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    The Silver Wolf-A Light In The Dark: Chapter Thirteen-Darkest Hour
    Posted on Tue, October 10, 2017 by LordCeb
    CruelSummerLord writes "

    Luna felt a sense of accomplishment in destroying the idol of Orcus, realizing that she had done right by Pelor. However, destroying the idol had done little to relieve her worries about her fellow adventurers, or the sorrow she felt for all the people who these monsters had victimized.

    Chapter Thirteen

    Darkest Hour

    If Seline expected to easily find the annis, she was mistaken. The stairway she followed led to a labyrinth of stairways and side-passages, and it didn’t take long for her to lose N’arghenn’s trail. Cursing herself for her foolishness, Seline directed the dancing lights she had cast in the cavern below all around her to try and find the annis’s tracks. The young wizard was unsuccessful, but then she heard a terrified scream.

    Looking towards the passage where she’d heard the scream come from, Seline realized she likely wouldn’t be able to sneak in there. The enchanted ring she wore that allowed her to become invisible wouldn’t be much use, as annises could easily see through most illusions. She also still needed her dancing lights to see, and they would mark her approach. Seline contemplated waiting for her companions in case one of the hags had set a trap for her, but she couldn’t bear the thought of one of the hags’ prisoners being killed if they were really in danger.

    Running down the passage she’d heard the screaming come from, Seline emerged into a large room filled with locked cages containing screaming children. Seline realized that she had found the dungeon where the hags kept their prisoners. Several of the children sprang up at the sight of her, crying out for help. Some of them also cried out warnings that N’arghenn had just been here, and Seline realized her initial suspicions were right. N’arghenn had clearly come up here to kill some of them, hoping to get some revenge on the adventurers who’d invaded the weird sisters’ lair.

    Seline was not surprised as a veil of fog materialized all around her, recalling how N’arghenn had generated a similar fog in the lower cavern. Seline was on her guard, but she wasn’t sure where the annis’s attack would come from. She moved to a position she had noted between two of the cages, hoping that she’d set herself correctly for one of her next spells to work.

    The magical protective spell Seline had cast when she was on the stairs saved her from N’arghenn’s first attack. The annis’s wickedly taloned hand loomed out of the fog, slashing at Seline before it bounced harmlessly off the barrier her spell had crafted. Unfortunately, N’arghenn found the barrier’s limits, and she struck with her other hand. This time, N’arghenn’s claws struck home, tearing into Seline’s hip and causing her to cry in pain. Seline sprang back as quickly as she could, dropping her staff as N’arghenn charged after her. The annis’s fangs were bared, and Seline’s barrier could not hope to stop her this time.

    Fortunately, Seline completed her next spell just in time, holding up her hands as N’arghenn came in for the kill. Flames burst forth from Seline’s hands, catching N’arghenn full on in the face and causing her to scream in agony. Writhing with pain, N’arghenn did not notice that Seline had begun casting another spell, chanting as she tossed a small glob of spider webbing at the annis. Seline’s spell caused the webbing to burst into a thick mass of gluey fibers that sprang up, sticking themselves to the prison cages Seline had positioned herself between. Caught off guard, N’arghenn could not hope to avoid the webbing and was hopelessly entangled.

    Seline gasped for breath as her side ached abominably. Her face and hands stung as well, still sore from being scalded by steam. As uncomfortable as her physical pain made her, Seline felt far worse as she looked around at the caged children. Focusing back on N’arghenn, now struggling to free herself from the web Seline had cast, Seline’s eyes narrowed. The annis was one of them, one of the weird sisters responsible for all this suffering and death.

    Picking up her iron-tipped staff, Seline swung it at N’arghenn’s head. The staff caught N’arghenn in the head with a sickening crunch, causing her to howl in pain. Seline lashed out again and again at N’arghenn in a frenzy, pouring out all her anger and pain on the helpless annis for several minutes. Finally, Seline’s webbing spell worn out, and the webs trapping N’arghenn vanished, dropping the annis’s corpse to the floor.

    Seline dropped her staff, gasping for breath.

    It was only then that she realized she’d smashed N’arghenn’s head to a bloody pulp.  

    Tears formed in Seline’s eyes as she sat down, her back against one of the cages. Folding her knees up to her chest and wrapping her arms around them, she breathed deeply as she tried to overcome her feelings of horror.

    “You can’t find her?” Revafour asked Airk, who only shook his head. Even the gnome couldn’t hope to track down Dorbella or Ublodine in the maze of passages and stairways.

    The Flan warrior frowned, before glancing back at Weimar and Luna, who were carrying lanterns for them. Weimar and Luna only shrugged in return.

    The adventurers suddenly heard chattering cries and footsteps from one direction, and screams and cries begging for mercy from the other. The adventurers looked at one another determinedly, realizing that one or both of the sounds could be a trap…or someone who could die at the hags’ hands if the monsters were not stopped. The hags were doubtlessly trying to split the adventurers up, but the adventurers couldn’t afford to take the risk of letting any more of the hags’ prisoners be killed by the weird sisters.

    Signaling with his hands, Weimar motioned that he and Revafour would go down one passage, while Airk and Luna should go the other way. Airk and Luna nodded as Weimar picked up his axe and lantern.

    Weimar led Revafour down the passage, his axe in one hand and his lantern in the other. He felt more than a little vulnerable, especially with his shield strapped on his back, but he still considered it better than letting Refavour lead. Revafour struggled to put one foot in front of the other, and his hands trembled violently. Weimar realized that Ublodine must have had some magic in her gruesome appearance, given how badly it had sapped Revafour’s strength.

    Shaking his head, Weimar merely pressed on, hoping that Airk and Luna would be all right.

    For some reason, he found himself thinking back to some of the street duels he’d fought in Niole Dra. In his first duel, he’d fought on behalf of his sister Holianna against the cad who’d cuckolded her. Later, Weimar fought on behalf of his brother Denrik when Denrik had been challenged by the champion of a woman offended that Denrik had rejected her advances.

    Weimar tightened his grip on his axe.

    Ma’non’go cursed his bad luck, as he realized he’d gotten separated from his companions once again. Glancing around in the light of his lantern, Ma’non’go tried to find some trace of the hags, or where their prisoners were located. Ma’non’go was no tracker, however, and his search was hopeless until he felt a cool breeze coming from a side passage containing a staircase.

    Walking up the stairs, Ma’non’go felt the breeze get cooler, and he began hearing the sounds of crickets and night birds. Finally, the stairs led Ma’non’go to the mouth of a cave, from which he emerged into the Bearded Lord’s Hollow. Ma’non’go saw several cave mouths around him, and he looked around quickly, trying to decide which one to enter.

    He made his decision when he caught a glimpse of the repulsive sea hag Ublodine entering into one of the caves, across from the one he had just emerged from. Scowling angrily, Ma’non’go charged silently through the hollow, following Ublodine into the cavern she had just entered.

    The cave led down another flight of stairs, which Ma’non’go quickly descended. Glancing from side to side, the large warrior shivered at the runes he saw carved into the cavern walls on either side. Ma’non’go knew nothing of magic, but some instinct told him the runes were evil, sending chills down his spine. As Ma’non’go continued down the stairs, ugly scenes and demonic images began appearing in the cave walls above the runes, heightening Ma’non’go’s disgust and horror. Finally, as Ma’non’go reached the bottom of the stairs, he came into a torchlit cavern.

    Glancing around warily, Ma’non’go saw a pool of murky dark water at one side of the cavern, and a collection of stone tables placed at different points in the room. The tables were stained with dried blood, appearing a hideous reddish-black in the dim light of the torches. Ma’non’go felt a sense of revulsion at the stone tables, but that was nothing compared to the horror he felt when he saw the large stone altar at the center of the cavern’s far wall.

    The altar was stained with even more blood, and Ma’non’go could see that the demonic runes carved into it were similar to the ones he had seen on the walls of the stairway leading down into this cavern. A horrifying bronze statue loomed over the altar, crafted to resemble something that resembled a depraved cross between a man and a goat, with large dark wings spread behind it.

    Ma’non’go recognized the disgusting being the statue was made to look like. He had been fortunate enough to receive a good education during his younger days in X’tandelexamenken, including being taught about the demons of the gods-cursed plane called the Abyss. The goat-headed, bat-winged creature was named Orcus, and his name was hated and cursed in every language. Orcus was loathed as much for his being the Prince of the Undead as for the depravities his cultists wreaked on the innocent and defenseless.

    Advancing into the center of the cavern, Ma’non’go set down his lantern and gripped his trident in both hands. The warrior’s eyes flared as he looked around, expecting an attack from any direction. Ma’non’go turned towards the water as he thought he heard a splash, knowing that it was the natural place for a sea hag to hide.

    Unfortunately, he guessed wrong, as he heard Ublodine spring out from behind the altar. Turning around to meet Ublodine’s charge, Ma’non’go raised his trident to strike. Ublodine stopped short before she came close enough for Ma’non’go to strike at her, smiling wickedly. Even in the dim light of his lantern, Ma’non’go saw Ublodine’s gaze clearly, and her eyes flashed as they made contact with his.

    When Ma’non’go met Ublodine’s glance, he felt his heart skip a beat before it began pounding in his chest. His blood felt as if it was on fire, and his entire body went into convulsions. Gasping for breath, Ma’non’go dropped his trident and collapsed, unable to even move as the cackling Ublodine advanced on him. The sea hag had bested Ma’non’go with a mere look, and for all his efforts he was powerless to fight back. Now, Ublodine stood over Ma’non’go, flashing a fanged smile at him. She raised a wickedly-edged dagger in her hand, glancing over Ma’non’go as if he were a prized hunting trophy and she was trying to decide where to begin skinning him first.

    Ma’non’go felt no fear of Ublodine, or even any sadness at the fact he was about to die. All he felt was shame, shame that he had failed in his oath to Lord Roas to protect Luna and Seline. Once Ublodine was done with him, she and the rest of the weird sisters would kill the women he was pledged to protect, to say nothing of the others they had befriended since they had left the Aerdi lands.

    Ma’non’go suddenly heard a sudden scream pierce the air. He could see that the scream was not Ublodine’s, as she suddenly looked up in alarm.

    Who could it be? Ma’non’go wondered, as he tried desperately to move.

    Amyalla had followed Ma’non’go all the way into the cavern, not liking the idea of making her way alone through the maze of passages and stairs in the other part of the complex. She hadn’t been able to catch up with Ma’non’go, given how short her stride was compared to his, but she’d been able to keep him in sight. Now, as Amyalla ran down the stairs leading to the cavern with the altar, she felt her skin crawl at the hideous runes and designs on the passage walls. The designs disturbed Amyalla, but not as much as the fact that Ma’non’go had entered alone.

    When Amyalla finally descended the stairs and emerged into the cavern, she saw Ublodine standing over the prone Ma’non’go. The sea hag was looking at Ma’non’go like a particularly juicy piece of prey while he lay defenseless.

    Amyalla could imagine how Ma’non’go felt, unable to fight back against a predator, and she knew that feeling all too well. Amyalla screamed in anger as she threw a dagger at Ublodine, catching the sea hag completely by surprise.

    Ublodine looked up to see who was screaming, only to scream herself as the dagger caught her squarely between the eyes. Stumbling back from the mortal wound, Ublodine collapsed on the ground as Amyalla came up to her. Glaring hatefully, Amyalla raised her foot and stomped down on the handle of the dagger protruding from Ublodine’s face, pushing it further into the sea hag’s head. Ublodine’s screams faded into nothing as Amyalla yanked the dagger out of the sea hag’s face. Amyalla cleaned her dagger briefly on Ublodine’s clothes, before she turned to consider Ma’non’go.

    “Where’s Revafour when you need him?” Amyalla asked Ma’non’go, a sad smile on her face. “I think I’m a bit puny to be getting you back on your feet. But I’ll be damned if anything happens to you-especially here and now. The only kind of person who deserves to die in a place like this is garbage like that,” she said, gesturing contemptuously to Ublodine’s corpse.

    “They’ll find us,” Amyalla assured Ma’non’go, sitting down where he could see her. Picking up one of Ma’non’go’s massive hands in both of her own, Amyalla grasped it tightly.

    “And until they do, I won’t let go,” she said.

    “You don’t see anything either?” Weimar asked Revafour, who only shook his head. Weimar and Revafour had been looking for tracks or signs that something had passed by here, but neither one of them had seen anything. That didn’t sit well with either of them, as they realized that a greenhag like Dorbella could probably magically erase her tracks. Weimar and Revafour could still hear screams coming from up ahead, and they could now see the flicker of torches in the distance. Something was likely happening, and-

    Weimar was caught completely by surprise when Dorbella appeared out of nowhere. The greenhag’s claws ripped into Weimar’s back along his shoulders, drawing long lines of blood, before she flung him hard into the wall. Crying out in pain, Weimar bounced off the wall and collapsed to the ground.

    Dorbella cackled at her cleverness. When she had fled the battle in the cavern, she’d magically concealed her trail. She had then used her illusion magic to lure Weimar and Revafour here, and hidden herself with her invisibility before attacking. Dorbella raised a foot, intending to crush the prone Weimar’s skull. Before she could, Revafour shouted a challenge and she turned to face him.

    Revafour staggered forward to try and attack, but the sickness he’d felt from Ublodine’s appearance made him barely able to raise his sword. He swung his sword as hard as he could, but Dorbella caught it in her hands. A thin line of blood dripped from Dorbella’s hands as the blade cut lightly into them, but she ignored the pain. Pushing Revafour’s sword aside, Dorbella lashed out at him with her claws. Revafour couldn’t react in time, and Dorbella slashed him across his ribs. He swung his sword at her again, but she easily dodged the blow and resumed her attack.

    Rage and frustration built up within Revafour as he tried to parry Dorbella’s attacks. He wondered if the sickness Ublodine had inspired in him might be permanent, and the thought drove him to briefly forget his sickness. Revafour swung his sword with renewed effort, tearing an ugly gash in Dorbella’s stomach.

    It was Dorbella’s turn to be filled with rage, as she knocked Revafour’s next strike aside. Dorbella grabbed one of Revafour’s arms tightly with one hand, using her other to rip into the Flan warrior yet again with her claws. Revafour staggered from the blow, unable to break free and feeling faint from the blood he was losing.

    Dorbella cackled wickedly as she sensed Revafour’s weakness. The greenhag raised her hand for a killing strike, when she heard a cry come from behind her. Weimar charged at Dorbella, swinging his axe with both hands. Dorbella only managed to turn her head halfway, before Weimar’s axe clove into her hip.

    Cursing in pain, Dorbella tossed the injured Revafour aside and turned to face Weimar. The Keolander was pale, rivulets of blood dripping down the back of his leather jerkin and his head marked with an ugly bruise from where he’d hit the cavern wall. Despite his injuries, there was fire in his eyes as he lunged at Dorbella again. Dorbella struck back with her claws, but Weimar easily ducked the blows. As Weimar bent down, he chopped into Dorbella’s leg with his axe. When Dorbella staggered from her leg wound, Weimar struck again, this time cutting her arm.

    Dorbella gasped in pain at Weimar’s latest blow. The greenhag’s thick hide allowed her to take a great deal of punishment, but she had almost reached her limits. She realized that Ublodine and N’arghenn were likely already dead, and that she was the only one of her covey still alive. Dorbella knew she would have to flee, but she intended to kill these two humans before she did.

    The enraged Dorbella kicked at Weimar, knocking him off his feet. She raised her foot to try to stomp him, but he nimbly rolled out of the way. While Weimar had managed to avoid Dorbella’s latest attack, they both knew that he was at a serious disadvantage as Dorbella prepared to strike again. 

    Dorbella suddenly stopped, whirling around as Revafour struck at her once again with his huge broadsword. Dorbella managed to dodge Revafour’s blow, but the distraction gave Weimar time to recover.

    Weimar and Revafour struck at Dorbella with the determination of men who knew they had nothing left to lose. Weimar dodged Dorbella’s next blow, as Revafour swung his sword yet again. This time Revafour’s sword struck home, hitting Dorbella’s arm exactly where Weimar’s axe had hit it. Revafour’s blow clove right through Dorbella’s arm, causing her to howl in pain.

    Dorbella stared in horror at the bleeding stump that used to be her arm, before Weimar struck her in the chest with his axe.

    Revafour’s sword attacked again with his sword, slashing deep into Dorbella’s shoulder.

    Weimar’s axe slammed into Dorbella’s chest a second time, this time tearing into her wicked heart.

    The greenhag screamed in horror before she finally collapsed, nothing more than a corpse.

    Weimar and Revafour stared at each other for a long moment, gasping for breath. Finally, they wiped their weapons on Dorbella’s clothing, before Weimar retrieved the lamp he’d dropped when Dorbella had attacked. Thankfully, the lamp had not gone out when it hit the floor. Weimar and Revafour both knew that if it had, they would have been helpless against Dorbella.

    Revafour and Weimar resumed their search through the maze of passages, and soon found the traces of a halfling and a human. Following the trail, Revafour and Weimar emerged into the Bearded Lord’s Hollow, and entered one of the other caves in the hollow. They were horrified by the runes and the scenes on the walls of the passage as they descended the stairs, but they forced themselves to continue. Soon, Revafour and Weimar found themselves in an even more grisly place, one suffused with malice and horror.

    Despite the evil in the cavern, Weimar’s and Revafour’s faces brightened at the sight of Amyalla and Ma’non’go. The halfling only smirked as she looked up at Revafour and Weimar, turning the paralyzed Ma’non’go’s head so he could see them too.

    “I knew you’d come, but I think a little help might be in order here,” she said, indicating Ma’non’go.

    It did not take Luna and Airk long to realize that they had been tricked by the greenhag’s illusion magic into separating from Weimar and Revafour. Continuing through the maze of passages, Luna and Airk came upon a series of rooms they realized were probably the living quarters of the hags and their servants.

    Luna and Airk found everything they expected to in the first two rooms. One of the rooms were likely sleeping quarters for the giants and ogres that served the hags, being filled with a large collection of trunks and crude, oversized bunk beds. The second room was obviously a kitchen, filled with a large cauldron, cupboards and cutlery, and a large closet that served as a larder. The third room was likely the hags’ chamber. It held three elegant beds with silk and satin sheets and luxurious pillows, all of which were filthy and dirty from their previous occupants.

    Airk glanced around the hags’ chamber in disgust, not really surprised by what he saw. He was shocked by the furious look he saw on Luna’s face, and followed her gaze to an alcove at the far end of the hags’ room. A large stone idol of Orcus rested in the alcove, seeming to smile mockingly at Luna and Airk.

    A look of palpable anger crossed Luna’s face as she walked up to the idol. Raising her mace, she repeatedly struck the idol, breaking it into several pieces. Without a word, she turned back to Airk, who led her back into the maze of hallways.

    Luna felt a sense of accomplishment in destroying the idol of Orcus, realizing that she had done right by Pelor. However, destroying the idol had done little to relieve her worries about her fellow adventurers, or the sorrow she felt for all the people who these monsters had victimized.

    The children in the cages were begging Seline for release, but there was little she could do to free them. N’arghenn had not been carrying any keys to the cages, and Seline had no spells that she could use to open the cage doors.

    The children’s sorrow and frustration echoed Seline’s own, as she cursed herself for her stupidity in abandoning her companions. While Seline had killed one of the hags, it felt to her as though the cost was too high.

    Seline’s spirits lifted when she saw Luna and Airk walk into the room. Their relief at seeing Seline and many of the children still alive was palpable. Luna and Airk didn’t have any keys to free the children with either, but Luna and Seline knew they only needed enough rest to recover their magic to start freeing the children from their cages.

    Luna, Seline and Airk were still on edge, though, not knowing what had happened to the rest of the adventurers. It was that much more of a relief to them when Amyalla joined them, followed by Revafour and Weimar carrying Ma’non’go over their shoulders.

    All of the companions were alive, and they found that more of the children were still alive than they could have hoped. Teddyrun, Elian and Sienna were all there, along with twenty-six others.

    That realization lifted an immense weight off all the adventurers’ shoulders.

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