“I think I need to rest,” said Theodore, still hurting from the fight with the ooze.
“Oh come on,” Scratchy chided, “You still have spells left. Let’s check out the door with the cages!”
“What? Wait!” Theodore called out, but Scratchy was already bounding off toward the door that had warned about not leaving cages open. He stopped at it, listened, and as soon as the party was lined up behind him he pushed it open. In the room beyond, there were indeed cages, and though they may have once been closed, they were in no shape to hold anything now. In front of them shambled three things that could only be described as misshapen lumps of flesh. They had limbs, like a humanoid, but deformed, and attached at odd angles to their twisted bodies. The three things gave out a hoarse roar and charged at the interlopers, only to be stabbed through the chest (or what resembled a chest) by Scratchy and Milacent’s horsechopper and ranseur, respectively.
“We make a good combination,” Milacent began, “if we just use these polearms to keep things at bay we’ll have no problem with any of the creatures here.”
She turned to Theodore for confirmation, but he was already examining the corpses of the things they’d killed. He touched one, and the echoes of an ancient lecture sounded in his head:
“… and this, dear students, is what happens when you neglect to do things properly. You create not a sinspawn, but these pitiful things, these fleshdregs, as we’ve taken to calling them, and they are forever the mark of a careless or incompetent practitioner of …”
“Ugh,” said Theodore, “they’re mistakes.”
They moved on to find a skeleton wearing scorched half-plate armor slumped over a winch before a portcullis. “You should take that armor,” Theodore advised Milacent, “Half-plate is expensive.” He picked it up, and as he did the skeleton crumbled into dust.
“Isn’t anyone concerned about how this person died?” Milacent asked, looking around apprehensively, “And anyway, it’s too rusted to be of use.”
“He was probably killed when Thassilon fell,” answered Theodore, “and I can fix the rust with a spell tomorrow. Just bring it along, and help us lift this portcullis.”
Milacent did so, unnerved as she was about the whole situation. Previously, there had been a myriad of enemies to stab, but this place reeked of powerful magic, which her weapons and fighting skill would be of little use against.
She soon had more cause for concern, as they turned a corner and found themselves in a corridor lined entirely with iron plates on its floor, walls, and ceiling. Upon each plate was inscribed row upon row of mysterious runes, interspersed with scorch marks at random intervals. Milacent pulled back, but Theodore moved forward, and motioned for Zelcor to join him.
“Fascinating,” Theodore said to the gnome. “Magical, clearly, but what does it do? Do you know?”
Zelcor just shrugged.
“What do you mean you don’t know?” demanded Scratchy, “Aren’t you a couple of magic guys? Isn’t this why you’re along on this expedition?”
Theodore began a long speech about how magical identification was not quite as simple as sneaking around and stabbing things, and anyway these were artifacts of ancient Thassilon, and no one could be expected to know immediately what their use could be, and several other points that he went into at length after everyone else had stopped listening. Zelcor, for his part, decided to take a more empirical approach to identification. He threw a copper piece down the hall.
He used a magical, unseen hand to pick it up from a distance, then bang it against various iron plates. He had been doing this for about a minute when there was a flash of bluish light, ending Theodore’s lecture. The party members looked at each other silently for a second, and then Zelcor began banging the coin against the iron plates again. There was nothing at first, then another flash, then nothing again, then a light that wasn’t a flash, but a glowing orb that hovered in the air. As the party watched, it resolved into a hole, and suddenly there was a giant yellow eye in the hole, looking through it at the party members. And then, as quickly as they’d appeared, the eye and the hole and the light were gone. There was definitely strange magic at work here, but it hadn’t seemed to hurt the party so far, and more to the point they were not getting any closer to the next shard by just standing still and looking at flashes of light. They decided to push forward into the corridor, strange magic be damned.
They were about twenty feet in when the corridor turned, then turned again, and they quickly realized they were in a maze of some sort. As they walked along, armor clanking against the metal floor, they stopped when they heard a howl echoing through the corridors. Milacent let out a sigh of relief. Finally, something she could stab.
They didn’t have to wait long to find the source of the noise. They turned a corner and came face to face with a large wolf-like creature with reddish-brown fur and fiery, burning eyes. Milacent rushed forward to hit it with her ranseur, and was greeted with a blast of flame pouring out of the creature’s mouth. It hurt, but she managed to twist aside and avoid the majority of it. She responded by stabbing the creature, and Scratchy came and helped. Soon it was just another corpse.
While Milacent congratulated herself on another glorious victory, Scratchy was looking at the ground. “There are a lot of scratches against the iron,” he said, “and bits of fur all through these corridors.”
“So?” demanded Milacent.
“So it’s been here a while. Days, maybe weeks, maybe months or years, depending on how often it needs to eat. We didn’t just summon it with our banging against the metal.”
“Good to know,” said Zelcor, and continued banging the coin against the walls. As they walked, they found that the maze was circular in shape, with a cylindrical room at its center. Here there were slightly more scorch marks on the iron plates, but it was otherwise no different than any other part of the maze.
“That’s it?” exclaimed Scratchy, “No treasure? This place is stupid!”
“Maybe there’s a secret door,” said Zelcor, and he started banging against the walls with a hammer, hoping to hear a hollow sound. The party followed him, each searching along the walls for something that would indicate a door or a secret chamber of some sort. This went on for a while until Zelcor hit his hammer against an iron plate and there was another huge flash, momentarily blinding the party. When their vision returned, they were standing not in the maze but in a terrible red-tinged hellscape, hot winds scorched their faces underneath a dark alien sky, and off in the distance sounds of screaming and torment could be heard. Then it was gone, and they were in the iron maze once again, but now in their midst were too gibbering lemures, and they lashed out violently at the cleric.
“Ow!” shouted Theodore. They didn’t hit particularly hard, but it wasn’t fun being hit either. He smashed his morningstar into the nearest one, but it stuck in the creature’s congealed flesh with no apparent effect. It would take a large, powerful weapon to hurt these things, and Theodore didn’t have one. He also remembered, as Zelcor fired an acid dart at one of the lemures, that these hell-spawned things were immune to fire, poison, and mind-affecting effects, and highly resistant to acid and cold: immune to Zelcor’s spells, basically. It would be up to Scratchy and Milacent to kill them.
Scratchy stabbed at one of them, but it was hard to hit as it leapt and clawed at Theodore. Milacent tried as well, with similar results. They tore into Theodore again. “What’s wrong with you? Kill these things!” Theodore shouted as he flailed away uselessly with this morningstar. Scratchy caught one, but it didn’t die. Milacent hit the other, which likewise failed to die. “Hit the same one!” cried Theodore as he was clawed again.
It was admittedly an unexpected situation for Scratchy and Milacent. They were usually at the front of the party, in a line, holding off the enemy. Now the enemy was in their midst, beating on their healer. Still, stabbing things was their forte, and eventually the lemures were slain, but not before Theodore sustained a few more wounds.
As they pushed away the corpses, Theodore healed himself as much as he could with the spells he had left. Then he turned to Scratchy and said in an exasperated tone, “NOW, can I rest?”