, Agrona managed to greatly weaken them. Xana, to bolster her other earth elementals, summoned a greater earth elemental. Nuria, to clear her immediate area of opponents, cast a spell of chain lightning, which ripped through the duergar and Gwardo. Several duergar fell, but they were quickly replaced by others. Ebreck took aim at the Blood Fiend and let loose another volley of arrows. The arrows sped towards it, then suddenly reversed direction and struck him!
HHH, crying out Gaerdal Ironhand's name, struck Gwardo with a punishing blow. As he reversed his grip on Miranda, his hammer slipped from his hands. Taking advantage of this, Gwardo summoned a column of holy fire to engulf HHH, Nuria, and Ebreck. Overcome by his wounds, Ebreck collapsed. Severely injured, his wounds magically closed as his periapt tended his wounds and stopped him from bleeding to death. A small orb floated down and landed at the feet of the struggling Balor and Pit Fiend. The ball flared into a massive explosion that engulfed the combatants, as well as Crimson, the elementals, Agrona, and the duergar. The duergar were incinerated by the blast as the others were staggered by the blast.
PW continued to rush up the stairs to get to the first level. The Blood Fiend swooped down and slashed at him, trying to stop him. Crimson, bleeding and bruised, cried out words of power and teleported himself up to the first level by HHH, Nuria , and Ebreck.
The chanting at the top of the pyramid was reaching its crescendo. "I need to get to the top of the pyramid swiftly," Agrona thought to himself. Calling out in a voice both airy and forceful, Agrona surrounded himself in an aura of powerful winds and lightning. Buoyed by the winds, Agrona lifted up and sped towards the top of the pyramid. "I can't take it anymore!" Xana thought to herself. Changing into a hawk, she dashed through the magical curtain and rushed towards her companions on the first level. Though she lost her defensive spells, she did not regret her actions. Looking back, she saw that the elementals she had summoned were decimating the ranks of the duergar.
Pulling out the Rod of Seven Parts, Nuria healed Ebreck of his wounds. Jumping up, Ebreck quickly assessed the situation and hammered Gwardo with arrows. Resembling a pin cushion, Gwardo stumbled, bleeding profusely. HHH scooped up Miranda and faced Gwardo. Gwardo, taking advantage of HHH's vulnerable position, threw another cloud of dust towards HHH and Ebreck. HHH, immune to its effects, grinned maniacally. Ebreck was not so fortunate. The dust blinded his sight for a moment, then he was transported to another land where he was drinking and feasting with his dwarven brethren, those he had lost so recently. "You're all alright!" he cried in joy. The images replied, "All thanks to you." A pleased look crossed Ebreck's face as their feast began. HHH swung Miranda and struck Gwardo squarely in the jaw. Gwardo's head snapped back, twisting beyond its normal range. His head swinging on a broken neck, Gwardo collapsed to the ground and died.
PW wasn't worried too much. Sure he was surrounded by duergar and a flying corpse was rushing towards him, but he had an ace up his sleeve (or more specifically, in his cloak). Throwing himself forward, he planned to move through the stone using his cloak. His fingers touched the stone, and he expected it to part fluid-like, but he was taken aback when it didn't. "Change in plans!" he thought. Continuing his forward motion, he tucked into a tumble and managed to squeeze past his opponents, who were taken by surprise by his actions. Quickly regrouping, they surged towards him. The duergars cut air, but the chilling touch of the Blood Fiend left an indelible mark on his body and soul. He could feel part of himself being torn away by the horrid undead.
HHH swung Miranda and cleared some space around himself. Crimson looked on and smiled malevolently. Suddenly, HHH felt all of his defensive spells collapse. Glaring at Crimson, HHH realized that he wasn't the source of his woes. "Who cast that spell?" he thought wonderingly. Agrona soared overhead and cast forth a column of holy fire to clear a path for PW. Two duergar fell under the attack as the third was charred. Xana, seeing Ebreck was in need of the most help, sped towards him.
A feeling of expectancy filled the heroes. A pulsing light seemed to emanate from the Rod of Seven Parts. On a subconscious level, they knew that the time of judgment was fast approaching and that their actions in the next few seconds would determine the fate of Greyhawk. Redoubling their efforts, they sought to reach the top of the pyramid, the area they knew would be the scene of their ultimate triumph or defeat.
Nuria blasted a cluster of duergar with a fireball and scanned around to see how her companions were doing. PW continued to tumble up the stairs, but he was sorely pressed by the Blood Fiend. It whipped his body as well as his soul. Grimly, he continued his upward climb. A bolt of lightning struck Nuria unexpectedly and leaped towards Ebreck and HHH. Joined for a moment by a stream of blue electricity, their nerves jumped. "Who is doing this?" she thought to herself. And then it came to her. "Mother!" she cried out. "Come out and face me! My friends need not suffer!"
A powerful voice rang out, its source unknown. "Traitor-child! I must hate you now! You could have sat at my right hand and ruled this plane, but you chose poorly! You chose to oppose me and the powers that I serve! Now you and your friends will suffer the consequences of your actions!"
Agrona, shaken by the exchange, continued to move towards the others. Passing by the Blood Fiend, he called forth a large, ice-crusted stone to smash into it. He had hoped to knock it out of the air, but it tottered in mid-flight and re-stabilized itself. Xana reached Ebreck and saw he was covered in Gwardo's toxin. Casting a spell to neutralize the poison, she mentally called the elementals to join her on the first level. Having killed the last of the duergar on ground level, they lurched towards the nearest staircase. The Pit Fiend had finished dispatching the Balor and watched the battle impassively.
The sense of anticipation kept building in the heroes. Nuria created an illusion of captivating, swirling colours to distract the duergar. Several of them followed it as Nuria directed it to float away. HHH saw that Xana's spell had done nothing to free Ebreck from the throes of the poison. Rushing towards him, he tried to remove disease in hopes of destroying the toxin. A duergar took advantage of HHH's divided attention and struck him a glancing blow.
The elementals continued their relentless approach. Suddenly, partway up the stairs, they encountered an invisible barrier. A wall of pure force blocked their path. Xana watched as the earth elementals raged against the barrier, but knew they would not break through in time to help. Focusing her energy, she summoned an air elemental to combat the Blood Fiend. As she performed her summoning, she flew higher to get a better view of the field of combat. What she saw astounded and terrified her.
On the top level, a large group of acolytes surrounded a massive pool of liquid mercury. Torchlight reflected from its surface was almost blinding. But it was not the pool that sent waves of fear burning through her being. A massive, bloated demon standing 15 feet tall was emerging from the center of the pool. His immense frame was a hideous combination of muscle and bloated flesh. His head was that of a ram with a great maw filled with tusks. His thick furred legs seemed to grow out of the pool. Leathery wings and a barb-tipped tail completed the demon's physique. Orcus, Prince of the Undead, was about to emerge from the portal. Malignity surged from his being, threatening to overwhelm all who witnessed his triumphant appearance. Xana cried out piteously and almost fell from the sky.
Nuria, seeing Xana's shock, lifted herself aloft using magical force, dreading what she was about to see. Gripping the Rod of Seven Parts firmly, she flew up. Crimson turned to Nuria and prepared to strike her from the air. Her unprotected back was a very tempting target. HHH knew he needed to stop Crimson. "Crimson, you coward! It is time to pay! This if for my friends, allies, and the Order of the Phoenix! Oh, Gaerdal Ironhand, grant me your blessing! Crimson, turn and face me!" HHH cried powerfully. Miranda glowed brilliantly in his hands. His holy hammer healed his wounds in preparation for his ultimate challenge. Crimson turned back to HHH. Duergar moved to surround the courageous gnome, but Crimson waved them off. Crimson's gravelly voice commanded them, "He's mine."
Rushing forward, his greatsword radiating unholy energy, he struck HHH again and again. HHH refused to back down and exchanged blow for blow with his mighty opponent. The others moved away from this battle of the titans and found other foes. The air elemental grappled the Blood Fiend and they began to tear at each other. Agrona swooped above the intense combat and healed Nuria, HHH, PW, and himself. Xana flew forward and incinerated several acolytes with holy fire, but it had no effect on Orcus.
Praying to any and all gods who could help her, Nuria fervently cast what she knew was to be her last spell. "I wish that, when I strike Orcus with the Rod of Seven Parts, I strike true." With that she raced towards Orcus. She looked down. "Goodbye my friends" was all she thought. A green sickly ray lanced at her, tearing at her, coming from an unknown source. It didn't slow her.
"You will not stop your daughter!" Xana thought. Her avian vision helped spy out her enemy, and Xana cast Faerie Fire on her, outlining her form. "It's time to pay," Xana thought as she swooped towards Lady Valera.
No other barriers stood in Nuria's way. Orcus had almost completed his transition to Greyhawk. He took his first ponderous step out of the portal onto the pyramid and roared out his victory. His eye caught a flitting motion above his head. Rising high above Orcus, Nuria dove down towards him, the Rod of Seven Parts held out like a lance. The Rod, shining brightly, pierced Orcus' chest, bursting through his sickly muscle and flesh, and embedded itself in his heart. Shouting out words of power, Nuria released all of the Rods energy in a colossal burst.
The energy blasted out, encompassing herself, Orcus, the acolytes, and Lady Valera. Space and time were torn asunder as a brief passage opened up. Orcus simply ceased to be. Nuria, seeing her only chance for survival lay in passing through the spatial tear, threw herself through it. The acolytes were all incinerated and Lady Valera was staggered. A wailing cry came forth. The duergar, Blood Fiend, Crimson, and Lady Valera screeched out in impotent fury. The power that sustained them had been destroyed. They all collapsed and died where they stood. The Pit Fiend, a wicked grin on its face, faded from view and returned to Baator, its duty complete.
Xana alit beside the rest of the party and changed back to her natural form. "Where's Nuria?" Seeing their stricken faces, she began to quietly weep. A consoling arm wrapped around her shoulders. "We won," Agrona said. "Nuria did it. She turned the tide. Without her, all would have been lost."
"Don't cry just yet," HHH said gruffly. "Remember, Nuria's a powerful wizard. If anyone could have survived that, it would have been her."
"Let's gather some trophies to show the people of Greyhawk that they no longer have to fear from these evil fiends." With that, PW began examining the bodies of their fallen enemies. As Agrona went to help, he suddenly collapsed. A powerful vision filled his mind. Heironeous, in all of his powerful glory, stood before him. "I congratulate you and your companions! You have struck a blow against the powers of Chaos, and you have saved your world from destruction and ruin. You deserve the praise and adoration of all."
Agrona cried out, "Oh, Heironeous! I was always your faithful servant! Why did a servant of Baator hide within me?"
A look of pain flitted across Heironeous' face. "Forgive me, my son. When the forces of Law discovered the outline of Chaos' plan, we knew that we would all have to work together to prevent the balance from tipping into Chaos' favour. All the forces of Law, good, neutral and evil, banded together to stop Chaos. The Pact Primeval bound us as one. You were chosen as our messenger. We knew you and your companions had the necessary qualities to win through all obstacles to stop Orcus. We used you, I know, but it needed to be done."
"Not all of my friends are with me!" Agrona voice cracked. "What of Nuria?"
Heironeous smiled. "Your gnomish friend was right. Nuria was thrown into the Astral Plane during the battle. She was stunned, but she is alive. You will see her soon enough. Get thee hence from this foul place. The energies that support it are failing. Farewell and know that you all have our thanks."
Agrona awoke, surrounded by the others. Looks of concern etched their faces, but he smiled up at them. "Everything is all right. Nuria is alive. Heironeous told me."
"So you're back on good terms with Heironeous, eh?" HHH said. "I guess I don't have to smite you. Too bad."
The pyramid began to shake violently. "Time to go everyone," PW cried out. "I think we have everything we need." Patting a sack filled with loot (SEE THE END FOR LIST OF ITEMS RECOVERED FROM FOES), the heroes gathered around Xana. Summoning mystical energies, Xana transported them back to Greyhawk proper.
List of Items
From Lady Valera:
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