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.
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
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
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
“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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.