Surprise, You’re Dead
“Quick, they’re coming. Everybody hide.”
Garrock bolted for center pit, crouching behind a row of pews. Winnie took off, flying into an alcove. Errol and I retreated behind the secret door, open just even to take a peek. “Dennis,” Jarvis said, climbing onto the wyvern’s back. They found an alcove, where he stood still like a statue.
Coming down the main staircase, a blackspawn entered the auditorium. He stopped, sniffing, drew his falchion. He spotted the fresh corpses of dead wyverns and sticky pile of undead Spice Ghouls. “Hey, get in here!” he shouted. Garrock pounced, leaping from behind the pews. The dragon-bane did what it did best. Errol pushed past me, and tumbled out, firing the hand crossbow for a nifty sneak attack. “Arrgggh — a little help here,” the blackspawn screamed. Another guard came down the stairs and shouted, “Intruders!” His comrade could only roll his eyes, because he was quickly dead with an arrow in his jaw. Not to be outdone by a Trask, I wheeled in front of Errol, claiming the kill points. Garrock cut down another, and the last guard turned and ran back up the stairs. If he escaped, we were done for.
“Dennis,” Jarvis said. “Go get that guy!” The wyvern swooped across the high chamber and landed in landed in his path. Garrock was quick on his tail, too. Errol and I am crept down to watch, standing in a line. The blackspawn looked pleased. “Now, I have you just where I want you.” From his mouth spewed a squirt of acid, striking Garrock while Errol and I dodged out of the way. Garrock felt nothing, thanks to the resistance spell. The blackspawn started shouting, rambling. The wyvern used his wings and a bite to end it. “Well done, Dennis,” Jarvis said. Dennis.
Secrets and Doors
While Jarvis watched the stairs with his arcane eye, Errol and I searched the room and found two secret doors. One behind the altar and another opposite the one we had entered on the other side of the staircase. Garrock dragged the bodies to the pile, and Winnie found potions: invisibility, healing, and oils of magic weapon.
Errol and I investigated the secret passage behind the altar. We drank invisibility potions first to be safe. Very dark, a narrow natural passage quickly opened into a larger cavern. Fungi-coated the floor in a forest of stalagmites, falling off into an irregular pit. From the ceiling, rows of stalactites were hung. All was quiet, dark, dripping. The cavern stepped up, in three tiered levels. The floor was littered with rubble, and Errol was struggling from lack of light. He wanted to light a torch. I stepped out into the chamber, but didn’t see or hear anything. It was definitely not a dead end. The air was moving. I sensed this might take us out of the mountain. Errol seemed pleased at the opportunity to escape.
Still invisible, Errol and I reported to the others. I still wanted to explore the other secret door; but Errol insisted we had found the right way, and more guards would be coming soon. We decided to ask Dennis. Jarvis asked his friend if he had ever been through that door. “No,” he said. Jarvis asked him if the boss, Azarr Kul, had ever been through either door. “Yes,” he nodded. “Which one?” “Both.” Definitely could hear the footsteps coming closer. “Hold on,” Jarvis said. “Dennis, think carefully. Which door did the boss go through last?” The wyvern didn’t hesitate, pointed to the one behind the altar.
Rushing over, we plunged into the passage. Dennis squeezed in, and Errol closed the door behind us. Darkness. I snuck out into the chamber, my dungeoning senses told me that we were probably not alone, and sure enough behind a row of stalagmites on the tier one step above, spiny green scales looked out of place. Not one but three greenspawn razorfiend. In the swamps, we had fought one. And Sylvana had destroyed the hatchery at Rhest. I crept back to the others, and we whispered a plan.
Even as Winnie emblazoned her shield with light, the razor fiends didn’t react. I sniped one, and Garrock leaped up and struck him with the dragon bane. That got their attention. Instead of going for the lionfolk, the creature attacked the sword, slicing at the blade with its razor sharp wings. “Shit,” Garrock said. “Sylvana will kill me.” The other also slashed at the sword. Neither attack left a nick, so the ranger was safe. Jarvis tried to convince Dennis to attack, but he wouldn’t budge. Sis flew over and knocked out the wounded fiend. Errol misfired. (To think I once looked up to him.) Jarvis used a haste scroll. Let’s get this over with already.
One of the fiends saw me, and put a gash in my bow. Hey! For a second, I thought I had endless invisibility. I took a step back and stuck two arrows in his hide. The second one fell to Garrock’s blade. The last one acid-ed him, and retreated between a wall and the pit. He was fast, so Garrock could only keep pace with him. Three rapid shots, and I hit with all. Winnie joined in whacking him with her mace from on high. Dennis!? The wyvern flew over and stung the fiend with his tail. The gashed open the wyvern’s neck with a wing. Garrock finished it. While Garrock healed up Dennis with his wand, Winnie flew ahead up to the top tier. She noticed the natural cavern led to a polished corridor with smooth even walls. She could hear chanting.
Don’t Throw Up on My Account
As we huddled up, a familiar voice from behind, but not in my head. “Jack, impressive work. To get this far.” She was not alone. A pair of brutes with twitching beards and saw-toothed glaives escorted her. Winnie whispered they were devils. Barbazu.
Miha, Miha Serani. I had been rehearsing this reunion, but I could only nod and slight-wave of my hand, acknowledging I was in fact. Engorged inside, about the burst open.
She smiled, at least her voice did. “So, I take it Hravek Kharn failed in his mission?”
I said, “No, he succeeded.” A half-lie, for Kharn had created enough death and destruction to aid Azarr Khul in his primary goal: to generate the negative energy to open the gateway. She seemed confused. Good to throw her off.
My energy was opening something, a rift. The Deathlinks armor suited her, slippery and stark as the edge of black enveloping the waning moon. Black was her color, with her red hair sparking on her shoulders. “The armor looks good on you,” I blurted out. My face felt hot, blood flowing up, fingertips a bit numb and tingling.
“Thank you, Jack. Glad you noticed.” Polite, as when death comes calling. “And who is that with you, Errol Trask?”
Knife in the gut. I felt.
Errol put a bolt in his crossbow. “Stay away from us, BITCH.”
Yeah, stay away from him.
Propositions in the Dark
Winnie spoke words, and the protection of Fharlanghn fell over her. “Everyone, stay close to me.” She practically jerked me by the collar. The others drew their weapons. Miha’s guards tensed, raising their glaives.
Miha said, “Oh, how sweet. Winnie is looking out for her brother. No need to worry. I come as a friend. Otherwise I would have brought a score of blackspawn raiders with me. The two here answer only to me.”
“Alright then. What do you want?” Garrock said, getting impatient with small talk.
“I have a proposition. One that could be mutually beneficial.” She explained that although she had done work for the Red Hand she was not attached to Azar Khul on a personal level. Sounded so reasonable.
Errol was agitated. “No! Don’t listen to her.”
But, we let her continue. There was an item, kept in a chest no far from here. It contained several magic items. One item would be invaluable to us, as it would help us defeat Azar Khul. There was an item, only one. She wanted it, and we could have the others. And there were several chests, too.
“And what do you get?” Garrock said.
“Why do you need us? If it’s so close.”
“There’s a secret door to Azarr Kul’s private chamber. Some traps, and a guardian.”
We talked it over quietly. I thought we should take a chance. I sensed she was being honest. After all, she had never really hurt anyone, just —. Errol said his brothers were dead because of her. Good point, but I couldn’t agree with that. Harvin was killed by Sylvana, and Van died defending Brindol from the Red Hand. And then in Talar, she had accused the Jackal of rape. In the end, Garrock and Winnie were on my side. Jarvis was excited at the prospect of powerful magic items. So, it was decided. (Dennis wasn’t consulted, but he abstained.)
Cloudy with a Chance of Energy Drain
Miha said that in the corridor ahead there was an auxiliary altar dedicated to channeling energies. It was manned by priests in shifts. One of her devils disappeared and reappeared at the exit of the cavern. We all stayed close to Winnie, moving as a group. This would protect us from Miha’s charms. The aura kept her hipster devils away. Still, she had no problem getting close, which made me hopeful. She wasn’t a bearded devil. Garrock took a whiff of her, and said he smelled arachnoid. Likely, it was the armor, as it had belonged to the half-spider, half-dark elf we killed in the caverns beneath Talar.
The corridor was wide enough for three across and brightly lit, and the chanting was quite pronounced, about fifty feet away, where the altar had multiple platforms. Five dragon heads formed a circle. It was manned by five hobgoblins, one for each chromatic dragon head. Two important priests supervised the work in the center.A sphere of energy glowed in each maw, the heads upraised aimed at a center point.
Garrock had a bad feeling about the hallway. His instinct was to retreat. Jarvis pushed in front and said they were channelling some sort of religious sort of energy. “This one’s for Karl, you evil fucks!” A thick, yellowish fog, the rank smell of sulphur billowed around the altar. Hobgoblins choked, gagged, five fell over. Dead. But, the two warpriests in the center survived.
Errol said, “Remind me not to get on your bad side.” He slid a bolt into his crossbow and stepped up a level into the hallway.
Jarvis smiled, said the hobgoblins attempted to dispel the cloud, but failed. If they don’t get out, they will die. The cloud will move away from the wizard. We decide to press forward as a group, but Garrock won’t budge. Something terrifies him. I drank an invisibility potion. No matter, we could wait.
What the hell was that? A floating shadow with red eyes came through the floor, grasping for Winnie. It missed, but another one passed by me and touched Errol. He grimaced, shaking, but looked okay. Errol was like “let’s get out of here!” as he shot a bolt clear through one. A fourth wraith popped up next to Dennis. The hobgoblins pulled out scrolls, started casting. More confident, they emerged from the cloud.
“I do believe in spooks,” said Garrock, uncharacteristically cringing. The lion ran away into the dark. I shot each muttering hobgoblin, interrupted their spells. HaHa! Jarvis gave a potion to Dennis. Miha ordered her bodyguards to attack the nearest wraith. I am touched by one. Not good. I feel chilled, shriveled up, as something important was drained. Hobgoblin tried to dominate Winnie, but rejected.
Drawing my rapier, I tumbled between the hobgoblins and got behind one, stabbing him in the back. Winnie raised her holy symbol and turned a wraith, while was struck by one of the devil’s as it fled into the stone.
Garrock felt better away from the wights, rubbed magic oil on his bow. Miha told the same joke about the elves in the woods to a hobgoblin and he fell over laughing. The other one who I flanked with Winnie cast a spell, disappeared. Clank, clank, clank as he moved away. I stabbed the spot and struck him. “He’s here,” I said.
The last wraith touched Winnie, but she shook it off. Garrock shot his bow at the wight and hit it. Winnie aimed a ray of searing light at the wight but shot wide. Dennis hopped over to help out, but couldn’t. Miha stepped close to Errol and whispered something with a smile. He said, “Keep away from me,” and moved away from her toward the wraith. She laughed.
Next to me I heard chanting, a curse as his spell failed, and clank, clank, clank. I followed, hoping he wouldn’t get away to sound the alarm, and stabbed. Nothing. “Guys, this one’s getting away.” “Be right there, Jack,” Winnie broke the wraith with her mace, and in her second attack hit the laughing hobgoblin. “He’s suffering,” she said. “Need to put him down mercifully.” With the wraiths gone, Garrock gained his courage and pounced. Dennis came up to help me, while Miha helpfully picked up Garrock’s bow. She was talking to Errol again.
“Never mind,” I said. The hobgoblin appeared and told me I could find what I was looking for at the top of the altar. It made sense. Jack would win the prize, be the hero. Jarvis spoiled everything. Dennis tried to stop me, grabbing me in his jaws. Garrock surrounded my new friend, and finished him off. I wiggled free, and realized it wasn’t really my friend. Winnie restored me from what the wight had taken.
Miha and Errol walked up together, side by side. Were they holding hands? Winnie, damn her protection spell, longing to be under her spell. What did she see in him? He probably can’t even find a secret door or disable a trap. His skills were all superficial, selfish.
Garrock reminded us the spooks might come back. Miha said the secret door should be along the back wall. While I searched, from the hobgoblins Winnie took two scrolls. When the wraiths return, she would be ready. Here it was, just as Miha had said.
Soon this would all be over. I didn’t seem to care.