Sheila Heidmarch listened intently to the party’s story of what they had encountered in the Crow. She was particularly interested in the various statues and murals they had found, and she asked them to come back with illustrations the next time. Everyone agreed, and then when straight to bed. It had been a long day.
When they awoke the next morning, the party made a few preparations, then headed back to the Crow. There was, after all, almost certainly still treasure to be had, and a shard to be found. They were troubled, however, by the crowd that had gathered around them the previous day. This time, they made their way through the sewers to a more inconspicuous point beneath the Irespan, and set off from there. There was no telling who might be taking more than a casual interest in their quest for the next shard.
When they arrived at the Crow, the four of them first made their way to where they had met the ghoul, Lockerbie Brast. Theodore had reasoned that if he liked painting so much he might be amenable to making illustrations of the statues that Sheila was so interested in, and they had brought him new art supplies to make the whole process easier, but he wasn’t in his former spot. The corridors they had been through previously were in fact all empty now, and though the party themselves were the reason for that (on account of their killing everything that had been present), there was still an eeriness to the silent halls they now walked through.
When they got to the room where they had killed the derros, everything was silent as well, but not still. Scratchy noticed something fluttering through the darkness, heading down a stairway they hadn’t yet explored. He told the others, and they readied their weapons and went after it. Whatever it was, it was probably not friendly, and it probably had treasure!
The stairs went down about 30 feet, leading into a hallway that in turn led to a large room that had been set up as a crude alchemical lab. The alchemical gear itself was of high quality, but it sat on planks laid over barrels in order to fashion makeshift tables. And in the far corner, flitting about near the ceiling, were what looked like two tiny, identical, bat-winged derros.
“I’ll handle them,” Milacent said, and went into the room with her ranseur held high in a stabbing position. As soon as she did, however, there was the sound of breaking glass as a burst of flame erupted behind her, catching all four of them in its radius. At the same time, the two tiny derros shrieked and dove in on them, clawing at the unarmored Zelcor. Theodore looked around for the source of the explosion, and saw, floating in a corner, a slightly larger, non-winged version of the two creatures that were currently attacking them.
The spellcaster would have to die, of course, but there were things to be taken care of before then. Milacent lashed out at one of the bat-winged creatures, killing it instantly. Scratchy backed up and fired his bow at the other, and between him, Theodore, and Zelcor it died a similarly ignominious death. While they did so, another bomb exploded in their midst. The party turned its attention to the floating bomb-thrower, and soon it was bleeding purplish blood and trying to find an escape route. Then it disappeared.
Everyone stopped. Maybe it had teleported away, or maybe it had turned invisible and was still in the room. Milacent listened carefully. As the only human in the party, she knew was at a disadvantage in these dark underground corridors. Whereas the others could see perfectly well in dim light, or even total darkness, she needed torches and lanterns to make her way around. Sight was not the only sense, however, and she had been training herself to make the best use of her other ones, senses which were not impaired at all by darkness, or invisibility for that matter. She listened closely and heard a faint sound at a near wall. A half-second later she realized it was a rythmic sound. Yes, something breathing. She lashed out with her ranseur and suddenly it was coated with more purplish blood. The invisible creature was now visible again, pinned to the wall with Milacent’s blade. It thrashed about for a few more seconds, then went limp as it died.
Everyone congratulated Milacent on her mastery of blind-fighting, then set about the important task of searching the room for treasure. Much of the alchemical equipment had been wrecked in the fight, but they were able to recover some potions, some vials of acid, assorted coins, and two unidentified but definitely magical pieces of equipment. One was a wand, which upon careful study Theodore determined to be a wand for casting the Spiritual Weapon spell. He claimed it for himself, since he was the only one who could properly use it anyway. They other one was a pin in the shape of a scarab beetle. Theodore turned it over and over, then put it away and resolved to figure out what it did later.
Having thoroughly ransacked the former laboratory, the party made their way back out to the main derro room. As they came up the staircase, Scratchy called for them to stop. Something was wrong. Something was very wrong. He looked at the secret door he had found the day before. It was open now. Had they left it open? Had they re-closed it? He couldn’t remember, but as he was trying to recall there was a terrible screeching noise. Everyone looked up and saw, scuttling towards them across the ceiling, two large creatures that could only be described as demonic spiders. They had seen a dead one the day before, behind the secret door, and it had given them shivers; the live ones were much much worse.
Everyone sprang into action as the silence was shattered. Scratchy pulled out his bow and began firing. Zelcor began casting spells but was quickly caught up in a thick, sticky web. Milacent raised her ranseur and began stabbing at the ceiling, and Theodore pulled out his crossbow and began shooting as well. As he did he realized that the things weren’t just shrieking, they were speaking. Speaking ancient Thassilonian, to be precise. “Thieves!” they were shouting, “Thieves and robbers! Agents of Karzoug! Return to your master and tell him that the shard will remain here for all time!”
As much as Theodore would have liked to ponder the implications of what they were saying, there was the little matter of not dying to attend to. Things were not going well. Zelcor had tried to catch the creatures with glitterdust, then with a sheet of flame, and they had returned the favor by heading straight for him. Milacent tried to block their path, but the fact that they were crawling across the ceiling, coupled with the open nature of the room, allowed them to weave around her easily. In an instant one was past her, and dropped down right next to Zelcor. It reared up on its hind legs and four claws slashed out at the gnome. He staggered backward, then fell to the ground.
Milacent rushed over to where Zelcor had fallen. He was still breathing, if ever so slightly, so she stood over him to protect him until he could be healed. In the meantime, she stabbed at one of the creatures in the hopes of bringing him down quickly. Scratchy rushed over to help as well, but the second creature met him and began stabbing at him with its four claws as well, and then it lunged forward and bit him. Milacent pushed it off of him, but Scratchy was now slipping on a pool of his own blood, and feeling weakened as well. “Great, poison,” he thought, fading into unconsciousness, “We are so dead.”
And as Scratchy collapsed to the ground, things were indeed looking grim. Milacent stood by herself facing the two creatures, with Theodore several feet behind her, hoping they wouldn’t come for him next. He had pulled out the wand he had acquired earlier, and now a ghostly quarterstaff was striking at the spider-things, but it wasn’t going to stop them, much less kill the both of them before they managed to come around and kill him. Still, as long as they were alive, they could fight. Theodore resolved that at the very least, the creatures would have to work a little bit more to kill him. The priest raised up his hands and called upon the healing power of Nethys. He had done this many times before, but not with quite the same urgency. As he called, pure life force coursed from his hands, and as it did both Scratchy and Zelcor opened their eyes once again. They were conscious and alive, but not exactly in the mood to celebrate.
Zelcor, for his part, took a second to stare at the puddles of blood on the ground. There were several moderate-sized pools, with little rivulets flowing off of them through irregularities in the floor. The dark liquid was flowing slowly to the lowest point in the room, and in time it would collect there in a single large pool. It was fascinating, thought Zelcor, coming out of his unconscious state, but then the shriek of a spider-creature focused his attention on the situation at hand. He was alive and crawling on the ground, but he had to get out of where he was. Seeing Theodore, he began to crawl toward the priest, staying low so as not to draw the creatures’ attention. One did see him, however, and moved to stab him again. But this time, Milacent was there. She intercepted it with her ranseur and pushed it far enough back that Zelcor could get away.
Scratchy, also returning to consciousness, saw Milacent’s action and a thought rang out in his head: “That’s what we should’ve been doing all along!” He got to his feet as pain shot through his body. It hurt, but at least it meant he was still alive. The nearest creature lashed out at him, but missed this time. The important thing, he realized, was to keep them at bay, and not allow them to get all of their claw attacks in. Then Zelcor and Theodore’s spells would have time to finish them off. Scratchy picked up his horsechopper and shouted at Milacent to form the polearm wall with him. Now that the creatures were on the ground, stopping them would be easier, and that’s what they did. Zelcor, still on the ground, let loose with his final acid darts, while Theodore continued to attack with his spiritual weapon and heal his comrades as best he could whenever the creatures were able to strike through the two polearms. in the end it was close, but the creatures died, and the four party members were still alive, if hurt and exhausted.
With the battle over, Theodore doled out the last of his magical healing. While they were debating whether to hole up in the Crow to rest or return to Magnimar, Scratchy stood up, and walked to the secret door. This was a terrible idea. For all they knew there was a trap there, or more of the spider-creatures, and they were too beat up to deal with either. Scratchy knew this, and yet he kept going. It was as if something was compelling him, something he couldn’t resist. And while the others were debating, he slipped unnoticed through the secret door, through the cobwebs, and down the stairs.
Milacent took a second out of the debate to turn to her brother and ask, “What do you think?” but he wasn’t there. She and the others looked around, saw the hole in the cobwebs, and in a moment of horror realized where Scratchy had gone. They gathered up their weapons and went after him, screaming. They crashed down the spiral stairs in a growing panic, then reached the bottom, turned a corner, and stopped.
The room they had entered had a domed ceiling studded with crystals from which there came a soft, golden light. The room was painted in reds and golds, looking as fresh as if they had just been laid, and in the center of it all was an altar, which Scratchy was standing in front of. He had the Shard of Pride in one hand, and the other was reaching for something on the altar. Milacent moved up to him to see what it was, and then she saw it; on top of the altar was an indentation in the shape of a seven-pointed star, an indentation that was empty except for one of the points. In that point was a long, single shard of black metal, nested perfectly. Scratchy was reaching for it slowly, but Milacent’s hand got there first.
“You have a shard,” she said, “This one is mine.”