While the adventurers had managed to open CAERULEUM’s WATER PORTAL to FARRAGO, not all had yet managed to step through. Dumplin Ages the Halfling Barbarian, Shelby the Rakshasa Sorcerer, Davroar Hollysword the Cleric of the Mad God Moriarty, Meldor Ironforge the Dwarf Wizard, Davroar Hollysword the Cleric of the Mad God Moriarty, Acindor the Human Fighter, Acindor’s wife Melissa the Human Fighter, Eondul the Human Wizard, and Lightfingers the Elf Rogue had managed to make their exit to safety. Nathan Garney the Human Cleric of Everly had stayed behind on the PORTAL PLATFORM, hoping to offer whatever support to his remaining comrades that he could so that they might have a chance of making it to the Portal themselves. Nikolas the brass Dragonborn Fighter and Nomad the Warforged Sorcerer and Servant of Moriarty were imprisoned in a magical cage hanging from the belt of the Sister of Shettebrek who’d fought alongside the Fearless on Peacock Island. Nellson Williams the red Tiefling Artificer with a robotic left arm and his steel defender gorilla Cupcake, Kudac the Half-Orc Cleric of Baldnoggin, and Pigsnot the Elf Fighter were on the ground floor of the subterranean WAR’TODE ENCAMPMENT, fighting for their lives against ever-increasing odds.
War on the Ground
The subterranean WAR’TODE ENCAMPMENT was in a state of complete chaos. As the armies of the undead poured out of the TEMPLE OF WANJO, fewer and fewer War’todes remained alive. In fact, at recent count only two frogres remained to guard Big Big Boss Gilderwart and one of those was unceremoniously snatched up in the tentacles of a froghemoth, who promptly bit the froge’s head off and spit it to the side. Snizzle the drunken Cleric of Kroakatoa flew nearby his “pet” froghemoth (whom the former supposed was the Avatar of Kroakatoa), reveling in the carnage. Recently freed prisoners captured to be sacrificed as tribute to War’t, god of the War’todes, found themselves being slaughtered by undead fiends, particularly by a zombie ogre who dispatched them with thoughtless malice.
A zombie tyrannosaur had crashed down into their midst from a high ledge, having been tossed from the PORTAL PLATFORM by the breath weapon of a young dragon the adventurers had befriended. Through a series of unfortunate mishaps, Pigsnot found himself dangling upside-down from the side of the z-rex when it rose to its feet from the crash landing. A zombie hand from some previous victim thrust through the z-rex’s side from inside the zombie dinosaur’s belly had a firm grip on the elf fighter’s ankle. Fortunately, the undead monster lost its footing on the loose boards of the prisoner cages. As it fell, it kicked Cupcake hard, knocking him several feet away. Still, this was an improvement to being pinned beneath the z-rex’s foot when it lay prone.
Pigsnot used the zombie tyrannosaur’s momentum to swing up to land on his feet. Slicing off the zombie hand that held him at the wrist, he leapt from the dinosaur’s body with elven grace, somersaulting to a perfect landing. The zombie hand was flung free of his ankle during the maneuver.
Kudac swung his hammer at a ghoul in his path, knocking the top of its skull completely off and killing it instantly. Cupcake followed his lead, grabbing it by the leg and slamming it to the ground like a living warclub. The impact with the ground bashed in the ghoul’s head like a ripe cantaloupe. Nellson fired an arrow at the zombie-tyrannosaur, hoping to keep it down. Atop the PORTAL PLATFORM, Nathan Garney aided Nellson by casting sacred flame down on the z-rex too.
Stirred by their actions, one of the prisoners dodged the zombie ogre’s blood-covered warclub and stabbed the undead brute upward through the stomach. It didn’t stop the zombie monster, but it did give the creature pause.
While he’d escaped the zombie tyrannosaur, when reached the bottom of the stairs to the PORTAL PLATFORM, Pigsnot found his way blocked by a fr’ogre and BIG BIG BOSS GILDERWART. Desperate to get to the Portal, he attempted to stab the fr’ogre from behind but the creature outpaced him.
Cupcake decided to climb up the wall to reach the upper end of the stairwell ahead of the Big Big Boss and the fr’ogre. He managed the climb easily, but the fr’ogre lunged at him and grabbed his simian metal ankle, preventing him from reaching the PORTAL PLATFORM. Nellson cast ray of frost at their enemies. The Big Big Boss ducked under the spell, but Pigsnot and fr’ogre took the brunt of the spell. The fr’ogre was swooning unsteadily on the stairs at the end of the spell. Nathan Garney cast sacred flame on the distressed creature, but it still managed to stay on its feet.
On the Other Side
Eondul groaned in misery where he lay on the other side of CAERULEUM’s WATER PORTAL to FARRAGO. His wounds were many and he was having a hard time fighting off unconsciousness. “Anybody have a healing potion?” he asked, his lips dry.
Melissa quickly tugged a potion out of her pouches and handed it to him. He felt a wave of relief as the liquid sloshed down his throat. He stood to his feet and noticed the winged Finder for the first time. The strange servant of B.O.B. looked like a shield with one big eye in the center and many wings. None of the others seemed to be paying it much mind, especially not Dumplin Ages, who was attempting to feed her displacer kitten, Princess Dracula. The problem was that it was difficult to determine where exactly the beast was, so when she went to shove a dead rabbit in its mouth, she inadvertently poked in in the eye. She received a nasty bite for her efforts. She decided that perhaps Princess Dracula was full for the time being.
The Finder took notice of Acindor for the first time. The creature’s eye glowed red as it announced, “Fugitive! Fugitive Fugitive!”
Knowing he was speaking with a representative of B.O.B., god of death and lost items, Acindor addressed the outsider god. “Almighty B.O.B., why are you here?”
“You failed,” B.O.B. answered through the Finder. There was no mistaking the deep timbre of the voice of B.O.B.
Acindor licked his lips. He’d made a deal with B.O.B. when he’d died as Bofril Greybender the Dwarf Fighter. In return for using the husk of Acindor, he’d agreed to steal the party’s star sapphire and kill himself to return it to B.O.B. in order to thwart Moriarty’s plan to open CAERULEUM’s WATER PORTAL to FARRAGO. It was all Acindor could do to keep from glancing behind him at the open Portal.
“I did fail, but it wasn’t for a lack of trying,” Acindor said.
The Finder’s eye narrowed and suddenly Acindor felt the entity’s mind invading his mind. The Finder’s search cut into his memories like a sharp plow through a soft field. When it released Acindor, he was certain it knew everything. It knew that he’d not only failed to grab the star sapphire when he’d had the chance but actually aided and abetted the others’ efforts to open the portal with Moriarty’s favored cleric as an accomplice.
“Traitor!” B.O.B. accused as the Finder unfurled its wings and soared into the heights of the chamber.
Thinking quickly, Acindor said, “B.O.B., do you have a Champion for the Gotternacht Games?”
“You offer yourself?” B.O.B. asked. There was no mistaking the dark amusement in his voice.
“Your offer comes too late,” B.O.B. said. “Behold, the Champion of B.O.B.”
Acindor’s mind was immediately filled with a vision of a monstrous creature, a golem which seemed to be made from the earth and monuments of a graveyard.
“Behold, Charnel the Expurgator of B.O.B.,” the outsider god said. “Even if I had no Champion, you are already beholden to another. B.O.B.’s Champion looks forward to meeting the Champion of Hero in the Gotternacht Games, where your soul will be forfeit.”
“So let it be written. So let it be done,” Acindor said.
“Then you agree to this trial-by-combat for all to see?” the Finder asked.
“Sure,” Acindor said. He didn’t like his odds against the Expurgator, but he got the feeling that the Finder had been about to summarily execute him. It seemed that B.O.B. wanted to make a public example of him.
The Finder floated off making contented bobobobobobob noises to itself, leaving them to wonder if Acindor had made the right decision.
Birds in a Cage
Nikolas the brass Dragonborn Fighter and Nomad the Warforged Sorcerer were still held captive in the magical cage they’d been transported into by the Sister of Shettebrek’s arcane arrows. The arrows had also shrunken them to the size of the little bird cage the half-goblin kept hanging from her waist. Nikolas took a quick survey of the unfurnished cage and took note of the cage’s door for the first time. The lock sported a keyhole the size of his fist but he could see no apparent key immediately evident on the assassin’s person. Determined to get free of the magical cage, he stomped over toward it and gave it a hard kick.
“Hey the cage is open!” Nikolas told his fellow captive. He was chagrined at how high-pitched and tiny his voice sounded in his shrunken form.
Nomad shook his head. “The second we step outside this cage, she’s going to stomp on us,” Nomad said. “I mean, how do we have any guarantee that we won’t still be this size when we exit this cage?”
“Maybe, but there’s only one real way to find out,” Nikolas said, “and we can’t stay in here forever.”
This seemed reasonable to Nomad. They both stepped to the threshold of the open door. For the first time, the realized that given their size, the drop was the equivalent of a five story fall. Nikolas looked at the Warforged shrewdly, trying to determine whether he could convince the other to make the leap of faith ahead of him. The metal man seemed sturdy enough. They were both rather large, so only one of them could pass through at a time. Of course, it was always possible that the cage itself was making them small and that they’d pop out of the cage instantaneously returned to their actual size. In the end, he decided to make the jump himself, unwilling to
He took a moment to check on their captor. She seemed focused on lining up her next shot.
Taking a deep breath, Nikolas leapt out of the cage. He was immediately sorry. The five story drop loomed before him. He flailed in the entrance, trying to reverse his foolhardy decision somehow and only managed to kick the cage door shut behind him, locking Nomad back in!
Fortunately, the cage’s magical effects began losing their hold on him the second he left the door. He grew rapidly in size as he fell so that he was the size of a human child when he hot the ground. Oddly, he bounced. When his feet hit the floor for the second time, he was back to his normal size.
Overjoyed at his luck, he exclaimed, “I can’t believe that worked!” He reveled in the timbre of his normal-sounding voice.
And then remembered the half-goblin assassin. He turned around slowly, willing her not to have heard his outburst. Of course, she had an arrow nocked and trained on him.
“How did you get out of your cage, little bird?” she asked. She took a glance down at the cage on her hip and saw that the door was shut and Nomad was still safely secured. She returned her glare to Nikolas. “I’m trying to save you.”
He held up his hands. “I’m being honest. I kicked the door open. I jumped. I bounced.”
“So why shouldn’t I just shoot you and return you to the cage?”
“I can help you.”
She lowered her bow. “Fine. You’re out. How can you help me?”
“Well, what are you trying to accomplish?”
“I’m trying to get you guys out of harm’s way because, frankly, I don’t think you’re gonna survive. Besdies you owe us and dead men can’t pay up.”
“OK, so what was your plan?”
“My plan was to put you all in this cage and get you out.”
“OK, fine. What would help you speed things along?”
She spat. “Short of asking them to stand still?”
“I can do that,” he said brightly. He moved to the edge of the ledge and spotted Kudac down on the battlefield. “Stand still!” he yelled at the top of his draconic lungs.
“Why would I stand still?” the half-goblin assassin asked.
Nikolas suppressed a groan, realizing he’d acted without bothering to tell her the plan. “That one,” he said, pointing to Kudac. “Shoot him!”
Kudac had indeed stopped at the sound of Nikolas’ voice. He spotted the dragonborn atop the ledge they’d first surveyed the WAR’TODE ENCAMPMENT from. Then he saw the Sister of Shettebrek behind Nikolas. Kudac’s eyes widened when he realized she had her bow trained on him. What treachery was this? He dodged out of the way of her first attempt to tag him.
“Why shoot?” the half-orc called to Nikolas.
“Just trust me!”
Against his better judgment, Kudac chose to trust his comrade. The half-goblin’s arrow hurt. A moment later, he found himself shrunken to the size of a mouse in a cage on the hip of the assassin. Nomad waved at him as he tried to make sense of things.
“Don’t worry,” Nomad said in a tiny, shrill voice. “I’ll get us out of here.”
He did his best impression of Nikolas kicking the cage door. It didn’t budge.
“Kudac,” Nikolas said, his thundering from outside the cage, “first, just know that I can’t hear anything you say from inside that cage, so don’t bother.”
Kudac gave his friend a well-known obscene gesture to express his feeling on the situation.
Nikolas sniffed. “I just saved you. You would’ve been dead without my help.”
“Hi,” Nomad said in a tiny voice. “Our captor cast mute on the cage, so he’s not wrong about that part. I still have a telepathic link with her. You should know that a second ago we had that door open, but the lard rump kicked the door shut when he was jumping out. Anyway, nobody outside the cage can hear you, but if you need me to relay a telepathic message to her, I can do that,” Nomad said, “because I’m trying to convince her to let us out, but she seems dead set on us being in here.”
Kudac decided to try his luck at the door. He punched it as hard as he could, but only succeeded in bruising his knuckles.
Unconcerned with Kudac’s efforts, the half-goblin looked at Nikolas and said, “Who’s next?”
Nikolas pointed at Nellson. “Him.”
She had a clear shot at Nellson, but missed. A moment later, Nellson heard the sound of an arrow skittering across the stones of the PORTAL PLATFORM at his feet. Tracing it back to its source, he saw the assassin glaring at him as she nocked another arrow.
Nomad saw the ghoul first. Unbeknownst to them, it had been alerted to their position when Nikolas exclaimed in celebration at escaping the cage. It made its way up the ramp to attack them. Nikolas was completely unaware of it coming up the tunnel behind him.
“A ghoul!” she shouted telepathically to the assassin. “Coming up the tunnel ramp!”
Her arrow already nocked to release at Nellson, she pivoted and easily hit the ghoul before it could sink its claws into Nikolas.
Kudac and Nomad were just as surprised as the ghoul when it appeared in the cage with them. It let out a tiny screech one might expect from a kitten and lunged at Kudac. Nomad put it down before it could do any damage.
“That’ll be enough of that,” he said as he stared at the dead corpse of the ghoul. He then turned to their captor and telepathically shouted, “Now let us out!”
Recovering from the shock of an arrow passing just over his shoulder and the brief glimpse of a ghoul before it was teleported into the cage and then watching his friends defeat it, Nikolas turned his attention to their captor. “You know, that guy would really be of more use to us out here.”
“There’s no time,” she said, her head snapping toward the sounds of more undead coming from the other tunnel. It was clear that the undead forces they’d trapped behind a wall of stone in the LIBRARY of the TEMPLE OF WANJO had broken through and were coming for them. “Take my hand,” she said.
Nikolas felt the sting of an arrow and found himself in the small cage along with Kudac and Nomad.
Kudac’s eyes blazed at the sight of Nikolas, whom he fully blamed for their present predicament. He took a wild swing at the dragonborn, but lost his footing as the cage swayed back and forth on their captors hip.
Lightfingers was checking out the chamber they found themselves in. He could sense the divine energies in the air. He knew that the major Portals to FARRAGO were called God Gates because the energies stirred up by travel through the ELDERWYLD made them magnets for encounters with the gods.
He looked at Frederick, his owl familiar. “Everybody else is being picked to be a Champion in the Gotternacht Games,” he complained. “Even that stupid dwarf wizard.”
‘”You want to be a Champion?” Frederick asked.
“I do,” he said.
“For which one?”
He considered his options. “Well, I would’ve preferred Wanjo. He’s the god of the seas and CAERULEUM is my home world, after all. Plus, he doesn’t have it out for thieves like Umbra does. But Wanjo is missing, so that’s out.” Wanjo’s absence was the very reason they were even having the Games. “Most of the good ones are taken already anyway,” Lightfingers said with a sigh, “but honestly I wouldn’t care who it was at this point. I just want to be chosen as the Champion.”
His ill-chosen words got someone’s attention. A writhing mass of tentacles – no, wait! They were serpentine coils – sprouted up from the floor. A figure appeared in the room in the midst of the enormous snake coils. The face was beautiful beyond description but she had serpents for hair. It took him a moment to realize that he was staring into the face of a medusan.
Belatedly, he put his hands up in front of his face to ward off her petrifying gaze. It took him another full second to realize he wasn’t turning to stone.
“You want to be a Champion?” the goddess asked.
“Y-yes,” he replied.
“Do you know who I am?”
“You’re Medusa?” he guessed.
“No, my name is Melanctha Petralias, the goddess of apathy, boredom and depression. My followers call me Meh.”
“Um, OK. Nice to meet you.”
She sighed heavily. “So… I don’t care whether you’re my Champion or not. Go ahead if you want.”
Lightfingers pumped his fists in the air, ecstatic to have been sort of chosen as the Champion of the goddess of apathy.
Davroar frowned at him. “What are you so happy about?”
“What are you talking about? I was just chosen as the Champion of Meh!” Lightfingers said. “You all saw it.”
“If you say so,” Davroar said, rolling his eyes.
“But you all saw it, right?” the thief asked.
Frederick looked at him with a worried expression. “What were we meant to have seen?”
“I just had an audience with Meh,” he said. “She chose me as her Champion.”
The owl familiar raised an eyebrow. “Perhaps it was a private audience.”
“Perhaps it would be better if it were all in your head. I’ve had run ins with Melanctha Petralias before. She’s weirdly obsessed with the Mad God Moriarty.”
Lightfingerd snickered. “You jealous?”
Davroar scoffed. “No, but don’t you find it passing strange that the goddess of boredom and apathy is fixated on the god of chaos?”
The thief shrugged. “Maybe she gets a little too bored from time to time,” he suggested.
“Maybe,” Davroar said, “but I am certain of this: It’s time for me to leave. The World Portals are also known as God Gates for a reason. You’d best get moving unless you want a meeting with a deity you might not like.”
With a nod goodbye, Davroar began making his way toward the dockyards in the distance.
Nathan Garney and Nellson Williams were alarmed when an arrow lodged itself between them in the floor of the PORTAL PLATFORM. Seconds later, a half-goblin attired in the garb of the Sisterhood of Shettebrek appeared in place of the arrow. Nathan’s eyes widened as he recognized her as the very assassin who’d fought against them alongside the Fearless in the PEACOCK ISLAND DOCKYARDS.
She nocked at arrow and aimed it at Nellson. “Run through that PORTAL if you’d like to live.”
Hands raised, he nodded toward his steel defender. “I just need to call Cupcake and I’ll be happy to do as you say.”
Cupcake scrambled up the side of the PORTAL PLATFORM at Nellson’s summons. With a stiff nod toward the half-goblin, Nellson and the steel gorilla made their way to the PORTAL
She turned her attention toward Nathan. “You too.”
He sighed deeply and ran to the PORTAL, realizing there was nothing more he could do here anyway.
Forgotten beneath the corpses of their enemies, Pigsnot struggled to free himself. While he was unsuccessful in doing so, his cries did attract the attention of the half-goblin. Seeing his predicament, she sent a quick series of arrows into the pile, teleporting the freshly slain corpses and Pigsnot into the cage at her hip.
With a glance at the dragon hovering above her, she dashed into the PORTAL herself.
Stone Cold Crazy
When the half-goblin appeared at the top of the stairs at the other side of the PORTAL, she drew the entire party’s attention. Of course, Meldor, Acindor, and Nathan Garney knew her from their encounter with the Fearless. The others were wary of a stranger in their midst, especially since everyone they did not already know back in the WAR’TODE ENCAMPMENT had been a foe.
Before they could react, Nathan Garney heard a voice in his head, telepathically warning him that their fellow adventurers were imprisoned in a cage on the half-goblin’s hip, so it might not be in their best interests to kill her just yet.
One other person could hear these thought messages. “Release them,” the rakshasa commanded.
She shrugged. “The damage is done. They’re of no use to me as prisoners.” She opened the cage door. As he captives leapt out the door, they returned to their previous size. Seeing that something yet remained in the cage, she emptied it forcibly. The corpses of Big Big Boss Gilderwart and two fr’ogres landed at her feet and rolled grotesquely down the stairs.
“You’re all fools!” she spat. “Opening this portal has set the wheels of the Prophecy in motion. We’re all going to die now. Moriarty and Hero knew this. Thank you evermuch, heroes. When Wanjo the Wise went missing, those outsider gods saw an opportunity so they manipulated you into opening this portal so that they might have a chance of replacing him as true gods of CAERULEUM. And it does not matter that you have only managed to open the SERVICE PORTAL and not the main gate. It’s like cracking a door: a door barely cracked is still a door opened. The Prophecy now begins.”
“I am not familiar with this prophecy,” the rakshasa said. “How does this present such an opportunity?”
“I did not say that it does,” she said. “There are many interpretations of the Prophecy of the Starkiller.
“What will you do now?” the rakshasa asked.
She shrugged. “I intend to open the Main Portal so that we can at least bring in reinforcements to deal with army of undead you’ve managed to unleash upon the TEMPLE OF WANJO.”
“Why not simply close it again?”
“Because history doesn’t work that way. You can’t pretend it didn’t happen. It happened and the Prophecy is begun. This branch of history must now be dealt with.” She eyed the rakshasa curiously. “Is this your first time living through this?”
“I do not recall experiencing this before.”
She sighed wearily. “Do you know who I blame the most?” She glanced past him and jerked her head in the direction of Acindor. “Him. Acindor.” She called to him. “All you had to do was take the star sapphire and kill yourself! Would that have been so hard?”
“Is it too late to kill him now?” the rakshasa asked.
“It’s a fair question,” Acindor noted with a shrug. “In theory, if B.O.B. would still honor our pact, I could go back through the Portal, grab the star sapphire and kill myself, taking the gate key to B.O.B. in the process.”
As he began making his preparations, Nellson spoke up. “You may not have to sacrifice yourself. We could send Cupcake across. He can probably handle whatever undead forces are waiting on the other side long enough to grab the star sapphire.”
The metal gorilla stepped back through the Portal. They could see Cupcake dimly on the other side of the Portal veil. The moment he touched the star sapphire, electricity coursed through his metal body violently. A moment later he exploded.
They all stared at one another in horror.
Setting his jaw, Acindor readied his symbiotic arm blade and prepared to try his own hand at it.
“What are you doing?” the Sister of Shettebrek asked, scoffing. “Know you not that once the key stone is set in place, it can only be removed by the will of a god?”
“You know,” Shelby said, “there might be a god who would be willing to help you here. All you have to do is say the name Pazuzu thrice and the matter can be resolved.”
“Um, no,” Acindor replied dryly. He knew full well that probably wouldn’t end well for them.
Recalling that he was the Champion of Hero, Acindor called out to the bard god of heroes and storytellers.
“Yes! Yes, my Champion!” the voice of Hero responded. “How can I help you today?”
“Listen I was wondering -“
“I’m not available right now but your prayer is important to me. Please deliver your supplication in full and I will get back to you at my earliest convenience. Thank you for praying to Hero, bard god of heroes!”
Acindor groaned. “Hero is unavailable it seems.”
“We need a god who answers,” Lightfingers said. “One that might not necessarily care about the Prophecy so she wouldn’t have a stake in keeping the Portal open.
“Wait,” Acindor said, his eyes widening with dawning realization. “You’re not seriously considering praying to Meh?”
Lightfingers didn’t answer him. he was too busy trying to get Meh’s attention. Before Acindor could stop him, he felt a knot in his stomach and a wave of lethargy come over him. Acindor barely stayed on his feet as the goddess made herself manifest in their presence. The walls danced with serpentine shadows, reminding Acindor that Meh was in fact a Medusan and that her gaze was lethal. He forced himself to shut his eyes tight. “Shut your eyes!” he called to the others. “He’s summoning Meh!”
His warning came too late for Eondul, Kudac, Shelby, Nellson, and Pigsnot, who were immediately turned to stone!
As this was happening, Kubi the Tortle Druid of the outsider goddess Chauntea walked up to them and started to greet them. He immediately became wary once people began turning to stone!
“Yes, my Champion,” Meh acknowledged Lightfingers. “What can I do for you?”
“I want that star sapphire,” he said . “The one on the other side of this Portal.”
She scoffed. “Why do you want that one? There are a million of those rocks across the Seven Worlds. In fact, I know where you can find twenty together nearby.”
Lightfingers considered her offer. Twenty was better then one. “Yes, let’s do that.”
The goddess shrugged. “It’s in a big ship docked at the bay. In a chest on the lower level. Try not to pick the chest that’s a mimic, Champion.”
She started to leave.
“Wait!” Lightfingers called. “I have a question. Can my owl familiar pick me up? Would you be aware of that?”
“No. it’s an owl,” she said.
“OK!” he said. “Thank you! Goodbye!”
With a shrug, she departed. Unfortunately, the curse of petrification remainedron his comrades.