The next day the party set out to find their way into the Lady’s Light. They had decided to try to enter the tunnels via the boggard village. The idea was that the boggards had befriended one group of outsiders, so maybe they would befriend another group and let them into the tunnels without a fight. The problem was that the boggards lived along the southern shore of the lagoon, and the straightest path to them meant passing both the troglodytes and the cave of the creature Gegganallag, both of which would probably bring the fight they were trying to avoid. There was another way, however. They could go around the northern shore of the lagoon, bypassing the other cave entrances altogether and coming to the boggard village (hopefully) unmolested. There was also the fact that they would pass by the Lady’s Light on the way, and Scratchy wanted to see if there really was no way in above the surface.
There was one catch to the plan, which was that the northern shore of the lagoon was made up largely of a sandbar that would be submerged at high tide, they had to wait until the afternoon for the tide to go down, and then it was slow going across the wet sand, but in the end they made it across with merely some wet feet.
And as a bonus, they were now at the Lady’s Light. Walking around the base, they indeed failed to find any entrances, but they were still not convinced Maroux was telling the truth. Scratchy looked at the side of it. Although the statue was caked in salt from millenia spent by the sea, it was still a stone surface, not unlike a cave wall, and if there was anything Scratchy was good at, it was climbing cave walls. He flexed his hands a bit, then leapt at the side and began to climb. Sure enough, he was able to scramble all the way up to the statue’s face, which he began to crawl over, looking for an opening. Perhaps he could enter through the nose? The mouth? The ears?
“Stop crawling around her face!” Milacent yelled at him.
Satisfied that there was no entrance on the statue’s head, Scratchy climbed up to the light the statue held aloft. It was made of some sort of translucent crystal material, and Scratchy examined it closely. Maybe if he could see something inside, he thought, it would give a clue as to a way in …
And then the light flashed.
Two hundred feet below, the other party members heard a shriek. Looking up, they saw Scratchy backing away from the light quickly, holding a hand over his eyes. Luckily, he didn’t fall, and eventually made his way back down and confirmed that there was no entrance.
By now it was getting dark again, and everyone decided to make camp on the beach near the statue. Despite the slog across the wet sand, and despite Scratchy’s nearly being blinded, it had been a surprisingly pleasant day. The sand, though not an ideal walking surface, was still markedly better than the swamp they had been pushing through, and there had been a good ocean breeze blowing over them the whole time. For Scratchy in particular, the view from the top of the Lady’s Light had been spectacular. His vision was surprisingly unaffected from staring straight into such a bright light as it flashed, but it was still noticeably more shadowy and indistinct than usual. Nevertheless, he amused himself by fishing on the shore with Milacent and the others.
As Scratchy was walking back from the water with his catch of fish, he stopped and looked off into the trees beyond the beach. His eyesight was degraded, true, but there were other ways of telling if something was approaching. There was sound, and there was smell, and he was very quickly developing a sense that he should be seeing something but wasn’t.
“Everybody, get your weapons!” he shouted, and it was just in time. Out of the shadows came a group of strange humanoid creatures. Their leathery skin was completely hairless, but most disturbing was the fact that where their faces should have been there were no actual features but a grotesque and unsettling set of whorls and slits.
The first targets were the animals. Zelcor’s riding dog was set upon by two of the creatures, and the mule by three more. Theodore, who had been standing by the mule, tried to stand out of reach of the creatures and cast spells, but then one of them reached out toward him and its arm stretched out, like a length of rubber, to grab at him. Scratchy looked around and tried to count how many there were. The riding dog and the mule were being attacked, Theodore and now Zelcor were being attacked, that meant there were four, five, six, seven, eight of these creatures?
The melee was quickly degenerating. Milacent stabbed at one of the ones attacking the mule, and it was hurt, but didn’t die. That was bad news; outnumbered as they were, the party would have to kill these things quickly in order to survive, and that was not happening. Meanwhile, their animals were dying. Zelcor’s riding dog had stopped moving, and the creatures had inserted long, barbed tongues into its body, presumably to drink its blood. An instant later, the mule also collapsed, to be set upon similarly by the assailants. Milacent and Scratchy were fighting, but it wasn’t enough, and now Theodore was in the grasp of one of the creatures as well.
There was now no saving Theodore, Scratchy decided, and without a healer the battle was essentially lost. He hopped onto his wolf and began to ride away. It would be hard getting back to Magnimar without a healer, but the first priority was to survive this day. Theodore, being an aasimar, used an ability he’d always had but never used: he made his armor shine with bright light, momentarily causing the creatures grappling him to back away. The maneuver bought him some time, but it was not enough. He was still hurt, still surrounded, and would not be able to escape the creatures before they finished him off. With Scratchy leaving, that left only Milacent to kill the creatures, assuming she didn’t leave as well. And Zelcor? Without his riding dog he was too slow to get away. Soon he would be dead too.
And then Milacent remembered something. She reached into her pack and grabbed the Shard of Greed that she’d been carrying. Give us speed, she thought to herself, and suddenly, just like in the fight with the Black Kiss Boys, she was faster, and Theodore and Zelcor were faster, and now they were fast enough to get away from the creatures, and Milacent would be able to attack the creatures more often in order to fend them off, and maybe, just maybe, things wouldn’t turn out as disastrously as they had seemed just moments before.
Scratchy saw Milacent’s actions and remembered something of his own. Hadn’t Natalya Vancaskerkin used the Shard of Pride to create an illusory wall of fire? And hadn’t Kieran the Magnificent used it to create images for his show? Those had been extremely convincing illusions, with sound and heat in addition to visuals. Scratchy grabbed the shard and began to think, We need something scary, he thought, something large and scary and native to this area.
There was a roar from behind the attacking creatures, and everybody looked and saw the largest creature that Scratchy and company had yet encountered in the mushfens: a full grown manticore. The faceless creatures stopped, then wavered, and then began to run away. Scratchy had his illusionary manticore chase them as far as the spell could reach while the party made its escape, and just like that the fight was over.
The four Pathfinders had lost the riding dog and the mule, but none of the actual adventurers. It was a hard loss, and it meant they would travel more slowly, but their combat effectiveness would at least stay the same. They found a location that they felt was more easily defensible, and spent a restless and vigilant night.
When morning came, the adventurers made their way to the boggard camp. This time, things went according to plan. The boggards were indeed willing to allow access to the tunnels in exchange for gifts; Milacent gave them a longsword she had been keeping as a backup weapon, Theodore gave them some trinkets, and soon they were in the tunnels. There were some unpleasant cave creatures to deal with (solifugids, to be precise), but soon the party found the point where three tunnels merged into one, headed west toward the statue. Whatever the Lady’s Light had in store, it was time to meet it.