A Brief Recess Beneath the Rubble

Chapter 4: The Vial, the Pitch, and the Wart Probe

It was easy to find the path to the Fungal Forest, but it was hard to explain the dead end it led to. The party's path seemed to end in a lone cavern, empty but for a wooden closet placed at the end. Conseil bravely walked to the oddly-placed furniture, opened the door, and stepped into pitch blackness.

Instantly, the wardrobe came alive!

It turned out to be a mimic, waiting for unsuspecting victims. The party made short work of the mimic, and discovered that it was standing on front of a doorway leading to the Fungal Forest entrance. The sights beyond the doorway was beautiful and eerie. Imagine a rain forest on earth. Replace all the trees and shrubs with fungi, and you might get the idea. There were fungi of all shapes, sizes, and colors (dull and bright). A steady green glow was coming from something further along the path into the forest.

The glow belonged to a lamp post, a strangely modern sight in the midst of a wild forest of fungus. At the foot of the lamp post, however, was the body of a satyr. An awful smell was coming from the corpse, and closer inspection revealed that the body had been infested with a strange fungi.

Just then, there was a burst of spores and a gas spore (pictured here in the center) started to float away from the body. It's unseeing eye was directed towards our heroes. Alice decided to attack it with her arrow, a safe move under different circumstances. Gas spores are so fragile, that they explode in a thick cloud of spores the moment a sharp blade or arrow punctures it. All the players, except for Alice, were able to avoid consuming any of the spores, but Alice got some of the spores stuck in her throat. She could still function, but for how long before the spores begin to kill her?

Then, mechanical sounds could be heard nearby. All the players, understandably, were rather wary of the noise, and it turned out to be a short creature that looked like this. It turned out to be a living machine, because a hatch opened on its shell to reveal a strange needle. The creature/mechanical thing stuck the needle on the arm of the deceased satyr. Then, it turned to Alice and pricked her arm. Where the needle struck, a small wart appeared. The machine introduced itself as "the wart probe" and it was obeying its programming given to it by its master, Lord Linwood. Alice realized that this Lord Linwood could likely be her long-lost father. The wart probe led the party through the forest to a makeshift hut deep in the forest.

As the players were led through the forest, they saw that the deeper they went, the more cold and ice they saw and felt. It seemed that, indeed, a mysterious frost was taking over the Fungal Forest.

The wart probe and our heroes eventually made it to the hut. No one was there, but Conseil and Tynx were ablt to find documents, letters, and simple maps that all seemed to indicate that this Lord Linwood was in the middle of researching…something. Also, one of his letters refers to "my daughter, Alice," and the maps indicated that Lord Linwood wanted to visit a large mansion acrozz the Frozen Lake, which was neighbor to the Fungal Forest. All this was discovered as the wart probe entered blood samples of various hues in identical vials, storing the vials for later analysis. It is not yet clear what the research is or what it is for.

Conseil and Tynx wanted to explore the hut and the surrounding areas some more, but Alice and Gregory decided to go visit this mysterious mansion. Alice had the feeling that this mansion was the one that belonged to her family. Perhaps it now belongs to her?

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Chapter 3: The Drow and Their Fury

After our heroes enjoyed a nice long rest under the wing of the good crystalline dragon, they were led to the "annoying pest" mentioned earlier. Farther down the river (for that is what caused this chasm between the two cities), was another cave. Normally, a fully-grown dragon would cleanse such a cave with a breath weapon, but, as it happened, the tunnels in this cave had enough kinks and turns in it as to render that method ineffective. Hence, the temporary employment of our heroes. There were mechanical sounds coming from the cave, and as the heroes cautiously stepped forward, they discovered a small clockwork dragon (I say small, which for dragons means it was about as tall as an average human)!

The battle commenced, and it turned out to be a tough fight! It was hard for the party to penetrate through the brass and copper plating that formed the contraption's armor. But, Gregory the Great had a brilliant idea. In Tryxee's cave, he had bottled up some inert grey ooze, and he splashed it on the clockwork dragon's neck. The corrosive ooze weakened that spot a little, which was enough for Conseil to gain the upper hand in his attempts to grapple the metal beast, while Alice fired arrows from afar. The dragon spewed tar and poisonous gas at the group, but stopped when it saw Tynx. As if on cue, the dragon began to speak, or rather, a recorded message started to play within its voice box:

"Look at me! I can fly! I have wings that work and I can fly! Isn't that awesome? I'm so great because I can fly!" It was in Tryxee's taunting voice. It seemed that she had hopes that Tynx would stumble upon her ingenious creation and laugh about it in her face. This encouraged Tynx all the more to destroy the thing.

Eventually, the party was victorious. The clockwork dragon, Tryxee's annoying "contraption" was no more. Tynx and Conseil salvaged a few parts and gears from the wreckage before the party approached the crystalline dragon. Upon hearing the good news that the contraption had been destroyed, the dragon flew the party up out of the chasm and within walking distance of the drow city of Paerylliss.

The group received a rather cold and unwelcome reception from the guards at the city gate, because the guards were very skeptical of outsiders. Even Gregory's amazing tricks didn't seem to persuade them. They were eventually convinced to let the group into the city when they explained that they were with Soveliss and Joyn'ill (though it took a while for them to remember the drow diplomat's name, remember to take notes, everyone!). When they were let into the beautiful, dark city of Paerylliss, more guards approached them to escort them to the Grande Council Room in a tall spire in the center of the city.

There was another pair of guards just outside the Grande council Room. Through the doors, the party could hear Soveliss's voice. They also heard a harsh female voice answering him. Once it was clear to the guards that the party was the group of foreign representatives, the players were let into the room where things were happening.

The room had a cold, cruel atmosphere to it, not because of any decor or magic, but because of the glare given to Soveliss by an imposing female drow seated at the highest spot of the three-seat podium. To her right, seated slightly lower, was a male drow, and to her left was an unusual black dragonborn, unusual because he's perhaps the only dragonborn in Paerylliss and his black scales are made of metal. His very body seemed to be made of the same black metal, and any words out of his mouth had a cold, slightly monotonous tone to it. For now, however, there was silence in the room as the players entered. The female drow looked up at them with an incredulous, seethingly icy glare.

When the party was seated near Soveliss and Joyn'ill, the female drow leader, known as the Drow Matriarch, spoke, and when she did, it betrayed the unique drow accent employed by the natives of Paerillyss. [I gave the drow a cruel French accent, since Glundawn and Paerylliss are the "Two Cities," related to the London and Paris settings from Dickens' novel.]

"Am I to assume, my son" the female drow directed at Soveliss, "zat zis is your party of reprezentatives?" Soveliss replied in the affirmative. He was just about to introduce them individually, when Gregory the Great spoke first.

"Hi, I'm Gregory the Great, magician extraordinaire!" He said this as he conjured a dove with a flourish of his hand. The dove soon disappeared in a flash of light. Silence. A cold glare. Soveliss started to become pale with embarrassment. The Matriarch would have none of his cheap tricks. Soveliss quickly introduced the rest of the party. The Matriarch and her husband (the male drow at her right) turned their attention back to Soveliss to explain that they saw no reason to expend resources to give aid to the Surface people, especially when the drow were experiencing troubling issues of their own.

This discussion didn't last long, however, before Gregory tried to show off again, with the (vain) hope that he could add some light and cheerfulness to this somber occassion. He conjured a few more spells and tricks, which sent him backflipping over several rows of the audience and slamming into a wall. He even had the audacity to compliment the Matriarch for her fierce beauty. The Matriarch was furious. She banished Gregory from the room, asking the metal dragonborn, Aryan II, to escort (read: drag) him out.

Once Gregory was out, the Matriarch turned to the rest of the party.

"So, does anyone have zomething of zubztance to zay?" Tynx timidly raised her hand. Permitted to speak, she stood and explained how she was from Glundawn, and how important this crisis was to her. She soon started to shed sincere tears as she sobbed her way through her speech, describing her deep concern for her people and for the Surface people. Such a speech may not have been enough to convince the Matriarch to instantly join the cause against the Githyanki on the Surface, but it did pacify her rage such that she was willing to have further private discussion with her son, Soveliss, about the pressing issues at hand. In the meantime, there was one problem that the Matriarch wished for our adventurers to look into. Aryan II would give further details.

See, as strong as the drow were in the city of Paeryliss, they had long relied on the diverse geography and vegetation surrounding their great city for protection against the untame dangers of the Underland (or Subterrace, as called by the Surface dwellers). Their military strength has been supported by one named Shaarii Zaahd, who runs the factory (situated between the Twisted Quarry and the Lava Lake) that produces the armor and arsenal of the drow armies. The city itself was also blessed with one branch of a river running through it. The other branch runs through the Slime Marsh and the Fungal Forest to empty into the Frozen Lake and into the chasm between Paeryliss and Glundawn.

Recently, however, the river had become corrosive. The Fungal Forest was dying beneath an ever stronger layer of frost, creeping closer to the city. The cries and roars of unknown monsters could be heard in the distance. Worst of all, Shaarii Zaahd had gone missing, and the factory stopped producing anything. Many drow soldiers were sent to various areas around the city to investigate, including at the factory, but to no avail. Even more concerning was that some drow soldiers never return.

At this time, most of the city's resources were devoted to addressing the most pressing crisis: the polluted, corrosive river, which had previously been their main source of water. Even so, the Matriarch wanted some skilled adventurers to venture into the Fungal Forest to search for the cause of its slow, cold death. Aryan II explained all of this to the players, and gave them instructions on how to get to the forest. The more astute characters noticed that Aryan's metallic breath smelled familiar. It had a strong acidic smell…similar to some acid they had encountered before…

But, before leaving the city to explore the forest, the players wanted to explore several shops, hoping to resupply. Their attempted transactions were met with difficulty, for the drow merchants didn't seem to like foreigners. Furthermore, they charged exorbitant prices and always drove a hard bargain. Gregory the Great, in particular, was looking for magic items. He was able to get Goggles of Night so he could see in the dark. He also wanted to get his pocketwatch (the one obtained in Tryxee's cave) appraised. He almost lost the watch to the merchant, but ended up stealing it back.

Despite the many setbacks in the drow city, our heroes were soon set to embark on their mission. Little did they know the many dangers they would run into, nor the powerful figures they would encounter.

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Chapter 2: A Tryxee in Time

For the most part, our heroes, as well as Soveliss and Joyn'ill, survived the dirigible crash, but now they have no easy way to travel to Paerylliss…except perhaps through a torch-lit cave with a prominent hourglass symbol on the entryway floor. As Tynx wondered why the symbol looked so familiar, the party felt there was nothing left to do but continue forward.

It soon became apparent that Phoebe wasn't with them. Had she actually perished in the crash? Or, perhaps, she felt it best to try another way out of the chasm besides this suspicious-looking cave. Either way, she wasn't around to help the party continue into the cave. But someone else was.

Alice Linwood looks quite human, except for her sharp, vampiric teeth. Indeed, she is a half-vampire. More accurately, a dhamphir. Because of her unique heritage, Alice has the strength, speed, and darkvision of a vampire, but nothing of the vampire's weaknesses or diet. She could drink blood, but doesn't have to. Besides, Alice is nice enough to those she trusts. She was born in the nobility of the Oriental country across the Surface sea and trained in the arts of the wardancer by her vampire mother. Her father went missing soon after Alice was born, and now she is on a quest to find him in the Subterrace.

Alice had come across the dirigible wreckage and the cave soon after our heroes did, and the party didn't trust her when they saw evidence of vampiric lineage. However, Soveliss, ever the diplomat, determined that Alice was no real threat, and allowed her to come along with them.

As the party continued into the cave, they soon encountered a group of grey ooze blobs, which instantly attacked! The ooze was corrosive, so any metal item that touched it, including Conseil's metal fists, was eaten away by acid. Our heroes did manage to take out the ooze with arrows, however, so they continued forward to the next door…which led to a large river of lava.

There seemed to be no way across, until a cheerful aarakocra flew down and offered to help. He called himself Ekril. He seemed to recognize the party, even though they never saw him before. He lifted each person over the lava to the bare room on the other side.

Well, mostly bare. There was a small pedestal in the middle of the room that displayed a twisty wooden contraption, looking something like this. Tynx and Gregory were especially fascinated by it, but found that it did nothing. Gregory decided to toy with it by turning it one way, then another, and then spinning it into the air. The contraption glided until it crashed on the ground.

Our heroes moved on.

The next room was more intriguing. There were three large pistons behind a thick mesh screen. In the middle of the room was a button, surrounded by blue runes. Ekril encouraged the players to press it, and—though suspicious—they did so. In a flash of light, the party found themselves back in the first room with the hourglass symbol. The players were confused, but Soveliss was overjoyed. Now he and Joyn'ill had a way back up the chasm, thanks to Ekril. Ekril was happy to help lift everyone out of the chasm (albeit one by one) and finally get out of the cave himself, but then the cave entrance started to close in on them. Soveliss, Joyn'ill, and Ekril were the first to escape, but none of the players could get out in time. The drow and the aarakocra were out, but the players were stuck. Tynx heard a voice inside her head: "Oh, it's you! I wondered if I would see you again! Won't this be fun?" Then, another doorway opened, deeper into the cave.

The party climbed a high spiral staircase and ended up in a small room with a cage. The prisoner in the cage was Ekril! He looked surprised and asked the players who they were and why they were there. It began to dawn on the group that they had somehow gone back in time. They released Ekril and asked him to carry them across a river of lava the next time he sees them. He agreed and left, while the players went ever deeper. They came across another spiral staircase, this time going back down. When they were about halfway down, the staircase began to turn slowly to one side, then stop, then turn the other way, then stop. And finally, the staircase spun rapidly, and the party had the feeling that the staircase was lifting itself up, and then gliding back down. The players had a second realization: everything Gregory did to that helicopter contraption was happening to this staircase. The staircase crashed and everyone took substantial damage from falling rocks.

in the next room, they faced three large pistons. They had just begun to move right before a flash of light occurred behind a mesh wall. The player's past selves had just pushed the strange button. They had a feeling that whoever built this place would be in the next room. Up another flight of stairs they went (a blissfully uneventful trip), until they came to a hallway leading to a single door.

Out of that door walked their future selves! The party was doubly shocked (heh heh). Their future selves looked a little battered, but quite alright. It turned out that these future selves were not from the very distant future, and they thought it best not to reveal the future to our "present" heroes. The future heroes walked on by, while our present heroes continued into the room.

Inside, they found a tremendous amount of machinery, powered by some sort of blue-glowing magic. At the center was a gnomish woman. Her long black hair nearly covered most of the blue runes on her face. She looked up from her contraption and said, "Tynx! How are you!? It's been so long!" Tynx recognized this woman, Tryxee Tauk, a childhood friend from many years ago. When they both were young, they bonded over tinkering with gears and machines. While Tynx dreamed of flying, Tryxee dreamed of time travel. Now, many years later, Tryxee had accomplished her goal, but Tynx had not.

"Well, isn't it the darndest thing," Tryxee remarked. "I've been able to realize my dream of time travel, and yet you still haven't learned to fly! Ha! How funny! Isn't life so strange? The craziest thing is, I've even learned how to fly in my spare time!" By this time, Tynx was a terrible mixture of embarrassment and rage. "Well," Tryxee continued, "I haven't learned to fly. Rather, I've built something that would let me fly! It must be crawling around somewhere out in the chasm."

At first, the players thought Tryxee wasn't so bad (though Tynx would disagree). They changed their minds, however, when they realized that Tryxee wanted to alter major events in history for her benefit. Also, she said she had to kill them right then and there to prevent her secrets from getting out. Conseil grappled her and threw her onto the ground. Gregory searched the room for valuables and found a nice-looking pocket watch. Conseil and Tynx knocked Tryxee out easily before she could cast any spells in reatliation. However, soon after she became unconscious, the runes on her face started to glow, and the machinery started to react, even exploding! The blasts and shrapnel caused a few cuts and bruises, but the party made it out alive, just in time to see their recant past selves coming up the stairs.

Our heroes were soon able to find the cave entrance again and get it open. They got out of the cave and saw that Soveliss, Joyn'ill, and Ekril had already gone. As they began to deliberate on how to get out of the chasm, they heard a glittering, shimmering sound accompanied by the flapping of large, heavy wings. Towering above them was a crystalline dragon. The party knew they hadn't the strength to take on a dragon, but the needn't have worried. The dragon bent his head down and said, "Pardon me, fellows and ladies, but could you possibly assist me with an annoying pest?" A bit taken aback, the players agreed. It turned out that the dragon's territory had been breached by a smaller dragon, one made of brass and copper gears and plates.

Feeling weak and injured from their adventure in Tryxee's cave, the party asked if they could rest first. The dragon agreed to watch over them, and our heroic adventurers took a few hour's rest on the chasm floor to prepare for another adventure.

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Chapter 1: A Vale Between Two Cities

It was the best of climes;
It was the worst of climes.
It was the place of brilliance;
It was the place of madness.
It was the country of refinement;
It was the country of depravity.
It was the land of luminance;
It was the land of darkness.
It was the hovel of hope;
It was the crucible of calamity.
—Soveliss, the Drow Diplomat

It was the year 150 VP, and the nation was as prosperous as ever. The capital city, Wozington, was ever the center of civilization, community, and commerce. But then, a calamity struck the proud nation.

One spring morning, a portal to another plane of existence opened above Capitol Peak (the mountain that dwarfs the city of Wozington just to the north). This very thing happened 150 years before, that is why years are reckoned here by "VP," which stands for "Vernal Portal." This time, out of the portal came the entire structure that was the Old Capitol before the first portal took it away. The Old Capitol was then dropped on top of the stony peak. Everyone below the peak was afraid, confused, and curious.

Explorations to the peak revealed that the old city had become home to a new, hostile race: the githyanki warriors. They soon began preparing their armies to lay waste to the towns below. A few days later, amidst the panic in Wozington, Soveliss—a respected member of the Democratic Court and one of the very few drow who chose to stay on the Surface—sent out a proclamation, which read:

"My fellow citizens,

"In light of recent, troubling events, and seeing that our resources are limited, I have felt it wise to petition my own people, the militaristic drow, to help. I am well aware of the arguments and reasonings of skeptics, but I refuse to leave any option unexhausted.

"To aid me in this diplomatic mission, I am asking for representatives, skilled citizens with some degree of adventuring experience, to accompany me and my wife, Joyn'ill, to the drow city of Paerillyss down in the Subterrace. We will accept two individuals from the Surface and two more from the gnomish city of Glundawn below us, ensuring that our party provides a diversity of representation to encourage a unity of cause.

"I will be conducting walk-in interviews in my office continually through the next 48 hours. On the third day, those I've chosen will be contacted directly and we shall leave immediately for Paerillyss by way of Glundawn.

"I am well aware of the physical, mental, and political dangers that exist in the Subterrace, but I adamantly believe that  this extraterrestrial threat could provide the cause that unites all known citizens of this nation and of its peaceful neighbors. If you possess the strength, the skill, the courage, and the faith, consider this an open invitation and a call to action.

"I eagerly await you in my office in the Judiciary of Wozington.

"With deep regards, as a humble servant of the people,

"Ambassador Soveliss"

Many would-be adventurers answered Soveliss' call, including two of our heroes:

First, Dr. Phoebe Appleton, a half-elf "cleric" from the port city of Sonasea to the northeast. She was raised in poverty by a woman who made and distributed many home remedies for all injuries and ailments. When Phoebe came of age, she promised herself that she would never be poor again, and made her living as a "doctor." To be honest, she is a sort of "quack doctor" or "snake oil" doctor, since she never got a formal degree. Even so, her determination and her charm brought her out of rags into riches. Her best commodity is her home-made specialty: "Appleton's Fabulous Elixer. It Really Works! (no, really!)".

Next, Gregory the Great, a human performance magician (homebrew mix of bard & rogue), who also came from humble circumstances. In this case, from slavery by the "evil" drow. At least, he believes they are evil. But now he's made a living in making a show of his tricks wherever he finds himself. Quite the charismatic gentleman, top hat and all, he looked for any chance to share his talents with all people (for there's a lot of money and fame to be gotten from all people). Despite his ambitions, Gregory (the Great) is always happy to be of service, especially to a lovely young lady such as Dr. Phoebe Appleton.

These characters entered the Judiciary one right after the other, and the aging dwarf clerk, Ilde, directed them to Soveliss' office ("go up those stairs, take a right, left, left, three rights, another left, down two flights of stairs, and to the right; second door to your left, turn right, and straight ahead to the first on your right"). Luckily, there were signs in all the hallways to Soveliss' office, so no one could get lost. Soveliss was impressed by these two charismatic characters, and decided they would be the Surface representatives in this diplomatic mission. He contacted them both the next morning.

To those who live on the Surface, the underground realm is called the "Subterrace," while the subterranean natives prefer the term "Underland." Whatever you call it, Soveliss sent proclamations to the underground city of Glundawn, home to gnomes and dwarves. This proclamation was similar to the one for the Surface, but with an appeal to long-lasting friendship between the Surface and the Underland, as well as a warning that the alien invasion could spread underground. He concluded this proclamation like so:

"Although I wish the circumstances were less sobering, I eagerly await the opportunity to return to the Underland and converse with you for a brief time.

"With deep regards, as a humble servant of the people,

"Ambassador Soveliss"

Soveliss, Joyn'ill, Phoebe, and Gregory embarked on a dirigible that could go beneath the Surface and float down to Glundawn for the second set of interviews. On the way down, Gregory wanted to prepare for a magic show during the interviews. The Subterrace doesn't see much traffic from the Surface. He asked Phoebe to be involved in the show as well, so they both could profit from the spectacle.

While the two travelers made a modest profit from their brief venture, Soveliss interviewed gnomes and dwarves for the diplomatic mission to the drow authorities. These two characters caught his attention:

Conseil, a dwarf puglist fighter with precious little to say. One can hardly blame him, for he had grown up in an especially hard slave life under an oppressive human. He proved his strength at an early age, and was soon forced to engage in fist fights for entertainment. At one particular fight, a gnomish woman named Tynx sabotaged the match with one of her gadgets and won the money she desperately needed. Conseil confronted her, having been the victim of her sabotage, demanding she buy his freedom. She complied, and the two of them soon became friends, working together as bounty hunters. 

Tynx Waywocket, a female gnome engineer, was interviewed at the same time as Conseil. A true genius with technology, there was one objective that stayed out of reach, her greatest desire: to fly to the Surface. She has a set of prototype wings, although they still don't quite work. Nevertheless, she has an uncontainable energy and excitement for anything that dazzles, amazes, sparkles, or blows steam. This is contrasted heavily by Conseil's brooding silence. She does more than enough talking for the two of them.

Soveliss, impressed by this duo, invited them onto the dirigible (Tynx was especially fascinated by this flying contraption, as well as the metal automaton at the helm). The dirigible took off to the drow city of Paerylliss the next day.

Between the industrial Glundawna and the cruel beauty of Paerylliss, a deep gorge cuts through the earth, forming a great chasm, a giant vale between the two cities. Over the previous few days, Soveliss had become reminiscent of his Underland home, and had written a poem, "A Vale Between Two Cities," about this thoughts, which he read to his wife and the four adventurers who accompanied him on the way to Paerylliss (you can review that poem at the top of this chapter).

As the dirigible was flying above the chasm, it was struck by a great, unseen force. Explosions from the engine room and a terrible ripping sound came from above the characters' heads. The ship was under attack, and it wouldn't last for long!

Our heroes quickly gathered their belongings from their rooms just as streams of green, corrosive acid ripped through the wooden and metal carriage of the ship. Phoebe, having lost the heels on her shoes to the acid, couldn't get back in time before the ship tore apart in two pieces. Phoebe was on one half, while the rest of the party was on the other. Tynx and Conseil worked together with a grappling gun to attack themselves onto the chasm wall. Everyone else on the ships took some damage. Gregory tried to look outside to find the source of the attack, but he could only see a shiny black flying object against a black rock wall. The dirigible, both halves of it, came crashing down.

The party escaped from the wreckage, and salvaged all they could. The metal man at the helm was the only clear casualty (although Tynx was upset about it). Soveliss and Joyn'ill were deeply worried that they wouldn't make it to their diplomatic appointment with the Drow Matriarch in time. The party searched for a way up the sheer rocky chasm walls, and soon they found a torch-lit cave. inside the cave, a large entry room was carved out, with a doorway with stairs leading ahead, further down. In the middle of four stone pillars in this room was a large brass circle with an hourglass symbol etched into it. Tynx looked at the symbol and realized that she recognized it. Perhaps it was the symbol of someone she hadn't seen in many years.

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