Theodora climbed over the piles of rubble into the room where the strange tentacle-creatures had been. The place was huge, as if designed for giants rather than humans, which had probably made it easier for giants to get inside and slay any defenders, ironically. Stepping around a broken beam, Theodora’s eyes were drawn to niches in the walls. She looked around and realized there were twenty-one of them, the same as the number of faiths the abbey had once sought to bring together. As the connection formed in her mind she went to get a closer look at the niches, and sure enough she saw names written above each; Abadar, Aroden, Asmodeus, Calistria, and so on: the twenty-one major gods of the inner sea region. She found the one for Nethys and discovered it to contain nothing but a pile of rubble. All of the niches contained rubble, in fact. It was when Theodora examined this rubble and found stone fingers, faces, and bits of carved clothing, that she realized what had happened.
“These were statues of the gods,” she informed everyone, “those monsters have desecrated this cathedral!”
“Mm hmm, yup,” Scratchy replied. He was busy searching the place for treasure, and not coming up with very much. While he was searching, however, he caught something moving out of the corner of his eye.
“Guys,” he said silently through the Message spell, “something’s watching us.”
Scratchy ambled nonchalantly toward one of the interior walls, trying not to look at where he had seen the motion. Listening intently, he could hear something moving on the other side of it, and soft voices speaking in a language he didn’t understand. Whatever they were, they were sneaky, but not GOBLIN sneaky! And that gave Scratchy an idea …
Milacent was wiping the strange floating intestine-creatures’ blood off her weapons when she heard Scratchy’s plan relayed telepathically through the Message spell. “What?” she said, “Just walk down the hall and through the arch? What for?”
Just do it, Scratchy replied, and be ready for a fight.
Despite some misgivings, Milacent and the others strode down the hallway and through an archway into the courtyard at the center of the abbey. The place had clearly been the site of a terrible battle, with its pavement slabs cracked and disconnected, and great amounts of ash and soot where a nearby building’s roof had been consumed by fire. In the center of it, though, stood a hundred-fifty-foot tall tower of pure white marble, completely unscathed.
The party had little time to wonder about this oddity, however, for as soon as they stepped into the courtyard they were greeted by the screams of magical crossbow bolts flying at them.
“They’re above us!” Theodora screamed, and indeed they were. Creatures that resembled tiny, wicked old men wearing red caps clung to the wall above the archway, firing bolts down at the party. Those creatures then had a surprise of their own, as Scratchy began firing arrows at them from behind a nearby pile of rubble.
“Ha!” Scratchy cried, “Ambushed the ambushers!”
Two of the creatures, outraged, leapt off the wall and tried to kick at Scratchy with their heavy iron boots, but he jumped onto Fleabait’s back and rode out of their reach. With the ambush now in shambles, the rest of the party began striking at the tiny red-capped creatures. As their comrades fell, two split off. One attempted to flee to the east, towards the abbey’s main entrance. “Flaxbeater! Help us! There are …” it screamed, but never finished its sentence, as Milacent lashed out and cut it in two. The other one fled into a building to the west, and the party heard the dark rumblings of very large creatures moving within.
Scratchy was the first to peek inside, and saw what he feared: ettins and hill giants, pulling on their armor and moving toward the door. He ran back to the party shouting, “Fireball! Fireball! Throw some fireballs!”
Zelcor was happy to comply, shooting a ball of flame through the doorway and inciting screams of pain from within. The giants charged out and began throwing javelins, two of which struck Theodora, who had been trying to get a look inside the building.
“Stay back,” ordered Milacent, moving past. She sized up the lead ettin, an enormous lumbering thing carrying a battleaxe in one hand and a heavy pick in the other. Then she looked at his legs. Giants and ettins were notoriously difficult to trip up, but she was extremely good at bringing things down. She charged at him and struck at his leg with the spine flail, and for a second it looked like he would be able to shrug off the hit. Then Milacent jerked the flail like a whip, causing it to lacerate all the skin around his knee. With a bellow, the ettin crashed to the ground, and Milacent leapt forward to hit it some more.
Between Zelcor’s fireballs and Milacent’s martial prowess, the ettins and giants were soon vanquished. Scratchy’s attention turned to the red-capped creature that had fled into the building. “It’s probably gone to get help!” he told everyone, “Let’s get that … thing!”
“They’re called redcaps,” Theodora added helpfully, then joined in the chase.
The building the ettins had been in had once been an elegant dining hall, but now lay in utter disarray, with smashed tables and all kinds of cutlery scattered amid piles of rubbish. The party passed through this area swiftly in pursuit of the fleeing redcap, and into the room behind it. This room had a grand stairwell along its far wall, splitting into two ascending flights. Scratchy vaulted up the northern stairwell, ignoring an extravagant headdress draped over the banister at the foot of the stairs. Theodora, close behind, chose not to ignore the headress, and picked it up as she passed. As soon as she did, a blast of sonic energy sent her, Milacent, and Helanda tumbling back. “I haven’t had time to check everything for traps!” Scratchy shouted down from the top of the stairs, “Now get up here!”
Cursing and rubbing their ears, the party ascended to the top of the stairs. They found themselves in a circular room furnished only with a high-backed leather armchair that sat facing a window overlooking the sea. As they approached it, they saw that its leather surface was stained and stinking of rotten meat.
“Ew, what is this?” Milacent asked.
“Don’t know,” Scratchy replied, “but there’s something behind this door.”
The door was opposite the window, and the party burst through it to find not the redcap they were looking for, but a set of long-dead humans wrapped in bandages, reanimated and ready for combat. “Fireball!” everyone screamed simultaneously, but Zelcor was already casting it. A glowing red light flew from his fingers to the center of the room, and soon most of the undead were lying burning on the ground. Their apparent leader, a rotting monstrosity that had once been a bugbear, surged forward to attack with a greataxe, but Milacent and Helanda caught it mid-charge, bringing it to the ground and ending its unlife forever.
Theodora stepped into the room to survey it. It had clearly once been a council chamber of sorts, with twenty-one seats arrayed in a square around the center. Twenty-one, just like the number of niches in the cathedral. She found the one representing Nethys and took a seat, but soon had to stand up again, for there was yet another set of doors to investigate.
Zelcor opened these doors magically again, and beyond them was a covered bridge extending above the rocky beach where the pier was, out to a tower standing in the ocean. On either side were elaborate stained-glass windows, but in the center of the bridge were two creatures: large, vulture-headed humanoids radiating powerful evil magic.
“Vrocks!” shouted Theodora, who didn’t need any magic to identify these visitors from the Abyss. Helanda took a deep breath and moved to engage the nearest one, but as she did the other one’s eyes glowed red, and she felt a powerful force pushing her to the side. In an instant she had been shoved through one of the stained-glass windows, and was falling headlong through the air. For a moment she thought she would fall straight to the beach, 120 feet below, but instead she hit the very edge of the cliff that the abbey was on. After a brief struggle to keep from falling off, she heard Milacent’s voice through the Message spell.
“Helanda!” said the voice, “Are you alive?”
“Yes, but a bit bruised.” Then she began making her way back to the abbey so she could rejoin the fight.
Up on the bridge, Milacent was relieved, but there was still the matter of the Vrocks to deal with. She stepped forward toward them and stabbed at one, but as she did it seemed to split into multiple identical creatures. She struck one and it disappeared, but this was not a good start for the battle.
Theodora saw the same thing Milacent saw, and recognized it as the effects of a Mirror Image spell. She had a plan, however, to make the fight much easier. She reached out to the mind of the other Vrock, the one that hadn’t yet been attacked, and tried to bring it under the effects of a charm spell. Being a creature of the abyss, it was naturally resistant to magic, but Theodora’s ability had grown strong, and after a brief struggle, she brought it under her control.
“Help! Protect my friends!” Theodora screamed, and the charmed Vrock turned to the other one, which had jumped between Milacent and Scratchy and released a cloud of spores around them. Milacent rolled clear, but Scratchy found himself coughing and wheezing as bright red welts formed on his skin. Soon they broke out into thick green vines, painful but not debilitating, and Scratchy too moved away of the uncharmed Vrock. It was at this moment that the charmed one jumped onto the back of its former compatriot, and the two engaged in a shrieking, chaotic melee at the entrance to the bridge. The party assisted their new friend as best they could, and soon the enemy vrock was dead. Scratchy looked past it to the far end of the bridge, and there he saw another door.
“Get ready,” he said to the others, “One more door to go.”