Lord Jarmaath summoned us to the great hall. Framed in gentle repose by the heavy chair, he looked like he might be lying in state. Face flat and hammered like a dustpan, forehead streaked with blue veins, hair fringed with doubt. Throat gnarled, lips crackling like parchment. He inhaled as if to speak, drawing all closer to him. “We won the battle, maybe not the war.” At his side stood his sister, Sylvana, strong in her full plate, and his lover, Tredora, with a smile wafting like incense.
This morning, after her morning prayers, Winnie had donned the red plate armor of the defeated Hravek Kharn, the Talon of Tiamat. She fit the warrior priestess, miles away from the young woman in brown robes treading the Dawn Way with her quarterstaff. And she was quiet. We had barely talked about father, though there was much to say. The priests of Pelor cast gentle repose on the body, and we both said soft words over him. From her pack, Winnie produced diamond dust, the gift of the dragon Kirimeivar. The healer returned as she spoke plainly, restoring Kerden Jarmaath to full health.
The Lord sat up straight in his chair, testing his grip on each arm rest, a carven lion’s paw. “Thank you,” he said.
Following our plan, we attempted to contact Errol Trask, who was rumored to have gone searching for the Red Hand’s headquarters. If positive, we thought to try scrying on him, and if that worked, Winnie could take us there in a jiffy.
Winnie sent her first message to Errol. “Brindol safe. Need to stop Azarr Kul. Opening gate. Are you safe? Where are you? We can come there fast. Winnie Wiston.”
A ragged reply. “Winnie, I’m here. Rescue me. Took the girls. Just killed the dragon.”
Our hearts sank. He was captured, and the dragon might be Kirimeivar. At least he was alive, and we might be able to get to him.
High Mourner Mhiram allowed Winnie to use the scrying pool at the Temple of Wee-jas. Sylvana lent us the engagement ring from Errol Trask, which increased Winnie’s chance for success.
After what seemed an hours, the edges of the pool peeled away. Images flickered. Shallow breathing. Looking out from behind bars in a straw-lined cell. Assorted machinery: rack, iron maiden, tank, manacles. Hovering about, a shrouded figure. Wrapped in chains that ended in hooks, barbs, and razor blades. Mhiram recognized the torturer as a kyton, a devil. Screams from a hobgoblin on a rack. The final scenes revealed Errol, what was left of him. Emaciated, burned, broken. Alive. Winnie pulled back to examine the torture chamber; it was large and torchlight with a walkway on the second level. The cells were underneath.
Winnie sent another message to Errol asking about the dragon killed, and more information about his captors. He replied that it was a copper dragon killed yesterday. Many enemies in addition to the chain devil, a blue dragon, at least 30 black spawn, wyverns, other devils and many priests of Tiamat. “Promise, you’ll come save me.”
One last message. We told him we were coming, but first must rest. Asked him to describe where he was. He described a narrow trail from Vraath Keep took them into the mountains. Days? Captured by blue dragon outside. Girls were taken away one by one. Miha here.
Oh, my heart! Winnie hadn’t asked about her. Was she in the adjacent cell, a prisoner to the devil’s whims? Or was she his assistant, in leather thigh highs, lashing a whip? Back to work, Jack.
Rather than rush in, we decided to rest. Winnie would have her full compliment of divine powers. Also, Tredora, Brother Derny, Malchor and other clerics offered protective spells and flasks of holy water and vials of anti-toxin. Sellyria Starsinger made our skin tough as bark. Sylvana, Meivyr and Celiira arrived to see us off. Group hug? Jarvis came running in, huffing and puffing. “Hey! you weren’t going to leave without me?” He had been preparing some new spells: arcane eye and cloud-kill. Ah, Nice!
Winnie said she could only transport herself and three others with their equipment. Jarvis said no problem, and shrank down to improved, reduced Jarvis, hitchhiking in Garrock’s mane. Meivyr offered to cast greater invisibility and protection from evil on all of us. “It’s in your hands now, all our fates,” Sylvana said. She decided to lend her dragon bane sword to Garrock. “Remember that stupid birthday party.”
“We’ll celebrate your next one together.”
“Better, ‘cause I’m gonna get ripped.”
Take These Chains
Winnie took our hands, asked Fharlanghan to take us there. We arrived on the walkway overlooking the torture chamber. Chains hung down from the arched, vaulted ceilings. Chunks of rotting flesh hung from hooks. Contrasted with the artful carven pillars and mosaics washed the walls with dragons.
The chain devil going about his business, unaware of our presence. Invisibility comes in handy. While Garrock whispered he was going down, I fired two shots and one hit. Surprise! Winnie decided to jump down, and a rack of torture implements fell over, as she crashed into it. Oopsies! The chain devil whirled around, unfurling his shroud of clinking chain, hooks and barbs. Chains hanging from the wall, near Winnie, came arrive and lunged at her, just missing. The chain devil reached up for a chain and climbed up into the air. Garrock cursed, chucking his trident, for a hit. I fired two more arrows, hitting it the head, and it slid down to the floor. Jarvis dumped out a vial of holy water on its remains, something Mhiram suggested to keep the devil from healing itself.
Winnie spotted Errol in his cell, tossed him a ring of keys she found on the chain devil. “It’s us,” she whispered. “We’ll be right back.” The invisibility was expiring, and we wanted to keep going while our protective spells were in play. I moved to the strong iron door, checked it for traps. It was unlocked, and I opened it a crack, as the others formed up behind me. Powerful stench, rotting flesh.
A large room with a high ceiling. Long table and two dozen bunks. A pair of blackspawn raiders diced, and another ate. Strung up in the rafters, the decaying remains of a copper dragon. Kirimeivar? Maybe Winnie could do something, but it would have to wait. There were other guards in the room.
I stepped inside quietly. Garrock was breathing hard, ready to go off. I loosed two arrows at one. A magic missile whizzed by taking him out, and four more bolts strung the others. Garrock roared and pounced on one at the table. The other one drank a potion and vanished. “Watch the door,” I said to Winnie. There were two other exits to the outside hall. The last visible one shouted “Wake up!” and sprayed acid. Two others roused themselves from their bunks.
Jarvis spread grease on the floor. Garrock became visible as the spell wore off. He sniffed, sensing an enemy within reach and stabbed at the air. A loud sound, as something slipped and fell next to him. Grease! Garrock pounced, thrusting his trident. Another blackspawn vanished. Hard to keep track. I stepped up and fired arrows at one, lurking in bunk. Jarvis told a joke. “Two elves are taking a shit in the woods…” The blackspawn fell over, rolling in laughter, at the punchline which was just gross.
While Winnie protected one exit with her mace, Garrock blocked the other door, pushing a table against it. Trapped, one by one we took down the others. Even laughing boy stopped. Garrock made him stop. Winnie found a key on one of the guards, and we locked the doors.
A quick search of the room, and from a foot locker, we found potions of invisibility, healing, jumping, pass without a trace, and oils of magic weapon. More interesting: a bejeweled scepter with three entwined snakes; a hand crossbow, and fancy bracers with decorated with arrows. I liked the look of those, and slipped them on.
Garrock respectfully lowered the corpse of his old companion. Winnie inspected the body. The dragon could be raised, if only she had been prepared. After an extended rest, she could try, but no time now.
Errol let himself out of his cell. He looked like hell. Winnie checked him over, then used a powerful restoration spell as she had with Jarmaath. Did the trick. “Thanks, sweetie,” he said, patting her cheek. After guzzling down a healing potion, he told us the blackspawn guards patrolled in groups of three. We might be able to avoid them since we had invisibility potions. But, he thought there was another way out of here. A cell in the corner. He said each time one of his girls was taken away she was placed in that cell where she would suddenly vanish. He went on to explain that all the activity was on the lower level. He said that a blue dragon guards the outside; that’s how they were caught. Now, he wanted to escape. Desperately.
I convinced him we needed to stop Azarr Kul. That was why we came. If we didn’t everything would be wrecked. He shrugged, agreed to help. I gave him my extra rapier and a chain shirt from our bag of holding. I asked him about Miha Serani. He soured, cursing her. She was a guest of honor here. The bitch used to come down here to torment him.
Secret Doors & Swinging Girls
Examining the cell where the girls vanished, I found a secret door, very well-concealed. Locked, but Winnie had found a key. Before we opened it, Jarvis raised his hand, wanting to try one of his new spells: arcane eye. He peered through the keyhole. Shadowy hallway, stairs doing down to another wall. We opened the door, and on the opposing wall, I found another secret door. Listening, I heard faint echoes. Like music, singing. Since we had a glut of potions, we each drank one and vanished.
And this passage ended in yet another dead end. And another hidden door. Definitely music. We could hear it clearly, female voices singing. The girls? Errol perked up. Softly, opening door, the passage opened into a vast, open room. Shadows licked by hundreds of candles of red, blue, and black. Rows of empty pews were arranged in a pit in the center of the round room. On a raised dais sat an altar flanked by twin statues, 12 feet tall, depicting five-headed dragons. The ceiling rose to a height of 60 feet, and dragon scales hung from the rafters on leather strands, stirring softly in the air. We had come into a side entrance. A wide staircase led up to the public entrance.
Five alcoves, about 20 feet off the ground, circled the auditorium. In each, a dragon with a scorpion tail poised to strike. Wyverns. On the stage area, five humanoid figures, scantily clad, performed for the empty pews.
Gray-skinned, but with lustrous hair. Their mouths were stretched out, with large fangs, and there was a bit of stench. They seemed to be rehearsing a number. Crossing arms, hands on hips, slashing. “If you want to be my dinner, come and dance with me” or some-such. It was Errol’s girls, of course, but they had changed.
Winnie said, “Those girls aren’t girls. They’re ghouls!”
Garrock said we should all take an anti-toxin. Wyverns had a nasty sting. Jarvis said, “Look at me, a boring wizard.” He dropped a fireball on the girls. Rosemary burned up, but the others held together. I shot an arrow at Harissa, the scowling one. Errol shot the hand cross bow at the perky blonde Cicely ; the bolt added some fire damage. I struck Saffron the tall, strong one with two shots. Errol shot her as well.
Harissa said, “Errol? Come, my love, join us.” The ghouls came closer, and the stench was revolting, sickening. Winnie stepped up and called on Fharlanghan to turn the undead, while Garrock looked like he was holding back puke.
The wyverns woke up, bellowing in their alcoves. Jarvis asked one to be his friend in exchange for treasure. One wyvern flew down to attack Garrock, and he struck it with Sylvana’s dragonbane greatsword. Garrock was quickly surrounded by three wyverns. Fortunately, their stingers couldn’t penetrate his tough hide; but Errol got lucky and hit the ranger with a flaming bolt. To speed up the inevitable, Jarvis used a scroll of haste. (Mercifully.)
As the last wyvern fell to the dragonbane and the foul ghouls shriveled into a rotting piles, the sound of heavy footfalls pounding on the staircase. More were coming.