At long last, the blue dragon Cadrilkasta stood before the party, twenty feet of scaly death wrapped in crackling arcs of lightning, and she was not pleased.
“GIVE ME MY SHARDS!” she repeated.
“I have a better idea,” replied Theodora, “you give us your shard, and we let you live.”
The dragon did not take this well, and tensed her body to attack. Zelcor, understandably concerned about being so close, attempted to fly away, but as he did she lashed out and caught him with three of her enormous sword-sized teeth. He went flailing to the ground, splattering blood as he went. The next closest to the dragon was Togbad, who was more than a little hesitant to charge towards her; he should have run. The dragon turned to face him and from her mouth shot out a line of electricity that went through both him and Aevaenthial. Togbad was immediately reduced to a smoking heap of burnt flesh upon the floor. Aevaenthial, it turned out, was immune to electricity. “You will have to do better than that, wyrm!” he chided her.
Helanda didn’t hesitate, but instead charged straight at the dragon. It caught her with a claw as she moved in, but she was tougher than a mere gnome, and she fought through the pain to sink her sword into its side. Or at least she thought she had. The weapon instead swung harmlessly through the air. “A Displacement spell!” Theodora shouted in response to Helanda’s confused expression.
Scratchy, meanwhile, was moving into position to shoot at Cadrilkasta, and Theodora had moved up to Zelcor, healing his wounds. “FOOLS!” the dragon bellowed, “I HAVE SEEN YOU IN MY DREAMS! YOU WILL NOT SUCCEED THIS TIME!” and with that she leapt into the air onto the edge of the pot. Scratchy was hiding behind it, hoping to avoid her breath weapon while he prepared his arrows. Now he was clearly in her view, but instead of shooting out a lightning bolt she merely hissed, and semispherical shell of ice formed around Scratchy, trapping him and cutting him off from the fight.
But the party would not go down so easily. Zelcor, now fully healed, reached out his hand and dispelled the Displacement effect around her. Helanda, running after the dragon, reached into her pack where she held the Shard of Envy. Focusing on its power, she commanded that the wall of ice surrounding Scratchy disappear, and a moment later it shattered into a thousand glittering pieces. Suddenly the Cadrilkasta was surrounded by enemies, no longer protected by her Displacement spell. She was informed of this in the rudest way as Aevaenthial flew up to her and began tearing into her with his claws. Scratchy too, now no longer contained within the ice, pulled out the dragonbane arrows he had purchased in Magnimar and began firing one after the other into her side.
There was the shimmering of a magical effect, and then the dragon was gone. Or she appeared to be. Milacent, however, knew better. “She’s still there,” she admonished, “She’s just gone invisible.”
“I didn’t see her cast a spell,” Theodora wondered, “was it a Contingency effect?”
There was a rush of wind, and Milacent informed them that the dragon was moving, flying to get behind the pot. Milacent followed, just in time to hear the sharp crack of another spell being cast. When she got to where the dragon had been, there was no sound, no scent, no tremors: Cadrilkasta was gone.
“Did she teleport away?” Helanda asked, rubbing her side. Being so close to the dragon had resulted in electricity arcing from its body to hers, and she was just now starting to feel the pain.
“Yes, she did,” Theodora answered, “and she took our shard with her!” Luckily, they had a way to track her. She pulled out the Shard of Wrath and concentrated on the location of the next one, the one the dragon carried. In her mind she saw an image of ghouls screaming and running away in terror. “She’s gone back to the ghoul lair!” Theodora announced to everybody.
“She’s trying to get away!” Scratchy declared, “With our shard!”
“Everybody gather close to me and touch hands!” Zelcor commanded. They did as he asked, and an instant later Zelcor, Theodora, Milacent, and Helanda were standing outside, blocking the portal through which they had entered Leng.
Scratchy and Aevaenthial did not teleport with Zelcor. They ran back to the ghoul lair, just in time to see Cadrilkasta being healed by a strange creature with the body of a winged elven woman from the waist up and that of a giant snake from the waist down. Scratchy fired more shots into the dragon, then ducked back behind a corner. When she looked again, the dragon and the snake woman were both gone.
Outside, Milacent positioned herself at the center of the steps leading into the portal structure. The others took up spots a good distance from the door into the temple, trying to steer clear of the tide of ghouls streaming out of it. Theodora concentrated on the Shard of Wrath again, but saw only clouds rushing past. “Where could she be?” she wondered.
Her question was answered by a dark shadow growing rapidly over Zelcor. He ran away just in time to avoid a massive claw slashing at him. The dragon drew blood, but much less than last time, and Zelcor quickly hid behind one of the stone sphinxes on the platform. The screaming ghouls screamed again and began running back in other direction, but Helanda pushed through them to make her way to the dragon, at which time she plunged her sword into its hide, this time for real. Theodora moved behind her to support her, but lifted itself away from the platform and shot another bolt of lightning through the air. This one cut through both Helanda and Theodora, and the two of them dropped to the ground.
Scratchy and Aevaenthial emerged from the temple complex just in time to see the carnage unfolding the platform. Two more party members were down, yes, but Zelcor was casting spells from his protected position, and the dragon was hurt badly. Scratchy lofted his bow and launched more dragonbane arrows. The first one hit, and he Cadrilkasta winced in visible pain. Then there was a second, and a third, and a fourth, and suddenly the dragon dropped out of sight into the clouds below.
Scratchy ran up to where Theodora was lying, and cast the healing spells he kept in his Ring of Spell Storing. If she died, there would be no healing Helanda, and the loss to the party would be doubled. Fortunately, the healing magic did manage to revive Theodora, who made her way to Helanda. The Gray Maiden looked dead, but if she was dead it was very recent, and Theodora’s magic had grown formidable enough to knit Helanda’s body and soul together once more. Everyone breathed a sigh of relief when Helanda coughed and breathed once more. The relief lessened, however, when Theodora looked around and asked, “Where’s Milacent?”
Zelcor came running up to them and said, “She jumped off the cliff after the dragon! I’m going to go see what happened to her!” And with that he jumped off the cliff as well.
“No wait, don’t!” Theodora shouted, but it was too late. Zelcor and Milacent were both gone. She turned to look at Scratchy, who looked back at her, then they both turned to look at Helanda.
“I’m not jumping off,” Helanda replied, shaking her head.
While they debated what to do, Milacent was lounging on the corpse of the dragon in the room with the pit of silver mist. After she had jumped off the cliff, she had fallen for a time, then felt the strange weightless sensation she had experienced when first crossing into Leng. She emerged from the clouds and found herself falling from the ceiling above the fountain in the room, directly onto the dragon’s corpse. She turned now to Zelcor, who had joined her shortly after. “Do you think they’ll leap like we did?” she asked.
“I don’t think so,” he answered.
“You’re right, they’re a bunch of cowards.” She felt a slight tingling sensation, and she guessed what it was. “I think they’re scrying me, trying to figure out what happened.”
After a surprisingly lengthy interval Scratchy and the others appeared above them, floating down slowly with the help of a Feather Fall.
“What took you so long?” Milacent demanded.
“We were searching the temple for the dragon’s lair,” Scratchy answered indignantly. “We found it, and a lot of treasure, but no Shard of Sloth. Did you find it? We figure she had it on her.”
“I searched her all over, but I didn’t find it,” Zelcor replied.
“Oh, I have it,” Milacent chimed in, “it was the first thing I took when I got here. I was gonna tell you,” she yawned, “but I’m so, so tired …”
The appropriate ioun stone was promptly brought forth and placed in the shard, and everything was right with the party. At least until Zelcor remembered something. “Hey, where’s my dog?” he asked, “I didn’t bring it with me – did you guys see it in the temple?”
Everyone glanced at each other uncomfortably, and Zelcor just sighed, “Again …”
With the dragon slain and the last shard recovered, Aevaenthial decided it was time to take his leave. “I shall return to my home and have my form restored,” he announced, “and then I shall do penance for my time spent in this ghastly body. I shall return to see you after I am done; it should only take a thousand years or so,” and with that he departed.
Now back to its original members (minus a dog), the party decided to rest up before returning to Magnimar. They holed up in one of the chambers adjoining the room with the silver pit, and the spellcasters went to sleep while Scratchy kept watch.
About an hour into his watch Scratchy yawned. He understood the need to keep a watch every time they rested, but really, what was going to happen? They had killed everything in the complex: this was probably the least necessary watch ever …
His thoughts were interrupted by the sound of something behind him. He whipped around and was startled to see an old man shuffling through the center of the party camp. The old man did not seem to be attempting to be stealthy; to the contrary, he appeared to be trying to wake everyone up.
“Ah, Sorshen my dear,” he began, moving toward Theodora, “I knew you would not truly betray me. While your compatriots sought only to take power for themselves, you have brought me back my crown.” And with that he stretched forth his hand and shook it slightly. A moment later, all the party’s containers that held a shard flipped open. Straps unbuckled, covers flipped open, ties undid themselves, and the Seven Shards of Sin levitated out of their containers and began floating toward the old man.
The party members quickly got over their initial shock as they saw their hard-won prizes drift away. Scratchy acted first, jumping on Fleabait and having him snatch a shard out of the air. He rode out of the room and around a corner, hoping to buy some time to prepare the right arrows. Unfortunately, as soon as he had taken the shard the old man let forth an unearthly howl and proceeded to pass into the wall, emerging on the other side to swipe at Fleabait. Oh great, Scratchy thought, this guy’s a ghost. How many of those ghost salt arrows do I still have? He was temporarily distracted, however, by Fleabait’s legs buckling beneath them, the wolf hurting from whatever supernatural harm had just been inflicted upon him.
Zelcor was second to act, grabbing two of the shards and using a Dimension Door to place himself on the other side of the silver pit. As expected, the old man turned away from Fleabait, enraged at the new theft. “Robber! Hoodlum!” he cried, not even noticing as Scratchy and Fleabait fled away to safety. Then he stretched forth his hand and black tentacles sprouted out from the ground beneath Zelcor, trapping him in their rubbery grasp.
By now Milacent and Helanda were both up and armed, and they were striking at the ghost with their weapons. The magic of their blades disrupted his life force to some extent, but his incorporeal nature meant they were going to need far more time to destroy him than anyone felt comfortable with. Theodora decided that whatever happened, the ghost was not getting the shards. Using Telekinesis, she stopped the four shards still in the air from moving towards him. She tried to pull them back to herself, but the harder she pulled, the harder they resisted, staying suspended in the air between the two of them. How is he doing this? Theodora wondered, If he’s using Telekinesis he has to concentrate, but then how can he be doing all these other things if he’s concentrating on the spell? And then Theodora realized the truth: The old man wasn’t using a spell at all: the shards were coming to him of their own accord.
The old man, of course, now had a new object for his wrath. Passing back through the wall, he confronted Theodora, his previous affection entirely vanished. “You betray me again, Sorshen?” he accused, “Curse you, Queen of Whores! The buzzards shall feast upon your corpse!”
“I’m not Sorshen!” Theodora replied, but the ghost wasn’t listening. “Silence, Harlot!” he commanded, and Theodora felt a wave of magical energy wash over her. Staggering back, she recognized the spell: Feeblemind. She resisted it, but just barely. We had better kill this thing soon, she thought to herself.
Helanda and Milacent felt the same way, though they were somewhat hampered by their inability to walk through walls the way the ghost did. They burst into the room and resumed striking at him, and his form began to fade. He backed away from them, then his face twisted into an ethereal skull, and he let another howl. This one was louder, but also stranger, and tinged with fear magic. Theodora recognized the effect, even as a wave of panic washed over her. She began to look furiously for a way out of the room, then realized she would have to rush past the ghost to get to the door. She was about to make the desperate run when she saw an arrow shoot into the room and impale the ghost straight through its immaterial body. This was followed by a second, and a third, and a fourth. Scratchy had managed to resist the fear effect, and was firing his ghost salt arrows. When the last one hit, the old man’s form began to dissipate into the ether. But before it did, he managed to get out one last threat.
“Very well,” he proclaimed, “If you will not bring me my crown, then the army shall!” And then he was gone, leaving nothing behind but the echoes of his words.
“Who was that?” asked Helanda.
“I don’t know,” Theodora responded, “but he’s not one of the Runelords.”
The remainder of their rest time was edgy and uncomfortable, but otherwise uneventful. Once everyone was rested and healed, with spells recharged, they made their way back to the surface. As soon as they made it above ground, to where the giant encampment had been, they were met with another surprise: Alphonse Baghrata, the white-clad Aspis Consortium agent who had once tried to buy the shards from them, was standing there, apparently out of breath.
“There you are,” he shouted, “I’ve been looking everywhere for you! You need to get back to Magnimar, NOW!”