The flames that usually shrouded Alluvian’s sword fell away, drifting to the ground before fading from sight. The blade took on a blue green sheen, reflecting more of the ambient light than it had before. She had successfully bound the four armed demon into her sword, its abyssal energy infusing it with new abilities. The Huntress stifled the laughter and regained her composure, knowing that she now held Shrar’thanoros the Laughing Slayer.
The group of heroes, now including the Elven Ranger Talethian, the Dwarven Warrior Burgen and two human sailors, swept through the rest of the floor, ensuring no demons lurked in the shadows. They descended the stairs, past the remnants of the magically produced wood wall, and on to the teleportation portal room.
It would be difficult to fight pressed in close together, but they decided to all take the platform at once. It was risky, but judged far more of a risk to split the group into two. Ved’rail continued to play as Samnymian focused arcane energy into the circle, with a start, the circle activated, moving all assembled to another location…
Something happened during the transition, normally it is instantaneous, but not this time…
Samnymian, Ved’rail, Alluvian and Talethian saw a vision of a vast woodland. Intermixed amongst the trees were the spires and domes of ancient elven architecture. The sky was filled with black-gray clouds and a shadow of despair loomed over all. A wave of blue-white light grew to the right and swept to their left, in its wake, both buildings and trees alike were torn asunder. Their attention was drawn to a majestic tower, as the wave of destruction approached, arcane energy erupted around the tower and it began to fade from sight, but not before being overwhelmed by the blue-white light.
Ragnork, Burgen, and the two sailors Gellori and Meddin beheld a vision of an ethereal elven woman, she looked upon them and implored, “Help.. me… I am pulled apart.” then her image tore to shreds, pulling in different directions before fading from sight.
For Gretel, there was darkness. In the darkness, Gretel didn’t feel alone, others where here, very, very close. In her left ear, a coy, seductive voice whispered, “A traitoress is near, Sister.” In her right, a second voice, seductive but with an sharpness to it the other lacked, “She must pay for her betrayals, Sister.” Then the two voices spoke as one, causing a shiver down the dwarven priestess spine, “Feed her to the Huntress, Sister… Don’t let her escape to the Abyss, make her pay.” Gretel felt torn between a desire to escape the voices and the pull to listen closer.
The portal took them to a larger room, the walls and ceiling were splashed with blood, blood that gathered in a ankle deep pool over the entire floor. There were three exits, each covered in part by a mass of Abyssal Iron that sealed the doors tightly. They stepped off the submerged platform and exchanged stories of the strange visions they’d received while transporting. Samnymian didn’t know of any precedent for those being teleported to receive visions, but given that the elves had all shared one vision and the non-elves another, there was obviously something peculiar going on here.
Gretel explained that she didn’t receive a vision. Instead voices had told her of a traitor nearby and that the Huntress should feed on her. The priestess recommended that they not do that, since the voices had seem so insistent. Gretel found herself almost speaking words not her own, resisting a need to tell her friends to ignore her last comment. A coldness gripped her heart, where were these urges coming from?
A loud banging on each of the bound doors broke Gretel from her darkening thoughts. Her friends had begun to move toward across the room, when the sounds had stated. But once they paused, it stopped…
Cautiously, Ragnork and Alluvian carved away the metal from the center door, the Abysal Iron howling as it feel away, splashing heavily into the pooled blood. Alluvian readied herself to the side of the door as Ragnork heaved it open. Beyond the door was the hulking form of one of the four armed demons they’d encountered earlier, it was flanked on either side by two other demons, taller than a man and wider too, with a flat, frog like heads filled with needle sharp teeth.
As the blood poured out into the hallway, the huge demon glowered down at Ragnork, and seethed, “Mortal, how do you wish to die?”
The Glabrezu’s question was met with drawn steel as Ragnork attacked. The battle joined, Alluvian struck the demon as it reached in to seize Ragnork. Her blade cut deep, but didn’t stop the demon from dragging the surprised warrior out into the hallway, away from friends and the healing magics available near their bard. The pair of Hezrou lunged inside, nimble despite their bulk. The cruel laughter that echoed forth signaled they knew Ragnork was cut off from his shield mates.
Ragnork struggled in the demon’s fierce grip as it dragged him down the hall. The rest of the group fought the two rotund Hezrou, their foul flesh making it difficult to even breath in their presence. The demons fought ferociously dealing many vicious wounds to the assembled heroes. Alluvian cut down one frog headed fiend and laughingly plunged her blade into the other.
The four armed Glabrezu slammed Ragnork to the ground, then hurled one vicious blow after another against the Shevorai warrior. Ragnork back away, retreating out of the demon’s reach and closer to the healing magics of Gretel and Phandria. Samnymian cursed demonkind’s resistance to elemental magics, finding each of his spells less effective than he would have desired.
Of their new companions, Talethian moved with a ranger’s grace and swiftness, one arrow after another finding their way home into demon flesh. Burgen watched Gretel’s back, taking a liking to the young, charismatic priestess. He only moved from her side when he realized she was eager to see Ragnork defended. Gellori and Meddin were fair sailors but lacked the fortitude of heroes, at least managed to stay out of the way.
With the three fiends dispatched, the companions gathered back together, druid and priestess dispensing healing within the musical accompaniment of Ved’rail’s music. Another Glabrezu charged out of the darkness, slaming into the group as they still recovered. Working swiftly as a team, they dispatched the hulking monstrosity without incident.
They pressed on, Talethian guiding them through the ruined halls, around the strange intrusions of stone that sealed off much of the rooms. They reached the spiral staircase and decended, the lower level was illuminated by lines of red, oozing energy, similar to the barrier that originally blocked entrance to the place. This time the energy looked like it was within the stone floor itself. Figures could be seen pressing against the webs, limbs writhed within the stone, giving a vague sense for pushing upwards, yet the floor remained level. To Samnymian it appeared that extra planar creatures were trying to force their way into the Prime.
Talethian pointed down the hallway, directing them toward the second pair of teleportation platforms where days ago he’d left the rest of the expedition. The cautiously walked down the red web streaked hallway, suffering no ill effects as they passed over the foul shapes that roiled within the stone. Gretel had to clamp her hands over her mouth, she had almost shouted about the traitor again. They followed the curving hallway until they saw the door that lead into their destination.
This time, the Abyssal Iron over the door was at least a foot thick. Instead of a wax like patch, they saw heavy, thick cords of twisted metal, stretched over the doorway like insidious sinew. There was a sense of tension, of strength in the corded metal that barred their way. Alluvian and Ragnork moved into position to remove the barrier, with Ved’rail close by so his music would maintain the enchantment in their blades. The others gathered around and waited cautiously.
The demonic metal howled as it was cut, snapping as cords released their tension and whipped back. Without warning, demons were among them. Two Hezrou appeared in their midst, taking advantage of Ved’rail’s playing to teleport. One began laughing, a deep guttural thing that vomited up a think, smokey malaise that spread amongst the heroes, making them choke. The second demon opened its mouth far to wide and began calling out phrases in Abysall. They reeled as the blasphemous words assaulted their ears. Gellori and Meddin, decent men though they were, feel lifeless to the ground, their souls shattered.
As the fel magics did their work, the two demons began a physical assault. The party, nearly overcome, scrambled to repel the Hezrou. Burgen stepped over the bodies of the two fallen sailors, his axe bit deep into the thigh of one demon. The demon, in turn, smashed its fist into the side of the dwarf’s head, nearly dropping him. In the hand of Ragnork, Kel’Elaedrial slashed deeply into demon hide, spilling foul ichor on the red lined floor. Alluvian swung Srar’tharanous in a wide arc, cleaving heavily into the nearest demon. Demonkind may be resistant to his magics, but that didn’t stop Samnymian from harming them. Talethian’s bow was in his hand and arrows souring to targets the instant the battle began.
In moments, the fight was over. Burgen was seriously injured, and the two sailors were dead, but others bore only minor wounds. Gretel healed Burgen as Phandria tended to the others. Once recovered from the Hezrou’s foul magics, they turned back to the barrier covering the door, and sundered it.
Beyond the door was the second teleportation chamber. Standing within was a demonic looking female, her body clad in a scandalous wrapping of gold and black ribbons. She stood, poised between the two teleportation circles. Bright arcane energy could be seen leaping from the circle on her right, to her right hand, then to the left hand and into the circle on her left. From the left hand circle, energy could be seen intertwined with the energy from the right circle, up to her left hand, then to the right, then into the right circle. The demoness appeared to be a conduit between the two teleportation platforms.
Gretel hissed angrily, “There she is! The traitoress! Destroy her! Capture her! Make her pay for betraying the Queen!”
But she had not meant to speak at all. Words poured unbidden from her lips and her heart pounded with a fury that wasn’t hers. She raised her Hammer of Valor and pointed it threateningly at the demoness. It was as if she was only a passenger in her own body.
Gretel rallied her willpower, fighting to take control of herself, “stop it” she thought desperately, focusing against the urges that made her act without her will.
Alluvian turned and looked at her friend, “Gretel?”
The priestess was overwhelmed by a feeling of being confined, of wanting to break free. Gretel turned to her connection to Palor, taking strength in her faith in the sun god.
Burgen, in a quieter voice, echoed the concern, “Lass?”
Gretel clenched her teeth, a spike of pain in her temples made her pause before she said, “I don’t know what made me say that. Something is wrong”, there was fear and confusion in her voice, “Maybe its this place?”
Samnymian and Ragnork stepped forward, the obvious threat was ahead and perhaps dealing with that would help the priestess. Talethian noted that the demonic woman looked like Sir Darsarius’ second, Ashna, but the wings, horns and other demonic features were new to him. Before they could get close, however, a large wall of oozing red light appeared between them and the demoness. The wall was outside the area that Ved’rail’s music could influence, either it was to powerful to suppress, or the anti-magic aura, and the wall were of similar origin.
Gretel nodded to the others, indicating she was okay, in the stoic manner common to her people. Burgen nodded in turn, but Alluvian continued to look on with deep concern. She knew demonkind, if they had found a way to harm Gretel, she knew the priestess was still in danger.
Samynmian’s study of the wall revealed that it behaved as a Wall of Force, but with other properties that rendered it difficult to circumvent. Once Gretel, Burgen and Alluvian reached the others, the Huntress reached out and touched the wall, curious if it might vanish as the first had. Alluvian found the wall as solid as the others did, so they needed another means around it.
After a quick discussion, they decided to use an item to dimension door to the far side of the wall, they’d time it with Ved’rail’s music to ensure a safe translocation. They appeared on the far side of the wall and quickly discovered the anti-magic aura did not exist here. Their magics continued to function outside the area generated by Ved’rail’s music.
Gretel shouted, “Huntress! Take her!” in a tone that broke no refusal. Then she gasped in shock.
Alluvian turned to the priestess, looking upon her as a hunter would, “Who is speaking? Gretel?”
Names lept unbidden to Gretel’s lips, “I am Eryna” she spoke, the voice hers but not the tone, then another came, “And I am Morvahna”, the tone sharper than the first.
Gretel felt her guts twist, Eryna was the name of the fallen priestess of Palor, turned demoness in the Abyss, with whom she’d been sent dreams after touching the relic of Palor so long ago. She’d taken pity on the demoness in those dreams, perhaps even considered her a friend. Morvahna, she knew, was the succubus she’d dispatched in Drow’s fortress. Dispatched before Alluvian could imprison her.
“Demons…”, Alluvian hissed, feeling the outrage build within, “What are you doing to Gretel? And what do you want with that one?” she demanded, pointing back at the transfixed Ashna.
Gretel felt Morvahna say of Ashna, “She betrayed Queen Malcanthet! She serves the Trirune!”, then Eryna added, “She must pay for her betrayal. You’re the perfect one to punish her, Huntress, so deliciously cruel.”
She ignored the barb, “And what of your hold on Gretel?”
Both spoke at once with her voice, “She is our Sister, Queen Malcanthet has chosen her. She is one with us.”
Gretel felt panic swell within her, she’d never agreed to anything like this…
Morvahna cut off the thought, “We warned you of the Trirune’s plans so you could protect that human kingdom. We granted you Wisdom and Beauty. We gave you the ability to speak and understand all languages, and other gifts.” The tone became more smug, “You are ours, dwarf.” She felt Eryna speak, “Don’t be so cruel Morvahna, she’s is, after all, our Sister.” Gretel replied, “But Eryna, why?” To that, Eryna say sadly, “I told you, when we first met, you could not trust me.” Morvahna laughed.
Samnymian, who had been studying the magic effects around Ashna asked, “And just what is she doing?”
“We don’t know,” Gretel felt them reply, “We just want her punished.”
Anger replaced panic and the feeling of betrayal, Gretel forced the two demonesses to be quiet. She asked Samnymian, “Can we stop,” she gestured at the steams of arcane magic, “All this?”
Samnymian wasn’t sure, but conferred with his brother Ved’rail. Alluvian watched over Gretel with a hunter’s caution. The priestess felt comfort in that, knowing if something did go wrong, Alluvian would see to it that she didn’t become a monster.
Ragnork tried knocking Ashna out of the conduit of arcane magic, but to no avail. Kel’Elendrial’s magic went dormant for a moment, but then slowly returned. Nothing seemed to work, they debated simply ending Ashna’s life, but were reluctant without a true understanding of the situation. They couldn’t trust the word of demons with such a hold on their friend.
Samnymian used his War Wizard Cloak to cast a Sending to Ashna. He asked what she was doing and if she needed help. He received a panicked reply, she didn’t want to be here, she didn’t understand how she came to this place or what any of this was for. They decided to help Ashna. Gretel had to fight to keep Morvahna and Enryna from protesting, but found that if she concentrated, she was her own person.
An attempt to use Ved’rail’s Cloak of the Montabank to dimension door Ashna out of the conduit resulted in the magical cloak being shredded and swept up in the stream of energy. So the brothers turned to examining the teleportaion platforms themselves. Subtle changes had been made to their magics and with a little effort, these changes might be reversed. The two brothers went to work, finding the changes and nudging each one back into their original configurations.
The first circle reverted to its original design, suddenly cutting off the left hand circle’s band of energy. Ashna was wretched into the air, toward the right hand circle. She hung in mid air as arcane energy lept out of the still altered platform, up into the demoness and back down into the platform.
Ved’rail and Samnymian went to work on the second circle, feeling pressed for time given Ashna’s state. They reverse the changes to the platform, the arcane energy around them crackled loudly and the world around them twisted…
.. and all found themselves falling a few feet, landing on stone.
Instinctively, Alluvian’s Chaos Cloak altered its shape into a pair of large batlike wings, gliding her to a stop. Although oddly the wings don’t immediately revert back to a cloak as they normally do. She turned as a cruel woman’s voice cut through the confusion.
Hovering above was Ashna, who snarled at them, “Your actions have only delayed us! And now you are here, a feast for the masters!” Folding her wings inward, the succubus dropped downward into nothingness.
“No, she must not escape!”, the demons shouted through Gretel.
They took in their surroundings, a mist filled greyness stretched off in all directions, faint motes of light appeared to linger in the denser mist. They were standing amongst several slabs of broken rock that hung in this grey space. Fragments of wall and even a door frame gave it the impression of being ruins of a much larger structure. Gazing down over the edge, they could see a fiery red light in the distance. Oddly, the very floor they stood on appeared to be drawn downwards, eerie afterimages of the rock floor stretched toward the red fire far below.
As they gathered together on the largest piece of floating debris, Samnymian said, “I believe we are now on the Astral Plane.”