Flaming Gnome Attack

Brain Dead
Face of the Moon, Part 5

Flaming Gnome Attack are:

Robelar, Dragonborn Paladin (Jeff)
Tort, Gnome Warlock (Joe)
Vondal, Dwarf Barbarian (Dave)

Accompanied by:
Aethelred Aquilonius, Human Ranger (Elliot)
Garbondor, Half-Orc Monk (Tim)
Heat, Githzerai Seeker (Craig)
Podsnik, Deep Gnome Thief (Neil)

Whereabouts Unknown:
Fis’Ting, Goblin Thief
Mortaqui, Deva Cleric
Radlum, Half-Orc Assassin
Zoltar, Human Wizard

RIP:
Adamus Aquilonius, Human Bard [dead]
Halan Barnagran, Human Swordmage [dead]
Lokus, Minotaur Avenger [dead]
Cocktoesin, Shifter Druid [dead]
Automatic Johnny, his wolf [dead]
Blade, his wolf [petrified, left for dead]
Rochester, his hawk [fled, presumed dead]

The citadel was calling. Hewn from the living rock in a glittering cavern of fathomless depth, it sang to him and its craggy doors began to swing open before him. “Leave your troubles, your nightmares, your curses behind,” the voices said to him. “Be whole once more in my vaulted halls.” And the long-suffering dwarf staggered forward.

But then there was another voice, a voice that belonged to one he once knew. “Barbarian!” it called. “Your task is unfinished. Your comrades have need of you. The Platinum Dragon himself compels you to return to your quest.” The dwarf paused, unconvinced. The familiar voice added: “Also, we have like shit-tons of whisky.”

Vondal awoke.

His hair had returned to its original fiery ginger. His joints no longer bent at unnatural angles. His beard no longer dripped poison. His penis was no longer a vagina. Vondal was indeed back…but back where? As Robelar, his resurrector, led him through the lunar base to the cloning center where the rest of Flaming Gnome Attack was encamped, he tried to process the information he’d been given. Keraptis was a mind flayer…they were on the moon…a plot involving clones… Vondal was thoroughly confused. Vondal was indeed back.

In camp, Tort, Garbondor, and Aethelred welcomed their companion back from the dead, and he was introduced to Podsnik, the impetuous deep gnome who didn’t speak common, and d’Heat, the Githzerai monk cop from another plane of existence. Never a dull moment in Flaming Gnome Attack. Tort helped convince Podsnik to return the warpick known as The Sunderer to Vondal, but the deep gnome was more interested in the master control panel that the ulitharid had been operating. Using it, Podsnik could access observation spheres throughout the compound, and he even knew how to reactivate the portal system, which would allow them to return to their world, thanks to the transit beacon they’d recovered from the ulitharid. But our heroes sensed their task was not yet complete, so Podsnik scried into the unexplored chamber to the east.

The size and shape mirrored that of the pod-filled warehouse they’d recently discovered, but this room’s walls were covered with pulsing, organic matter, the grated floor traversed a pool of roiling dark liquid, and a huge slug-like monstrosity—part mind flayer, part machine—was busy giving birth to a thoon hulk by vomiting it out from its gaping, oozing maw. FGA considered bypassing the birthing chamber and attacking the unlit building from the north, but in the midst of the discussion, Podsnik simply opened the door and plunged them into battle.

The pulsing, sinuous walls of the chamber entrapped hundreds of bodies—the lucky ones appeared to be dead. Brain moss grew on the walls and ceiling as well, and whether it was the horror of the birthing chamber or the psychic resonance of the moss, several of our heroes were unable to even proceed into the room initially. Robelar, in particular, was incapacitated for much of the battle to come. But good old Vondal charged in headlong and attacked one of the two thoon hulks in the room. He dealt a typically devastating blow to the beast, and was himself dealt a typically devastating counter-blow. When his companions called out their concerns about his gushing wounds, the stout dwarf merely grumbled “I’m not hurt unless I’m dead.” Garbondor flew in behind him, all fists, knees, elbows, and heels, while Aethelred, Heat, and Tort launched withering ranged attacks.

As FGA maneuvered about the room to gain advantageous positions, some were set upon by hideous insectoid creatures that sprang up from the dark liquid beneath the grated floor. It was an intense, bloody, if brief, encounter that ended with the remains of Flaming Gnome Attack’s foes strewn about the floor, walls, and ceiling. In the aftermath, Aethelred tapped into his wealth of Far Realm knowledge to learn more about this chamber and its former inhabitants. It was clear that many of the unfortunate creatures suspended in this chamber had had mind flayer tadpoles inserted into their ears, and it was only a matter of time before they became full-fledged illithids. Knowing the victims to be beyond help, they burned it all.

Eager to put the horrors of the birthing chamber behind them, FGA ventured into the long corridor beyond. At the far end lay the final building of the compound, and as they neared it, they entered what felt like a field of powerful psychic static. Something was generating an enormous amount of psychic energy, and our heroes could feel another consciousness plucking at their psyches. Though the building appeared to be completely dark, the party could see fitful bursts of light emanating from a window in the door on the far side of the access corridor. Podsnik and Tort crept forward to investigate.

In this room, two mind flayers were experimenting with a flickering, bluish portal. They appeared to be attempting to communicate with a tentacled abomination on the other side, while two heavily muscled grimlock thralls stood guard and a cluster of malformed human clones drooled in a corner. While the gnomes watched, a mind flayer grabbed a nearby clone and flung him into the portal to a fate unknown.

FGA quickly drew up a plan, opened the door, and launched their attack. Unfortunately, Robelar and Garbondor charged too close to the portal and were sucked into it. As with the cursed cup in the artifact museum, these two heroes were once again transported to the dreaded Far Realm, or perhaps the Far Realm was transported inside them. Either way, they left this realm for a moment, and when they returned, they rarely spoke of the madness and horror they beheld on the other side.

Meanwhile, their companions were locked in a ferocious battle with the mind flayer experimenters, their bodyguards, and the malformed clones. The Heat’s attempt to teleport one of the mind flayers away from the control panel was unsuccessful, but he managed to cripple a grimlock with a second arrow. When Robelar freed himself from the madness of the portal, he found himself standing on the ceiling, the victim of what appeared to be a malicious gravitational entity, but that didn’t stop him from reducing all of the malformed clones to puddles in a geyser of acid and dealing a devastating sword blow to one of the mind flayers. At last their enemies were defeated and Podsnik used the control panel to disable the portal. But Garbondor and Robelar were still victims of the Far Realm madness they’d come into contact with. They were sluggish, confused, sickened, and gravitationally crippled. They fell to arguing about possible remedies as their condition worsened.

Suddenly, Tort began recounting FGA’s past victories—the smiting of Stonefang, the slaying of Lord Kalarel, their victory over the vampire Ctenmiir. Though not known for sentimentality, the warlock inspired sprit d’corps amongst his companions, and in doing so he negated the Far Realm curse.

The party regrouped and patched their wounds before moving into the silent corridor beyond. A door to the east led to a chemical laboratory. Here the mind flayers’ experiments had gone awry, and a noxious, glowing green substance illuminated the destroyed room and had eaten through the floor, where it dropped into darkness below. They were able to recover a few useful liquids, but not liking the look of the caustic substance, they returned to the corridor.

To the west, they discovered yet another laboratory, this one with two alien machines descending from the ceiling, with strange apparatuses pointing toward one another. Podsnik examined the control panel and realized they were in a psychic programming facility. If someone stood between the machines, he could attempt to instill specific traits in their personalities. In addition, he could probe a subject’s mind for latent psionic ability, although doing so would likely carry significant risk.

Garbondor and Aethelred discussed how this equipment might have been used by the dero and, more recently, the illithids to program their newly created clones, but Tort was only interested in the potential to unlock psionic power. Knowing that nothing would keep Tort from utilizing the machine, Robelar volunteered to be the first to subject himself to the cerebral probe. He stepped between the machines and nodded to Podsnik, who activated them. The procedure was a disaster. Robelar staggered out, blood dripping from his nose and eyes, his health and hardiness permanently damaged.

Tort was undeterred. Posdnik recalibrated the machine and activated it. Once again, the gnome proved full of surprises. He did indeed possess untapped psionic potential, and the machine had unlocked it. When Tort stepped out of the machine, he now knew how to focus his intellectual energy in order to summon a fire elemental from the Plane of Elemental Chaos!

Vondal belched and stepped into the machine. Twelve seconds later, he staggered out, bleeding from every orifice, his health drastically and permanently reduced, though he didn’t seem to care very much, declaring that all he needed was “a stimulant injector right in the ass”.

The party discovered two illithid staterooms to the north, as well as a bunkroom for grimlock thralls. In the latter, Aethelred found a headband of Githzerai make that dampened his brain against the constant psychic assault, which now appeared to be emanating from somewhere below them.

Moving into the northeast quandrant of the building, they discovered a large, out-of-service grav tube and a smaller one, both leading down. They also stumbled into a security center with windows that looked out onto a docking platform. In the docking area was a band of Githyanki pirates, bound and gagged. Attached to the docking coupling was their ship—a spelljammer! Powered by psychic energy and incredibly rare gems, these legendary ships had been used to navigate the far reaches of the cosmos and even other planes of existence by githyanki, githzerai, and other alien species for centuries, though none other that Heat had ever actually seen one. While the transit beacon recovered from the ulitharid would allow them to travel back to the Black Lake Ziggurat in the Underdark, this ship now offered countless other opportunities—escape from the lunar base, return to their home world, interstellar exploration…

But for Flaming Gnome Attack, escape was no longer the goal. Ending the mind flayer threat was, and it appeared that to accomplish that, they would have to venture to the level below.

Using the functioning grav tube, they descended to a level that might once have been used as a warehouse or way station for goods that arrived via the docking area above. Despite their stealthy movements, they sensed that the creature generating the psychic field knew exactly where they were. They quickly looted a small storage room, as well as the large chamber that the ulitharid had claimed as its personal quarters. In the latter, they discovered some familiar alien weaponry, including grenades and a replacement portal gun for Podsnik, and some they did not recognize. Aethelred claimed what appeared to be a light-beam launcher. He also discovered a necklace of strangulation and an orb that displayed illithid erotica, the contents of which he would never be able to un-see.

Armed to the teeth and ready to see their quest through to its conclusion, they stormed into the massive warehouse area, where they encountered a monstrosity that most scholars pray don’t even exist. Half-submerged in a pool of foul liquid was an immense, quivering brain draped in tentacles. The malignant blast of its psychic assault was crippling, the horror of its very existence, staggering. So it was that Flaming Gnome Attack threw themselves into combat against a legendary illithid Elder Brain.

But the Elder Brain was not alone. Looking down on them from a mobile command platform was a mind flayer that was using a control panel to direct a freight claw. And on one side of the room, from a terrarium area guarded by a railing, a gigantic carrion crawler emerged, all aglow from the foul chemicals that had dripped onto it from the chem lab above.

Robelar charged in, leapt atop the brain and hacked away with Aecris. Vondal crashed in as well but was psychically assaulted and teleported into the terrarium, where he was set upon by the gigantic centipede-like creature. Garbondor buried a fist deep into the brain’s frontal lobe, and was struck blind and deaf by the brain and attacked by the thousands of illithid tadpoles teeming in the stagnant waters of its brain pool. Tort dodged the freight claw and unleashed his usual torrent of curses on the brain, while Heat, Aethelred, and Podsnik concentrated their ranged attacks on the mind flayer on the mobile control platform. Vondal fought his way out of the terrarium and launched a barbaric charge on the brain. The Sunderer found its mark, but Vondal was flung into the brain pool by the thing’s tentacles.

Suddenly, the Elder Brain changed tactics. It sunk beneath the slimy surface of the pool and, using its tentacles to manipulate a control panel at the bottom of the pool, it activated a pair of heavy blast doors over the pool. Robelar managed to leap free before the doors closed on his feet, but Vondal was trapped beneath the closed doors, completely submerged in the brain pool with an angry Elder Brain!

But the hideous monstrosity ignored the dwarf for the moment and continued working the control panel. In the room above, our heroes found themselves floating and gasping for air in a room now completely devoid of both gravity and atmosphere—and floating with them was the carrion crawler and mind flayer.

Struggling to maintain consciousness and combat effectiveness, the heroes finally dispatched the mind flayer, and Podsnik took control of the freight claw. They then turned their attention to the carrion crawler and its devastating, paralytic poison. Meanwhile, in the brain pool, the Elder Brain was undergoing some kind of hideous transformation, while Vondal hacked his way through its slashing tentacles and toward the control panel. Somehow, he stayed conscious, fought off the tentacles, and reached the panel just as his comrades above were dealing death blows to the crawler.

Podsnik above and Vondal below punched desperately at the control panels until they managed to reintroduce gravity and atmosphere to the room and open the blast doors. Flaming Gnome Attack crashed back to the floor, sucking in fresh oxygen, and watching as the Elder Brain emerged from the brain pool using tentacles as legs. It appeared somewhat smaller than it had when it submerged, the reason for which became horribly apparent when a huge golem, made entirely of brain matter emerged from the pool and attacked the battered heroes.

Vondal had succumbed to his long submersion and was floating unconscious in the brain pool, but Robelar was able to call upon Bahamut to get him back in the fight. While the brain golem hammered away at Garbondor, the Elder Brain was making its way to the large, non-functioning grav tube that led to the docking platform above. Was it seeking escape aboard the spelljammer? Perhaps, but Heat’s arrows, Tort’s curses, Aethered’s arrows, and Podsnik’s freight claw assaulted the abomination relentlessly until final it fell to the floor, shuddering, glistening, and leaking—but before it died, it activated a dozen malformed clones that were in storage in a corner of the room. But Tort called upon his newfound psionic abilities to summon a fire elemental, which devoured the unnatural creatures in flame. Perhaps that was the last thing the Elder Brain sensed: its clones, its schemes going up in flames at the hands of this terrible gnome warlock and his companions. For seconds later, the Elder Brain died.

But its spawn remained, and the brain golem’s anvil-sized fists and psychic attacks were pushing Flaming Gnome Attack to the brink of annihilation. Finally, with several of his comrades unconscious on the floor around him, with his own resources and health nearly depleted, the half-orc pugilist leapt into the air and buried his elbow into the head of the brain golem, and the thing fell dead.

So it was that Flaming Gnome Attack entered White Plume Mountain in search of three stolen artifacts, were driven into the Underdark by demon thralls of the mind flayer known as Keraptis, fought their way through an inter-dimensional gauntlet to reach the inner sanctum of Keraptis’s lair in the Black Lake Ziggurat, teleported to an ancient alien compound on the moon, stumbled upon a nefarious illithid scheme that threatened not only their home world, but perhaps many others, and decimated an entire colony of mind flayers, including its ulitharid and Elder Brain, thus foiling the elaborate plot and saving millions—if not billions—from enslavement and death.

But what were they to do now? If the envoy of the illithids told the truth, the actions of Flaming Gnome Attack were likely to have tipped the scales in a war between the illithids and Orcus’s undead armies—in favor of the latter. If they returned to their planet, would they find it overrun with the Demon Prince’s horde? How would they bring to light the plans of the illithids and expose the clones who held positions of power throughout the Nentir Vale, and likely beyond? And what were they to do with the scores of people in pods in the cloning center? Were they clones or originals? How to decide their fates? Should they use the transit beacon to reenter the Underdark, make their way beneath Fallcrest, and sneak into the city from the sewers, using Garbodor’s knowledge of them? Or should they lay claim to the spelljammer and command the githyanki crew to fly them home—or elsewhere?

Of course, you already know what they did, for you have no doubt heard the tales of their later exploits. What child has not heard the legends? Eh? You’d like to hear them again? Well, well. I suppose I could spin another yarn about the most famousest marauders in history. So where was I? Right…so Flaming Gnome Attack, having achieved a victory almost beyond comprehension, made camp, tended their wounds, lit a camp fire, and settled in for a much deserved rest. They woke up on the moon…

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Cabin Pressure
Face of the Moon, part 4

Flaming Gnome Attack are:
Robelar, Dragonborn Paladin (Jeff)
Tort, Gnome Warlock (Joe)

Accompanied by:
Aethelred Aquilonius, Human Ranger (Elliot)
Garbondor, Half-Orc Monk (Tim)
Heat, Githzerai Seeker (Craig)
Podsnik, Deep Gnome Thief (Neil)

Whereabouts Unknown:
Fis’Ting, Goblin Thief
Mortaqui, Deva Cleric
Radlum, Half-Orc Assassin
Zoltar, Human Wizard

RIP:
Adamus Aquilonius, Human Bard [dead]
Halan Barnagran, Human Swordmage [dead]
Lokus, Minotaur Avenger [dead]
Vondella, Dwarf Barbarianess [dead]
Cocktoesin, Shifter Druid [dead]
Automatic Johnny, his wolf [dead]
Blade, his wolf [petrified, left for dead]
Rochester, his hawk [fled, presumed dead]

When Flaming Gnome Attack delved into the bizarre labyrinth beneath White Plume Mountain in search of three stolen artifacts, little did they know that they would find themselves driven into the depths of the Underdark; running a plane-jumping gauntlet in pursuit of their quarry, the mindflayer Keraptis; or eventually teleporting to an ancient lunar compound in the hopes of uncovering and foiling some larger illithid plot. But for all true heroes, there comes a time when they cease to be mere adventure hounds and treasure hunters, when they become aware of their place in the universe and the ramifications of their actions. For our heroes, that moment would soon come.

But first, who was this female elf? The party looked her over (upon discovering her physical attributes to be nothing special, Aethelred murmured “Average…right up my alley”) and listened to her story. Her name was Gwena, and based upon her observations of the stars, she knew that she was on the moon, and knew that the planet they could see outside of the compound’s windows was her home. She remembered being with her clan in the Iron Mountains, which bordered FGA’s own Nentir Vale, but something horrible had happened and she’d awoken to blackness and pain. How much time had passed, she did not know, but she had managed to escape her imprisonment the night before. Wandering in the metal corridors, she’d been pursued and attacked by unknown assailants. Aethelred deduced that the screams he’d heard the night before had come from her.

Having grown bored of conversations he couldn’t understand, Podsnik explored the area around the pond and discovered various trinkets that victims of the Intellect Devourer had left behind, including an interesting helmet of Githyanki make. He and Garbondor then decided to get into a shoving match, which resulted in Podsnik inadvertently detonating his beloved portal gun. Truly a proud moment for both heroes.

As the party set out to explore the remaining rooms on this level, the noticed a gaunt, grey-skinned monk leaning against a giant mushroom. This creature introduced himself as Heat and explained that he was on a mission from his home world. He’d traveled to the lunar base using a transit beacon similar to the one that had transported FGA there. He seemed to believe that he was a duplicate, and that another duplicate of himself had been sent to kill him. He’d managed to turn the tables on his would-be assassin, and in doing so, freed his mind and realized that he had previously been sent to kill yet another duplicate. He’d traveled to the lunar base to end this deadly cycle and discover whether or not similar clones had been deployed to his planet, as his society was beginning to crumble into chaos. His intentions, though cryptic, seemed to be aligned with those of our heroes, so after some cautious introductions, he was allowed to accompany them.

The next stop was a large room adjacent to the deadly artifact museum. This room held a single control panel and many rows of seats. The walls, floor and ceiling had a peculiar sheen to them. Garbondor the monk wondered if this might be a chapel of some sort, but then Podsnik, a true savant when it came to the ancient technology of the compound, activated the panel, causing the floor, ceiling and walls to illuminate and swarm with images—and suddenly the occupants were no longer in a metal room, but skimming just above a purple sea as grey and green clouds roiled above. Podsnik activated a switch, and now they were flying amongst the clouds, accompanied by great flocks of birds. Several other scenes were discovered, all of them soothing and comforting—but something sinister was at work. A whispering voice could be heard by the most perceptive of the group, though only Podsnik and Heat could understand the language: It was Deep Speech, and the voice was impelling the listeners to be flexible, to open their minds, to obey. Nearby wall carvings resonated similar feelings. Realizing this to be an indoctrination center of some sort, the party shut down the device and got out.

Three other unexplored rooms contained powerful magic that created the illusion of a Githzerai temple, a luxurious tavern for humans, and a Rakshasa environment of some sort. These rooms also featured psyche-altering carvings and other methods for making creatures—perhaps these duplicates or clones that Heat had mentioned—more controllable.

The final unexplored room contained a single grav tube, which jogged a memory for Gwena the elf. In the room above, according to her, there was a silvery portal, similar to the one that had brought her here. She volunteered to be the first one to go up, and the party followed close behind.

They emerged in a vast room, featuring one gigantic domed window looking out onto the vastness of space. The window also afforded them a view of two enclosed skywalks leading to other buildings in the compound, one dark, one lit. In the room itself, which appeared to be an observation deck, were two columns made of especially shimmery metal, as well as several padded recliners strewn about the floor. The elf headed toward the silvery portal she’d described, but just as Robelar’s instincts told him that the portal was a fake, the elf turned back toward the group and asked them if they might like to come and see the sky with her. Suddenly, the room erupted in disorienting patterns of light, Gwena revealed herself to be a rakshasa, and everyone and everything in the room began to float upwards as if they weighed nothing at all. The evil feline creature seemed perfectly adapted to these environs, and as she contorted her body in zero gravity, she conjured up terrifying images of worlds on fire, which caused several heroes to go rigid with fear. The more acrobatic members of the party adapted fairly well to the physics of the room, but all had to battle to keep their meals in their bellies. All of this made them much easier prey for the other occupant of the room: a mind flayer assassin. This creature teleported about the room, attacking then disappearing, reappearing and mindblasting, then disappearing again. FGA was at an obvious and serious disadvantage, but there was one being in the room that every mind flayer in the lunar base—and perhaps beyond—would come to loathe and fear. That being was Tort. What dark and tormented history the warlock shared with the illithids, I do not know, but the sight of the hideous, tentacled aliens ignited in the gnome an inner rage that would make him one of the greatest illithid slayers the world has ever known. This mind flayer assassin, teleporting about assuredly in zero gravity, was not Tort’s hunter, but his prey. The warlock blasted him with a curse so odious that the fiend’s mind became open to influence, and Tort suggested to it that its victims were fighting too well in this environment, and that it would be well advised to reactivate the gravity in order to hunt them on the ground once more.

The poor mind flayer did just that, sending everyone crashing back to the floor—everyone except for Barghast the shapeshifter, who had activated the controls on one of the recliners, sending a telescopic foot to the floor. Tort fried the mind flayer with another withering curse, then climbed atop its corpse in such an intimidating fashion that the rakshasa surrendered. Robelar attempted to interrogate the prisoner, but she proved to be uncooperative and more afraid of what her Far Realm masters would do to her than whatever FGA could conjure up. Heat was able to perform a mysterious mind-melding ritual that allowed him to extract some intelligence about their surroundings, including the locations of a medical facility and a cafeteria beyond the doors leading from the observation deck. He also caught a glimpse of the illithids’ plan, in an image of armies of himself marching to war. The rakshasa was then put on trial in the name of Bahamut, found guilty and beheaded by Robelar.

Aethelred was a seasoned adventurer, but nothing could have prepared him for what lay beyond the doors of the observation deck. Standing in the corridor was a man whom the ranger recognized, a man he’d buried two years ago. It was none other than Sir Alfred Aquilonius, father of Aethelred and Adamus. The tale he told contained hints of Far Realm madness, but the logical elements were even more disturbing.

Sir Alfred said that not only was he aware of the illithids’ plot and the presence of clones in the Nentir Vale, he was part of a delegation of humans sent to treat with the mind flayers. And now he’d been sent by them to convince Flaming Gnome Attack to end their campaign and stop meddling in affairs they did not understand. The fate of the world—and perhaps several worlds—hung in the balance. Though Aethelred and FGA had been subjected to too many illusions and tricks to fully trust this creature, they did not rush to action. They listened, they interrogated, they placated—and they proved their diplomatic skills were, on this occasion, as finely honed as their smiting skills.

Sir Alfred was cajoled into explaining that the power of the mind flayers lies in their ability to control minds, and that the only thing they feared were those without minds: the undead. Using the ancient technology of the lunar base, the mind flayers had identified rifts between several planes and the Shadowfell, plane of the dead. The demon god Orcus was marshalling his armies of undead and sending them through these rifts in his bid to conquer the realms of the living. The Nentir Vale, as Flaming Gnome Attack well knew, was home to one such rift, which they’d helped keep closed during their campaign against Lord Kalarel beneath the Keep on the Shadowfell. Since that time, the Lord Warden of the Vale had been sending wave after wave of troops into the keep, to unknown ends. Sir Alfred now revealed that these troops had been fighting to hold back the undead armies. Thousands had already died to stem the tide, but once the cloning process was perfected, the mind flayers could create their own army to fight the minions of Orcus, and no more innocent soldiers would have to sacrifice themselves for the cause. Would FGA disrupt the plan, allowing the armies to dead to march unchecked throughout the land?

Heat asked why FGA had not been called to aid in the cause, if the situation were indeed so dire. Sir Alfred reminded them that the Lord Warden had summoned them to Fallcrest long ago, but FGA had chosen to delve into White Plume Mountain rather than heed the summons. He went on to say that some members of the party would be allowed to return to the Vale and would be appointed generals of the Lord Warden’s armies against the undead. Others would be needed here on the lunar base, for unspecified purposes.

The paladin would not even consider aligning himself with one evil against another, but others in the party reflected upon the old axiom that the enemy of my enemy is my friend. As loathsome as the idea of allying themselves to the mind flayers was, they could not help but recognize the appeal toward the greater good. Then Tort brought up a valid and terrifying point: The growth of mind flayer colonies was held in check by the relative scarcity of sentient brains. A single colony of half a dozen illithids could wipe out an entire town in a matter of months, but supporting larger colonies would require a prohibitive number of victims. Tort reasoned that if the mind flayers ever succeeded in perfecting the cloning process, they would essentially be able to manufacture their primary food source, thereby removing the only known obstacle to utter domination of the planes. No matter what was happening in the Nentir Vale, the Shadowfell, or anywhere else in the cosmos, the mind flayers must not be allowed to gain access to this capability.

Sir Alfred appealed to his son one final time, but Aethelred avowed that the man he had buried two years ago, be it clone or original, was his father, and that the person standing before him, be it clone or original, was nothing to him, and he allowed Robelar and Heat to arrest Sir Alfred and lock him in an empty cell in the security center below.

Armed with newly acquired knowledge and perhaps burdened the sudden realization of what hung in the balance of their campaign against the illithids, our heroes proceeded to the area of the compound that Heat had identified as the medical bay. The door was covered with runes that resonated revulsion, and smeared on the door with axle grease was the word “outcast”. In a small reception area, Podsnik accessed a control panel and discovered a calendar for keeping track of medical appointments. The system hadn’t been used for more than one hundred years, but it still contained thousands of past appointments for past derro inhabitants of the base. Barghast picked up the scent of strange chemicals in the room beyond, along with a wet squelching sound and a muffled roaring. While the party discussed tactics and readied their weapons, the impetuous deep gnome began banging on the door with his war pick. So much for the element of surprise.

In the room beyond, a large, gaunt mind flayer was dissecting a cadaver that looked disturbingly like Heat, with the help of a ceiling mounted automaton featuring syringes, saws, and scalpels. Robelar charged the illithid, but when Tort stepped into the surgical chamber, a muscle bound abomination with tentacles on its face and axe blades for hands came barrelling down upon him from an adjacent corridor. It grabbed Tort’s face, lifted him into the air, and ripped his little gnome belly open. Unaccustomed to being hit, let alone eviscerated, Tort teleported to relative safely, somewhat shaken and bleeding. From another nearby doorway, a dozen underdeveloped, defective clones flooded into the surgery howling insanely.

While Robelar and Tort engaged the mind flayer, the rest of the party tried to fight their way past the hulking menace and the clones. Heat made a valiant attempt to race past the former, but wound up unconscious and dying on the floor, his entrails strew about him. Barghast was the abomination’s next victim, and there is no spell or salve that could have knit together the two halves of him that went flying in opposite directions in an explosion of viscera and blood.

Meanwhile, the mind flayer was using the many-armed machinery to attack the party and administer stimulants to the malformed clones. The creature frustrated our heroes by teleporting away from their attacks, but when he tried to escape, Garbondor made a super-human leap over the thoon hulk, and though he landed face-first, he slowed the illithid’s retreat, which was enough to allow his companions to kill it, along with the remaining clones and the hard-hitting thoon hulk. The fight had tested them sorely and had cost Barghast his life, but the party was able to revive Heat and replenish their healing supplies from the storage closets nearby.

They were also able to access the illithid surgeon’s medical records, which revealed the depth of the illithids’ penetration into their target societies. Heat recognized several prominent Githzerai, himself included, while Flaming Gnome Attack were dismayed to find the Faren Marklehay, Lord Warden of the Nentir Vale; Lord Padraig, Mayor of Winterhaven; Baron Edward Stockmer and his son Sir John Stockmer of Harkenwold; and of course Sir Alfred Aquilonius of Gardmore among the roster of clones.

The party then retired to their makeshift camp in the security center to recuperate. During first watch, Aethelred detected noises coming from outside the door. The party sprang out and chased off a pair of derro who were attempting to set a trap by electrifying the floor. Once fully rested, the party explored the cafeteria, where they found alien food dispensers, and two meeting rooms, where they discovered control panels that identified the locations of several rifts to the Shadowfell, including the one outside Winterhaven.

Now it was time to venture forth to one of the other two buildings of the compound. FGA opted for the one with the lights on, but to get there they first had to traverse a 150-foot corridor. Robelar used his new armor to fly half that distance, then activated its life support systems when the barrier protocol was engaged, evacuating the atmosphere from the corridor. Tort remained behind in case of emergency, or perhaps because he hadn’t yet put his armor back on after recharging it in a nearby lightening trap—it was never entirely clear. At any rate, the party once again found themselves in a weightless environment, but this time it was also airless and bitterly cold. They were suffocating and freezing to death, and for once Podsnik’s mastery of the ancient technology had deserted him. Eventually, the party combined their efforts—well, except for Tort—and re-pressurized the corridor.

The beyond was a vast, tiered warehouse containing hundreds of 7-foot tall cylinders—most of which contained a person of some sort. This was clearly a storage area of some kind, but our heroes had little time to investigate, as a giant mechanical claw suddenly descended from the ceiling and grabbed Podsnik. The slippery deep gnome was able to wriggle free, but Garbondor was not so lucky, and he found himself grabbed, lifted, and deposited into an empty cylinder—which began to fill with fluid. Tort found himself subjected to the same treatment, and before the party could come to their rescue a thoon hulk burst through the door on the far end of the chamber and attacked.

The party was scattered all over the warehouse, but this time their approach worked. Heat operated one control panel and opened the pods containing Garbondor and Tort, while Podsnik seized control of the mechanical claw using the other control panel. With ranged strikes from Heat, Aethelred and Tort, the thoon was put down and the company found themselves facing a difficult moral decision. Podsnik wanted to use the control panel to kill all the beings in the pods, thinking them to be unnatural clones. Heat hypothesized that these were not clones, but the original creatures that had been subjected to the cloning process, and as such they deserved life and freedom. The rest of the party, sensing that now was not the time for lengthy philosophical debate, decided to deal with the pods later and continue kicking ass.

When they burst into the adjacent room—the cloning chamber itself, as it turned out—they came face-to-tentacled-face with the ulitharid that had been observing, taunting, and attempting to have them killed since their arrival at the lunar citadel. The creature was positioned atop a 60-foot-tall observation platform, surrounded by control panels. Looming overhead was another mechanical claw. Robelar and Podsnik were the first to reach the platform. Robelar was immediately compelled to leap off of it, but their brave charge caused the ulitharid to teleport to a nearby ledge—and away from the claw’s control panel. Garbondor and Robelar continued to pursue the elusive creature all over the room, while Heat and Aethelred’s arrows struggled to find their marks (although the latter did manage to successfully fire one of his unpredictable hollowpoint arrows, which transformed into a lovely bouquet of flowers, complete with a note that said “Enjoy the flowers”). But once again Tort proved himself to be the bane of all illithids, repeatedly staggering even this incredibly powerful foe with foul curses. And finally it was Podsnik and his mastery of the compound’s ancient technology that brought down the ulitharid, as the mechanical claw swooped down and crushed thing into to a puddle of Far Realm goo.

The illithids’ plot had been crippled, though it had not yet been completely thwarted, and with dozens, perhaps hundreds of clones scattered throughout the planes, the damage was not yet undone. And what would our heroes find when they returned to the Nentir Vale? Would the towns and villages they knew already have fallen beneath the unholy tidal wave of Orcus’s armies? Well, first they had to get back, and there was still one final building in the compound that had not been explored. You know, the one with all the lights turned off.

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A Fright at the Museum
Face of the Moon, part 3

Flaming Gnome Attack are [with New Year’s Resolutions]:
Robelar, Dragonborn Paladin (Jeff) [Perform a dirge in honor of fallen comrades at a performing arts centre]
Tort, Gnome Warlock (Joe) [Be more cautious and stop blowing things up]

Accompanied by:
Aethelred Aquilonius, Human Ranger (Elliot) [Get to Fallcrest and avenge his family]
Garbondor, Half-Orc Monk (Tim) [Eat less grapefruit]
Podsnik, Deep Gnome Thief (Neil) [Lose weight]

Whereabouts Unknown:
Fis’Ting, Goblin Thief
Mortaqui, Deva Cleric
Radlum, Half-Orc Assassin
Zoltar, Human Wizard

RIP:
Adamus Aquilonius, Human Bard [dead]
Halan Barnagran, Human Swordmage [dead]
Lokus, Minotaur Avenger [dead]
Vondella, Dwarf Barbarianess [dead]
Cocktoesin, Shifter Druid [dead]
Automatic Johnny, his wolf [dead]
Blade, his wolf [petrified, left for dead]
Rochester, his hawk [fled, presumed dead

In the aftermath of the ambush, our heroes discovered a number of intriguing items on the bodies of their foes. The dead rakshasa yielded up a number of fine arrows, an obsidian-bladed dagger, and an enchanted circlet, all of which Aethelred claimed. The mindflayer’s loot included his dampsuit, a stylus with four nibs, several sheafs of parchment with clusters of four raised lines, a canister filled with an opaque liquid, and and a necklace with a small capsule containing an even smaller globule of unidentifiable matter. Tort laid claim to the necklace and stylus, and he instantly felt the objects making a telepathic connection to his psyche.

But when Robelar opened the party’s Bag of Holding to store their newfound treasures, he learned a horrible truth. The otherworldly artifact Blackrazor, casually tossed into the bag several days prior, had not been idle; it had been slashing rents in the bag’s pocket dimension, opening rifts into oblivion into which all of Flaming Gnome Attack’s accumulated wealth was being sucked! To their relief, the body of Vondella had not yet been pulled into nothingness, but many items, including the powerful Mirror of Reversal, were gone. The party worked quickly to remove all remaining items from the bag, leaving only Blackrazor inside. Next they had to decide what to do with the massive heap of weapons, gems, keys, armor, furniture, tapestries, tools, potions, books, scrolls, trinkets, charms, rope, 10-foot poles, torches, grappling hooks, and the body of one dwarf barbarianess. They decided to store everything in an empty cell in the security center. Aethelred and Tort proposed that they throw the crazed drow prisoner into the Bag of Holding to satiate Blackrazor’s thirst for death, but they were voted down by Robelar, Podsnik, Garbondor and the shapeshifter Barghast, who was accompanying them in the hopes of escaping the mindflayers.

Next they explored the rooms from which their attackers had emerged. Garbondor discovered six interesting potions in an officer’s lounge, while Aethelred found the officer’s quarters that the rakshasas appeared to have claimed. But most interesting of all was the museum. On display were artifacts from their world and places far beyond. Podsnik activated the control panel, which summoned the apparition of a derro—not a mindless ravager, but a sober and dapper fellow that acted as a docent, calmly strolling about the museum pointing out display cases and offering a running narrative in a language none could understand. Robelar claimed a crystal-studded banner that inspired great confidence in those near it, but other items were not so benign. Aethelred found a sealed envelope, inside which was a piece of parchment. The letters arranged themselves in common before his eyes, and they read:

“The Far Realm is not a place.
You do not open a portal and go into the Far Realm.
You open a portal and the Far Realm goes into you.”

The Far Realm…madness, horror, unreality. The party had had few brushes with the spawn and power of the Far Realm, and they were about to have a few more. When they approached a starry orb, Robelar, Tort, Podsnik, and Garbondor found their limbs contorting into spiralling, corkscrew shapes—and the feeling was oddly pleasurable. Eventually they were able to resist the effect before they were completely disabled, although their limbs retained a hint of the affliction, which would affect their mobility and dexterity until they could devise a way to reverse it.

Tort approached a small metal cup and filled it with water. Suddenly the air about him took on the tactile consistency of earth, forcing him to “dig” through the air to move and quickly suffocating him. Robelar ran to his aid, and found himself likewise affected. He dug his way to the cup and poured the water onto the floor, where it melted away the metal, revealing dirt beneath. Garbondor tried to help, and he too found himself choking on air as if it were earth. Podnik fired his portal gun, offering Tort a quick way out of the room, but the three companions continued to suffocate. Aethelred and Barghast could do little but look on in horror. Podsnik sprinted to a nearby room, the decor of which was that of a well-appointed dining room at an inn. He pulled an oil painting from the wall, planning to use to cover the hole in the floor. But when he left the inn room, he found the painting was nothing more than a sheet of metal.

In desperation, Robelar dug his way to the hole in the floor and discovered that when dirt from beneath the metal floor was in his mouth, he could breathe again. The other two followed suit and drew their first breaths in several minutes, albeit breaths of dirt. Garbondor was confused and frightened, Tort was frightened but curious as to how he could bend this strange power to his will, and Robelar thought only of putting an end to this unholy abomination. Tort and Robelar suddenly found themselves able to breathe normally again. Only by remembering who they truly were could they combat this evil from the Far Realm. Armed with this new understanding, they were able to help Garbondor overcome the effect as well.

There were a number of other curious items on display in the museum, but our heroes had decided that they’d had enough education for one day and retired to the security center to rest, using Tort’s masterwork lock to help guard them and their treasure. During first watch, Aethelred heard the sound of a woman screaming in the corridor beyond the door. He attempted to lift Tort’s key, but the action woke the gnome. The resulting argument woke the rest of the party, and they decided that the sound of a scream was not reason enough to open the door.

After a bit of rest, they locked up the security center and ventured into the large, lush garden they’d seen via observations spheres and control panels. There, they’d spied a brain with four clawed legs skulking around a pond. Hoping that this was the mindflayers’ elder brain and breeding ground, they marched across a carpet a blue-green grass and into a forest of giant mushroom-like growths. Although they could see no enemies, something was afoot and attacking their psyches. Suddenly, a female elf appeared on the balcony above them, firing arrows into the mushroom forest and alerting them to the presence of small brains-on-claws hiding amongst them. Garbondor put several to sleep with another of his grenades, while Robelar blasted them with acid breath and holy light, Tort cursed them, Aethelred fired down from atop a mushroom, and Barghast howled and gnashed. Podsnik, now armed with Vondella’s Sunderer, charged toward the pond and encountered the pig-sized brain-on-clawed-legs. The thing briefly merged with the deep gnome’s mind, causing him to attack Garbondor, but eventually Podsnik threw off the domination and our heroes destroyed the abominations.

Now, who was this female elf? What was she doing here? Could she help them? Was she single?

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Giant Steps Are What You Take
Face of the Moon, part 2

Flaming Gnome Attack are:
Robelar, Dragonborn Paladin (Jeff)
Tort, Gnome Warlock (Joe)

Accompanied by:
Aethelred Aquilonius, Human Ranger (Elliot)
Garbondor, Half-Orc Monk (Tim)
Podsnik, Deep Gnome Thief (Neil)

Whereabouts Unknown:
Fis’Ting, Goblin Thief
Mortaqui, Deva Cleric
Radlum, Half-Orc Assassin
Zoltar, Human Wizard

RIP:
Adamus Aquilonius, Human Bard [dead]
Halan Barnagran, Human Swordmage [dead]
Lokus, Minotaur Avenger [dead]
Vondella, Dwarf Barbarianess [dead]
Cocktoesin, Shifter Druid [dead]
Automatic Johnny, his wolf [dead]
Blade, his wolf [petrified, left for dead]
Rochester, his hawk [fled, presumed dead

The party broke camp and set about exploring their strange surroundings. Podsnik the deep gnome reflected upon what he knew of the derro, the race of creatures they’d battled in an adjacent room. Though they’d long been feared by other races of the Underdark, derro were not considered to be endemic to the region. In fact, some deep gnome scholars theorized that these loathsome, utterly mad creatures were once quite sophisticated—so much so that they’d discovered the secrets of interplanar travel. But this had been their downfall, for when the derro peered beyond the fabric of our known universe and into the utter chaos of the Far Realm, they had been driven insane. And this insanity had toppled their once proud culture and left behind only these hideous, murderous ravagers, poking about in dark corners of the cosmos. Of course, that was only a theory. And of course, Podsnik, cursed by the Mirror of Reversal and the inability to speak common, could not share any of this with his companions.

Meanwhile, Garbondor contemplated the barren landscape, the unusually clear night sky, the out-of-place constellations, and the blue-green orb in place of the moon, all of which lay beyond the only window they’d discovered. Could it be that they were on the moon itself?

Robelar tinkered with the armor-like plates he’d discovered, while Tort examined the strange arch-shaped apparatus crackling with lighting. Garbondor suggested Robelar hang the armor pieces upon his person and walk through the archway. When Robelar did, the plates became fused together by and incredibly strong, yet lightweight, weave, granting the paladin an otherworldly suit of armor. Podsknik had grown bored, so he used the glowing control panels near their camp to disengage several locks, chopped an arm off of one of the dead derro, and used the creature’s hand to activate the glowing rune on a set of double doors.

Flaming Gnome Attack, minus Aethelred who’d been instructed to stay behind and guard the party’s rear should something else use the portal room, followed him into the next room, where they were confronted by the glowing, flickering apparition of an uthilrid, an especially powerful type of mind flayer revered among their kind. This abomination mocked our heroes as “talking cattle” and informed them that without a functioning transit beacon, similar to the one they’d taken from Keraptis, they’d not be leaving this place. Then the apparition disappeared, the doors slammed shut, and the light panels above their heads went out. Garbondor, aided by a magical scroll, and Podsnik the deep gnome beheld the opening of another door in the room, followed by the inrushing of a bloodthirsty derro horde, accompanied by a half-spider and decaying cannibal, both of which appeared to be slaves of the derro.

Garbondor hurled one of the explosive metal orbs he’d recovered from Keraptis’s laboratory into the crowd, eliminating several of the derro. Robelar, unable to see but bolstered by his new armor’s tremorsense and blindsight abilities, engaged several enemies. Podsnik, ensnared by derro manacles, activated the portal gun they’d taken from Keraptis’s lair, and bullrushed his captor into the portal it created. The two of them teleported onto a ledge on the other side of the room, the gnome straddling the prone derro, whom the gnome quickly dispatched. Tort struggled to find targets in the darkness, while the monk pummeled a derro who’d manacled him.

Two of the derro, exhibiting curiously non-derrolike behavior, stayed on the ledge above, firing arrows at our heroes. The fighting prowess of FGA began to take its toll on the attackers, and suddenly the spider creature turned on its captors. With that, the two archer derro disappeared into the darkness, attempting to escape. But Tort activated the room’s control panel and turned on the lights, revealing them to be none other than rakshasa—terrifying, tiger-like assassins who are masters of illusory disguise. One of them managed to escape, but all other foes were struck down. As he died, one of the derro cackled hideously, “Wait until you see the sky!”

Our heroes caught their breath and questioned the spider creature, which told them it was from a land known as “Mashusekks” and that it had been abducted by the derro and subjected to all manor of torturous medical experiments at the hands of the mind flayers. It was able to give them some intelligence on other levels of the compound; that, in addition to Podsnik’s discovery of a control panel that granted him access to observation spheres posted in many areas, helped them assemble a map of their current level, as well as the one above them, which had to be accessed using strange, blue-glassed cylinders that extended from floor to ceiling in this very room.

Tort and Robelar stepped into two of these tubes, thought about moving upwards, and suddenly found themselves doing just that! Podsnik monitored their movements using the control panel and also noticed a number of creatures lurking in a nearby area full of alien vegetation. Podsnik and Garbondor, accompanied by the spider, joined Tort and Robelar to discuss next steps. Podsnik was adamant about proceeding north to confront the creatures, then equally adamant about proceeding south to free some prisoners he’d found using the observation spheres—although he faced his usual communicational hurdles in conveying this to the group. Tort seemed willing to trust the visions that the gods were granting Podsnik through the panels, and eventually the rest of the party agreed to proceed south.

They made their way to a cell block containing three prisoners. The first was a terrified dwarf who refused to leave his cell. The second was an utterly mad dark elf who urged Tort to “come and see the sky” with him. Such was this drow’s madness that Tort himself lost his own grip on reality, an affliction he then tried to pass onto Robelar. The stalwart paladin withstood the psychological assault and snapped Tort out of it as well. The third prisoner was a feral-looking human who exhibited wolfish characteristics. He identified himself as Barghast Battle Lord and agreed to accompany FGA as they sought a way back to their homeworld.

Barghast pointed them toward an adjacent room, which he identified as the armory. Our heroes discovered a number of curious items stored here, one of which Tort managed to detonate, which in turn caused one of their explosive metal spheres to detonate, which knocked a few of them briefly unconscious. Gnomes…

The heroes began to make their way to another conveyance tube they’d identified on their map, when suddenly they were plunged once more into darkness and set upon by foes. Clearly, other creatures—perhaps the uthilrid—were using the observation spheres as well, and they’d used them to plan this ambush in a narrow corridor!

A door next to Garbondor sprang open and he was dragged into a room by an enslaved half-troll. From behind three other doors poured more derro, the rakshasa archer that had eluded them previously, and a mindflayer!

Robelar struck down several derro, while Podsnik darted about the fray backstabbing opponents. This time aided by a scroll, Tort found plenty of targets for this curses. Their spider companion became entangled in derro manacles, while Barghast shapeshifted into wolf form and howled incessantly. Meanwhile, Garbondor was going toe-to-toe with the half-troll, and beating the snot out of the creature.

The paladin and the deep gnome worked together to outflank and dispatch the derro and the rakshasa, leaving only the fearsome mindflayer to deal with. The creature had already ripped out and devoured the brain of the spider, and now, with the odds now stacked against it, it suddenly retreated toward the conveyance tube from which it had come—but not before grabbing Tort with its tentacles and taking the gnome with it!

But the unearthly being had chosen the wrong prey this time. Tort suddenly teleported out of the fiend’s grasp, but instead of appearing somewhere behind it and nearer to his companions, the doughty warlock reappeared directly in front of the 8-foot-tall mindflayer, blocking its path to the conveyance tube! What thoughts passed through the mind of this grotesque being upon seeing its prey standing so boldly in its way—were they thoughts of surprise? outrage? hunger? mirth?—none shall ever know, for Tort called upon gods and powers even mindflayers dare not comprehend and blasted the creatures foul brains onto the metallic walls, floor and ceiling.

Armed with alien technology and perhaps a new perspective on how this strange compound’s features might aid or hinder them, our heroes moved ever onward into mystery and danger, seeking to uncover the true nature of the mindflayer scourge and find their way back home.

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Out of the Frying Pan, Into Orbit
Face of the Moon, part 1

Flaming Gnome Attack are:
Robelar, Dragonborn Paladin (Jeff)
Tort, Gnome Warlock (Joe)

Accompanied by:
Aethelred Aquilonius, Human Ranger (Elliot)
Garbondor, Half-Orc Monk (Tim)
Podsnik, Deep Gnome Thief (Neil)

Whereabouts Unknown:
Fis’Ting, Goblin Thief
Mortaqui, Deva Cleric
Radlum, Half-Orc Assassin
Zoltar, Human Wizard

RIP:
Adamus Aquilonius, Human Bard [dead]
Halan Barnagran, Human Swordmage [dead]
Lokus, Minotaur Avenger [dead]
Vondella, Dwarf Barbarianess [dead]
Cocktoesin, Shifter Druid [dead]
Automatic Johnny, his wolf [dead]
Blade, his wolf [petrified, left for dead]
Rochester, his hawk [fled, presumed dead

The inner sanctum of the otherwordly structure known as the Black Lake Ziggurat was a place of horror and madness, made all the more terrible by the corpse of their longtime companion Vondella, whose brain had been devoured by the mindflayer Keraptis. In days long past, when Vondella was Vondal, he had been struck down by the goblin marauder Irontooth, but FGA was a mere half-day’s march away from their beloved town Winterhaven and the promise of resurrection. This time, our heroes had no idea how to get out of the ziggurat, let alone the Underdark.

Garbondor set about looting bodies and experimenting with some bizarre devices scattered about the chamber—one of which was a small metal orb that exploded with unusual, and painful, blue energy when a button was depressed. They also discovered a number of books concerning a range of topics—from eldritch tomes on the demon god Orcus to more modern volumes on the sewer systems and government of Fallcrest.

Meanwhile Robelar was examining a strange device that slipped from the folds of Keraptis’s robes when he fell. It was a metal rod with fitfully glowing runes of interlocking triangles. When he depressed a metal stud on one end, a shimmering silver doorway appeared nearby.

Tort was torting around with a large cylinder located near the the spinning, 8-sided Nexus of Realms. Aethelred puzzled over the numerous tubings and coils connected to the cylinder, surrounding the vortex, and running around the dissection table. Clearly the fiend Keraptis was experimenting with the cylinder and Nexus—but to what end?

Inside the cylinder, Tort once again noticed a mysterious plink-plink noise originating from somewhere on his person. Rifling through his various pockets, pouches, baggages, and satchels, he finally discovered that it was coming from the large diamond he’d discovered in the Oni mage’s lair beneath White Plume Mountain. Sensing a presence inside, he stepped out of the cylinder and threw the diamond to the ground. It shattered in a cloud of noise and smoke—and when it all cleared, standing in their midst was a completely naked Deep Gnome!

He babbled in a language totally unfamiliar to any of them, though he was obviously grateful to Tort for freeing him and seemed to indicate that his name was Kinsdop. After several failed attempts to converse, Tort called upon his telepathic abilities to communicate with him. The brief exchange of thoughts revealed a bit of this gnome’s history—he was a very confused thief named Podsnik, who had been imprisoned by the Oni long ago. Prior to that, he’d been a victim of the same Mirror of Reversal that had transformed Vondal to Vondella.

Robelar produced the mirror from his Bag of Holding, and Podsnik gazed into it once more, hoping to reverse the curse that caused him to speak and write backwards. The powerful artifact wreaked all kinds of havok on his mind and body, and when Podsnik had finally had enough, he still spoke backwards, but he now breathed through his ears and heard through his nose. Luckily, he managed to re-reverse a think backwards curse. Really, the less said about this episode, the better.

So the group outfitted him with some armor and a dagger, then turned their attention to poor dead Vondella. They considered filling her now empty cranium with whisky to see if she functioned any differently than he had before, but in the end they shoved her body into the Bag of Holding, along with the incredibly powerful and immensely perturbed artifact Blackrazor.

Faced with the prospect of returning through the plane-jumping gauntlet through which they’d come, the group decided to activate the silvery portal once more—and this time, they stepped through it, Tort hoping silently that this portal would be the one that would lead him to the gnome Valhalla known as Dairy Queen Land.

They found themselves in a small chamber made completely of an unknown metal. In a large room head was a group unidentifiable grey-skinned creatures, which were seemingly bedazzled by a panel of glowing runes and faint piping noises. On many surfaces, they beheld more interlocking triangles, clearly a written language of some sort.

Flaming Gnome Attack stepped out of the chamber and Flaming Gnome Attacked the creatures. These creatures wielded large pipes and wrenches, but they weren’t as problematic as the large, warp-limbed things that emerged from a nearby chamber and attacked the group’s flank. Robelar left Garbondor to deal with a magic users of sorts, who was using some sort of maddening spell to allow his allies to shift around the battlefield, and leapt back to defend Tort. Aethelred peppered the large creatures with arrows, and Podsnik acquitted himself nobly in the fray.

When the creatures were dispatched, Aethelred claimed an armless crossbow that crackled with blue energy. The rest of the group experimented with the panels of glowing runes, though only Podsnik seemed able to decipher their various functions. He discovered that he could control the lights in the room, lock or unlock all doors, and identify items—which taught him that the armless crossboy was actuall a portal gun. Aim it in one place and pull the trigger, it opens a portal. Aim it elsewhere and release the trigger, it opens a twin portal, magically connected to the first.

In the end, the group decided to have Podsnik lock all the doors so they could get some much needed rest. But not before Aethelred discovered a side chamber with a window that opened onto a barren colorless landscape beneath an unusually clear night sky. The stars seemed out of position and in place of the moon was a blue-green-and-white orb. Where were they???

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Thought for Food. White Plume Mountain, part 9.

Flaming Gnome Attack are:

Robelar, Dragonborn Paladin (Jeff)
Tort, Gnome Warlock (Joe)

Accompanied by:
Aethelred Aquilonius, Human Ranger (Elliot)
Garbondor, Half-Orc Monk (Tim)

Whereabouts Unknown:
Fis’Ting, Goblin Thief
Mortaqui, Deva Cleric
Radlum, Half-Orc Assassin
Zoltar, Human Wizard

RIP:
Adamus Aquilonius, Human Bard [dead]
Halan Barnagran, Human Swordmage [dead]
Lokus, Minotaur Avenger [dead]
Vondella, (female) Dwarf Barbarian [dead]
Cocktoesin, Shifter Druid [dead]
- Automatic Johnny, his wolf [dead]
- Blade, his wolf [petrified, left for dead]
- Rochester, his hawk [fled, presumed dead]

On the banks of a black lake in the depths of the Underdark, the company known as Flaming Gnome Attack sifted through the remains of the slain kua-toas and examined the otherworldly ziggurat looming above the water’s surface.

Aethelred and Garbondor recalled apocryphal stories of the ziggurat, that at its heart spins a mysterious eight-sided orb—some sort of dimensional gateway inadvertently created by the maimed god Torog as he tore through the Underdark eons ago.

Examining the kua-toa’s altar and bodies, they pieced together a theory: Four of the kua-toa were meant to be tethered together with ornamental belts and twine, then they were to enter then ziggurat, in the hopes of descending to an afterlife, or ascending to oblivion, or some other unfathomable end.

After a fitful rest—particularly for the curse-afflicted dwarf, gnome and human—the heroes tethered themselves together using the ceremonial belts and twine (as well as their trademark ropework), trundled themselves across the lake, and entered the ziggurat.

They were sucked into a portal and warped to a distant plane. When their interdimensional journey ended, they found themselves assaulted by heat and smoke. They were standing in a gigantic caravan wagon that was traveling on a road of smoke through an atmosphere of pure elemental chaos. Through huge windows they beheld earth motes floating past crackling lightning waterfalls, and the ground was nowhere to be seen. They were aboard the legendary Brazen Bazaar, but before the strange buzzing creatures stocking the shelves with wondrous items or the huge, multi-armed demon barking orders at them could notice, the Attack darted forward to the portal they spied some thirty feet in front of them.

Again they warped, this time to the floor of a shadowy gladiatorial arena that extended up into infinity. Between them and the portal ahead were at least a dozen warriors—all of whom Garbondor had slain during his days as an underground pit fighter in Fallcrest. The shadowy gladiators immediately beset Garbondor on all sides. Tort struck one down with a curse, but in doing so caused Garbondor to experience severe psychological trauma. Where were they, exactly? What was this place? Garbondor decided he needed answers less urgently than he need to get out, so he bulled his way forward, dragging the party through the portal.

They landed in the middle of a battlefield, surrounded by craters and hordes of dead bodies. Aethelred surmised that they were standing on one of the final battlefields of the flagging Nerath Empire. When the dead bodies began to move, the Attack moved forward into the portal ahead, Tort hoping that it would lead to his favorite plane, one known as “Dairy Queen World”.

Alas, they landed on a muddy earth mote, floating in purple sky crackling with arcane energy, in the midst of a wild thunderstorm with raindrops made of metallic shards. Tort sensed that everything around them was malleable, so the group set about dragging sheets of mud up from around their feet to form shelters—and to their surprise, the matter here stayed exactly where it was placed, defying all known laws of gravity and physics. When the adventurers advanced toward the portal ahead, a floating elemental creature of mud and metal sprang up and attacked. Despite the inclement weather and difficult footing, they dispatched the creature and dove through the portal.

Now the group stood in a long dark passageway. Between them and the next portal stood a familiar looking dwarf child, and two former allies: Lokus the minotaur and Halan the swordmage! Robelar felt a horrible sinking feeling as he looked upon three who died undeserved deaths as a result of his choices. The group opted to bull right through the threesome and into the portal. The three attempted to cut Robelar’s tether as he pushed past, but they could not sever the ties that bound Flaming Gnome Attack together.

Fire and falling! The group were suddenly accidental passengers on a flying ship that was being torn apart by devils as it careened toward the blackened plain of the Seven Hells! The crew of the ship, an unrecognized race of gray-skinned humanoids, were waging a losing battle against two giant spined devils while several smaller burning devils gleefully ripped chunks from the hull. Garbondor dispatched a burning devil, but when one of the spined devils unleashed a horrific attack that sent the entire company crashing to the deck, the group decided that swords were no more use here. Fighting hard to keep the devils at bay and maintain their footing on the doomed ship, FGA just managed to escape with their lives, although poor Douven Stahl, fearless explorer and mentor to Tort, sustained mortal injuries and was nothing more than dead weight hanging on the tether when they warped to…

The Feywild! Tort immediately recognized his ancestral home, with its vivid colors and eerie magic rippling just beneath the surface of everything. They were standing in a ruined tower surrounded by eight doors shielded by strange energy fields. Above the doors, the walls of the circular tower featured protruding stone lips that whistled weird melodies, filling the space with spittle and wind. The mouths took turns singing verses of a cheerful, if unusual ditty with a chorus that went something like “ristlety rastlety heady bomosity knickety knackety retrogal polloby willoby walloby down and out!” Only when Robelar sang his own original verse did the barriers drop and the company was allowed to warp once more.

They landed in the middle of a small town harvest festival, surrounded by friendly, if surprised, villagers. Thinking quickly, the group explained their sudden appearance by passing themselves off as traveling showman with magic tricks galore. The rubes were pleased, and our heroes were granted a brief respite from their harrowing journey through the Black Lake Ziggurat and were even able restock their healing kits. But with Aethelred, Vondal and Tort slipping ever closer toward the nadir of Keraptis’s curse, our heroes could not linger here. And so they stepped through the eighth and final portal, and into the central chamber of the ziggurat.

The horror was immediate and overwhelming. In the chamber before them stood a massive table with lowered portions underneath to better facilitate dining on craniums. More alien apparati covered the ceiling and walls, similar to the scene they stumbled into in the Indoctrination Center in the bowels of White Plume Mountain. But there were other things here, two fearsome drow warriors, a kua-toa priest and a hideous drow-spider abomination—all under the control of some other intelligence.

And in the chamber beyond, standing in front of a bizarre 8-sided floating orb, bent over the body of an unknown creature with scalpel and other dissecting tools in hand, was Keraptis itself. And this was no ordinary mad wizard, no run-of-the-mill demented conjurer, this…thing, this hideous, malevolent, alien being stood seven feet tall with unfathomable milky eyes and long, wriggling tentacles writhing beneath those eyes. Keraptis was an illithid. More commonly known, though seldom spoken of by even the bravest adventurers, as a mind flayer!

Flaming Gnome Attack charged forward, unleashing withering attacks on Keraptis’s minions, but their confidence was short-lived as they came face to face with the mind flayer, whose psychological attacks dominated the will of Vondella repeatedly, forcing her to attack her allies. Aethelred, Garbondor, Tort and Robelar were subjected to mind attacks that threatened to drive them insane or simply turn their addled brains into porridge. The creature’s bond to the fabled weapon Blackrazor remained strong, and it compelled the fell blade to abandon Tort in favor of its former master, in doing so, ripping an otherwordly gash in the gnome’s hand. Keraptis also possessed the ability to teleport seemingly at will—and always just as a particularly devastating hammer blow or sword thrust was about to find its mark.

For all of its deftness and mental strength, the creature was not especially physically powerful, and Robelar, Garbondor and Tort exploited that weakness. Their relentless assault began to take their toll on the creature, but just when it seemed it might fall, it once more gained control of Vondella’s mind, forced her to submit, and as her horrified companions watched, it wrapped its tentacles around the dwarf barbarianess’s head, bored through her skull and devoured her brain.

Vondella fell lifeless to the black stone floor.

Grief and rage coursing through them, Flaming Gnome Attack drew upon their last reserves and finally struck down the terror known as Keraptis, with Tort delivering the killing blow.

Of the six original members of Flaming Gnome Attack, only two now remained. Of the seven adventurers who entered White Plume Mountain intent upon recovering three famed artifacts, only four now remained. Victory was theirs once more, but the cost had been high.

Would Flaming Gnome Attack find a way to resurrect their longtime dwarf companion? What clues as to the fate of Fallcrest and the Nentir Vale as a whole could be gleaned from this unholy laboratory? And what the hell was that device that fell out of Keraptis’s pocket as he fell?

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Going Down? White Plume Mountain, part 8.

Flaming Gnome Attack are:

Robelar, Dragonborn Paladin (Jeff)
Tort, Gnome Warlock (Joe)
Vondella, (female) Dwarf Barbarian (Dave)

Accompanied by:
Aethelred Aquilonius, Human Ranger (Elliot)
Garbondor, Half-Orc Monk (Tim)

Whereabouts Unknown:
Fis’Ting, Goblin Thief
Mortaqui, Deva Cleric
Radlum, Half-Orc Assassin
Zoltar, Human Wizard

RIP:
Adamus Aquilonius, Human Bard [dead]
Halan Barnagran, Human Swordmage [dead]
Lokus, Minotaur Avenger [dead]
Cocktoesin, Shifter Druid [dead]
Automatic Johnny, his wolf [dead]
Blade, his wolf [petrified, left for dead]
Rochester, his hawk [fled, presumed dead]

So there was Tort, embracing his former mentor, in a laboratory/indoctrination centre containing library stacks, alien brickwork, strange coils and tubes running from the ceiling to the workstation, and dominated on the far wall by the lava-wreathed gateway to parts unknown. The rest of the party advanced warily into the chamber, the pugilistic monk Garbondor and the ranger Aethelred electing to inspect the book- and scroll-packed shelves of the library, while Robelar and Vondella kept an eye on the reunion.

It was readily apparent that the noted explorer Douven Stahl was not fully himself. In his pursuit of knowledge, he too had become afflicted with Keraptis’s curse and was slowly descending toward a miserable fate of enslavement to the wizard. But at the mention of the wizard’s name, Douven’s affliction took hold, and he blasted Tort and Robelar with a point-blank fireball, cursing them in a language not of this earth. Vondella and Robelar managed to subdue him, but not before the dwarf barbarianess had launched her own errant fireball, setting several library stacks ablaze.

Garbondor and Aethelred were gathering useful darkvision-granting scrolls from other shelves while Tort continued to extract information from Douven. He told them that Keraptis had brought the artifacts Wave, Whelm and Blackrazor from the ancient, legendary realm of the Underdark to this world, where he’d used their power to craft this dungeon and portal—and possibly to help bring about the collapse of the Nerath Empire itself! Furthermore, Keraptis considered the demon lord Orcus to be his arch-enemy, and the war between the two had at times spilled over into this world. Flaming Gnome Attack had already spoiled the plans of Lord Kalarel, who was a Scion of Orcus, during their successful bid to make safe the Keep on the Shadowfell. If Orcus had his eye on this world once more, and if Keraptis were active as well, could history be repeating itself?

Meanwhile, Aethelred had found his way into a storage area and a cave containing an unknown moss, but before he could inspect it more closely—or indeed, before the group could investigate the rest of the laboratory and it’s bizarre aparati, the library fire triggered Douven’s curse once more. He teleported away from Robelar, who had bound him, and using his teeth, pulled a beautiful blue rope that dangled from a hole in the ceiling. Those closest to the centre’s entrance heard the sound of bells ringing in a room behind them—and they knew this meant the the fiery efreets had been summoned.

Moments later all four demon princes burst through the doors, slinging their searing scimitars at Robelar and severely wounding him. Their path to their own world cut off, our heroes had no choice but to hurl themselves through the mysterious portal. Thus they escaped the efreets, and Vondella managed to toss a bound and blindfolded Douven over her shoulder on her way through. Tort was disappointed that Douven had expressed a desire to live at all, as he had come up with an excellent plan for mercy-killing his beloved father figure with Blackrazor.

When they passed through the portal, they fell at incredible speeds down, down, down—deeper than any of them thought possible. After what must have been hundreds perhaps thousands of miles, their descent slowed, they were dumped on the floor of a metal hallway. The impossible depth weighed heavily on their psyches, even the dwarf and the gnome, and they knew that they had now passed into the legendary Underdark, home of drow, durgar, and abominations from realms of primordial chaos and alien universes.

They passed out of the metal passageway and into a network of natural—though wholly unfamiliar in mineral and floral composition—caves. These caves opened onto a gigantic cavern, the dimensions of which were impossible to estimate, but glowing stones and strange bioluminescent flying creatures made it clear that the scale of this cavern was beyond anything they’d ever imagined. Their attention was drawn to a black lake before them. From the middle of the lake rose a disturbing structure: a black ziggurat constructed using materials and techniques utterly alien to them—although Aethelred and Vondal confessed that they’d seen this awful structure in their curse-haunted dreams. And on the banks of this lake, a group of bulge-eyed, fanged, amphibian creatures were apparently offering prayers to this structure as part of some hideous ritual.

Aethelred snuck forward to scout, but Garbondor was less than stealthy in his approach, and with horrible croaks and screams, the creatures attacked. Perhaps the oppressive atmosphere of the Underdark was having a greater effect on FGA than they realized, for they narrowly avoided death at the webbed hands of these harpoon- and spear-wielding monstrosities. In the end, our heroes triumphed, killing all but the priest creature, who retreated into the black lake.

And there stood our heroes, bleeding from puncture wounds caused by the creatures’ cruelly barbed spears and harpoons, staring across the lake at the unholy edifice looming before them in the harrowing vaults of the Underdark. Truly these were heroes, for who among us could have summoned the courage to stride forward toward such a place? But, of course, that is exactly what Flaming Gnome Attack did.

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"It's Not Gay. It Just Feels Gay." White Plume Mountain, part 7.

Flaming Gnome Attack are:

Robelar, Dragonborn Paladin (Jeff)
Tort, Gnome Warlock (Joe)
Vondella, (female) Dwarf Barbarian (Dave)

Accompanied by:
Aethelred Aquilonius, Human Ranger (Elliot)
Garbondor, Half-Orc Monk (Tim)

Whereabouts Unknown:
Fis’Ting, Goblin Thief
Mortaqui, Deva Cleric
Radlum, Half-Orc Assassin
Zoltar, Human Wizard

RIP:
Adamus Aquilonius, Human Bard [dead]
Halan Barnagran, Human Swordmage [dead]
Lokus, Minotaur Avenger [dead]
Cocktoesin, Shifter Druid [dead]
Automatic Johnny, his wolf [dead]
Blade, his wolf [petrified, left for dead]
Rochester, his hawk [fled, presumed dead]

Our heroes cleaned the oni blood from their weapons and congratulated themselves on their most recent triumph. The monstrous guardian of Blackrazor was dead, but in his lushly appointed foyer remained a mirror that had turned their bold dwarven companion into a double-jointed, blue-bearded female and a mirror that appeared to be another portal to the dimension of Ctenmiir the vampire. The party decided to bundle up the reversing mirror and chuck it into their bag of holding, and cover up Ctenmiir’s mirror and place it face-down on the floor.

Tort, Aethelred and Garbonder then took off to explore Quesnef’s bedchamber, hallway and workshop, while Robelar gave Vondella’s new genitalia a thorough examination. The paladin’s extensive training in the healing arts and careful probing of Vondella’s soppressata (presumably a drarven euphamism) led him to conclude that the dwarf’s new gender was no illusion. Robelar assured Vondella that the procedure was merely a scientific one and there was nothing untoward about it, though Vondella lamented that “It’s not gay. It just feels gay.”

Meanwhile, in the hallway Tort discovered a food and water bowl, apparently belonging to a cat named “Scrimpins”. In Quesnef’s magnificent wood workshop, Aethelred laid claim to several quivers full of magical arrows, then pried loose a dozen gemstones from the former occupant’s headboard. Garbondor discovered the privy, which consisted of a gelatinous cube living at the bottom of a dark pit. In the final room, the group found a dark, chimney-like shaft leading up and out of the mountain, along with a large burned out stick of incense. They concluded that Quesnef had been using magically enhanced incense to lure various surface-dwelling creatures into one or more pit traps, which would drop the unfortunate victims directly into his lair.

With that, most of the group settled in for a rest, but two things were nagging at the inquisitive gnome warlock: why weren’t there any tools in the woodworking shop, and where was the cat? Using his ring of true seeing, he discovered a set of wondrous invisible tools dangling from the ceiling of the workshop. And using the power of his Ioun stone, he located the cat in a small chamber hidden by a secret door.

Once discovered, the door was easy enough for Robelar to lift, but just as Garbondor and Tort stepped into the room beyond, the door reached its highest point, triggering a hidden blade that cut loose the counterweight, sending the impossibly heavy stone door down toward all three adventurers. Nimble Tort stepped quickly into the room, but Robelar could not get out of the way in time. Garbondor braced himself to try and catch the stone slab, but Robelar, knowing the task was an impossible one, kicked the monk out of the way, leaving him to absorb the full weight of the stone. He was crushed to within an inch of his life, the bones of his sword arm reduced to powder.

The thunderous noise brought the rest of the group running. They braced the door with planks of wood from the workshop, and Vondal—bolstered by a giant strength potion—managed to lift the slab just enough for the group to pull Robelar out from under it. In the meantime, Tort was facing down what looked to be a very ordinary cat sitting atop a treasure chest. The warlock sensed danger, and attempted to telepathically convince the cat to leave, but to no avail. On the other side of the door, Vondella attempted to use the scent of her new dwarflady parts to lure the cat away, but somehow the creature resisted the pungent aroma. Out of ideas, Tort simply blasted the thing into a bubbling puddle of hair and necrotic goo, then claimed the treasure it had been sitting on, which included a huge diamond that radiated powerful magic.

Tort’s curiosity satisfied, and rewarded, the party settled in for some rest, but no sooner had they done so than Ctnemiir, in gaseous form, drifted out of the mirror and into the hallway. But Flaming Gnome Attack were ready. On guard duty was Aethelred, and he quickly alerted his companions to the danger. Robelar struck the mist such a mighty blow of radiant energy that the creature was forced to take corporeal form, while Vondella and Garbondor smashed the mirror to hinder its escape. The heroes then unleashed hell on the undead villain, slashing, blasting, shooting and cursing it to within a hair’s breadth of oblivion—Tort even going so far as to taunt the blood-sucker, sneering “I’ll grasp this guy’s iron tower”. But before the final blow was struck, the vampire once more turned to mist and floated up the incense chimney and into the wider world.

With no further interruptions from triggered traps or vengeful creatures of the night, the comrades finally got the rest they’d been seeking. And after breaking camp they headed back toward the valve wheel, which Sir Bluto (may he rest in peace) marked as the entrance to Keraptis’s ominously named Indoctrination Centre. As they passed the sphinx, she cowered at the sight of Tort and his two light-drinking artifacts Blackrazor and the black Ioun stone.

Turning the valve wheel to the right did indeed open a hatch to a thrumming spiral staircase below. At the bottom were two doors. Through the eastern door, the adventures found a large room lined with numerous bells and curtained on the far end by a steady flow of lava. Aethelred spied a room beyond the lavafall, and Tort theorized that the markings below each of the bells corresponded with rooms of the dungeon above. So the bells would indicate which rooms needed service, prompting one of more of the dreaded efreets to emerge from the room beyond the lavafall to do its duty. Fortunately, no bells were ringing, so no efreets were emerging.

Through the wester door was an even larger chamber, this one a combination library and laboratory. All manner of strange stonework was visible here—some rocks glowed, others absorbed light, others still seemed to bleed. At the far end of the chamber was a huge door framed by a continual lava-flow from a pipe descending from the ceiling. The doorway was open, and beyond it was a strange, luminescent darkness. Between them and the door was a large writing desk, and sitting at the desk was a small figure, scribbling away furiously. The figure perked up as they entered the room, and when he turned around, Flaming Gnome Attack beheld a familiar, if wholly unexpected, face: that of Douven Stahl, elderly gnome archaeologist and explorer, whom the group had rescued from the clutches of Lord Kalarel’s minions early in their careers.

“Master!” exclaimed Tort joyously at the sight of his old mentor. “I thought you were dead!” And he ran happily into the outstretched arms of the old gnome.

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Meat the Neighbors. White Plume Mountain, part 6.

Flaming Gnome Attack are:

Robelar, Dragonborn Paladin (Jeff)
Tort, Gnome Warlock (Joe)
Vondalisa, (female) Dwarf Barbarian (Dave)

Accompanied by:
Aethelred Aquilonius, Human Ranger (Elliot)
Garbondor, Half-Orc Monk (Tim)

Whereabouts Unknown:
Fis’Ting, Goblin Thief
Mortaqui, Deva Cleric
Radlum, Half-Orc Assassin
Zoltar, Human Wizard

RIP:
Adamus Aquilonius, Human Bard [dead]
Halan Barnagran, Human Swordmage [dead]
Lokus, Minotaur Avenger [dead]
Cocktoesin, Shifter Druid [dead]
Automatic Johnny, his wolf [dead]
Blade, his wolf [petrified, left for dead]
Rochester, his hawk [fled, presumed dead]

After stabilizing and securely restraining their captive Sir Bluto, the company made camp. Aethelred perfected several new bowshots he’d been developing, while Robelar reflected on the ill fortune that had befallen him since the battle with the orc warchief Hyrkzag Wyrmskull. He felt that he’d fallen out of favor with his god Bahamut, and in an attempt to get right with the Platinum Dragon once more, he withdrew the warchief’s enchanted skull helmet from his bag of holding and destroyed it with his longsword. Would it be enough to regain Bahamut’s blessing?

Meanwhile, a vile blue poison had begun dripping from Vondal’s beard. The ranger Aethelred identified it as a mildly toxic mushroom extraction, and Vondal wondered if perhaps giving a clipping of his beard to the bog witch Thingizzard might not have been in his best interests.

Robelar interrogated Sir Bluto, who wasn’t particularly impressed with or intimidated by any members of the group, until the raging dwarf berserker started throwing things around. As it turned out, Bluto and his band had been hired by the Fallcrest crime syndicate Clan Chi to recover the three artifacts being held beneath White Plume Mountain. Interestingly, Clan Chi was the very same organization that Garbondor had been affiliated with, before discovering a connection between that group and the rulers of the Nentir Vale and subsequently being run out of town. Bluto also admitted that he and his band had given in to the temptation offered by Keraptis’s scrolls, which had driven them all a bit mad.

With that, the group made camp. During his watch, Robelar rigged up some tripwires and noticed disturbances in the stream indicating someone or something was interacting with it in the kayak room. The efreets, he assumed. The rest of the night passed uneventfully, although Tort, Vondal and Aethelred experienced more disquieting dreams and awoke the next morning feeling the weight of Keraptis’s curse bearing down on them.

So what to do with Bluto? Tort and Aethelred wanted to take him along, hoping to use him as a meat shield. Robelar objected on moral grounds. Vondal suggested that the problem was not an ethical one, as much as a terminological one, and proposed the group adopt the term “meat companion” instead. Robelar was unmoved, until Tort made an impassioned speech about bringing the once-noble knight along so that he might redeem himself.

With Garbondor staying behind to guard the party’s rear, our heroes proceeded down a long, curving passageway to the south, with Bluto in tow. They discovered a strange, wheeled panel that seemed to run along grooves in the floor and ceiling. Peering into the opaque glass, they found themselves looking into the kayak room. As they rolled the panel to the south, it continued to grant them visibility into rooms directly to the west. They noted that the kayak room had been reset, presumably by the efreets. Vondal proposed that perhaps the ancient diabolical fire-demons from an eldritch plane of dimensional chaos were friendly, while Aethelred surmised that whatever lay further down the passage likely knew about Flaming Gnome Attack’s approach.

The panel’s wheels bumped to a stop directly across from a large double door, and the passageway continued to the south. While the heroes considered dislodging the panel and taking it with them, the double doors behind them swung open. The smell of rotting flesh mixed with sawdust preceded the emergence of a large, wooden animate. The party stood aside as the automaton rolled the panel back up the corridor, before stepping through the opaque glass and directly into the frictionless room, where it used telescopic arms to gather dead remains from the pits therein. The wood golem stepped back through the panel, returned to its storage room, which was filled with similar dead remains and several more hideous husks, gathered a shovel and net, and shuffled off to the south. The party followed, but not before Vondal discovered a keg of beer and narrowly avoided contracting a severe gastrointestinal disease when he poured some of the foul liquid onto his beard.

The golem led them to a vast domed chamber with four glass-walled tiers descending to floor some 50 feet below. Surely this was the inverted ziggurat that the verses of Keraptis spoke of. The first tier was filled with water and contained two giant crayfish. The second tier contained two giant scorpions scuttling about on a thin layer of sand. The third tier was also filled with water, this one containing two large sea lions. The bottom of the ziggurat contained two clipped-wing manticores, as well as a door. The golem set about mucking the tiers with his shovel and net, and feeding the creatures with hunks of meat it had gathered.

The creatures crowded close to the automaton as it circled the topmost layer, and the heroes realized that arriving during feeding time might give them a chance to sneak to the bottom. Robelar lept to the scorpions’ level, and Vondal noticed Sir Bluto backing toward the door, clearly terrified. So the dwarf encouraged the sellsword to take heart by shoving him into the topmost tier, where he promptly drowned as was torn apart by the giant crayfish. Vondal then joined Robelar as he battled the scorpions. Aethelred and Tort launched attacks at the manticores, but the wooden golem shuffled over, took hold of Tort with a telescopic arm and flung him all the way to the bottom of the ziggurat, where he lay at the feet of two hungry manticores.

When all was said and done, the scorpions were mush, the glass wall of their tier shattered, the crayfish slain, Bluto in pieces, the manticores hacked to pieces, the wooden automaton a pile of ash, and ropes were tied to things. Flaming Gnome Attack were never known for their subtlety.

In the heat of the battle, Aethelred and Vondal had both unleashed fireballs, using the power of Keraptis’s scrolls for the first time. The spells were predictably effective, although the two heroes felt themselves slipping ever closer to some unthinkable fate.

At the bottom of the ziggurat, Tort discovered a wall safe, and somehow managed to bypass magical traps that would have brought all the water above crashing down on them. Robelar declared him the luckiest goddamn gnome in history.

Our heroes proceeded through the doorway and emerged into a warm, cozily appointed sitting room. Pleasant music from an enchanted wooden calliope mingled with the smells of incense and herbal smoke. A doughty halfling bid them a warm welcome and offered them tokes on his hookah. Vondal and Tort indulged, while Robelar and Aethelred remained on their guard. The halfling identified himself as Quillen McBootfoot, yet another victim of Keraptis’s machinations. Like so many others, Quillen had been bound to service by the evil wizard, and he was able to supply the party with some useful intel as to the whereabouts of Keraptis’s “indoctination chambers” within the mountain and the nature of the curses affecting three of them. He motioned toward a shrouded mirror in one corner of the room, indicating that it had the power to reverse curses, among other things. Fed up with the multitude of curses hanging over his head, caked between his fingers and dripping from his beard, Vondal pulled aside the shroud and stared into the mirror. The mirror’s power of reversal did indeed reverse the effects of his bloody-handed curse, but that’s not all. By the time Vondal turned away from the mirror, his elbows and knees were completely double-jointed, all of his body hair was purple, and he was a she.

Already suspicious of the hobbit, Robelar picked up Quillen and smacked him across the face, demanding some goddamn answers to unspecified questions, and suddenly found himself face-to-belly with a large, blue-skinned ogre-like creature wielding crackling energy in one hand and a black-bladed sword in the other. This was a dreaded Oni, one of the legendarily fierce ogre-mages from ancient times, wielding a legendary blade from ancient times, and Flaming Gnome Attack cut him down with a ferocity that made the very mountain shake. Crippled by well-placed bowshots from the ranger, weakened by withering curses from the warlock, blasted by divine radiance from the paladin, and finally brought down by a rampaging barbarianess, the cruel monster would have no slaves on this day or any other.

And when it fell, so fell the mythic weapon Blackrazor, the last of three artifacts housed beneath White Plume Mountain. Peering into the blade chilled the bones of the adventurers, as they watched what appeared to be ancient, alien stars slowly being pulled inward. Tort claimed the weapon, and it transformed into a short sword on his request. And he wanted very badly to kill, starting with Keraptis.

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Tie a Rope to It! White Plume Mountain, part 5.

Flaming Gnome Attack are:
Robelar, Dragonborn Paladin (Jeff)
Tort, Gnome Warlock (Joe)
Vondal, Dwarf Barbarian (Dave)

Accompanied by:
Aethelred Aquilonius, Human Ranger (Elliot)
Garbondor, Half-Orc Monk (Tim)

Whereabouts Unknown:
Fis’Ting, Goblin Thief
Mortaqui, Deva Cleric
Radlum, Half-Orc Assassin
Zoltar, Human Wizard

RIP:
Adamus Aquilonius, Human Bard [dead]
Halan Barnagran, Human Swordmage [dead]
Lokus, Minotaur Avenger [dead]
Cocktoesin, Shifter Druid [dead]
Automatic Johnny, his wolf [dead]
Blade, his wolf [petrified, left for dead]
Rochester, his hawk [fled, presumed dead]

Robelar, Tort and Vondal were all that remained of the adventuring company known as Flaming Gnome Attack. They, along with Aethelred the ranger, lay in an exhausted, scalded, half-drowned, blood-soaked heap in a dark tunnel deep beneath White Plume Mountain. As they untangled themselves and staggered to their feet, they experienced the bitter and unfamiliar taste of defeat. They retreated to the sorceress’s chambers to regroup and plan their next move. The paladin attempted to convince his companions to seek potions or magic that might allow them to open the doors, brave the millions of gallons of boiling water that lay beyond, and recover the bodies of their companions, Halan and Lokus, as well as the artifacts Whelm the hammer and Wave the trident. Perhaps the sphinx or even Thingizzard the bog witch could help…? The others were unconvinced, but they agreed to see what information they could wrest from the sphinx—after a rest.

Aethelred drew first watch, and he saw with his own eyes the monstrous, flaming demons that Halan had described, as they strode past their hiding place toward the valve doors. Water from the boiling lake began to rush back from that direction, and the group considered making a mad dash out of the dungeon before it flooded. But in their present state, an encounter with efreets would mean certain death, so they waited anxiously as the water level rose inch-by-inch. Thankfully, when the water reached ankle-level (or hip-level for Tort), it stopped rising. But they were not out of danger yet, as the efreets were suddenly walking down the corridor directly toward their camp!

Tort and Aethelred took cover in the guard chamber while Robelar and Vondal threw themselves into the pantry, where they attempted to blend in with the hideous husks inside. The demons tossed the bed chamber, and for a few tense moments opened the pantry doors and peered inside. But they departed as they’d arrived, flaming scimitars in-hand and muttering their demonic, eldritch language to each other. When the bold heroes emerged from bravely hiding, they discovered that the beasts had made off with the bodies of the sorceress and their dear old friend Rond Kelfem. They shrugged and went back to sleep.

Later that night, Vondal heard footsteps approaching their hideout once more. He burst into the tunnel and found himself face-to-face with a hooded half-orc. This was Garbonder, known in Fallcrest’s underground fighting circles as “Great Fists”, and known to Flaming Gnome Attack from that moment on as “Grapefruit”. Raised by Tempulic monks outside of Fallcrest, he’d fallen in with an organized crime syndicate before running afoul of its leadership. He’d discovered a connection between the rulers of the Nentir Vale and the criminal underworld, and he’d narrowly escaped death before fleeing to the east. Lost in the foul bog surrounding White Plume Mountain, he’d encountered Thingizzard, who’d told them of FGA’s location (in exchange for a bit of his blood, of course). Having heard of FGA and their defiance of the Baroness and her master the Lord Warden, Garbondor had come looking for them.

Aethelred was wary of this half-orc, understandably so, given that the half-orc traitor Radlum had infiltrated Flaming Gnome Attack some months prior and brought about the death of his brother, Adamus. Tort wanted to know if the monk had a midget under his shirt. In the end, the group allowed the newcomer to stay, for the time being.

Once rested, the party returned to the sphinx and attempted to pry some useful information out of her. Thanks to some keen riddling, they were able to learn a bit more about the strange curse afflicting Tort, Aethelred and Vondal. Shockingly, by reading the scrolls created and stamped by the mad evil wizard Keraptis, the three heroes had brought some doom down upon themselves. The sphinx was elusive about the nature of the curse, but she was very clear about how much time the three had left before their fates were sealed: 30 days for Tort and Aethelred, and only 20 for Vondal.

The sphinx gave them some useful intel about what lay down the final unexplored corridor, which the group ignored with their usual aplomb, and proceeded down the corridor in search of the famed blade Blackrazor and, for three of them, salvation.

After several minutes of marching, they found themselves staring down a corridor that was lined with a succession of copper plates facing one another. After some experimentation, they learned that the plates created some sort of induction field that heated metal. Tort stripped off his armor and accompanied Garbondor, who wore only his monk’s robes, to the far end. There was probably a rope tied to something, at some point.

They reached the far end without incident, but as they turned to call back the all clear to their comrades, they were ambushed by a horde of ghastly ghouls! Robelar and Vondal charged heedlessly down the corridor to the aid of their comrades, but the induction plates destroyed Robelar’s plate mail and Vondal’s life-drinking greataxe—nearly killing both of them in process. Vondal arrived weaponless, dove over Tort, landed on his face and was nearly torn to shreds. Robelar, though completely unarmored and badly injured, was a paladin after all, and the site of these undead abominations sent him into a holy rage. Spewing acid, calling down Bahamut’s thunder, and hewing away with his longsword, the dragonborn knight threw down one enemy after another. Meanwhile, Aethelred was firing away with his longbow, while Tort and Garbondor had gained better positions and were cursing and punching, respectively. And the undead became unundead.

Rounding a corner, the group discovered a pit trap with razor blades at its bottom. Aethelred leapt over the pit but discovered to his horror that the surface of the floor beyond was completely frictionless, which sent him careening into the darkness beyond the group’s torchlight and into another razor-strewn pit ahead. Ropes were tied to objects. Vondal was told to hold the end of said ropes. Tort teleported. Garbondor flew. Robelar strategized. Ropes were tied to other ropes. And the party emerged on the other side and proceeded through the passageway beyond, mostly unscathed.

And into one of the stranger rooms any of them had ever seen. In this otherwise nondescript chamber, a swift stream flowed from a hole in the western wall to another in the norther wall. What was unusual is that the stream was suspended several feet above the floor. Leaning against another wall were several one-man kayaks and oars. Thoroughly intrigued, Tort immediately snatched up a kayak, slung it into the stream, swung himself up and into it with incredible agility, and disappeared into the dark hole in the northern wall with a giggle.

Recovering from their shock, Aethelred, Garbondor and Vondal followed suit, as did Robelar, although he struggled with the craft and found himself upside-down and drowning. The heroes emerged one-by-one into a large natural cavern, where several armed men were waiting to throw nets on them. Tort evaded them easily, beached his craft on the northern bank and launched a furious assault on the attackers. Aethelred, Garbondor and Vondal once again followed suit. Robelar, still struggling to right himself, was caught in a net and pulled to shore.

Aethelred and Garbondor recognized the leader of this rabble as the leader of the notorious Fallcrest-based adventuring group known as Bluto’s Blotters. But even they were surprised when the swordsmen began unleashing fireballs recklessly and calling forth walls of force that sent some of our heroes tumbling back into the river. Despite their surprising magical abilities, the Blotters were dispatched promptly, although Bluto himself proved to be a stout foe—until Aethelred put a lightning arrow into the eye slit of his helmet. Down he went, groaning in agony.

Time for an interrogation. Anybody got any rope?

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