2. The Secret of Steampunk Gnoll

Having fled the town of Firepalm in the middle of the night and made camp en route to the notorious city of Hodam, our adventurers awaken to discover, perhaps unsurprisingly, that the sociopathic elf Kylia has left-- taking with her all their food and gold. With a steely nerve that belies his usual calm, the wizard Irving volunteers to "deal with the situation", and that he'll meet the others in Hodam.

The remaining five break camp and start in just that direction when they spot two figures in the distance, engaged in a duel: crossbows at twenty paces. Both of them are dressed in the finest style of the East; one is a human and a stranger to them. One is known to them, and a gnoll-- the very same gnoll who offered some cryptic advice in the Firepalm Mine.

The human fires first, and his bolt goes straight through the gnoll. The gnoll's body shakes and quivers, and then he straightens his arm and unloads his own shot directly into the man's brainpan. The human falls stone dead; the gnoll crumples to the ground in agony.

First Aid

While the others rush to the side of the gnoll, Jarmangle-- perhaps being less trusting-- goes to the human body.

Feer uses her expertise in the art of healing to remove the arrow: first, she sits the gnoll up, then she sets the front end of the arrow aflame, then she grasps the back end and pulls it through, cauterizing the wound. The gnoll is thankful, but the ordeal is not over; Jarmangle, having examined the crossbow, determines that it is laced with a deadly venom.

The gnoll explains that he and the human, Edward, were engaged in a duel of honour, and that there is bound to be an anti-venom in human's home. He knows the way, but will have to be carried.

Suddenly, there is a terrible rending noise; they look to where the human's body once lay and see that he has been devoured by a hideous fire beetle. It is flanked on the left by another fire beetle, and on the right by a larger, older she-beetle.

A battle ensues, and the five adventurers manage to protect the ailing gnoll from the sharp pincers and deadly spray of the attacking carrion. They kill the two fire beetles, but the she-beetle Klikslyth-- the survivor of many battles in the past-- scurries off to fight another day.

Cracking open the shell of one of the fire beetles, Filliam constructs a makeshift stretcher for the gnoll. Somewhat beguiled by gnolls in general, and this very modern gnoll in particular, Filliam seems unusually concerned for its well-being.

The House of Wonders

Filliam and the others take the gnoll upstairs to the bedroom so that he might rest while they search for an anti-venom. Filliam elects to keep watch over the gnoll while the others explore the house.

There are many queer things to be found in this house: a violin mounted on a shield with a blade that doubles as a bow (perfect for a bard like Robyn!); a mechanical box that keeps food from spoiling, and another that modulates the temperature of the room; a library full of books and a machine that can duplicate them. Some are less enraptured with these wonders than others; Tralamin, for his part, is mostly interested in an owlbear rug, which he appropriates, despite its ungainly bulk, as a cloak.

In the kitchen, Feer and Robyn find two baby ferrets rummaging in the cupboards; Feer having been especially desirous of a pet is quick to adopt the baby. Feer also finds a book on gnolls in the library; written by an Easterner, it's bound to be a little condescending and inaccurate, but she figures it will provide a solid-enough grounding in the customs and history of the gnollish tribes.

In the cellar, Jarmangle finds a strange metal puppet. At first, he mistakes it for a Warforged, but Tralamin-- an astute student of history no matter how much else he gets wrong-- determines that it can't be a war-forged. It might be something else entirely, some sort of lifeless "steam golem".

They also discover three vials of unidentified anti-venom. Jarmangle compares them to the venom found in the human's crossbow, but cannot find a match. Robyn consults one of the books in the library and determines that the venom in the bow is actually a mixture of three venoms, and that mixing the three vials would create an antidote.

However, when it comes time to administer this antidote, she misreads a crucial passage and-- to the disbelief of the others-- injects the antidote directly into the gnoll's skull. Knowing that his time left on this earth is short-- and lamenting having been so cryptic in the mine-- he asks that his body be buried with the Gnoll Holy Dead, some miles west of the Firepalm Mine. The group agrees, and watches, sad and curious, as he drifts away.

The Steampunk Gnoll is dead, and his secret died with him.

Part II

Funeral For a Stranger

They arrive at the burial grounds of the Gnoll Holy Dead at dusk. They create a plot and gently lay the gnoll's body to rest. They feel a need to say a few words, but no one has much to say about this figure that came into their lives, and left it, so abruptly.

Tralamin finds himself drawn to the massive Tomb of Gnollish Kings and, perhaps unwisely, suggests that they investigate it. Jarmangle, always ready for adventure and/or sacrilege, is up for it; Filliam is appalled but his curiosity about all things gnollish gets the better of him. The quintet decides to go in as a group.

Legend of The Three Gnollish Kings

Using her book of gnollish history, Feer explains that this tomb is supposed to hold three legendary tribal leaders, akin to Eastern kings: the King of Peace, the King of War, and the King of What Will Be. Legend says that the three kings died voluntarily on this spot to seal up a great evil; when the time has come to destroy that evil once and for all, the two lesser kings will rise from the dead and awaken the King of What Will Be.

Pressing forward into the tomb, they come into a great alabaster hall. There is a hallway bearing off on either side, and a massive door on the other end, with two thrones each facing a hand-crank. These cranks are too heavy to be moved by their hands, and Jarmangle intuits that this great evil might be on the other side. The group decides instead to investigate the two hallways bearing off from the great hall, starting with the one on the left.

The Chambers of Peace

They come to a room with a massive pit, some thirty feet across and miles deep. On the other side, there is a door from which emanates impossibly bright light. The doorway behind them is suddenly blocked by a massive stone door, and they realize they have no choice but to cross.

Jarmangle winks at Robyn (much to her apathy) before breaking out his grappling hook. He whirls it above his head and tosses it clear across the chasm, finding delicate purchase in the stone floor. Filliam elects to go first, moving hand-over-hand across the way. Once he reaches the other side, he unhooks the grapple and ties it more securely to a chunk of rock jutting out of the ground. Feer is next, and she passes without trouble.

Tralamin, however, is another story. He refuses to remove his heavy owlbear rug cloak and very nearly falls to his death. Robyn and Jarmangle are unable to keep their end of the rope, and Tralamin swings over to the other end of the chasm. The others beg him to drop the owlbear, but again he refuses. Irritated, Filliam and Feer grab hold of the rope and hoist the obstinate Eladrin warlock upwards.

They toss the dangling end of the rope to Jarmangle and make sure the grapple is fixed securely. Without warning, and much to her dismay, Jarmangle circles Robyn's supple waist with his arm, grips the robe, and jumps out into the chasm.

He slams into the wall, losing his grip on her waist. At the last second, Robyn grabs hold of his ankles. Not willing to listen to his excuses or to put her life further at risk, she tries to climb over him; she slips and now only has one hand gripping on one ankle. Thankfully, the others are able to hoist them up to safety.

Jarmangle gives Robyn the eye, but she is not amused. Attempting to prove his bravery, he marches towards the bright light, only to find his arm catching on holy fire. It is a holy place, and though it brings the others peace, it is forbidden for a tiefling.

The other enter the room, and find not a gnollish king, but the incorruptible corpse of a gnollish queen. Serene in repose, she fills them with a sense of calm. Tralamin, relying on his "Eladrin senses" and "holistic training" claims that this must be the tomb of the Queen of War. Robyn looks to the others and shakes her head.

They notice that her body rests on a sort of pressure plate, and that the gnollish queen holds a scepter. Feer shouts out to Jarmangle, knowing that he possesses a Charm of Nebulous Shape and Size that can be switched with any small object and fool the owner unless they inspect it closely. Jarmangle tosses it in, and Feer exchanges it for the scepter.

However, the scepter has no living owner, and the pressure plate is not fooled. Fortunately, it is not a trap but quite the opposite; the weight of the holy scepter having been removed, the floors of the adjacent room have moved just a smidgen closer together. Jarmangle alerts the group to this, and after a brief and tense discussion, they remove the body from the plate. The floor closes over the chasm completely, and the stone door cranks back up from the doorway.

They return from the hall, and place the gnollish queen on one of the two thrones. Then, they move into the next room.

The Chambers of War

The next room is much like the one in the other wing-- same dimensions, same door with light peering out on the other end-- only there is no pit. But as soon as they enter, heavy stone doors slide over both openings, and those two walls begin to move towards one another. Within but five minutes, they will be smashed between them.

Noticing the crackled tile on the floor, Jarmangle immediately sets to work trying to pry it up. He discovers, to his horror, that underneath the thin floor is another miles deep pit. They can't go down to get out of this one.

But maybe they can go up? Tralamin notices that the ceiling is about a foot higher than the moving walls. Jarmangle grabs his grapple and attaches it to the top of one of the moving walls. He starts to climb up it, but the rumbling walls unsteady his balance and he falls on his back. The tiles make a sickening crackling sound; the moving walls is too much stress for them, they will not hold.

Robyn doesn't even bother to wait for Jarmangle to get up; stepping right over him (much to his delight), she too attempts to climb the grapple, and she, too, falls (ditto). Tralamin then suggests that they form a "human", or, more accurately, a "human-elf-tiefling-eladrin" ladder, each one on top of another's shoulders. It's a goofy idea, but it seems to work: first Feer, then Filliam, then Robyn, then Jarmangle all get up successfully, leaving Tralamin to try his luck with the rope and grapple.

Feer and the others discover that the moving wall isn't solid, but rather a plate being moved by a sort of piston. Assured of safety on the other side, Tralamin starts climbing the rope. His owlbear rug again proves to be a problem, and it appears time is running out: only desperate seconds remain before he's destined to become a red stain. Convinced of the seriousness of the situation, he reluctantly casts off the heavy owlbear rug and shimmies up the rope. He seems quite despondent.

Just before the walls are about to close in, Jarmangle leaps back down after the owlbear rug. The floor directly beneath him at last gives way, and the walls smash together with a heavy thud.

Jarmangle, however, is still alive. He's hanging on for dear life to the last tendrils of rope from what used to be his grappling line. The others, peering over the newly-created pit from the other side, toss him a line, which he catches with his feet. Always the show-off, Jarmangle does a backwards flip and then shimmies up the rope.

The first thing he does is give another one of his looks at Robyn; she is still quite unimpressed. Tralamin, for his part, is rather miffed that after all that, Jarmangle failed to rescue his owlbear "cloak".

The elf and the eladrin now attempt to enter the actual tomb, but finds that it gives them the same burning sensation that the previous one gave to Jarmangle. (This confuses Tralamin, who still maintains that the first chamber was of War, and so why would the chamber of peace be unholy to elves and eladrin?) Jarmangle enters the tomb, and finds the Gnollish King of War there, resting, his body incorruptible, much like the queen, on a pressure plate. Instead of a scepter, he holds a cursed sword. Jarmangle pilfers the sword for himself, and instantly discovers a strange bond with it, almost as if the thing itself were alive.

He picks up the king's body; the pressure plate rises up, and a secret doorway opens in the room with the others. They move through the doorway and find themselves back in the main room, where they place the king on the second throne.

Suddenly, and of their own volition, the two cranks begin to turn, and the door rises up.

The Empty Tomb

There is a pressure plate in this third tomb, but there is no king there, no sign that a king had ever been there, and no relic, be it holy or unholy. What the room does contain, however, is an ancient door, exactly like the one they found in the Firepalm Mine. His ritual stone glowing, Tralamin rightly intuits that this is what he was being drawn to. They have another piece of the puzzle, but still do not possess the knowledge and experience necessary to put it together.

Before they leave, just for the hell of it, Jarmangle jumps on the pressure plate-- and is quickly struck with four arrows that fly out from the walls. They are only flesh wounds, and after a moment he feels almost as good as new.

Filliam suggests that they depress the plate again, to see if it serves any other purpose. He asks Feer and Robyn if either would place their ferret on the plate. Both are horrified. He is quick to assure them that he values the lives of ferrets, but not as much as the lives of the civilized races.

Fire Dwarfs Redux

As they exit the tomb, they find themselves surrounded by a group of insane fire dwarfs-- and one buxom tiefling, who catches Jarmangle's roving eye. The tiefling appears to be working with the crazed fire dwarfs, and Tralamin-- showing his usual firm grasp on the exact opposite of what's going on-- solemnly declares that the dwarfs are there coincidentally, and that there's no way that they, too, could be drawn to the ancient door inside the crypt.

A battle ensues, and though these dwarfs are as simple-minded as their brethren from the mine, they prove much more dangerous when not trapped on small islands surrounded by water. The battle is fierce and hard-fought-- perhaps made more so by the tactics of the female tiefling, who Jarmangle, perhaps unwisely, does not engage in combat. Indeed, even when she attacks him, he persists in making passes at her. Whether or not this bothers Robyn was not a question anyone concerned themselves with, as they were, indeed, fighting for their lives.

But as the tide of battle turned, and the fire dwarfs started to dwindle in number, the tiefling temptress made a run for it. Without her keen assistance, the remaining dwarfs were quickly routed and defeated.


Our heroes decided to continue to Hodam, so that they might meet up with Irving. Filliam, however, displayed hesitance, and announced that he was thinking instead of taking up residence in the house of wonders-- to study its mechanisms, read at his leisure the books in its library, and perhaps even to attempt the resurrection of the strange "steam golem" that lay forlorn in its cellar.

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