When the party had used the stone pillars to pass back to their home plane, the caulborn had been waiting on the other side. When they saw the party without Scratchy, and Helanda paralyzed, they had been understandably concerned.
“What has happened?” they asked, “Have you defeated the Rider and recovered the shard?”
“Not yet,” Theodora assured them, “but we will.”
When the party returned to the library, the scholars there too were perturbed, “Is everything going alright?” they inquired, “Did you meet the caulborn? Have you cleared up the whole situation?”
“We haven’t fixed everything just yet, but we will.”
When the party again returned to the Dark Forest and set up camp in the Khaei village, the questions continued.
“You have returned,” the Khaei said, “have you met the Rider? Have you slain him as you said you would?”
“No but we will,” Theodora replied in exasperation, “stop asking!”
This time around, the party returned to the keep from the opposite side, hoping to discover what was behind some doors they had seen there. The first thing they discovered was a nearly skeletal woman, holding tubes from which spat flame and smoke. She pointed them at Milacent, but her aim was poor, and soon she was lying dead upon the ground. Or more dead than she had previously been, at any rate.
“I’ve seen these things before,” Theodora said, looking at the tubes, “they’re called pistols. They use them in Alkenstar, far to the south.” She did not add that the design was very different from Alkenstar weapons, nor that this woman had definitely not come from Alkenstar, nor anywhere else in their world.
They passed on through a room containing a jet-black carriage and into the central room that the manananggal and the hungry fogs had emerged from earlier. Far from being empty, however, this room was now occupied by a towering human in a suit of jet-black armor. Once it moved to attack, however, the party saw only shadows through the opening in its visor. They moved out into their battle formation, and were in the process of finishing off the thing when a new threat emerged from a nearby door. At first they thought it was a woman riding on an undead horse, but closer inspection showed it to be something far more hideous: the rider and horse appeared to be fused into one, a single fleshless creature stinking of pollution and filth. The first thing it did was breath out a foul-smelling cloud over the party, causing painful welts and bleeding to break out over the skin of those who couldn’t jump out of the way fast enough. The second thing it did was exude a wave of darkness over all those nearby. Scratchy felt it, and immediately turned to run. Theodora felt it too, knew it was fear magic, resisted it, but then turned and fled anyway. The party had been disorganized and out of formation by unknown magic, and the threat was better dealt with later when they were more prepared. They all returned to the Khaei village, and the thing did not follow.
Back in the village, the party discussed their next course of action.
“Are you sure you want to stay with us?” Milacent asked Helanda jokingly.
“Ow! Ask me later!” Helanda said, applying salve to her welts.
Scratchy had other worries. “Where did that suit of armor guy come from? It wasn’t in that room the last time!”
“Didn’t Maligast say something about the keep generating undead?” Zelcor replied. “That would explain the new creatures. But he also said that the rider was the lord of this domain. If he’s the god of this place …”
“Gods can die,” Theodora interrupted, looking up from her spellbook, “Aroden did, and this one is the lord of a very small domain.”
“Will the domain survive if he’s killed?” wondered Scratchy, “We may have to get out of here very quickly once we kill him.”
“Ah, not to worry,” answered Theodora, holding up a forked metal rod, “I found this in Maligast’s room. It’s the primary component for a Plane Shift spell, attuned to the Prime Material. It’ll get us out of this place when we need to.”
With that, everyone seemed satisfied and set about preparing for the next day. Theodora went back to reviewing her spells and turned to the last, blank page of the book. She was about to close it when she noticed words forming on the page in blood-red ink:
I tire of these games; the next time we will end this
“Um, guys?” she said, “I think we may have an issue.”
Everyone gathered around to look, and suddenly the preparations became a little more urgent.