“There. Do you see them?”
“Togbad sees nothing.”
Helanda pointed again at the horizon. “They’re keeping their distance, but they’re there, horsemen scouting out the tower. The question is, what are horsemen doing way out here in the Cinderlands?”
“They’re probably Shoanti barbarians,” Milacent countered, “they’re known to live up here, following the auroch herds and worshipping the flames.”
“As long as they keep their distance, we’re alright,” Helanda answered, “but let’s not make it too obvious that there are no giants manning these walls.”
“Is one giant!” Togbad objected.
“That there’s only one giant.”
The three of them were camped in the former hill giant compound, waiting for Scratchy, Zelcor, and Theodora to teleport back from Magnimar. Zelcor had told them it would take “a few days” to get everyone’s minds restored, and they passed the time by trying not to be creeped out by the eerieness of the Guiltspur tower. Even with no creatures around to menace them, a deep feeling of unease seemed to permeate the ruins, particularly when they slept. No wonder the giants had been so eager to leave.
There was a smell of ozone in the air, and then a flash, and suddenly the three absent party members reappeared in the compound, minds fully restored. Also freshly bathed and dressed in clean clothes, Milacent noted with some jealousy. “Ok everybody ready to continue exploring?” Scratchy inquired gleefully, “oh, and don’t look at the window.”
Everybody made their way back to the room with the illusory window, and were only too happy to follow Scratchy’s advice. They made their way to the door at the other end of the room, shuffled through it as quickly as possible, and shut it behind them without ever glancing in the direction of the dreaded picture window. And then Zelcor saw what awaited them beyond. “Oh boy,” he said with resignation.
They were on a short flight of curving stairs at one end of a twenty-five foot wide corridor, the rest of it sloping downward as far as they could see. The ceiling was forty feet high, supported at five-foot intervals by hundreds of stone columns. And every single one of them had, at its base, a carving of the faceless angels they had seen before.
“These are going to come to life and attack us, aren’t they?” Milacent said, echoing what everyone was thinking.
“None of them are golems,” Scratchy answered, scanning with his Golembane scarab.
“Not all constructs that come to life are golems,” Theodora answered.
They decided to test the carvings by firing arrows at them. Scratchy fired a few, cracking some of the columns, but nothing reacted.
“Maybe …” he began hopefully.
“No, look at those two,” Helanda interrupted, “Silver swords.”
It was true. While most of the statues brandished swords carved from the same stone as the columns themselves, two of them held swords forged from silvery metal. Everyone prepared to act, and the fight was on.
Scratchy began by shooting at them, and unlike their stony counterparts, these two reacted by raising their swords and charging forward. Zelcor conjured a pit beneath them, hoping to snare them both, but only one fell as its compatriot leapt deftly aside. For a few tense moments, Zelcor hoped that their wings were strictly decorative and did not grant them the ability to fly. The sound of stone clawing at the side of the pit confirmed that he was right.
The other angel, meanwhile, moved with astonishing speed, quickly inserting itself into the middle of the party. It slashed to its left and its right, but outnumbered as it was it had no chance. Soon Milacent was knocking its head off with her flail, and Scratchy was shooting down into the pit to finish off the other one.
“Okay, watch for silver swords,” Theodora admonished.
And watch they did, as the party followed the downward slope for a tense half-mile of staring at columns. When the corridor finally ended they emerged into a cavern holding a vast underground lake, the walls lost in the darkness. After some discussion, they shot a magical glowing arrow above the lake, its light illuminating the cavern until it hit a wall, many hundreds of feet away. Below it a pair of islands appeared briefly, then once again disappeared from sight. And there was one more thing.
“Guys,” Scratchy announced, “there’s something big in the water, and it’s headed this way!”
Everyone scrambled backwards, except for Scratchy who climbed up a nearby wall, searching for a ledge where he could perch himself and shoot. Togbad was a little too slow to react, and moments later an enormous tentacled monstrosity arose from the lake, grabbing him and pulling him toward a great toothy maw.
“Attack!” Milacent screamed, and rushed toward the creature. A disturbingly large amount of blood was pouring out of Togbad, but he was still squirming and alive. Scratchy fired arrows of several different types at the beast, hoping to find the one that did the most damage. Finally he shot a cold iron arrow, and the creature howled in pain. It turned its long neck to face its head toward him, and then shot out a cloud of foul-smelling gas. It engulfed Scratchy, and he felt the effects of a Confusion spell descend upon him. He blinked and tried to steady himself; he just needed to keep his head straight for a little while …
Helanda and Milacent, meanwhile, had closed the gap and were bashing away at the beast, hoping to kill it before it finished off Togbad. Zelcor and Theodora had tried to attack it magically, but their spells had had no effect. However they were going to kill this thing, it had to be with weapons.
Togbad was still being held by the tentacles, screaming in pain. Milacent struck at it repeatedly, but it didn’t look like they were going to finish it off in time, especially if Scratchy wasn’t participating. Then suddenly several arrows thunked into the monster’s side, and it slunk to the ground, dead. Milacent looked up at Scratchy, saw him still struggling with confusion, then she along with everyone else backed away from him until the effect wore off.
With the water monster dead, it was time to explore the islands. Because no one was eager to discover what else was in the water, Fly spells allowed Milacent and Togbad to ferry everyone there. What they found were the ruins of what had evidently once been a stone keep, now little more than piles of rocks arranged in square patterns. On the second island, however, Helanda found a little something extra. Stepping into the middle of the former keep, she discovered that her foot didn’t stop, and she fell straight through the illusory floor. Luckily for her, Zelcor was looking in her direction and was able to cast a Feather Fall to keep her from falling at full speed. Once the spell had been cast, he ran to the edge of the now-obvious pit and waited to hear her hit the ground.
And waited … and waited … and waited …
“Helanda! Are you ok?” they called down to her.
“Yes, I’m ok, but there’s something here you may want to see.”