Orianna crouched at the base of the wall, clutching the ranseur the strangers had lent her. She didn’t really know what to make of this bunch. The warrior woman Milacent was straightforward enough, and the gnome was weird, but in the standard way that gnomes were always weird, so that was understandable. But what to make of this wizard priest, the one who looked identical to Sorshen? And the goblin? Who the hell travels with a goblin? Still, Helanda vouched for them, and Helanda had been the only one of their troop to see the false Sorshen for the deceiver she was. And now they had a plan to defeat her. Whatever it was, it would result in either Orianna’s death or the false Sorshen’s, and Orianna was fine either way.
“You see,” Theodora was explaining, “the ability of certain demons to control others is a spell-like ability. And like spells, they require certain conditions be met. One is line-of-sight. The next is usually the ability to speak. And the third is …”
Theodora’s speech was interrupted by a sound on the other side of the door. Orianna had told them that the false Sorshen sometimes teleported directly into the room where Orianna was held, sometimes into the central room with the posts and the twin serpent mosaics. With that in mind, everyone had gathered in Orianna’s room and shut the door. When they heard the sound from the central room, everyone went quiet and waited for the door to open.
The wait seemed interminable, though it couldn’t have been more than a few seconds. Presently, the door slid open, and standing in the doorway, as expected, was a woman who appeared identical to Theodora, save for a particularly cruel smile upon her face.
“Grab her!” Scratchy shouted, and with that everyone except Orianna surged forward to grab the new arrival. Because the third condition required to cast a spell was the ability to move, or at least concentrate. And it’s hard to do that when you’re being grappled.
Milacent took the lead, wrapping her arms around the fake Sorshen’s waist. To no one’s surprise, this opponent was much stronger than she looked, certainly stronger than the Theodora version of Sorshen. She began to push Milacent off, but as she did Helanda leapt up and put an arm around her neck, pulling her off balance. Scratchy and Zelcor each grabbed a leg, and Theodora, she just did what she could. Soon all of them were on the ground in a writhing heap.
Orianna stood up to perform her part in the plan. If this Sorshen was a succubus as they thought, the cold iron ranseur would be the perfect weapon against it. And now that it was on the ground and grappled, it made an easy target. Orianna thrust it forward, into the creature’s side, and the thing let out a blood-curdling scream as black ichor bubbled out. Once of its hands grew razor-sharp claws, and it slashed at Helanda. The Gray Maiden was hurt, but she didn’t release her grip. As Orianna continued to stab at it, the creature realized its predicament, and it began to gesticulate with one hand. Before anything happened, Milacent slammed her body forward and pinned the hand to the ground, sending sparks of magical energy in all directions. The creature began screaming in the abyssal tongue, curses of increasing desperation, but its fate was sealed. Orianna stabbed it one last time, and its body disintegrated into a bubbling pile of steaming ooze.
There was silence for a few seconds, broken only by the labored breathing of the exhausted combatants. Then Helanda asked, “Is that it? Is she dead?”
“Alu-demon,” Theodora answered.
“She wasn’t a succubus, she was an alu-demon, the offspring of a succubus and a human. I learned that when I touched her,” Theodora clarified, “and yes, she’s dead.”
“Well, what do we do now?” Orianna wondered aloud.
“We get the treasure!” Scratchy replied.
They took the teleporter Orianna had showed them to the alu-demon’s private quarters, and there was treasure indeed. There were spellbooks, of course, and gems, and pearls, and a magical bag that was bigger on the inside, and a magical breastplate, and goggles that granted vision in the dark, and alone on a shelf, posed to look as phallic as possible, the Shard of Lust.
“I’ll take this one,” Zelcor announced, placing the latest ioun stone Sheila Heidmarch had given them in the indentation on the shard. Then he took the shard itself, and thankfully was not immediately overcome with lust.
There were also more disturbing things they found. In the bedroom, a naked corpse was bound in manacles hanging from the ceiling. Orianna and Helanda recognized her at once. “Loria,” they said together, then proceeded to take her body down and arrange her in a more dignified position, more suitable for burial.
Milacent was also disturbed, but not just by the body. She took Theodora aside and asked, “When the alu-demon died, did you feel this structure shake?”
“I felt something, but I wasn’t sure if it was the structure or just the excitement from the fight.”
“No, it was definitely the structure. What does it mean?”
“I don’t really know, but probably that we should get out of here soon.”
The party packed up their loot, and took another teleporter out of the bedroom. It brought them to the hall where they had witnessed the illusionary ball taking place. This time, there was no dancing, but there was sound. Far off in the distance, something was moaning, and it soon became apparent that it was not just one thing, but many somethings, the number of them slowly increasing, and occasionally punctuated with a scream.
“To the platform where we fought the glass golem!” Scratchy shouted, “The teleporter there will take us back to Magnimar!”
“I told you it doesn’t work!” Theodora shouted back, but Scratchy was already running ahead.
As they made their way to the platform, the moaning voices grew louder. Where once they had been distant, echoing through the hallways, now they seemed to be coming out of the walls themselves. Moreover, some of the moans and screams were resolving into words. They were speaking in every known language, and though most of it was gibberish, some phrases could be made out.
“Ayandamahla is gone!”
“Ashamintallu is dead!”
“There is no steward!”
“Why can we not leave?”
By the time the party got to the platform the voices had built to an overwhelming crescendo. Worse still, they were now accompanied by ghostly shapes floating in and out of the walls. For now, they were ignoring the adventurers, but no one was willing to bet that they would forever.
“Well, here we are,” Scratchy said, jumping into a boat moored to the platform, “Now teleport us back to Magnimar!”
Theodora briefly considered reminding him that the teleporter didn’t work, but decided not to bother. On the way here he had heard one of the voices speaking in Celestial, suggesting it was the spirit of a heavenly being. Theodora called out to it, likewise in Celestial, “Spirit from the heavens, I beseech you! Guide us!”
To his relief, it answered, “Living creature flee! This is not a place for you!”
“I want to flee, but please! I can’t work the teleporter! How do I make it work!”
“Souls of those that died in this place! Ten thousand years of dead! Still trapped! But no longer controlled by the steward! Flee before they consume you!”
“I know! I know I have to flee! But how do I work the teleporter!”
“Powered by the demon! Powered by spirits! One thing I can do for you, living one!”
And with that one of the spirits detached from the growing throng and plunged into the platform, and the runes spelling out the place names all began to glow. Theodora looked around to make sure everyone was in the boats, then screamed, “Take us to Magnimar!” There was a flash, and suddenly they were there, their boats drifting up to the Magnimar docks, much to the surprise of everyone onshore.
Later, the party would learn from passing sailors that the beacon on top of the Lady’s Light had suddenly gone out, and had not lit up again. There was talk of sending an expedition to investigate, but few volunteers were forthcoming. At the moment, however, there was the not-insubstantial task of moving their treasure haul back to Heidmarch Manor under the curious eyes of far too many bystanders. And then there was briefing Sheila Heidmarch on the events that had transpired. As it so happened, the first question she asked was also the hardest.