Adventure Date: March 26, 2011
Last Updated: August 16, 2011
The Sound of a Distant Drum
HHH opened his eyes. His whole body ached as if he had fallen a thousand feet. For some unknown reason, he could not focus his thoughts. The sun was shining brightly on his face and a sweet warm wind soothed his cheeks. As he breathed the fresh air, his pain diminished to a vanishing point. He appeared to be lying on a hill of yellow grass. Slowly standing up, he found himself staring down at a valley. The grass now seemed golden in the sunlight. Scanning the horizon, all he could see were more golden hills of grass, swaying gently in the breeze.
Suddenly, a dark movement caught HHH’s attention. There! Coming out of the valley, some kind of large animal. Henry’s eyes widened at the sight of a huge dire badger racing straight towards him. He seemed helpless to move. Without slowing, the animal collided with him. Knocked flying, he landed hard, bringing back pain. Lots of pain. The animal was now upon him, making chittering and squeaking sounds. One large clawed paw slapped his head, just enough to rock it slightly. It was done in a manner that a parent admonishes a wayward child.
“Those sounds,” he thought through his headache, “they are the sounds of fear, frustration, and anxiousness that a mother has for her cubs. Now how do I know that?”
A voice responded to his thoughts. “She was most angry with you for dismissing her here. She was also most worried about you. She became angry with me when I tried to explain that you dismissed her to save her life and that I would not send her back to rescue you. She pouted for a long time.”
At the sound of the new voice, HHH’s memories of the most recent events came storming back - the balors, the dismissal, the explosion. “Hennie, Hennie,” he exclaimed, now happy to be with his faithful mount. Henrietta made purring sounds and began to lick and groom him playfully. “Fine now, Hennie. Enough. Please stop,” he exclaimed, laughing as her claws tickled along his ribs. “No, I can’t promise to always keep you with me, no matter what. You know that. I love you too. Please let me up.”
The celestial creature gave his face one last, long lick and moved her body off of his. Henry, now knowing he was in the Golden Hills of Bytopia, rose to greet his deity. He found himself staring face to face with his twin. Staring into his own eyes, he could almost see deep into his own soul, his own aspirations and his own destiny.
“Ironhand, Lord, I...”
Gaerdal Ironhand held up his hand for silence. Walking over to Henrietta, He rubbed at the thick fur under her chin. Looking back at Henry, he continued. “She wants you to stay here so that you can be together always. But it is not her choice. Once I told you to make your choices wisely. You may remain here in the Golden Hills, safe and secure with Gnomekind or, by the Fates’ decree, you may return to aid your companions. But know this, my Champion, should you return to save your world, your very soul may be forfeit. How choose you?”
Henry looked at the peace and beauty that surrounded him. Even more awaited him should he choose to remain. But he was a paladin of the Ironhand. His friends needed him, his world needed him. So much left to do. So it would cost his soul? Utter and final damnation. Never again to find peace and beauty. Tormented for all eternity. He looked one more time at the Golden Hills, the final resting place of his race and made his choice.
He awoke, lying on a stone floor, completely refreshed and totally healed. He smiled up into the face of his friend, Agrona, who was peering down at him with great concern and sorrow.
“Good to have you back,” Agrona said, patting HHH on the shoulder.
HHH reoriented himself quickly. “The others?”
Agrona’s had a sad smile on his face. “The balors were vanquished. Two of their number will not return to Oerth for a century, and the third fled when it saw it faced overwhelming odds.” Agrona sighed softly. “Ebreck was brought back, though I think he didn’t enjoy the experience.”
Ebreck piped up. “Who enjoys death?” HHH hadn’t noticed him standing behind Agrona. “Especially when you get compressed into a tiny ball of flesh and blood.” Ebreck looked at HHH with some concern. “What took you so long to come back? We were all a little worried when you seemed to... resist... coming back to the world of the living.”
HHH had a far-away look in his eyes. “I had a talk with my patron, Gaerdal Ironhand.” HHH paused.
“Anything important we need to know about?” Ebreck asked.
HHH smiled warmly and shook his head. “No. All is as it should be. Let us focus on the task at hand.”
While Agrona pled with Heironeous for the return of Ebreck and HHH, Nuria had begun scanning the throne and platform for any hidden compartments or secret doors. Finding nothing, he called over to the others. Joining her, they began to plan.
“The stairs seem to be the only way to go,” Xana mused.
PW tightened several straps around his torso to prevent any of his equipment from clanging together. “I will go up the stairs first. Give me a fifteen second head start. I will mark the path that is safe with my dagger, so look carefully for the signs.” With that, he seemed to melt into the shadows and vanish from view.
Silently counting to fifteen, the others began their ascent. HHH’s armor glowed for a brief moment as he began to float a hair’s breadth above the ground. Watching for PW’s marks, they followed the spiralling stairs upwards until they reached a large, darkened room.
PW had waited patiently for the others at the top of the stairs for a microsecond before proceeding on his own. Slowpokes. The room he had reached looked to be a large wedge, about a quarter of the tower itself. The air was musty and moldy, and the dust on the floor hadn’t been disturbed for years. There seemed to be a single door on the other side of the room, but he would need to cross the room to confirm it.
About to step through the door’s threshold, he stopped himself. Do I really want to get dust on my new shoes? Hopping lightly into the air, PW vanished and reappeared by the far door he had spotted. Landing softly, the dust remained undisturbed. Examining the door, PW began searching for any signs of traps.
The others reached the top of the stairs and, alarmed that they couldn’t find any signs of PW, scanned the room hastily. In their rush, they completely missed spotting PW listening intently at the door. Ebreck signalled the others. “He couldn’t have gotten far. His marks are very fresh. Let’s continue forward and hope we find PW soon.”
Just as Nuria was about to step into the room, she stopped herself. Do I really want to get dust on my new shoes? Summoning a small, invisible brush, she gently swept away the dust in front of her as she walked into the room. The others spread out and moved slowly into the room. Nuria followed the interior wall and searched it for any signs of hidden doors or secret compartments.
Soon, HHH landed softly behind PW with the hope of startling him. “Man, you guys are slow,” PW whispered. HHH made a face at PW and lifted Miranda over his head, signalling to the others that he had found PW. Soon, a giant eagle alit on HHH’s shoulder, keeping its wings slightly spread. PW stepped back in alarm.
“Whoa! Henry!” PW stammered. “Who’s your new friend?”
The eagle kept its wings out to keep most of its weight off of HHH’s shoulder. It looked at PW intently and squawked at him. PW began to feel like he was being sized up as a hors d’oeuvre. HHH smiled. “Don’t you recognize Xana?”
The others all joined up with PW at the door. It didn’t appear to be trapped or locked, and they prepared to continue through the tower. A bright light flared, temporarily blinding PW and Ebreck. Nuria lifted her everburning torch up high. “Oops, sorry,” Nuria apologized as she noticed the pained looks on PW’s and Ebreck’s faces. “But the rest of us need to see too.”
“Let’s go!” PW hissed.
“Is your bladder going to pop?” Agrona said. “’An ounce of caution prevents a pound of pain’.”
“I’m bored,” PW replied. “The door’s fine. No traps, no locks. Let’s go.”
Nuria shrugged her shoulders. “How challenging is this tower is going to be?” They all drew back slightly as Nuria seemed to pantomime pushing open the door. The door swung open gently and quietly. PW thrust his head forward and looked about. The door led to a corridor that ran perpendicular to the door. One end of the hall ended nearby at a door while the other end turned sharply at a bend. HHH glided over to the bend in the hall and peeked around the corner. The hallway continued further along and turned sharply again - the hallway seemed to define the outer lengths of a large, rectangular room found at the center of the tower. Two doors in the hallway led inwards, potentially towards this room, though there was no way to tell without opening the door. The soft beat of wings told him that Xana was not far off, keeping watch for any surprises. A short, harsh whistling sound drew HHH’s attention.
PW had been busily examining the door at the other end of the hallway, and with a soft push, opened the door a crack. Peeking through, PW saw that the hallway continued straight, though a second hall branched off perpendicular to the first. Both paths ended quickly at another set of doors. Moving down the perpendicular path, PW, Ebreck, Agrona, and Nuria moved towards the single door.
Looking back, Nuria saw that they left a trail in the dust. Let’s not make it too easy someone to find us. Summoning a scintilla of her arcane power, she pushed the dust back to where it had been and created a false trail the opposite direction. Xana and HHH are flying so they won’t mess up the ruse. Turning back, she saw that PW had a look of shock on his face as he clutched at his ears. A piercing shriek came from behind the door.
PW, Ebreck, and Agrona could hear the madness and death in the wailing screech. Forcing themselves not to listen, their brains were still lanced by fiery needles. Nuria, too curious for her own good, trying to determine the nature of the wailing, listened for a second too long. The screech pierced her brain, causing her entire nervous system to seize up. She collapsed, dead before she hit the ground, as her heart simply stopped pumping and her other organs failed suddenly. She didn’t know that Smokey lay beneath her, as curious, and as dead, as his master.
Hearing the others scream in agony, Xana and HHH rushed over to help. In mid-flight, Xana’s form wavered, and suddenly a large, brutish bear ran where once a large eagle flew. HHH flew down as if he was going to land on a mount, when suddenly Henrietta appeared beneath him. Rounding the corner, they saw Nuria on the ground and the others still stumbling around from the impact of the shrieking noise. HHH, his anger getting the better of him, spurred Henrietta forward, pushing the door wide open. Xana, seeing the devastation wrought by their unseen enemy, held back for a moment, assessing the situation.
The room was empty, dry, and featureless. It, too, resembled a large wedge, a quarter of the span of the tower. Scanning around quickly, HHH could see no sign of an enemy.
Agrona ran in after HHH. He had recognized, too late, the source of the deadly shriek. Banshee. Drawing on his connection to Heironeous, he pulled out his holy symbol and thrust it before him. “Begone, foul defilers! The glory of Heironeous banishes you!” Agrona felt the presence of his patron deity. The shroud of evil that filled the air recoiled against the holy presence, but instead of humbling it, it seemed to become more enraged and flared out.
When PW ran down the hall away from the fight, Xana was greatly confused. Turning suddenly, he seemed to jump towards the shadows on the wall and disappear! Traveling briefly through the Plane of Shadow, he appeared on the other side of the wall. Pulling out his magical, iron flask, he gathered more shadows around himself and hid, looking for an opportunity to strike a telling blow.
Ebreck drew his bow and charged into the room. Almost immediately, he saw them, a pair of diaphanous figures floating in the air. Veils shrouded their otherworldly forms. Ebreck bit back a curse and drew the nock to his ear. As he took aim, one of the banshee’s veils slipped down. The horror that was revealed turned Ebreck’s bones to water. His stomach heaved violently as he fought back the surge of nausea that ran through him.
Taking advantage, the banshees glided forward towards Agrona and HHH. As they approached, they allowed their veils to slip. Agrona just managed to avoid seeing their horrific visages, but HHH was not so lucky. He partially convulsed due to his revulsion, but he managed to hold the contents of his stomach down. The banshees’ reached out softly with their ravishing hands and gently brushed them across Agrona’s and HHH’s arms. A horrible chill seeped through Agrona and HHH as they felt their very essence, their personalities, being drained by the horrid touch. Though the contact only lasted a moment, the damage was severe.
Agrona called upon Heironeous once more to banish the evil of the banshees, but it proved too powerful to merely banish. I must silence their screams. HHH roared in fury as he brought Miranda down on a banshee. His hammer passed cleanly through the banshee’s form, leaving behind a glowing trail in its body. Its mouth opened up in pain and fury and unleashed another horrific wail.
Ebreck tried pulling himself together from the shock of seeing their true features and fired off a volley of arrows at the closest banshee. Still stricken, his grip loosened on his bow, causing the belly of his bow to slam into his face, stunning him. The bow flew from his hands as he staggered and tried to keep his feet.
Xana rushed into the room, realizing the threat that the banshees posed. They mustn’t be allowed to shriek again. I hope Agrona has done his part to silence the undead wenches! As she ran in and began to swipe at the banshee HHH had engaged, a blood-curdling scream washed over her and the others. As she fell to the ground, her soul blasted from her mortal husk. Guess not...
Ebreck’s form shuddered as he fell to the ground, dead. PW saw his companions fall and stepped out of the shadows, determined to end the onslaught. Opening the top of the iron flask, he shouted out the command word. “Hic Transgredior!” A whirlwind emerged out of the flask’s opening and swirled towards the nearest banshee. Caught up in the pull of the iron flask, the banshee grabbed hold of the stone paving and clung desperately. The whirlwind quickly died down and the flask resealed itself. Floating back up, the banshee turned towards PW and stared balefully.
As the banshee opened its mouth to scream, a small coin landed beside it and bounced noiselessly. The banshee shrieked, but no sound came forth. Confused, it looked over at the source of its annoyance. Agrona smiled at the banshee and waved. A hammer struck the side of the banshee, dispersing its incorporeal form. HHH turned towards the second banshee and began stalking his prey.
PW focused his field of vision to the remaining banshee’s stomach to avoid looking at its face. His rapier darted forward and struck the banshee three times. His blade passed harmlessly through its form. The banshee raised its hand to strike the small halfling when HHH’s hammer struck it a terrible blow. Miranda crushed the banshee’s translucent skull; its form wavered and began to dissipate.
PW looked around at the devastation. “I guess we now know how challenging this tower is going to be.”
Agrona began pulling the bodies of his fallen comrades within the room. “This place seems safe for now. I need time to pray for the appropriate spells to bring them back. Let’s barricade the room.” Once the bodies were all brought inside, PW tried to hide any tracks in the dust outside the room while HHH and Henrietta took up a guarding position.
Agrona went over to HHH and laid a hand on his shoulder. A warm glow passed through HHH as he felt the psychic damage the banshees had inflicted heal. Nodding in thanks, HHH watched as Agrona knelt in prayer over their fallen friends. Agrona’s face was a mask of grief as he beseeched Heironeous for the power to bring back the others.
The tableau held as hours passed. It was a small thing, just a gentle swishing sound outside the door. PW’s ears perked up at the incongruous sound and he gently opened the door a crack. Looking out, he saw a gaunt humanoid, covered in black leathery skin, softly shuffling down the hallway straight for them. Its ears were pointed and a large curved horn rose out of the back of its head. Rows of jagged teeth took up more than half of the creature’s head. Closing the door, PW whispered back to the others, “Company!”
A moment later, the door was flung open. PW’s rapier struck rapidly, piercing the creature’s belly, chest, and shoulder. Gloam’s shadowy fist snaked out and passed through the creature’s chest, sending waves of otherworldly cold through its body. Henrietta’s jaws clamped down on the creature’s throat and bore it down. Tearing into its body with her claws, Henrietta tore the creature apart, flinging body parts everywhere. Agrona was still knelt in prayer and didn’t seem aware of what had happened.
HHH glowed with pride. Walking over to the pry the creature’s head from between Henrietta’s teeth, he examined it only for a moment. “A babau. They act as demonic spies and assassins. It is good it was dispatched so quickly or it would have had a chance to report our position.”
PW was not as optimistic. “The fact it was able to find us so readily worries me. I hope Agrona is able to bring back the others soon. We may have more company.”
The rest of the evening went by without incident. Agrona finally stood up and pulled out his holy symbol. Chanting, he passed his symbol over Nuria’s, Ebreck’s, and Xana’s bodies while calling on Heironeous. A holy nimbus appeared over each body that seemed to flutter and swell. The energy suddenly leaped into the bodies, infusing them. Gasping painfully, Nuria, Ebreck, and Xana slowly got to their feet. Agrona slumped over slightly, tired beyond belief. His face was still guilt-stricken.
HHH helped the others as they got up. “Welcome back.”
Nuria smiled wanly. They all looked drained. “How much time has passed?”
“It is the morning after we entered the tower,” Agrona replied. “How do you feel?”
“Glad to be amongst the living again,” Ebreck said. “My ears are still ringing from the shrieking!” Stretching out, he reached for his bow and almost fell back to the ground. They were all still very weak.
“I think we need to rest more if we are to be of any use,” Xana said.
PW walked over. “Agreed. We haven’t had any more company since last night, so I think we’re safe for now. Either they don’t know where we are or they are very confident that we won’t be getting very far.”
“Others have made the mistake of underestimating us, and paid dearly for it,” HHH rumbled. “We shall rest and then bring this tower down around Orcus’ ears!”
The day passed swiftly as they rested and recuperated from their ordeal. Nuria studied her spellbook furiously, quickly relearning all that she had lost. Xana sat cross-legged, communing with Beory, connecting with the power of Oerth.
Night began to fall and the party broke camp. A shimmery image appeared in the center of the room. Lady Valera’s rotting form looked around the room. Her voice was venom. “So you survived my two little daughters?” Seeing Nuria, she smirked. “I’m glad you died, Nuria. How does it feel, my daughter?”
“Nice try mother,” Nuria shot back. “Orcus will never claim dominion over Oerth.”
“Just you wait, Nuria,” Lady Valera replied. “Your time will come. We will await you at Orcus’ Castle!”
HHH stepped forward, Miranda gripped tightly. “What do you want, witch?”
Lady Valera cackled. “Come to the castle and find out! Do not delay, because my Lord Orcus grows stronger every day!”
“I doubt Orcus’ enemies will allow that,” HHH snarled.
“Maybe you should ask them,” Lady Valera taunted. “Let us see how they greet you, holy paladin!” Lady Valera addressed the Companions. “We know of your coming, and we are prepared for it.”
“Just like last time,” PW said innocently.
Lady Valera turned to Nuria. “Tell your dog to shut up when its betters are speaking. It annoys me.”
Xana had kept to the side and been quietly casting a spell. Her eyes glowed briefly as she completed it and she began to closely examine Lady Valera. As she suspected, it was only an image of Lady Valera. Which meant that there would be many more hurdles to overcome before they could face Nuria’s mother once again. Even as she watched, Lady Valera began to fade from view and was suddenly gone.
PW turned to Nuria. “Hey Nuria, your mom is a bitch.”
Nuria sighed and nodded her head in agreement. “Let’s get going. My mother needs to be taught a lesson in manners.”
Quickly searching the room, PW found an old plaque, caked with dust, in the far end of the room. Two words were engraved into the plaque: Good Moaning. Finding nothing else of interest, they prepared to leave. Placing the ring of invisibility on his finger, PW vanished from sight. The door opened slightly as PW padded ahead. Returning to the passageway they had not explored yet, PW began searching down the hall.
The others gave PW a ten second head start. Following afterwards, they scanned the area for any signs of enemies of attacks. PW gently pressed his ear to a door. Listening carefully, he heard nothing. The door seemed to lead to the exterior of the tower. Probably another of those large rooms. Not useful. Moving on, he saw another door that seemed to lead to the center of the tower. Now that’s more like it.
About to press his ear against it, he stopped himself as he saw a faintly glowing pattern on the door. Bingo! Removing his ring, PW gestured to the others as they caught sight of him.
Nuria scanned the barely perceptible runes. Defensive. Lightning. Nasty. Not willing to risk activating them, she cast a spell as her hands moved in a waving motion. The runes began to disappear as Nuria erased them.
Seeing it was safe(r), PW searched the door for other traps, but found none. Signalling to the others, they began focusing their power in preparation for whatever lay on the other side. A pair of huge earth elementals appeared behind the group and bowed briefly to Xana. Nuria sent out her power once again and the door slowly opened.
Rushing in, they entered a bizarrely-shaped room. The room was massive. The walls were polished smooth, no cracks could be seen in the masonry. The walls curved in towards the middle of the room, almost pinching, making the room resemble a giant hourglass. They scanned the room for enemies, but it seemed to be empty. Moving forward cautiously, they kept expecting an attack to spring out. But no such attack occurred.
Nuria sent forth balls of dancing lights to illuminate the room. Sending Smoky ahead to scout, he suddenly vanished as he crossed through the narrow strait. “Smoky!” Nuria shouted. Rushing forward, HHH grabbed her arm and pulled her back.
Shaking her slightly, HHH’s voice broke through Nuria’s panic. “Don’t be a fool,” he said. “Use your head! Running in blindly will not help Smoky!”
Calming herself, Nuria opened up her senses and scanned the room for magical auras. The entire room glowed brightly. Cursing herself for not checking for magic sooner, she realized that the entire room could be a trap. Sending out her voice through her rapport with Smoky, she got a jumble of emotions from him. Confusion, anger, but most of all, fear. Nuria turned to the others. “Smoky’s still alive and he’s within a mile of us, but I don’t know where.” Her voice cracked.
“Don’t worry, Nuria,” Ebreck said. “We’ll find him.” Checking the dust on the floor for additional tracks, he found that the only people who had passed within the room had been them.
“We need to determine the nature of the magic,” HHH said. “Maybe it is only a curtain of magic that affects living creatures.”
PW sent Gloam forward to test the hypothesis. As he passed through the narrow strait, he, too, disappeared.
“Okay,” HHH said. “It still might be a curtain of magic. I’ll test it out.” Before anyone could stop him, HHH spurred Henrietta forward and then teleported to the far side of the room. As they reappeared, HHH and Henrietta suddenly vanished.
Xana watched in horror as her companions disappeared. “Oh Beory,” she whispered, “grant us wisdom.” Suddenly, she felt a flash of insight. Going through the narrow strait was a very bad idea. “We should avoid going through the middle of the room. It will only lead to sorrow and pain.”
Nuria and PW had been examining the room more closely. Her senses out, Nuria recognized the energy patterns the spell was creating. Greater teleport. But to where? In the back of her mind, Nuria felt a small bundle of fear and knew it was Smoky growing more and more scared. Don’t worry. We are coming. PW had been examining the area for magical glyphs and traps but had found nothing.
“Ebreck!” PW called back. “Can you use your arrows to find the edge of the spell?”
In rapid succession, Ebreck fired arrow after arrow, each landing a foot apart, towards the center of the room. As his arrow landed just past the center of the strait, it vanished. “There you go,” Ebreck said.
PW kept moving forward to examine the threshold of the spell for magical glyphs or any other signs. How sensitive could it really be? Placing his toe just past the center of the room, he vanished.
“Damn it!” Xana swore. “We can’t afford to keep losing people one after another. We have to decide - do we all cross or do we go somewhere else and hope we find them?”
Nuria was only half paying attention to Xana. Sending forth her power to the far side of the room, she used it to grab an object she could barely see. As the object floated gently back, she saw that it was a golden necklace laced with precious jewels. “There seems to be treasure on the far end of the room. It might be a potential safe zone where the teleportation aura doesn’t extend.”
Ebreck launched an arrow at the far wall. It vibrated as it sunk in to the wall, but did not vanish. “Seems like she is right, but how does that help our missing friends?”
“I will try to locate them,” Agrona said. Closing his eyes, he pictured Miranda in his mind’s eye. He felt a pulling sensation straight up. Opening his eyes, he said, “I found HHH. As long as he is still holding Miranda, I know where he is.”
“What about the others?” Nuria asked nervously.
Agrona closed his eyes again and focused on Smoky’s mithral armor. Feeling another pulling sensation straight up, he opened his eyes. “I found Smoky too. He seems to be close to HHH, but not in the exact same area. Regardless, they are both above us, so I think we can surmise that the others are there too.”
“Then what are we waiting for?” Xana asked. “Lead the way, Agrona.”
Running out of the room, Agrona kept a focus on HHH’s hammer, Miranda. The others followed, but became impatient very quickly. Though Agrona was leading, he was the slowest in his heavy armor. A burst of energy surrounded them and suddenly, they felt their nerves were afire. Their steps were faster and they moved much more quickly. Nuria’s spell had hastened them all, but it still wasn’t enough.
Encountering a locked door, Nuria flung her hand forward without breaking stride, forcing the door open. It led to another large, quarter-circled room. The room was filled with junk, and they didn’t spare a glance. Running between piles of refuse, they sighted a door and headed right for it. The door opened easily and led to another large, quarter-circled area. It was filled with shelves upon shelves of books. Several wooden readers were placed haphazardly around the room, as well as a few tables and chairs.
Nuria slowed her stride as she tried to read the titles of several of the books. Elements of Transmogrification? That tome hasn’t been seen in years! Nuria’s went from a run to a jog to a fast walk as she continued to look at more titles. A voice broke her reverie. “Nuria! There’s no tracks here! We need you to keep up!” Ebreck shouted.
An idea struck Nuria like a thunderbolt. She caught up to the others and began to talk excitedly. “Agrona, do you still have a good fix on the others?” she asked. When she saw him nod in agreement, she continued. “If we can get three reference points, I can triangulate their positions and we can teleport to the others!”
Ebreck was looking at Nuria as if she had grown horns. “Are you slightly mad?” he said. “They are most likely in a trap. Do you wish to join them there? I would rather free them and not have to go through the sticky situation of avoiding death. Now, let’s keep going!”
A staircase in the corner of the library led up to an L-shaped walkway halfway up the floor. The walkway led to another staircase that continued to the floors above. Reaching the top of the staircase, an unlocked door led to another large, quarter-circled room. The room was completely empty of any contents.
Feeling Smoky’s fear reach a crescendo, Nuria dashed ahead into the room. Reaching the center of the room, the floor suddenly dropped out from underneath her feet. “Light as a feather!” Her descent suddenly slowed. Below her, she could hear the air churning around violently. Looking down, she could see massive blades spinning below, ready to turn any unwitting victim into instant puree.
“Look out below!” Ebreck was tumbling down the shaft. Nuria quickly launched glowing missiles at the blade construct below to stop their spinning, but it proved a fruitless exercise. Before she could do anything else, Xana leapt after him into the pit, changing in mid-dive into an amorphous, shifty cloud. Her form was made of swirling vapour and dust. Whipping her form into a ferocious frenzy, she whipped around in a tighter and tighter circle as she reached Ebreck. Ebreck bellowed in agony as his leg was hit by a blade, the force of the impact launching up and towards the side of the pit. Hitting the pit’s wall, he began to tumble once more towards the deadly blades. Suddenly, his descent halted. The force of Xana’s whirlwind caused enough negative pressure to pull Ebreck out of his headlong fall and pull him up towards the top of the pit.
Summoning her own winds to guide her through the air, she called out to Agrona who looked down at the others. “Keep going!” she shouted. “We’re fine. Find the others. We’ll catch up shortly.” Agrona dashed off.
Xana pulled Ebreck out of the pit and deposited him on the floor before she headed after Agrona. Clutching his badly bleeding leg, he pulled out a wand and called forth its holy magic. Immediately, his wound began to heal. Standing up, he stumbled. The wound had closed, but it was far from healed. He shrugged. There was no time and he could endure the small inconvenience. Limping slightly, he ran after the others.
Agrona continued running through the room and made his way to the next doorway. With a whoosh, Nuria landed beside him and reached for the door’s handle. Pulling it open, they heard a hissing noise above just as a cloud of dust settled on them. Instinctively, they both held their breaths even as they leapt forward out of the cloud. Nuria had recognized it - the pollen of the black lotus. If inhaled, it brought an incredibly quick death that was wracked with untold agony as every nerve in your body seemed to go into insane.
Holding their breath, they brushed off the traces of dust that clung to them. Moving away from that spot, they paused once more to shake any traces of dust that remained. Moving further away, they finally allowed their inhaled air to escape. Drawing in a lungful of air carefully, there seemed to be no hint of the powdery death.
Turning back to warn Ebreck and Xana to tread slowly and carefully through the black lotus pollen, Xana flew through it in her whirlwind form. Pollen flew everywhere, but in such a dispersed form that it was harmless. Xana was completely unaffected.
Ebreck ran through the doorway with a slight limp and leaned heavily on a nearby wall. The room was smaller and had only one distinct item: a sturdy wooden ladder that led up. Without a word, Nuria flew up and reached the top of the ladder. An old, wooden trap door led to the next level. Opening it up, she saw it led to a huge, circular room, the span of the entire tower. Within the center of the room was a small, circular chamber with four doors in the direction of the four cardinal points. The circular chamber reached the ceiling like a shaft. The outer wall also had doors that led to the four cardinal points. Three out of the four doors stood open, and out of one of the open doors, the rest of the Companions exited, looking quite dishevelled.
The moment Smoky crossed the threshold of the teleportation trap, he knew he was in trouble. Uh oh. He appeared in a small, darkened room. It was circular, and its walls were as smooth as glass. His eyes adjusted quickly to the dark, but what he saw only increased his fear. Several large creatures, the size of ponies, stalked the room. Each had four, insect-like legs and a squat, humped body protected by a thick, lumpy hide. Each had a tail covered with armor plates that ended in a bony projection. Two long antennae flittered about underneath their eyes. The creatures sensed Smoky’s appearance and focused their attention on him.
Circling around him, the creatures’ feelers lashed about, as if tasting the air. I better make myself scarce. Running forward, Smoky dodged several feelers that swiped at him as he dove underneath the closest creature. Leaping up, he tried to clutch on to the creature’s belly, but its hide was too rubbery and resilient to allow him a good grip. Dropping off, he realized his initial plan had some flaws. Time for Plan B.
Running out from the encroaching circle of creatures, he did his best to avoid their feelers, but it proved impossible. As he leapt out from between two of the creatures, one of the feelers brushed up against his mithral armor. Instantly, his armor turned to rust and fell from his body as a red powder. Without breaking stride, Smoky continued to run into the darkness of the room to hide. The creatures had stopped in their pursuit; their feelers were swaying around madly about the pile of rust that had been Smoky’s armor. As one, they dipped down and quickly consumed the rusty remains. Their meal completed, their feelers began to sway once again.
Smoky realized that they were scenting for metal. Realizing he had none left on him, he decided to hide until he could figure out how he was going to get out of this situation. Time passed slowly, painfully, as he scurried around quietly avoiding the bizarre creatures.
Suddenly, a crack of light appeared as a door swung open. Seeing his chance, Smoky dashed through the door, passing between PW’s and HHH’s feet. “Smoky?” PW said in disbelief.
HHH shouted in horror. “Rust monsters!” Throwing in an energy-laced crystal, it burst amongst the rust monsters, obliterating them. Smoky quickly ran up PW and settled down on his shoulder. His heart was racing, but he knew that, as bad as the situation had been, it had greatly improved.
I guess it was very sensitive. PW began to shiver. He had appeared in an incredibly huge, circular room. It seems about the same diameter as the tower itself. The room was marked all about by large mounds of ice and snow. The roof of the room was a massive dome. Ice crystals, most of them larger than a hill giant, hung from the roof and formed a deadly guise. The only other feature of the room was a small, circular outcropping that sat at the center of the room. Looking more closely, it seemed to be a circular stairwell that led down. Guess that’s where I’m headed. Walking over towards the only apparent exit, PW looked about wearily.
One of the mounds shook itself. Turning quickly, he mound exploded out as an immense white dragon shook off the ice and snow that had covered it. Uh oh.
“Who dares disturb the rest of Arctigis?” PW began to run towards the stairwell. “You will not escape so easily, my prey.” Suddenly, the snow beneath PW’s feet melted and refroze, trapping his feet up to the ankles in solid ice. Struggling to free his feet, PW watched as the massive white dragon slowly stalked forward, revelling in its victim’s fear.
“I am no one’s prey,” PW hissed. Wrapping himself in shadows, PW flickered onto the Plane of Shadow and travelled across the plane briefly before reappearing by the stairs. Leaping down, he slammed into an invisible wall of pure force.
Arctigis chuckled. “I’m quite certain you are prey.”
PW began to charge the dragon. “I told you,” he shouted, “I am no one’s prey!”
Arctigis’ head darted forward, snapping his teeth on PW’s shoulder. Before the dragon could bite his arm off, PW snapped his rapier between Arctigis’ teeth, stabbing a sensitive section of the dragon’s gums. Arctigis opened its mouth wide in agony, while PW tumbled to the ground and slashed the dragon’s throat deeply. Black blood poured out as muscle and tissue were severed, but PW’s blade just missed the jugular.
Arctigis reared, throwing his head and throat out of PW’s reach. Enraged, the dragon slammed down on the ground, its claws smashing the snow and ice around PW. Shards flew out from the impact, tearing into PW. Arctigis’ tail lashed out and caught the halfling in mid-tumble, launching him helplessly against a far wall.
PW rolled over with a groan. “Ow.” Coughing, he saw that the snow was flecked with his blood. He was all banged up inside and couldn’t take another pounding like that. Pulling out a vial, he pulled the cork out with his teeth and drank deeply. Immediately, his wounds began to heal and he could breathe more easily. Looking over, he could see the white dragon charging him.
Changing tactics, PW put his back to the wall and placed his buckler before him. Arctigis snickered. Pumping his legs even faster, the dragon continued its headlong charge at the halfling. It came as a complete shock to Arctigis when his head slammed painfully into an invisible barrier a few inches in front of PW. Dazed, the dragon shook his head to clear it. Stretching out his senses, Arctigis could see that the halfling had somehow erected a wall of force in front of himself.
Taking a quick, short breath, Arctigis opened his maw and unleashed a torrent of ice and snow on PW. The freezing jet splashed upon the unyielding surface created by the shield and was fended, flaring outward all about, hoarfrost roaring past.
Safe, at least temporarily, PW studied his enemy, looking for any signs of weakness that he could exploit, but found none in the dragon’s hide. Arctigis’ claws reached forward and wrapped around the force shield PW erected, piercing PW and causing him to cry out.
Seeing his refuge had now become a trap, he lowered the wall of force and charged the dragon once more. His rapier darted forward, but the dragon was weary of the halfling’s stinger. Pulling its head out of reach, Arctigis’ front claw lashed out and wrapped around PW and began to squeeze.
PW focused, ignoring the excruciating pain, and vanished from sight. Making another quick jaunt to the Plane of Shadow, he reappeared behind the dragon. Making a run for the staircase again, PW prayed that the wall of force blocking the stairs had vanished. Arctigis whirled around and pursued the halfling, hoping to have a quick meal.
Suddenly, an armored form flew up from the center of the stairwell. “HHH!” PW shouted. HHH turned to the sound of PW’s voice and drew Miranda when he saw Arctigis. Flying forward, he slammed the dragon’s head, causing it to snap to the side and halting its charge.
“Let’s go!” PW called to HHH. Continuing his reckless charge, PW leaped out to the middle of the stairwell and began to slowly float down the central shaft. “What?” He turned as he heard a surprised bellow from above. HHH had also leaped into the shaft to catch the insane halfling before he fell to his death, but he was surprised when he didn’t fall down the shaft, but instead floated.
A roar made them both turn around. All they could see was Arctigis’ enraged visage. Opening his jaws wide, the dragon unleashed another arctic blast. HHH took the brunt of the deadly breath weapon, shielding PW from harm. Blood vessels popped and muscles seized as the frost wave washed over him, but his armor deflected some of the cold.
“Let’s get out of this shaft!” PW shouted. “It’s a death trap if the dragon breathes again.” HHH shivered and nodded his agreement. Seeing an open door below, PW reached over and grabbed the lip of the doorway and pulled himself through. Turning back, he grabbed HHH’s hand and pulled him out of the shaft.
PW smiled. “My thanks, HHH. Although I did have that dragon on the ropes.”
HHH laughed. “Maybe I should have delayed my rescue by a few more moments.”
That sobered PW right up. “The others! We must check to see where they are!” Looking around, he could see that they were in a massive circular room, about the same diameter of the tower itself. Four doors were placed on the exterior wall at the cardinal points. One of the doors lay open, while the rest were still closed. Dashing forward, he chose one of the closed doors and wrenched it open. Running down a long hall, he heard HHH lumbering behind him.
The narrow hallway ended in a single door. Finding it locked, he quickly picked the lock and pulled the door open. A furry form dashed past as HHH caught up to PW. “Smoky?” PW said in disbelief.
“Rust monsters!” HHH launched a small crystal that erupted in a violent energy vortex that annihilated the rust monsters. Turning to PW, he said, “Let’s go find the others.”
Hook Hammer Henry
Water surrounded HHH. What is this? Able to breathe due to his magical necklace, he could see Henrietta was not so fortunate. With a blessing, he sent her back to the Golden Hills of Bytopia. Looking about, HHH saw that he was in a shaft filled with water. Orbs floating in the water gently moved towards him, but he ignored them. Using his armor’s innate ability to fly, he powered his way up towards the top of the shaft. The shaft ended suddenly and he ran his hand over the almost smooth ceiling. The only thing that marred the surface was a small, circular pattern in the middle of the ceiling. Looking about, he saw that there was a door on the side of the shaft near its top.
While he mused about how to free himself, without warning, the orbs swarmed around HHH and began to attach themselves to his armor. As each landed, he felt a small jolt and felt himself weaken. Uh oh. With no time to solve the puzzle, HHH fell back to his standard problem solving methods. Pulling forth Miranda, he struck the door a mighty blow. Miranda vibrated in HHH’s numbed hands as his beloved hammer bounced off the door. Realizing he wouldn’t be able to destroy the door before the floating orbs drained him of his strength, HHH began to swing at them.
Even as he crushed several, HHH saw a larger swarm moving towards him. Flying down, he reached the bottom of the shaft and saw a small stone disk. Picking it up, he had a flash of insight. Flying back up, he smashed his way through the swarm of floating orbs and reached the ceiling. Placing the stone disk in the pattern in the ceiling, he heard a loud click.
Suddenly, the door vanished and the water began pouring out of the shaft. Pulled towards the opening, HHH allowed himself to be pulled out of the shaft. Landing softly in a hallway, the water drained down a set of grates. Running down the hallway, he reached a door and opened it. Entering a massive circular room, about the diameter of the tower itself, he saw a small circular chamber with doors at the four cardinal points. The circular chamber reached the ceiling like a shaft. There were doors on the exterior wall, also at the cardinal points, one of which he had exited. I must find the others.
Running towards the circular chamber, he pulled open a door and found it was a shaft that went both up and down. The shaft had a stairwell that spiralled along the wall leading up. Well, we’ve already been down, so I might as well go up. Flying up, he soon reached the end of the shaft.
Soaring to the next floor, he soon found himself in another huge chamber. This one was covered in snow and ice and had a huge dome above. “HHH!” Turning he saw PW being pursued by a massive white dragon. Rushing towards the dragon, he swung Miranda, causing the dragon’s head to snap to the side. Turning back, he saw PW leap back into the stairwell’s shaft. Fool halfling! You can’t fly! In an attempt to catch PW, they were both surprised when they began to slowly float down the shaft.
A blast of cold caught HHH by surprise. Taking the brunt of the blast, HHH shivered from the shock to his system. Feeling PW grab his arms and pull him out of the shaft, he continued to shiver uncontrollably. PW was going on about finding the others. Before he could dash off, HHH grabbed PW’s arm and passed holy energy into PW’s body, healing it of most of its grievous wounds. Doing the same to himself, he caught up to PW in another side hallway.
PW opened the door, showing HHH a sight that almost caused his bowels to release. “Rust monsters!” Without thought, he threw an energy-infused crystal into the chamber, incinerating the rust monsters. Breathing a sigh of relief, he looked down and saw a small, shaking ball of fur. “Hello, Smoky. Good to see you in one piece.” Nuria’s familiar looked up at HHH as if he understood him and seemed to bow his head in gratitude. “Let’s go find the others.”
The moment he reappeared, Gloam felt wave upon wave of intense heat. Uh oh. Looking around, he saw that he was in a small, circular room and that he was not alone. Several creatures prowled the room’s floor. They had a muscular, humanoid upper body with a hawkish face. Their bodies were serpentine from the waist down, and they were covered in red and black scales. Flame-shaped spines sprouted from the creatures’ spines, arms, and heads. Each carried large metal spears, heated red-hot.
Floating up to the top of the room, Gloam tried to phase and pass through the ceiling. Surprisingly, he was blocked by some unseen force. The creatures saw him and stared menacingly at him, but they could do nothing since he was beyond their weapons’ range. Gloam scoured the room for an exit and quickly spotted a doorway on the far side of the room.
Floating above the creatures, he quickly flew down to the door and tried to phase through. Again, he was blocked. Spears lashed out at him, one burning his arm badly, but the rest passed harmlessly through his shadowy form. Floating back to the ceiling, Gloam realized he was in a bit of a bind. True, the creatures couldn’t hurt him unless he allowed it, but he was also trapped. The heat within the room was intense enough to cause him some pain. He could survive for a while, but if he stayed there for an extended period of time, he would be in serious trouble.
As he pondered his dilemma, he heard a pounding on the outside of the door. Hoping against hope that it was his true friend, Pennyweight, Gloam could only wait and see.
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