Flaming Gnome Attack

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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