Thursday, March 29, 2007

Conversations with a Dragon

During Yeshua's imprisonment, he was able to speak about certain matters with his draconic captor. This is a rather unpolished colection of Yeshua's questions, and the dragon Dhorlot's responses.

Dhorlot is temperamental, and frequently brushes your questions off.
Sometimes you'll get as many as five questions in before he dismisses
you, or sets you a question to contemplate. He seems to view your
presence as that of a promising, but ultimately annoying

> "What is the relationship between the Smoking Eye and Blibdoolploolp?"

The dragon reclines on his platform, stacking myriad coins into
pleasing patterns. His great green eyes are lidded, and it seems he is
ignoring your question. After a long period of waiting, he lets out a
small snort and gestures towards the design he has rendered.

"Look upon these patterns, and speak to me of your perceptions."

You look at the coins, which have been stacked into many different
piles. Pyramids, towers, short circles: there are no sequential
patterns of shape or size. Then, as your eyes track back across the
piles for the second time, you notice a more subtle pattern. Within
each structure, there is a single, badly tarnished silver coin. You
point out this pattern, and Dhorlot breaths a long sigh.

"It is not merely a single coin; it is all the coins. They are all the
same coin, but each has assumed a random position within a greater
structure. It is a presence within every single stack and design. In
some it holds a more central position, while on others it assumes a
peripheral position."

The dragon drags his claw back across the series of designs, scooping
them back into their zig-zag patterned urn. You wait patiently, hoping
for a more thorough answer to your question. When he has finished
picking up the last coin, he turns his long, skull-like face back to

"Think on the nature of the tarnished coin, and what it's seemingly
ubiquitous presence could mean. Return to me with your answer."

> "Why were the lanky human and dirty halfling being being held
> captive? Were they searching for the Smoking Eye?"

"They were intruders, much as you were. They came to steal my oracle,
and unfortunately did not receive the proper punishment. Next time I
will not be so lenient."

> And Yeshua would have liked to speak on the following topics:

> * Zenith's deteriorating health and prophetic nature

"The oracular dwarf's health was deteriorating long before he reached
the gates of Bhal-Hamatugn. His diseased mind saw the blackened, fiery
socket as a manifestation of evil. He sought to destroy it, and lead a
great number of his pitiful soldiers into the cold and dark. When he
had dashed his forces against these very walls in vain, he was
surrounded and captured by the then-priest Cullogthuk's personal
guard. This was years before I had reached this place, though I had
met Zenith on his crusade once before. Under a great deal of physical
strain and torture, Zenith's mind finally cracked. The shallow
defenses he had erected in his mind fell away, and he saw truth in its
unvarnished form. Since that day he has spouting prophecy as a Kuo-
Toan does feces. You will need some sort of similar treatment if you
are to unleash your own latent oracular powers."

He leans forward, gesturing towards the door with a single claw.

"Go now, and return to me with a proposal of a method for your

> * Dhorlot's rivalry with Gottrod the Red, and Gottrod's fate at the
> hands of Yeshua and his fellows

"An annoyance, an upstart, and a shallow excuse for a draconic being.
Speak no more of this. Go."

>* The fate of Cauldron as it is tied to the "thirteen".
"The fate of all human accomplishment is tied in to their own inherent
failures. Petty mysticism only clouds the true reasons for the fall of
any human city: idiocy and complacency. Your question today is this:
why does Cauldron still stand, when its history if rife with intrigue,
violence, and demonic invasion? Go."

> And more general topics of prophecy, spiritual enlightenment, and the
> like.

His general thoughts on the nature of the universe are wrapped up in a
peculiar philosophy involving the magical elements and their physical
manifestations through the various parts of the mind and body. Its a
very different way of thinking, and its connotations for a non-
draconic being are poor. It seems that only within dragons is there a
suitably stable mixture of the elements. He suggests that if a non-
dragon were to live their life in a suitable fashion, following the
tenets laid down by himself, that one could in fact become semi-
draconic in nature. The meditation and lifestyle changes would be
intense, but according to Dhorlot essential to reaching true

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Meanwhile, in the Temple...

Arvaston and Yeshua awoke in the cells recently vacated by the lanky human and the dirty halfling. Both were tied up, but neither was gagged. Arvaston was able to free himself from his bonds, but Yeshua was incapable. Arvaston softly sang him a song of inspiration, and with this aid Yeshua was able to wriggle free of his bonds.

They formulated a plan in which Yeshua would attract their attention, and then Arvaston's clever songs would fascinate them and leave them open to suggestion. Arvaston kicked and screamed and soon enough two Kuo-Toan soldiers came in to investigate, carefully peering over their shields and poking at him with their shortspears. Arvaston found that they could not understand any of the languages he spoke, and so his powers were useless. Yeshua decided to improvise.

He first cast an ice lance, blowing a hole through the first Kuo-Toan and lodging it to the wall. It froze immediately, pinned by the lance of ice in an upright position. The other Kuo-Toan croaked in fear and retreated out of the room, where it was soon joined by several others. Yeshua, after grabbing the shortspear, cast flame strike out into the hallway, crisping two more Kuo-Toans and instilling some fear into the others.

As Yeshua tried to flip the lever with the shortspear, Arvaston notices the level facing his cell for the first time. Utilizing a little magic, he flips it up and frees himself from the cell. After Yeshua was freed, they waded into combat with the thoroughly intimidated Kuo-Toans. Both men were severely wounded, but the Kuo-Toans seemed unwilling to do any lasting damage to them. They attacked with the butt of their spears, instead of stabbing. Eventually, both Arvaston and Yeshua were knocked out and returned to their cells. This time, they were bound more securely and gagged as well.

Arvaston, a native of the sea, was beginning to worry about his breathing situation. His water mask had been confiscated, and he had less than two days to get some water in his gills or he would suffocate.

Several hours later, a group of Kuo-Toans arrived. They were escorting a charred Kuo-Toan whip, which Arvaston recognized as one of the four who had stood before the statue of Blibdoolploolp when they burst into the shrine. It croaked in barely understandable common, "Dih-ngghert." They soon understood that either they were about to be eaten, or they were being brought to dinner. Both Arvaston and Yeshua decided to go peacefully, and their gags were removed.

They were escorted through the shrine, onto a lower level. They were brought to a room filled with stuffed Kuo-Toans, all of whom bore the marks of violent death. Those on the east wall were evidently warriors, as their preserved forms were holding spear and shield. The frog-people on the west wall were unarmed, and all had gaping holes in their abdomens, which had been partially sewn back closed. Between these eerie rows of the dead stood a long wooden table, with benches on either side and a throne at one end. On that throne was the demented dwarf Zenith.

Throughout the awkward meal, during which they dined on various underground fish, Zenith ranted about eyes that smoked and death by blue men. Some of the prophecies were in Kuo-Toan, and a scribe stayed nearby to write them on a tablet. When Yeshua asked about the Smoking Eye, Zenith pulled his own right eye from its socket, throwing it at Arvaston. He uttered a prophecy most profound, and then fell unconscious into his soup. (Zenith's Prophecy: The wicker bars of the cage will flame and burn, lighting a tree of 13 souls in a constellation of bonfires that hiss through the sky into a prison of flesh and bone.) The cleric of Blibdoolploop who sat at his right hand cast a minor healing spell to stop the bleeding, and went back to eating his fish. Thus ended dinner.

The following morning, both Arvaston and Yeshua were summoned for "Brrrek-fhvicksht." They complied, despite Yeshua having sent his spirit guide on a quest for some useful spells. This time they were sent not to the Hall of Stuffed Frogs, but through a different passage to a room which was dominated by a large stairway and a pool of water. The pool was full of small, black Kuo-Toan young. A leg of a corpse was hacked off and thrown into the water for the young to eat, which they fell on with great ferocity. Arvaston and Yeshua were horrified to see that the leg had belonged to their ally Casorati, and they suddenly felt very vulnerable.

After being ushered up the stairs and through an antechamber, they were introduced to the master of the Temple, Dhorlot the Dragonfather. He stood nearly 12 feet tall, a dragon as black as midnight. He stood, catlike, on a platform above the petitioners, with his horde stacked around him in clay urns.

He spoke with them about their goals in coming to Bhal-Hamatugn, and answered some few of their questions. He was most curious about what they had said that provoked Zenith to pry out his own eyeball. It seemed that this dragon was interested in matters of prophecy, and when Yeshua revealed that he himself had seen the Smoking Eye, Dhorlot became very curious. He lost interest in Arvaston quickly, however, and inquired about Arvaston's skills at pit fighting. Arvaston professed that he had none, but was very useful in other areas. Dhorlot was happy to hear that, as he had summoned a duergar slaver of some renown to purchase him.

After leaving the presence of the Dragonfather, they were escorted down to the Hall of Stuffed Frogs for breakfast. Zenith sat at his throne, his eye bandaged and weeping blood. When they sat down, he leaned forward and begged them to help him escape. He spouted a plan so insanely stupid that Yeshua was stunned, and neither Arvaston and Yeshua agreed to help him. Zenith lapsed into melancholy.

Over the next several days, Arvaston was given his water mask, and Yeshua spoke often to the dragon about matters pertaining to the Smoking Eye. Sometimes the dragon would grow weary of his questions and have him thrown back into his cell, at others they would speak for hours.

Then the slaver arrived...

Preparing for a Rescue

The morning after their summoned feast, the party awoke to find the silken tent gone, along with their comfortable bedding. The small halfling with which they had escaped had vanished into the night as well, which elicited no great surprise.

Tlaloc's wound had gotten worse during the night, and he was no longer conscious. King Jared had warned them about the disease, claiming that he had removed the magical curse that blocked healing it, but he could not cure the disease itself. The only solution was to ride hard for Cauldron, a difficult task considering they had no horses. Jared was not to be deterred; he summoned a stableman with enough horses for all of them. This brought about some consternation, given Jared's abilities with illusion, but Tai and Via mounted up anyway, lashing Tlaloc to a horse as well. They set off in a southerly direction, only to find out the horses were indeed illusionary just over the ridge line. After a short debate on carrying capacity and the need for dragon parts, Tai shouldered the half orc once more and began plodding south.

Although neither of the pair was an especially adept woodsman, they had followed a series of paths for much of the journey. They kept to those that looked familiar, and failed to get too lost. Tlaloc regained consciousness at one point, but lost it again when they spent the night in a peasant village one day's ride north of Cauldron. The horses, while expensive, served them well. They reached Cauldron the next day at midnight, and went immediately to see Jenya Urikas, High Priestess of St. Cuthbert.

Jenya knew a way to cure the disease, but it would have to wait until her morning prayers to St. Cuthbert. Tai inquired to Ruphus about the manner in which one would slay a devil, and Ruphus provided two vials of blessed oil that would help. Beyond that, he said, all you'll need is a strong arm and a sharp blade, hopefully.

The next morning, Jenya performed her ritual healing of Tlaloc, not only removing the disease but healing his disease-ravaged body back to its former status. Ruphus, having spoken with Jenya previously, volunteered his services in the rescue of Casorati, Yeshua, and Arvaston. He donned his chainmail, slung his shield over his shoulder, and hefted his blessed heavy mace.

A short stop for supplies at Skie's Treasury was necessary to replenish their stock of potions, then it was on to their own home for a few other supplies. They were quite shocked to see tents set up in the alley beside their house, and a gaggle of bald priestly types engaged in a variety of activities in their home. Via angrily shouted that they had to leave, and they had better not have entered her room on pain of death. One of the acolytes scurried to find his master, the Lady Kestrel. She related the story of how they had encamped in the home.

She told a story of a mystical prophet, whose words and deeds were inspiring to those who had lost hope. She spoke of a man strong and wise, whose every glance communicated endless epiphanies. Her religious master was none other than Yeshua, currently prisoner (or worse) of the Kuo-Toans. When the nature of Yeshua's current status came to light, Kestrel and the acolytes pledged to aid in his rescue, pledging their very lives. Via warned Tai that this is exactly what converts do: die at the first inconvenient time, in droves. Tlaloc argued that a sword is a sword, and they needed the help. Following this advice, they accepted the presence of Kestrel, but decided to leave the other acolytes behind.

The odd group rode off toward the Pit of Seven Jaws, with Ruphus seeking a theological debate with Kestrel. She politely made small talk, without committing to his debate. The group reached Jared's valley without incident, and spoke to him briefly to ascertain the current whereabouts of the behir that had presumably eaten their last horses. Jared's warning was similar to his last: the beast is near, and was seen in the valleys nearby by his scouts. Nonplussed, the party continued on toward the pit.

Less than ten miles out from the pit, someone heard a faraway sound. Their current path lay along the bottom of a forested valley, and from their streamside path they could see the jungle canopy along both sides of the valley. Via and Ruphus saw the rustling of trees, and the accompanying crack and splinter of tree branches being knocked aside for something large. Via asked Tai several questions about what could be so large, and is met with Tai issuing the order to run like hell. The entire group rides hard for forty five minutes, bringing them to the mouth of the Pit of Seven Jaws. They decided that it would be better to bring their horses inside, rather than risk the behir coming upon them outside and eating them. They urge the horses to the bottom of the pit, tying and hobbling them past the dead hydra (which frightens the horses badly).

A few hours walk later, the party engages in combat with four ambushing ogres. The ambush goes poorly for the ogres, and Ruphus makes himself useful by casting every spell he can think of that will help. After defeating the last of the ogres, the party stops to rest for a while. The next day will bring them back to the Temple of Bhal-Hamatugn, and they need to be fully prepared for what lies ahead...

Monday, March 26, 2007

Escape from Bhal-Hamatugn

Tai's heart hammered in his ears. The unconscious half orc on his back was cruelly heavy, even after leaving his silvered falchion behind. The erinyes had promised eternal torment for their insults, and followed it with a string of punishments that still echoed down the passageway. He was through the great double doors that Via had labored to open a moment before, and then he passed through the second set which Tlaloc had fortuitously left open earlier. The exit from the Kuo-Toan temple lay just ahead, over the corpses of its initial defenders. Their wide eyes had already filmed over in death. As he passed the passage to the prison, Tai stopped, wracked with guilt at the thought of leaving the two prisoners behind. Against his better judgement, he hooked a quick right into the dungeon.

The room was dark, but the sunrod clamped in his teeth gave him enough illumination to find his way to the cells. Both prisoners gaped in stunned silence at his arrow-studded, bloody form, and neither moved as he swiftly tripped the levers that would release them.

"Get out of here, go!" cried Tai as he stumbled past, although he doubted they could understand him around his toothy grip on the sunrod. Both the lanky human and the dirty halfling wasted no time in sprinting for the exit, passing Tai as he made his way down the steps of the temple. The human launched himself into the water like a diver, while the halfling made like a shot for the long canoe that had been pulled onto the steps. With his straining at the bow with Via, they managed to push it into the lake, just as Tai dropped the unconscious Tlaloc into the canoe. With the wordless coordination of desperate men, they soon had the long boat swiftly moving across the misty, phosphorescent lake.

They had nearly reached the opposite shore when arrows began to rain down among them. The range was incredible, but the flaming arrows were coming uncomfortably close. Both halflings crowded to the bow of the canoe, frantically paddling with the Kuo-Toans shortspear and their hands. Tai risked a glance back, and saw the flame-illuminated erinyes circling above the temple. Her screams of rage echoed throughout the cavern, but she did not pursue them over the lake.

Shortly thereafter, the exhausted group had made their way up the switchbacked trail to the top of the waterfall, which seemed out of range of the erinyes' bow. She was no longer flying above the temple, and all the world's sound was drowned out by the churning of the water. A potion was fished out of their packs, and Tlaloc reawakened with some consternation. He was extremely irritated that his falchion had been left behind, perhaps more upset about that than the loss of several comrades. The halfling prisoner answered few questions, and threatened to abandon them if they persisted with their questioning. The lanky human prisoner had not been seen since he dove into the lake, and the long journey back to the surface was a nearly silent one.

Upon reaching the surface, it was just reaching dawn. It was hard to tell exactly how long the journey back to the upper world had taken. The horses were gone, and there were signs that something had eaten one of them. Clawed reptilian tracks were scattered all about the place, bringing back memories of a "snake with legs" that frequented the area. The decision to press on to Jared's valley was made, and the group trudged onward.

Jared was excited to see them return, having been told by his advisors that the raiders of the hills had been actively hunting Andurian scouts. He mourned the loss of their comrades, but assured them that he would give whatever aid he could to the brave heroes who vanquished Gottrod the Red. They spent that night in a broad silken tent, dining on rare fruits and a roast antelope haunch. During this meal, Jared regaled them with tales of his younger days as adventurer, fighting against the dark city of Kheltos' overlord, Frelgurda the Witchqueen. Her legions frequently took Andurian's as slaves, selling them to the duergar slavers of the Crimson Pit.

The excellent food and Jared's droning voice soon overwhelmed the tired adventurers, leading them down into sleep.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Expedition to Bhal Hamatugn, pt 3

In the entryway to Bhal Hamatugn, standing among the shards of eggshell scattered by Kuo-Toan priests, the party analyzed their options. Ahead lay great stone doors, decorated in zig-zag patterns reminiscent of waves. The walls bore frescoes of Kuo-Toan warriors marching to battle, alongside a squat humanoid figure with a black orb for a head. To the left was the barracks from which many of the guards had erupted, and according to Via's scouting was a dead end. To the right was a rusty portcullis, through which several cells could be seen. A cry for help erupted from this side, and the group decided to investigate, but not before Tlaloc opened the central stone doors and triggered a sonic magical trap.

The portcullis rose into the ceiling to the screeching of hidden gears, alerting anyone nearby who hadn't heard the sounds of battle. Within the room were four cells, of which only two were occupied. A greasy, lanky human was in the north cell, while a dirty, ragged halfling occupied the far southern cell. Both shouted directly oppositional tales of how the other is a liar and a "frog lover." Both claimed that they alone held information regarding the traps ahead, and if they were freed they could guide the party through the hazards. Barring that, they would flee the temple and never return. A consensus could not be reached in regards to which was lying, and so both were left in the cells, for their own "safety."

A passage in this room led down to a lower level, through a watery passage, into a partially submerged torture chamber. It was within this room that the party was ambushed by the preserved corpse of a deceased Kuo-Toan, rising from the water. It grappled and tried to drown one of the party members, before being smacked down hard by brutal melee attacks. The passage continued and curved around before terminating in a blank wall, which was discovered to be a secret passage. The door was opened and the party was met with an interesting sight.

They were beneath a platform, which was fifteen feet above the ground. This platform surrounded a thirty foot tall statue of a humanoid woman with lobster claws and a lobster head. The knowledgeable amongst the group identified it as a statue of the Kuo-Toan deity Blibdoolploolp. The room itself was sixty some feet tall, and a little over that in length and width. At twenty feet above the ground, a walkway wrapped three-quarters of the way around the room, with stairs leading up to the third level forty feet above their heads. On the middle level there were great stone doors marked with the same wavy pattern observed before, while on the top level a second set was unreachable due to retracted bridges.

The party split up immediately, drawing the ire of several Kuo-Toan priests. They channeled lightning bolts via the statue at the interlopers, doing little harm. Kuo-Toan snipers from the third level attracted much of the attention, drawing the party into several different groups. When the battle ended, half the party was at the third floor balcony, while the other half was on the walkway around the statue, where two doors had been discovered.

Tai and Via found themselves listening at the doors near the statue, and made plans to burst in when they heard croaking chants of Kuo-Toan spellcasting. Tlaloc led the upper group, finding passages and empty rooms. Both groups hit nastiness at the same time.

Tai and Via burst in on a duergar slave helping his Kuo-Toan master finish donning his plate armor. The cleric, who had all appearances of being the high priest of this sect, had finished casting all of his impressive clerical magics. The melee was brutal, with Tai being beaten nearly senseless by the creatures pincer staff. Via was caught in the tines of its staff, and choked nearly unconscious.

Meanwhile, the group upstairs had blundered their way in to the holiest of holies, housing the maniacal dwarven prophet Zenith Splintershield. He mouthed insane prophecies while violently swinging his dwarven waraxe at the intruders. It was at this time that the prophet's protector finally showed himself, dropping down from his ceiling perch onto Casorati. His vicious assassin strike failed to kill Casorati, and with the concerted effort of Arvaston and Casorati, the monk was felled. Zenith managed to deliver a powerful blow to Yeshua, dropping the shaman into unconsciousness. Seeing the raging, enlarged barbarian Tlaloc would soon smack him into little dwarf bits, Zenith retreated through a teleport circle carved onto the floor of his throne room. Tlaloc and Casorati followed soon after, while Arvaston wandered back to the balcony looking over the statue room. Yeshua remained, unconscious, in the anteroom to Zenith's throneroom.

Meanwhile, a terrible scream echoed through the statue room, the cry of an erinyes intent on vengeance. She was summoned to protect this shrine according to old bargains by the temple's founders.

As Zenith appeared before the statue, the high priest was retreating out of his meditation chamber onto the platform. Tai followed, and at that moment Tlaloc appeared next to Zenith. Zenith was ready for him, and unleashed a devastating series of blows. At the same time, the erinyes Aushanna fired a barrage of arrows into Tlaloc. Tlaloc was reduced to a disabled state, in which any strenuous action would cause him to bleed out. As the high priest was brought down by Tai, the battle seemed in doubt. Zenith was still up, and dangerous, while above a winged woman launched fiery arrows at the much weakened party. It was at this critical moment that Arvaston made his choice.

With a running leap, he jumped onto the erinyes, grappling her strongly and bringing them both crashing to the ground sixty feet below. This act saved both Tlaloc and Tai from eating two fiery arrows apiece, but gifted Arvaston with a considerable amount of damage. The erinyes was furious, grabbing Arvaston by the shoulders and smashing him bodily to the ground repeatedly. Arvaston's elven blood spattered into her auburn hair, and her smile was terrible to behold.

While this was occuring, Tlaloc weighed his options. If he fell back to drink a potion, Zenith would assuredly finish him with further heinous blows. If he attacked Zenith, there was a very real possibility he would also suffer the same heinous blows. He took a gamble, swinging his heavy falchion down in one last hit. This blow battered past Zenith's shield and knocked the dwarf to the ground unconscious. Tlaloc fell as well, barely alive due to his amazing capacity for damage.

Via was frustrated, knowing she could not take out the erinyes on her own. She utilized her wall-climbing abilities, staying out of the erinyes line of sight to wait for her chance. Tai stepped over the corpse of the high priest, surveying the situation and maneuvering for a charge on currently ground-bound erinyes. Casorati flung fiery energy missiles at the devil, but the fire sloughed off without a singe to her raven-feathered wings.

She flew up into the air, shooting a fiery missile of her own with her composite longbow. It pierced Casorati through the heart, dropping his smoldering corpse to the ground. She soon had Tai lined up for a coup de grace, and called out to him that his only chance at survival was to make obeisance before the Sea Mother, and to beg for forgiveness.

Tai's response was insincere, claiming self-defense as an excuse for the brutal murder of all who had been within Bhal Hamatugn. Aushanna sneered, and unleashed a series of flaming arrows into his kneeling form. Miraculously, he survived this barrage, and this gave Via time to unleash her hidden weapon. Aushanna had strayed too near the ground, and a web spell from Via's cloak of arachnida caught her wings and prevented her movement. The devil's strength was mammoth, however, and she slowly but surely began moving out of the web, calling out the numerous punishments she would mete out on them.

Tai realized he had little hope of killing the devil, and decided to run for it. He grabbed the unconscious Tlaloc and fled, with Via in close pursuit. The first expedition to Bhal Hamatugn was over.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Expedition to Bhal Hamatugn, pt 2

As the Heavy Rollers stood looking down at the burning hut, they quickly came to no sort of agreement. The valley was clear of terrain that they could hide behind, and their approach would be unshielded. No one could agree with one another as to what action to take, and so they took a variety of actions instead.

The party immediately fractured into three parts: Casorati the psion hid in the bushes, Tlaloc sprinted ahead of the rest in a berserk charge, while the remainder found themselves strung between these two extremes. The dragon appeared very upset that his interrogation of Jared was being interrupted, and he leaped into the air with a mighty jump. The battle was confusing and frustrating for the Heavy Rollers, who found themselves being toyed with by the beast. The fiery dragon Gottrod would not stand still, and flew by them breathing gouts of flame. Some few of the group were capable of harming the beast, however. Yeshua utilized his newly acquired spell Ice Lance, throwing a spear made of pure ice at the flying dragon. In return, he received a vicious fly-by bite by which he nearly met his end. The final blow was administered by Tai Morthane, nobleman and duskblade, who held his blow until the vicious creature responded to his shouted insults by swooping down to bite him. He took the incredible chomp but was able to lash out his heavy flail, hitting it perfectly on the back of the neck, instantly killing the large dragon. It careened into the ground, bouncing and rolling until it landed among some nearby bushes.

Crazy Jared lived up to his name, claiming to be King Jared IV of Anduria. He brandished a scepter and used powerful illusion magic to clothe himself in rich finery. The party was leery of trusting this strange man, but humored his odd requests to dictate their adventures to Jared's imaginary(?) scribe. He gave them directions to the Pit of Seven Jaws, and warned them that a hideous beast lay within. The mentioning of Bhal Hamatugn prompted the "scholar-king" Jared to cast Comprehend Languages, and he related that the name perhaps meant "Black Fish" or "Lucky Blackness". He also recalled a previous group of adventurers who had travelled through nearly a week prior.

The group traveled to the Pit, and carefully made their way to the bottom along its spiraling path. After some great deal of careful approach, the hydra was indeed found to be dead of terrible wounds. Their path was found, and they moved into the deeper Underdark.

They followed a stream, reasoning that this stream must lead to the underground lake in which Bhal Hamatugn would be found. Their first night in the fell place was a lesson in bullies, as a Gauth (lesser beholder) tried to extort payment from them for traveling through his domain. Via harvested several of the eyestalks, reasoning that they might be useful sometime later. Into the handysack they went...

The following day, they arrived at a great waterfall, which fell down to a lake far below. The entire cavern was lit by phosphorescent fungus, and a path was illuminated leading down to the shore of the lake. Far below, the temple of Bhal Hamatugn sat in the lake, built to resemble a huge spined fish with glowing eyes.

As they reached the shore, a long canoe appeared out of the low mist that hung over the black water. It was piloted by a Kuo-Toan bearing a shortspear, who asked them if they needed a guide to the Smoking Eye. They agreed to a ride across the lake, and spent the time in idle conversation with the frog-like creature about what lay ahead. They recounted their desire to recover Zenith Splintershield, and Via claimed that she had killed a beholder. Via reached in the handysack and pulled out one of the departed creatures eyestalks, waving it at the frogman.

The Kuo-toan reacted violently to them, and sixty feet from the stairway, he flipped the canoe into the water. Swimming was a difficult prospect for many on the canoe, and the next few minutes were those of panic as the Kuo-Toan swam easily onto the steps, alerting the guards to the presence of invaders.

As the drenched adventurers climbed up the steps, they were met by fire from above. Kuo Toans perched in sniper-nests in the eyes of the great fish rained bolts down on top of them. The battle was difficult, with the ferryman-monk applying a series of punishing blows to Tlaloc the barbarian. The battle ended with victory for the party, leaving further exploration of the temple until the next session.

Expedition to Bhal Hamatugn, pt 1

After the raging battle with the umber hulk, the party received an invitation to a business dinner at the Cusp of Sunrise. The Cusp was an exclusive restaurant and club for the extremely rich of Cauldron, both nobles and wealthy merchants. After a deal of time spent preparing proper clothing to attend such an event (along with accompanying weaponry - rapiers), the party set off to meet with their mysterious dinner dates.

The Cusp of Sunrise met expectations, with its prodigious library and excellent supply of fine libations. Tlaloc decided that he would spend the evening conversing with the doorman, following a confrontation over his rather large falchion as being "innapropriate." Once inside, a surprised Lord Vhalantru greeted Via with an invitation to continue their talks of politics they started at the Demonskar ball. Several other members of the group met Lord Vhalantru for the first time, and were not impressed by his long-winded speeches on the political issues of the day.

After a short wait, a summons to a private dinner room was provided by the doorman. The party's two hosts were Lady Celeste of the Green Isle, and a Lord Davked Splintershield. The old dwarf was decripit beyond belief, almost a shadow compared to most dwarfs. He related a tale of sorrow and suffering between gasping breaths, with Lady Celeste doing her best to supplement when he lost his voice. Lord Davked has been a harsh father, and driven away his three sons. His wife had cursed him as she died for driving them away, saying that he would never rest until he had been forgiven by his sons. Although he had reached two of his sons, the third was in a place inaccessable to Lord Splintershield. Lord Davked promised a great deal of money or goods (600pp or 900pp in dwarven weapons) to each individual if they would bring his son back from his captivity in the depths of the Underdark. The party agreed, quickly and with joy at the large sum. A map was provided that would bring them to the nearest overland entrance to the Kuo-Toan temple of Bhal Hamatugn. The timeline was short, however, as Lord Davked was dying and did not want to reach the afterlife with a curse hanging over his head.

During the preparations for the trip, Yeshua the spirit shaman travelled to see the Captain of the City Guard, Terseon Skellerang. Terseon was busy drilling the newest recruits to the City Guard, a batallion of half-orc mercenaries. He took some time off from his militaristic enjoyment, and walked with Yeshua on an inspection of the grounds while Yeshua spoke his piece. Yeshua asked pointed questions about the umber hulk, and the supposed incarceration of Triel Elderast. Terseon admitted that Triel had escaped, murdering several guards with a spear as she did so. She had help, but no one had gotten a clear look at the creature giving aid. The umber hulk had been summoned, as a summoning circle and books of fiendish magic had been found in Maavu's warehouse. The rumor was that Maavu had botched the summoning, allowing it free to rampage. Maavu, a successful wizard, noble, and merchant, had been seen fleeing the city mounted a horse with clouds for hooves, that breathed fire from its nostrils. No one had seen him since.

Via researched Kua-Toans at the Blue Crater Academy, finding out some helpful information that was promptly disregarded. Other members of the party spent a few gold pieces at Skie's Treasury, but Tlaloc could not be convinced by the proprietor that a few potions of water breathing or flying would be useful.

That day, the group headed out to the north, along the trade road that would bring them to the first waymarker on their journey to Bhal Hamatugn. The journey would take four days. On the fourth afternoon, the hawk-eyed Yeshua spotted smoke rising from above the next ridge. The smoke turned out to be the burning hut of Crazy Jared, who was being menaced by a red dragon.