The passage Ma’non’go was
following soon led him into a large circular chamber from which several more passages
branched off. To his surprise, he saw the rest of his companions emerging from
some of those passages. A look of relief crossed his face when he saw that,
while the rest of his companions had seen battle, they were still more than
capable of continuing.
“That’s the way forward,
then?” Amyalla asked, pointing with her dagger at the one passage none of her companions
had emerged from. “Where they’re waiting for us?”
“We can’t go just yet,” Luna said.
“I need to prepare us.”
Lord Pelor, she thought to herself, as she reached into the
pocket of her robe and retrieved a vial of holy water. Show us that your light can shine even down within the recesses of the
oerth. Help me help these people, whose goals are the same as yours and who
seek nothing more than to bring the innocent home.
Help me…help them, she continued, as she dipped
her finger in the flask of holy water. She began to chant, her voice rising
gently as she touched her wet finger to her forehead. She repeated the ritual
with Seline and Ma’non’go, who both realized what she was doing.
Weimar accepted Luna’s touch
with little more than a raised eyebrow. Airk, Revafour and Amyalla looked at
one another as Luna turned towards them, their expressions wary. The look in
Luna’s eyes did much to dispel their concerns, and Amyalla stepped forward to
be blessed as well. Airk and Revafour followed suit, and the joy they saw on
Luna’s face was a light indeed in the dim underground tunnels.
Once her blessing ritual was
done, Luna began chanting again, this time pointing to Seline’s staff. Its tip
suddenly glowed a bright gold in color, and the glow soon expanded into a flash
as bright as the sun itself. The caves were brightly lit around the adventurers,
as they steeled themselves for whatever was coming next. The light of Luna’s
spell all but announced the adventurers’ coming, but they continued on
determinedly. They knew the monsters, the villains who had made victims of
these children, were waiting for them.
At that moment, the seven people walking down the passage
they had not entered yet all shared the same desire.
To make the monsters pay with blood.
The adventurers had expected horror in the large
cavern that the passage led them to, but what they saw was something out of a
madman’s nightmare. The cavern was filled with dozens of corpses, many of them
with rotting flesh still hanging from their bones. The flesh and the bones
alike of the bodies were riddled with bite marks, as if something had started
trying to eat them and then finished halfway through.
The scene was similar to the one the adventurers had
encountered in the first cavern. In some ways, it was worse, as many of the
bodies were posed in ghoulish scenes. Some of the corpses were committing lewd
and obscene acts to one another. Others looked as if they were conducting some
blasphemous religious ceremony dedicated to one of the evil gods, or some devil
lord or demon prince. Still others were posed in silent screams, looking as if
they were begging for mercy from some unseen monstrosity. Towards an opening in
the far wall, there was another line of corpses arranged in a mocking, laughing
salute, as if mocking the hopes of anyone who passed into the darkness.
Luna’s light spell exposed the full horror of the
cavern for the adventurers, further heightening their disgust and anger. The sickening
feeling the adventurers had felt throughout the Bearded Lord’s Hollow grew
oppressive now, almost tangible in the air, even as a mocking laughter began to
Seven creatures stared back at the adventurers, in
front of the opening in the far wall. Two of them were the ogres Droolord and
Hahaduh. Two more were verbeeg, one of them the maimed Bruddelmort. The second
verbeeg was Gnorf, whose drooling face and dull eyes registered an intelligence
so slow it was a miracle he remembered to breathe.
The ogres and verbeeg were not the ones laughing,
The three remaining creatures in front of the opening
in the cavern’s far wall called themselves the weird sisters. They were better
known to humans and other races as hags, creatures that resembled decrepit old human
women with wild hair. The hags could never be mistaken for elderly humans,
distinguishing themselves by the unnatural strength in their limbs, the ugly
colors of their skin, the malicious look in their eyes and the sharp points of
their talons and fangs.
The greenhag Dorbella had an ugly olive-green hide,
with greenish-black hair and glittering orange eyes. She was dressed in ragged
noble’s finery that she had no doubt scavenged from her past victims. The annis
N’arghenn was taller, with deep blue skin and dull green eyes. Her clothes were
those of a peasant, only more ragged and smeared with excrement and mud. The
sea hag Ublodine hissed and spat at the adventurers, her ugly, almost fish-like
appearance making them physically ill. Her skin was colored an aqua green, and
her clothes were made of rotting shark skin and dolphin hide.
Staring at the creatures in disgust and hatred, Seline
recalled what she’d read about hags. They possessed formidable magic on their
own, but when three of them united in a covey they were far more dangerous. Hag
coveys could cast magic that allowed them to animate the corpses of the dead,
to haunt the dreams of their victims and to disguise their minions or their
“How do you like our artwork?” Dorbella asked, as her
eyes flashed. She suddenly took on the appearance of a beautiful human woman,
which contrasted all the more with the ugly appearance of her sisters, the rags
she wore and the horrors with which she’d surrounded herself. “We find it gives
a certain poetic beauty to these stark, ugly lands.”
“Kill ‘em and die! Kill ‘em and die!” Ublodine said,
drool running down her chin at the thought of fresh meat.
“Soon enough,” Dorbella said with a wicked smile.
“You’ll all make fine meals indeed, and indeed,” she said, as her eyes flashed
hatred at Amyalla, Seline and Luna, “you’ll need to be prepared appropriately.
Should I rip out your hair, or just peel your faces off?”
“You can indulge your vanity later, Dorbella,”
N’arghenn said. “Lord Orcus grows impatient, and demands his sacrifice. All we
desire from them is their deaths.”
“KILL THEM!” she screamed, as the weird sisters’
minions attacked. The giants and ogres whooped eagerly and charged forward, as
the adventurers braced themselves to meet them.
All of a sudden, the light Luna had cast on Seline’s
staff was snuffed out, plunging the cavern into darkness. The adventurers were
caught off guard, unable to move or swing their weapons too fiercely for fear
of hurting each other. They heard still more laughing, this time interspersed
with birdlike squawks and the sound of flapping wings, erupting from above
them. A chill came over the adventurers, as they felt something otherworldly
approaching, showing no mercy as it brought death from above.
Chanting frantically, Seline conjured a collection of
multicolored lights. She spread them out so she could widen the area they lit,
and gave the adventurers a good look at the source of the birdlike squawks. The
sources of the squawking were a pair of horrifying monstrosities that looked
like a cross between men and vultures, radiating malice and hatred. They were
vrock demons, disgusting creatures from the Abyss that lived only to make
humans and other mortal races suffer.
The vrocks not only possessed terrifying strength, but
dangerous magic as well. They had cast the darkness had snuffed out Luna’s
original light spell, and now used their magic to raise a large stone. Cackling
malevolently, the vrocks magically threw the large rock at Seline. Luna sprang
over as quickly as she could to try and deflect the rock with her shield. She
could only brace herself for the impact, grunting with pain as the rock bounced
off her shield, sending her staggering back. The vrock demons squawked in
annoyance and came down to attack, hissing eagerly at the chance to destroy one
who could channel the holy power they so hated.
Across the cavern, the hags and their minions charged
the adventurers, and battle was soon joined.
Airk charged at the heavily scarred Bruddelmort, eager
to finish the fight he had started. Unfortunately, as he swung his morning star
he was forced to stop short as Bruddelmort vanished. Airk could hear Dorbella’s
cackling as Bruddlemort disappeared, and he realized that her magic was no
doubt responsible. He tried to determine where Bruddelmort had gone, but he was
rudely awakened as the giant hacked at him from the side. Airk took a vicious
slash that sent him staggering back, and he would have been finished if he
hadn’t turned to face Bruddlemort. Gasping with pain, Airk was fortunate indeed
to get his shield up to deflect Bruddelmort’s next few blows.
Revafour swung mightily at the verbeeg Gnorf, who
returned the favor with his hammer. Their weapons clashed loudly, and man and
giant were soon caught in a shoving match as they each tried to push the other
back. A loud cry caused Revafour to turn his head, wondering if one of his
fellow adventurers was in distress, but instead he saw Ublodine’s face leering
at him. Revafour felt a sick sense of disgust rising up within him, as his
heart began pounding wildly. For a moment, Revafour wondered if his heart would
tear out of his chest. The sickness Revafour felt was replaced with a deathly
chill that caused him to stagger, as his grip on his sword seemed to slacken.
Seizing his advantage, Gnorf pushed Revafour back, and
slammed his hammer into the Flan warrior’s chest with a brutal two-handed
swing. At that moment, Revafour was grateful for his heavy armor, realizing
full well that without it the giant’s blow would have crushed his ribs.
Gasping for breath, he tried to raise his sword and
strike back, but his limbs trembled as his heart continued to race.
What had that sea hag done to him?
Weimar grunted, buckling briefly under the blow
Hahaduh slammed into his shield, before striking back with his axe. He could
only give a frustrated sigh, realizing that his enchanted axe was better suited
for battling the vrock demons than most of his companions’ weapons. His heart
ached at Luna’s cry of pain, but then a smile crossed his face as he heard her
mace struck one of the demons and it wailed in response. His spirits fell again
as he heard the alarmed cries Amyalla was making as Droolord tried to chase
Angrily, he ducked under Hahaduh’s next blow and
charged in, hacking away repeatedly at the ogre’s leg as he tried to fell his
opponent. The dumb creature began shifting its defenses to block its leg, which
was just what Weimar expected. Changing the angle of his attack, he drove his
axe into the monster’s chest.
If Weimar expected that blow to finish Hahaduh, of
course, he was badly mistaken, as Hahaduh struck back. Weimar got his shield up
to block it in time, but the sheer force of the ogre’s blow made him stagger. Shaking
his head vigorously, Weimar gritted away the pain his shield arm felt from
absorbing Hahaduh’s blow and chopped Hahaduh in the chest again, knocking him
off balance. Raising his shield, Weimar rushed at Hahaduh, driving the shield
into the ogre and sending it staggering back.
Luna did her best to ignore the pain from her bleeding
side as she struck again at the demon. Her mace glowed brightly with a golden
light, and an uncharacteristically wicked smile crossed her face. The mace she
wielded had been a sacred gift from the head of a temple of Pelor in Idee,
given for the help she, Seline and Ma’non’go had given them some time ago. The
mace was specially made to destroy the undead and profane, and Seline intended
to show this demon what her weapon could do. Unfortunately, the demon was a canny
opponent, swiftly dodging her blow and striking at her again. She managed to
stop this latest blow with her shield, but fatigue was beginning to set in for
her even as the demon raised its claws for yet another attack.
Beside her, Ma’non’go was having more luck, as he tore
his trident through one of the creature’s arms. The vrock howled, and Ma’non’go
continued to show no mercy, ripping his trident free and then plunging it into
the creature’s gut. Black gore oozed over Ma’non’go’s arms as the creature
staggered, but the Olman warrior did not relent. Yanking his trident out of the
vrock’s gut, Ma’non’go’s eyes flashed wickedly as he plunged his weapon through
the vrock’s beaked face. The vrock screeched and fell back, starting to
dissolve into nothing as it began to return to the Abyss.
Luna redoubled her efforts against her own opponent,
whipping her mace at the side of the vrock’s head. The creature jumped back and
broke off its attack, and instinctively began to prepare a veil of darkness.
That was all the distraction Luna needed as she charged in and swung her mace
again, this time right at the vrock’s face. Her mace caught the vrock dead on
target, causing it to scream in agony as the mace’s sacred power flooded
through its body. Luna struck at it again and again, an angry look crossing her
face as she pounded the obscene thing with all the strength she had left.
Seline had often been frustrated by the way magic
worked. Wizards were generally required to learn and prepare their spells long
before casting them, and had to anticipate exactly which spells they would need.
Coming into the Bearded Lord’s Hollow, she was not sure what to expect, and so
she had not prepared as many destructive spells as she probably should have.
She hadn’t yet used her most powerful one, however, and she realized that now
was the right time to do it. She held a bit of fur and a tiny crystal rod in
her hand, which faded to dust as she gestured and chanted. They were replaced
by a bright sphere of blue-white energy as Seline finished her spell.
Amyalla ran in front of Seline as she cast her spell,
smiling wickedly as she saw what the mage was doing. Glancing behind her, she
saw that she had lured Droolord right into position in front of Seline.
Seline thrust her hand forward and the sphere of
energy she was holding roared forth as a bolt of pure lightning, ripping
through Droolord and killing him instantly. The ogre Hahaduh, reeling from
Weimar’s latest axe blow, was the next one struck down by Seline’s bolt.
Finally, the bolt struck Gnorf in the side, knocking him flat on his back.
Revafour didn’t waste the opportunity, hefting his
sword with all the strength left to him and slashing Gnorf’s throat. Despite
the chilling exhaustion Revafour felt, he raised his sword once again and charged
at the hags. Dorbella advanced to meet his challenge, no longer focused on the
vicious fight between Bruddlemort and Airk.
The battered gnome bled from several wounds, but he
hardly felt the pain as he struck his giant foe in the chest with his morning
star. Bruddlemort swung again, but this time Airk was ready as he threw his
shield up above him to block the blow. Striking again with his morning star,
Airk caught the giant square on the hip. As Bruddelmort staggered, Airk drove
his morning star straight into the verbeeg’s already-wounded face.
Howling in agony, Bruddlemort dropped his sword and
fell to his knees, clutching at his face. Airk smiled a terrifying grin as he
slammed Bruddlemort across the back of the head with his morning star once,
twice and then three times, crushing the giant’s skull and leaving him a bloody
corpse on the ground.
Amyalla had had all she could handle trying to avoid
being crushed by Droolord’s attacks, and she was fortunate indeed to have been
able to lure the big lummox into the path of Seline’s lightning bolt. Looking
around, she saw that Luna and Ma’non’go had finished off the demons they were
battling, and the verbeeg and the ogres were dead. Amyalla also saw that Revafour
and Airk were advancing on Dorbella and Ublodine, and Seline and Weimar were moving
to join them. The halfling realized that was two of the hags accounted for. Even
with their magic and strength, they were badly outnumbered by the adventurers.
That thought made Amyalla pause.
Where was N’arghenn, the annis?
Whirling around, Amyalla could only give a cry of
warning to her friends as N’arghenn loomed out of the shadows, swinging at the
halfling with her vicious talons. Amyalla shrieked as the claws tore into her
shoulder, but she could barely finish her cry before she went flying from
N’arghenn’s kick. Landing painfully on the ground, Amyalla saw the annis
chanting and pointing a wand at her companions. The hag had taken her time sneaking
around though the cavern’s shadows, out of range of Seline’s lights, to reach the
place she wanted to be. Now, N’arghenn was ideally placed to cast another burst
of steam at her victims, much like the one she’d used in the caverns above.
The adventurers managed to avoid the deadly steam as
it flew out from the wand, Weimar dropping his axe and shield as he pulled the
bow off his back. Within a few moments, he had released a flurry of arrows at
N’arghenn, who stopped to deflect them. Most of the arrows bounced off the
annis’ iron-hard skin, but they held her up long enough for Ma’non’go to make
his way around the steam cloud and charge at her. Ma’non’go’s trident made
contact with N’arghenn’s arm, but then the silver anklets around the annis’s
ankles glowed brightly. The trident skipped off N’arghenn’s arm as her anklets
glowed, and the blow didn’t seem to harm N’arghenn at all.
Lashing out with her claws, N’arghenn forced Ma’non’go
back. Before Ma’non’go could strike again, N’arghenn quickly leaned forward and
sank her fangs deep into his shoulder. Growling in pain, Ma’non’go reeled as
N’arghenn grappled him, preparing to sink her fangs into his neck.
N’arghenn suddenly released Ma’non’go as a mace of
brightly glowing light slammed into the back of her head. Ma’non’go recognized
the mace as a creation of one of Luna’s spells. He caught a glimpse of Luna
gesturing angrily, using the glowing mace to strike N’arghenn two more times as
Dorbella and Ublodine only hissed as Airk, Revafour and
Seline advanced on them. Seline knew the hags would attack with their magic,
and realized she had to act first. Luck was with her as she cast a veil of
darkness that surrounded Ublodine, preventing her gruesome appearance from
weakening Airk and Revafour anymore. Ublodine cursed as she tried to draw her
dagger, helpless as Airk and Revafour attacked Dorbella.
Dorbella wasn’t bothered at all by the odds against
her, easily using her inhuman strength to slash the weakened Revafour and knock
him prone. The greenhag then turned her focus to Airk, casting a spell meant to
sap the gnome’s strength. The gnome merely scoffed as Dorbella’s spell failed,
his race’s innate resistance to magic enabling him to shrug the spell off.
Scowling angrily, Dorbella slashed at Airk with her claws, but the gnome easily
blocked the blow with his shield. Airk quickly struck back, slamming Dorbella
in the hand with his morning star.
As Airk struck Dorbella, Seline quickly chanted another
spell. The young wizard released a series of fiery bursts of energy from her
fingers. Some of the bolts ripped into Dorbella, while some of the others
blasted the still-helpless Ublodine. To make matters worse for Dorbella,
Revafour struggled to his feet and swung his sword as hard as he could, tearing
into Dorbella’s hip.
Dorbella’s cry made N’arghenn realize that the weird
sisters had to act, and soon, or else they were doomed. Chanting loudly, she
caused a thick veil of fog to rise up, before turning and fleeing from her
battle with Ma’non’go. The adventurers were forced to give up their attacks,
afraid of hurting one another, but they knew they could not afford to let the
hags escape. There was no telling what the hags might do to their prisoners,
just to spite the adventurers who had so badly wounded them and slain all of
their servants. Most of the adventurers were forced to try and call out to each
other, lighting lanterns to cut through the fog.
Seline gathered the glowing lights she had cast, using
them to guide her out of the fog cloud. She soon caught sight of N’arghenn’s
footprints, which led up a set of stairs. Calling out to her companions to let
them know which way she’d gone, Seline ran up the stairs, hoping that the rest
of the adventurers would be able to follow soon. She knew she was taking a
dreadful risk in going after N’arghenn alone, but she also knew that the longer
she and her friends took to get organized, the more time the hags had to escape
or go after their prisoners.
Seline stopped halfway up the steps, pausing briefly to
cast a protective spell, before resuming her run.