Tales of the Righteous Vanguard

Part Eight: Return to White Plume Mountain - Chapter 5

Shortly after entering White Plume Mountain, in the afternoon of Waterday, the 26th day of Flocktime, in the Common Year of 580, the Righteous Vanguard agreed, for the time being, to work with the gnomes who followed Nightfear, a creature that appeared to be one of four, so-called, ‘False Kerapti’ now vying for control of the complex hidden within the volcanic mountain. It was perhaps the band’s belief that it would serve them best initially, to negotiate with the gnomes under Nightfear in order to more easily gather information and even a possible ally, rather than to set out directly for the location where Nicholas’ brother Echab was believed to be held prisoner. They had been given directions that would lead them to Nightfear, as well as armbands and a password that would make it easier for them to move through the section of the complex held by Nightfear’s faction.

But as soon as the band left the room where they had struck their deal with the gnomes, Nero stopped the band so they could discuss in private exactly what their plans and objectives were at this point. It was quickly agreed among each of the band members that their only real goal inside White Plume Mountain was to rescue Echab, and that none of them had any interest in any of the four infamous weapons of power that were said to be located there. Though who can say with any real certainty what any of them were actually thinking and not revealing to their companions? Still, it was decided that the band, for whatever purpose, would follow the directions that the gnome lieutenant Kabyle had given them, and seek out their leader Nightfear.

To this end the band followed a corridor that led north where it soon opened on to a side tunnel that led to the east and quickly turned to the southeast. Dravos peered around the bend at this point and saw a large group of gnomes milling about some distance away. But it was decided that they should continue traveling north according to the directions given to them. However, they also noted that the corridor from here on was lined on both sides by strange metal plates that were mounted to the walls. Sensing a possible trap, the nature of which was possibly indicated by the notes given to them by Nicholas’ father, and drawn from when he visited the mountain some 20 years before, the band began calling out the password for the day, which was “footstool”, in the hopes that it would allow them to pass in safety.

After a short period, several gnolls appeared from around the corner at the far end of the passageway approximately 70 feet away. They seemed to peer towards the band with puzzled expressions for a brief moment and then nodded as if acknowledging them. One of them stepped back behind the corner and a metallic clank was soon heard, sounding as if a large lever had been thrown. One of the gnolls then waved at them to proceed.

Kieranen took the lead at this point and moved down the corridor alone and with caution. But he reached the far end without difficulty and when he arrived the gnolls there merely glared at him with a mixture of curiosity and distrust. Realizing that the gnolls had disarmed a trap in the corridor and that they had no intention of attacking, for they too wore the armbands of Nightfear, the remainder of the band quickly joined Kieranen at the far end of the corridor. One of the gnolls growled and sneered at Nicholas when the ranger gave the hated humanoid a dirty look. But this was as close as the two groups came to any violence between them and the band quickly moved on to a short flight of stairs on the far side of the room.

Once up the stairs and around a corner, they came to another door. Here they called out the password again and opened the door. The room beyond was long, relatively narrow and had two pits separating the floor into three sections with the middle section being incredibly slippery. After some cautious investigation, again using the notes they had been given as an aid, they realized that most magic would not work in the room and there was no way they could physically traverse the middle section of the room without falling into one of the pits, which they saw were full of rusty spikes. They did however discover that Gildor’s wings of flying worked normally in the room. So they resorted to an old trick of theirs and had everyone pile into Nero’s portable hole, which Gildor then flew with across to the far side of the room.

While the group was climbing out of the portable hole however, a door opened up nearby and out stepped several gnomes armed with drawn bows and arrows. The band quickly called out the password though and avoided any attack from the gnomes, who then asked the band why they had not called out the password sooner. After some discussion the band learned that the gnomes could not hear them from beyond the far door, and that if they had called out the password after entering the room, the gnomes would have used several long pieces of wood, which were stored in a nearby room, to quickly construct a bridge that would have spanned the two pits and the slippery section of the floor.

At this point however, none of this really mattered much, but it was good to know for future reference. So the band asked the gnomes more questions about what to expect in the various rooms beyond and were given some very useful advice concerning the next chamber which contained a large lake full of hot, steaming water. In this lake, according to the gnomes, were creatures that they called kelpie devils. These dangerous creatures could be avoided, the gnomes told them, by pouring a foul-smelling red liquid into the water which would act as a repellant. The band was told they could find a few jars of this liquid in each of the boats at the edge of the lake.

So the band moved on and soon came to the chamber where the lake was. There they found ten boats each capable of holding up to eight man-sized creatures. And just as they were told, each of these boats had a few jars of the red liquid. So Nero went through all ten boats and gathered up all but one jar in each of the boats for a total of more than a dozen.

Who can say why he gathered so much of the stuff, since it only took one jar per lake crossing to hold back the kelpie devils? But perhaps he was not aware of this at the time or maybe he had something devious in mind for the nasty red liquid. Whatever the case, the band piled into a boat and paddled across the lake without incident. On the far side of the lake, Nero gathered more jars of the red liquid from boats there, giving them a grand total of nearly 20 jars of the stuff!

After disembarking from the boat, the band immediately began calling out the password and they were soon met by several more gnomes and gnolls who opened a nearby door and allowed them to enter. Explaining that they had been sent by Kabyle to see Nightfear, the band was soon led into a sort-of audience chamber where they were finally introduced to the gnomes’ leader. Nighfear himself was a gnome wizard and appeared as an average-looking gnome albeit with a twisted smile and a demented gleam in his eyes. Clearly believing himself to be the ancient wizard Keraptis, he questioned the band on their purpose, who in turn explained to him that they had come to rescue a friend. As before, Nighfear offered to reward them with powerful magic if they would be willing to aid him in destroying the other False Kerapti. And as a sample of this powerful magic, he handed the group another scroll, this one with a fireball spell on it and told them that anyone, even a non-spellcaster, who read the scroll would be able to cast a fireball once per day as an innate ability. This awesome power was just too much for Gildor to pass up. So right then and there Gildor took the scroll and read it while the others continued negotiating with Nightfear.

In order for the band to prove their loyalty and commitment to him, Nightfear wanted the band to retrieve for him a powerful weapon that had been stolen from him. Nightfear then described to them the trident called Wave, of which the band was already vaguely familiar. Again apparently believing that allying themselves with Nightfear, or at least pretending to for the time being, would be to their advantage, the band agreed to retrieve the weapon for him. Before leaving him however, Nero conned Nightfear into giving them one more jar of the foul-smelling red liquid, though it still was not clear as to what purpose.

After leaving Nightfear and while rowing back across the lake of steaming water, the band once again discussed their options and objectives. And once again it was decided that they should go through with Nightfear’s mission, at least up to a point, if for no other reason than to gather more information. But they also agreed that they would not yet make the descision on whether or not to hand Wave over to Nightfear until they had actually acquired the weapon themselves. For now, they would infiltrate the territory presently controlled by the efreeti Nix and his band of rebels known as the Resistance. It was believed by Nightfear that they were responsible for the theft of Wave and that they now possessed it. The band however, saw this as an opportunity to learn a different perspective on the current situation within the mountain.

So, as directed by Nighfear, the band made their way to a third shore on the underground lake, where, again using the password, they came upon two more gnomes who were positioned to guard a secret door that led into the territory of the Resistance. The gnome guards showed the band the secret door and stepped back to allow the band to enter. Then, immediately after passing through the secret door and entering a narrow passageway, each of the band members removed their armbands and moved on with Dravos in the front looking for traps.

Moments later the band entered an area where a great deal of damage had been caused by cave-ins. Here they were suddenly greeted by a human female, average-looking in appearance but dressed in adventuring gear and carrying a flail. She asked the band their purpose and introduced herself as Kuhlefaran, a cleric of Boccob. The band again explained that they had come in search of a friend and gradually got around to telling her that they had been sent into that area by Nightfear though they did not truly serve him. Kuhlefaran was quick to believe their story and told them that they should speak with Nix. She offered to take them to Nix and without waiting for much of a response began guiding them through a rough crevice that led off to the south.

Soon they came to a huge chamber where the band came upon what was left of the inverted ziggurat that they had read about in their notes. Much of the place had been destroyed long ago and only the bones and outer shells remained of the monsters that once lived there. Kuhlefaran slowly led the band down the various levels of the ziggurat, each of which was ten feet high and difficult to descend, except for Gildor who was able to fly, to the central floor at the very bottom.

However, when Kuhlefaran and Gildor reached the bottom, they were both in for a big surprise as something very large and invisible suddenly attacked them. Fortunately, Dravos had a bag of dust of appearance which he tossed in the direction of the invisible monster, revealing a gigantic undead crab! The magic dust proved to be very helpful in this case making it easy for the band members to blast the monster with various spells and other very effective attack forms. So devastating were the band’s attacks in fact, that the undead crab never got another chance to attack beyond its first attacks.

When the monster was destroyed, Kuhlefaran insisted that it had not been there just a few hours before and claimed that one of the other False Kerapti must have placed it there. Some members of the band were hesitant to believe her, but whatever the case it seemed pretty evident that this was the crab that had once guarded the trident Wave in the boiling bubble room 20 years before.

After casting a curative on herself, Kuhlefaran continued leading the band down a set of stairs and through a tunnel where they came to a door with a metal grate in it. Kuhlefaran knocked on the door and she and the band were allowed to enter. Here the band briefly met the Resistance, which consisted of five gnomes, a human man and a woman, a male ogre and a crazy meenlock named Henri.

Having dealt with meenlocks before, the band was understandably not very trusting of this one. But Kuhlefaran quickly led the band on to another chamber where they finally came face-to-face with Nix. Nix appeared to be a large man with reddish-gold skin and tiny nubs on his forehead where horns might otherwise be. This was likely a disguise however, made to give him a less threatening appearance, for according to their notes, Nix was a member of an evil race of genies known as efreet. Despite his supposedly evil nature, Nix turned out to be a loquacious sort, conversing easily about the current happenings within White Plume Mountain and not unwilling to admit his true nature and form when confronted by the band. But then his motivations did not appear to be in conflict with those of the band’s either. Kuhlefaran told him what the band had told her and he asked them a few more questions about what they had seen so far, since entering the mountain. In return, Nix provided the band with a great deal of information, though they could not be certain if all of it was true.

According to Nix, the real Keraptis used the power of the four enchanted weapons to open a portal to a shadowy realm wherein he thought he might find eternal life. He had not returned since he stepped through it centuries before. Four beings currently claimed to be Keraptis, though all were imposters. To distinguish them, the Resistance had given them other names that seemed to fit their personalities: Nightfear, Spatterdock, Killjoy, and Mossmutter. Killjoy was Nix’s old friend Nox who had turned against him. All the False Kerapti wanted the four enchanted weapons of the original Keraptis – Nightfear claimed Wave, Spatterdock had Whelm, Killjoy had Blackrazor, and Mossmutter had Frostrazor. Nightfear, however, recently lost Wave to Resistance thieves, who then disappeared with the weapon. Nix also told the band that the False Kerapti acquired the personality, memories and abilities of the original wizard by memorizing a special scroll he referred to as a Keraptis or K: complete imprint spell. Because of this, each pretender headed a hierarchical mind that was far greater in power and scope than that of any normal being. He also warned that there were many partial imprint scrolls about as well, and that anyone who memorized one of these was doomed to become a subsumed mind under the control of one of the False Kerapti. Usually the process of reverting to a subsumed mind took a few months to occur, and he warned the group against reading any of these scrolls.

As Nix was telling the band about this, all members of the band gradually turned their heads towards Gildor, realizing that he had already read one of these scrolls, while Gildor in turn looked more and more like a child caught with his hand in the cookie jar. Nix asked the band if they had acquired any of these scrolls yet and Nero claimed that they had only been given one, the K: magic missile scroll, which no one had read yet.

But the band asked Nix what could be done if someone were to read one of the scrolls and Nix told them that the only way to prevent that person from becoming a subsumed mind was to gather all four of the enchanted weapons and use them to bring the original Keraptis back to this plane. This, in fact, was what the Resistance was trying to do.

Nix told the band that unless the False Kerapti were stopped, their power would continue to grow, for they could create more partial imprint scrolls, which would lead to more and more subsumed minds. Eventually the threat would extend outside of White Plume Mountain, at which point it would spread like wildfire and be nearly impossible to contain, much less eliminate. This was apparently why people like Kuhlefaran had joined the Resistance, to somehow find a way to avert this disaster. And assuming all of this was true, the Righteous Vanguard now found they had two good reasons to aid the Resistance in their efforts: 1) to help prevent the disaster, and 2) to save Gildor from becoming a subsumed mind or worse. Unfortunately, according to Nix, this meant bringing the true Keraptis back to this plane of existence, which did not sit well with the band and appeared to be Nix’s real motivation, since he admitted his desire to work with his old master once again.

After learning all of this, the band asked to discuss the matter in private among themselves. They were then allowed to leave the room and talk things over, while Nix and Kuhleferan likewise did the same. The band decided that they had little choice at this point but to ally themselves with the Resistance, for there was now much more at stake than simply rescuing Nicholas’ brother. If Nix was telling the truth, it looked as if they were going to have to take on most of the mountain’s complex and acquire the four enchanted weapons – and even then their work would not be done.

So the band returned to talk to Nix and agreed to aid the Resistance. Nix in turn told them that they would need to begin gathering the weapons but that it didn’t necessarily matter in what order. He also told them that the gnomes who had stolen Wave were supposed to have hidden it in one of three places just outside the mountain: Plague Fields, Thingizzard’s Hut, or Castle Mukos. But the gnomes never returned, so he did not know where it was. From this bit of information though, the band was able to put together a possible scenario of what had happened to the gnomes: More than likely, after the gnomes left the mountain with Wave, the trident was stolen by the man that Echab had overheard talking about it in a tavern. The gnomes then went after Wave and stole it back. At this point, Echab followed the gnomes back to White Plume Mountain but lost track of them somewhere in the vicinity. Presumably the gnomes were then able to hide the weapon in one of the three designated places while Echab went in search of the gnomes inside the mountain. Echab however, was captured and for some unknown reason, the gnomes never returned to the mountain. Some of this was pure speculation of course, but it seemed to fit the facts at hand.

But rather than go after Wave, the band decided to go after Whelm first, which was supposedly in Spatterdock’s possession and also where Echab was thought to be held prisoner. Here they could possibly accomplish their first objective of rescuing Echab, thus saving him from further torment, but also gathering more reliable information while acquiring the magical hammer.

With this objective in mind, the band made their way back to Nightfear’s territory, making use of another secret door shown to them by Kuhlefaran. Once back in Nightfear’s territory, they donned their Nightfear armbands again and proceeded to the area where the gnomes were positioned to build the temporary bridge over the pits and the slippery floor. Here they got the gnomes to do just that, and before long they were entering the room where they had earlier encountered the gnolls.

It was at this point however, when the band suddenly became aware of how late in the day it was. So they decided to rest for the night in the room right next to the gnoll’s apparent quarters. Since the gnolls were supposed allies, and the only two other ways of entering the room, that the band was aware of, were protected by traps, they assumed that the room would be relatively safe from unwanted intrusions while they slept. Naturally they kept at least one person on guard duty at all times anyway, because nothing there was a sure thing.

Still, their slumber was interrupted twice during the night. The first time was only a gnome patrol working for Nightfear, who had been looking for the group and wanted to know their progress in their efforts to recover Wave from the Resistance. Nero told them that they did not think the Resistance had the trident and would be working on another lead after resting up. The gnomes accepted this and went off to report to Nightfear.

Several hours later though, an unobserved secret door opened up in the room and out stepped a ferocious ghoul. Most members of the band were quick to respond and jumped up to battle the undead monster. But it proved to be far tougher than the average ghoul and took a great deal of damage, both magical and otherwise, to bring it down. During the battle, both Dravos and Nicholas were paralyzed by the ghoul and there was nothing that could be done for them until the following morning.

It was only after that battle had come to an end, when the gnolls looked outside their door to see what all of the commotion was about. And seeing that the matter was now under control, they returned to their room, though a few of them snickered in obvious glee at seeing the ranger lying on the floor paralyzed.

The remainder of the night was uneventful.

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arkhemedes

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