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Laufey

Member Since 30 Apr 2000
Offline Last Active Sep 01 2020 02:38 PM

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Throne of Cards 82

20 August 2020 - 05:09 PM

Aha, the Attic is back online! Have a fresh chapter to celebrate with. 

 

Throne Of Cards 82 – Mixup And Mayhem

 

Preparation is one key skill a would be adventurer should cultivate to help things go right. Another one is improvisation, for when things go wrong all the same.

Excerpt from ‘Ruminations Of A Master Bard’

 

Mithykyl the Mindflayer wasn’t bored, as such. Illithid were all devoted to serving the Elder Brain of their colony of course, and the Elder Brain had decreed that Mithykyl be here at this time. Still, this Sendai…that a lowly creature such as that should have dominion over illithid felt plain unnatural. The proper order to things was that there were illithid, food and slaves. For food to be commanding illithid was truly inconceivable.

 

And yet it is so. Was the thought Mithykyl’s own, or a message/warning from the Elder Brain? Hard to tell, sometimes. Even so, there was knowledge, a cool reminder flashing through the illithid’s mind. This Sendai, this one food/slave had provided many more food/slaves for the colony. In return it was Mithykyl’s duty to carry out certain orders.

Do not wave your tentacles at me, Mithykyl! Sendai had snarled, her face twisted with fear/anger. The Bhaalspawn had been receiving worrying news, apparently, and it showed. Mithykyl’s wide, pale eyes focused on Sendai’s face, reading minute twitches and flickers with practiced ease. The woman’s brain would be perfectly flooded with lovely adrenalin right now, a heady cocktail of fear that Mithykyl longed to devour. Even so, there were orders, and tentacles stilled, dribbling the odd bit of mucus onto the polished stone floor of Sendai’s private chambers. You know what to do, Sendai continued, clamping down hard on her fear. That Bhaalspawn…Zaerini…must be stopped. Her and her companions. Kill them if you can, but at the very least delay them. Your special little trick.

 

Yes, this made sense. This particular technique wasn’t something every illithid could master, but Mithykyl’s colony was quite old. Its Elder Brain had absorbed many thousands of its children upon death, all their knowledge and skills returning home to be used again as was best for the colony. Mithykyl’s hatching had been an experiment of sorts, the larvae that would eventually grow into Mithykyl had been deposited in the ear canal of a human with actual psionic powers of its own. As that larvae grew and feasted, it learned what it could, mixing and mingling knowledge. Humans were no match for illithid in raw power of course, but knowledge was always, always useful. Now it was time to apply that knowledge on a larger scale than before. The tunnels in this part of Sendai’s enclave were fairly narrow, twisting and turning back and forth, the perfect place for an ambush. Several lesser illithid had been sent ahead, a necessary sacrifice in order to draw attention. Now there were sounds of combat some distance ahead, and the presence of several non-illithid minds. Seven. Hmm. An even number would have been better, easier to cope with, but it couldn’t be helped. Mithykyl reached out carefully, so carefully, to taste the surface eddies and currents of those seven minds while they were otherwise distracted. Nothing invasive enough to be noticed, nothing as crude and basic as a psionic blast of pain. This was a delicate procedure, and one that needed to be carried out simultaneously on several minds at once at that. Still, eventually the matrix had been fully formed, and Mithykyl was prepared for transfer. There. Install, and…reboot.

 

-*-

 

Zaerini later wondered if there was anything she could have done to prevent the disaster, but she couldn’t think what. After all, they had known the mindflayers lurked ahead and taken what precautions they could against domination, braindrain and confusion spells. It had worked, at first. Though the tunnels in this part of the caves were narrow and twisting to the point where it felt like she had turned around about ten times, that had to some extent worked to their advantage. It meant the mindflayers couldn’t reach the weaker members of the party and had to face the meatgrinder that was Minsc and Sarevok. And then it happened. Just as Sarevok kicked the still twitching corpse of yet another illithid off his sword, the large warrior stumbled, his eyes rolling back in his head until only the whites showed and he sagged to the ground. Next to him Minsc was toppling as well, and as a now very alarmed Rini turned around she saw it happening to all the others as, one by one. They all still breathed but seemed to be completely out cold. But I feel just fine…why didn’t it affect me? She didn’t get any time to contemplate this mystery though, for now there was the soft sound of shuffling flat feet coming towards her, and she could see twitching moist tentacles under a set of alien pale eyes. The approaching mindflayer wore a black robe that seemed more intricately decorated than those of its fellows, and it was larger than most of them too. Whatever had happened to the others, this seemed like the likely culprit.

 

Will they be alright if I kill it? And then another, unpleasant thought. Can I kill it? The Slayer was tempting her, growling on the edge of her mind, promising protection. Another way to lose my mind. But if it saves them…then again, what if I lose control and kill them all?

 

She didn’t have time to think about it any further. The mindflayer was  nearly upon her by now, its shining pale eyes staring intently into her own. Eyes…yes. A pathetically simple spell it was, a mere cantrip, but right here and now it was exactly what she needed. A flash of bright white light flared between her splayed fingers and the mindflayer shied back with a desperate keening sound. Not for the first time, Zaerini privately thanked the library of Candlekeep for its extensive collection of lore on all topics, including the denizens of the Underdark. It only makes sense, they’re adapted to deep darkness. A bright light like that must feel like I just set its brain on fire. It wouldn’t last very long, so she followed up as quickly as she could with her sword. It wasn’t a perfect stroke by any means, and she missed its heart. Do mindflayers have hearts? She did manage to slice into its side as it twisted around though, and it shrieked again. Before she had the time for another blow, her head was filled with fog and mists. She couldn’t tell where she was, where her friends or her foe were, and barely what was up and down. No! She stood still, the sword trembling slightly as she held it between sweaty palms. Where is it? Where is it! She didn’t dare strike blindly, then she might easily hit one of her friends, but if she didn’t….

 

Soft, slithering moistness against her cheek, leaving a repulsive trail of mucus and the first pinprick against the base of her skull, taking careful aim. Nonononono! The Slayer roared, and this time she couldn’t hold it back, not all the way at least. She felt the change overtake her, claws and teeth, muscles bulging even as she twisted around to face her attacker. Then the pain suddenly fell away, and the red mists in her head gradually receded along with the mindflayer’s psionic confusion. Zaerini stood very still, panting as she tried to catch her breath and when she could finally see straight again she saw an unmoving lump at her feet. There were a pair of rather large holes in its head, above its eyes. I think that was the claws. I hope it wasn’t my teeth. Oh gods, if it was my teeth I think I might be sick. Was that faint taste of salted octopus in her mouth real or just her twisted imagination? She choked the bile down and resolutely made herself move on. The mindflayer was definitely dead, so that was good. But what of the others? Thankfully, at least some of them were beginning to stir slightly.

Her heart was still hammering hard in her chest but beginning to slow down at least. She knelt down next to Edwin first, anxiously touching his face. He was still out cold, but breathing steadily at least, and his colour was good so there didn’t seem to be any obvious injury. Now there was a faint rustle behind her and she twisted around to see Dekaras getting into a sitting position, looking slightly dazed but otherwise unharmed. That was definitely a relief, and somebody practical and sensible who could help her check on the others would be very…

 

Before she could finish that thought, she looked into the assassin’s black eyes and saw them light up in a way that was simultaneously alien and oddly familiar. He was smiling too, a bright, relieved smile, and while the emotion itself wasn’t out of place given they’d just survived a fight to the death, that display of it seemed strangely obvious for him. “Hey, are you alright?” She asked and then she gave a muffled squeak as the assassin launched himself at her like a pouncing cat, wrapping her tightly in her arms and kissing her ardently. For a few seconds her mind just sparkled and fizzled with utter, utter shock and astonishment, and then she managed to push him away enough to give him an outraged glare.

 

“What in the Nine Hells are you doing?!” She shouted. He actually had the nerve to look surprised and a little hurt at that, but before he had the time to say anything in his defense Rini found herself yanked off her feet. She was dangling by the scruff of her neck, held by a massive fist and as she painfully tilted her head to the side, she saw a very outraged Sarevok staring down at her. The large warrior had what can only be described as a pout on his face, and his golden eyes were flashing angrily.

“No fair, sis!” Sarevok shouted. “You’ve already got a boyfriend, remember? And besides, you’ve got some nerve to tell me I shouldn’t smooch him and then doing it yourself!”

“I DIDN’T SMOOCH HIM! He’s gone insane or something, and so have you! Since when do you want to smooch…”

“Aaargh!” That was Minsc, crouched in a fetal position on the floor. The ranger was staring at his own hands, his face twisted into a mask of horror. “My face…my hair…my…my EVERYTHING! This is a nightmare, a horrible nightmare!”

Imoen had got to her feet by now and was growling quietly. “I will slaughter whoever did this and DRINK THEIR BLOOD FROM THEIR OWN SKULLS! GIVE ME MY SWORD!” She staggered over to Sarevok with a grin of unholy glee on her face and tried in vain to yank his huge sword off his back. Sarevok barely seemed to notice and just swatted her away. She landed on the floor with an outraged shriek. Next to her, Viconia sat up, blinked and patted the pink-haired rogue on the head with a gentle smile.

“Not to worry, little Imoen! Minsc knows how to do sparkly feelgood magic now and will fix you up right away!”

“Minsc?” Rini asked, feeling more than a little faint. “Is…is that you?”

“Yes, Little Rini! Isn’t it funny? But not to worry, Minsc is still Minsc is Minsc and always will be!”

 

Oh Gods. And that means…

 

“Hellkitten?” Dekaras asked her. “What…is something the matter? (Do I have some repulsive illithid slime defiling my beauteous features?)”

“You…you don’t exactly have your beauteous features, Dread Wizard,” Rini replied, trying to hold back a hysterical giggle. “You’ve got somebody else’s. Look.”

He frowned, then looked down at his hands and body and went suddenly very pale and quiet. At the same time ‘Sarevok’ finally let go of her, and then caught her again as she nearly tumbled to the floor.

“Rini?” The big man asked. “When did you get so short? And I’m sorry I shouted, I just…”

Immy and Sarevok scrambled. Minsc and…Viconia? And Eddie and…

‘Edwin’ finally sat up, examining his own hands carefully. He was…giggling. Or possibly cackling. “Yes,” He whispered. “Oh yesssss.”

“Vadrak?” Zaerini said, feeling a sharp spike of alarm. “I know it’s a shock, but try to calm down, or I think you might….”

 

FWOOOOSH

 

The giant ball of flame that shot out of his hands probably wasn’t aimed at her, or at anybody in particular, but she still had to throw herself flat on the floor before it could burn her to a crisp and she thought she could smell the tips of her hair smoking. “Immy!” She shouted. “Vic! Just…just sit on him or something, I don’t think he can control it just yet!”

Between them, the two women currently inhabiting the bodies of Minsc and Sarevok managed to subdue the still hysterically giggling mage before he could set fire to anything else. He didn’t seem to mind too much, but then she rather thought he was so drunk with the sudden influx of arcane power that he wouldn’t have minded an anvil falling on his head. So much for ‘somebody practical and sensible’.

A few minutes of frenzied discussion later, the situation had not been resolved in the slightest, but at least everybody agreed on who was talking, arguing, or in the case of Sarevok angrily sobbing and pretending not to. The warrior did not approve of being unceremoniously dumped into the body of his younger sister by freakish mindflayer powers, and he was very vocal about making his opinions known. Viconia still seemed in a state of frozen horror about being stuck as Minsc, while Minsc was being Minsc and perfectly at ease at being temporarily not-Minsc. Imoen was worried, but simultaneously fascinated by her new muscles and kept trying to pick Sarevok up which did nothing to improve his mood. Edwin was a frayed mess of nerves, and trying not to show it but failing miserably and Dekaras was entirely too intoxicated with the heady rush of arcane energies flowing through his newfound connection to the Weave to even pay attention to the discussion, much less contribute. Mercifully he’d been persuaded to give the fireballs up for now, but he was lying on his back on the floor with a wide smile on his face and making floating sparks of excess magic form themselves into various shapes and squiggles.

“It will wear off eventually, won’t it?” Rini asked, trying to ignore the tight lump of pure worry in the pit of her stomach.

“It…might,” Edwin said, twisting Dekaras’ face into a grimace of disgust. “But I don’t know for certain. I never heard of a mindflayer capable of something like this.”

“Who cares about psionic theory!” Viconia shouted, pounding Minsc’s fist against the wall until it cracked. Then she went white with pain. “Ow.”

“Minsc will fix it!”

“NO! Stay away from me, you oaf, you haven’t got the first idea of medicine, healing or anatomy and I don’t want my hand to end up attached to my nose by mistake!”

“Just drink a potion then,” Sarevok snarled before he went back to chewing on the ends of Imoen’s pink hair. “This is intolerable! How am I supposed to fight like this?”

“You can start by not giving me split ends,” Imoen said, lightly swatting the back of what used to be her own head. “This is bad enough as it is, right?”

“Maybe I should just get us back to the pocket plane?” Rini suggested. “I’ve got powers in there that I don’t have here, maybe I can sort you all out.”

“If you can’t, we’ll have wasted precious time though,” Sarevok said. “There is no telling what Sendai is doing right now.”

“Yeah, but if we go and fight her right now all of you guys will have to fight her in the wrong body, with the wrong skills! I don’t like those odds, and I’m sure I’m not the only one. Vadrak, you agree with me, don’t you? Vadrak?”

But the assassin-turned-mage was nowhere to be seen. Edwin spat a curse and rushed down the nearest hallway, and she followed as fast as she could with the others right behind her. He couldn’t have got far, surely? To be sure, it wasn’t long before they caught up with him. He was standing in front of a very tall and wide ornate door made from pure black rock and engraved with…well Rini didn’t want to look too closely at those engravings, to be honest. There were Drow, and other denizens of the Underdark. Some of the scenes depicted were of conquest, or torture. And then there were the other ones. Is that umberhulk wearing high heeled boots and a strapped on…no. I think I’d rather watch a rerun of Daddy Bhaal’s Greatest Visions than this. Dekaras in Edwin’s body was standing very still, seemingly deep in thought. As Edwin caught up and grasped him by the shoulder he barely seemed to notice, and simply turned his head and gave him a distracted smile.

“What are you doing?!” Edwin snapped. “This is a dangerous place; you cannot simply run off like that!”

“Mmm?”

“Sendai is probably right behind that very door, are you trying to get yourself killed or merely being negligent with your own…my…both our health?”

“Mmmmm…”

“See? See! You are in no state to cope with anything complex or delicate right now, and I insist you step back and let me handle things!”

“Mmm?”

“Are you even paying attention to what I’m saying? Do I have to repeat myself? Or, dare I say it, forcibly restrain you until you come to your senses? (I could probably do it right now. Surely the body knows the way instinctively?)”

 

The assassin nodded, the smile on his face widening. It was open, bright, joyful, and had very, very little sanity to it. “Mmmmagic.” He raised his hand, and a sickening green orb formed around it, swirling with black specks. Then he aimed it at the door, the orb coalesced into a thick green beam and struck the door with a bright flash. There was no bang, or explosion. There was simply a faint hiss as the door disintegrated into a cloud of grey dust that made everybody cough. Behind the door was another cave, a large one this time. At the far end, there was an altar, flecked with dark stains. All around the walls was a complicated system of glass tubes and machinery, sparks now and then leaping from one part to another. There were cages as well, so many cages, and in the cages…

 

Oh. Oh no.

She hadn’t expected the missing villagers to turn up alive, but the reality was still a grim sight. The corpses were packed into the cages, jumbled together like refuse, and they were…withered. Grey husks, like…like an earwig she’d once seen after a parasitic worm was done with it. She’d had nightmares for days until Gorion finally got her to tell him what was wrong and helped her sleep. But there was no Gorion here. This one was all on her to handle. And there, by the altar, stood Sendai. There could be no doubt. She wasn’t the tallest or strongest Drow, nor the most beautiful. At first glance, she even seemed rather weak and plain, despite her fine clothes. Yet, there was a powerful presence around her, the legacy of Bhaal evident in every glance, in the slightest motion. The woman fairly radiated power, and as she turned to face the intruders there was a wild look on her face.

“You!” She shouted. “Do you think your minions will aid you now, sister? Aid you against me? You are too late, much too late. I sought to delay you with slaves and servants, and it worked. The ritual is complete. The glorious life essence of all these slaves, drained and channeled, and finally reborn. You face not Sendai alone and cornered as you thought, but all of Sendai and all that she can be!”

There was movement in the shadows along the wall and another Sendai stepped forth, this one dressed as a warrior with a nasty curved sword held steadily between two hands. Then another one, moving with the casual ease of a rogue. And another…and another…and another…until there were seven in all. The original Sendai crowed with laughter and winked out of sight as the clones all approached, weapons at the ready.

 

Great. And here I was hoping we’d have the time to discuss some actual tactics first. Prepare protective spells. Maybe even have a light snack. Not just rush into the room with everybody’s brains still scrambled. No, not everybody’s. Not mine. There were seven of us, three pairs and one left over. Mirror images flashed into existence around her body, followed by a shield of flickering flames, and then a haste spell covering the rest of the party. Let’s hope that will be enough. She moved towards the closest clone, the warrior, making her sword spin with a flourish intended to distract and confuse her opponent as much as her illusions might. Still, she knew she could only keep it up for so long, the other woman was stronger than she was.

 

“Foolish Drow!” That was Sarevok in Imoen’s body, moving up at her flank. “THE CHILDREN OF BHAAL WILL NOT BE STOPPED!” He clearly intended to make a bulwark of himself, but unfortunately Imoen’s slight body and short sword weren’t well suited for that task. The clone nearly took his, or rather Imoen’s head off as he attempted a sword stroke ill suited for his greatly reduced height and bulk.

“Move!” Viconia in Minsc’s body snarled as she pushed the pink haired girl aside. “Find the casters instead!” Sarevok startled, but then he disengaged, edging towards the walls of the room in what was probably an attempt at stealth. Meanwhile, the enraged Viconia proceeded to headbutt Warrior Sendai and beat her face into a pulp. “RRRRRRAARRRRRGH!” Viconia roared. “YOU WILL PAY FOR THIS INDIGNITY! YOU WILL ALL PAY!”

I’m…not sure if that’s Minsc’s body berserking or Vic herself. Maybe both? Either way, she seems on top of things for now.

 

Zaerini took off after Sarevok, having decided that her brother was one of the more vulnerable people in the room right now. Especially since I can’t see him sneaking if his life depended on it. Which it probably does. To be sure, that bright pink hair was clearly visible and even though she thought he was doing his best he simply couldn’t help striding rather than sneaking. Sarevok was clearly trying to reach a clone who was in the process of summoning nasty skeletons and elementals all over the room. At the last moment, he apparently remembered he was supposed to be stealthy and tried to edge around outside of the clone’s line of sight, a process that made it look like he was performing some kind of odd dance. It did at least cause the clone to break off in her casting to watch in puzzlement.

“HA!” Sarevok shouted, a sound that sounded just a little less impressive in Imoen’s voice than in his normal bass. “SNEAK ATTACK!” He threw himself forward with his sword stretched out in front of him, and undoubtedly the move would have been very impressive if it had actually hit anything. As it was, he carried on at full speed straight past the clone and landed on the floor. Her heart in her mouth, Rini launched several arrows at the clone hoping to get it off her brother…sister…well, both of them really. It worked, to the extent that now the clone was focusing on her instead. It was also casting something that made it feel like her heart was about to be torn straight out of her chest. She groaned, her bow clattering to the floor from suddenly nerveless fingers, and little white flecks floated in front of her eyes. And then the pain ended. The half-elf sagged to her knees, gasping for breath. Once she could see properly again, she spotted the clone, dead on the floor. Sarevok was on the floor next to her, with a bloodthirsty grin on Imoen’s face that looked rather out of place. This time around, he hadn’t bothered to get to his feet, but simply stabbed from a sitting position, hitting the Sendai clone straight in the vitals.

Imoen, meanwhile, was having some difficulties of her own. As amazing as it was to be able to not just lift but to swing Sarevok’s great sword, she wasn’t really used to wielding it properly. Right now, she was trying to hold off a swarm of skeletons and fire elementals that were being summoned into a dangerous position behind the group. Dekaras was standing close by, still looking rather out of it. He had summoned a few skeletons of his own and was enthusiastically egging them on, but he kept wanting to make things explode and Edwin kept having to bodily grab him to keep him from landing a Fireball too close for comfort. As for Edwin, he was probably trying his best, but he really had no idea about how to fight as a rogue. He’d managed to find and draw a long dagger but was holding it rather awkwardly and hadn’t really managed to do more than scratch his opponents.

 

Not that I’m much better, Imoen wildly thought as she wildly swung Sarevok’s sword once again. It did hit the elemental she was aiming for, but she’d underestimated her own strength and nearly tripped over her own feet. She ended up face to face with one of the Sendai clones, the rogue. Hm. Well, at least I know what kind of moves she might use. Sarevok’s body was huge and strong, but he wasn’t clumsy, not at all. Sure, she couldn’t fight the way she was used to, but she could still move. So, when the clone tried to feint in order to sneak around her and get under her guard, Imoen was ready for her. She spun around, and her elbow hit the clone right in the throat. Had she been in her own body, it would certainly have hurt, and she would have been able to easily follow up. In Sarevok’s body, the clone’s throat simply exploded in a shower of red drops, striking a wide-eyed Imoen straight in the face. Wow. It’s probably a good thing Sarevok doesn’t know these tricks on his own, or we’d never have beaten him back in Baldur’s Gate. Triumphantly, she turned to strike another elemental, only to find she’d underestimated her strength yet again. The huge sword simply flew out of her grip, spinning out of control through the air, and straight towards her friends by the entrance. “WATCH OUT!” She yelled in Sarevok’s best and loudest voice.

Edwin heard the warning, and fortunately for him his borrowed body reacted instinctively before he had the time to consciously think and decide what to do. He dove for cover, pulling Dekaras along with him. They both landed on the ground in a rather undignified heap, but at least they both had their heads still attached to their bodies. Unfortunately, the elementals were rapidly closing in, and so was one of the clones. This one was another warrior, and Edwin really didn’t fancy his chances at entering a duel to the death with her. In his own body, yes, but as it was, he felt as if he were trying to operate some sort of complicated and lethal machinery without a manual. The best he could hope for was to not have it blow up in his face. He’d only dared to grab one of the more obvious weapons, and he was frankly afraid to even attempt to explore the contents of his father’s many hidden pockets. Yes, there were assuredly many concealed weapons of clone destruction in there, but the problem was that he could easily self-destruct by touching the wrong item in the wrong manner.

 

“Fireball?” Dekaras croaked under him.

“Not NOW!” Edwin hissed, struggling to get to his feet and pull his father along by the collar while also attempting to keep the elementals at bay. He waved the dagger at them in what he hoped was a suitably intimidating manner, but he knew that would only work for so long. But I cannot fault him for currently having a one-track mind, Gods know what it must feel like to suddenly be able to access magic after so long…

That was something probably best not thinking about right now. There was a persistent dull ache in the farthest reaches of his mind, one that he tried to ignore but couldn’t entirely. It was a desperate emptiness, a void that yearned to be filled but never would be. I knew, but I did not understand. Not until now. Still, this was not the time or the place to contemplate such matters. They needed to get to safety, and he had precious few options open to him. Hoping that he wouldn’t get them both killed, he let instinct take over once again. Without thinking, he let his hand move, and felt his fingers reaching for a small device hanging from his belt, unhooking it. Ah, there comes the deathly weapon of clone destruction, to be certain! It didn’t feel like a dagger, but Dekaras certainly used other weapons as well, including some that Edwin didn’t even know the names for. The thing was a smooth handle and fit snugly into his palm. There was a button on the side, and as far as Edwin was concerned, buttons were made for pushing.

 

WOOOOOSH!

A small, but extremely sturdy grappling hook, attached to a mithril-enforced cord, shot out of the handle and into the air, disappearing into the dark recesses of the cavern ceiling. There was a distant ‘twang’ as it attached itself to something, and Edwin could feel the reverberation all the way into his arm. Shocked by this turn of events, he did the first thing he could think of and pressed the button once again.

 

SWOOOOSH!

The cord rapidly retracted itself back into the handle, just the way it was designed to do. The hook end was firmly attached in the ceiling. The Edwin end was not firmly attached to anything, and so he was pulled rapidly into the air, screaming bloody murder as he went. Since he was still holding onto Dekaras, he was pulled along as well, though with greater equanimity than Edwin felt. In fact, he seemed to be laughing, which Edwin felt was a callous disregard for their current predicament. Eventually, they came to a halt, just beneath the cavern ceiling and entirely too high above the ground for Edwin’s comfort. Why, if I am inside his body, didn’t I get his head for heights? That is just plain unfair! Clearly jumping down was not an option, and he only hoped that they wouldn’t fall and end up splattered all over the ground. He was desperately clutching the mage’s robe with one hand, and the handle of the accursed grappling hook with the other, and he felt as if both his arms were about to be torn out their sockets at any moment. Far, far beneath them, the chaotic battle still raged.

“Fireball…” Dekaras repeated, sounding quite pleased with the idea.

“Yes…nnnngh…I would certainly say so! Only…try to apply my usual finesse and restraint and…”

BOOOOM!

“…and enthusiasm, yes, quite so…”

Meanwhile, on the ground, Zaerini threw herself to one side as the battlefield suddenly turned into a raging inferno. It wasn’t just fire either. Clouds of poison drifted lazily across the ground, skulltraps screamed out of the sky to explode in showers of sharp shrapnel, giant chunks of ice rained down from the ceiling to be followed by jagged lightning and finally a howling wind of death took out what clones remained as three Horrid Wilting spells in a row landed on them. The clones burned, froze, gagged, and in one memorable case, simply exploded into meaty chunks of flesh and a spray of gore. Fortunately, she and her friends remained unharmed, so there must have been some aiming going on even if it hadn’t felt like it. Only the original Sendai remained, bleeding heavily as she staggered out of a poison cloud.

“You…you think you have won, do you?” She spat. “But know this, with or without me the plan will still proceed! Our Father will rise again.” She wiped some blood out of her eyes. “It was Balthazar, wasn’t it? That…disgusting little traitor! You cannot mean to trust him!”

“Who says I trust him?” Zaerini asked. “Now, as for you…”

“Hold on, Little Rini!” That was Minsc, his bright and beaming smile looking very out of place on Viconia’s face. “Minsc has the healing thing all figured out now, and Boo agrees! Minsc will heal the Evil One who is Many, and Boo says we can in-terr-gate her after. Now watch, the glowy hand will do it!” Slender, dark fingers reached out for the trembling Sendai’s brow, just touching. There was a flash of light, and the Drow Bhaalspawn collapsed in a heap, her body rapidly dissolving into a cloud of glittering dust. “Oh,” Minsc said, frowning. “Or maybe it was the other glowy hand spell, Boo says.”

I’d certainly say so, Zaerini thought. Let’s hope I can get everyone sorted out properly before Minsc tries to heal one of us. Then, darkness closed in around her, and her consciousness was swept away into chaos, landing her in a very unexpected place indeed.


Throne Of Cards 81

04 December 2019 - 11:20 PM

Apologies for my absence, as it turned out I had to go through surgery. I'm fine now and hopefully the next chapter won't take as long. 

 

Throne Of Bhaal 81 – Identity

 

How do we define what makes a person uniquely them? Their body? Their mind, their knowledge or skills? Something else? Is there a grey area where Self ends and Other begins?

 

Excerpt from ‘Ruminations Of A Master Bard’

 

“That,” Sarevok declared, “was quite possibly as unpleasant as dying. It felt like having my insides yanked out of me through my nose. Little sister, in the future, do not steal my toys or I will give you a paddling.”

“It wasn’t a toy, and I didn’t steal it! I only borrowed your fighting skills, and I’m sorry I didn’t have time to ask, but I was trying to keep us all alive! You know I couldn’t have won that duel otherwise.”

“Hmpf. Well, I suppose this proves once and for all who the superior warrior is, and who would have won that fight back in Baldur’s Gate if not for somebody cheating…”

“Not this again. I’m not a warrior at all and you know it! Besides, Vadrak isn’t ranting at me, are you Vadrak?”

Dekaras gave Zaerini a level look that suddenly made her feel as if she were approximately three feet tall and had a runny nose to boot.

“I appreciate that desperate times call for desperate measures,” He said. “Nevertheless, unless a similar life or death scenario should once again occur, with similar pressing concerns for time preventing you from asking and getting explicit and indeed enthusiastic consent, I kindly thank you not to repeat this little experiment.”

“Um. Right. Absolutely. Word of honour.” Boy, was I wrong. It’s just that he rants quietly.

 

A dry cackle mercifully interrupted and she was quite glad to hear Nevaziah’s voice. “Well, that settles that, doesn’t it? My minions have conquered, and I win.”

“Fair enough,” The Spectator said, bobbing up and down while simultaneously rolling all of his many eyes. “Yeah, yeah, you win, whatever. Go knock yourselves out with Sendai or whatever lies behind this next door behind me. It’s not as if I haven’t got better things to do.” He suddenly grinned, showing many shark like teeth. “I wonder, should I warn you about what Sendai and her special friends have been up to? Nah. It’ll be more fun this way. Toodles!” With that, he drifted off, chuckling to himself.

“Peculiar fellow,” Nevaziah muttered to himself, absently scratching his wizened scalp. “Now, where was I going again?”

“Er…to kill Sendai perhaps, Master?” Rini tried.

“Eh? What? No, no, I don’t think so. Who’s Sendai? Why would I kill her? And where did my hat go?”

“Do not fret, Master,” Dekaras interrupted. “In fact, why not leave this trifling matter to your trusted minions? I’m certain you have weightier matters to contend with.”

“Quite right, Number One,” The lich said with a firm nod that made something rattle loose deep inside him. “You deal with this…Sendai person, and Ducky and I will return to what we were doing. The Dodecahedron won’t summon itself, you know!” With a small wave of his toy duck, the ancient lich quickly chanted a spell and disappeared in a flurry of purple sparks.

“What was that all about?” Edwin protested. “We could have made further use of him!”

“He had forgotten all about Sendai already,” Dekaras said. “Would you have liked to risk him forgetting who we were – or remembering one of us in particular?”

“Er. Perhaps it is for the best.”

“And with that, I say we carry on,” Viconia said as she moved closer to door the Spectator had been guarding, kicking a few Drow corpses out of the way as she did so. “I dislike this mention of ‘special friends’ but there is no telling who or what they might be.”

“You’re right,” Rini agreed. “Whatever they are, we’d better move on before more Drow turn up. At least the Geas killed all these guys so quickly they didn’t get to sound an alarm.”

Onwards they walked, through a straight but fairly narrow stone corridor. A few smaller rooms were empty of life, but there were oddities there all the same. Metal crates lined the walls, floor to ceiling, so clearly this was storage area.

“Hey!” Imoen said. “Let’s have a peek, there could be treasure!”

“In an unguarded place such as this I highly doubt it,” Viconia  said with a brief shake of her head.

“Aw, don’t be a spoilsport! I’m gonna check it out, you never know.”

“Just remember your basics,” Dekaras said. “Unguarded or not, they could still be trapped.”

“Sure thing! And if there’s anything good I’ve got first dibs.” She carefully looked one of the crates over. “Nope, nothing here. Doesn’t even seem to be locked. Now let’s see…huh? Well, that’s boring.”

“What’s boring?” Rini asked.

“Nothing good in here, just a bunch of old clothes. Not even fancy dresses or anything like that.”

 

True enough, as the bard walked closer to have a look for herself, she saw that her friend was quite right. The crate was stuffed full of clothes, plain and simple ones. “For their soldiers maybe?” She suggested. “Or their slaves?”

“They are not of Drow make,” Viconia said as she held up a small shirt. “And this was made for no soldier.”

A nasty, slithering feeling twisted around the half-elf’s stomach as she took a closer look. The shirt had an embroidered fluffy lamb neatly stitched onto it with loving attention. “The villages…” She said. “Some of the villages we came across all the people were dead. But in some…they were just gone, remember?” She opened another crate. Shoes, dozens of them, jumbled together.

“It may well be,” Dekaras said in a rather bleak voice, “That the dead were the lucky ones.”

“Oh, say it is not so!” Minsc protested, his eyes blank with tears. “Will even the mighty sword and teeth of Minsc and Boo be in vain?”

“We don’t know for sure yet,” Rini said, trying to sound more hopeful than she actually felt. “But I’ve got a feeling we’re getting close to Sendai now, so let’s move even more carefully than before since we’ve no idea what we’re up against. Eddie, I’ve got at least one invisibility spell that’ll cover us all, do you have any spare for when that runs out?”

“One,” Her lover replied. “After that, only a regular one-person spell.”

“That’ll have to do. Ok gang, let’s huddle, I don’t want to miss anyone and waste the spell.” They all pressed in close together, and she cast the spell, taking particular care to place it correctly. Eventually she felt it settle and shimmer around all of them like a glittering cloak and knew that while they could still see each other they should now be cloaked from sight.

“And remember,” Dekaras said, “It will not mask sound. I suggest silence from now on. In fact, unless you have any objections, I will move ahead and scout the way.”

“All right but be careful. Sendai is supposed to be really powerful after all, so don’t take any unnecessary risks, just come back to us if you see anybody.”

“As you wish. But you should know I never take unnecessary risks.”

“Try to avoid the necessary ones as well then!”

She just caught him giving her a slight slanted smile as he slipped around the corner without a further word, and then she focused on Edwin’s disgruntled mutterings about the very loose definitions of the word ‘risks’ potentially applied by certain people. As a matter of fact, it wasn’t very long before the assassin returned, perhaps a quarter of an hour or so, and he looked none the worse for wear.

“There is an antechamber of sorts up ahead,” He reported. “There is another closed door behind it, and a Drow woman who seems to be on guard.”

“Alone?” Viconia interrupted in a sharp voice. “I do not like the sound of that.”

“Well, she seemed to be alone, and it wasn’t that large of a room. I doubt I missed anybody else. I do however agree with you, it could well mean she’s a powerful enough subordinate that she needs no guards.”

“Could she be Sendai herself?” Imoen asked.

“Impossible to say, none of us know what Sendai looks like after all. I did notice that she seemed unusually disheveled and sickly for a Drow female. She kept mumbling to herself, and scratching at her neck under the hood of her cloak. I think she may not be in her right mind.”

“It could be the Bhaaltaint,” Rini mused. “Of course, we run into quite a few non Bhaalspawn crazy people too. I guess there’s no avoiding her?”

“None, unless there are any secret passages that I missed this is the only route ahead and I doubt this spell could cover all of us well enough to sneak past.”

“Nothing for it then. Sendai or not, let’s make sure we’re fully prepared for a fight, but let’s not spend all our spells just yet. She could be just some random outcast after all. And let’s try to stick with spells that’ll either last long enough to get there before they run out or that can be done quietly, I’d like to take advantage of the invisibility and take her by surprise if we can.”

 

A few minutes later the group had finished their preparations. They moved ahead as cautiously and quietly as they could, some of them more successfully than others and eventually they reached the antechamber in question. The walls were rough stone, the room bare and cold. It didn’t seem like a place that had any value or worth, more like a place of transition. There was a single tall but narrow door at the other side of the room, made from adamantium that glittered coolly purple. And there was the lone Drow woman, standing close to the door. She wore a white cloak with a deep hood that obscured her face as she stood with hunched shoulders, fiddling absently with her fingers and she was whispering something in a quiet voice. Rini tried to make the words out but couldn’t. Dekaras had been right, she thought. The woman did look sickly, thin and frail, and the skin on her hands looked odd as well. Drow didn’t all look the same of course, some had skin that was pretty much pure black, others more of a dark grey, sometimes with undertones of blue or purple. This woman’s colour was a blotchy, pale grey though, one the bard couldn’t remember seeing before. She narrowed her eyes, looking more closely, and focused on the twitching fingers. Ragged, sharp nails were digging into the flesh of other hand, digging grooves and furrows right along the cuticles. She swallowed hard as she saw one nail flapping loose, back and forth, displaying raw and bleeding flesh beneath.

 

Yes, severe lack of sanity points. Bhaalspawn or not though?

 

“Good,” The woman suddenly said in a louder voice than before. She still didn’t look up from her twitching hands though. “I greet you and welcome you, Child of Bhaal.”

 

So much for the stealthy approach. And would it kill them to learn my actual name? Well, maybe, just maybe, she isn’t hostile. You never know. Maybe Sendai tortured her, and she’d be happy to help us out.

 

“You claim to know me,” She responded, stepping closer. “I’m afraid I can’t say the same. Are you Sendai?”

The woman chuckled, a dry, rasping sound like a clutter of dead leaves blown across the stone floor of a tomb and she turned towards the group. “An excellent question,” She said. “I could have been, but no. You may refer to me as Diyatha, handmaiden to Her Holiness Mistress Sendai.”

 

Right. The happy to help us out option seems way more unlikely by the second.

 

“That’s nice,” Rini said, trying to decide if her sword, her bow or her spells would be the best option should it come to a fight. “Does she know you’re here?”

“Of course. She sent me to welcome you, after all. She so longs to get to know you better, you and all your friends. She was quite surprised to see you proceed this far, perhaps even impressed, but this is as far as it goes, I’m afraid.” Diyatha raised her head, and Rini tried to catch a glimpse of her face underneath the white hood. She could see very little, only a hint of chin and smiling mouth, but she thought the skin looked just as unhealthy as that of the hands. “Sendai would know you, Child of Bhaal, and I am Her eyes and Her voice. Face me!” Enchanted shields flared up around the hunched woman, strong magic to contrast with her frail appearance and there was a loud rumbling sound as the very ground shook and heaved and rocks and gravel started tumbling down from above. With a quick curse Zaerini jumped aside just as a large crack formed where she had stood only moments before. Then she turned around and saw that the earthquake wasn’t the only problem.

Sarevok and Minsc had been the first to move, charging towards Diyatha with their swords drawn. Before they could reach her, the lone woman raised her hands and a lattice of stone shot out of the ground, forming a protective cage around her, one that was covered with nasty stone spikes to boot. Both warriors slammed straight into it before they could halt themselves, and were thrown to the ground by the impact. Worse, the cage was large enough that it was obviously impossible for their weapons to reach Diyatha as she stood in the middle of it.

 

Well, spells or ranged weapons should still be able to get her. We’ll just have to…

 

The ground shook again, hard enough that the half-elf nearly lost her footing. Two enormous earth elementals emerged from the rock, each one twice as tall and wide as a large man. Mostly flat skulls sat directly on their broad shoulders, and triangular red eyes glowed an angry red from otherwise blank and featureless faces. Both of them charged, each footfall like a clash of thunder, and at the same time Diyatha quickly chanted another spell.

 

How can she cast so much so quickly?! It doesn’t seem possible.

 

She felt the powerful magical field of this spell narrowly pass her by, but it did strike Edwin and Dekaras who had been on her right side. Both men shot into the air as quickly as if they’d been falling from a great height and slammed into the ceiling where they stuck as if they’d been glued onto it. It was kind of hard to tell from this distance, but they both looked a little dazed from the impact. At least they’d narrowly avoided being impaled on the many stalactites lining the ceiling.

“Gravity reversal!” Edwin shouted as he desperately tried and failed to return to the ground. “We won’t get down until it wears off!”

 

Great. Can this possibly get any worse I wonder?

 

At that moment Zaerini had to dodge one of the large elementals before her head got squished by its enormous boulder of a fist. As she did, she saw something else moving towards her out of the corner of her eye. Diyatha had summoned an actual boulder this time, a large globe of stone perhaps two metres across and as smooth as a child’s marble. With a flick of her finger she set it in motion, and it started rolling and spinning wildly across the floor, careening towards the party. Then there was another, and another, each one enough to severely injure or perhaps even kill whoever unlucky enough to be struck by it.

 

Yes. Yes, it could get worse.

 

Minsc had got to his feet by now and had tackled the elemental menacing her. “BAD ROCK!” The large man shouted. “No touching Minsc’s Witch!” He rammed the elemental shoulder first with all his might, and though he didn’t make it fall he at least made it sway and turn towards him. That gave Rini the time and space needed to jump out of the way of two boulders speeding towards her from opposite directions. She just barely managed to avoid getting flattened into a red paste and the boulders struck each other instead with a resounding bang before bouncing off again. Unfortunately, all of the chaos meant there was very little time for her to do anything else but avoid deadly objects. Sarevok was struggling with the stone lattice protecting Diyatha, but so far even his great strength was in vain. A large fireball slammed into the upper half of the cage, so evidently Edwin wasn’t about to let a minor detail like being upside-down keep him out of the action. It didn’t break the cage, but it did rattle it and momentarily break Diyatha’s concentration causing her to lose control of one spell. There was a small ‘thunk’ followed by a ‘crack’ as a stone spider tumbled down from the ceiling and was smashed into gravel against the hard ground. Clearly that had been a ‘Flesh To Stone’ that just went awry.

 

At least it wasn’t one of us. But how to get to her?

 

Edwin was still launching spells at the cage, falling chunks of ice this time and Rini thought she understood what he was trying to do. If the cage got brittle enough it should eventually be possible to break it, but they’d have to survive both Diyatha’s spells and the rocks and elementals until they could get to her.

 

Elementals first.

 

She had a few seconds to spare as one of the elementals was still facing Minsc and the second was chasing after Viconia and Imoen. It was enough for a quick spell. Part of floor was covered with thick globules of slippery grease and Minsc’s golem skidded across it, thick arms flailing comically until it smashed into the wall and fell to the ground with a crash that made the floor shake once again. It was enough for the berserker to replace his sword with a spare weapon, an enchanted Warhammer sturdy enough to pulverize the elemental’s head until it resembled nothing so much as broken pottery. The second elemental was chasing Imoen who was nimbly skipping and vaulting across the floor, avoiding large fists and chaotic boulders. This gave Viconia enough time to cast a couple of spells of her own. The Drow priestess seemed to grow in stature, a nimbus of flickering shadows surrounding her as she called upon the might of her goddess. Her mace struck the second elemental, again and again, with strength and skill far exceeding her normal limits, and the large creature staggered backwards, tiny cracks beginning to form on its surface. It was still on the move though, and still a clear threat. However, it hadn’t noticed what was happening behind it. Having clearly decided that he wouldn’t be able to get a clear shot at Diyatha through her protections, Dekaras had been painstakingly working at climbing up, or rather down, one of the large stalactites hanging from the ceiling. Now he was close enough that he could launch himself at the elemental’s head where he managed to prevent himself from being dragged into the air again by wrapping his legs around what little neck it had. He was digging his fingers hard into the glowing red eye sockets, and the elemental screamed, a creaking inhuman groan. It swung its large fists blindly, trying to dislodge its foe but Imoen took a flying leap of her own and clutched its arm. While she wasn’t very heavy, it was enough to weigh it down. All these distractions gave Viconia the opportunity for the perfect blow, straight into the cracks already formed. The elemental fell apart into two halves and moved no more. With a brief curse the assassin floated into the air again as the broken elemental wasn’t heavy enough to anchor him any longer, and only Imoen clinging onto his waist with both arms was enough to keep him from going all the way to the ceiling. At least this had the lucky side effect of dragging both of them just high enough up that they were out of reach of the spinning boulders. Rini wasn’t so lucky, but now that the elementals were out of the way it was easier to dodge the boulders than it had been, and that gave her some time to attack. She wasn’t enough of an archer that she fancied her chances of hitting Diyatha through the complicated lattice of the stone cage, but magic missiles were quick enough to cast and would find their way through the obstacles. She harassed the other woman as much as she could to keep her from casting further spells and to give her friends time to go on the offensive. Edwin had been keeping his own barrage up, alternating fire, ice and pure force, and it was finally beginning to have an effect. The stone cage was buckling, bending, and finally broke.

“Undermaster!” The wizard shouted. “That spell gives her innate abilities that are all bound to the earth through an arcane link, get her off the ground!”

Sarevok grinned broadly, his golden eyes burning eagerly. “My pleasure,” He boomed. Before Diyatha could get another spell off, the tall man already had her by the throat, lifting her bodily off the ground until she hung there helplessly, gagging and choking. The spinning boulders slowed down, bounced aimlessly off the walls a few more times, and then came to a complete stop. Diyatha clutched and clawed in vain at the mailed fist choking the life out of her, until there was a final, nasty crack and her neck snapped. Her lifeless body tumbled to the ground, and as it did the gravity reversal spell ended as well. Imoen and Dekaras dropped to the ground more or less gracefully, rolling and getting to their feet. Edwin dropped like a sack of potatoes with a shocked yell. Fortunately Minsc managed to catch him and set him down safely. For a moment all was silent other than the sound of seven people’s labored breathing.

“Is everyone ok?” Rini anxiously asked.

“No serious injuries,” Viconia replied having given everyone a quick examination. “Things could have gone much worse. If this was merely one of Sendai’s underlings, we had better prepare for a truly bloody battle ahead.”

“Let’s have a closer look at this one and see what we were dealing with,” Sarevok said. He bent over Diyatha’s broken corpse and pulled the hood of her white cloak back.

“Oh, yuck,” Imoen said as she scrunched her nose up until she looked rather like an apprehensive bunny. “That’s gross.”

Rini couldn’t help but agree. The skin on Diyatha’s face was just as loose and flaking as that on her hands, as if it was in the process of simply melting off her flesh and bones. Here and there trails of slow dark blood and viscous pus oozed out through the cracks. “Weird,” She said. “She looks like a corpse, but she didn’t seem like an undead.” A sudden nasty thought struck her. “Vic? She doesn’t have anything contagious, does she?”

Viconia closed her eyes for a moment, spreading her hands into the air some distance above the corpse. “No,” She said with a relieved exhalation. “Whatever this is, it’s no communicable disease. I wonder what…”

“Um guys?” Imoen piped up. “Are we sure, I mean, really sure she’s actually all the way dead?”

“Please,” Sarevok scoffed. “I should think I’ve killed enough people to be able to tell the difference. Besides, just look at her! Her neck is twisted enough she’s practically staring at her own back.”

“Yeah, I know, but…I just saw something move inside her cloak.”

The group fell silent again, all of them backing off a little as they cautiously observed the corpse. At first, nothing happened. Then, there was a brief twitch beneath the folds of Diyatha’s cloak, close by her neck and the base of her skull. Before anybody had the time to reach, the cloak burst open, and a…a Thing burst out amidst scattering chunks of disintegrating flesh and splintered bone. The Thing was perhaps the size of a saucer, and looked a little bit like a large tick, grey, swollen and bloated with things best not contemplated too closely. It had bulging glassy eyes, and a round gaping mouth, perfect for sucking. Segmented legs flailed wildly as it leapt into the air and into one of the cracks in the ground that Diyatha’s earthquake spell had caused, slithering out of sight and out of reach.

“What,” Rini finally said, breaking the stunned silene, “In the Abyss was that?”

“Ceremorphosis,” Viconia replied in a toneless voice. “The process by which…”

“Ah, I know this!” Edwin eagerly interrupted. “I remember studying it in the past. It is the process by which an illithid tadpole attaches itself to a live victim, gradually eating away at its brain matter and replacing it until a fully formed illithid is formed from the victim. Curiously enough, they may also absorb the memories of the host, and even share them with the colony and the Elder Brain. It…” He suddenly fell silent as he realized the implications. “Oh.”

“Yeah,” Rini said, not quite able to sound as encouraging as she’d hoped. “That means there are mindflayers up ahead. Plus, since that thing got away, they now already know all Diyatha saw of us, and probably so does Sendai. This day just keeps getting better and better, doesn’t it?”

 

 

 

 


Throne Of Cards 80

21 August 2019 - 05:31 PM

Throne Of Cards 80 – Bluffed And Buffed

 

The secret to being a bard is to understand that unless you’re performing a song or a play, you’re probably not going to be the expert in your party. No, the trick is to pull all those different specialist skills together, and make them work together, the sum far stronger than its components. Ideally, you also want to be fast talking enough to convince everyone that you really did the dishes last night and it’s not your turn tonight, honestly.

Excerpt from ‘Ruminations Of A Master Bard’

“Met before? Athkatla?” Zaerini said, trying to stall for time while deciding how to spin this. Liches. Why does it always have to be liches? And why always this particular lich? True, Nevaziah was in some ways better than the average lich – I can’t believe I’ve met enough liches to be able to compare averages – but his forgetfulness meant that she couldn’t be sure how he’d react if he happened to remember more. Especially if he remembers about the Nether Scroll. Wait, that’s the ticket. I’d better remind him of that one other time and hopefully he’ll forget Eddie and the Nether Scroll entirely. “Why yes, Master!” She gushed. “It is us, your faithful servants Number One and Number Two. You remember, don’t you? The Twisted Rune? How we helped your superiors in that esteemed organization recognize your greatness?”

“How we helped introduce you to a charming undead lady?” Dekaras filled in, having clearly picked up on what she was trying to do. “Where is the Lady Layene by the way?”

Nevazaiah sighed. “She didn’t adjust well to being undead,” He said. “She got obsessed with that silly fire in the Twisted Rune library and kept insisting it wasn’t her fault. As if my faithful servants would ever do such a thing!”

“Right,” Rini said, smiling brightly. “As if we ever would!”

“How preposterous indeed,” Dekaras agreed.

“More to the point, she insulted Ducky,” Nevaziah said with a creaking little sigh. “She called him ‘just a toy’.”

“But,” Sarevok said, “It is just a…ow!”

“A mortal insult!” Rini exclaimed, trying to surreptitiously rub her elbow. She’d tried to hit her brother in the chinks of his armor, but it still hurt. “Such heresy surely wasn’t something our noble Master would let slip.”

“Hmmm….” Nevaziah said, scratching his bald head until a few flakes of dead skin fell off and landed on his shoulders. “What was I saying again? Oh yes, Layene.” He pointed to a small jar standing on a side table. “Ducky wasn’t happy with her, oh no. Not happy at all. You know, I think she might possibly still be alive in a sense, even reduced to dust, but at least she won’t be rude anymore. Are you sure I haven’t met your friends before, my minions? That one wizard hiding in the back looks somehow familiar…”

“Nope!” Rini said. “Absolutely not, he’s just…a random wizard, we needed somebody to deal with the magic shtick while we were absent from our beloved Master, after all.”

“’Magic shtick?!’” Edwin protested. “I…”

“Entirely random and not in any way remotely familiar,” Dekaras said in his firmest voice. “Isn’t that so, boy?”

“Er. Yes, yes of course. I am but a…a humble anonymous spellcaster, of no significance or importance whatsoever.”

“Oh,” Viconia said with a blissful smile on her face. “What I would give for some sort of recording of this moment that I might relive it again and again.”

“Master, if I may ask,” Zaerini said. “What are you doing here? Are you a friend of Sendai?”

“Sendai?” Nevaziah said, a blank look in his glowing red eyes. “Who is Sendai, Number Two?”

“Er…Sendai? The Drow lady who owns this entire giant underground lair thing that we’re standing in right now, the mistress of Drow and drider and probably lots of even worse things. That Sendai.”

“Hmmm…” Nevaziah said, holding his toy duck with its beak to the place where his right ear had once been. “What’s that, Ducky? You don’t say? Hmm…yes, yes. I see. Kill them all? Are you sure? Well then.” The lich huffed and turned towards the wary adventurers once more, but he still didn’t seem inclined to attack. “Why, I never! Ducky tells me I have been most grievously insulted!”

“One should always listen to one’s wise companion,” Minsc agreed. “I have my trusty Boo, and the dead man has his trusty duck, and so we will never be led astray. Would Ducky like to play with Boo? Minsc will tell him not to scratch.”

“Ducky says ‘possibly later’,” Nevaziah said. “Now, where were we?”

“With Sendai?” Imoen said.

“Er? Who?”

 

I don’t know if I want to kill him or just curl up in a fetal position and cry myself to sleep.

 

“Sendai.” She said in a slightly tight voice. “Drow lady. Underground lair. Monsters. Remember?”

“Do excuse Number Two, Master,” Dekaras smoothly interjected. “She is as yet unaccustomed to properly anticipating and circumnavigating her Master’s little flights of fancy. These things take practice, after all.”

Nevaziah nodded. “The young people these days…so impatient. As I was saying, this ‘Sendai’ invited me here some time ago. She had taken an interest in my past research into applied transformative arcana, particularly the papers I once published on one rather interesting Nether Scroll.” He gave a dry little chuckle. “Some fool of a wizard stole that from me some time back. Oh, what I would give to know what hilarious misadventures befell him without the proper directions on how to use it.”

“Hilarious,” Edwin said between clenched teeth. “Ha. Ha. See how my sides are splitting? (Is there a spell for splitting liches? Further studies are clearly required.)”

“So, Sendai wanted to pick your brains on magic?” Imoen said. “What is she like?”

“I wouldn’t know!” Nevaziah huffed. “She invited me here two months ago, set me up in this laboratory, but she has apparently been ‘too busy’ to see me yet. The rudeness of it! I would have left long ago, if only…well, if only…”

“Yes?”

“If only I could remember where the door was.”

Rini turned around. True, the door to Nevaziah’s laboratory fit so neatly into the wall that it nearly was invisible. Perhaps it made sense, as much as anything ever made sense around Nevaziah.

“Your faithful servants would be very happy to help, Master,” She offered. “Only…”

“Only what? Speak up, Number Two.”

“Only, Sendai seems to have a problem with us. She’s been trying to kill us, dear Master.”

“It is envy, of course,” Dekaras said. “Her own servants are clearly inferior, and so she has seen fit to attempt to deprive you of yours. A small army of Drow and umberhulks await a brief distance from this place.” He paused in seeming thought. “Why, could it be…no, assuredly she would not stoop so low.”

“How low?” Nevaziah asked, his eyes glowing ever brighter.

“It merely occurs to me, Master, that it is a passing strange coincidence that this reckless attempt upon your own servants’ humble lives should take place just as we were about to reach you at long last.”

“Oooh!” Rini filled in, her eyes wide. “She tried to keep us from our Master! I bet she even set that door up to be tricky on purpose, didn’t she?”

Viconia nodded. “It does seem the sort of thing Sendai might do. A mighty lich as a guardian of her domain? Just as effective as a dragon and without the food bill.”

Nevaziah slowly stood. It was a delicate process, involving stiff ligaments and joints, scattering flakes of skin, and little heaps of dust scattering from the folds of his robe. Even so, the steady red glow deep within the dark eye sockets, and the grinding of ancient teeth made her feel just a tiny bit uneasy. I hope we didn’t poke him too hard.

“Sendai,” Nevaziah hissed. “Has been using me…and DUCKY? For GUARD DOGS?”

“At long last, a connection is made,” Edwin scoffed. “Any longer, and we all might have ended up looking like mummified prunes. Why, I do believe…”

“…that a ‘humble anonymous spellcaster’ should consider his next words carefully as he addresses our Master Nevaziah, scholar of the Nether Scroll. Yes? Yes.” Rini looked her lover straight in the eyes until he eventually gave a brief cough and cleared his throat.

“Ah. Yes. Anonymous. Quite.”

Nevaziah nodded. “This will not do. Ducky says you speak true, my servants. Sendai has wasted my time and menaced my servants. I shall repay her in kind. Come along, my trusted minions! I wish you to keep score.”

“Score?” Imoen asked.

“Of which spell you enjoy best, of course.” Nevaziah rubbed his hands, and then had to stoop down to pick his left pinky finger up from the floor. “Sendai took an interest in my research, did she? Open the door, my servants. It’s time for her to pay attention to my lecture.”

The carnage that followed was…instructive to say the least. Zaerini and her friends followed some distance behind the irate lich as he tottered along on creaking legs, yellow duck lovingly tucked under his left arm. His right arm was kept quite, quite busy. Drow and umberhulks alike were withered, disintegrated, exploded, burnt, frozen, stomped, flattened, entombed and in the memorable case of one warrior, turned entirely inside-out while still alive. The resulting bubbling, heaving mess of broken limbs and scattered organs twitched on the ground for a few moments before it mercifully expired. Rini winced and pressed a hand firmly against her mouth. She’d seen her fair share of carnage, had even done some of it herself, but there were limits. Edwin’s hand reached for her and she gratefully took it, squeezing hard. She focused on the wizard’s face as she walked past, not on the…thing on the ground. It helped, a little bit.

And now they were stood at yet another massive door, set straight into a sheer cliffside and presumably leading further into Sendai’s lair. Nevaziah nodded, holding his duck up against his ear again. “What’s that you say, Ducky? It’s polite to knock? Oh yes, of course. Let’s knock.” The lich raised his hand again, there was yet another fierce surge of magic that made Rini’s spine tingle, and the door crumbled into a pile of dust. “Knock knock!” Nevaziah cheerfully said. “Now say, ‘who’s there?’.”

“Who…who’s there?” A trembling voice spoke from inside the door.

“Nevaziah! Now say ‘Nevaziah who?’

“N-n-Nevaziah who?”

“Nevah say I didn’t WARN YOU!” The lich cackled, hurling his duck inside the room. Rini couldn’t quite see what happened next, but there were screams of horror, one of which suddenly dwindled away into nothing, as if that person had just been sucked into a very deep, dark hole. Finally, there was silence. Nevaziah nodded and walked inside the room, with the adventurers following at a cautious distance. The room was fairly large, and entirely round. It seemed to be an entry hall of sorts, with three doors leading off in different directions. About a dozen or so Drow were cowering with their backs pressed to the walls, staring in horror at the small, yellow duck sitting motionless in the middle of the floor. What they had just seen or experienced she couldn’t even begin to guess, but she did notice that the duck’s beak almost seemed to be smirking. That wasn’t what worried her the most though. What worried her was the enormous beholder floating in front of the middle one of the three doors, a bored look in its multitude of eyes.

“Oh, hey,” The beholder said. “Huh, long time no see. At least I think we’ve met before, but you people really all look alike don’t you?”

“We did,” Rini said, choosing her words carefully. “At least I think we did, if you’re the Spectator beholder who  once got stuck with guarding an empty chest back in a Sahuagin city.”

“Part of that adventure I missed?” Imoen whispered.

“Yep.”

“Gotcha. Gosh, sometimes I wish we’d kept a reference book of all the past villains just in case one of them pops up again.”

“Hey, I’m not a villain!” The Spectator protested. “True, Sendai summoned me here to guard this door, and true, I’ll have to kill you if you try to go through it without defeating me, but it’s nothing personal.

“This is really most inconvenient,” Nevaziah complained. “Sendai really has it in for my minions, doesn’t she?”

The Spectator shrugged its eyetalks. “Seems that way. Of course, nobody tells me anything. Oh nooo, it’s all ‘Guard this!’ or ‘Defend that!’”

The lich nodded. “And attempting to destroy my minions is just rude. It’s so difficult to find good ones, these days. Of course, she is envious, and she thinks her minions are better.”  A worrying glint once more shone in those hollow sockets. “Ducky has the most splendid idea! The term ‘defeating’ you is malleable and need not imply combat on your part. After all, you and I have both been insulted by Sendai and shouldn’t fight. Instead, I will pit one of my minions against one of yours in a duel to the death, and we see who wins. Further, a geas will ensure the loser’s other minions die as well. Do we have a deal?”

“Ha! Deal!” The Spectator exclaimed. “Sounds fun.”

“Now, wait just a minute!” Rini protested. “You can’t make us do this!”

Nevaziah gently patted her on the arm, and she had to resist a strong urge to pull away from that bony touch. “Now, don’t you worry, Number Two. As you said yourselves, you are clearly the superior minions, so you will easily win.”

“But…”

“Ducky says ‘make it bloody’. Off you go, Number Two, I think you need the practice. Try to make it entertaining, would you?”

“Geas is all sorted!” The Spectator chirped.

“But I…”

“Ducky wants to give a kiss for good luck!” The beaming lich held the yellow duck up towards her mouth, and she gave its orange beak a small peck. I hope Eddie doesn’t get jealous. I hope I don’t die. I hope I don’t get us all killed.

“Here’s my champion, go whenever you’re ready,” The Spectator said, and a particularly muscular Drow warrior stepped forward. He walked with the fluid grace of a trained duelist, as relaxed as if he was simply taking a stroll. His adamantine armour had a shimmering blue-black sheen to it, and he grinned confidently as he drew two curved swords. They looked sharp enough to cut air or slice sound.

“Guys?” Zaerini whispered out of the corner of her mouth. “This doesn’t look good. I mean, I’ve had some practice, but I’m hardly a swordmaster.”

“Then don’t try to be,” Viconia said. “Beat him in your own way.”

“The Slayer, you mean?” She swallowed hard. “Sure. If that’s what it takes to keep us all alive, then…”

“No!” Edwin protested, his fingers clutching her shoulder. “I know what that does to you. One of these days, you may not be able to get back to normal.”

“Better that than all of you dying. I don’t think I’ve got a choice, none of my usual tricks are…” Then she paused. None of my tricks. But maybe… “I’m going to try something,” She said. “If it doesn’t work, it’s Slayer or nothing. Sorry in advance, I wouldn’t do this if I had a choice, promise it won’t last long.” Thanks for the lesson, Illasera. Guess you were good for something.

 

Just as when she had been cornered by the Bhaalspawn huntress, she reached out, both with her hands and with something else, ethereal filaments of the Bhaalpower, searching for what she thought would help her most. Magic clearly wouldn’t be the best option, given her opponent’s innate resistance. She needed close combat skills, combat skills surpassing her own, and so she latched onto Sarevok and Dekaras and gasped as her mind was instantly flooded in a heady rush. Skill, yes, knowledge too. Better still, she could tell that she was stronger and faster than normal, much as when she had mirrored Illasera. Vaguely, she was aware of the two men staggering backwards in sudden shock, and she knew she’d have to apologize later. No time right now, though. Must take advantage of this before it wears off. Let’s make this bastard hurt.

She wasted no time on taunts or speeches. Instead she launched herself at the Drow warrior with a burst of speed that took the man by surprise. She could see him raising his swords as she skidded across the slippery floor, sliding but keeping her balance. He was preparing to face her head-on, that much was obvious. Sucks to be him. Just as she was nearly upon him, she crouched low instead, and she went under his swords, between his legs and came out behind him. As he grunted in surprise, she leapt to her feet again in a single motion, grasped the back of his neck and then pirouetted onto one leg and sideways so that she could plant a foot firmly in his back. The armor kept his right kidney from turning into mush, but the blow was still enough to drive him onto his belly on the floor, sprawled like a frog. Need an opening, quick. And there it was, small enough, but from this angle it was enough of a chink in his armor that one could drive a sword into it just so. The man shrieked as the sword impaled him, but it wasn’t enough. She raised the sword again, and the writhing body rose with it, still impaled. Adrenaline coursed through her body, and she felt so impossibly strong she couldn’t quite hold back a giggle. Warm blood was streaming across her hands and her arms, and still she held firm, until the impaled man stopped struggling and slid limply off her sword.

“Ugh…” Zaerini said, trying her best not to gag as the borrowed power faded away and her suddenly watery legs deposited her onto the corpse of her fallen opponent. Every single muscle in her body seemed to be screaming and howling in protest, it even hurt to breathe, and her head was spinning. “How’s that…for entertaining?” She asked Nevaziah. Then the walls twisted into a spinning kaleidoscope of blurry shapes and she promptly fainted.

 

 


Throne Of Cards 79

27 June 2019 - 10:31 PM

Sorry for the long delay, a combination of work and some health issues conspired against me. I'll try not to let the next one take this long. 

 

Throne Of Cards 79 – Drider And Dome

 

Only a fool wishes for a clever opponent worthy to face him in honorable battle. If you are prudent, you wish for a stupid opponent careless about locking his doors or protecting his vitals.

Excerpt from ‘Interview With An Assassin’

 

Vadrak Dekaras considered himself reasonably well traveled by now, as well as familiar with many strange beasts and creatures (If perhaps not quite to the slightly obsessive degree that Edwin was.) Certainly that recent foray into Watcher’s Keep had meant he could cross a few more eldritch horrors off the list of cosmic abominations not yet encountered. For that matter, he’d even held a conversation with his own God, definitely not something he’d ever expected to happen. Even so, the creature currently barreling towards the party at full speed was enough to give him pause for a second or two.

 

Its bottom half was that of a monstrously large spider, a spider the size of a young elephant with twitching black spiky and segmented legs and a bulging belly. Out of that belly reared a humanoid torso, with four muscular arms each wielding sharp, curved swords, their edges smeared with some glistening substance that was certainly poison. There were two heads, mostly resembling those of Drow, but twisted and distorted. The eyes were still red, like those of a Drow, but perfectly round and bulging, rows and rows encircling each ridged forehead, four larger and four smaller in each head. There was white hair still, a few strands flopping lifelessly from each head, and there were pointed ears, but no noses. There were fangs though, oh yes, plenty of fangs.

Of course, part of the assassin’s brain thought even as another was calculating the distance and angle towards the monster rapidly sliding down the thick spider threads crossing the chasm. Drow + spider = Drider. I should have expected that. But I didn’t think they got this big, or this…exotic. Sendai. She must have been experimenting. He’d retrieved all of his weapons and gear from the Bag of Holding by now of course, and had opted for his crossbow to start with since at this range it would pack more of a punch than his throwing daggers. The shot was clean and he hit the huge drider square in one of its throats. Unfortunately, that didn’t even seem to slow the monster down, and the same went for the shots Zaerini and Imoen launched at it with their bows. They were also seemingly solid hits, one to the left torso, one to the right, but with no more obvious impact than his own. So, the Drow parts are perhaps more…appendages, distractions? No vital organs there? Unfortunately, the skillset of an assassin being what it was, he had to admit that his knowledge of spider anatomy was perhaps a bit more rudimentary than that of humanoids. Trial and error it is. Hopefully more trial than error.

 

To make things even more interesting, the drider wasn’t alone. There was a whole swarm of spiders hot on its heels, if a spider could be said to have heels. He estimated well over tw

o dozen, ranging between the size of a large dog and the size of a man’s palm, some green, some black, some a bright red. It would be easy to dismiss the smaller ones as a threat, but potentially fatal, their poison might be just as deadly. The beasts surged forward, moving with deadly speed, but by now Edwin had raised his hand and as he intoned the final word of his spell an incandescent fireball sped through the air, setting glistening strands of web ablaze. The drider veered to the side, but several of the spiders weren’t fast enough. The crackling sound of burning chitin and a horrible acrid stench filled the air and the drider shrieked with anger. By now it was upon the group, and leapt from the web onto the path in front of them, even as spiders approached both flanks. Sarevok and Minsc took it upon themselves to face the drider head on, their large swords providing ample distraction and keeping the beast away from the rest of the group. However, the remaining spiders were still a significant threat. They needed to be kept at bay, and especially to be kept away from Edwin. The assassin placed himself back to back with the wizard, swiping, kicking and for that matter stomping any spider that got too close. As fast as he was, it was no easy task, given the sheer number of foes. As he impaled the fat and twitching green body of a particularly nasty spider with clacking mandibles he felt a burning pain at the side of his neck and reflexively brushed away a plump spider the size of an orange that had managed to slip past his guard. Unfortunate. Let me think, I did include spider venom among the toxins I built up my immunity against, but of course that may not apply to this one. If it did, it was only a partial help, he could feel himself growing more sluggish by the second as the venom pumped through his body, leaving behind an odd feeling of warmth as if he were burning up from inside. He did have several antivenom potions of course, but unfortunately there was no way to get one out right now, not while the relentless onslaught of spiders was still going on.

Imoen darted past him, neatly stabbing a spider that had almost managed to reach Zaerini’s leg, even as the redhead finished casting a spell and arcs of crackling lightning burst from her fingers, making spiders twitch and jerk on the ground before several of them went entirely still. By now Edwin had finished his own spell, and Dekaras felt rather than heard it surge outward. More spiders fell lifeless to the ground, black smoke pouring forth from still bodies. That seemed to have taken care of most of the little ones, at least. He could feel himself weakening, and forced himself to remain upright even as it grew harder and harder to draw breath and flecks of sparkling grey mist floated in front of his eyes. No time. Then Viconia was there and the pain lifted in a sudden rush of cold clarity.

 

“Get the red ones first, they’re deadly!” The priestess shouted even as she once again focused on Minsc and Sarevok who were hard pressed by the enormous drider. “I have only so many curing spells.”

A spider large enough to reach his thigh dropped down in front of him, mandibles clicking and segmented legs reaching. One of his daggers drove deep into the bloated body, and the spider collapsed, legs now twitching uselessly as it expired in a pool of sticky fluid. Even as it dropped he turned again, and just about had time to squish one of the nasty little red spiders under his boot before it could reach Edwin’s leg. Protective shields up or not, I’m not taking any chances with him. The final shield, as always, must be me.

 

“There are still more coming!” Zaerini shouted as she nimbly dodged out of the way of two of the big green spiders, causing the creatures to falter in confusion and attempt to entangle each other in sticky webbing. “The drider is summoning more!”

 

That certainly seemed to be the case. The drider’s mouths were opened in a silent croon, and the huge web crossing the cavern was trembling visibly. More and more spiders came streaming down the thick strands, falling upon the party with too much

single-minded purpose for such simple creatures. It is commanding them somehow. If we don’t take it down soon, we will be overwhelmed.

Sarevok and Minsc were certainly doing their best, but the drider was so tall that they had trouble reaching any of its vital spots, especially since doing so meant putting them at considerable danger from the drider’s own poisoned swords, not to mention its powerful legs and the webbing it was periodically ejecting from – well from its hind parts. The two heads were a more obvious option, but the lack of reaction when he had hit the throat seemed to suggest they didn’t have the equivalent of a human’s blood supply or nervous system, possibly not even actual brains. However… It was worth a shot, to be sure, and the drider was close enough. A throwing dagger slid smoothly into his palm, and then flew straight and true, hitting the left head straight in two of its larger eyes. The drider shrieked and batted at its face, nearly stabbing itself with its own sword, while too thick black blood oozed down its neck. Several of the spiders faltered, milling about in confusion or attacking the nearest obstacle in their way without their former purpose or coordination.

 

I cannot believe I’m about to say this. Well, it has to be done.

“Go for the eyes!” Dekaras shouted. “It can’t control them properly if it can’t see.”

He didn’t miss the impish grins on both Zaerini and Imoen’s faces as the two girls both peppered the drider’s heads with arrows and spells, though he tried his best to ignore them. Edwin and Viconia were still kept busy keeping the smaller spiders at bay, but the task became much easier as the attacks slowed and lost focus. The drider was reeling in pain, half blinded, and swinging its swords wildly about. That gave Sarevok a much awaited opportunity. The large warrior slipped beneath the drider’s guard and his sword bit deep into three of its legs, taking them clean off. The drider screamed now, a horrible shrill sound, and it sagged to the ground in a lopsided lurch, trying to move away but merely spinning in place, scattering blood everywhere.

“Ho ho!” Minsc boomed. “Evil has fewer legs to stand on, so Minsc and Boo will show it what to do with just two!” The ranger bounded straight up to the crouching drider, and onto its back. Before it had the time to throw him off, his sword was already coming down, with such tremendous force that it went straight through the repulsive body, just where the spider was joined to the drow torso. It was completely impaled, and with a final wheeze of pain and surprise it fell, a motionless cadaver. After that, disposing of the remaining spiders became a relatively simple task.

 

“So…’Go for the eyes’, is it?” Zaerini said, her eyes glittering with mischief as the party had settled down to let Viconia finish healing whatever injuries had to be dealt with before moving on. “Stealing Minsc’s favourite tactic now, are we? Please tell me you won’t be going berserk any time soon or shave your head.”

“Whatever the circumstances demand,” Dekaras replied in as dignified a voice as he could muster. “And as for your second and third questions the answer is ‘inconceivable’ and ‘not unless I ever have to infiltrate a gathering of eunuchs’.”

“Wonder what the proper term for that would be?” Imoen mused. “I mean, it’s a ‘murder of crows’ and an ‘unkindness of ravens’, right? A ‘sack of eunuchs’ maybe?”

“What’s wrong with shaving your head anyway?” Sarevok complained. “I shave mine.”

“Yes,” Dekaras said, “but that’s you. I’ve tried wearing a skullcap before, for disguise purposes, and it makes me look like the sort of cultist eager to summon tentacle monsters and sacrifice virgins. While intimidation tactics have their uses, there is such a thing as taking it too far.”

“Minsc approves of all he understands, and Boo of the rest!” The large ranger chuckled, giving Dekaras a hearty slap on the back until he had to cough. “We can be the best of berserker buddies!”

“As much as the thought is appreciated Minsc, let’s just both stick with what we do best, shall we?”

“Most certainly,” Edwin agreed. “And preferably that would also include us moving on shortly, before a gaggle of angry Drow descend upon us from behind. (A darkness of Drow?)”

“Agreed,” Viconia said as she finished casting a final healing spell on a deep and bleeding gash in Minsc’s thigh. “What scrapes and minor wounds you have left will have to wait until we find a more secure spot to stop. The good news is, I can now see far enough ahead to be able to tell that this path ends after another couple of loops around the cavern wall. I can see bridges below us, and at least two different buildings.”

“Any Drow in sight?” Zaerini asked. “Or, and I’m afraid to ask this, any more drider?”

“None visible. Of course that doesn’t mean there aren’t any.”

“Point taken. Well, let’s go, I suppose. I’d like to say I hope Sendai won’t be much further, but something tells me we won’t be that lucky.”

The group made their way onwards down the ramp as quickly as they dared, and eventually reached a lower level. There were indeed more bridges here, one leading to a round dome, perhaps two floors high, with no windows and no obvious entrance, and the other to what at first appeared to be a bare cave wall. As the adventurers slowly edged around the odd dome, they spotted the guards posted on either side of a very closed door. There were perhaps ten or so Drow, one of them most likely a priestess and one a wizard judging from their garb. There were also four large umberhulks, standing passively off to one side, eyes glowing dully. Finally there were two drider, not as large or as mutated as the one they had just fought, but still an unpleasant surprise.

“That’s not too good,” Zaerini muttered. “I mean, we could probably take them, but…”

“But there is a very serious risk of injury,” Viconia filled in. “Also, ideally we should try to conserve our strength and spells for when we find Sendai.”

“Yep, that too. Now, I wonder what this thing is?” She gently tapped her knuckles against the side of the dome. “It’s really smooth, isn’t it? Vic, have you seen anything like it before?”

“I cannot say that I have, no. If it were a treasury I would expect guards closer by, and if it were meant to contain slaves I fail to see why they would not be kept in the pens on the upper levels.”

“There are definitely wards surrounding it though,” Edwin said as his carefully manicured fingers slid across the smooth black surface. “A containment field of some sort…and a form of trigger or alarm, but intended to activate upon exit rather than entry.”

“So…think there’s some sort of horrible monster inside then?” Imoen said. “Something Sendai cooked up maybe? Something even worse than that drider?”

“It is possible, to be certain,” Edwin said with an indulgent smile and what Dekaras thought was a worryingly familiar gleam in his eyes. “It should be worth investigating, if we can. (A pet dragon of my own, perhaps? I can think of no person more worthy or conscientious.)”

 

I can think of oh so many potential disasters involving firestorms.

 

“Do take the feelings of your pet monkey into consideration,” Dekaras said with what he hoped was a level voice with no hint of strain. “You wouldn’t wish to make him feel inadequate, I trust? Not to mention have him become a miniature snack.” From his spot on Edwin’s shoulder, Insufferable gave a loud chirp which sounded very much like agreement.

Edwin frowned briefly, but then nodded. “A fair point. However, we should still have a look inside, I feel.”

“I agree,” Zaerini said. “Carefully, mind you. We don’t want you eaten either. And first we need to find a way inside in the first place.”

Edwin leaned closer to the dome again, walking along it as he focused intently on the intricacies of the magical field. "I do believe…aha, yes. Just as I thought. The field is tapering off in this direction.”

“Tapering off?” Sarevok said. “You mean it ends?”

“Why would I mean something entirely different from what I just said, you inattentive sword-swinger? I said it tapers off, and that’s exactly what it does. (Sometimes I think I ought to carry around a chalkboard for the purpose of expressly spelling out basic facts for the dimwitted dullards who constantly plague me.)”

“Eddie,” Zaerini interjected in a tone of voice which Dekaras decided he quite improved of as having just the right mixture of affection and admonition. “Maybe the depths of a Drow city isn’t the ideal place to pick fights within the party, wouldn’t you agree?”

“Ah,” The wizard said, clearing his throat briefly. “Well. As I said the field tapers off, just in this spot here where the surface takes on a slightly reddish sheen. Now, there are various types of spells I could attempt in order to…”

“Ooooh, let me see!” Imoen said, nimbly slipping under the wizards elbow and edging him out of the way. “Hey, it’s kind of shaped like a handprint, isn’t it? I bet that does something.” She touched her hand to the shimmering surface, there was a faint hissing sound, and part of the dome, about the size of a small mirror, shifted colours. Where it had previously been a uniform black, it was now black with glowing green letters, writing in what Dekaras recognized as the Drow language. Below that, a sort of tray had slid out of the wall, covered with lettered buttons. At least it didn’t seem as if any alarm had been sounded so far.

“What does it say?” Zaerini asked Viconia.

The priestess stepped closer and looked at the glowing screen. “Not much,” She said. “It just says ‘Enter password for entry verification’.”

Now, this was something pleasantly familiar. “I understand,” Dekaras said. “This field was set up by a mage, but the point of entry is intended to be accessible to the common soldiers as well, given the appropriate security clearance. I commissioned various security systems for the mansion back home of a similar nature.”

“Oh, right!” Zaerini said with a quick smile. “We ran into that talking doorknocker for one. Bet he was a pain to get hold of, was he an imprisoned demon or something?”

“Not exactly, although we did have to take several precautions and it took me the best part of three days to get all the programming and safeguards into place. At any rate, this is something similar, though without the intelligence. As long as we can determine the password, it is unlikely to question or hinder us.”

“But the password could be anything,” Imoen said. “I mean, anybody remotely smart wouldn’t make it something a stranger could guess.”

“Ah, Imoen,” Dekaras replied with a faint smile of his own. “You have come a long way, and yet there are apparently still things I can teach you about being a rogue. For one thing, that when it comes to security measures, a surprising number of people are remarkably lax and also not nearly as original as they believe themselves to be. Now, I make no promises, but there is a fair chance I can get this thing open. Viconia, are there any numbers listed? If so, you want to try ‘123456’ for a start. That is always a popular option.”

Viconia did so, then shook her head as the screen gave a short beep and blinked red. “No luck,” She said. “It says we have two more tries.”

“Hm. Well, among humans ‘swordfish’ is another great favourite, don’t ask me why. I doubt it would be equally popular among Drow though.”

“I see what you mean. No less than three secret sects or societies I ran into during my years in the Underdark used ‘aboleth’. I will try that.” Once again however, there was the beep and the blink.

“A final attempt then,” Dekaras said. “If I am wrong, we may have a fight on our hands. Do we proceed?”

“Well…” Zaerini said. “If we don’t, we still have to get past those Drow in the other direction, so it’d be a fight regardless. I say go for it.”

“Very well. Viconia, try this one if you please.” He stepped closer to the priestess and whispered a single word into her pointed ear. Viconia’s elegant white eyebrows nearly shot into her hairline.

“Truly?” She said, sounding a little skeptical. “Well, if you say so. The word for that is ‘iseitin’.” She typed for the third time, and this time there was a difference. The beep sounded more welcoming, and the screen flashed green, as a door noiselessly slid open next to the screen.

“It worked!” Minsc said, clapping his hands. “No need for Minsc to apply the Boot of Justice then?”

“Of course it worked,” Edwin said, puffing his chest out. “He can get any door open, you know. He could steal your breath and you wouldn’t know until you dropped dead, and besides…”

“Thank you Edwin,” Dekaras interrupted. “I appreciate it, but this truly wasn’t something that required any particular skill, merely a bit of knowledge about the workings of the human…or in this case Drow mind.”

“Well, what did that word mean then? Was it some word of great and mystical magical power? A secret name for a summoned demon? The name of the author of an eldritch grimoire?”

“It means ‘password’,” Viconia said, her voice filled with disgust. “Sometimes I think I have plumbed the depths of the sea of humanoid stupidity and then somehow I am proven wrong once again.”

“But Viconia, it offers us so many enticing opportunities,” Dekaras said with a brief wink. “For one, the opportunity to explore this place which may contain boundless treasure or terrible monsters. Possibly both.”

“Oh joy. Well, let’s go then.”

The group carefully entered the now open door, weapons at the ready. It didn’t take Dekaras very long to determine that he’d been wrong at least in part about what awaited them inside. There was no sign of treasure. The inside of the dome was set up as a fairly cozy dwelling. There were a couple of comfortable looking green armchairs, a small table covered with doilies, several bookcases, an alchemical table and a large bathtub on clawed feet. There was no sign of a bed, but then again the lone inhabitant probably didn’t need one. He was wearing an ornate if tattered mage robe and was sitting in one of the armchairs, reading a spellbook. This by itself wouldn’t have been so surprising if not for the fact that he was reading it to a bright yellow toy duck sitting on his lap.

“Eh?” The lich said as he raised his head and scrutinized the adventurers over the rim of a pair of half-moon spectacles resting precariously on what little remained of his nose. “Tell Sendai I’m not…wait. I…I know you. Yes, we have met. In the whispering mountains, was it? No, wait, Athkatla. Yes, Ducky? I am right, it was Athkatla!”

“Er…hi Nevaziah,” Zaerini said with a smile on her face that Dekaras personally thought looked as if it was about to crack and fall off her face any second. “Long time no see.”

“Fabulous,” Edwin sighed. “Once again, the birds of fate aim their explosive vomit directly onto my undeserving head.”

 

 


Throne Of Cards 78

18 January 2019 - 02:56 PM

Throne Of Cards 78 – A Tangled Web

 

Now, if a paladin stated they solved a problem by ‘lending a helping hand’ they would mean one thing. We mean something else.

Excerpt from ‘Ruminations Of A Master Bard’

“Is this the Underdark?” Imoen asked, her eyes round and wide. “It sure looks like it, even if I missed out on the whole thing when you guys went there, what with falling off the boat in Brynnlaw and all.”

“It’s a bit close to the surface still to be the actual Underdark,” Zaerini replied, looking about. “Then again, this place was built by Drow, so I guess it’s a matter of degrees.” Certainly the layout of the caverns they were traversing was familiar, with spiderweb patterns etched into the dark rock walls and a particular, dense silence that she associated with that nasty time spent in Ust Natha. “No signs of further guards yet though, that’s a bit odd.”

“Sssh,” Viconia interrupted, raising a slim hand. “I hear something.” Everybody fell quiet as the cleric’s pointed ears twitched slightly. “Spiders,” She finally said. “One cavern away, a lot of them. A couple of minders as well.”

“Spiders?” Edwin said. “A minor obstacle. Seeing as they are conveniently gathered together, they can all burn together.”

“And a glorious fire it’d be too, no doubt,” Rini said. “But I don’t want Sendai to know we’re coming just yet. Preferably not until we’re already right on top of her. That’s why we bothered to hide the bodies up on top after all.”

“Infiltration is always made easier by good disguises,” Dekaras said, thoughtfully eyeing the group. “In this place, we cannot exactly pretend to be recently hired gardeners, cooks or masseurs…”

“…or woodcutters!”

“…or woodcutters, yes, thank you Imoen. However, one of us is an actual Drow, and could perhaps pass for one of Sendai’s followers.”

“And I can always shapechange,” Rini added. “I’ll just be a little innocent pet belonging to the dreaded Drow priestess, and nobody will suspect a thing.”

“What of the rest of us?” Edwin asked, a little suspiciously.

“I was thinking slaves, but given the state of the villages we passed through, sacrifices might also be a reasonable cover.”

“Hm,” Rini said. “It could work, I guess. Any other ideas?”

“Well, I’m reasonably confident I could get through the caverns on my own, should you prefer that, but the lack of proper information about the area and the habits of your sibling would require some level of improvisation…”

“In other words, an almost certain death. Thanks, but let’s not do that, I kind of enjoy having you alive. We’ll try the first plan, if Vic is willing.”

“Of course,” Viconia said. Then she grinned. “An opportunity to order the lot of you about for an extensive period of time and have you obey my slightest whim? How could I possibly refuse?”

“Minsc will be the best sacrifice ever!”

“Highly likely, unless you follow my lead, friend,” Sarevok said with a slightly smug smile. “I am of course a master of stealth and subterfuge, and will be the perfect example to you.”

Oh Gods. Maybe we should have just gone for the ‘blast our way through the army’ tactic.

“We’ll deposit our weapons and gear in the Bags of Holding,” Rini interrupted. “Other than easily hidden weapons of course – and no, that doesn’t include your sword, Big Brother. Into the bag it goes.”

“Fine,” Sarevok huffed. “But if you break it, you get me a new one.”

“Bhaalspawn’s honour.”

 

Sometime later, they were ready to depart, with all of them other than Viconia having divested themselves of all obvious weapons and attempting to look appropriately subservient. Most of them weren’t doing it very well, Rini thought, but perhaps they could pretend to be recently captured slaves. “Here goes then,” She told her friends. “Heads down, remember? Humble slaves?”A chorus of ‘yeses’ answered her, with Sarevok’s and Minsc’s being particularly loud and enthusiastic. “Great. Vic…I mean, Mistress Viconia, lead on if you please.” She concentrated, then let herself go, her form shrinking and dwindling even as she felt fur growing all along her body and her teeth lengthening. Finally she stood on four legs, and she stretched and tested her claws.

Viconia nodded imperiously at the group, and pointed at the next passage to the right. “That way, lazy scum, and do try to move your feet at more than a snail’s pace unless you want every inch of flesh flayed from your bones with a dull knife. Move!”

As they walked, Rini heard Edwin speak up behind her in a voice that was a curious mixture of admiration and apprehension. “If I may ask…just when and why did you ever find it necessary to pose as a masseur?”

Dekaras cleared his throat briefly. “The long version of that story will have to wait, I’m afraid. Let’s just say that it was a convenient cover.”

Viconia led the group into a larger cavern, where thick spiderwebs criss-crossed the air between vast stalactites. The strands were almost as thick as a human arm, and the dozens of bloated spiders clinging to them were each the size of a large dog, one of them nearly as big as a horse. There were a pair of Drow males idling about near the walkway leading across the deep chasm, one of them lazily scratching his ear and the other one apparently brushing the hairy legs of a smaller, cat-sized spider. There was a pink bow tied around what was possibly the spider’s neck.

 

Huh. Shepherds, I suppose? Or…spiderherds? I hope they don’t have to shear them.

As they spotted the approaching group, the two Drow got to their feet, one of them calling out a question in their own language. Viconia immediately replied in the same tongue, her voice sharp, and the two males paled slightly as they bowed to her. “Adequate,” Viconia curtly said in Common. “Now, we will speak in the inferior tongue of surfacers for the moment, as I wish for my slaves to understand. They are newly taken and not fully trained yet, and need to know the ways of this place. You will provide them with a brief summary of its layout. As for me, I have an important message for Mistress Sendai.”

“For-forgive me, Mistress,” One of the men quaked. “We are humble servants, and do not have access to the inner sanctums. Captain Namarra is the officer currently in command of the outpost, and she will surely aid you in passing your message along.”

“Phaugh! Worthless runts, you sicken me with your shivering.” Viconia sneered. “But you may keep on living, for now, as it would be too much of a waste of precious time to slay you. Where will I find this Namarra?”

“Across the largest bridge, Mistress, the biggest building in the outer settlement.”

Viconia nodded and marched off, not sparing the two spiderherds a second glance. The others all followed her, with varying displays of proper slave humility and obedience. Rini made a point of snagging a claw on Edwin’s shoe to get his attention as his fingers were twitching dangerously close to his spell components and she worried that he might forget himself. He picked her up with a sigh and settled her in his arms, and that made her feel greatly reassured if perhaps not for the reason he might have thought.

The outpost wasn’t as large as Ust Natha by any means, but there were still a fair amount of buildings, and it was a good thing they’d been given directions so they wouldn’t have to waste much time. There were several barracks for soldiers, as well as smaller dwellings for Drow of lower rank, training grounds and a small market. The largest and most official looking building had guards posted outside, looking fairly bored and lazy. Rini suspected that Sendai hadn’t really had to face any troubling invasions yet.

“You!” Viconia barked. “I require Captain Namarra. Fetch her, at once.”

It wasn’t very long before the Captain arrived, a handsome but surly-looking woman with short white hair and narrow lilac eyes glinting against her dark skin. She blinked a few times, and then glared at Viconia. “Yes? What do you want, stranger?”

“I have important information for Mistress Sendai,” Viconia said. “For her eyes only.”

Namarra scoffed. “Right,” She said. “The enclave is under lockdown, all access to the inner sanctums is to be cleared by me. I’ve got my orders, straight from Diyatha. Do you outrank her, stranger? I doubt it. I don’t either, but since she isn’t here, I am the boss.”

“You are making a bad mistake, Captain,” Viconia said with icy contempt. “I assure you of this.”

“Maybe. Still got my orders. You can give me the message and I’ll make sure it gets where it’s going, or you can enjoy a long stay amongst the peasants. I’ve got the only key to the tunnels, and it stays right here.” She patted her neck, where Rini could now just glimpse a flash of silver against black skin. Then she winced with a sudden grimace of pain and rubbed her neck a little harder. “Damn hard bunks…never a good sleep. Anyway, my word is final.”

Viconia seemed about to say something, but then paused. “Perhaps,” The priestess said, her voice now much calmer than before. “Perhaps I may yet change your mind, Captain, once you fully understand the importance of my mission. Allow me to treat you to a good meal, from whatever inn is the best in these parts, and I will provide you with further details, anything you wish.”

“Well,” Namarra said. “I was about to go off duty shortly.”

“Excellent,” Viconia purred. “And as a further token of good faith, may I also offer you the services of one of my slaves, before the meal? To help you relax?”

What?

“I have my own bedslaves,” Namarra said. “They’d have to be fairly special to interest me.”

“Most of them aren’t properly trained yet,” Viconia admitted with a show of regret. “However, this one came to me from a previous owner, a lady of my acquaintance with high standards. While I don’t doubt that he would satisfy you in the usual sports of the bedchamber, I would first suggest you avail yourself of his other skills.” She smiled. “He is an excellent masseur. I assure you, once he is done with you, you will be a new woman.” She turned her head. “Isn’t that so?”

Dekaras gave her a deep bow. “I always aim to please, Mistress, and I would not be exaggerating if I stated that none of my clients ever came back to complain.”

Rini had felt Edwin’s arms tightening around her, and she carefully nudged her claws into the crook of his arm, warning him to be still. Easy, Dread Wizard. It will be fine. I think. I hope. Unless they’re both being too cocky and something goes horribly wrong. But nothing to do but carry on right now.

“Hmmm,” Namarra said, her surly face finally cracking a small smile. “Tempting. Very well, slave, come with me, and let’s find out just how good you are. But first, a basic precaution.” She turned to the two guards by the door. “Search him, and if all is clear send him in. Then send the rest of them to the inn.”

 

Rini definitely had her heart in her mouth as the two guards stepped closer, but Dekaras simply walked up to them with his arms stretched out and allowed them to pat him down. After a short while, the guards declared themselves satisfied. Did he actually dump all of his weapons in the Bag of Holding? I’d never have thought it he’d have the heart to give them all up, even temporarily. Or that the bag would be big enough.  Even so, she made a snap decision of her own, and just as the assassin was following Namarra into the Captain’s Quarters, she twisted out of Edwin’s arms, and hurried to follow. She could hear a faint oath from the wizard, and suspected he’d have a few things to say to her later, but that was a problem for later, not for now. The Drow all ignored her at least, and she hoped she could be of some help on the inside, or at least be backup if something went wrong. The building seemed to be part official office, and further inside a private dwelling. It was there Namarra was heading, into a dimly lit bedroom. Rini hung back a little, wanting to stay close at hand and yet not wanting to risk being spotted. Besides, in the office separated from the bedroom by a short hallway she’d noticed that the desk was covered with heaps of official looking papers she was itching to take a closer look at. “All right, you,” Namarra’s voice said from inside the room. “Work your magic, if you can. And no funny business, unless you want a taste of the whip. Just do what you’re told, and remember my servants are just outside the door.”

It was true, another two armored guards, these ones female and well armed, were on post just outside the partially open bedroom door, immobile but definitely not sleeping on the job.

“Of course, Mistress,” Dekaras’ voice replied. “Now, may I request that you undress and lie on your bed, facedown? And if I may lay claim to a few towels and some manner of oil, that would further facilitate this.”

Rini made a deliberate choice not to try to listen at this point, but her sharp hearing couldn’t avoid picking up on the rustle of clothing and clank of armour, as well as the creaks of the bedsprings. After a while, she could also hear what sounded like the slow, deliberate movement of skin against skin, a few faint pops, and finally Namarra’s voice again, groaning with delight. “Lolth’s blessing…that’s perfect. A little higher now, snap those vertebrae back into proper order!”

 

If Dekaras replied to this, Zaerini didn’t hear it, for she had silently jumped on top of the table and was paying close attention to the papers on it as well as a map on the mall that provided her with a basic layout of Sendai’s enclave. She could spot the outpost, and there were two different tunnels leading further inside, both of them apparently leading to the same place, and she memorized the entire map as well as she could. There were guard schedules on the desk, those might also be helpful, yes. And hey, what’s this? A letter signed simply ‘Diyatha’ ordered the Captain to make certain to ‘dump the monk corpses in the spider pens’. Friends of Brother Balthazar? The letter also mentioned ‘keeping our honoured guest content’. That apparently wasn’t a reference to the monks, but there were no further clues to who was meant.

“Oooooooh!” Namarra moaned from inside the bedchamber, and Rini felt the fur standing up all along her back. No. Just no. Imagination, go away. She hunched down behind a pile of books to keep from being spotted, and out of the corner of her eye she could see the two Drow guards quietly nudging each other and chuckling. Here was another interesting item next to the letter, an official-looking seal. Hmmm. I can think of all sorts of interesting things that could be used for. She carefully picked it up in her mouth, and was just about to poke about the papers some more when she heard…nothing. Everything had gone very quiet, and after a few moments Dekaras walked out of the bedroom, fastidiously wiping his oily hands on a white fluffy towel before closing the door behind him.

“As is customary, the Mistress is relaxing after her massage,” He told the two guards. “She must not be disturbed for at least one hour, and I have dimmed the light inside to help her rest peacefully.”

“Can I get some of what she got?” One of the guards said with an eager grin. “Sounded like she enjoyed it.”

“That may yet happen. But for now, I am under orders to return to my Mistress.”

“Oh well,” The guard said, unlocking and opening the entry door. “Later it is!” Rini hurried to jump off the table, and so was unable to see exactly what happened next, but there was a definite smacking sound. When she crept into the hallway, Dekaras was already walking out the door, as casually as if he was taking a stroll in a sunny garden, but he turned his head slightly and caught her eye as she followed. Once they were well out of sight of the guards, he paused, and carefully picked her up to settle her on his shoulder.

“May I?” He whispered, holding his hand out, and she dropped the seal into his open palm. “Thank you, and well spotted.” He resumed walking, and she mewed softly, wishing that she could speak properly but trying to make herself understood through inflection and tone. “I believe Mistress Namarra is more relaxed now than ever before,” He said in a quiet voice. “Certainly her neck will never pain her again, and I was well rewarded for my troubles. It is a good thing I work well with my hands even in the absence of my usual implements of choice. Even so, I think perhaps we had best not linger too long here, don’t you agree?”

Zaerini purred.

 

-*-

 

They reunited with the rest of the group in a room at the inn Namarra had directed them to. Rini had chosen to remain in her cat form for now, in order not to attract undue attention in case the Drow were keeping track of the number of ‘slaves’ to arrive with Viconia. Well, that and the fact that Edwin couldn’t well scold her the way he undoubtedly wanted to as long as she was a cat – not unless he wanted to attract even more attention. Not that I blame him for worrying, but this time around I think I’d like to skip the argument and go straight for the making up part. She took particular care to rub her head against his hand and saw his mouth twitch into a small smile as he rubbed behind her ear.

“Get a room, you guys!” Imoen giggled. “So, how’d it go?”

Dekaras turned his palm over to display a silver key. “This would be an excellent time to quietly move along,” He said. “We have…approximately 50 minutes before ‘quietly’ will no longer be an option. Less, if some curious individual decides to disturb Mistress Namarra too soon after her relaxing neck rub.”

“No time to waste then,” Viconia firmly stated. “We were not idle in your absence, and I have an idea about where to go. The only question is whether the northern or the southern tunnels are our best option, both are bound to be guarded but there was little time to gather more information without rousing suspicion.”

“We may as well pick whichever one is closest,” Sarevok said. “We want to be as far away from here as possible once chaos breaks loose.”

That was certainly true, and nobody had any objections. At the entrance to the northern tunnels, two rather bored-looking Drow stood guard, but they both snapped to attention as the group approached them. “Halt!” One of them said. “Who goes there?”

“Somebody you do not want to annoy, scum,” Viconia snarled. “These slaves are to be brought before Mistress Sendai, without delay. Unless you wish to contradict her orders, I suggest you step aside now.” She held up the key taken from Namarra. “Well?”

“Apologies, Mistress,” One of the guards excused himself. “But if I may…this route isn’t normally used for…”

“Do you wish to contradict me?” Viconia asked, her voice now a low hiss. “Think carefully before you answer.”

“N-no, Mistress. Of course not, Mistress.” Both guards hurriedly moved aside, to let the group past. Viconia nodded curtly before unlocking the tall wooden door before them. Not just tall either, Rini thought. Wide. I wonder why it needs to be that wide? Well, there was nothing to do but go ahead. They all stepped through, the ‘slaves’ following Viconia with varying levels of apparent subservience. Well, so far so good. The large wooden door slammed shut behind them, and she saw what lay before them. Oh. Maybe it would have been better to take the southern tunnels after all.

 

The tunnel wasn’t so much a tunnel as a large cavern. Presumably there was a ceiling somewhere far above in the darkness, but there was definitely a sense of large open space above as well as below. Faintly glowing lanterns illuminated a narrow ledge curling around the edge of a cliff, leading further down into the depths, and there was no way to see just how far it went. That, however, wasn’t the most unsettling thing about this place. Spider webs crisscrossed the air, between the cliff’s edge and stalactites as thick as large trees, forming a glittering maze throughout the entire large cavern. Some of them were complicated and intricate constructions, others simple strands, but every single thread was thick as man’s wrist and glistening with something sticky. Whatever had made them was still out of sight, and the air was still and oppressive.

“Yuck,” Imoen said, her eyes wide. “Think it’s too late to go to the other tunnels?”

“’Fraid so,” Rini replied even as she changed back to her normal. “And there could be something even worse in those anyway. We’ll just…go nice and quiet, right? And if that doesn’t work, we’ve come quite a long ways since those spiders back in Beregost, remember those?”

 

Her sister gave her a small smile, but she suspected Imoen was probably thinking the same thing she was, namely that those spiders in Beregost would compare to whatever had made these webs like a lizard would to a dragon. Still, there is a path here, so the Drow must come this way sometimes, right? Even so, some traitorous part of her brain started supplying the scene with suitably ominous music. “Nothing for it,” She said. “We’ll move as quickly and as quietly as we can, and hope we don’t disturb the spiders, but be ready for anything. Vic, what kind of spider do you think made these?”

The priestess frowned, a worrying sight. “I…am not sure,” She said. “They do not resemble the webs of any guardian spiders I have encountered.”

“Great. Well, let’s go, and try not to wake it up.”

 

They couldn’t move as fast as she would have liked, as the path was steep and treacherous, and here and there strands of web crossed it so that you had to step across or crouch under them. Still, at least there were no Drow chasing after them just yet, and they were going steadily downwards. Things were going well, sort of. And then, after perhaps half an hour or so, they reached the point about halfway down the path where the path was no more. It had broken down, leaving a gap entirely too wide to leap across. Someone, or something, had tried its best to be helpful by building a bridge of sorts. Glistening ropes had been spun across the chasm, forming a neat and tidy web. It looked sturdy enough for a human to walk across, yes. But what will come once we do?

“I don’t think we can sneak past this one,” She said. “Unless…Eddie, what about freezing it? Would that keep the spider from sensing us moving out there?”

Her lover shook his head. “I could do it,” He said. “Think one step further though, do you really want to climb across a chasm on what amounts to icy twigs? I dare say the freezing itself would alert the spider anyway.”

“Well, we have no time to turn back and there is no other path,” Sarevok said. “We’ll just have to deal with the beast if it appears. Shall I go first?”

“Hold a moment,” Dekaras said. “You don’t want to be stuck out there when it comes. A decoy would work better, and then perhaps we can surprise it instead of the other way around.”

“Fair point,” The large warrior agreed. He picked a large chunk of rock up off the ground. “This should do it. Minsc, shall we see who can throw the farthest? The loser has to clean the winner’s armour tonight.”

“Minsc is always up to a challenge, but be warned! Boo is very picky, and he knows every nook and cranny of both Minsc and Minsc’s armour.”

“Too much information, friend, but I suppose I will just have to win, won’t I?”

“Not until I say so,” Viconia cut in. The priestess had been busy casting so many protective spells that Rini could feel her skin fairly tingling with power, and she and Edwin hadn’t been idle either, adding as many enhancing spells as they had to increase the group’s chances. “Everybody, make certain you have at least one antidote on you in case I cannot reach you in time. All set? Good.”

“On the count of three, Minsc. One…two…three!”

 

Sarevok and Minsc both managed to hurl their large rocks an impressive distance into the webs to the side of the ledge, away from the group. Rini couldn’t quite tell who won, since they’d aimed in different directions, but right now she was more preoccupied with listening anyway. The webs were vibrating, she could practically hear a low humming that made her feel slightly nauseous as it trembled through her bones. Then, there was another movement, the webs were stirring further above them, high above under the distant ceiling. Something was moving up there, rapidly descending on many legs. She could see a dark blur now, a shadow against the faint lights illuminating the path. Large. Really, really large spider. Then, the thing was upon them and she saw that the reality was for worse than what she had imagined.

 

 

 


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