While her cousins loot magic items from the fallen – Canter chastising Nasti for peeling the bloody clothes right off the wizard’s still-warm body – Nova takes a seat in one of the nearby pews and catches her breath. A lectern sits at the northern end attending the four long pews of this former chapel. She idly notes that the woodworking on the lectern is nice enough and the wood exotic enough that the whole piece is probably worth some coin if they can find a way to transport it to a buyer. Of course, the demonic iconography might make it hard to sell.
She wanders into the former dragon’s lair, noticing for the first time the frescoes adorning three of the walls. On the western wall, a massive ziggurat is depicted standing in the middle of a green plain, and thousands of humans bow before it or struggle to move its final blocks into place. Next to the ziggurat is a red and scaly biped as tall as the ziggurat—probably several hundred feet, judging from the size of the humans. It has wings and a serpentine tail, and it’s holding a golden capstone just above the structure. The wall has been gouged away where the giant creature’s head would be. Debris from this section of the painting is still on the floor.
Nasti wanders up behind her and gazes at the image speculatively. “Mutan-Laa?” she guesses.
“Could be,” says Nova.
“Compensating, much?” says Canter.
The tiefling chuckles then turns her attention to the mosaic footprints that emerge from under the collapsed northern wall. The beginning of the path, whatever purpose it is meant to serve. Nova sees Amaya looking at the eastern wall, adorned by dark gray clouds from floor to ceiling. Jagged red lightning arcs outward from the demon arch, and they remembered seeing lightning move across the wall and the clouds roil when Shenn activated the demon arch.
A starry, cloudless sky is painted on the southern wall, and some of the stars seem to twinkle or pulse. After a minute or so of consideration, Nova says, “This is not what the sky looks like today. It would have been hundreds of years ago. Maybe around the time that this whole Slaughtergarde thing happened.”
“Hey, yeah,” says Nasti.
“Let’s make our way back out,” says Nova. Amaya nods and heads south, back in the direction from which they came. Her cousins followed behind.
As the trio near the intersection where they first met Vicyavra, an Elven voice emerges from the darkness. “Well, well,” says the dark elf called Kretckil.
“That is a lot of blood,” says her companion. “I guess you’re not planning to work with Vicyavra anymore, huh?”
“That partnership has been terminated, yes,” says Nasti.
“I see.” Kretckil chews on one cheek thoughtfully. “If you’ll indulge me, what was the deal-breaker?”
“I didn’t care for how they laughed at us when we couldn’t finish the dragon. Didn’t care for that at all.”
“Laughed at you? That was not in the report, was it, Rekvucrus?”
“It was not,” says, apparently, Rekvucrus.
“The lies didn’t help either,” says Nova.
“Lies?” says Kretckil.
“Of omission, Kret. You remember,” says Rekvucrus.
Kretckil gestures vaguely. “I mean. That’s quite a small motivator to sever one’s relationship quite so … permanently. But I asked, and you answered. Thank you.”
“What if we offered a proposition with full transparency?” says Rekvucrus. “Would that be more to your liking?”
“Oh, and no laughing. That’s just gauche,” adds Kretckil.
Not wishing to drag her cousins into another devil’s deal, Nasti holds her tongue for the moment.
“How about sending your minions to kill us and then say they were bringing us a gift?”
“That wasn’t us,” says Rekvucrus. “Though Vicyavra did mention she had no expectation that you would have any trouble retrieving the weapon from the wererats.”
“And that got rid of them in the offing. They were unstable,” says Kretckil. “Win-win. Anyway, that’s how she saw it.” Her tone suggests she doesn’t disagree.
“I can’t argue with that logic,” Nasti muses.
“If it was supposed to be just the wererats why did the smurfneblins join in?”
“Svirfneblins,” Nasti says absently.
“Hers is better and you know it,” Canter comments quietly.
“They were ordered to defend the southern hall from the entrance. Did you enter it?”
“No, we did not,” says Amaya.
“Hrm,” says Rekvucrus. “Then I expect they fought only as long as they thought someone would be around to report them if they did not.”
“What are they doing in that southern hall?”
“Providing a resource sap against intruders seeking to go that way, of course,” says Kretckil. “If anything, they want to be here even less than WE do.”
“There’s no shortage of that going around,” Nasti mutters. “What are you proposing, then?”
The dark elves smile together. “You want the gate. We want Lanthurrae to meet with an unfortunate accident which in no way implicates us. Simple trade, yes?” says Kretckil.
“Help us with that, and we will remove some of the roadblocks between you and your goal,” says Rekvucrus.
“Vicky said something very similar. Why should we believe it?” says Nova.
The drow blink and exchange a curious glance. “Well, I’m sure I don’t know why it matters whether you believe it. It’s true,” says Kretckil.
“Never mind. I’m pretty sure we were going on that path already. Do what you like.”
“Can you provide healing?” says Amaya.
“No. We are wizards, not priests,” says Rekvucrus, still favoring Nova with a curiously raised eyebrow.
“And besides, I don’t think your human friend would be comfortable with us that close. Lack of trust and all,” adds Kretckil.
“That’s fair. If anything, you now have less reason to trust us than we have to trust you,” Nasti says.
Rekvucrus inclines her head. “There is that. But if you need a motivation that’s more in line with your preconceived notions, we can always try to kill one another if you are not interested in dealing with us.” She says this as though very bored by the notion.
“Something something tangled webs, blah blah,” says Kretckil, holding her nose theatrically.
“We need rest and healing, we can talk about this tomorrow,” says Amaya.
“No. We can come to an arrangement, or we cannot,” says Rekvucrus. “We’ll have to take action accordingly.”
“So…” says Kretckil, tilting her head to one side. “Which is it to be?”
Nasti comes up just behind Amaya and whispers, “We may have to agree, at least for now, because there’s no guarantee we can take them in our current state.”
“Yes, yes. Talk amongst yourselves,” says Rekvucrus.
Amaya whispers back, “True. Nova?”
“Like I said, we are already on the path. We all know this will end with Lanthurrae. If you want to assist us because it gives us better chance to succeed, then do so. I don’t feel like we need to ‘agree’ to doing something we are were already planning to do. But if you need that, then ‘yes, we intend to stop her.’
“I think we may have been too vague, Rek,” says Kretckil.
“I think you’re right,” says her companion.
“Perhaps if you could tell us what sort of obstacle you’re planning to remove?”
“Our ‘help,’ as you call it, will be to point you to Lanthurrae – tomorrow apparently – and to make sure there is nothing standing between you and her,” says Kretckil.
“Afterward, we will try to take over the delegation and get everyone out of here. Then you can do whatever you want with the gate,” says Rekvucrus.
“While Lanthurrae is on the board, our options are limited,” agrees Kretckil.
“Should we vote? I’m in favor of this arrangement,” says Nasti.
“Why not,” says Amaya.
“I already said that I was,” mutters Nova.
“Then we have an accord,” Nasti tells the dark elves.
“Delightful,” says Rekvucrus. “We will make preparations for you to help us help you help us, etcetera.”
“Kretckil and Rekvucrus out,” they say together, then casually stroll south.
“Do they rehearse that?” says Canter after the drow are out of sight.
“Probably,” says Amaya.
“Do y’all need a catchphrase?”
“Certainly not,” says Nasti.
“Awww. Are you sure, though?”
“I mean… we don’t NOT need a catchphrase,” says Nova.
“A battle cry, maybe,” says Nasti, grudgingly. “All right, let’s go.”
The cousins return to the surface without incident. Marwyn is astonished to see them all back so quickly. Again. “Is this just what adventuring is? Just in-and-out in thirty minutes and take the rest of the day off? Not army hours, certainly. No wonder you like it.”
Nova looks down at her injuries. “That’s one way to look at it.”
Marwyn cuts her eyes at Nova, “But did you die?”
“Not today,” says the human. She avoids further conversation about it.
“I … guess I don’t have to find a way to entertain myself for the rest of the day after all. Guess I’ll just have to get used to this. Marwyn spends the rest of the day attempting to teach her cousins some rudimentary woodsmanship. Amaya interrupts frequently like an insufferable know-it-all.
* * *
14 Gozran, 4720 AR
The cousins descend for the third time into the Temple. The door to the deep gnomes’ hall is open and when the creatures see the trio, they point north then crook their fingers to the west, offering wordless direction.
“Well, okay then,” says Nova. “Guess it’s this way.”
They head north back toward the elephant statue chamber with the stagnant transmutation water. The bodies of the drow rogues have been removed from this chamber, and it lies unoccupied. The demon arch to the west still burns brightly.
“’We’ll make sure there is nothing standing between you and her,’ they said,” says Nova, her tone irritated.
Amaya reaches into the pool to scoop some of the water out but pauses and pulls it out. Then she says something1 that is unintelligible to Nova that makes Nasti’s eyebrows crawl up her forehead.
“Whoa,” says Canter.
“Uhhh…” says Nova.
“That’s Abyssal,” says Nasti in Common. “How are you doing that?”
Amaya blinks, tilting her head to one side in confusion. Then she says something else 2 in Abyssal.
Nasti switches to Abyssal and says, “You’re speaking Abyssal, Amaya.”
“Haha, very funny,” says the half-elf, still in Abyssal.
“I’m serious. That’s why you and Nova can’t understand each other.”
Nasti explains what’s going on to Nova then looks over at the demon arch pensively. In Abyssal, she tentatively says, “Open?” The flames crackle impassively. She sits cross-legged in front of the gate, staring at it, trying to somehow look past it. “It stands to reason that Abyssal has something to do with how the gates are controlled, no?” she says after a long moment.
“There must be a way to deactivate it. Shenn did it,” says Canter.
“Do we have to walk the mosaic’s path?”
“Friend?” says Amaya, her language reverting to Common.
A curious grin forms on Nova’s face. “Oh, that’s neat!” She dips her hand in it like taking a hit from a helium balloon and says, “All shall love me and despair!” The words are in Taldane and come across in a way that no one finds compelling. Nova blinks as her usually floating hair falls limp against her forehead, and she wonders if she has just lost access to her magic.
“All right, then.” Nasti reaches into the water, as well. “Oh, wow,” she says holding up her hands, each with an additional finger. “This is almost like liquid Maelstrom.”
“Right? We could sell tickets … if this place wasn’t so horrible,” says Nova.
“You should have put your feet in there. SO many toes,” says Canter.
“All the toes,” Nasti says regretfully.
A short while later, Nova’s hair begins floating again and Nasti’s new fingers crumble to dust. “Aww, man,” she complains.
“Do you think that this is how Lanthurrae … changed?” says Nova. No one has an answer.
Amaya, having waited patiently for her cousins to play with the weird magic water, proceeds with her original intention. She scoops up some stagnant water in her hands and tosses it on the gate. It evaporates swiftly, as one might expect a small bit of water splashing against a wall of magical flame. With a shrug, she scoops more water and simply walks into the wall, eliciting gasps of concern from Nova and Nasti.
The half-elf crosses the threshold, getting slightly singed in the attempt, and sees something frightening. A creature fusing the upper torso of an elegant drow woman with that of a giant spider stands in the middle of a large octagonal room. She wears chainmail and elaborate robes on her humanoid torso. Four altars are evenly spaced around the walls. Each has a statue depicting an elderly woman holding a crooked staff. Mosaic footprints lead from southern doors into the middle of the room, then turn west and head underneath double doors in the western wall.
The creature turns its head in surprise, ceasing its apparent prayers, and opens a mouth filled with fangs!
“Hey,” says Amaya.
“DIIIEEEE!!!” the creature shrieks in absolutely terrifying Elven. Even Nasti and Nova hear the scream through the burning barrier.
“Oh that doesn’t sound promising,” says Nasti.
Amaya raises her sword and advances on the monstrosity, bringing the blade down in her favorite overhead chop and drawing first blood. “Here there be giant scary spider lady? Thing?” she calls out.
“Sounds like our girl,” says Nasti grimly.
Throwing caution to the wind, Nova leaps through the flaming portal and comes through unscathed. She taps into her mystery and evokes cold empty space around the monster, which is mildly inconvenienced by the void.
Nasti, not trusting her own reflexes to see her through safely, quickly searches for some mechanism to turn off the flame. Finding none, she shrugs and dispels the magic with a word and a gesture. “Huh,” she says, somewhat surprised by her success. Then she blinks up at the strange creature her cousins are already fighting.
The spider-drow produces a glaive and tries to carve into Amaya, but the half-elf is quick enough to evade the large bladed staff. She retorts, slashing the creature again and maintaining her defensive stance. “Guards, to me!!!” shrieks the abomination.
Nova sustains the void and sends healing magic to soothe Amaya’s burns. Nasti takes a single step forward and casts haste on the half-elf, speeding her efforts. Then the monstrosity scored a slash against Amaya, as the southern doors opened to admit a pair of dark elf warriors in scale armor with short swords ready.
Amaya grunts in pain, moving to put the monster between herself and the newcomers. She slashes the spider monster yet again. Nova casts sound burst, though the dark elves and their monstrous leader weathered the worst of the effects.
“Lanthurrae, your orders?” says one of the warriors.
“Defend me! Kill them!” the priestess cries usefully. The warriors nod and split up, one charging Amaya and the other menacing Nova.
Nasti evokes a ray of chilling darkness which strikes the nearer drow, making him shiver in pain. Then she calls to mind what she has learned about creatures like Lanthurrae. “Drider,” she says, filing the rest of what she remembers since it has no practical applications to defeating the creature.
Then Lanthurrae takes a cautious step away from Amaya’s flashing sword and everything in the shrine room goes dark. Nova takes a blind swing at the pitch-black curtain that dropped over the drow she is fighting, then takes a step away. Amaya stumbles blindly toward where the exit, getting stabbed once for her trouble before stopping beside Nova and raising her sword defensively.
Unhindered by the magical darkness, Nasti mutters, “Cluster up, buttercups,” then more loudly cries, “Incoming!” before launching a fireball over her cousins’ heads to explode among the drow and drow-adjacent creature in the shrine. Lanthurrae evades the flames completely, but the dark elves burn just fine.
The drider evokes sound burst on the cousins, and Nova is briefly deafened. This makes her next healing spell a little awkward, but she manages to pull it off anyway.
The trio engages in a tactical retreat and their enemies pursue, Lanthurrae conjuring another zone of darkness to harry the adventurers. Amaya has to tear herself out of the drider’s webbing not once but twice, and in the battle of attrition, the drow are not up to the task. They bleed the cousins a bit before they fall, however, and only Nasti’s desperate burning hands spell gives the injured priestess pause.
Lanthurrae raises the hood of a cloak hanging from her shoulders and disappears. The adventurers hear her skittering back into the darkness of the shrine and wonder whether they should pursue.
1 “My hand is tingling.”
2 “Why are you guys speaking gibberish?”