8 Sarenith, 4720 AR
The next morning, the cousins find the elevator past the entry hall trapped upon their return below. Nasti crawls under and works some criminal magic to jury-rig a chain repair that she feels confident will suffice for their needs. The mechanism groans ominously as they descend, but it holds, and the adventurers return once more to the broken statue hall.
They decide to take the nearest unexplored elevator, which lifts them to a landing with steps up to the south and down to the east. They ascend to the southeast tower and step through an illusory demon arch into the chamber beyond. A giant that has leathery wings and a distended jaw stands in the center of this room. A breastplate covers his chest, a large falchion rests comfortably in a scabbard at his hip and a quiver of javelins is tucked into a corner nearby. Standing skeletons of horses line the northern wall, and a jumble of bones shaped like a huge horse lies near an iron portcullis to the east. Beyond that gate is a jumble of earth and rock. The southern wall supports a steep stairway leading up to copper doors that are barred on this side.
The giant quirks an eyebrow at the unexpected visitors. “What’s all this, then?” he says.
“Door-to-door saleswomen?” Amaya offers.
The giant snorts and starts bantering with the half-elf, drawing the cousins’ attention to the work-in-progress mega-horse that he claims to be constructing. Completely disarmed by his unexpected genial manner, Amaya and Nasti step into the room to take a closer look and talk shop about art projects. Nova suggests supplementing raw materials for other recently slain denizens of the Armory – like the dragon. The half-fiend ogre – Walter, apparently – takes all their suggestions with an easy manner and good humor.
When the flow of conversation allows for it, she says, “We are really investigating the place.”
“Psh. Boring digs, ya ask me,” Water says. “But this is the gig for now. Boss insists.”
“What does the boss want here? What’s the goal?” Nova asks.
“Open one o’ them gates. Bring in more demons. Buncha borrowed trouble, ya ask me.”
“So why is an artist like you working for some guy trying to do something you don’t care about?”
“Art requires capital, innit,” Walter says with an embarrassed shrug. “Don’t wanna be working in horse bone me whole career, do I?”
“Where is the boss right now?” Amaya asks.
“Northeast, er … dungeon, I s’pose. Not to get tautological. Basement?” Walter gestures vaguely. “But look. Do us a favor, yeah? Say you face down the boss and he gets the better of you. He investigates, somehow finds out I gave up the goods without so much as an en garde, and my performance review is in the crapper – meaning he crucifies me, possibly quite literally, for a few weeks. You know, to ‘teach me a lesson about loyalty,’ or summat.” Walter rolls his eyes. Anyway, crucifixion is even more boring than havin’ to hang around a smelly demon ruin, eh?"
“What do you propose, then?” Nasti asks.
“Let’s tussle a bit. I get some bruises and maybe a cool new scar, eh wot? And all the plausible deniability that comes with it.”
The cousins exchange glances, then shrug and leap into action, causing Walter to hoot in surprised appreciation for their prowess. The giant calls upon his shadow demon magic to try blasting the cousins, but they weathered it with grace and aplomb. Moments later, the flat of Amaya’s blade smacks into the side of Walter’s head and he says, “Oh! G’night,” before he hits the floor unconscious.
“Yep, that’s gonna leave a mark,” Canter says.
Amaya tucks a Calamity flyer in his armor and shrugs. “I figured he could help carry the band’s stuff around.”
Nasti says, “You’re too fast for me. I was standing here wondering if he can sew.”
“I want to see Jamil’s face when I bring him to be our roadie. He’ll freak,” Nova says.
Amaya tends to Nasti’s electrical burns from Walter’s spell, then ascends the steps to the barred door. When she opens it, a tendril of flame peels off a flame beast lurking just within the upper room and sets her on fire! The elemental doesn’t last long against the trio, but the burns Amaya sustains have to be treated.
“I hope we didn’t just kill Walter’s little buddy,” Nova says.
“I feel like he would have said something. I hope he would have,” says Nasti.
They stash Walter’s stuff in the room above before the cousins head back down the stairs. At the bottom of the eastern steps, they find a flooded chamber. A cloying odor surrounds the three reptilian humanoids that crouch there, heavy hammers cradled in their arms. Racks of bladed weapons line the walls, water rushes down the eastern wall and flows over the floor, and a dark spot near the room’s center indicates a water-filled hole.
Amaya enters the soggy chamber and slices the nearest xulgath twice. Nova exchanges fears with the wounded creature, and the depravity from his moistened lizard brain makes her recoil in pain. The impossible void and the beings dwelling there and beyond are far more distressing to the target of her debilitating dichotomy spell, however. Nasti finishes the wounded xulgath off and injures another with an electric arc.
The other two rush forward and slam into Amaya’s defenses, causing the half-elf to blink before unleashing a flurry of savvy swordwork that deeply wounds the xulgath Nasti had struck with lightning. The creatures’ stench briefly overwhelms Nova, who takes a moment to empty her breakfast onto the floor. Then freezes the wounded foe in place with a ray of frost. Then Nasti sets the wretch on fire. It throws itself into the water to douse the flames, then takes a bite out of Amaya’s leg before she strikes it down.
Canter flies in from the hall. “Y’all take care of ’em?”
“Them, yes… The smell no. Not sure that’s ever coming out of these clothes,” Nova laments.
The cousins loot several potions from the bodies, then Amaya starts to massage Nova’s aching head, her spell causing the most pain to the party so far that day. Unfortunately, her efforts are interrupted when two more scaly heads emerge from the deeper water, and the fight is one once more!
Amaya pulls her sword and moves to attack the nearest knife-wielding xulgath. A priestess of some sort emerges from below and unleashes a sound burst on the spellcasters in the hall. Amaya’s foe moves around her, suffering another slice for its trouble, then seems to wait for its partner to step into the flank. Nova tries to bring it down with a ray of frost before that can happen, but it survives her cantrip and dodges Nasti’s follow-up.
Fortunately, that threw it off balance enough for Amaya to defend against him. Unfortunately, doing so distracts her from the other one, which digs its blade deep into her back. Twice. Amaya’s counterattack is fast and furious, felling the heavily wounded knife-lizard and injuring its partner. The xulgath priestess takes a cautious step away from the melee then launches a searing light spell, which the half-elf sidesteps.
Nova finishes off the injured xulgath, and Nasti lights up the priestess with produced flame. Amaya stalks up and strikes the priestess twice. For her part, the xulgath spellcaster steps back and casts a protective spell. Nova finds herself unable to attack the priestess. “She has a sanctuary up. I just can’t bring myself to hurt her.” Nasti suffers no such compunctions from the spell and sets the priestess on fire! “Yeah, like that. Great job being pitiless, Nasti!” Nova says.
“Good alignments are for chumps. Everybody knows that,” Canter says.
Amaya advances, but the sanctuary spell stays her blade. The priestess steps under the flowing water to douse the flames Nasti set, but her sanctuary cannot protect her from Amaya in the moment of spellcasting, and she is cut down.
The cousins decide they don’t have time to spend on conventional medicine and drink some of their newly pilfered healing potions before quaffing potions of water breathing and proceeding into the deep water.