Amid the general happiness over Theodora not being dead, a dark thought was running through the party members’ minds.
“How are we going to beat the other Sorshen?”
Twice now they had fought an incubus, with increasingly painful results. If the “Sorshen” that had ensorcelled the Gray Maidens were a similarly powerful enchanter (everyone suspected a succubus), then the result could very well be the end for their little band.
“Well, they’re not exactly casting a spell,” Theodora muttered to herself, “but …”
“Hey! I found a secret door!”
Theodora cut short her reverie to help investigate the room beyond the newly-discovered door. It was another large chamber, this one with walls covered by a partially-completed mural depicting various creatures involved in various forms of bloodletting and blood drinking. There was a reddish sheen over the paint, and as Scratchy approached the wall, he saw to his horror that the sheen was lifting off the mural, and forming into a semi-solid mist that was reaching out to envelop him.
“Ack! Magic! Help!” the goblin screamed.
The mist was a horrible apparition that formed blood-red claws hanging in the air. It was hard to hit, and where it slashed its enemies it left gashes that bled far too much to be natural. Fortunately, it also turned out to be vulnerable to fire, and Zelcor’s magic burned it away.
Beyond that room was another room, this one rough and unfinished. Its only adornment was a carving on the far wall, with still-wet reddish paint dripping down its surface.
“Wait, I don’t think that’s paint,” Milacent said. “I think it’s … actual blood.”
“Let’s not mess with this,” admonished Theodora, remembering the murals.
“But two decorated rooms behind a secret door?” Scratchy replied, “there’s got to be treasure!” And with that he crept closer to the wall. He was roughly halfway across the room when the carving seemed to shimmer, and three things stepped out of it, passing through the stone as if it were a curtain.
“Ack!” shouted Scratchy, and scrambled back towards the rest of the party. The things were six feet tall, resembling human skeletons with a bone-tight hide of slimy leather. From their heads extended a single horn, and they carried longspears that they jabbed at Scratchy as he retreated.
Milacent didn’t know what they were, but she was pretty sure they needed to die. She lunged forward with her ranseur, stabbing at the one in the lead and stopping it in its tracks. The party had retreated into a narrow hallway that separated the two rooms, and Milacent was fairly certain that she could hold the creatures off while everyone else attacked from a distance. Initially, the plan worked well. Milacent’s cold iron ranseur was devastating against them, and the first one was quickly slain. Then one of its comrades paused, disappeared, and reappeared behind Milacent, in the midst of the squishier members of the party.
“Kill it! Kill it quickly!” Theodora screamed. Milacent turned briefly to face the teleporting monster, but as she did the third one charged her from the opposite side. Milacent turned back to stop it just in time, but it was clear that the rest of the party was on its own. Helanda struck at the creature, but her sword merely rebounded off its hide. Scratchy stabbed at it with his one remaining cold iron arrow, and that hurt it, but there was a great deal of stabbing left to do as the creature lashed out at him in retaliation. What he did do, however, was draw its attention away from Theodora and Zelcor. Without the threat of being stabbed, they were free to unleash their magical attacks at the beast, and soon it was a smoking corpse upon the ground. The last one, still facing Milacent, let out a vicious hiss, then suddenly disappeared.
“Don’t know where it’s gone,” said Theodora, “but I don’t think it’ll bother us any more.”
With the guardians dispatched, the party was able to study the carving more closely. It was an extremely detailed depiction of a flat-topped stone pyramid looming over a coastline. The lower half appeared to be a cutaway view of the earth beneath the pyramid, indicating several levels of chambers and caverns. At the very bottom was a chamber in which an enormous nude woman reclined, her back arched as if in the throes of sexual ecstasy. The blood they had seen from a distance was running down from the chambers above into this woman’s mouth.
Theodora was just trying to remember what she found familiar about the pyramid when Helanda spoke up. “By the Queen! That’s the Grand Mastaba!”
“The Grand Mastaba! The pyramid that Castle Korvosa is built on! The city is built around it! The queen lives right above it! Is that below it? What does this mean?”
“It means we know what gave your queen the vision that sent you here,” Scratchy replied.
“Oh, yeah, the Grand Mastaba,” Theodora added, “I knew that. Well, this is interesting information. I guess that’s the treasure.”
“No it’s not!” shouted Scratchy, “Information’s not treasure! Gold and jewels are treasure! WHERE IS IT?”
But alas, there was nothing else to be found. When Scratchy dejectedly gave up his search for precious metals, the party returned to the room where they had fought the incubus and Gray Maidens. At its center, the spiral staircase wound ominously up around the vast central pillar.
“Do we really need to go up?” Theodora wondered, “Milacent, can you do the thing with the shard again?”
“The thing?” Milacent teased, but she knew what she meant. She pulled out the Shard of Greed, closed her eyes, and concentrated. In her mind, she had a feeling of rushing upward, and then she saw a shard of deep red metal nestled on a shelf.
Milacent opened her eyes and said, “Yes, we need to go up.”
Everyone sighed, and then formed up to ascend the stairs. Scratchy scouted ahead, with Milacent leading the main group and Helanda guarding the rear. The ceiling of the room was thirty feet high, and when the stairs passed it they were plunged into darkness, which Zelcor remedied with a light spell. They would now be easily visible to any creatures lurking above them, but it was better than being unable to see, and they continued onward. The staircase continued to wind around the column, and they could only guess how high they had gone. Fifty feet? A hundred feet? Finally, when they guessed it was about two hundred feet, they reached the top of the stairs.
The room they entered was magnificent, as expected. The pillar continued upward twenty feet more until it hit the ceiling, a dome polished to resemble the opalescent interior of a rare seashell. The room was round, with marble walls and an orange starburst pattern decorating the floor. Most importantly, there were eight alcoves in the walls. One was empty, but the other seven held statues that Theodora quickly recognized.
“The Runelords,” she said, then walked around to each of them, “Alaznist, Runelord of Wrath; Xanderghul, Runelord of Pride; Karzoug, Runelord of Greed; Sorshen, Runelord of Lust; Belimarius, Runelord of Envy; Krune, Runelord of Sloth; and Zutha, Runelord of Gluttony.” Theodora walked back to the statue of Sorshen, which of course looked exactly like her. “Damn, I’m hot,” she proclaimed.
“Stop admiring yourself and come look at this,” Milacent commanded, pointing to some script that adorned the starburst pattern on the floor.
Theodora came up and looked at the script. It was Thassilonian writing, to be sure, but in a flowing handwriting that was difficult to read. Theodora decided it was better not to try and cast a comprehend languages spell instead. What she got was: “She who desires to ascend the Lady’s Light must first deign to embrace the Lady and the Lie.”
The lady, everyone figured, was the statue of Sorshen. But the lie? Theodora thought for a moment, then saw it: the statue of Karzoug was holding forth a golden rose in offering. This was not behavior typical of the Runelord of Greed. Confidently, Theodora strode up to the statue of Karzoug and embraced it. When she did, the floor in the one empty alcove began to glow. Theodora then embraced the statue of Sorshen (a little too enthusiastically, the others thought) and the light began to flicker as if it were flames. Then she turned to her comrades. “Well, we know how much the builder of this place likes teleporters,” she asked, “Who wants to be the first through?”
“They won’t attack you,” Scratchy admonished.
“Unless it’s the other Sorshen, then she definitely will,” Zelcor reminded them, “And I think we’re getting close.”
There was silence for minute, then Milacent sighed, “I’ll go,” she said, “but you guys should follow close behind, in case there’s a fight.”
Milacent stepped into the alcove, and found herself transported to a seven-sided chamber, the stone walls of which were polished to a reflective sheen. On the ground was a five-foot-wide mosaic of a coiled serpent, and in the wall a single red metal door. Milacent reached for the door, but before she touched it the room began to pulse and shine with golden energy. Milacent recoiled from the door and jumped aside, but there was no place in the room to hide. After a few seconds, however, the golden light disappeared and the door slid open of its own accord.
Milacent stepped through and found herself in another room that looked like two of the heptagonal rooms she’d been in merged together. There were four red doors, in the walls, including the one that Milacent had just come out of, and on the floor were two more of the serpent mosaics, this time with a three-foot-tall post with a horizontal wheel in the center of each one. Milacent was just wondering what it meant when the door behind her slid shut. She whirled to face it, then she heard the sound of another door opening. She hefted her ranseur and prepared to face whatever came about, but much to her surprise it turned out to be Theodora.
One by one the party members came out of different doors, including the one Milacent had just come through. Theodora theorized that they were all teleported seperately into identical rooms, and the light? As far as he could tell the light was some sort of cleansing effect, curing them of any poisons or diseases they may have and dispelling any spells that may have been cast on them. It was probably to prepare them to meet someone, and if that someone was the mistress of this complex, it meant that they were very very close.
Oddly though, the party members only emerged from three of the four doors. The last stayed shut, which of course meant it had to be investigated. Everyone stacked up carefully near the door, then pushed it open. Inside they saw yet another Gray Maiden, but this one was different somehow. She was slouched in a corner, looking despondent, and when the door opened she didn’t stand or attack but instead just glared and asked, “Who are you? More puppets for her to play with?”
Milacent was in front and was trying to think of a response when Helanda pushed past her. “Orianna!” she shouted, and rushed forward to embrace the woman inside.
The woman in question, Orianna, stood up as soon as she saw Helanda. The two embraced, an Orianna was about to say something when she caught sight of Theodora.
“What is she doing here?” Orianna demanded, and reached for her sword.
“No, no!” Helanda shouted, “It’s not her! She just looks like her! These people, they came to the statue, just like us! And they’re going to help us put that monster down!”
With some persuasion Orianna was convinced, and the exchange of stories began. After Helanda told her of what had happened with her and the other Gray Maidens, Orianna told her tale. The creature they knew as Sorshen had taken her upwards, into the innermost sanctum of the Lady’s Light, and there kept her as her personal attendant. From time to time she had teleported away and returned with one of the Gray Maidens, then subjected her to hideous, perverted tortures before teleporting her away again. Orianna had tried to stop her, of course, but the enchantments laid upon her were too strong. Eventually, though, Orianna did manage to rebel. It was when the other Sorshen had sent her into the outer world to attempt to recruit the witch Maroux that Orianna had felt the grip of the magic on her weakening, and when she returned she attempted to fight back against her mistress. Unfortunately, the attempt was futile, and she had been imprisoned here ever since.
Orianna finished with an admonition: “The only way out of these rooms is with the teleporter,” and with that she gestured to the twin serpent mosaics with the posts. “Turn them until the snakes are facing each other, and you’ll be taken to that bitch’s chambers. But she’ll hear the posts turning, so she’ll know you’re coming. And you can’t rest here either: she comes here every day to torment me. Whatever you do, you’re going to have to fight her very soon.”
“That’s okay,” Theodora said, “we have a plan.”