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Tag: allustairimarinastralmindivu's_lair

Chapter 5 — The Inner Chambers of Allustairimarinastralmindivu
They escorted Durbuluk back down the stairs. The going was slow, because Durbuluk was so badly injured and struggled to walk, but he gave no complaints. As they walked, Solisar remained in the rear of the group and was casting a long spell.

   They reached the red metal tiles in the midst of the four large columns. The violet wall of flame that had injured Szordrin earlier had now extinguished.

   "If you bring us back any treasures in addition to the journal," said Szordrin, now feeling confident to speak again, having left the vicinity of the zone of truth, "we will offer you a cut of that treasure."

   "I only care about the treasures that I brought here with me," said Durbuluk. "I will simply bring you the entire chest in which Allustairimarinastralmindivu stores the journal, and you may have whatever is in it that you like."

   "How do we know that you have not kept anything inside it for yourself?"

   "You will be watching me, will you not?" He motioned toward Solisar, who was still in the process of casting powerful divination magic.

   It took several more minutes for the sun elf to complete the spell. When he had done so, he notified the others that he was ready to proceed.

   "To clarify our agreement," said Durbuluk. "I am to bring you the chest with the journal within it, and in return, you will let me live and let me return to my home beneath the mountains."

   "Agreed," said Hakam.

   Durbuluk turned and walked away from them, crossing between the wall and one of the pillars. The fire trap did not activate. The six of them stood some ten feet from the traps and watched as he walked calmly toward the remaining tunnel. Leokas, Solisar, Belvin, and Hakam, were between the western wall and the center of the chamber, facing north, while Szordrin and Kytharrah stood parallel to the other trap, between the northern wall and the column, facing west.

   Solisar appeared to be in a trance, but he was mentally directing his arcane eye to follow along behind Durbuluk and monitor his actions. The elf began to describe everything that he was seeing, once Durbuluk vanished from everyone's sight by descending down a slope deeper into the tunnel, from which a red-violet glow emerged.

   "He has just passed two columns, embedded in the stone walls and made of red brick. They are similar to the ones in this chamber but about half the size. As he and the hobgoblins whom we rescued explained, the walls of this hall are walls of fire, violet, like the traps. The hallway of fire is about 25 feet wide, and the walls are perfectly straight now. It makes a right turn after a dozen paces.

   "Durbuluk just yanked the arrows out of his body. He is still walking, but he is waving his hands symbolically. I believe that he is casting a healing spell. Yes, his hands are aglow with positive energy. Now his wounds are closing up. Another spell now. He is clutching his unholy symbol. If his motions match those of Hakam when he casts divine magic, he is boosting his endurance.

   "He made the right turn and is walking down a wider hallway now, still walled with violet flames. A pair of columns appears on each side every 20 feet or so. The flames traverse from column to column.

   "He just healed himself again. He is no longer limping.

   "The hallway has reached a tee. There is an altar in the center and beyond that a black, iron throne. He is making another right, so he is now heading south. He just vanished. No, he walked through the wall. I shall follow with my sensor.

   "He is now in a tiny 'chamber' with four walls of fire. There are several iron pieces of furniture here, chairs, a desk, but they are small. He just passed through another of the walls, to the west. I follow. This is a slightly larger room. Except for the one we just passed through, the walls here are the natural, irregular stone. This room is furnished in a Calishite style, if I am not mistaken. There seem to be a collection of pillows, where one might recline or sleep. I suppose that they must be enchanted to be immune to fire.

   "Ah, Durbuluk has just moved into a small alcove off the southeastern corner of the room. It is an irregularly shaped space, and there is an iron chest here. It looks heavy. Apparently, it is not too heavy for Durbuluk to pick up. He is carrying it back into the 'bedroom'.

   "Now he is opening it. He had a key in a pouch on his belt. I shall see if I can position my sensor for a view inside.... There are an assortment of items, some clothing, some tools, some jewelry and coins. He is taking the jewelry and coins and transferring them to the pouch on his belt. One of the items seems to be an amulet. The coins are likely platinum. There may be a couple dozen of them. I suppose that these are his things. There was a longsword in a sheath in the chest, and he is attaching that to his belt also. Now he has two swords at his belt. He has taken out a brass mug. It looks rather ornate, but he has decided to set it aside. He just transferred what looks to be a silver hair comb to the pouch, but he set a silver chalice next to the mug. He is leaving all of the clothing within the chest, and he is locking it again.

   "He is returning the chest. Now he is walking to an iron desk. He opened a drawer and removed a roll of metal wire. He snapped two lengths of it from the roll. Oh, he is using it to attach the chalice and the mug to his belt so that he can more easily carry them.

   "It looks like he is finished in this room. He just passed through the fire into the other side room, and through the second wall of fire into the throne room with the altar. He is coming back toward us, walking west through the wide hallway now.

   "He has reached the left turn; he is almost back to us. Ah, but now he has turned right and is walking toward the wall. He has passed through the flames again. I shall follow.

   "This is a rather large square room with four walls of fire. A piece of the stone wall of the cavern juts through at one point bisecting the flame. This must be a storage chamber. There are several chests and boxes in here, all of them made of metal. Durbuluk seems to be glancing around, looking for something or thinking.

   "He has approached one of the chests and bent over it. Now he is trying to open it. It seems to be locked. He is removing his handaxe from his belt, and now he is swinging it at the lock. He broke it off in two swings. It must not be magically protected. He just opened the chest; yes, there is a journal atop an assortment of coins and silks and other things. Durbuluk is closing the chest. He seems satisfied.

   "He has picked up the chest and is carrying it back through the wall of fire. He is in the hall, coming back toward us. Odd, he just set the chest down. He is making divine hand motions with his right hand and clutching his unholy symbol with the other. He appears to be praying. If I am not mistaken, Hakam, he is making similar motions to those you make when you are preparing to contact someone."

   "Are we going to just sit here while he summons some fiend to attack us?" asked Leokas.

   "It is taking him too long to be a summoning spell, and as of yet, he has not violated our agreement," said Hakam. "He seems to have collected his things, just as he claimed he would do, and he has the chest with the journal for us as well. Furthermore, I have not sensed any chaos in him. It appears at this point that he still intends to bring the chest to us."

   "Never trust a goblin," muttered Leokas.

   Nearly ten minutes passed, however, and the duration of Solisar's scrying spell ended. "My spell is spent," he informed the others. "Just before the image faded, he appeared to be still in prayer."

   "To send a message by will of the gods does take a good deal of prayer," Hakam confirmed.

   "Whom is he hoping to speak to?" asked Belvin.

   "We shall ask him;" said Hakam, "he is coming now."

   They saw the hobgoblin priest come into view, stepping into the wide cave chamber, dragging a metal chest behind him with his left hand. He looked much healthier than when they had last seen him. A piece of his skull was no longer bloody and exposed, and no arrows were stuck in his torso. He was still moving his right hand in a rhythmic motion and chanting something under his breath.

   The winged, horned hobgoblin then tossed the chest a few feet, as if it weighed less than it appeared. It landed a yard in front of him with a thud.

   "To whom are you sending?" Hakam called out.

   Durbuluk smiled and spoke clearly. "I found the ones who have the gem key. They are coming for you. The mummies are dead. I wish that I were home."

   "Oh, no you do not!" shouted Belvin, raising his bow and nocking an arrow. Twice as quickly, Leokas nocked two silver arrows simultaneously.

   Arrows flew. Durbuluk roared in pain and clutched the hanging figure of crossed broadsword and handaxe around his neck.

   "Hold your fire!" Hakam shouted.

   "He is leaving the chest for us," agreed Solisar. "He kept his word. Let him go."

   It was too late. A curtain of violet fire encircled Durbuluk as he motioned with his hand.

   "Lunk! Grab the chest!" shouted Szordrin.

   The minotaur charged, rolling into a somersault and back to his hooves again, as he triggered a burst from another wall of fire. Unhindered, he continued and passed through the second blazing barrier, shrugging of the intense burning sensations and ignoring the pain. Within the ring of heat, he saw the chest and reached out his massive clawed hands, but so did Durbuluk.

   "Not anymore," said Durbuluk, grabbing the other handle. "The agreement has been broken."

   Both tugged on the chest, but neither let go of the handle he held tightly. The minotaur was surprised by Durbuluk's strength.

   Kytharrah was not certain, but he felt like he heard a deep voice from above him speak a single word. "Granted." Durbuluk gave a sudden jerk, and the chest slipped from Kytharrah's fingers.

   Kytharrah fell flat onto his back into the ring of fire, and Durbuluk and the chest were gone.
Session: 99th Game Session - Wednesday, Dec 20 2017 from 7:00 PM to 10:00 PM
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Chapter 5 — Durbuluk
The fiendish hobgoblin dropped back to the ground, his goo-covered, arrow-punctured wings barely preventing him from crashing. Landing on one knee and bent over in pain, he dismissed his spell. Then, he strangely began laughing.

"What is so funny?" demanded Leokas.

"I find it humorous that even his enemies do not know his actual name."

Szordrin continued to point his wand at their captive. "One more taunt and you will not be left to recall his true name. Now, tell us all that you know about him. Do not try to hide a thing." The tiefling made a motion with his other hand to imply that he was watching the hobgoblin closely.

"I want a guarantee that you will let me live to leave this cavern and return to the Marching Mountains, before I speak," replied Durbuluk.

Kytharrah had seen the others interrogate prisoners before, so he figured he'd try to imitate them. Tapping the bottom of his axe handle on the ground, he snorted, "Talk!"

"By Torm," swore Szordrin, choosing a god who supposedly cared a lot about oaths, "if you give us all the information that we seek, we shall allow you to go free... eventually. If we intended to kill you, we would have done it by now."

Belvin and Leokas stood by defensively, while Hakam and Solisar seemed to be studying the hobgoblin's body language.

After a short pause, Durbuluk finally answered. "His name is Allustairimarinastralmindivu. Most pure-blooded hobgoblins are too stupid to remember something with that many syllables. I do not have such a handicap."

Now that this was revealed to them, it was not too shocking to Hakam. He remembered learning a little known fact that the names Calim and Memnon were also shorted forms of those famous genies' true names.

"As for who he was," continued their prisoner, "I do not know much of anything about his past. He has never told me his true background, but I suspect that he was just someone at the right place at the right time."

Leokas suddenly seemed to recall something and interrupted the current topic with a new question. "Wait! You mentioned the Marching Mountains. Are goblins gathering in force under the Marching Mountains? Are they preparing for an attack?"

"I promised to tell you of the efreeti, not of the Marching Mountains. Nevertheless, I will tell you what you should already know: the goblins are too weak to ever war against the surface world without guidance. Good for nothing but arrow-fodder are they in combat. That is why they needed someone like Allustairimarinastralmindivu."

Hakam uttered a quick prayer, and instantly, everyone felt a strong compulsion to speak only the truth.

Durbuluk smirked. "Your god cannot overcome the power in my blood, human cleric. Save your magics; I intend to speak the truth on my own."

"In that case, I affirm that you will be allowed to return to your home, provided that you answer all of our questions truthfully," said Hakam. "First, you say that you do not know much of Allustairimarinastralmindivu's past." (Szordrin looked at Hakam with shock that he so easily pronounced the name.) "When and how did you come to learn of him? And why did you join him?"

"I was high priest of Nomog-Geaya and chief advisor to Guthash, King Under the Marching Mountains. About this time last year, messengers came to King Guthash through the goblin tunnels from Calimshan. These messengers claimed to have been slaves to owners in Calimshan yet were set free by followers of Allu, a new god of hobgoblins. Seeing as I serve the only true god of hobgoblins, naturally, my ears perked up at this news. They were evangelizing, recruiting for an army with which to retake Calimshan for the goblinoid races."

"Nomog-Geaya?" asked Leokas. "Who is he?"

"Nomog-Geaya is the General, the god of authority and war. He is the true patron of my people."

Leokas was under the impression that Maglubiyet was god of both goblins and hobgoblins, and this was what they had heard some of the other goblins and hobgoblins whom they had encountered say, but he did not sense deceit in Durbuluk's voice, so he let the matter pass.

Szordrin opened his mouth to say something, but then doubted that he would be able to lie with Hakam's spell in effect, so he thought better of it.

Durbuluk continued. "Even though I knew that this new god, 'Allu', must be an imposter, I was intrigued by the message. King Guthash had been planning for years to build an army to unleash on the overworld. Perhaps this Allu could be an ally of sorts. A genie is a powerful adversary or a powerful friend. I advised Guthash to send me as an ambassador, to observe Allu and his schemes.

"I have thus pretended to be a 'priest of Allu', but while he can grant us three wishes a day, which is not a minor thing by any means, he cannot grant spells. I still serve Nomog-Geaya, and Allustairimarinastralmindivu knows this. The other hobgoblins do not. That is all that matters.

"Nomog-Geaya knows that I am faithful to him. As I bide my time, so Nomog-Geaya bides his time for when he will rebel against Maglubiyet."

Belvin, with singed hair and leathers, asked, "I suppose that you attacked us thinking that we are enemies of Allu-stair-into-the-astral-sea-or-whatever. Could we not have come to a peaceful resolution, considering that we earlier freed your kin? Or does that not matter to a hobgoblin?"

"My goal was to flee this place. You were in my path. I know nothing of any kin of mine that you freed; I only saw my opportunity to escape, since the mummies below had been destroyed. You were not goblinoids nor efreet, so you would be no friends of the efreeti, even if you are enemies of his enemies. For all I know, you are simply greedy adventurers. Whoever you are, you made my task easier, and I took advantage of this, as anyone with any intelligence would."

Hakam jumped back in with a question. "Tell us more about these mummies. Was there another mummy with them, one called El Sadhara? She would have been dressed more ornately than the others that we destroyed."

"What her name was I do not know, but there was another, yes, without a veil like the others, extremely thinning hair, terrifying presence. She commanded the undead and elementals of air and slew many of the hobgoblins with a single word, turning them instantly to ash."

"Is she still here somewhere?" asked Leokas.

"She only left just recently."

"Why did she leave?" asked Solisar.

"Someone summoned her back." Durbuluk shrugged. "I do not know why. She left her handmaidens behind."

"What do you know of her designs?" asked Hakam, "Why was did she come here at all?"

"Allustairimarinastralmindivu, when scouting the desert, had learned of her ancient temple. He discovered that she was seeking to restore the djinni kingdom that once ruled here, one that warred against the efreeti kingdom to the north.

"Her designs were thus completely at odds with Allustairimarinastralmindivu's. He sabotaged her works. Allustairimarinastralmindivu did not expect her to find this hidden palace of his, and he trusted in the 'protection' of the blue dragon lairing 'next door'. But with the dragon gone, she must have seen an opening for her revenge.

"Her forces annihilated us. While I am drastically more powerful than the poor miserable pure-bloods, I am no match for the mummy,... nor was Allustairimarinastralmindivu."

"The dragon Yrevkethend is gone?" asked Hakam. "Where did she go?"

Durbuluk shrugged. "She was last seen flying to the northeast, and she has not returned."

"The hobgoblins whom we freed said that she had been absent since the beginning of the year," added Leokas.

Durbuluk nodded in agreement.

"And where are Allustairimarinastralmindivu and his archwizard now?" asked Hakam.

"When he saw that his plans here had failed, miserably, he fled to the Spinning Keep."

Hakam knew that he should be familiar with the term, but he could not place it.

Solisar sensed this and explained, "The Spinning Keep of Siri'wadjen is the great prison of the genies Calim and Memnon, created by the High Mage Pharos nearly 9,000 years ago."

"Why would he go to a prison?" asked Hakam.

Durbuluk chuckled. "Do you not know the legends of the Calimmemnon Crystal and the Spinning Keep?"

"Clearly I do not," Hakam replied.

"Within Siri'wadjen lies the Calimmemnon Crystal," said Solisar, "in which the entrapped essences of the two noble genies strive ever for freedom. Legends say that anyone touching the gem would obtain the powers of both Calim in Memnon. Other legends say that, if the Crystal were to come into contact with the wind of the desert or the crackle of its dried sands, then the corresponding genie would be freed. Of course, the elves protected the Crystal. No one has ever entered Siri'wadjen or successfully solved its puzzles. In fact, it is impossible even for anyone to pass through the magical field of protection surrounding it."

"Typical of snobbish, arrogant elves, your definition of 'anyone' differs from that of other races," said Durbuluk. "In truth, the protections on the Spinning Keep bar genies, humans, and elves from ever touching the surface of the magical structure, but nothing prevents a hobgoblin or a goblin, like Booyagh, from touching it." Durbuluk gave a truly devilish smile.

Hakam suddenly understood the gravity of Allu's plan and why he was so interested in hobgoblins as a race. "Curse you elves," he said. "Calishites would have protected the prison with better magics!"

"Oh, we shall just go back 9,000 years and fix that then!" said Belvin.

"History has already been written," said Solisar. "We must deal with the present."

"So, Allustairimarinastralmindivu desires the power of the Crystal and needs the hobgoblins to bypass the prison's defenses," said Hakam.

"No, Allustairimarinastralmindivu knows that the power gained from touching the Crystal is only temporary. He wants the permanent power that a fully restored Memnon can grant him. He does not want to simply touch the Crystal; he wants to free the Trapped Terrors within."

"Why would he want to free both genies?" asked Hakam.

"He only wants to free Memnon, of course, but it is likely impossible to free one without the other. His original plan was to have the backing of an army of efreet behind him when the Crystal was removed from the Keep. With the aid of a multitude of genies, surely Calim would immediately be subdued and slain, and Memnon would rule."

"Why release Memnon only to be subjugated by him?" asked Hakam.

"I have always suspected that Allustairimarinastralmindivu is no one of note on the Plane of Fire. He is not noble born. None of his efreeti kin would ever follow him. I think that he believes that if he succeeds at his elaborate plan to restore Memnon to power, then he will be rewarded handsomely or even appointed to higher status among his kind."

"It seems foolish. There is no guarantee that a genie such as Memnon would reward him."

Durbuluk shrugged again.

"What do the hobgoblins get out of all of this again?" asked Leokas.

"Allustairimarinastralmindivu's ultimate goal is to free Memnon and to restore the kingdom of Memnonnar, but he knows that he needs the help of hobgoblins, and in exchange, he will return to us the hobgoblin portion of the kingdom that was once ours."

"Calimshan was never yours!" protested Hakam.

"Typical Calishite human, seeing your history the way that you want to see it! Travel north to the nation that you humans call Tethyr. To this very day, you will find a gorge with the remains of a massive monolith that my people raised thousands of years ago to the greatness of Nomog-Geaya. How many human nations have monoliths that have persisted for so many ages? Do you think that wandering bandit tribes of hobgoblins could build such a thing? No! We were a kingdom. The lands of Tethyr were fully ours, not those of the Calishites!"

Hakam thought it best to return to the matter at hand rather than argue about ancient history. "Where exactly is the Keep?"

"Southwest of here, a few day's journey on foot. I do not know the exact location, but Allustairimarinastralmindivu had obtained a journal from a gnome adventurer, who claimed to have bypassed the Keep's defenses and entered it. She left a map to the site in the journal as well."

"Was the gnome's name Samber? or Ramseb? or anything like that?" asked Hakam.

Durbuluk shook his head. "No, she only signed her name as Stumblesparkle, a typical foolish nickname among those ridiculous people."

"Is this journal and map still here?" asked Solisar.

"It is," Durbuluk replied, "in on of Allustairimarinastralmindivu's storage chambers."

"Beyond the fire traps?" asked Hakam.

"Yes."

"How can they be disabled?"

"They cannot be disabled," said Durbuluk, "but that is not a problem for a fire genie or for a hobgoblin with magical blood like mine."

"I assume that they reset."

"They do."

"Are there other traps?"

"No, but the very walls of the inner chambers are composed of fire, not of stone. You natives of this plane would not fare well."

"Are there other hobgoblins still alive here besides you?" asked Solisar.

"I know not. Remember, I was just trying to escape through the tunnel behind you with my own skin, and now I have lost a good bit of that."

"Did any other hobgoblins go with Allustairimarinastralmindivu?"

"He only took Booyagh with him."

"Why did you not also go?" asked Solisar.

"My talents are not with ancient artifacts and mysteries. I was to remain as long as I could to defend against the undead. Clearly, I failed at that task, as you have now subdued me."

Kytharrah now asked a question. "What do you guard?"

"Allustairimarinastralmindivu's inner sanctum."

"What do you know of Allu's dealings with Samber?" asked Hakam.

"Samber? The same name that you mentioned earlier as a possible name for the gnome? I know nothing of anyone by this name."

"He is a wizard of great power. His was the island where the Allustairimarinastralmindivu first entered our world."

"Ah, the one from whom Allustairimarinastralmindivu stole the gate."

"Stole the gate?" asked Leokas.

"This gate here?" asked Hakam.

"Yes, the gate directly behind you."

"Why would Allu steal a gate to the Plane of Fire?" asked Solisar.

"To lead through an efreeti army for Memnon to lead," said Hakam somberly.

"Yes, exactly," confirmed Durbuluk. "As I said before, Allustairimarinastralmindivu was supremely fortunate to have found an open portal to his plane, and he simply passed through it. He came upon the abode of some powerful wizard with a portal on an isolated island and a band of hobgoblin pirates — with a sailing ship no less. Is it so surprising that he saw this as an opportunity? Everyone knows that to this very day a deep and ancient magic still bars all genies from using their own magic to enter Calimsham or wizards from calling them here. No such magic prevents a portal to the Plane of Fire from operating, however. All Allustairimarinastralmindivu had to do was dismantle the portal and transport it here to Faerûn to rebuild. As you can see behind you, he succeeded."

"Allu told the hobgoblins that the gate would bring warriors from Clangor," said Leokas.

"A lie that appealed to their simple minds more than the truth."

"How is it that Samber has not already located his missing gate and taken it back?" asked Solisar.

"The gate is protected against attempts at scrying. Allustairimarinastralmindivu is not foolish. He knows that the one from whom he stole the gate is a powerful spellcaster who could scry on the gate to find him and teleport here on a whim."

"Why has he not opened the portal yet?" asked Hakam. "Why has the Army of Fire not already come through?

"Because a petty and weak human wizard, a stowaway on Allustairimarinastralmindivu's ship, stole the key."

The party knew that this "petty" wizard was Malick of Darromar, the very one who had set this whole adventure in motion by hiring Leokas many months ago, but they tried hard not to let on to Durbuluk that they knew this or, worse, that they had the very key on one of their persons.

"Is the army waiting on the other side now?" asked Hakam.

"I do not know; I only know that until this mummy attacked us, Allustairimarinastralmindivu was still searching for the lost key. It was a major missing component to his plan. With the loss of the key and now the destruction of his army, the efreet's last chance is to free Memnon earlier than he had willed."

"Is there a way to destroy the portal?"

"I do not know that either. Booyagh might."

"Should we destroy the portal?" asked Belvin.

"There is no need for the portal to be destroyed if the key is still missing," said Solisar.

Kytharrah was growing noticeably bored of the interrogation by now and was scratching at his itching, rotting flesh, causing more fur to fall out.

"Are you satisfied yet," asked Durbuluk, "or do you have further questions?"

"Does the path behind us lead out of the caverns?" asked Solisar.

"It does, to the desert sands."

"How do Allustairimarinastralmindivu's magic bottles work?" asked Hakam. "Is he actually summoned when someone opens the bottle, or do we merely view an image of him?"

Durbuluk seemed thoughtful. "How would you know about these bottles?"

"We found one in the past and foolishly opened it."

"You. You are the ones who have the key. He has searched for so long, and had he only waited, you would have come to him!"

"Were it the case that we had the key," threatened Hakam, "we would have to eliminate anyone who might inform Allustairimarinastralmindivu."

"Now, now," said Durbuluk, "your so-called worshiper of Torm here already gave me a promise."

"Our agreement with you says nothing about finding you again after we let you go."

"After you let me go," said the half-fiend, "you will never find me again. I assure you."

"Nevertheless, you will tell us about the bottles."

"Unlike the bottles crafted by your own people to entrap efreet for their own purposes, these bottles summon Allustairimarinastralmindivu himself for a short time, after which he returns from where he came."

"If one were to open a bottle and then destroy it before that time had passed, what would happen?"

"I have no idea," said Durbuluk.

"Does Allustairimarinastralmindivu have any weaknesses? Or are there any means we could use to bargain with him?"

"You could offer him the gem key." Durbuluk smiled, but then he continued. "If that fails, you could use ice magic, which tends to work well on fire creatures. To be honest, I have never considered attacking him, so I do not know. It seems a foolish thought."

"Bored, bored, bored," complained Kytharrah.

"The fire traps in the chamber below," said Hakam, "what triggers them?"

"They only trigger for non-hobgoblins," Durbuluk replied, "and they only trigger moving away from the center of the four columns."

"So the way into the inner chambers are blocked? Is there any other way in?"

"That tunnel is the only way in. Are we finished here? Are you not yet satisfied? I have told you everything."

"To satisfy us and our agreed-upon conditions, you must tell us everything written in the gnome's journal."

"What? Absurd! I cannot read the language that the journal is written in, and even if I could, do you truly expect me to have memorized it?"

"Can you at least recall the map?"

"Not well enough to draw a copy for you. I only saw it once."

"Then you must retrieve it for us," said Hakam.

"That does not seem to me part of our agreement."

"You agreed to answer all of our questions, and we are questioning you about information found in a document that you clearly have access to. In any human court, this argument would be upheld."

"Perhaps in a human court," said Durbuluk.

"That is the only court that matters at the moment," said Hakam.

"Stay here, and I shall retrieve the the book for you."

"And risk you escaping?" said Leokas.

"We will escort you as far as to the fire traps below," said Hakam.

"So be it. That is only fair," answered the fiendish hobgoblin. "Lead the way."
Session: 99th Game Session - Wednesday, Dec 20 2017 from 7:00 PM to 10:00 PM
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Chapter 5 — The "Preparation Room"
They climbed up the stone steps into the ceiling some fifteen or twenty feet above, rising into another dark and massive chamber 50 feet high. The glowing omlar gem was able to illuminate most of the 50- to 60-yard cavernous room. It was empty of any visible life. Stalactites hung from the ceiling, but it appeared that any stalagmites had been broken off and filed down to make the floor as flat as possible. Large boulders and natural stone columns were distributed about the room, but the object that caught everyone's attention immediately was the portal gate in the center.

"The same black metal as what Samber uses," said Hakam.

They all approached the giant ring. It sat on a crude dais made of slabs of stone and was haphazardly embedded in concrete. It was about fifteen feet in diameter.

Szordrin, now holding the omlar gem, looked at the metal of the ring. It was made from five separate pieces. Each piece had the symbol of the Interlink Consortium of Bral etched into it. The discovery immediately triggered feelings of anger in the tiefling.

Solisar also looked more closely. "The metal is marked with the rune for fire," he explained, "just like on the odd faces of the omlar gem. It must be a portal to the Plane of Fire, though we have a scroll from the gynosphinx that we encountered that can help me identify this portal's properties more completely."

"At last," said Leokas, "we have found the portal for which the omlar gem is the key."

On hearing this, Szordrin stepped off the dais and handed the omlar gem back to Leokas. "I do not want to get too close while holding this then.

"Solisar," Szordrin continued, "use the scroll. I shall investigate the rest of this chamber in the meantime with my darkvision."

"I see in the dark too!" said Kytharrah.

"Come along then, Lunk, and I know that you are fast."

Kytharrah seemed confused but followed.

Solisar began reading the incantation from the scroll, while the other two elves and Hakam stood by. It took him about a minute, and during that time, he removed a small mirror from among his belongings. When he completed the final words, the glass of mirror began to glow a deep red color, and it looked to be covered in smoke.

"It is as we suspected," said the sun elf. "The portal activates for anyone passing through while holding the key. Actually, the key is only needed on the Material Plane side. That is, once through, the portal remains open back to the Material Plane, and, yes, its destination is on the Plane of Fire, though I cannot see through all the smoke to make out any details about the specific destination.

The others returned to report that they had found a tunnel on the opposite side of the cavern from the stairs. It seemed to slope uphill and curved to the north.

"What did the scroll reveal?" asked Szordrin.

"It leads to the Plane of Fire, but we cannot tell exactly where," Hakam replied. "I suspect that we would not be likely to survive travel through the portal at this point. That realm is not hospitable to most mortals of our kind, and I do not think that we have the magic to protect us from its heat."

"The Plane of Fire is more hospitable than many of the other Inner Planes," said Szordrin. "The Plane of Earth is just a big chunk of infinite earth and rock; the Plane of Air is just a big collection of infinite water, but at least the plane of fire has a bottom, has land to stand on. Because of the genies, there are even cities."

"You seem to know more about the place than I," said Solisar, somewhat surprised by this observation, "but is not the City of Brass still unsurvivably hot?"

"Well, yes."

"Hakam is right then," said Solisar. "We cannot pass through this gate now. We would have to come back with magical protections for all of us. Perhaps I could research such spells in Silverymoon...."

"Even with protective abjurations," said Hakam, "I will not pass through the portal without a backup plan for getting home. I shall have to acquire another planar fork tuned to the Material."

Kytharrah suddenly snorted loudly. He had spotted someone coming up the stairs. Belvin also noticed and watched as a hairy humanoid ascended. Short, pointed horns sprouted from his head, and he had long ears like an elf or goblin. The creature was garbed in leather armor, covered in studs and spikes, and carried a longsword in one hand and a handaxe in the other. When he reached the top of the steps, batlike wings unfurled behind him.

"It is Durbuluk," said Belvin. He raised his shield and scimitar.

Solisar heard the newcomer call out "Nomog smite thee!" in a fiendish tongue while pointing his sword toward Belvin.

A column of unholy fire enveloped the wild elf, and he screamed in pain as he hurriedly tried to extinguish the flames, only to find that they were no longer there; the magic was instantaneous. He dropped to his knees, his skin burning in pain.

Durbuluk leapt into the air, with a powerful flap of his wings, shooting up to the ceiling before any of the others could reach him. He hung with his axe arm around one of the stalactites.

"Belvin, are you...?" Leokas began.

"Do not talk to me; take him out!" shouted the druid. With that, he called out a frantic druidic chant, attempting to magically bind the half-fiend's wings, but he was in too much pain to complete the spell properly.

Leokas nocked an arrow.

Szordrin called out to the others. "Half-fiends have strong resistances, much stronger than tieflings!"

"Then aim for the stalactite!" Belvin replied.

Szordrin followed Belvin's advice and sent a series of force bursts at the stalactite, but the blasts did not break the stone. Leokas tossed the arrow that he had nocked to the the ground and reached for another one, silver tipped, more useful for injuring certain beings of the planes. Hakam moved off the portal dais and offered a prayer to Anachtyr to protect his companions, while Solisar rushed to Kytharrah's side.

"This is not play!" the sun elf instructed, pausing to enspell his own eyes with some divinatory magic. "Can you hit him with your 'goo bag'?"

Kytharrah tossed his last tanglefoot bag up with a powerful underhanded lob. It shattered and covered the hobgoblin cleric with a sticky mess. "Yes!" shouted the minotaur happily.

Solisar also tossed something up into the air, a tiny fragment of broken glass, which vanished.

"Try to fly now!" Leokas taunted, and he unleashed three shots of silver-tipped arrows in rapid succession. The first punctured Durbuluk's leather, but the second was deflected by either armor or magic force, and the third embedded itself into the stalactite.

Having caught his breath, Belvin retreated further back from the battle, easing his own pain with positive energy as he did so. Then, he began a summoning chant.

Durbuluk cried out in the same awful language as before, but this time, fire immolated him, thin, wispy flames of dim, purple light.

Again Solisar understood the words: "Nomog protect me with warm flame!"

"He is protecting himself from cold magic!" Solisar relayed to the others.

Hakam drew his sword and yelled out a command meant to dispel the enemy cleric's protective magic, but there was no response, and Szordrin, too, failed at attempting a spell of his own.

"I can shatter his stalactite," said Solisar, "but I need to get closer. Kytharrah, lift me up!"

Kytharrah grabbed the elf by the waist and lifted him nearly over his head, but it was a wasted effort. Two more arrows from Leokas found their target in Durbuluk's side, and then the fiendish hobgoblin let go, falling into a glide as a third arrow whizzed past him harmlessly. He glided directly at the opponent who had stuck him thrice with arrows, sword extended. Durbuluk came to the ground directly facing the wood elf, and drove his sword up with the added force of his quick descent. The blade plunged through Leokas' gut and the tip came out his lower back.

"I tried to fly," said Durbuluk in Common. He yanked the blade back out. "Did it work?"

Leokas could taste blood in his mouth, and he could feel the heat from the magical fire surrounding the evil cleric burning his skin. Time seemed to slow for Leokas, but in an instant, Hakam was at Leokas' side, before Durbuluk could take another swing, and positive energy surged through the wood elf. Durbuluk raised his sword again, but was distracted when a vial of some alchemical substance struck him, tossed by Szordrin.

Kytharrah set Solisar on the ground, grabbed his axe, and rushed over to flank the hobgoblin, while the sun elf tried to dispel the violet flames around the hobgoblin but failed to succeed.

Leokas, however, sprung back to land on the dais and drew an arrow.

"I know...." Twang. "...the most painful parts...." Twang. "...on your goblin body." Twang. Three more arrows joined their partners, and Durbuluk was beginning to look like a pin cushion. His attempts to deflect the arrows with his weapons or to strike the elf a second time failed.

"I feel no... ah!" Durbuluk's retort was cut off as a long-necked, blue-scaled, yellow-feathered creature with four sets of wings took a chunk of flesh and hair from Durbuluk's skull with its sharp beak as it swooped by. Belvin's summon from the Plane of Air had arrived. The four-eyed creature gave a high-pitched screech, as the flames about Durbuluk had burned it, and flew off to recover and circle about the massive cavern. Durbuluk now nearly stumbled over as dark goblin blood flowed onto his face from the head wound. He jumped into the air again and flapped his powerful wings to carry him some five yards into the air, but an arrow from Belvin now joined the others, puncturing one of the wings.

"Bree-yark! I yield!"

"Kytharrah, stay," said Solisar, but he readied a spell of his own just in case.

The elemental creature circled back for another nip at Durbuluk's head, as the half-fiend struggled to hover above them with powerful downward strokes of his wings.

"There are more where that thing came from," taunted Belvin.

"Spare my life, and I shall tell you everything that you want to know!"

"Tell us of Allu or I shall strike you with the wrath of the gods!" Szordrin shouted, pointing a wand of magic detection at the severely wounded foe and hoping that the half-fiend would not know the difference.

"This one is not a creature of chaos;" said Hakam, "we may be able to listen to him."

Leokas shot another arrow directly into Durbuluk's gut, precisely where the hobgoblin had stabbed him moments earlier.

"Now, I will listen." He lowered his bow, and Belvin dismissed his strange summon.

"Drop your flames, and tell us of Allu!" repeated Szordrin.

The fiendish hobgoblin dropped back to the ground, his goo-covered, arrow-punctured wings barely preventing him from crashing. Landing on one knee and bent over in pain, he dismissed his spell. Then, he strangely began laughing.

"I find it humorous that even his enemies do not know his actual name."
Session: 98th Game Session - Wednesday, Dec 06 2017 from 7:00 PM to 10:00 PM
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Chapter 5 — The Room of Four Columns
The party returned to the cavern complex through the sea cave entrance later that evening, once the tide had lowered again. They still had yet to locate Allu's inner chambers. The interrogated hobgoblins had suggested that his elite forces might be holed up deeper in the caves, where they and Allu had retreated, beyond a massive chamber in the east with a ceiling supported by four thick columns. Supposedly, Allu's chambers were protected against the undead, they had reported, and Szordrin and Hakam had confirmed that at least one more minotaur skeleton and five smaller ones stood "waiting" in the larger room.

The lines of ash that they had left continued to remain undisturbed during their absence. Presumably, the six skeletons had not moved from where they were last seen. "I suppose that if you are already dead, it means nothing to you to stand around for a day," said Leokas.

For once, the group had the time to ready themselves for battle with knowledge of what lay ahead around the corner. Hakam lit up his shield with a prayer, while Solisar cast a similar light spell upon the omlar gem, enhancing the extent of the glow. Hakam increased Kytharrah's strength and protected him from evil. Szordrin likewise protected himself and also created false duplicates of himself. Solisar made his eyes see invisible objects and persons and created a protective forcefield around his clothing. Leokas prayed that Solonor would bless his next shot.

"Are we ready?" asked Szordrin, clutching a bit of bat guano mixed with sulfur between his fingertips, ready for a spell.

"Let us do this," said Leokas, nocking an arrow.

"We charge as soon as I finish casting this last spell," said Solisar. With that, he completed a brief incantation, and a piece of licorice root vanished from his hand.

They all felt a surge of energy and charged out of the cavern passage.

Solisar bowled the glowing omlar gem into the center of the large chamber, filling it with light, revealing five of the previously seen skeletons. A bead of red shot forth from Szordrin's fingertips and struck the ground in their midst, erupting with an echoing blast of light and flame. Bone and bone fragments were scattered in all directions, leaving only the minotaur skeleton in one piece. It threw its head back, as if giving a silent roar. An arrow from Leokas shot through what would have been its open mouth, puncturing the back of its skull. A huge chunk of that fell away, bringing the horns with it. It began to charge, but Leokas caused it to clang to the floor in pieces with a second shot.

Their own living minotaur rushed into the light, passing to the left past one of the four massive columns supporting the ceiling. He saw another skeleton, but it was the extraordinarily thick cloud shape that caught his eye. It looked like it had thick arms and fists, and it had glowing eyes in its midst. He swung his axe at it and found that it felt like he was cutting through something solid and mushy. The cloud parted in half and dissipated, its glowing eyes fading away into nothing. He stood for a moment confused.

Hakam ran after Kytharrah and spotted the same skeleton. He called on Anachtyr to send him a spiritual weapon, and a sword of force appeared before the skeleton and wasted no time in hacking apart the bones.

Three Szordrins charged around the other side of the massive column and saw another hidden opponent. "They have another mummy!" he shouted out in warning, before sending two beams of flame each from his three hand. One of the real beams struck the mummy soundly, but the others passed over her shoulder and struck the column. She was dressed and armed much like the three that they had destroyed the day before. The mummy had her eyes closed and held a posture of what might have been prayer.

Belvin and Solisar came behind Hakam, as two more skeletons rushed from out of the shadows near other columns and charged forward with scimitars waving. Solisar sent missiles of magic force toward the mummy, which he could now also see behind the column, but they seemed to have no effect on her. One of the skeletons came within ten feet of Kytharrah before he cut it in half at the lower spine and scattering its bones. A ball of fire came from Belvin's hand and obliterated the remaining one.

"That was more than six skeletons!" shouted the elven druid.

Then they all felt a bitter cold fill the chamber, which they could feel in their bones. The mummy opened her eyes, and they heard her scream some dark words that included the name of Akadi. A whirlwind blew suddenly through the chamber and a humanoid cloud coalesced near their young minotaur. The elemental being pounded into Kytharrah with the force of a hurricane, knocking him back but not hurting him greatly. It shook him up enough, however, to give the mummy an opening. With inhuman speed, she was upon him, slamming him with fist and mace. He roared in pain, taking three solid blows before at last avoiding the fourth.

Recovering from the feeling of bitter cold, Leokas and Hakam came to their companion's aid. The elf charged east past the column unto a metal-tiled floor and tried to strike the mummy with two simultaneous arrows from his bow. They missed, as mummy and minotaur circled around each other looking for openings to strike.

Hakam pointed at the mummy while stepping away from the reach of the summoned air elemental. The spiritual sword flew toward the undead priestess like a ballista bolt. She deflected the force sword with her shield, but the distraction was enough for Kytharrah to swing down at her embalmed legs, tripping her off her feet and flat onto her back. (It had worked for the previous mummies, so he figured that he would try it again.) Kytharrah hacked down at the fallen priestess, cutting deep gashes into her wrappings, and leaving her chest an ash-filled concave hollow.

Nevertheless, the undead priestess sprung up to her feet again, splintered rib fragments falling to the ground from her chest and mouth open in a shrieking curse.

Hakam silenced her by calling a column of holy fire down upon her, engulfing her in flame.

As she writhed about and burned into ashes, the elemental came at Hakam to avenge its summoner, but it was seared by magic fire from Szordrin, shooting just between Hakam and Solisar and nearly scorching them as well. The sun elf waved his wand to pummel the elemental with force bursts, while Belvin came up behind Kytharrah and healed him with positive energy from his palm.

The elemental, having lost a good portion of its mass from Szordrin's fire, took one more feeble swing at Kytharrah, who deftly dodged the vapory fist. The thing turned and flew with haste to get away, but with a lunge, Kytharrah leapt forward and swung down his axe, turning the otherworldy creature into a puff of air.

Kytharrah giggled at the bizarre effect. "Poof!" he said.

They all caught their breath, as the power of the hasting spell wore off, and looked around at the scattered skeleton bones and the four columns. Between the columns, the floor was flat and tiled with massive ten-foot plates of reddish metal. The columns were the work of crude masonry, with large red bricks.

"Ah!" Szordrin yelled out in pain suddenly, as fire that did not come from his own fingertips erupted around him. He had dismissed his illusion and simply been walking back toward the hall from which they had come. Looking behind him, a wall of violet fire, rising all the way from floor to ceiling extended the whole length from the corner of one of the square-based columns to the cavern wall, from north to south. Thankfully, his fiendish ancestry prevented him from taking severe burns, but he was going to experience what would feel like sunburn for several days after this, and his clothing was singed.

"No one move!" warned Leokas loudly. "This whole room may be trapped."

Szordrin picked up a stone and tossed it to the north, between the chamber wall and another corner of the same column. Nothing happened.

"We all already crossed over that way without incident," said Hakam.

"And I passed the other way the first time too," said Szordrin, while looking carefully at the column, floor, and ceiling. "There are scorch marks here on this other corner of the column," he said, but I cannot find the source of the flames. Belvin, summon your satyr friend and make him pass between the wall and this column to me."

"Not going to happen," answered Belvin.

"You have had him do worse," said Szordrin.

Kytharrah was bored and wanted to head down another tunnel he spotted on the northwestern corner of the massive chamber.

"Minotaur! Get back here!"

Kytharrah grudgingly obeyed. As he did so, a tuft of his fur fell from his chest, precisely where the mummy had previously pounded him with her fists.

"Kezef be bound, you have been cursed!" exclaimed Hakam. "Let me see to your wounds."

Meanwhile, Solisar cast his spell to detect auras of magic. "Yes, the line from the corner of this column to the wall is indeed trapped. The source of the flames is from the crack in the stone there on the wall." He pointed. "The columns themselves are not magical. Yet it did not trigger for the rest of us, as Hakam noted. Odd."

"It triggered on the second time," said Szordrin.

"Like the trap that crushed me," said Leokas with a shiver, recalling that dreadful experience many months ago now.

"Can a magical trap be directional?" asked Hakam. Then he shouted at Kytharrah, "Stay still until I can heal you, minotaur, or do you want all of your fur to fall out?" He examined the friendly beast's injuries. More fur dropped off, and the skin looked rotted and greenish.

"Skin smells funny," said Kytharrah.

"Spell triggers can be customized in all manner of ways," said Szordrin.

"There is another trap between the wall and this other column here," explained Solisar. "Kytharrah nearly set it off, if it triggers in this direction."

"Are we trapped then?" asked Leokas. "We can enter the center of the room yet not leave without harm."

"Perhaps that staircase is not triggered," said Belvin, pointing to where a wide staircase between the two eastern-most columns led up into the stalactite-covered ceiling.

"There is no aura about it," said Solisar, "so it is free at least from any magical traps."

"The hobgoblin scum called the room above the 'preparation room'," said Leokas, "and the location of the gate portal to Clangor."

Hakam finished his examination and curing of Kytharrah, but the skin was still gangrenous. "I cannot help him further today. I will have to ask Anachtyr for such power come morning."

"Kytharrah, how do you feel?" asked Solisar.

"Not as tough. Like bad nap."

"Are you strong enough to search this ash for more gems from the mummy?"

He happily obliged the elf. While he was thus distracted, the others discussed how to handle the traps.

"There seem to be only four of them," said Solisar, "two on each of the western-most columns. So the paths to the tunnel to our exit and to the one over there, presumably to Allu's inner chambers, are blocked."

"Perhaps there are other paths beyond where we can see across the chamber," said Belvin. He and Solisar, carrying the still-glowing omlar gem, walked around the eastern half of the chamber, beyond the columns. They returned with nothing to report.

Szordrin used his magic to feel the trap source remotely, as if with an invisible hand, but he did not have the dexterity to manipulate anything. He gave up and dared to cross the line of the trap to join the others, since they suspected it to be safe passing in that direction. Nothing happened.

"Well," he said, "this explains how the skeletons and mummy made it into this room and then were left here and could not escape."

"If we spent the night here, Belvin and I could shape the stone to encase the traps," said Hakam.

"I could also dispel a trap for a few minutes with my druidic magics," suggested Belvin.

"Let us hold off on that for now," said Hakam, "in case we have another use for that. We still have to explore upstairs; we can deal with these traps later. I also have a scroll that can ward against flames if it comes to it."

"Let me examine the steps for mechanical traps," said Szordrin. They gave him several minutes, and he was convinced that they were safe to climb.

"Ready yourselves," said Leokas. "We ascend."
Session: 98th Game Session - Wednesday, Dec 06 2017 from 7:00 PM to 10:00 PM
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Chapter 5 — Survivors
With his natural eyes, Hakam could barely see more than a few feet in front of him now, since Solisar's torchlight had moved away, but he could still sense the shape of everything within about ten yards of him, as magic helped his mind to process the subtle echoes of sounds through the chamber. Thirty feet was not very far, however, and it was clear that this was the largest chamber yet in this subterranean place. If he was standing in the corner of a giant square facing inward, the walls to his left and right were irregular, as one would expect for a cave, but at the far corner stood something that "felt" very smooth and artificial to his magical perceptions. As he scanned the area for motion, he saw something else, and this with his eyes. A magical aura, revealing the presence of evil, well beyond the range of his magical blindsight.

   He sensed Szordrin coming up beside him. "What is it?" the wizard whispered.

   "A source of evil," Hakam whispered back. "Can you see anything with your fiend's eyes."

   "A dark pillar holding up the ceiling, about twelve or fifteen feet wide. It is not natural."

   "I sense it too," said Hakam. "Can you see anything to the right of the pillar. I sense three sources of evil."

   "I shall move a bit closer." Szordrin did so, and then quickly came back to stand beside the cleric.

   "Humanoid forms, rather thin. Not as large as minotaurs."

   "Bone thin?"

   "Probably so." He extracted a copper wire from his pouch and held it to his lips. "Come back at once! Hakam has found more skeletons!"

   Hakam healed himself with positive energy while they waited, and they were soon joined by the others around the bodies of the three mummies. Hakam and Szordrin whispered what they had seen.

   "Kytharrah, go back a ways and guard us in case more skeletons attack from behind us," Leokas directed. "If you see any more, destroy them all."

   Kytharrah obeyed.

   "They are not attacking us," said Szordrin. "Let Hakam and I go deeper into the chamber for a better look."

   It was not long before they returned. "There are five humanoid skeletons and another giant, horned skeleton," Szordrin reported.

   "I suspect that they were commanded to guard something," said Hakam, "since they have made no move to advance toward us — perhaps an entrance or perhaps El Sadhara herself. I suggest that we avoid them."

   "If they are simply mindless skeletons, that gives us time to explore the rest of these tunnels first," said Leokas.

   Solisar was looking down at the scorched and broken bodies of the mummies. "These have items of magic," he said. "Abjuration magics. Their armor and one of their amulets glow, as do their cloaks, which have resisted damage from all of our fire magics."

   "Are they dangerous to touch?" asked Szordrin. "Can we be cursed if we take them? Should I use telekinesis to pick up the items?"

   "They have been destroyed, so I believe that their curse is spent," said Solisar.

   "I believe that he is correct," said Hakam, "but I would not risk touching their fell kind. I suspect that they are wearing Calishite mail, enchanted to cool the wearer in the desert heat, though mummies would have no need for such things in undeath."

   "Kytharrah," said Szordrin, "come help me search their bodies."

   Kytharrah did so, and he seemed to have no emotional hindrances to ripping through their bandaged bodies searching. Each limb was unraveled or torn open, and the desiccated ash within poured out. The area was filled with pungent perfumes. Each mummy had had a large blue sapphire buried in its wrappings about where her heart should have been, and another on her forehead. (No one else noticed when Szordrin secretly pocketed these latter three gems.) Hakam stepped on the three unholy symbols, grinding them into the stone. They gathered up the amulets until they could identify them later, along with three silver aspergilla, the unholy symbols, and the chain shirts, and stored them in their magical sack. Belvin, Hakam, and Szordrin each donned one of the magical short cloaks, as Solisar seemed convinced that they were of the same magical properties of resistance to harm as the ones that he, Leokas, and Kytharrah already wore.

   All this time, the skeletons deeper within the chamber made no movement toward them nor any sound.

   "Come," said Leokas, "let us see where the other tunnel continued. It forked after some 75 to 100 feet."

   As a group, they returned to the wider tunnel with all the scattered remains of weapon forging.

   "I suspect this was where Allu was making weapons for his army," said Leokas.

   "But El Sadhara destroyed all of it," said Hakam.

   They reached the fork and turned first to the left, where they had destroyed the last two of the minotaur skeletons. On the left wall was a large column and a massive boulder placed too tightly together for a human to squeeze through to the other side. On the right was a pile of rubble as if from a cave-in.

   "We sent Ferry through here earlier," said Szordrin. "That was the boulder that Kytharrah could not budge, and this was the collapsed tunnel that Ferry mentioned to me."

   Kytharrah sniffed. "Food," he said, and he rushed off ahead of them. The rest hurried after him, lest he run into any trouble, but there was no sign either of life or undeath. The tunnel narrowed to five feet in width and then entered a smallish, irregular-shaped cavern chamber. All about it were nasty-smelling dried meats and kitchen implements.

   "Ferry found this too already," said Szordrin.

   "It is clear that all of the goblins are dead," said Hakam.

   "...Or they are holding out somehow on the other side of that boulder fall," said Solisar.

   "Are you suggesting that some of the survivors may have barricaded themselves rather than become zombies?" said Leokas.

   "It is what I would have done," said Belvin.

   "I should be able to confirm that," said Leokas, "if we have not already trampled all over the evidence. Stand back here for a bit. Solisar, may I have the torch?"

   The ranger approached the rockfall carefully with the torch and examined the ground in the area all around. Then, he came to the others and handed back the torch. "There certainly are goblinhobgoblin — tracks underneath some of the boulders that have been propped up over the others. There is no doubt that goblins passed that way into a tunnel."

   "I shall send Ferry through the rubble," said Szordrin.

   His little weasel companion was nervous about his mission, but he accepted it anyhow and scurried underneath and between the fallen rocks and rubble. He was not gone long. He crawled up Szordin's clothing to the perch on his shoulder and squeaked into his ear.

   "Ferry says that there are a few hairy people on the other side. They seem sleepy and weak. There is no decaying. They are alive, not dead or undead.

   "Shall we send a message to them perhaps," Szordrin concluded.

   "I could write it in their language," said Leokas.

   "Could we trust any response that they might send back?" asked Hakam.

   "Considering the circumstances, I think it would be in their best interest to send an honest reply," said Leokas, "and you know that none of us has as much hatred for goblinkind as I."

   "Let me see if there is a secret way beyond all this rubble first," said Hakam. He prayed for special vision and guidance from Anachtyr, but the magic did not reveal the presence of any secret doors or passages in the immediate vicinity.

   Solisar provided a strip of paper and a feathered pen and ink, and Leokas laid it against a flat stone to scribble a message, trying to keep the letters sloppy, in imitation of how he imagined a hobgoblin to write. The message read, he hoped,
We were sent by Captain Grak. We have come back from the sea. We found and killed many not-dead. What has happened here?

   Leokas handed the paper to Szordrin who put it in Ferry's mouth.

   "Drop the message and then run immediately back to us," said Hakam.

   "He does not understand Common yet," said Szordrin.

   "He needs to wait for them to write an answer, does he not?" said Solisar.

   "I shall tell him to wait under the rocks where he will be safe while they read it and respond," said Szordrin, who then began chirping and squeaking.

   Ferry nodded his little head and then scrambled down Szordrin and into the rubble. Szordrin knelt by the rubble to retrieve Ferry as soon as he came back. The bearded tiefling looked worried, but he could sense no terror in his familiar, only mild fear.

   The weasel popped back into sight several minute later, the same strip of paper in his mouth.

   "We forgot to send them a pen with which to write a reply," said Solisar.

   "Nevertheless, they wrote an answer," said Szordrin, holding it up. "It seems to be in blood." While written in blood, the letters were much neater than Leokas' message.

   Leokas took the strip and read it aloud.
Undead, not "not-dead", attacked us. Only five of us left. Who in the Hells are you? Who is Captain Grak?


   "Ask them if they can move the boulders on their own," said Hakam.

   Leokas wrote a second message.
Can you move the big rocks? If not, we will come back tomorrow.


   Ferry delivered the message, this time with a pen pre-dipped in ink, and carried back their reply.
We cannot move the boulders. We trapped ourselves.


   "Hobgoblins are not the most intelligent creatures," said Leokas, after reading back the message.

   They prepared a third message and sent this one with a small package of rations.
Where is our god, Allu?


   The reply:
Allu has abandoned us. Thanks for the grub. We have not eaten in two days.


   "The genie either fled or was banished," said Solisar, after Leokas read the reply.

   "Are we certain that he is an actual genie?" asked Hakam.

   "Did you not see us fight him with Sseth outside the monastery?" replied Leokas.

   "Yes, I did see the tail end of that, but have we considered if he might actually be an aspect of Samber? We have seen Samber use powerful illusions before, such as the Maker."

   "What would be his motivation to do that?" asked Leokas.

   "He needs more worshipers, does he not?" said Solisar, "From what I have learned about him from you, it would make sense for him to seek out new worshipers so that he might obtain true godhood."

   "But Allu led a small number of the hobgoblins from Samber's island," said Leokas. "Why not keep them there?"

   "To evangelize amongst the hobgoblins of Faerûn?" suggested Hakam.

   "To protect his created worshipers?" suggested Solisar. "In any case," he continued, "is it not likely that Allu and Samber have met, if they came from the same tiny island?"

   "More than that, I suspect that they are at least allied," said Hakam.

   "We simply do not know these things yet," said Belvin. "What good does it do to postulate at this point? All I know is that Allu tried to kill us all and take back the omlar gem; in contrast, Samber healed my arm."

   "Let us ask them where Allu's chamber is," suggested Szordrin.

   Another set of messages passed back and forth.
Is Allu's chamber to the east of here?


The tunnel to the east leads to Allu's throne room of fire and the gate.


   "Gate to what?" asked Szordrin.

   "Is it the gate for our omlar gem?" asked Leokas.

   "To the Plane of Fire?" asked Hakam.

   "That is what we have supposed before," said Leokas. "We know that the omlar gem is a portal key and has something to do with elemental fire."

   Kytharrah was, at this point, exceedingly bored and had wandered off back down the tunnel to where it had forked. He continued along the new passage. He could soon smell the strong smells of bodily waste ahead and figured that it was where the goblins releaved themselves. He returned to the others, who were still talking. They had sent one final message to the surviving hobgoblins, repeating that they would return the next day.

   "We cannot possibly take on El Sadhara if she is still here," said Szordrin.

   "I agree," said Hakam. "We can certainly eliminate her remaining skeletal guards, but if she lies beyond them, we are doomed."

   "I do not know about the rest of you, but I am going back to the ship," said Belvin. "I was nearly gored to death today, and I would like to rest with Kamil before the blue dragon finds our ship and eats him."

   "I agree," said Hakam. "Let us return, hide the spelljammer in the clouds, rest, and return in the morning. I shall pray for the power to move these boulders, and we can interrogate these survivors to learn more about what happened here."

   Everyone agreed, so they began to head back.

   "We should leave a trail of ash near wear we fought the mummies, in case anything should cross it in our absence," said Szordrin.

   "An excellent idea," Leokas replied. "I should be able to identify any tracks left as well if that happens."

   "What about the skeletons?" asked Solisar. "We defeated them, but will that truly stop them from being formed again by the same necromantic magics that brought them to undeath to begin with?"

   "You are correct," said Hakam. "An evil cleric or another mummy could easily create them again if we leave enough bones."

   "I, for one, do not want to fight the same skeletal minotaurs again," said Solisar.

   "Then we need to scatter the bones far from each other," said Hakam, "or else smash all of them to powder."

   "What if we just take all the skulls and dump them in the ocean?" suggested Szordrin.

   "Bones do not need a skull to be animated," said Hakam. "It would be better to toss the hip bones into the sea."

   "It would be faster to toss such bones over the stone wall that you made into the chamber with the bugbear zombies," suggested Solisar. "That way, if any new skeletons form, they will be attacked by the zombies."

   Over the next hour or so, the party went through the tunnels of the cavern, gathering and smashing bones. (They noticed that all of the hobgoblin skulls had been gnawed by bugbear teeth, likely eaten clean by the zombies. All of the minotaur skeletons were much older and had no teeth marks.) Once they had convinced themselves that the formation of new skeletons would be impossible, they used the ash from the fallen mummies to mark lines over the floors of several tunnels.

   At last, they returned safely to their flying ship to be greeted happily by Ilthian. She was very concerned to see the blood-stained clothes of Belvin, Leokas, and especially Hakam, but they assured her that their magics meant that they would be fully recovered by morning.

   Leokas flew the spelljammer high into the sky, where it floated two miles over the seas west of Calimshan. They took rest on their bed rolls or hammocks below deck and passed the night.

~~~~

The next morning, they returned to the surface and dropped anchor again. This time, Belvin stayed behind on the spelljammer with Ilthian, having little interest in rescuing hobgoblins. Leokas was in favor of doing so only because he wanted to interrogate them further.

   During his morning prayers, Hakam had requested the power to shape and move stone again. They waited for low tide; then they got into the row boat and traveled to the sea cave opening.

   As they crunched over all the barnacles at the entrance, Hakam looked about for the presence of evil but saw no sign of any here near the entrance. "There is no point traveling through the tunnels in darkness anymore," said Hakam. "We know that the skeletons that remain will not leave the room that they guard or sound any sort of alarm."

   "I assume that we are rescuing the goblins first?" said Solisar.

   "Yes," Hakam replied.

   When they reached the first line of ash, Leokas examined it for a long time. "I am certain that nothing has passed this way since we left yesterday," he said. "We are safe, at least until we are ready to engage the undead in the eastern chamber."

   "What further information are we seeking from these hobgoblins?" asked Solisar. "Have we considered that?"

   "And what are we doing with them after we are finished with them?" asked Leokas.

   "I suppose that you will want to execute them," said Hakam, "but my thought was to release them in the desert."

   "They will be as good as dead if released into the desert," said the wood elf. "That seems a fair fate; let the gods decide."

   They arrived back at the location of the tunnel collapse.

   "We need to inform them that we are not goblins," said Solisar. "If they come out and see elves and humans, they will be like rats trapped in a corner and may attack out of fear."

   So, Ferry delivered another message.
We have returned to release you, but we are not goblinkin. We want to ask you more questions. If you come out with no weapons, we will give you food.


   Ferry returned with a single word in reply:
Understood.


   Hakam used his magic to form the fallen rocks and rubble into a small tunnel, such that the hobgoblins would have to come out crawling on hands and knees. Shortly, the first hairy goblinoid head appeared, and after a few minutes, four exceptionally skinny human-sized goblins dressed in ragged clothing stood in the middle of the party. None of them spoke; instead, they looked around nervously at their "rescuers".

   After a pause, Hakam spoke. "What happened to the fifth? I thought that there were five of you."

   A hobgoblin spoke in broken Common. "Other said, 'Better die than trust elfs,' so we cut off head."

   "Fair enough," said Leokas.

   "Where food?" said a second goblin. "You said food."

   Hakam handed them each the promised rations, which they gobbled down unceremoniously in seconds.

   "It is not safe to linger here," said Hakam. "You are going to come with us back to our ship, where we have questions to ask you. Then, we will drop you off at the next port."

   As they led the way back to the cave exit, Leokas protested, "I thought that we agreed to drop them in the desert."

   "Maybe the desert is our next port," he replied.
Session: 97th Game Session - Wednesday, Nov 29 2017 from 7:00 PM to 10:00 PM
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Chapter 5 — The Handmaidens of El Sadhara
"Rise!"

   In under a second, a pile of bones, a discarded weapon, and a large horned skull flew together, and Kytharrah spun to find himself facing a minotaur skeleton. Without hesitation, he swung at the undead creature but struck the haft of its massive axe, finding that his new enemy was stronger than one might expect an animated pile of bones to be.

   With a dreadful rattling, several other giant-sized, horned skeletal warriors sprung up around them, two behind them down the tunnel from which they just came, and at least a couple more could be heard approaching from around the corner beyond their own living minotaur. Solisar immediately reached his fingers into his component pouch, looking for a piece of licorice root.

   The three female figures in the distance simply stood still, as Kytharrah's skeletal opponent swung its greataxe. Kytharrah easily parried the blow, but Belvin was not so lucky. At the back of the line, one of the new attackers swung down its large, curved horns, catching him off-guard and goring into his side, lifting him off the ground for a moment. When Belvin came back onto his own two feet, blood was flowing over his hip from a sizeable hole in his side, and he struggled to hold the wound shut with his left hand.

   A powerful shout came from Solisar, and all of them felt a rush of intensity flow through their bodies. Leokas flipped around Belvin in a moment and unleashed arrows at his friend's attacker at a rate that they had never seen before. Four arrows struck the thick bones of the undead monster, and fragments of ribs, a collarbone, a radius bone, and the massive jaw clattered to the rocky ground. It wobbled about awkwardly as if the necromantic magic could barely keep the bones together.

   At the other end of their line, Kytharrah, also empowered with extra swiftness from Solisar's magic, swung with fury, scattering ribs, severing the magical connection between upper and lower arm bones, and smashing through the thick but short femur of its right leg. The skeleton tottled, as the magics drew the split femur bone back together, but before the dark spell could complete its work, the living minotaur swung his head low, catching the monster at the underside of its lower jaw with his horn. With a bucking motion of his neck, Kytharrah ripped the heavy skull from the skeleton's body. It crashed to the floor, and the rest of the body completely dismantled with a noisy din.

   Solisar was more concerned about the three suspected mummies standing calmly by beyond them than about the skeletal monsters. He was chanting the final words of a spell and tossed a fragment of glass in their direction. Above him, two rays of fire shot down from the ceiling from Szordrin, aimed at more large skeletons clattering toward them from around the corner beyond Kytharrah. Hakam could not see these yet, but he held up his holy symbol anyhow and called out a loud rebuke against the unnatural abominations. Then, he hustled over to Belvin to aid him. As he approached, the wobbling minoatur that had gored Belvin moments earlier now swung its axe, driving deep into Hakam's sword arm. Hakam grabbed his own arm, as he saw the druid toss a gob of beeswax at their opponent. The gob stuck to its sternum, and then the entire skeleton was immolated in fire. It fell apart, and each bone continued burning on the ground.

   Belvin shouted a whoop of victory, but another equally large skeletal beast stepped right up over the burning bones of the other and swung at Hakam. Still clutching the bloody gash on his arm, he managed to spin his body such that the blow struck his enchanted shield. The force of the blow drove him to his knees, but it withstood the blade, and it meant that the undead minotaur's horns swung over his head, missing him.

   "Hakam, stay low!" shouted Leokas.

   Hakam obeyed and heard the sound of arrows whizzing just over his head. The fourth arrow split the sternum in half vertically, and drove into one of the vertebrae, knocking it from the spinal column and carrying it farther down the tunnel. The skeleton tumbled apart with a loud clanging.

   Kytharrah also found himself with a new opponent, which had stepped around the corner from the other tunnel, swinging and goring as it came. Kytharrah hopped away from the swing and deflected the horns with the shaft of his axe. He swung back, with hastened movement, splitting ribs and cracking the pelvis before the animated bones blocked his third swing with an axe. The axe heads locked together, and the two minotaurs began a tug of war. Szrodrin tried to assist from his perch on the ceiling by sending down three bursts of magical force. These shook up the skeleton a bit, allowing Kytharrah to break free. He swung his curved horn at his opponent as they pulled away from each other. The horn knocked the lower jaw from the monster's skull, but then the necromantic magic pulled it right back into place.

   Hakam, back on his feet but still clutching his arm, stepped behind Kytharrah. Grabbing his holy symbol with his right hand, he called out for the fourth time that day, "Anachtyr rebuke you!"

   The minoatur skeleton dropped its ancient axe, turned, and fled into the dark tunnel from whence it had come.

   Belvin came up behind Hakam and touched his arm, transferring a burst of positive energy to him. Hakam fell the wound beginning to reseal itself.

   No more skeletons were immediately present, but the three female figures stood firm, watching from the darkness.

   Solisar touched his clothing, which caused it to glow and shimmer briefly. "Need we fear their touch?" he asked. "Can they doom us with their mummy's curse?"

   "I know not," said Hakam, as he drew his sword, "but they will not be touching me."

   "Kytharrah," said Solisar. "Do not charge them. Only use your axe, not your horns."

   "If these are mummies," said Belvin, "no herbs can cure it if you are cursed by them."

   "What are we waiting for?" said Leokas. Still hastened by Solisar's magic, he rushed forward along the right cavern wall with two arrows nocked. Kytharrah snorted and also rushed forward. Szordrin scurried down the wall from the ceiling to follow behind Leokas, using a spell to protect himself from evil.

   However, as Leokas neared to point blank range and raised his bow, one of the mummies moved her head and looked directly into his eyes. Leokas stopped dead in his tracks and moaned, "Solonor save us." He visibly shook to the point of immobility.

   One of the mummies now looked directly at Kytharrah as well, but still he came forward to within range. He felt no fear, but he heeded Solisar's warning and stood defensively rather than make a first move.

   The first attack instead came from Hakam. The cleric rounded the tunnel corner and could now see his opponents in the dim light from the magic torch that Solisar still carried behind him. They were dressed in strange clothes, looking something like a painting from ancient stories of Calimshan. Silver holy symbols hung about their necks, shaped like clouds. They were priestesses of Akadi, just like El Sadhara. That much was clear to him. He held out his open left palm and offered a short prayer. A beam of energy as bright as the sun shot forward, striking the leftmost of the priestesses in the center of her mailed chest. She staggered backward, nearly blown off her feet by the power of the holy burst.

   The mummies now moved in response. The one that was struggling to still stand from Hakam's attack spoke in a dreadful tone. Only Hakam magically understood the words. "We shall be thy doom, priest of law." The words sent shivers through his spine, and he truly feared that he would not survive this battle.

   The second of the mummies lunged at Kytharrah with her huge mace, but he was ready and deflected the blow with the haft of his weapon.

   Then, suddenly, a thick, heavy mist filled the chamber between the adventurers and the three priestesses, as the third mummy finished a dread prayer, making it impossible for any of them to see more than about a yard in front of themselves. Solisar unleashed several ripples of magical force into the cloud, but he could not see the result and had to hope that they found a target.

   Kytharrah engaged the mummy priestess he could see through the cloud directly in front of him. He struck her in the left shoulder, but her chainmail absorbed most of the force of the blow. She deftly avoided two more swings from his axe, surprising him with her agility by springing away from one and solidly blocking the second with her shield with the loud clang of steel against steel. He could not connect with his horns either. She was a challenging opponent, much more skilled at fighting than those walking bones had been.

   Szordrin stepped in front of Hakam, who looked terrified, tossing a spent magic scroll from his hands as he did so. He raised his palms and blindly fired a scorching blast of fire from into the obscuring cloud, like a stream of dragon fire. There was the sound of metal striking the stone floor and echoing through the passage. One of the mummies within the cloud called out another curse upon him, but he felt no ill effects, most likely because he had taken the time to protect himself with his magic.

   Turning to his left, Solisar saw that Belvin, just like Leokas was petrified and shivering in terror. With little he could do to free them from their magic-induced despair, he drew his wand and simply started firing off more missiles of force repeatedly into the cloud.

   Using his magic to see without his eyes through the dense fog, Hakam resisted the powerful urge to flee, and created a burst of deafening sound directly next to one of the mummies. They all heard another clatter of metal striking the ground, and Kytharrah watched as his combatant dropped her mace, stunned by the intense sound burst just behind her. Taking this opportunity, he dropped to his hands as if doing a pushup and swung his horns, catching her legs and flipping her easily unto her back with a hard thud. Springing right back up to his hooves, he began to swing wildly down at her. The first blow hit soundly, indenting her chest in a way that would have instantly killed a living creature, but the chain mail held together. She rolled over quickly to avoid a second blow from the axe, but his third swing cut off a large chunk from her wide hip. His nose was overwhelmed by the sudden release of potent perfumes, as a cloud of ash puffed from the large opening in her torn silk pants and severed bandages. The young minotaur was confused my the complete absence of flesh or blood. It seemed like he had simply cut through a pile of thick cloths.

   Hakam appeared at his side and joined him in hacking down at the prone priestess. His first sword swing struck true, but the force of the blow was absorbed by her chain shirt. She rolled again to avoid another swing, and it struck the stone with a spark. He hit her two more times as she finally rose to her feet again, but each strike was deflected by the chain links. She knocked away another swing from Kytharrah with her shield and lunged at Hakam, bringing her heavily wrapped fist to connect solidly with his jaw, knocking him back a few feet and causing him to bite through his tongue. He could taste his own blood and spat it out.

   Outside the cloud, Solisar continued waving his wand. He could hear heavy fighting occurring, but he could not see how his friends were faring. Thankfully, Leokas suddenly seemed to shake off his fear and come back to his senses. The wood elf sprung into action and darted around the cloud, past Belvin, hoping to get around to the other side of it where he might be able to see their enemies. As he ran, however, he nearly ran into a hulking form. Instinctively, he dove into a somersault and rolled underneath the oversized greataxe of another minotaur skeleton. Popping back onto his feet, he raised his bow and let fly two arrows, knocking bones from the skeleton and causing it to wobble about as the magics tried to hold it together.

   Within the cloud of mist, Kytharrah once again attempted to trip the mummy with his horns. She swung wildly at him with her weaponless arm but missed, and moments later, she was flat on her back for a second time. He struck her two more times with his axe. The second axe blow struck her in her veiled head, and there was an awful crunching sound.

   Stepping behind Kytharrah, Hakam laid his hands on him. "Anachtyr grant you the strength of a bull," he said.

   "But I am a bull," Kytharrah protested. His thought was interrupted when the mummy at his feet moved. Shockingly, she was still "alive". As she murmured something, a sphere of dark energy was forming around her hand. He silenced her with a final swing that cut her head off. Her moving hands went limp, and the dark energy vanished.

   Just then, the third mummy appeared in the cloud, just on the other side of Hakam. She swung her heavy mace at the cleric, but he deflected it with his own shield. Bursts of magic rippled around her, coming from Solisar, but she seemed unaffected by them, and the amulet about her neck glowed. Then, a cone of fire lit up the cloud around her and engulfed her, and the fire singed Kytharrah's fur as well. The mummy's bandages caught fire and blackened but then seemed to go out again, as if some magic quenched the flames.

   "Move, you big oaf!" shouted Szordrin, from somewhere in the mist. "You are blocking me. I almost scorched you with that spell."

   "Okay," Kytharrah said. He jumped over the crushed and decapitated priestess at his hooves and now was behind the standing mummy, flanking her with Hakam on the other side. Hakam stabbed his sword toward her face, and as she avoided the attack, she opened herself up to a swing from Kytharrah. He took her down, nearly cutting her in half, as the blade cleaved through the charred bandages of her waist below the chain shirt.

   Back outside the cloud, the skeleton minotaur was upon Leokas, swinging its axe in a wide arc. The elf spun to avoid the swing, but the corner of the blade tore into his back, over his right shoulder blade. Leokas yelled out in pain and anger and continued his spin, while drawing another arrow. The shot blew apart the minotaur's hand, spraying carpal bones in all directions, and the axe fell to the ground. A second arrow caused the beast to crumble apart, and the bones lay still.

   Within the cloud, Szordrin evoked another cone of searing flame into the mist, seeking blindly for the third priestess.

   "Anachtyr, show me those who follow the path of evil," Hakam prayed. After a few seconds, he reported, "They are all destroyed." He immediately hustled out of the mist deeper into the cavern beyond where the mummies had been guarding.

   Leokas called back in answer to Hakam's report. "They are not all destroyed; I hear more skeletons down this tunnel."

   The mist faded away then, and Szordrin saw the missing body of the third mummy, the one first targeted by Hakam's holy magic, now burned to a charred crisp by the wizard's earlier magical attack.

   As the mist dissipated, so did the utter despair that the mummy's glance had laid upon Belvin. With a feral yell, a scimitar of fire grew from his clenched fist, and he ran toward the three fallen mummies and began hacking at them in rage.

   "Belvin, they are fallen," Leokas called. "Save your rage for the remaining foes." He nocked two arrows. "Kytharrah, go after the remaining skeletons. They are this way."

   Kytharrah and Belvin obeyed and came back to where Leokas stood in the other passage, the one which they had not yet explored. Hakam stood in his place, watching for if any other foes would appear in the greater darkness of the wide chamber that opened up beyond where the mummies had stood. Likewise, Szrodrin stood guard at the tunnel down which they had originally come here. He created several mirror image illusions of himself, just in case.

   The rest moved after the remaining skeletons that Leokas had heard. "I believe that Hakam's rebuke drove them this way," he explained to the others. As they looked about in the dim light of the torch Solisar still carried, they saw cracked anvils, broken forges, and wrecked weapon racks scattered in a mess about the tunnel, which varied in width from five to twelve yards.

   Kytharrah bounded forward, smelling something dead up ahead. After about 20 yards, he came upon another skeleton, as it stepped out of the shadows behind what was once a functional bellows. It swung at him.

   "Hello," said Kytharrah, swinging his axe in return and leaving a notch in its sternum.

   A rolling ball of fire and three missiles of magic, sent from Belvin and Solisar, respectively, crashed into the animated bones. Leokas ran up and loosed his two arrows. The one disconnected an arm from its socket, and the second punctured a thigh bone. The whole thing fell apart in a clatter.

   As the elf continued running forward, he nocked another arrow. He stopped suddenly and looked back, because he noticed that Kytharrah was no longer with him. The young minotaur was instead following Belvin's rolling sphere of fire as it headed over to the left wall from its earlier momentum.

   "Guiding light!" Kytharrah happily exclaimed.

   Leokas rolled his eyes at the absurd behavior, but he could work with this. "Belvin," he shouted. "Send the sphere up this tunnel to the left."

   Belvin nodded, understanding, and waved his hands and pointed. The ball of fire rolled further down the tunnel and then to the left, where the wide passage narrowed and forked. The tunnel lit up, allowing Leokas to spot two more minotaur skeletons, which were just standing there, turned away by the power of Hakam's earlier rebuke. The first jumped to the side to avoid being struck by the flaming sphere, but here came Kytharrah, rushing after it with a huge grin. He paused to defend against an attack from the one skeleton and returned two swings and a gore, which caused it to tumble apart like a tower of wooden blocks.

   Leokas followed behind, sending two arrows into the center of the remaining skeleton's skull. It cracked in the middle, and the weight of the massive horns ripped the top of the skull in two, and the horns clattered on the ground. The nearly headless skeleton staggered about, but it still managed to jump over the rolling ball of fire as it passed by at Belvin's direction.

   "Finish it, Kytharrah!" shouted Leokas.

   The minotaur charged at full speed and crashed horns-first into the undead monster, sending its bones flying in all directions.

   "Now, stay dead," said Belvin.

   They paused to catch their breath, and only now did their brains allow them to feel the intense pain of their wounds. Belvin and Leokas had clothes soaked in blood. "It appears that Allu lost soundly," said Leokas, as he hunched over gasping. "These must be the remains of El Sadhara's forces."

   "Was that all of them?" asked Solisar. "I cannot see any magic auras about."

   As if in answer, Solisar and Belvin heard Szordrin's voice whispering faintly. "Come back at once! Hakam has found more skeletons!"
Session: 96th Game Session - Wednesday, Nov 15 2017 from 7:00 PM to 10:00 PM
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Chapter 5 — Carnage
"It is worth it for us to keep going forward in the dark, if we can manage it again," said Hakam.

   "I agree," said Solisar. "There is a slight chance that an alarm has not yet been sounded, if we are still far enough away from the main caverns of this 'palace'."

   So they continued for a bit farther as they had been doing before, with Szordrin walking quietly on the ceiling ahead with Kytharrah below him, while the others stayed a good distance farther back. The tiefling and the minotaur rounded an S-curve, and the others stopped and waited for a report. Szordrin could see that the passage widened ahead of them significantly, but it was hard for him to make out many details, as darkvision perceived differences in warmth, and most everything in this damp cavern was cool. There was some debris scattered all over the cave floor ahead, which did not seem natural. Some of it was reflective.

   He heard Kytharrah sniff and glanced directly down, that is, tilting his head back. His furred companion tapped his nose and flared his nostrils. Szordrin climbed down the wall to meet him. "Weird food and dead things," Kytharrah whispered, pointing deeper into the tunnel ahead.

   "Wait here," said the wizard. "Stand guard." He walked along the floor back to Solisar and the others and reported what Kytharrah had smelled.

   "'Weird food,'" said Belvin. "He means spices. He smells the Calishite mummy."

   "I agree with Belvin's assessment," said Hakam. "El Sadhara's perfumes were overwhelming. Does this mean that she is still here?"

   "In any case," said Szordrin, "the path immediately ahead is clear; it is safe to advance. I cannot make out things very clearly, even with my darkvision; we will need to risk a light."

   They moved around the bend. "Solisar, the torch," said Hakam. The elf came closer to the cleric, and the light revealed several splotches of dark, dried blood on the stone floor and wall. Bones were scattered everywhere, mixed with sundered weapons, shields, and armor.

   Leokas picked up a severed bone. "A thigh bone, I think," said Leokas, "but much too large to be a hobgoblin or even a bugbear. It is also very old, completely clean."

   "This is a human skull, is it not?" said Szordrin, pointing.

   Kytharrah had found a very large skull with horns, with a similar curve to his own. A minotaur. What had killed it? He glanced around nervously and sniffed.

   "Pajabbar," said Hakam, remembering the fact that el Sadhara had undead minotaurs in her service, the animated remains of the shock troops from Calim's armies.

   "Can you do anything about these bones before they are reanimated again?" Solisar asked Hakam.

   "We could grind them all to dust," he answered, "but I do not think that we have the time for that. I can certainly destroy them if they do become animated. You need not fear skeletons when in my presence."

   "Why are you still holding that skull?" asked Szordrin of Kytharrah.

   Kytharrah snapped off a horn and slid it behind the belt of his kilt, the one sewn for him by Ilthian. "Remember," said Kytharrah.

   Belvin gave him a large smile. For once, someone else in the party was collecting trophies.

   "I am going to scout farther ahead," said Szordrin. "Wait here." Kytharrah drew his axe and continued glancing around nervously with ears perked.

   Leokas motioned Kytharrah over. "Smell this," the wood elf ordered, indicating a large patch of dried blood on a large stone.

   "Goblin smell," said Kytharrah.

   "As I suspected," said Leokas.

   "We know that an undead army was seen coming this way by our dragon friend," said Solisar. "This carnage must be the result of the battle that was fought."

   "Yes," said Hakam, "these are 'dead' skeletons from her army. She had both human and minotaur skeletons. I recall that they were too stupid to even warn her of our presence when we entered the mummy's lair."

   "Where are the goblin bodies?" asked Belvin. "Were they victorious?"

   Szordrin had not been long. "Nothing at all down this first tunnel," he said. "It narrows after 20 yards or so and is impassible beyond that." Two more tunnels branched off from this cavern chamber where the battle had taken place. Szordrin went off down the second. The others continued examining the broken weapons. Some of them were goblin weapons, Leokas was convinced; some of the others were ancient looking, and Hakam was sure that they were Calishite craftsmanship.

   They also examined the structure of the chamber. The wall to their left was not a true wall; it was a row of massive boulders and thick columns with a few gaps between, but there were several spots where one might squeeze through to the other side.

   Szordrin came back again. "There is something moving just ahead, perhaps about 50 feet down the tunnel."

   "Fifty feet?" said Hakam. "Surely it will have heard us?"

   "It is humanoid, larger than a human," said Szordrin.

   "Bugbears, then," said Hakam. "They are larger." Leokas nodded in agreement.

   "I shall get a better report," said Szordrin, "but first a little magic." He recited the final words of an incantation and became invisible.

   Belvin drew his magic scimitar, and Leokas his bow. Kytharrah began wandering toward the other end of the chamber, where the final tunnel began. "Come back!" Hakam hissed at him.

   The minotaur obeyed. "Weird food is that way," he explained, once he returned to Hakam's side.

   Solisar was startled when he heard a whisper to his right. "Eight bugbears. Three of them are lying down. They are in a large chamber with no other exits. Lots of bedrolls and supplies scattered about. I was not detected."

   "They must be deaf," muttered Hakam. "We have been loud and not careful enough with our lights."

   "Can you shape the walls to trap them in?" came Szordrin's whispers again. "As we did with the Red Worm?"

   "I did not ask Thard Harr for such power this morning," said Belvin.

   "Nor is it in my power today either," said Hakam.

   "Did you not know that we would be entering a cave?" said Szordrin's voice.

   "I do, however, have the power to create a wall of stone from nothing," said Hakam, smiling. "My magics have somewhat improved since the last time we have been underground."

   "These are mere goblins;" said Leokas, "we do not need magic! I can drop one per arrow and can loose 30 arrows per minute."

   "It only takes a matter of seconds to sound an alarm," said Szordrin. "We may not have a minute."

   "If there are only eight, I do not even need half a minute," protested Leokas.

   "You may be overconfident," said Hakam. "Bugbears are larger than normal goblins or even hobgoblins."

   "I have slain goblins, hobgoblins, and bugbears alike," said Leokas.

   "I repeat," said Szordrin, "all it takes is for one to raise an alarm. Who knows how large the hordes of Allu are."

   "Or were," said Belvin. "We still do not know which of our foes were victorious in this battle." He motioned at all of the bones and blood around them.

   "Bugbears are not very smart," said Hakam. "They would have to have an elaborate system set up to sound an alarm to another part of this cavern complex, would they not?"

   "To be fair, goblins are tricky, though," admitted Leokas. "They often do have traps and mechanisms for sounding alarms to others in their caves. My argument is that I could down all eight before they could respond, so it matters not."

   "Your skill at the bow is the greatest ever I have seen," said Hakam. "Nevertheless, I have seen you miss. No, it might be better for us to explore a bit more before acting. I am concerned about what lies on the other side of these columns here."

   "I could send Ferry," said Szordrin. "He is as invisible as I and even more stealthy."

   So Ferry scurried through one of the tiny gaps between the thick stone columns of the wall behind them, though none of them could see this. They all stood ready for an attack as they waited for Szordrin to speak again. After several minutes, they heard some squeaking and assumed that Ferry must have returned. "Ferry says that there are several more wide passages on the other side. Directly on the other side was an area with a great amount of rubble, like the cavern had collapsed there. When he went to the left, he found a place with smelly food and kitchen tools. When he came back and continued down the right path, the tunnel forked, but he could see 'built things' and tools and such. He did not see anything alive, but there were more bones and more blood. He did not want to be gone too long, lest I worry, so he came back as quickly as he could and did not explore all of the tunnels."

   "Let us decide what to do then?" said Belvin, who was growing impatient. "Clearly, the mummy was victorious here. We came for the fire genie, not the mummy."

   "These bugbears might not be loyal to Allu," suggested Hakam. "Perhaps they defected. Maybe that is why el Sadhara's troops spared them. Or maybe that is why they have not attacked."

   "Perhaps it is best to capture and interrogate them then," said Szordrin.

   "Play?" asked Kytharrah.

   "We only need capture one alive," said Leokas.

   "The only reason why I am hesitant," said Hakam, "is that they are not attacking."

   "They do not know that we are here!" said Leokas. "Otherwise, the fiends would be upon us."

   "Bored!" said Kytharrah.

   "I do not know," said Hakam. "Something is not right."

   "Go speak with them then!" said Leokas. "Shout out for a parley. They will try to kill you in response."

   "I will advance to speak with them," said Hakam. "If any come at me, I will be ready to create a wall of stone, but I will leave a gap at the top. You can pick them off if they try to climb over the top."

   "Goblin blood will fall," said Leokas.

   Hakam enchanted his tongue to speak Ghukliak, and then they all advanced. All of them walked down the middle of the tunnel, and the magic torch that Solisar held lit the stone enough that it would have been impossible for the bugbears not to notice, yet none came out to meet them. "Foul creatures and servants of evil," called Hakam in the Goblin tongue, "you will speak with us as we will, or you shall meet swift deaths."

   There was no response. They could see the five standing bugbears now; the nearest was just over ten yards away. They did not even turn. The smell from the room ahead was awful.

   Then, Hakam took one more step closer, and it was as if this triggered some signal, for all five standing bugbears suddenly turned, raised their arms in front of them and began approaching, while making deep moaning sounds. One of the bugbears was missing an eye. Another's arm was only half attached. A third had a deep gash in its skull, its pointed ear dangling.

   "Zombies," said Solisar.

   "Leokas, how flammable are bugbears?" asked Belvin in Elvish. Not waiting for an answer, he began chanting.

   "This is not worth your magic nor my arrows," said Leokas. "They already have a fate worse than death."

   Hakam reached for his holy symbol and began praying, but the first undead bugbear was nearly upon him, shambling forward, morningstar in hand. Szordrin became visible, as he drew his dagger and swatted the bugbear's large, festering hand away from touching Hakam. Then, a column of fire erupted upon the bugbears, but Belvin's spell did not stop their advance, though it scorched black much of their rotting skin. "A wall betwixt us!" shouted Hakam, and instantly there was a thin wall of granite between them and the undead goblinoids. The wall left a five foot gap between it and the ceiling fifteen feet above.

   They could hear the creatures clawing and scratching against the stone on the other side, combined with their pitiful moaning.

   "It is a shame that the wall does not block their stench," said Belvin.

   "Well, we will not be interrogating these," said Leokas. "Let us go." He turned to walk away.

   "They had a large chest," said Szordrin. "It could contain valuables."

   "Feel free to go retrieve it, then."

   Hakam held up his holy symbol. "Anachtyr rebuke all of you," he said confidently, speaking toward the wall that he created, as Szordrin spider-climbed up the natural wall to the ceiling. "It worked, Hakam," Szordrin called down. "They are all cowering in the far corner."

   "Be quick then," said Hakam.

   Szordrin had a scroll out and tried to read from it, but he nearly lost his grip on the ceiling in the casting. The scroll dropped to the ground, its words fading into nothing. "Curse this mithral shirt!" he cried. "They are turning around," he then reported.

   "Anachtyr rebuke you!" Hakam repeated.

   "Minotaur, climb the wall!" commanded Szordrin.

   Kytharrah, delighted to be needed, was over the wall in seconds and landed firmly on his hooves on the other side.

   "Get the chest!"

   The minotaur obeyed. The large chest was nothing for him to carry, and he slung it over one of his broad shoulders.

   "Behind you!" called down Szordrin.

   Kytharrah spun around and stuck one of the zombies with his axe one-handed. It practically exploded into decaying body parts. A few moments later, Kytharrah set the chest down on the other side of the wall again before the others.

   Solisar examined the chest for traps, and when he found none, Szordrin opened it. There was a large amount of gold and silver coins inside. Mixed in were a couple items as well: a jar of oil and an ivory bust of an ugly female bugbear goddess or shaman.

   Szordrin handed his wand of magic detection to Solisar. "Use this and see if these are magical."

   The jar of oil was, emitting a transmutation aura. The bust had no aura, but ivory sold for a good prize in most places. They had Kytharrah carry the chest back to the rowboat. In the meantime, they returned to the S-curve of the tunnel, where they had first entered the larger chamber with all of the bones and dried blood, and they waited, taking this chance to eat some rations and drink from their waterskins.

   "Do you think that the minotaur could move that boulder over there for us to pass through to where Ferry went?" asked Hakam.

   "I do not think even a minotaur could move that stone," said Leokas.

   "When he returns," said Solisar, "we should continue down that remaining tunnel, once again dousing our light."

   "I am beginning to believe that nothing is left alive in this cave," said Hakam. "No doubt, el Sadhara zombified any survivors and commanded the undead to stand guard. They have no minds, so they cannot go beyond their precise orders. That is why they only attacked once we stepped into the exact area that they were instructed to defend."

   "Presummably, we shall find Allu's chamber nevertheless and with it some clues regarding Samber," said Solisar hopefully.

   When Kytharrah finally returned, panting like a dog from his excursion, they had him try to push the boulder. Indeed, he could not budge it. So, they readied themselves. Szordrin once again took his place on the ceiling among the stalactites, and Kytharrah moved forward below him sniffing, while the others held back, waiting for a signal.

   The remaining tunnel immediately turned sharply to the right, running almost parrallel to the one heading to the bugbears' chamber. On the left side, there were occasional openings, and Kytharrah peeked through to see another spatious chamber on the other side, but these cracks in the wall were not large enough for him or even a smaller human to pass through. He was able to spot a weapon rack on the other side, but it had been knocked over, and the spears were scattered on the ground.

   With each step down this tunnel, the smell of "weird food" grew more intense to his nose. It was a variety of smells, some of which he had smelled on some human or elven women, but others were definitely more food-like.

   After nearly 100 feet, the tunnel gradually curved to the left, narrowing slightly to a width of about ten feet. Here, there was an opening in the left wall. Beyond that, about 40 feet from him, Kytharrah saw three humanoids, standing in a row. They were curvy, like the females of many races, but their faces were veiled, so he could not be sure. Whoever or whatever they were, they each wore chain shirts and silken pants and sleeves. They had thin cloaks upon their shoulders and bore a pair of amulets about their necks. They each carried a large metal shield and a heavy mace.

   Kytharrah raised his axe in defense.

   The three figures did not charge, but one of them called out in a loud, feminine voice.

   Farther down the tunnel behind Kytharrah, Hakam, still under the influence of his tongues spell, understood the shout as a single word.

   "Rise!"
Session: 95th Game Session - Wednesday, Oct 25 2017 from 7:00 PM to 10:00 PM
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Chapter 5 — The Back Door
~ sixth-day, 6th of Hammer, The Year of Rogue Dragons, afternoon
Sea of Swords


The spelljammer splashed down in the waves west of great cliffs that formed the edge of Calimshan. Nearby was the remains of a shipwreck, its rotting mass still jutting out of the water, a sign of the rocks hidden below. Kytharrah dropped their anchors. Solisar did not have the power to make the whole vessel invisible; they prayed to their gods that the dragon would not patrol over the ocean while they were away. Ilthian, who remained aboard, would be safe from scrying below deck, but she would be helpless if a dragon landed on the deck and crashed its head and neck through the planks to find her. Belvin wanted to stay aboard, having little interest in the fire genie, but the others convinced him to come. He agreed, provided that they would return to the boat and Kamil soon.

   As they had done last Mirtul, the six adventurers all crammed into one of their small rowboats and began making their way toward the shallow entrance of a sea cave in the cliff. The tide was relatively low, and there was a narrow strip of land at the base of the cliff leading to the cave entrance. When last they had come to this "back door" to Yrevkethend's lair and Allu's palace, they had had to find a small inlet under an outcropping in the cliff to wait out the tide. Tymora had worked things out better for them this time, and they did not need to wait long before there was a walk-able sand "pathway". They tied up the rowboat in the same lee as before and set out.

   Ducking, they entered the cave entrance, which was only five feet high but about thirty wide. At first, the floor was covered with sand, sloping downward, before being replaced with endless barnacles, which crunched under their feet and hooves. The passage narrowed but also grew higher, so that even Kytharrah could no longer touch the ceiling.

   It was chilly in the cave, and water was dripping on them from the ceiling, as if it were raining. Kytharrah sniffed, taking in the smell of crabs, dead sea creatures, and salt.

   Each noisy step was disturbing to Szordrin, who was well aware that a dragon, with exceptional hearing, lived deeper within. "Remind me why we are even here again?" he asked. "What does this have to do with Walker or Samber?"

   "We have discussed this numerous times," said Hakam. "Finding Allu may be a good way to find Samber or at least learn what connection they have."

   "The Rock of Bral would have been a safer bet."

   "We will go there soon enough," said Hakam. "I have my suspicions that Allu is allied with or was summoned by Samber. We know that he has summoned other evil fiends, and we know his great interest in experimenting with other genies. We now have the power to find out and should not waste our opportunity."

   "The dragon never detected us when we last came this way," said Leokas, "if that is your concern. She lairs much deeper in the cave."

   "Sseth told us that Allu's palace is at least a mile from the cliffs," said Solisar. "This cave is massive and we have a long way to travel."

   "It is growing darker now," said Hakam. "Recall that I cannot see as well in the dark as the rest of you. If I recall, that means the fork in the tunnel should be soon where we can head up to Allu and away from the dragon's lair. We need to decide on a plan. Do we boldly march in and demand an audience? Or are we trying to remain undetected?"

   "If we were demanding an audience with the efreeti, would we not have used the front door?" said Solisar. "We are scouting things out first, especially if this mummy of which you have spoken to me has her forces here. Shall I turn all of us invisible?"

   "We should wait until we encounter any enemies, rather than waste the magic," said Hakam.

   "We cannot use any light if we wish to remain undetected," said Szordrin.

   "The corners of the cavern will block the light from traveling far, provided that it twists enough," said Leokas. "These walls are not very reflective."

   So they had Kytharrah withdraw his everburning torch. The light revealed a fork in the path ahead, just as Hakam had remembered. One tunnel went up, while the other twisted down. The tunnel that ascended was significantly narrower than the one leading down. They knew that the smaller tunnel led to Allu.

   Szordrin poked his head up the smaller tunnel and saw that it actually grew larger rather quickly after a short distance to be about a dozen feet in width and nearly twice that in height.

   "I will scout ahead, then," said Szordrin, looking back at the others, "walking on the ceiling. Kytharrah can follow a distance behind me, since he can also see in the darkness. If I spot any activity, I shall signal back to him, and then the rest of you can take action to hide any lights."

   This seemed as good a plan as any. So Kytharrah handed his "guiding light" to Solisar, and Szordrin cast his spell and climbed the wall up to the ceiling by his four limbs and began moving forward among the stalactites. "Tracks," said Leokas, bending down and noticing a pattern in the broken barnacles that none of the rest of them would have been able to spot. "Hobgoblins stepped on these barnacles."

   Kytharrah bent down and sniffed them.

   "Minotaur, you are supposed to be following behind Szordrin, not sniffing things," said Hakam.

   Kytharrah bounded forward.

   Thankfully, they soon climbed above the level of the water at high tide, and so the barnacles vanished. The ground was still a bit damp, but the "raining" also ceased.

   The tunnel continued relatively straight for what seemed like forever, reminding Belvin and Leokas of one of their earlier adventures together. They walked perhaps thirty minutes at a gradual incline. "So much for twisting tunnels blocking our light," said Belvin. Finally, however, the tunnel did begin to curve to the right and then again to the left, and Szordrin disappeared from their sight around the corner. Hakam took this moment to call on Anachtyr to grant him the ability to sense his environment without the need for his eyes, just in case Szordrin signaled back that they needed to douse their light. It proved to be a wise decision.

   The tunnel finished its ess curve and then made another. Kytharrah was just about to round the second corner, when Hakam could "hear" the incorporeal shape of someone or something next to the minotaur.

   "Minotaur! To your left!" he shouted.

   Leokas reacted to this before even Kytharrah did, loosing two arrows to the left of their friendly beast in hopes of striking whatever invisible enemy Hakam had sensed. The arrows were deflected into the wall of the passage as if blown by a strong gale. Moments later, two gusts of wind in rapid succession struck Leokas with an extreme force, knocking him back and nearly off his feet.

   With a firm command, Solisar enchanted his own eyes, and Belvin yelled out a jungle call, followed by pointing toward Leokas. The wood elf began to glow with a red aura. So did his invisible opponent, an only vaguely humanoid shape. The red-glowing foe was struck from above by several bursts of magical force from Szordrin's fingertips.

   "Anachtyr protect us!" shouted Hakam, while holding his shield ready.

   Now able to see the outline of the foe, Kytharrah charged with his axe to rescue his elven friend, swinging into the red aura. He struck something at least partly solid, almost spongy. Whatever it was, it had no odor at all. It moved quickly. He hit it a second time with his axe, but when he swung his large head down to catch it with its horns, it had moved too far away. Two arrows flew wildly, as Leokas jumped backward and tried to fight back, but two more blasts of invisible force struck him, and he dropped to his knees, with the wind knocked out of him, and gasped for air.

   Solisar waved his arms, sending a magical burst through the tunnel, and the red aura vanished, or rather dissipated, into nothing. The short battle was over.

   Kytharrah helped his red-glowing friend to his feet, and Belvin and Hakam rushed over to heal him with their magics.

   "Thank you," said Leokas. "I can breathe now. What manner of creature was that?"

   "An elemental from the Plane of Air," said Solisar. "To me, it appeared like an amorphous cloud. Belvin's faerie fire was a brilliant idea."

   Belvin nodded.

   "A stalker," said Szordrin. "Did not you others face one before I joined you?"

   "I would rather not recall it," said Hakam. "It broke my leg."

   "Was this an accidental encounter then?" asked Szordrin. "Or has it been stalking us this whole time?"

   "We would have noticed earlier," said Belvin. "It was guarding the entrance."

   "The last one certainly had been stalking us," said Hakam. "It spoke as much in its tongue. Mythlos could speak Auran. It was sent by El Sadhara."

   "It is at least possible that it is in fact the same one," said Solisar. "You cannot kill such a being unless on its native plane. It may have come back to finish its mission or been summoned by her a second time."

   "I agree that it is probably one of the mummy's minions," said Hakam, "but I suspect that Belvin is correct that it was here to guard the back entrance, not to pursue us in general. She only followed us to get to Samber, and she has him."

   "If that is the case," said Solisar, "it suggests that she has conquered the hobgoblins and Allu."
Session: 94th Game Session - Wednesday, Aug 30 2017 from 7:30 PM to 10:30 PM
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