It was definitely music, and not just music: there was also the sound of laughter, the clinking of fine crystal, and the murmur of a large crowd. It was as if a grand party was in full swing, just down the corridor.
The party crept forward and peeked around the corner. Sure enough, they saw an opulent ball taking place in a cavernous marble hall. Dozens of men and women in sumptuous clothing and wearing extravagant masks danced about to the music of an orchestra sitting on a stage at the far end. And sitting just below the stage was none other than the Runelord Sorshen herself, or someone who looked very like her.
Theodora turned to Helanda and asked, “Who are these people?”
“I don’t know,” Helanda answered, “I’ve never seen any of them before now.”
Theodora thought for a minute and then had an idea. “Maybe it’s an illusion,” she said.
It made sense. An illusion this large would require powerful magic, but they had seen magic of that magnitude already in this complex, and it was certainly more likely than a living runelord holding social events beneath the Lady’s Light. Theodora reached out with her senses, looking for traces of magic, and sure enough a powerful aura of illusion magic radiated from the ballroom. “Scratchy, go up and touch something,” Theodora suggested.
Scratchy wasn’t overjoyed about entering the ballroom, but he snuck forward anyway. As soon as he was in the ballroom, before he’d even touched anything, the other Sorshen stood up and addressed the crowd.
“Now, my subjects,” she began, “now is the time to enjoy the succulent fruits of our labor. Eat, and drink, and indulge every one of your libidinous appetites, for in doing so you honor me and my domain. But before you do, know that there are those in our midst who would interfere with our carnal sacrament. Those who even now work actively against us. Behold, my subjects, the oafish interlopers who would dare stand against me!”
And with that the whole room turned to stare at Scratchy. “Drag them here!” a tall man shouted, and the crowd surged forward with an angry howl. Scratchy jumped back, but they were impossibly fast. In an instant the crowd was upon him, tearing at him and screaming. Scratchy lashed out with his flail to defend himself, but the weapon struck only air.
And then the crowd was gone. The music, the food, the orchestra, and even the other Sorshen had disappeared, an illusion after all. Strange thing was, Theodora could still sense an aura of illusion magic. Weaker now, but still there.
“Invisibility,” whispered Milacent, “I can’t see it, but I know something’s there.”
The party pulled back to discuss their plan. Milacent’s blind-fighting ability would find them their enemy, but they were concerned that the strange red-skinned creatures they had fought before would join in any fight that broke out in the ballroom. They decided to go back and kill those creatures first, then take on whatever was in the ballroom by itself.
The fight that followed was quick and violent. First, Theodora walked past the red-skinned creatures and called out, “Servants, attend to me!” and once they turned toward her the rest of the party attacked. The surprise was total, and soon the creatures lay dead upon the ground. Then the adventurers turned to the ballroom. Milacent burst in, trusting her blindflighting ability to suss out the location of their enemies. She was greeted by a wolverine appearing out of nowhere, probably summoned. Their invisible enemy apparently thought it could fight them with summoned creatures while avoiding combat itself. It soon found out how badly it had miscalculated. The wolverine was quickly slain, and the sound of the casting allowed Milacent to determine the general area of the caster. Zelcor filled that area with glitterdust, revealing the form of another one of the red-skinned creatures, this one floating in the air. It tried to fly to the ceiling, but Scratchy’s arrows and Zelcor’s spells soon brought it crashing to the ground, dead.
Theodora touched the creatures to determine their origin. A flood of images flashed through his mind, and soon he knew what they were: sinspawn, created as servants for the Runelord of Lust. They had served their mistress faithfully, but now they were dead.
The ballroom, now empty, was still a sight to behold. Two rows of pillars carved to resemble tree trunks supported a ceiling thirty feet high. Frescoes on the ceiling depicted the canopy trees would provide, and above it a full moon in a star-studded sky. On the floor was a lavish rug running the length of the room, colored burnt orange and shot through with threads of gold. Two great burgundy tapestries hung on either side of a balcony on the east wall, where the party had entered, and on the opposite end, where the orchestra had been, four great statues of a beautiful woman guarded the stage.
It was these statues that now drew everyone’s attention. After scanning them to ensure they weren’t golems, the party approached cautiously. Searching nearby, Scratchy found the telltale outlines of a secret door, and everyone was on their toes again. When the door opened, Theodora sensed the subtle aura of an alarm spell, and everybody backed away. Soon, though, the aura faded, and it was time to enter.
The room they found themselves in was an octagon maybe thirty feet across. The floor was decorated with a colorful mosaic depicting hundreds of interwoven, multicolored serpents intermingled with disembodied human arms. Across from the entrance was an iron-bound oaken door.
Theodora took a deep breath. A room guarded with an alarm spell suggested guards, so they set themselves up so that only Theodora would be visible through the door, and with a flourish they threw it open.
On the other side were more of the Gray Maidens, sitting around a table. They stood up as soon as the door was opened, and uttered the words Theodora had hoped they would: “Greetings, Mistress.”
“Ah, my servants,” Theodora said, “Come here and attend to me.” There would be no messing around with lighting things up this time. The plan was to draw them into the room, then Milacent and Helanda would ambush them.
The Gray Maidens looked to one of their number, evidently the commander. This woman hesitated for a moment before asking, “Mistress, we have still not received the magic shields you mentioned. When will they be arriving?”
“Oh yes, the shields,” Theodora answered, “they’re on their way. Now come over here like I told you.”
The commander turned to one of the others and said, “Go get the gifts.” The other woman bowed slightly and rushed off to a nearby door, then the other women moved towards Theodora. The doorway to the octagonal room was too narrow for them to walk through side-by-side, so they formed into a single file line, with the commander in the lead. As soon as she was through, she caught sight of the rest of the party, and her hand flew to her weapon.
Helanda was the first on Theodora’s side to act. “Remember me, Quinelle?” she said as she lunged forward with her sword. Quinelle parried it aside with her shield and backed into the room she’d been in. Milacent also lunged forward and soon there was a swarming, clanging melee at the doorway. The Gray Maidens were heavily armored and skilled with weapons, but they were no match for their attackers. Soon all of them were dead except for Quinelle, who was bleeding badly after being knocked to the ground by Milacent. She turned and crawled toward the door she had sent the other woman to and began to scream.
“Danzomir!” she shouted, “Get out here, we need you! The intruders are here, and one of them is disguised as the mistress!”
Milacent silenced Quinelle by stabbing her through the back, but as soon as she did the other door flew open, and the battle took a darker turn. Coming through the door were more Gray Maidens, as expected, but accompanying them were two sinewy, goat-headed humanoids, seven feet tall and carrying oddly engraved halberds. They were worrisome enough, but what caused the sinking feeling in everyone’s stomachs was the handsome, bat-winged man that stood in the rear: it was the incubus that had bewitched Milacent before.
Theodora, however, had a plan. At the center of the room was a large column with a spiral staircase winding around it. The new arrivals were charging forward, but they would have to pass between the column and the wall to reach the party. Theodora stretched her hand forward, and as soon as the Gray Maidens and the demons were between the wall and the column Theodora uttered the words that triggered her spell. Instantly, a mass of white, sticky strands between the column and the wall, trapping the maidens and the demons in their midst. It was a masterful move, Theodora thought to herself. Not only were the melee attackers prevented from reaching them, but the web was impossible to see through. Since spells or spell-like abilities all required line of sight, not only was the incubus trapped in it, he would be unable to use his enchantment powers on Milacent.
Theodora was still looking in satisfaction at the writhing, struggling mass in the web when she heard the ominous flap of wings. To her horror, she saw the incubus emerging from the other side of the column. Why was it not stuck in the web? Had it broken free? Had it evaded the spell and never been caught in the first place? There was no time for speculation, however, as the incubus was already casting its spell on Milacent.
“Kill the impostor!” the incubus commanded, pointing at Theodora. For a moment Milacent didn’t move, and it seemed she may have been able to resist the spell. Then she turned turned toward Theodora and plunged her ranseur into her. Theodora staggered backward for a moment, then collapsed into a bloody heap upon the ground.
Helanda positioned herself over Theodora’s body, ready to take on Milacent. Scratchy saw her and shouted for her to back away. The only way any of them were going to survive was if they killed the incubus.
Zelcor started the attack by casting his glitterdust spell on the demon. He crossed his fingers that the incubus would be blinded, and to his relief the creature began to howl and claw at its eyes. It wouldn’t be casting any spells on them, but it was still dangerous. The incubus descended to the ground and began slashing wildly with its scimitar. Helanda tried to stab at it, but her weapon was made of steel, not cold iron, and it was useless against a creature from the abyss. Zelcor tried to fire acid darts and magic missiles at it, only to realize that demons possessed a natural resistance to magic attacks, and the spells fizzled. Scratchy had one cold iron arrow remaining, and he used it to stab desperately at his enemy. Every now and then he would connect, but it was slow going. To destroy this thing, they would need Milacent.
The woman in question, meanwhile, was standing over Theodora’s body. She held her hand to her head and blinked quickly, trying to clear the cloud that seemed to fill her mind. The spell instruction had been to kill the impostor. She had done that, and now its grip upon her loosened. With a snap of her head, she realized what she had done, and who was responsible. She hefted her cold iron ranseur and headed toward the incubus.
Helanda, for her part, had backed away. Without a weapon that could harm the demon, there was no point in her engaging it. She had made her way back to Theodora’s body when she heard a voice whisper, “Is she gone?”
Helanda looked down to see Theodora looking up at her. “I thought you were dead!” Helanda whispered back.
“Shh! Don’t let Milacent know! Now get me out of here in case she realizes I’m just pretending.”
Helanda, as nonchalantly as she could, picked up Theodora and carried her back into the octagonal room, out of Milacent’s sight. When she returned, she saw Milacent repeatedly cleaving into the incubus.
“That’s for making me kill my friend!” Helanda shouted, and with a final furious blow she cut the demon’s body in half, spraying black ichor everywhere as it collapsed into a gruesome heap.
The rest of the battle went much more smoothly. Zelcor used a fireball to incinerate the web, killing the remaining Gray Maidens in the process. The two demons survived and charged at the party, but with Milacent fighting for them again, the party was able to put them down. While Milacent was mopping up, Helanda took the opportunity to surreptitiously inform everyone else of Theodora’s non-death.
With the battle over, Milacent expressed her remorse over the death of Theodora. “Oh, yeah,” Scratchy said, “it’s going to be real tough from now on, without a healer and all.” He didn’t seem as upset as Milacent thought he’d be, but maybe he was just in shock. Milacent was more surprised when the others insisted they stay there for several hours (coincidentally the amount of time it took for a suggestion spell to wear off). She understood it more when Theodora showed up at the end of that time, fully healed.
“Um, you’re not going to stab me now, are you?” the healer asked.
“Not unless you get smart with me.” Milacent answered.