Cazael the spiderling fighter. Not very bright but also not very dead, so clearly doing something right.
The Paladin, a beetle-ling hermit, wanderer, and servant of the Authority.
Wonderwood Strongbow the Elf thief. Superior to everyone. Keeps a collection of unusual "things" in flasks.
Slugsworth, a thief, and former... slug-of-negotiable-affection. Somehow leveled up more than the rest of the party, despite nominally even loot distribution.
Bill the wormling Orthodox Wizard. Thanks to some eyeball juice and a strange potion, Bill's magical abilities were enhanced. He has antlers now too.
Swainson, the hawkling Garden Wizard. Swainson is the only sensible wizard in the group.
The party's restful sleep was interrupted by a colossal fireball rising over the city of Boyer. The blast shook the windows of the inn and sent the party scurrying for a good view.
"Is that... the Illusionist College?" Bill said worriedly.
"Yup," Slugsworth replied.
"The one we sold all those untested magical artifacts to?"
"We... we did get paid up front."
"Right. I'm going back to bed."
"Good plan," said Slugsworth, and went back to bed herself.
The rest of the party, rousted out of bed by the Paladin, ran into the streets to try and stop the fire. They dodged illusionary beasts and false-image flickers, all the while admiring the orange-blue-white flames bursting from the college's library. Spellbooks on fire were discharging their spells at random. It was difficult to tell the illusionary flames from the real ones.
The Paladin tried to organize a bucket chain, then paused, slapped his forehead, and turned to the fire. In the voice of the Authority he commanded the flames to "EXTINGUISH". Every flame in a quarter of the city went out.
A truly enormous argument followed. The elderly and distracted Baron of Boyer turned up, got distracted by the Archchancellor of the Illusionists, and spent several minutes talking about his hunting hounds. The Baron's daughter, a fearsome young woman with an armour-plated mind and a voice like a bandsaw, took charge of the situation.
"Right," the Baron's daughter said, after several minutes of bickering, "the Elf is correct. No refunds."
"But the throne they sold us dominated the mind of one of my graduate students," the Archchancellor protested. "He broke out of his chains, stole every magic item he could get his hands on, and flew away into the night on the monolith these reckless hooligans also sold us."
"Why was he chained?" Bill asked.
"He wouldn't have sat on that throne otherwise, now would he?" the Archchancellor answered peevishly.
"SILENCE," the Baron's daughter roared. "That's it. You!" she said, pointing to Cazael. "You're being knighted tomorrow evening, by my father. It's unorthodox but it will have to do." As the party gawped, she continued. "You! Bill the so-called Wizard. I recall that my father paid for your education as a war-wizard. Then you vanished to parts unknown. See that it doesn't happen again. As for the rest of you, the Archchancellor will make you a very generous offer if you seek out and return his wayward apprentice and any stolen magical items."
"I will?" the Archchancellor said.
"Yes. You will."
Two days later, a convoy of wagons left the city. It was an eccentric collection. Cazael, newly knighted and still bewildered by his rise in status, had hired 10 mercenaries from the Rising Star company, renamed them to "Boyer's Butchers", and decorated them in the green and white livery of the Baron of Boyer. The mercenaries were from Foreign Parts, spoke with barbaric accents, and carried odd weapons.
Side Note: a new player rolled up a Barbarian from "a vast warrior nation that lurks just beyond the horizon." He is an expert fighter on horseback. He also rolled a random name: Klaus.Wonderwood had, for reasons unknown to the rest of the party, purchased 5 orphans from an almshouse. She'd bought them uniforms, cold weather clothing, and a separate wagon, and was busily training them to sing and dance. The rest of the group questioned the wisdom of bringing children into a dangerous and mountainous area, but reasoned that it was likely less dangerous than life in the city.
Yes, the Barbarian is from the Foreign Land of... Upper Saxony.
Slugsworth shipped money home to support the 135 children (ranging in size from a finger to a housecat) left behind in Leroux. Swainson bought a fancy fur-lined wizard robe and hat. Her wagon's cloth top was covered in rich blue fabric with white painted stars. She looked like a proper archmage. Bill spent most of his money appeasing the Baron of Boyer (or, more importantly, his daughter) with gifts and donations.
After a further two days on the road, the party reached the little village of Lost Past. It had always been a bleak and grey place, but now it was utterly deserted. Doors had been shattered, walls torn down. Worried, the party pressed on and camped on their former site overlooking Steam Hill. Wonderwood had her five orphans dig five orphan-sized graves. "Just in case," the Elf explained to the aghast Paladin.
The next morning, the party set out to explore the cratered and blasted remains of Steam Hill. The party decided to attack the wooden temple (11) first, as it seemed to have been rebuilt and reinforced. They crept in through the side, prying apart wooden logs to squeeze into a newly-built potion-making room.
After checking the flasks and pocketing three extremely volatile potions, the party hid in ambush. A few minutes later, the wayward graduate student from Boyer, wearing the looted crown and carrying a bundle of wands, bumbled into the room. Cazael leapt out and beat him to death with his sword.
"Wizard problem solved," he said.
The rest of the temple had been converted into a large open space with a smooth-sided hole bored straight down into the ruined dungeon below. The party decided not to descend immediately. They looted the rest of the temple and retreated for the morning.
In the afternoon, with a few more mercenaries in tow, the party decided to explore the pit. They sent Swainson down on a rope to look around. 60' down, she found the bottom, and a strange arch made of fused wands, crystal balls, and silver. It stood in the middle of a room, linked to ceramic-coated cables and humming magical devices, and practically oozing magical energy.
It was also guarded by a vampire. The same vampire, in fact, that the party had previously encountered and decapitated. It didn't seem to remember them, and thought they had come to offer magical items "for the great work."
As the rest of the party descended, Swainson stalled for time. The great work, the vampire explained, was a time-portal. It was very nearly complete. When fully operational, it would allow him to bring his masters, the extinct snake-man empire back to life, into the future, where they could thrive and support him and rebuild Steam Hill.
The fact that his plan was fueled by crystal balls, magic carpets, and random bits of magical jewelry hardly concerned the vampire. It deeply concerned the other wizards; time magic is a fickle and dangerous thing. Opening a portal a thousand years in the past would probably be catastrophic.
After a bit of whispering, the party decided to fight. Cazael took out his impossibly cold sword and, liquid oxygen flying everywhere, attacked the vampire, assisted by Klaus the Barbarian. Wonderwood threw flasks of oil near the portal, hoping to set it on fire. Swainson fired off a magic missile but incurred a magical mishap. Her feet and hands sprouted tree roots, trapping almost everyone in the room in a dense tangle of wood.
Bill, sensibly, used shrivel to desiccate the wood and free his friends. Wonderwood continued to fling lamp oil everywhere, then retreated up the rope. Slugsworth had left the moment the fight had started. Bill soon followed.
Cazael and Klaus finished off the vampire, decapitated him, and threw the corpse at the portal. The eldritch device, agitated by so much nearby magic, was beginning to shake and spark ominously. After another hasty retreat to the surface, Wonderwood chucked a torch down the hole and the party ran for the hills.
The resulting explosion was impressive. It was trapped in slow motion. Stone blocks the size of cottages and huge timbers from the temple spiraled through the air, leaving slow contrails of fire and smoke. It wasn't difficult to evade them, but the party didn't stop running until they reached their camp on the other side of the valley.
"Do you think that killed the vampire?" Cazael asked.
"Gee, I don't know," Bill said sarcastically, eyeing the slow-motion shockwaves rippling across the valley floor. "But if it didn't, no one can say that we didn't try."
The next morning, the party returned to the thoroughly mangled remains of Steam Hill. They briefly explored a previously untouched section of the complex. Thanks to a cunning use of Bill's capture wind spell, the party evaded a poison gas trap and looted two potions, a magical silver tray, and a large gold bowl from a set of refrigerated casks.
They then turned their attentions to the barred stone doors they'd previously ignored. The room was well protected and the doors were very securely barred. Whatever was inside must be valuable.
Some party members later remembered that the doors were barred from the outside.
With some careful footwork, Cazael and Klaus removed the enormous stone block protecting the doors and levered them open, revealing a curious room. A large platform was suspended in the centre of the room from four chains. Two levers on the wall raised and lowered the platform.
The PCs left a hireling at the top, tied a rope to the "raise elevator" lever, and began to descend. 200' later, they watched the rope fly upwards. 1,000' later, they were falling faster and faster. Bands of stone whipped by at terrifying speed. They entered freefall for a few terrifying moments before the elevator began to gradually slow. When it finally stopped, the PCs were certain they had fallen for miles.
They tried to signal the surface, but their cries echoed and faded in the enormous tunnel. A few minutes later, their hireling fell down the shaft, tumbling, screaming.
Had something pushed him, or had the suction from the falling elevator dragged him down?
What awaits the party in the Veins of the Earth?
Find out next time.