Trial of the Sage (continued)
Viewing Nikz's spacing on the board, the serpent murmurs, "Hmm. It seems we're bending the rules already..."
At this point, Brenna feels invisible walls rise around the sandstone pedestal, closing her in. She realizes that she is now a "player" looking her "pieces" on a game board and that she has three "moves." Brenna thinks, "Roze."
Roze feels her locked up body release, and immediately summons 8 riding horses to fill the spaces next to her allies, plopping one right in front of Nikz, who is happy to have a meat shield. However, she quickly realizes that she cannot move through the horses' spaces, as her foot presses against an invisible wall. NEXT, Brenna commands Notloc to move. Notloc gains control of his body, and suddenly knows that he can move three spaces in any direction, and that he can move between pieces. Taking this to heart, he targets a space ahead of the wall of horses made by Roze, and disappears in a stream of smoke, only to reappear in the space. Eager to try a thing, Notloc points at board below him and casts Shatter...
The party watches Notloc's space shatter apart and his body plummet into darkness. A moment passes, before another cloud of smoke passes through the board from the hole and Notloc reappears in the space next to him. The group can see boiling lava at the bottom of the hole, but luckily Notloc caught himself and had another space of movement. The hole to lava, however, remains.
Darrak is move three. He suddenly knows that can move only diagonally one space at a time. Instead, he tries to Dimension Door to the space next the "king" on the other side, slamming into an invisible force (that seems to crack a little!). Still inebriated, he happily announces to the group: "The barriers can break!" then moves onto the horse in front of Nikz...which promptly disappears in a puff of smoke when he mounts it. Nikz mutters, "Hi, meat shield." with a grin.
With a rumble, the party feels control of the board shift, and a strange amorphous creature moves quickly and quietly across the board. Its skin continually shifting, it stares at the group with no eyes or ears or nose, only a sickened black tongue sliding in and out of a horrible orifice in its head. The "eyes" lock onto Nikz, and its features become clearer, clarifying in the precise shape, gear and all, of the arcane archer. The creature then uses Nikz's own bow and arrows to sink two into him. Nikz's doppelgänger then shifts back to its amorphous form. Next to move is a Kuo-toa warrior, who slides nearly the full length of the board up to the horse in front of Flynwick, cleaving it into dust. Move three, a Satyr (hauntingly familiar to party members who traveled in Frostburn) activates and plays a beautiful, entrancing melody...but Darrak and Flynwick decide it is not good enough to dance to.
Then, the board moves. A fissure opens in the center of the board and a column of lightning streaks across the two center paths, momentary electrocuting Notloc in his new space. A beat passes, control beginning to shift, but in that split second, Nikz feels control over his body and judges that he has his full movement; he moves diagonally and attempts to shoot the doppelgänger...who is difficult to see within a dark space. Despite its shifting form, the arrow finds its mark...then continues to sink into the form of the creature, consumed by it. But as Nikz goes to draw his second arrow, his body locks up, his eyes meeting those of the serpent staring down at him...for now, his turn is over.
Control again shifts to Brenna, who realizes she now has 4 "moves," as little lights, like motes of fire, ignite over each of her allies (and the remaining 6 horses), indicating her options. Notloc is up, taking two steps toward a hovering ghost and casts gust of wind upon it (attempting to catch the ghost and the mummy behind it). The ghost snarls and disappears in puff of smoke, the remaining wind slamming into an invisible wall within the space. Learning the team a thing, Notloc takes the ghost's space. The serpent above chuckles, "Hmm. It appears that someone is about to crowned..."
As Notloc's turn ends, Brenna feels his light return, indicating that she could spend another move to move him again... Realizing this, she does just that. Notloc takes two steps to the left in front of the "king," a massive bugbear wielding an obsidian axe, and is interrupted by said axe cleaving into him. As Notloc growls, "Yarr, that'll be a nice scar..." he shatters the space below the king, and the bugbear drops down the hole. A beat passes, and a grunting bugbear climbs out, stepping into the diagonal space, its axe reappearing in its hands. Notloc moves diagonally, to the end of the board, and waits...as an angry crown of thorns and spikes begins to form around his head, but the tempest cleric resists the Crown of Madness and his turn ends.
Brenna realizes suddenly that she hates fish, and seeing the Kuo-Toa irks her, so she activates Flynwick. Flynwick becomes aware of the fact that he can move in a straight line (with an ability to charge, if he so chooses). Instead, he sends an illusory clone of himself behind the Kuo-Toa, who whips around and makes fish noises at it. Brenna, disappointed that the fish is not dead, activates Flynwick again in frustration. Flynwick casts Toll of the Dead through the clone and the fish screams in horrible pain, clutching its head as death knells hammer its psyche. It is still standing, but very unhappy.
Control shifts again, and the bugbear cleaves into Notloc, attempting to throw him off the board, but Notloc stays put. Notloc channels his Destructive Strike as a reaction and pushes the bugbear back.
At this point, the dragon yawns and says, "Well, this is getting boring... What do you say we make things a little more interesting..."
Brenna: "What exactly did you have in mind there, fella?"
Dragon: "What if we just leave them to their own devices for a bit... Then I can add something, you could add something..."
Brenna: "So let me get this straight. You wish to suspend the current rules so you can add a toy, then I can add a toy, and we just let them play it out?"
The dragon takes out a large hourglass and flips it. "Just until that runs out."
Brenna: "Yeah, so, is there any chance that we could just talk this out over a nice cup of tea without getting anybody else harmed?"
The dragon sighs. "I grow tired of this. Let's just try something else..."
Brenna: "I refuse. Flatly. Ya' arrogant serpent."
The creature growls. "Fine, you don't want to play? Let's just adjust the board a bit."
Immediately, the party feels their half of the board give way, row by row collapsing. Each member feels their bodies free from control and attempts to sprint, Roze mounting a horse and riding ahead (many of the horses, and the Kuo-Toa, fall to their doom). Even Boom, with his tiny little gnome legs, has a burst of speed and adrenaline that powers him across the threshold and a few spaces beyond...before he locks up once more as the magic takes effect.
With the board halved, the sandstone pillars move closer together, and a ticked-off Brenna pulls her staff of magic missiles to unleash six bolts of force at the dragon; which smack against an invisible barrier. "It's not time for that yet," the dragon chuckles, "I still have two moves left."
The doppelgänger shifts again into Nikz and fires two arrows in Boom's form. The Satyr attempts once again to force creatures to dance...and fails once again. Frustrated, it draws a long, black vorpal blade and slices into Flynwick. The mummy moves toward Roze, and slams her with its fists.
At this point, a shift ripples across the board, and in these close quarters, control momentarily breaks. The wall surrounding the dragon falls, as well as the one around Brenna, and everyone gains agency of their bodies and minds...
Brenna immediately hexes the dragon, arching a witch bolt toward his massive form, but the lightning grounds. With a roar, the dragon unleashes a huge lightning bolt, and the party watches the sandstone chamber explode in fire and death, falling into the abyss...
Alvus draws a longsword, and slices into the bugbear, now flanked by allies. Nikz also draws his own vorpal blade and begins to cleave into the doppelgänger, attempting to drop the thing. While her allies attempt to clear the board, and seeing Brenna explode, Roze attempts to cast Dispel Magic on the board...
Energy moves through every space and reverberates over the room. Then the spaces begin to disconnect from each other, falling into the abyss below. At the same time, the party sees the space around the dragon coalesce into the view; a large stone slab in space and time...and a pair of feminine legs sticking out of its mouth? Thinking quickly, one by one, the party leaps from one stone to the next, diving for that slab, and one by one with the help of a few summoned giant eagles, they make it...except for Boom. The little artificer, without his spider friend, falls past the slab and into the darkness below...
As the board falls away and the party stands cramped on the stone slab with the dragon, he absently chews and talks with his mouth full, "You know, I haven't-" until Brenna Hellish Rebukes him and he spits her out. "Ahem." The bugbear fades away, the doppelgänger fazes into the dragon. "No one has ever broken the board before. Interesting. You pass." And heavy obsidian doors open behind the dragon as the stars become slabs of stone. Darrak throws a grappling hook to Boom...who is on his back flailing harmlessly on the stone.
Boom: "You know, I had a spider when I came in here!"
Dragon Wyrm: "There is a cost...to everything."
The party moves on.
Trial of the Champion
Entering into the next room, the heavy obsidian doors closing and disappearing behind them, the party sees a simple hallway. A tattered red carpet stretches before them into darkness, flanked by slate columns and small sconces of fire. On the edge of his hearing, Nikz picks up metal armor chinks shifting ahead, and stealths forward into the darkness.
About a hundred feet forward, the sconces lighting just after he passes them, column by column, Nikz feels a presence directly ahead of him. Feeling the pressure, he instead slides around one of the columns and attempts to continue and avoid the carpeted path. Not one step beyond the column he feels a rush of wind in front of his face and something very heavy and very sharp slams into the stonework just in front of him. With intelligence, he backs away as a set of brazers light and fill the space with firelight.
Before Nikz stands an imposing figure. Covered in intricate layers of black plate mail, a dark helm with swooping horns, a long red cape with furs decorating the shoulders, stands an 10-foot tall warrior, a massive claymore (running about the length of Nikz) now drawn and resting at the ready. The helm, Nikz takes note, has one side painted a sickly red, while the other remains a deep black.
Nikz greets the creature, "Hello, good sir! How are you?" But is greeted with silence from the knight. Feeling awkward, he sucks down a greater healing potion in anticipation. The rest of the party, now finished downing their own healing potions at the entrance, rush toward the sound.
Alvus steps forward and asks the knight, "What is your challenge?"
As if in response, the knight picks up the sword and shoves it into the stone beneath him, the flat side of the blade facing the group. Notloc steps forward and grabs the hilt, attempting to draw the blade...and ends up hoisting himself upon it like a cartoon jerking wildly at something immovable. Boom looks past him, and moves around him...and just keeps walking and walking and walking... The party watches Boom move a foot past the knight and walk in place for the next thirty seconds.
Attempting to think outside the box, Flynwick and Roze both attempt to cast happier spells upon the knight (Friends and a Wand of Smiles), but feel both impact the helmet and dispel immediately.
Darrak now steps forward nonchalantly, moves very close, feigning indifference...then attacks!
With impossible speed and strength, the knight swings the claymore into the monk, slicing deep and hurling him across the room, crashing through a column. As the party tenses from the movement, Flynwick's keen eyes pick up a small detail: there is writing on both sides of the blade, each side a different language...
The side facing the group is in Elvish. It reads: "A warrior finds a reason to fight." On the other side of the blade...is Boom (who has a helm of comprehend languages). As the group tries to move to see the other side of the blade, the knight shifts it to block their view, but Boom, being small and stealthy, finds the opposite end and reads in Draconic: "A champion finds a reason not to." Immediately, Boom digs through his bag, looks up at the big scary knight, and offers up trail rations with a "Would you like a snack?"
...The back plating of the knight swings up and open, and a tiny lady kobold torso emerges. She happily gathers up the offering with a, "Yes I would, thank you so much." She slinks back inside, closing the hatch. The knight suit sheathes the sword and steps aside. The kobold again pops out of the suit, this time from the front, sniffing toward the dumbfounded party and says, "...Whose got my herb?"
All eyes turn toward Nikz. "I, uh, actually gave it to your master already, but-
"Well they're fighting dragons right now, so give it here!" Nikz begrudgingly hands over another dose, which the kobold immediately investigates, then pours down his throat before Brenna can protest. "The door's just up ahead!"
Brenna: "Just a moment, can you give us any idea what to expect in the third and final task?"
The kobold's eyes dilate a little. "You know this is a test right? I can't give you the answers!" Her voice sounds a little...auto-tuned. "Oh, it's working already!"
As more sconces light in the distance, illuminating the obsidian doors, dulled impacts shake the walls, a few loose rocks falling.
The Kobold gets back in her suit, announcing: "Don't worry, I'll hold them here. Good luck!" and she steps back into place, drawing her huge blade.
The party passes through the doors to the third trial...
Finished in part 3.