Beautiful Moments in Planescape

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Southern_Oracle's picture
Joined: 2004-05-12
Beautiful Moments in Planescape

I have the pleasure of DMing an online game every Saturday. The 4 characters started at 1st level, spending some time on their homeworld before being rescued by the Four-Horned Feathered Fowl (from the Oathbound Campaign Setting) when their world was destroyed. The characters stumbled upon the World Serpent Inn (from the 1E and 3E Manual of the Planes) and were introduced to planar travel. After visiting a world where dwarves were the majority and solving a mystery for the king ("In the Dwarven King's Court" from Dungeon), and visiting a world where the aju'das (a plant race from Dragon) aggressively obliterated all signs of "civilization," the characters found themselves in Sigil.

I now have 6 players in the game, and only two of them know anything about Planescape (my wife and her best friend). The setting is fresh and new for the players and characters, full of wonders and surprises they never thought possible in standard D&D. They're having a grand time roaming around the city, exploring the shops, talking with the unusual races, and making Gather Information checks to shed some light on the dark of the planes. Now at 9th level, I've eased them into the start of The Modron March to really get them invested in the setting.

I relate all this as background to yesterday's session. See, the characters were in Automata when the modrons started marching, and they quickly booked it back to Sigil to try and figure out what's going on. They know there's a problem, and they figure the best way to find answers is to visit Mechanus. The party cleric polished up his plane shift spell, tracked down the proper tuning fork at The Friendly Fiend (beware of yugoloths bearing gifts, eh?), and proceeded to cast the spell for the party. The following is what happened:

As Sakor completes his spell, everyone feels a horrible wrenching sensation. Your surroundings twist and fold in on themselves, like someone crumpling up a piece of parchment. Colors turn gray, and the image of a bladed female face forces its way into your mind. The vision fades and everything returns to normal. You’re still at your starting point.

Almost immediately dabus appear, pouring in from all directions. They surround you, shaking their heads in a silent negatory. Although their mouths do not move, they collectively generate a message in their peculiar script which appears in the air above you.

|\|() |\|() |\|() Y()|_| (@|\||\|()+ |_3@\/3 3x(3P+ |3Y +|-|3 (-R@(3 ()F +|-|3 |_@|>Y ()F P@1|\|

+|-|3 P()R=@|_5 @R3 Y()|_|R ()|\|1Y /\/\3@|\|5 ()F 3|\|+3R1|\|(- ()R |_3@\/1|\|(- +|-|3 (1+Y ()F |>()()R5

The players were floored. The two Planescape veterans had completely forgotten you couldn't plane shift or teleport into or out of Sigil (and their characters didn't know in any case). They spent a good 10 minutes trying to translate the dabus rebus (I think leetspeak is the best way to portray the dabus online, especially when conversing in real time). When they finally got the message, everyone felt they had learned an important lesson. The newbies are scared of the Lady of Pain now...they don't know what other spells might or might not work. With the World Serpent Inn closed and Mitchifer gone for the holiday (if you have the 1E supplement Tales from the Outer Planes, you'll know which holiday Eye-wink ), the characters now have to learn about the portals, and keys, and the factions...

I love Planescape. Laughing out loud

Clueless's picture
Joined: 2008-06-30
Beautiful Moments in Planescape

Sweeeet - I never would have thought of using leet - but now that you mention it - it's *perfect*- I bet the looks on their faces were priceless (what you wouldn't give for a webcam huh?).

How well does the online thing work anyways? Are there particular ways you have to go about setitng up for an online game? I've played in PbeM's before but not in a realtime chat.

Southern_Oracle's picture
Joined: 2004-05-12
Beautiful Moments in Planescape

An online game needs to focus more on roleplaying than combat by necessity, as the players can't see a representation of where everything is located in order for combat to run smoothly. When we do have a combat, it can take several hours to work through it to everyone's satisfaction. Very often the players will tell me what they want to do and I tell them what will happen as a result of that, and then they decide whether or not to go through with that action. It's very easy to ignore flanking and attacks of opportunity when playing online, but ultimately that hurts classes like fighters and need to make every effort not to cut out any of the rules.

A DM needs to have excellent descriptive skills, accurately painting the scene for the players. We play in mIRC and use a dicebot script to handle all the rolls, so there's no problem with fudging. The Private Messaging feature is very nice for "note passing," and also for playing smaller groups when the party splits up.

I use a lot of visual aids for the online game, providing links to pics so the players can better grasp what I'm describing. I also provide my wife with any player maps so she can help guide the group along as we play. Having the SRD online (or on your computer) is an extremely helpful tool and cuts down on cluttering your computer space with books.

Finally, players follow up on individual things throughout the week by email or instant messenger, so when we get together on Saturdays, the whole group plays instead of just one person. For example, both the cleric and the druid went shopping on their own before attempting the plane shift spell; I played the cleric out in AIM, and wrapped the druid up in an email so the group was back together when we started Saturday. Players discuss their thoughts and formulate strategies throughout the week by email, so everyone is ready to go come game time. It works out really well.

The best thing about playing online, however, is the diversity of people. Two of my players are in England, one is in Texas, and the other three are here with me in Tennessee (they're also in my Sunday Star Wars d20 game). I've run online games with people in Wales, Germany, Turkey, and Australia all at the same time. If you can't get into a tabletop game, I heartily recommend tracking down an online one.

Krypter's picture
Joined: 2004-05-11
Beautiful Moments in Planescape

That looks awesome. Neat idea with the leetspeak.

How did you recruit your players? I haven't seen many PS PBEM games around, even here. Have you heard of any others?

Southern_Oracle's picture
Joined: 2004-05-12
Beautiful Moments in Planescape

My wife and her best friend have been in all my online games, his girlfriend is in the online game, two of my friends from my tabletop game are in the online game, and the co-DM from my other online game is a player in my online game. We're all regulars on the Wizards of the Coast chatsite and messageboards. I'm sorry to say I don't know of any other online Planescape games, although surely there are other Planewalker members who game online.

Clueless's picture
Joined: 2008-06-30
Beautiful Moments in Planescape

How is that game going btw? Updates? Storyhour maybe... *wicked grin*

Southern_Oracle's picture
Joined: 2004-05-12
Beautiful Moments in Planescape

Unfortunately, I don't have time to do a story hour...I wish I could, really, but there's no way.

The campaign is teetering on the brink of annihilation. The players have gotten frustrated with The Modron March, as they want to go straight to Regulus and "ask" Primus what is going on. I let them get as far as a portal to Regulus before assaulting them with paraii on the Delon-Estin Oti side and then a contingent of pentadrones on the other; the bard/druid/dervish got killed. (Fortunately, she had been rewarded with a minor artifact by Rexfelis, the Cat Lord from an earlier adventure that brought her back to life.)

The players don't know what to have their characters do next. They say the most obvious choice is to go to Regulus, and if they can't do that, they don't see any point to the adventure. Next session we're taking a vote as to whether to try and continue (with my giving them some "help" to get them back on track) or just scrap it and return to a Material-based campaign. Sad

I suppose my choice of adventures wasn't such a good one for newbie Planescape players...

Southern_Oracle's picture
Joined: 2004-05-12
Beautiful Moments in Planescape

Things have been resolved, and the party is back on track...Yay! Here's how it went down (see next post)...

Southern_Oracle's picture
Joined: 2004-05-12
Beautiful Moments in Planescape

The trip back to the Fortress of Disciplined Enlightenment is uneventful. Emotions are running high – Lucius and Nexx disagree how the modrons should be regarded, Pasha grapples with her death and subsequent resurrection, and Elecia and Sakor generate a sexual tension that sets everyone on edge. No one knows what to do next, where to proceed, or who to turn to. Our heroes are at an impasse.

It is eerily quiet when you emerge from the portal onto the checkered marble floor of the main hall. There is no one in sight. No servants come to greet you; Lady Nancias Garabutos is conspicuously absent.

Without warning, the raucous cry of a bird cuts through the air. Big and black with glossy feathers, a raven wings its way across the hall, landing in the shadows of a pillar at the far end. From behind the pillar comes the clank of armor, and a figure steps into view, moving slowly to the center of the hall. Tall and imposing, armored from head to toe in decidedly feminine full plate, the figure wears a solid helm that allows no view. Metallic wings as sharp as razors sprout from the figure’s back, and a book dangles from a chain at its waist.

“Hello, Nexx. Did you miss me?” The woman’s voice cuts through the air like nails on a chalkboard, grating and harsh. “Why don’t you introduce me to your…friends.” She nonchalantly tosses some object up and down with one hand, waiting for the t’kel to respond.

Nexx sighs. "This winged puzzlebox calls itself Barbello. It would have us believe that it is one of the same group as the entity you call Israfel. In previous 'visitations' it has told me that I, and perhaps all of us, are on some path it and its fellows have laid out.
It probably knows what has happened to Primus but will share some cryptically useless tidbit instead."

"Someone was looking for you while you were playing with the paraii and the pentadrones." Barbello drops the object on the floor, where it enlarges into Orisen, curled up in a fetal position. "Don't worry, I didn't hurt her. I have better things to do than fight with Orif'elle over her 'champion.'"

Barbello laughs; the sound is like the clanging of iron pipes. "I have little patience for games, so I'll cut to the point." She waits while Orisen slowly stands and moves unsteadily to join your group.

Orisen coughs and mumbles, "Erm... what exactly have I

Barbello continues. "I have my doubts as to whether you are really 'heroes.' The others are willing to give you the benefit of the doubt, but I'm not fond of gambling - especially when my hide is on the line.

"I want to know right here and now if you're up to the task of saving the multiverse. I don't want to hear wishy-washy answers about 'destiny' and 'potential' and 'oaths and obligations.' If you don't think you can do it, we can all stop wasting time and I can find someone to get the job done.

"If you can't hack it, I'll put you back on your little world and you can go back to your mundane lives, and all the majesty of the planes will be nothing but a distant memory. No more Sigil, no more modrons, no more four-horned feathered fowl. We'll stay away for the rest of your natural lives. However..."

She pauses and traces the jaw line of her helm with an ironclad finger. "If you do want to continue on this noble quest, I am willing to lend some - small - assistance. Nothing big; just information. Don't worry about what the others might have to say. I'll deal with them. What do you say? Give me your answer now."

Sakor is clearly confused. His face clouded with indecision, Sakor clears his throat. "Well, Nexx, your...patron is quite fitting.

"As for agreeing to be the superhero of the mutliverse - such things come quite easily to one of my aptitude. And frankly -- you've wet my appitite -- how can I not accept. Don't worry about iron britches here, *thumbing at Lucius* he just gets touchy when your avatar Nexx there opens his gob. Maybe you have a trick that could make Nexx look like a human in Lucius's eyes. I think he just fears the power your avatar has over women. Seems like
half the multiverse is out to bed your pet applechaser. But I digress.

"I do believe your are the first of the four-horned fowl to visit us in
person. What spurred you to action? Ori and her inability to follow, Lucius's nigh endless angst, or perhaps you've come because of a long-held passion finally being voiced." Sakor grins at Elecia. "Please, do tell."

Pasha nudges Sakor. "My husband has no need to care about anyone else's power over women, that's your own weakness, Sakor." She looks to Lucius.

"What do you wish to do my Love? Shall we see with some
new information if we can make a difference in the whole of the multiverse or try to make a home for ourselves on some forgotten planet somewhere. To be honest, I don't think I would feel right trying to raise a family somewhere if I knew the whole multiverse might be falling apart and that such horrible creatures as we have seen and heard of could come and take them away like our families and homes were taken away before... Maybe it's
time we made a real difference."

Sakor grins impishly. "I do not think it's his concern of Nexx's power over other women, but rather the power he might have on a certain one in particular." He shrugs nonchalantly, the grin becoming a look of humbleness. "I just speak in theory, but you know the way I have of seeing it's people's souls -- I mean, I am at the right hand of Gersa. We like to share intel on various
people. It's kind of a perk of being a devotee to the god of Magic -- nothing is unattainable. But I digress once again..."

Sakor turns to Lucius as well. "So, iron britches -- what say you? Turn tail and make babies or kick some righteous hiney and save all of existance?"

Nexx speaks up. "We have done what was asked of us in as far as we could. The problem of the early march clearly lies with Primus but to 'investigate the matter' we must carve a path through the legions of modrons which surely lie in wait for us now. Something we have neither the heart, nor the power, to do.

"It's beginning to seem to me that the Factol sent us to our deaths. Lady Nancias warned us that previous delegations to Regulus had been met with violence so why should we expect anything else?

"So why should we follow your path Barbello? Why should the paladin follow this quest when he has not heard from the divinity he serves? Why should he follow you, an entity which claims to be beyond good and evil, instead?" He sighs.

"As much as returning to green hills and forests appeals to me, I have agreed to investigate the early march and I keep my agreements. 'Death reclaims his throne' so Regulus would seem the place to go but that way is surely blocked. Visions of towers, hinterlands, goatmen and devils are meaningless without context. What tower? Where? Who are the Takareem? Who is Sougad? The planes seem a vast place to be mucking about at random. So tell us oh steel fortune cookie, what vital clue have you withheld from your pawns?"

Nexx turns to the group. "I have healed your wounds, I have defended you in battle, I have sacrificed my dignity to learn secrets to share with you. And yet after all this you hate me because I am not of your kin. Or perhaps you hate me because I will stand up for what I believe is right and will not spoon feed you the rose colored version of the world that you sometimes desire. So be it.

"I am one of the few of my people to learn the ways of nature, I am one of the few of my people to leave the worlds of the adu'jas, I am the only one of my people here now to speak and act for them.

"Your world was destroyed. It ceased to exist along with countless numbers of your kin. I will not stand idlely by and allow that possiblity to hang over the worlds of the t'kel. We do not know the consequences of a lessening or even the removal of the force of Order that the modrons create in the multiverse. How would the resulting release of Chaos alter the planes? How many worlds would be twisted or even cease to exist? How many lives would be lost? What would change on that little planet Barbello sets you on? Or would it just cease to exist? You were spared such a fate once for a reason. Do you really think you would be spared again?

"Hate me if you must, but I will see this through...and I need your help."

Lucius finally speaks. "You want to know whether or not I can save the multiverse? Go ask Chronos, because I sure as heck don't know. I'm only human. Take that however you want to, fowl."

He pauses for a moment.

"You did give me one piece of information though, fowl, even if you didn't intend to. For whatever reason, you creatures have a high personal stake in this. That's useful to know."

Sakor snickers, "Yes, inquiring minds want to know."

Although you cannot see her face, you can feel Barbello scowling at Lucius's comment. Slowly she swivels her blank helm to look at Elecia. "Do you have anything to say?"

Elecia shakes her head mutely, a look of confusion in her eyes tempered with terror at the sight of the monster, as she takes half a step back.

Nexx grins behind his mask at Barbello's fury. He then gives Lucius a smile and a nod.

Southern_Oracle's picture
Joined: 2004-05-12
Beautiful Moments in Planescape

Cast of Characters:

Lucius Varrelialus, male human paladin 10
Pasha Varrelialus, female human bard 4/druid 3/dervish 2
Sakor Gersason, male human arcane disciple 9
Orisen Leafsong, female high elf rogue 4/fighter 4/Order of the Bow 1
Elecia Rhell, female human sorcerer 8
Nexx Redscales, male t'kel druid 9 (absent)


"Train of Events" from Dungeon #44

A prophecy urged the paladin, Lucius, to visit Mt. Celestia. The heroes arrived in Erackinor, where they were recruited to help discover the whereabouts of three missing steam trains. Accompanied by a contingent of dwarven soldiers, the party set out along the tracks in another train, passing through a portal to Acheron. They were attacked by a force of derro and duergar, but managed to persevere. An exploration of the surrounding caverns revealed the missing trains, crew, and passengers, but no way back to Mt. Celestia...

Suddenly, our intrepid adventurers came to an epiphany -- the key to the portal off of Acheron was somehow related to the small velvet bag with the embroidered glowing door recovered from one of the caverns. Lucius and Elecia had figured out the key, but before they said anything, the scene faded to black. Now, back to the action...

Sakor yawns. Leafsong looks around. “Has to be some way to get through...”

“I don't know what the key could be...” Pasha replies. “Something they had on them I guess.” She looks at Lucius.

Leafsong kicks at a stone on the ground. “Bet Nexx would know if he was here... He knows everything sometimes.”
Elecia approaches the elf and lays a hand on her shoulder. “I know you won't be happy about this, Ori, but that bag with your gems in it had a glowing door on the front…seems like a portal to me.”

“Okay, gimme my gems and we'll see.” Leafsong smiles and hops.

Pasha looks at Leafsong curiously. “I thought you had them?”

Lucius frowns. “Orisen, they are not ‘your’ gems.”

"But you all heard it! Elecia said 'that bag with YOUR gems!’"

Pasha looks at Lucius. “We didn't leave them with the payroll did we?”

Sakor coughs, wiping blood away from his dessicated lips. “Now what's all this stuff about a bag and what not?”

Elecia looks at the sickly arcane disciple. “Orisen found a bag with gems in it. I suspect they may be the key to the portal.”

The elf kicks at another rock and pouts. “I don't know. I got lost on a plane of rock...and when I got back, you all were emptying out ANOTHER chest...” Lucius sighs.

“Wait here.” The paladin starts jogging back towards the train.

Pasha watches her husband for a moment, thinking back. “Oh yeah…we didn't think she should keep them all, so we left the bag of gems with the chest.” Leafsong glances at the bard, still pouting.

“Took my gems from me, then said they weren't mine, even though no one wanted them,” she mutters.

Pasha returns the gaze, a disapproving look on her face. “I don’t really think you gave the rest of us a chance to say.” Leafsong giggles.

Sakor looks at the cave mouth and the equipment mounted to the cavern wall. “How do we get the train through the portal?”

“I don't know, Sakor.” The bard shakes her head sadly at the elf.

“LUCIUS said no, and that was that. Remember?” Leafsong kicks another rock more forcefully this time, sending it skittering into the darkness. She looks at the cave mouth. “Why not just drive the train back down the tracks? Theoretically, shouldn't it drive back onto the tracks we came in on?”

Pasha begins to pace, considering Leafsong’s words. “The portal would have to be open first, but theoretically, it should work…”

Leafsong looks down the tracks to see if Lucius is in sight yet.

Elecia pipes up. “I think we'll have to wait to see what happens with the train tracks if and when we can open the portal. No use in worrying until we know if we can activate it.” She glances in the same direction as Leafsong when Lucius jogs up the track, velvet bag in hand. Leafsong eyes the bag, clenching her fists.

“Maybe you're right, Elecia.” Sakor’s eyes pass longingly over the lithe sorceress’s form while she’s turned away from him. He shakes his head as if to clear it. “I'm addled. I think I could use some sleep.”

Pasha smiles at her husband, replying to Sakor but not taking her eyes off of the paladin. “Yeah, we were supposed to sleep before doing anything else.”

Lucius ponders the cave mouth, then holds the bag up towards the tunnel opening. Leafsong jumps back, not trusting what may happen. Pasha lays a hand on her husband’s arm.

“Maybe we should test it in the morning.”

Leafsong licks her lips, her eyes on the velvet bag. “Umm...Pasha's right. There were some derro that escaped. What if they’re waiting to catch us on the way out?”

Sakor yawns as he watches the paladin wave the bag around like some kind of charlatan. His eyes widen as the bag and the tunnel mouth both begin to glow. There's a shimmering in the air, and the tunnel beyond changes, showing a set of tracks joining those by your feet, curving to the left into the darkness.



Leafsong whimpers and hides behind Pasha. Lucius pulls the bag back, still watching the cave mouth. Elecia nods knowingly. “Now we can sleep peacefully without worrying how we'll move the train.”

Sakor nods in agreement. “And how we’ll transport the loot.” He grins.

Pasha doesn’t seem as confident. “Let's hope so. We’ll still need to set up guards.”

“Heh. That might be warranted. No telling when Ori might want to lay claim to something new.” Sakor smirks and then staggers slightly, coughing up more blood. Leafsong slips up to Sakor and wraps an arm around his waist to help him hold up, looking deep into his eyes.

"Now really…would I do that?"

Sakor gulps and blinks. Lucius snickers, and Pasha raises an eyebrow. The arcane disciple slowly removes the elf’s arm. “I'd place a large bet on it.” Leafsong giggles and smiles. Sakor hastily pats himself down, checking on his belongings.

The cave mouth flickers as if you blink several times very fast, and the tracks beyond vanish from sight. Lucius nods and turns to head back to the train. Pasha takes his hand and walks back with him. Leafsong stands on her tiptoes and whispers into Sakor's ear. "That’s a bet you'd lose…I wouldn't steal anything." She slips back to the train. Elecia shakes her head and follows.

Once back at the train, Lucius takes a look in the bag, noting only two gems remain where there had once been three. “They'll be happy dwarves,” Pasha comments, wondering what her husband is looking at.

Sergeant Ragin approaches Lucius, a stern look on the dwarven soldier’s face. He clears his throat respectively. “Prolly another hour or so, and we can set out. The train will have to be backed down the track, as there's no way to turn it around. Have you figured out how to get back to Erackinor?”

Sakor approaches the Lucius, Pasha, and the dwarf, catching the sergeant’s question. “Of course. What kind of adventurers would we be if we hadn't discovered a way back?”

Ragin looks at Sakor with a blank expression. “The kind of adventurers we dwarves are used to...those who leap before they look.”

Lucius gives the arcane disciple a stern look and then answers Ragin. “Yes, we can leave whenever you are ready, Sergeant.”

Pasha also glares at Sakor. “Sakor, go find a place to bunk down.”

Sakor nods in agreement. “Probably a good idea.” He trundles over to the passenger car the party commandeered.

Elecia glances around, watching the dwarven soldiers load the last of the supplies onto the refurbished train. “There's still someone around here…at least one derro ran from the battle. It makes me nervous to think he might fetch reinforcements.”

Lucius empties one of the gems from the pouch out into his hand. “Sergeant, do you know what kind of gem this is?” Leafsong appears seemingly from nowhere, eyeing the gem.

Sergeant Ragin glances at the glittering blue stone and replies, “It's a blue diamond. A very, very small one, but a diamond nonetheless.” Lucius nods and slips it back into the pouch.

Ragin looks at the paladin questioningly. “Is it somehow significant?” Lucius nods.

“It is.”

“It opens the portal out of here,” Pasha replies.

Ragin nods to Pasha. “Very good, Ma’am.”

Leafsong tilts her head for a moment. "I thought keys needed were based on where you wanted to go, not the place you were currently in.”

Pasha ignores the elf’s musings. “Now…the tracks were curving into here… If we go on to Istor’s Forge, won't you need to change the tracks first? We don't want to go back, I mean. We need to keep going the way we need to go.”

Accepting that she won’t get the gems back, Leafsong walks toward the party's car on the train. Ragin pauses for a moment, watching the elf. “I...guess so. I'll go talk to the engineers.” He heads toward the engine.

A minute later, Sergeant Ragin and the engineers head out for the end of the track. “You'll need this bag!” Pasha calls out.

Ragin stops. “How is it used?”

“Just hold it up in front of the wall at the end of the tracks.” Pasha holds the bag out toward the sergeant.

“It can only open the portal twice more...” Lucius says.

Pasha’s arm falters at her husband’s comment. “Oh...I didn't know that…”

Lucius nods. “There were three gems, now there are only two.”

Sergeant Ragin purses his lips. “Hm. Then we better assess the situation first. Keep the bag.”

Pasha turns to Lucius. “Then maybe we should have them fix the tracks right before they head out?”

“Well, Innart says the block and tackle and winch system is necessary to raise or lower the track section into place.” The sergeant jerks a thumb at one of the dwarves accompanying him. The man nods vigorously.

The paladin muses, “Surely we won't need to change the tracks until after we are back in Erackinor?”

“How long does the portal stay open?” Ragin asks.

“It remained open for a full minute after I pulled the bag back. I do not know enough of these things to know if the time was because I removed the key or not.”

Ragin ponders Lucius’s response. “Hmmm. That’s not much time…”

Pasha interjects, replying to Lucius’s musings. “No, see, when we leave this tunnel, we'll be heading toward Stonefall, but we need to go to Istor's Forge. Afterwards…I guess they can straighten the tracks for our trip back?”

Lucius sighs. “Yes, but we are reversing out of this tunnel...”

Sergeant Ragin frowns slightly and decides to let the couple keep arguing. “We’ll check it out,” he mutters. He and the engineers head off for the cavern mouth.

After the dwarves are out of sight, there's a cry from the head of the train, and some kind of commotion. Guards and former prisoners start rushing around. Elecia heads toward the shout, with Lucius and Pasha right behind. Leafsong jumps out of the car and joins her companions. One of the men calms the people down, assesses the situation, and then approaches Lucius with a grim look on his face.

“There's no need to rush...there's nothin' that can be done.”

“What? What happened?” Pasha asks.

The dwarf casts his eyes down. “Terassa's succumbed to the Hardening.”

Lucius blinks. “The Hardening?”

“The what?”


The dwarf attempts to explain. “She's been here too long. A lot of us have been here too long. This turns everything to stone. Sooner or later, everything not native to Acheron turns to's just a matter of time.”

“Oh dear gods...” Pasha breathes. Leafsong grimaces.

“Is there a way to reverse the effect?” Lucius asks.

The dwarf shrugs. “I dunno. The duergar simply chucked our lot out with the trash when it happened...I don't know if it ever happened to them or not.”

Leafsong wiggles her fingers to make sure they're not numb. She gasps and shrieks, "My nails!"

Pasha looks at Ori. “What?”

“They're all wrong!” The elf looks about nervously.


“Uh huh. Wrong! Wrong color.!” Leafsong holds her hand out toward Pasha. “See? I’m turning to stone!”

Pasha looks at the elf’s hand. “Maybe you're just cold…”

Leafsong starts hopping around. “Time to go. Let’s go now. Don't care about sleep. I would rather die in an ambush instead of a stone quarry!”

Pasha sighs. “I agree, we need to get off this plane. I do wish someone had told us about this lovely side effect.”

Just then, Sergeant Ragin reappears with the engineers in tow. “Well, the time is a significant factor, but if the curve is set up as a quick relay system, the engineers say it's just a matter of flipping it over and joining the ends.”

Lucius nods. “Let us hope it is that simple, then.”

Leafsong keeps switching balance from one foot to the other. Ragin looks at her curiously, then continues. “If the dirty buggers permanently fastened the curve down by spiking it or welding it...well, that's another matter. There's no way anyone going out to fasten the far end can make it back through the portal in one, we should be ready to drive the train through as soon as the track is ready.”

Lucius frowns. “Wouldn't that have been noticed by the group that came out searching for the previous trains?”

Ragin shakes his head. “There was no mention of it, which makes the engineers think it's set up for quick installation and removal. But we can't be sure until we see it first hand.”

Elecia pipes up. “We may as well try to move the train as soon as possible. We can rest on the other side if needs be. If the worst comes to the worst and the tracks can't be moved, we can always go back to Stonefall for help.”

The sergeant nods. “Good advice, that.”

Lucius nods as well. “We'll leave as soon as everything is ready.”

"Good." Leafsong heads for the passenger car. “Gotta go, gotta go, gotta go right now...”

Word of Terassa's fate coupled with a known way of escape spurs the dwarves to action. The train is readied in less than an hour, the engine stoked, and the tanks full. Several of the former prisoners take hammers and chisels, carefully separating Terrasa's feet from the floor of the cavern and moving her statue onto the train. The party settles into their car, joined by Sergeant Ragin.

Leafsong watches Terassa being loaded. “Maybe if we take her back to the other plane, she'll unturn to stone?”

Lucius turns to the sergeant. “How long will it take the train to back out through the portal?”

Ragin shrugs. “They'll have to go slow to be on the safe side. Maybe three minutes once the portal's open.”

“I hope that is enough time.” The paladin settles back in his seat.

Ragin continues. “Of course, we came through in one piece, so maybe something moving through the opening keeps it open...” Lucius nods.

“Should put as many people in the back cars as possible, though, just in case, no?” suggests Leafsong. Everyone continues to ignore her.

Lucius takes out the pouch and looks at it. “I will stay by the portal entrance until the engine is passing through... perhaps the presence of the key will also keep the portal open.” Ragin nods.

The engineers start up the engine and ease the train back along the track until the brake car is just before the tunnel mouth. Lucius hops down off the train and heads to the entrance. He holds up the bag. Sergeant Ragin directs his men to ready the winch and block and tackle, waiting to snag the curved track piece when it appears. The bag and cave mouth both glow...there's a flicker, and the track appears in the darkness beyond.

Quickly the soldiers work connecting the track to the winch -- several head off to unfasten it from its far end. The winch bar extends through the portal...the track portion is raised...the soldiers slowly flip its positioning. Lucius stands perfectly still, holding the bag in exactly the position it was in when the portal first opened.

Seargent Ragin mouths the seconds silently, counting down a minute. The portal remains open. He breathes sigh of relief. The soldiers lower the curved track into its new position. The men return from the darkness, signalling all is well. The track is secured on this end, and the soldiers signal the engineers.

The train gives a blast of steam, and the wheels slowly start turning. The men jump on the sides of the cars, clinging desperately as the train eases backwards through the portal. The drawn, pinched faces of the former prisoners peer over the sides of the freight cars, anxiously awaiting their return home. The train moves through the portal, slowly picking up speed.

Pasha braces herself for the lurch normally felt. Lucius waits until the engine is about to pass him, hopping on at the last possible moment. Leafsong looks around, fingers, toes, and eyes crossed. Sakor snores.

As you pass through the portal, the curious sensation of weightlessness momentarily grips you along with a wrenching in your stomach. All is black. When your vision returns, you're traveling along a tunnel some 30 feet wide, a track to one side. The train is moving slowly compared to its normal pace, as it's traveling backwards.

Lucius hops off the front of the train as soon as he clears the portal and keeps the bag held up, in case the engineers need to do anything to the track. The train rolls to a stop, the engineers signalling Lucius all is well. Lucius lowers the bag.

The tunnel mouth flickers and vanishes, replaced by a blank cavern wall. Leafsong sighs in relief and looks at her nails hopefully. She shivers, sliding her hands under her armpits to keep them warm in this cool place.

Pasha sighs as well. “Well, we did it. How far is it to Istor's Forge now?”

“About an hour, but maybe more since we're going backwards,” Ragin replies.

Pasha covers up, now feeling the cold as well. She wonders how long it's been since she has felt the warmth of her husband. She nods to acknowledge Ragin’s reply.

The train picks up speed, traveling through the darkness. The rumbling and grinding is a comfort to your ears after the harrowing events of the past 24 hours. Leafsong pipes up. “Hindsight tells me it would have been better to back out going the other way, then remove the curved part, so we were going forward down the tracks.” Everyone ignores her.

The train starts to slow after about two hours, and a water station comes into sight. The engineers quickly fill the tanks, fill in the dwarf stationed at the water tower on the events of the past day, and then start the train moving again. After another hour, the train slows again, coasting to a halt. You're in Istor's Forge. Dour, silent dwarves line the tracks, staring at your train. Sergeant
Ragin disembarks and moves to speak with the military personnel.

"Are we there?" Leafsong peers out the window. Pasha looks around silently. Sakor continues to sleep. Leafsong tucks Sakor in more tightly to keep him warm.

The soldiers begin unloading the barrels of ale and crates of food. A ripple of sound passes through the crowd, swelling to a cheer, and growing to a crescendo of joy and rapture. Lucius moves up the train to check on Terassa’s statue – it remains unchanged. Pasha sighs audibly when the dwarves cheer, and Leafsong covers Sakor's ears.

People laugh, cry, clap, and dance. The supplies are lined up on the walk, and the military begins passing out much-needed food to those present. Sakor wakes up with a start despite Ori's tendings, and Pasha disembarks.

Leafsong sighs and smiles when Sakor awakens. "We're safe for the moment. How are you feeling?"

Sakor simply scowls at the elf before bowing his head quietly. After a moment, he opens one eye. “Like three-day-old death.” He closes his eye and finishes his meditation. Leafsong frowns and shrugs, moving to the other side of the car.

Sergeant Ragin approaches the party, a rare smile on his face. “The mayor wants you to stay with him for the night. Istor himself. Quite an honor...”

Lucius indicates Terassa’s statue. “Is there anything that can be done for Terassa?”

Ragin adopts a more somber expression. “I don't know...we'll take her back to the priests of Berronar and Moradin and see what can be done. There are only lay clergy present here.”

Sakor disembarks and looks at Terassa’s statue. “What is this?” Leafsong follows him out of the car. “Terrasa needs divine intervention to clear that bad attitude?”

Pasha gives the arcane disciple a disgusted look. “She's stone...” Lucius shoots Sakor a look that could fell a Balor.

Sakor shrugs. “Ganga has that effect.” Pasha looks at him like he's nuts.

A hush falls over the crowd, and a bright light fills the air above, blocking out the cavern ceiling. Pasha, Leafsong, and Sakor all look up, shielding their eyes. An enormous creature appears in the air -- coils and colored scales and rainbow wings. “And I thought I was a show off!” quips Sakor.

Lucius looks up, and Leafsong draws her bow. “What is it?” she whispers.

Lucius replies out of the side of his mouth, “Something good, at a guess, since nobody is panicking.”

“It's a couatl -- an outsider native to this plane.” Sakor adopts a smug look.

The creature’s voice rings out, bouncing off the cavern walls. “Passed you have, the test of keys. Ascent to heaven is open for these. Arise and continue your journey to Mertion, abroad. Disembark from the path at the City of Swords.”

“They make good friends...” Sakor continues, nodding knowingly.

Pasha turns to Leafsong. “Ori, put the bow down please.” The elf slowly lowers her bow.

Glowing disks of light appear as stair steps, leading up to the creature's position in the air. Sakor straightens his robes. “Finally, someone has realized my divine worth.” Pasha stamps on Sakor’s toe.

The dwarves draw back from the glowing disks, remaining silent. Lucius turns to Sergeant Ragin and hands him the bag with the embroidered glowing door. “A souvenir, Sergeant.” Leafsong giggles quietly behind her hand. Lucius bows slightly to the dwarven soldier and heads up the stairs.

Pasha follows him up, turning back to Ragin. “Please take care of Terassa.” She looks out over the crowd. “Enjoy your supplies, citizens of Istor's Forge! May you all have a great party tonight!”

Sakor watches the paladin and bard ascend the glowing steps. “What about our loot? The apple chaser would never forgive us if we left the loot.” The lower step flickers.

Elecia moves behind Leafsong, who starts up the glowing steps. “They have their payroll, we have a little for ourselves, what is there to complan about, Sakor?”

Sakor blinks, speeding up the steps. “I didn't get any pay – unless you call Nemamiah’s ‘loving’ embrace a reward – which I certainly do not.”

The couatl’s voice rings out again. “Selfishness is straying from the path...goodness for no reward is the reward that lasts.”
Pasha smiles at the couatl as she and her husband draw near to it. “Well said!”

Leafsong glances down at Sergeant Ragin holding the velvet bag and whispers, "They were just so pretty... Oh well..."

Sakor grimaces from the pain of moving fast. “Yeah, ‘goodness’ doesn't restock my pantry.”

“Sakor,” Pasha admonishes, “We didn't do this for pay. We did it for the sake of the multiverse.”

The couatl speaks once more. “If monetary gain is what you seek, then the path to Mertion you shall not walk.”

The steps start to wink out of existence, speeding up to Sakor’s position. Pasha starts to look worried. “Sakor...Surely you have not changed that much. You are good down deep.”

Sakor continues climbing, unaware of the danger. “I just want some jink. Geez, you act like I want to kill somebody!”

Leafsong taps Pasha on the back. "Um, we need to hurry...our trip down is getting a LOT farther off the ground…"

Pasha nods at the elf and turns back to Sakor. “You have the's worth plenty.”

Sakor sighs. “I hope so. I'll never keep up with the other clerics. At least they get tithes from the faithful.”

The couatl undulates, flapping its wings slowly. “Renounce your petty love of goods and choose to follow righteous bloods. Or remain in Erackinor, outcast forever, a human with no sister or brother...”

Pasha heads back down to the lowest step and holds a hand out for Sakor. “Come on,” she pleads. “You know the truth…the real reason we're in this.”

Sakor finally notices the vanishing steps. He looks up at the couatl. “Yeah, yeah,” he says loudly. I renounce my love of worldly goods.” He lowers his head and mumbles under his breath, “Are you happy?”

Lucius reaches the highest step and winks out of sight. Leafsong stops and glances down at Pasha. “Um…” Pasha looks up and does a double take.

Leafsong looks questioningly at the top step. “Um, Pasha...?”

Pasha grabs ahold of Sakor and starts hauling him up the glowing disks. The arcane disciple moves along, protesting. “Hey, hey hey! Watch the robe -- it was expensive!”

Pasha doesn’t look back. “Come on -- my husband isn't here anymore!”

Leafsong takes a tentative step forward. As her foot touches the top step, she winks out of sight.

“Hey!” Sakor protests. “I did what the flying lizard asked!”

Pasha glares at Sakor but keeps climbing. Elecia climbs to the top step, never hesitating. She vanishes. Sakor continues to climb cautiously, not putting it pass the couatl to disappear the disks out from under him. “So, when do we go back to the Outlands?” he asks.

“After you get yourself to that top step!” Pasha snaps back.

Sakor grins. “I'm coming, I'm coming. Geez, woman, how can that paladin of yours can stand your nagging. Oy!”

Pasha stops climbing and allows Sakor to pass her. “Move it!”

Sakor finally reaches the top step, sweeping through before Pasha can reach him. The bard sighs, looks down once more to the dwarves and waves, then steps on the top step, vanishing from sight...

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