Scratchy didn’t have a great deal of luck recovering his arrows. It seems that firing a bunch of arrows into the dark over a lake was a formula for losing most of them. Defeating the glass golem did, however, give Theodore a chance to study the platform it had been on. At each of the seven corners there was a post, the kind you would tie a boat to. At the base of each post there were Thassilonian runes admonishing readers to obey the guardian, but there was something else as well. Something that piqued everyone’s interest.
“These are names,” announced Theodore, “Thassilonian names.”
“What kind of names?” inquired Scratchy, “People? Things? Treasure?”
“No, place names. Places in ancient Thassilon. ‘Xin-Edasseril’, ‘Xin-Shalast’, and here’s one you’ll like: ‘Start of the Bakrakhan Way’.”
“Why would I care about that?”
“Because the Bakrakhan Way was the Thassilonian name for the Irespan.”
“But the Irespan starts at Magnimar!”
“Exactly. I think these were once portals used to travel around Thassilon.”
“Great! Once we’re done here we can use them to travel home!”
“Well, they don’t work anymore, and I don’t …”
“It’ll be good not having to walk through the swamp again!” said Scratchy, as he went back to looking for his arrows.
Theodore tried to explain further, but it was no use. In fact, Scratchy was already heading back to the shore where the door was. The party had tied a rope to one of the mooring posts and stretched it to an iron spike stuck into the beach; it let them bring a boat across to the platform without having to worry about being swept away by the current. Theodore wasn’t that fond of it, but it did do the job. He stepped into the boat and started pulling himself across.
When he got to the other side everyone was drawing themselves up into formation to explore the passage beyond the mural room. As usual, Scratchy would go ahead as a scout, Milacent would lead the main party, Theodore and Zelcor would cower behind her, and Fleabait would bring up the rear. It was a good marching order for dealing with whatever nastiness would come their way.
The passage led out of the room, then turned right, then turned left, then made a u-turn. As soon as Scratchy made it around the last turn he saw a man in a room at the end of the hallway, crouched in the dark and listening. He snuck back to warn the rest of the party, and they agreed upon a plan: Milacent and the main party would come up to the corner bringing noise and their light, and Scratchy would use them as a distraction to allow him to sneak up as close as possible to the man who they figured was waiting to ambush them.
The first part of the plan went perfectly. The man turned all his attention to the noisy group, and Scratchy made it close enough to almost reach out and touch him. Milacent turned the corner, held up her light, and gasped: crouched in the shadows was the most beautiful man she had ever seen. He wore trousers and a cloak, but his torso was entirely uncovered, revealing rippling abdominal muscles and strong, bulging biceps. He was pale, but it was a sexy pale, accentuated by the long, silky hair that hung down from his head in a braid. She was trying to think of something not inappropriate to say when he spoke up. “Greetings,” he said, with preternatural calm, “and who might you be?”
Milacent stammered for a bit before Theodore answered for her, “Travelers from Magnimar. And who would we be speaking to?”
“Gnaeus Gnaru,” the pale man answered, “at your service. Or not. Before we proceed any further, I will need to hear the pass phrase.”
Theodore said the only thing he could think of “Hail, friend, let us pass!”
Gnaeus Gnaru shook his head and pulled a lever, causing a heavy iron gate to descend in front of him. Scratchy jumped out of the way just in time to not be impaled, and then saw Gnaeus retreat to a corner where he couldn’t be seen from the hallway. And then, from that corner, came the ominous sound of a spell being cast.
Scratchy knew what was happening: Gnaeus was casting spells on himself in preparation for a fight. Worse still, he heard the characteristic words of an invisibility spell, meaning the pale man was planning to ambush them. He moved back to the rest of the party, and together they all fell back to the beach just as they heard the sound of the gate rising. Certainly, there would be a fight soon, but they could make it on their terms, not his.
They got back to the beach and shut the door, and almost immediately it flung open again. The invisible man would doubtlessly try to circle around and strike at the spellcasters, but there was one thing about the beach that worked against him: sand. The party looked down and saw the footprints forming, moving toward Zelcor, and immediately unleashed their weapons at it. Gnaeus, now revealed, became visible again as he lashed out toward Zelcor with his rapier, flecks of electricity dancing around it. He hurt the gnome, but it was too little, too late. Milacent took one last look at the sweat glistening off of his perfect pectoral muscles, sighed, then stabbed him through them.
After killing Gnaeus the party looted the room he had been guarding. There was some good gear there, including a number of arrows to replace the ones Scratchy had lost. There was also a set of double doors which, when opened, revealed a long curving hallway, its ceiling supported by marble columns carved to resemble beautiful women.
“Scan for golems!”
Milacent held up the scarab. “No golems!” she reported.
“They might not be golems, but they could still be constructs,” Theodore answered, “because golems are a subset of …”
“Yes, we know”, everyone else replied in unison.
Still, whether the columns were golems, or some other sort of construct, or something different altogether, the party needed to get past them. Everyone readied their weapons while Scratch crept forward as stealthily as he could. Sure enough, as soon as he got close to the first column, something happened, but not quite what they were expecting.
Instead of the whole column animating, the head popped off the first one, and six jointed metal legs unfolded from its neck. It scrambled toward Scratchy, shooting yellow beams from its eyes and clawing with its front two legs. Scratchy scrambled backward as fast he could, stopping only when Milacent’s ranseur came down on the head, causing it to shatter. “Are we going to have to do this with every single column?” Scratchy wondered.
The answer was yes.
Still, the animated heads weren’t so bad one at a time. They mainly served to slow the party as they moved down the hallway. After about 40 feet the columns stopped, and the party found a pit trap which they easily avoided. The hallway now straightened out and came to a door. The adventurers came to it, checked it for traps, listened to it and heard nothing, then burst through.
The room beyond was roughly 20 by 40 feet across, with only a single occupant. Milacent saw him, and immediately forgot about Gnaeus Gnaru. Here was the most beautiful man she had ever seen. He was wearing no cloak or shirt, only a pair of pants and boots, and unlike the pale Gnaeus, he was a dark, brooding sort of otherworldly handsome. As he fixed his smoldering gaze on Milacent, she almost failed to notice the giant bat wings growing out of his back.
The rest of the party was not so smitten. “Demon!” Scratchy shouted, and hopped onto the back of Fleabait. In his quiver he had 10 arrows he had been saving for just such an occasion: arrows forged from cold iron that would harm demonic monsters from the Abyss. He fired several at the demon, causing black blood to ooze out of its wounds. Zelcor cast his glitterdust spell, hoping to blind it, but it brushed aside the effects, and the party began to worry a little bit.
Theodore, for his part, was only mildly concerned. Not only were Scratchy’s arrows made of cold iron, but so was Milacent’s ranseur. She would stab him, and the fight would be over soon enough. Then he heard the demon commanding Milacent, “Protect me! Don’t let them hurt me!”, and to his horror Milacent’s ranseur flashed out at Scratchy.
Milacent didn’t really want to hurt her brother, but he was being so unreasonable. The nice handsome man with the bat wings clearly just wanted to be friends, and here they were attacking him! With the glitterdust on him, he was even sparkling! How could anyone attack a beautiful man like that? In the back of her mind, there was a nagging feeling, though: the impression that something just wasn’t right. She quickly forgot it, however, when she saw Theodore trying to cast a spell at the object of her affection. She didn’t really want to hurt her brother, but Theodore? It was time for him to meet her ranseur.
The rest of the party knew the effects of a magical charm when they saw it, but they had no way to break the spell on Milacent. They quickly realized that their only hope was in killing the demon before their most powerful combatant took down the rest of the party. Scratchy, on his wolf, moved away from Milacent as quickly as he could and fired arrow after arrow at the monster, but it was not dying quickly enough. Zelcor and Theodore joined in, firing spells that they hoped would overcome the natural magic resistance all demons had. Unfortunately, in doing so they further enraged Milacent, who struck out at whoever was standing nearest to her.
Unfortunately for Theodore, that was him. He already had a gash in him from Milacent’s blade, but his healing magic made things better as he backed away, resolving not to attack the demon again. The one bright spot in their situation was that Milacent was attacking people, but not finishing them off; she was only trying to punish those that hurt her new beloved.
Scratchy, for his part, was down to his last arrow. Realizing he’d have no way of hurting the demon once it had been fired, he was using it to stab at the creature. It was clumsy, but it was the only recourse. Milacent had turned her attention toward Zelcor, and even though she wasn’t trying to finish him off, it wouldn’t take much for her blade to take his head off. Theodore saw this, and realized that attacking the demon was unavoidable. He took a deep breath, and fired off a volley of magic missiles, which miraculously penetrated the creature’s magic resistance and caused it to scream as fountains of steaming ichor erupted from its body. In an instant, Milacent was there, raising her ranseur to strike. From the corner of his eye, Theodore saw the creature, writhing in pain, begin to cast a spell. Scratchy leapt at it with his single cold iron arrow, hoping to disrupt the casting, but before he struck home the creature was gone: teleported away.
“It’s gone!” Theodore yelled at Milacent, “You don’t need to defend it anymore!” and he looked with trepidation at the ranseur that was poised to come down on his head. Much to his relief, it did not come down, and Milacent backed away. She appeared confused, but no longer looking to stab anyone.
After some discussion, they concluded that the demon had been an incubus, a type known for charm magic and seductions. Theodore healed everyone as well as he could, but they all agreed it was time to rest and heal their wounds. The party retreated to the room where Gnaeus had been, and barricaded the door. They were not done with fighting, however. While they were resting there was a banging on the door, and five humans in full plate armor broke through. Unfortunately for them, Zelcor still had a fireball ready, and the rest of the party easily finished off the survivors. Picking over the bodies, Theodore noticed they were all female, and all wearing identical sets of red-trimmed armor with a strange rune painted on the front of their shields. It was a Thassilonian rune, to be sure, but he couldn’t quite remember what it meant. It came to him later, as everyone was trying to sleep.
“Lust!” he shouted.
“Well, that was an absolutely beautiful man,” Milacent answered.