Gutboy the Cleric (6), his henchpeople Trezgar the Elf (3) and Bunny the Thief (3), and his blink dog Rufus II
Pai Mei the Wu-Jen (4), and his henchmen "The Doctor" the Time Lord (2) and Father Conan O'Brien the Barbarian Cleric (2)
Rolf the Dwarf (3), and his henchmen Nvaran Azimuth the Thief (2) and Piston Honda the Sumo (2)
Kalimar the Ranger (3)
Gutboy, Rolf, and their newfound bosom companion Kalimar departed the great city of Denethix, seeking riches in the great dungeon buried beneath Mt. Rendon. The offices of the tax collectors were being slowly rebuilt in the ruins of Chelmsfordshire - great blocks of granite had been dragged into position, and workmen and bureaucrats labored under the summer sun.
The trip to the dungeon was uneventful - no great ankhegs bursting from the ground or perytons swooping from the sky, seeking their still-beating hearts. Maybe next time. The 3rd level dungeon entrance remained abandoned, until they reached the cod-man lair. They were greeted by their allies, and led to the northern guard post, where Chief Pyceen awaited them.
Pyceen: "It is time for you to kill Hinge-Headed! This will happen now!"
Pai Mei: "We need to scout first. And were-wolves. You hate those, right?"
Pyceen: "Don't know these things! You kill Hinge-Headed! It is time to keep promises!"
Pai Mei: "Well, you can send some of your men along to swim with us across the lake..."
Pyceen: "Ha! No, no. The fish are too big! You will do it now, not us!"
The party agreed (once again) to slay the hated Hinge-Headed, and enter the flooded passages in search of a Hinge-Headed patrol to ambush. They first stopped at the statue of a pregnant woman they often passed going to and from the Cod-Man lair - they had previously unscrewed the detachable face. Kalimar was intrigued, and his curiosity led to the decision to hunt down some of the other statues that seemed to be at the end of every one of the wide corridors.
Some time later, they reached the end of a previously unexplored tunnel, with a statue of a man wearing an ancient schoolboy's uniform, sporting devil horns, and carrying a bass guitar. Inspection revealed his face screwed off, and the bridge of the bass was hinged as well - pushing on it opened a small cavity containing tablature for the ancient song of power Back in Black. Clearly this was intended for the Metal Axe, currently held by the party's long-absent partner Razoe. The party took both face and tablature.
A wide archway off this tunnel led to a section where the water ran faster and frothed. Pai Mei probed with his extensible aluminum pole, and discovered stairs leading 20' down under the surface of the water. Having no way to safely navigate the depths, they headed north, towards another unexplored tunnel and statue.
At the end of this tunnel, they found a statue of a man in a poncho with a wide brimmed hat and a noose around his neck. The face screwed off, and was promptly removed - and further investigation revealed the noose was a separate sculpture, not attached to the statue. The thief Nvaran was ordered to examine it - as soon as he touched, it turned to dust - and then he grabbed wildly at his back as a hemp rope crawled up the back of his shirt and wrapped around his neck. He struggled wildly, too wildly for Rolf to get close enough to cut the noose, so Piston Honda was ordered to beat the choking thief into unconsciousness. Before too many blows were landed, Nvaran put his hands up and calmed himself. "I can't breathe!" he said - "and I don't need to. Weird. Am I in Heaven?"
The party took this in stride, and headed to the underground lake to take a closer look. Kalimar tossed a grappling hook to the top of the stairs, and they used the attached rope to climb up without worry from the waters pouring down from above. They probed the edge of the lake, thinking they'd just send Nvaran to scout ahead underwater - but then they realized that they had no light to give Nvaran that would work submerged, and that the phosphorescent flashes off in the distance were probably underwater predators.
A bit more planning - time to go back to the cod-men and get the canoe they had left on their last expedition. The cod-men dutifully dragged it out, and the party headed back to the stairs, where they had left the grappling hook and rope. Luck was with them - a patrol of three Hinge-Headed and five Neanderthals was busy inspecting their rope, backs turned to them. More luck - Gutboy quietly waded towards them ("Sorry I was late!") just in time to join the battle.
Trezgar unleashed his sleep incantations, sending the Neanderthals face first into the shallow water that flooded this level, and the rest of the party shot arrows and swung blades at the hinge-headed until they were dead. Rolf decapitated one of the can-headed musclebound freaks, and lifted the hinge - within was not a head, but a hand, clutching a glowing green crystal. Opening the other two head-cans revealed a blue crystal and purple crystal, respectively. Rolf decapitated those two, packed away the crystals, and they headed back to the cod-men to deliver the grisly hand-head-can trophies.
Chief Pyceen was overjoyed that the part was actually, finally, keeping their promise to exterminate the Hinge-Headed who threatened the third level. His men dragged in a 6' long cave fish, and began cutting parasite-laden chunks off and offered them to Gutboy. He made a face, and said "Can't stop to eat, we've got to explore that lake. Maybe later."
A brief foray was made into the side tunnel with the white water - it curved away, rather than towards the lake like they had expected. They gave up on this, and later consultation with the cod-men revealed that it only led to the whirlpools near the dungeon entrance.
So, back to the lake - this time being surprised in the tunnels by four goblins breathing through reeds, who rose up from the water around them. The little gray humanoids shook their spears menacingly, but didn't attack.
Goblin: "Humans go now! Our dungeon!"
Gutboy: "But we want to help. We'll kill the hinge-headed!"
Goblin (considering): "Hmm. Human kill hinge-headed. Do it now! Go!"
Gutboy: "Aren't you going to help?"
Goblin: "No! Go! Go!"
The semi-hostile goblins were in no mood to fight, and slunk off into the darkness. The party did notice these were dressed in moldy rags, and had severe fungal infections on their skin - they weren't anywhere as near well-off as the silver-suited goblins of the deceased Grolikus the Hive-Mind.
Back up the stairs to the lake - the unbreathing thief Navran was chosen to paddle the canoe, and Pai Mei and Father Conan O'Brien join him.
Trip 1 - Piston Honda holds 200' of rope tied to the canoe's stern. The canoe paddles along the wall as far as it can, discovering a yellow buoy floating in the water. Party determines that they need to paddle around without rope holding them back. A 13' long albino catfish circles the canoe on the way back but swims away as it reaches the stairs
Trip 2 - Canoe goes a bit farther, finds a rocky shore to the south, where the map had a symbol they thought was a windmill. Pai Mei and Father Conan O'Brien disembark. Rufus sees their torchlight from the stairs and blinks over. Flounder-like bioluminescent dungeon sharks follow Nvaran the thief in his canoe back to the stairs, where they attack briefly before being swept down into the dungeon by the currents
Trip 3 - Kalimar and Doctor Who are ferried to the southern shore. 9' long bioluminescent squid trail the canoe. Nvaran also gets out to help explore the southern shore.
The party on the southern shore followed the cave wall, and found an opening leading into a second cave, where three rock cairns were piled up (8' long, 4' wide, 3' high). Wooden markers had been placed onto the cairns, with strange glyphs carved onto them. They turned around to head back to shore, and saw a faint yellow light off to the east. Walking back to the shore, some larger shape eclipsed the yellow light from view. Rufus blinked back and forth to the stairs, relaying details to the reluctant Gutboy and Rolf.
The party then headed towards the yellow light. It turns out it was a glowing yellow crystal skull, mounted into a niche in the southernmost of four large pillars. The pillars curved inwards, and supported a great stone circle from bronze chains. The circle was 12' wide, and suspended 10' above the floor. The air within the stone circle shimmered. A separate stone stairway led up to the circle.
To the south of the circle stood two rough shacks, nailed together from old planks. A quick examination revealed old cots and crates labeled in unknown glyphs, containing what looked like moldy old rations.
Father Conan headed up to the circle and dropped some stones through the circle. As expected, they disappeared. He then stuck his head through - it too disappeared from view. He stood back up, his head returned as he withdrew from the shimmering air, and reported seeing a land covered in purple vegetation, with an indescribable sky.
Kalimar knotted a rope and dropped it through the portal, and then climbed down. Once through, he found himself standing upon a rocky hill, next to a nearly identical set of four pillars and stone ring - the only difference being that there was no niche or yellow skull. The hill was surrounded by a purple jungle, with jagged peaks visible in the distance, and the remains of an ancient road a few miles away. Hanging in the sky was a massive gas giant, with a wide vertical ring around it. Above the opposite horizon was a tiny red sun.
Kalimar climbed back up the rope and reported his findings. Rufus then blinked away to inform Rolf and Gutboy on the stairs, and they decided they should head over. More blinking and messaging ensued, and Nvaran paddled his canoe one last fatal trip back.
100' from the stairs, seven serpents emerged from the water around the canoe. Trezgar tried another sleep incantation, to no avail - Rolf fired his plasma rifle, missing - and Gutboy let loose with a burst from his machine gun, the recoil forcing the barrel up and causing bullets to ricochet off the ceiling high above. The serpents descended on the helpless thief and tore him into five bite-sized chunks, holing the canoe in the process. The sated serpents then sank beneath the surface of the lake.
With no way back, a certain amount of panic ensued. Rufus was used as a go-between, and the stranded half of the party decided to tear open the rock cairns and see if something useful could be found. The first cairn torn open revealed the woody corpse of a dried cactus-man, covered with horrific wounds. The second cairn had a crate, containing a plain-looking sword with a red button on its hilt (claimed by Kalimar), a golden statuette of a cod-man lifting a barbell, and a goblin head preserved in a jar of formaldehyde. The third cairn contained a blue human skeleton. They also removed the yellow skull from the niche as a precaution, and briefly experimented with the green crystal skull they had been carrying (nothing but sparks when placed in the niche).
Out of options, the party decided to build a raft from the two rough shacks. They easily disassembled the poorly built structures, and with Kalimar's wilderness experience were able to build a sturdy 10' by 20' raft, with a door as a rudder. They paddled this with planks towards the head of the stairs - an easy task considering the current was dragging them there anyways.
As they neared the stairs, all but Kalimar were surprised by the splashing and flapping of a school of giant flying vampiric piranha. One of the creatures bit into Conan and began taking its blood meal - Kalimar swung with his sword, depressing the red button as he hit the fish. High voltage electricity surged down the blade, electrocuting both the fish and Conan, leaving the fish still feeding and Conan sprawled unconscious on the raft.
As the party recovered from the shock of battle, more fish flung themselves at Conan, and he was drained white within seconds. Another fish landed itself upon Pai Mei's neck, bringing the wizard to his knees. At this point, the raft had drifted within range of Rolf and Gutboy's weapons, and they, along with the survivors on the raft, were able to kill off the vicious fish. Gutboy used his healing magic to restore vigor to Pai Mei, but poor Father Conan was beyond human help.
The party decided they'd had enough, and decided to return to Denethix with their loot. Gutboy paused at the lair of the cod-men, and incautiously showed the golden statue of a cod-man lifting a barbell to Chief Pyceen.
Gutboy: "Do you know anything about this?"
Pyceen: "Yes! That's mine!"
Gutboy: "What? No, I mean do you know if it does something..."
Pyceen: "It's mine. I dropped it."
Gutboy: "No you didn't. We found it out by the lake."
Pyceen: "It's sacred! That is very sacred to our people! Give it to me!"
Other cod-man: "What is it" "Oh, sacred, yeah, sacred."
Gutboy counted the cod-men surrounding them, did some mental math, and grudgingly handed Pyceen the statue. Perhaps strains are beginning to form between the Mongos and the Cod-Men...
Once back at Denethix, Trezgar began the hard work of identifying the arcane properties of the remaining loot. The galvanic sword was not magic in its own right, but had a small store of power - enough for five more electrical attacks. Kalimar resolved to find a way to recharge his new toy. Trezgar also investigated the yellow crystal skull - its magic was not readily identifiable, but was instead linked to the dungeon beneath Mt. Rendon. The goblin head in a jar was a worthless and grisly non-magical specimen.
The colored crystals from the cans of the hinge-headed proved a different story.
Trezgar: "Unbelievable! The arcane matrices - the hyperstructures - they seek to look back into me! The crystals are intelligent!"
Blue Crystal: "Yes, fool! You have stolen the minds of the Hinge-Headed, and you will pay! Return us immediately!"
Gutboy: "They talk?"
Blue: "Oh, we talk. We command! Return us, or your torments shall be legendary!"
Rolf: "Maybe ransom them"
Gutboy: "Or smash them"
Purple: "No! We are worth valuable ransoms! Our people will pay gladly!"
Blue: "Smash the green one!"
Gains: Galvanic sword, three minds of the Hinge-Headed, goblin head in a jar, two more screw-off statue faces
Kills: Three hinge-headed bodies, 5 Neanderthals, 6 giant flying vampiric piranha
Losses: Nvaran Azimuth the Thief and his noose of not-breathing, Father Conan O'Brien, the golden statue of a cod-man lifting a barbell