“Burning Blood, isn’t it?” the fiend chuckled darkly.
“Demon-guy isn’t it?” Drake retorted. “What’s going on here?”
“He looks kind of like the jailer I saw in the madman’s head,” Liberty told the alchemist.
“Oh, well in that case … I’m thinking we can’t let you do … whatever it is you’re doing. Gonna have to have you stop.” Mom grunted in agreement.
The tiefling’s grin broadened. “Come then.”
Xan rushed forward to end the spawn of Kyuss before it could react, and he felt sure the blade would have struck true … had it not rebounded off some unseen barrier. Mom frowned, and cast shield other on Liberty, to protect her from harm while he moved up to support the rogue. The tiefling began casting a spell of his own, the harsh syllables of the chant echoing weirdly in the chamber. Drake advanced along the west side of the chamber, but was stopped short by an invisible barrier when he tried to pass the first pillar. A quick deduction suggested to the alchemist that he was being held back by an antilife shell.
“Well, that’s unfortunate,” he said, before lobbing a firebomb at the spawn, scorching the undead and its wormy pets.
“I’m on it,” said Liberty chanting and making gestures of unmaking to pick apart the ward. Her efforts were rewarded and the magic was dispelled, freeing Drake from the pressure of the barrier.
The spawn struck Xan with a rotting fist, bruising his cheek and depositing a green worm on his face. The rogue deftly swept his blade up and bisected the worm before visiting his remaining attacks on the undead, stabbing it another couple of times. Despite his efforts, the creature still stood. Mom advanced from the hall into the altar chamber, and leveled a pair of admonishing rays at the chanting tiefling. Sadly, his prayer was absorbed by some abjuration, and the fiend grinned as he finished the last syllable of his conjuration.
A flame-touched monstrosity appeared right behind Liberty, and it wasted no time, stabbing her twice with its burning spear then bashing her with the thick scaly tail that comprised the lower half of its body. While she was off balance, the creature drew her into its coils in a crushing embrace. Fortunately, Mom’s magic shield prevented her ribs from cracking immediately. Satisfied that the sorcerer was under wraps, the tiefling then barked off a harsh chant leveled at Xan. The rogue’s vision began to blur, but he steeled himself against the magic and shook the encroaching blindness off. “Whoa,” Xan muttered. The tiefling grimaced.
“Oh yeah, this is gonna be fun,” said Drake, rounding the pillar to stand in the middle of the room and reaching out to grab the fiendish priest in his beefy hands. Liberty was unable to break free of the salamander’s hold, and felt its coils tighten around her slender frame. At the tiefling’s order, the spawn placed a worm on Drake, before Xan could make an end of the undead with a well-placed thrust. After it fell, he crossed the room to get to the tiefling. Mom quaffed a protective potion and charged the salamander, summoning up his rage and striking the fiery serpent with a heavy slash. The tiefling released an unholy burst of energy, tearing at the adventurers’ bodies, and the salamander continued squeezing the sorcerer.
The worm burrowed into Drake’s flesh and began making its way toward his brain, but the doughty alchemist only secured his grip on the tiefling, crushing him and pinning his arms. Liberty continued to struggle fruitlessly against the salamander. “Mom, get him OFF OF ME!” she cried. The cleric never had the chance as Xan unleashed pointy hell on the all-but-helpless tiefling, perforating the priest’s lungs more than once. The priest’s eyes were wide as it stopped struggling in Drake’s arms. When it died, the summoned salamander vanished, and Liberty landed on the floor unceremoniously. She breathed a premature sigh of relief.
Mom’s eyes were lit with madness as he turned on her with his sword held high. Fortunately, the half-orc’s earlier spell still functioned and though the blade opened more bleeding wounds in the sorcerer, they opened an equal number on the raging cleric, as he shared her pain. “BLOOD! BLOOD! BLOOD!” cried the maddened half-orc.
“Drake! HELP!” she cried again.
Drake lurched around the pillars, preoccupied by the damned worm still burrowing for his brain. “I’ll … Shit! Be right … OW! There,” he grumbled, digging one of the anti-worm concoctions he’d made weeks before and downing it in a gulp. Hoping that would do the trick, he continued lumbering toward Mom.
The half-orc struck Liberty down before he could reach them then turned to face the oversized alchemist. Drake grabbed the cleric and pulled him in close so that he couldn’t use his greatsword. “Mom! Get ahold of yourself!” he demanded. With the threat held for the moment, Xan sprinted across the room and back into the hall to check on Liberty.
Mom did not release his sword as he pulled a cleaver and slashed awkwardly at the alchemist. They continued to struggle as the rogue dragged Liberty farther away and administered a powerful healing potion. She coughed a couple of times, then took in the situation. When Drake pinned Mom, she cast snapdragon fireworks into the half-orc’s face. Xan readied his sap.
Several intense moments later, they managed to subdue their companion when Xan landed a blow at the base of Mom’s skull. “What in the hells was that?!” Liberty croaked. Nonplussed, Xan went back into the chamber to loot the tiefling.
Drake kept his hold on Mom for a bit longer. “This isn’t good if he’s going to blood-rage on us now.”
Liberty nodded. “You said it.” She didn’t come any closer. “He’s supposed to be patching us up, not…”
“Grab one of my potions. I’ll hold him down if you want to pour it down his throat to get him moving.”
“Uhh…” He might have asked her to take a snake from his pocket. “Shouldn’t we, I don’t know, give him a minute?”
Drake opened Mom’s eyelids to check his pupils for any sign that the danger had passed. “Yeah, best to be safe. Can’t tell yet.”
“Okay, fine. Have you got one for me, too?”
“Yeah.” He handed her a cure moderate wounds extract.
“Much obliged.” She fought to steady her hands as she unstoppered and drank the potion. “Thanks,” she reiterated as some of her injuries knitted themselves.
“Liberty?” Xan called. “This tiefling seems to have some magic items…”
“Be right there.” She approached and administered a potion to Mom.
“Kord take me!” Mom grumbled loudly as he regained consciousness. “No one touch the damned sword!” He kicked it down the hall and seemed to cringe away from it.
“Yeah, Kord was gonna have you take us ALL,” Liberty said sourly.
“Not Kord. The sword is cursed.”
The sorcerer’s retort was sarcastic. “Oh, really.” Then, seriously. “What, really?”
“So what do we do with it?” Drake asked.
“Tongs?” the half-orc suggested uncertainly. He gingerly retrieved it and put it back in its sheath without further incident.
“I ought to melt it down,” said Liberty. Mom grunted speculatively. “Gods damned thing…” She slipped past Drake to help Xan sort through the tiefling’s gear.
Mom prayed for Kord to heal everyone while Liberty identified the loot, which included a creepy-looking jade medallion. “Thanks Mom, glad to see you back,” said Drake. The half-orc grunted in agreement.
“Say Mom, do you know whose holy symbol this is?” asked Liberty, somewhat calmer since the healing.
“Kyuss,” he said without hesitation.
Xan inspected the scrolls on the altar from a cautious distance, until Liberty could cast detect magic and then read magic to provide her professional opinion. The scrolls themselves seemed to be affected by a powerful transmutation effect. Based on the page she could see, the scrolls appeared to contain the ritual to summon an ulgurstasta described by Eligos – these were the Apostolic Scrolls! She told the others this.
“What do you think, boys? Seems dangerous to leave them here, but I bet it’s dangerous to touch them, too.”
“Well, I think we’ve got some proof of ill deeds for sure,” offered Drake.
“Mom?” Liberty prompted.
The half-orc grunted speculatively. “If we take them, at least they will be unable to use them. Even if we can’t prove anything by it.”
The others backed away from the altar while Xan walks up and tried to take the scrolls from the altar. The scrolls didn’t move. He couldn’t so much as bend a corner of the page. “Huh. Maybe the green energy is holding them in place.”
Xan turned to the double doors. “Well that’s something we shall have to remedy, isn’t it? If everyone’s ready, we can find out.”
He inspected the doors connected to the scrolls by the strange green light and determined that they were free of traps. “Drake, get behind me. Mom, stay close to Lib.”
“As long as you leave that sword alone,” said the sorcerer warily.
“Need a new sword…” said Mom, pulling his mace.
Once everyone was in position, Xan opened the doors. A large portal of stone, covered with the obscene depiction of an orgy of dead, worm-ridden corpses blocked the passage perhaps thirty feet to the west. In the middle of the macabre mass, a carving of the horrible skull of Kyuss uttered a silent scream of triumph. The rogue walked carefully down the hallway for a closer look at the stone, but he was stopped at the midpoint of the hallway by an invisible barrier that felt a bit like cold, rubbery material.
And then came the pain. His body was suffused with negative energy, and he staggered back a step, bloodied by the magic protecting the hallway. He appeared to have aged a few years, as well. “’Nother way, maybe,” he managed to say. “Mom? Little help?”
“Wow…” Drake said, awed. The half-orc grunted in agreement, moving forward to heal the rogue.
“That ought to do,” said Xan. “Thank you kindly, Mom.” The restorative magic did nothing to reverse the aging, however.
“I could try to dispel it…” Liberty said dubiously.
Xan shook his head. “Not yet. Let’s see what else is around here first.” He shuffled toward the single door to the north. A narrow hallway beyond ended in another wooden door to the north. “Drake, can you squeeze in here behind me?”
“It’ll be tight, but I’m sure I can fit. Slowly, though.”
“Well, maybe it’ll be clear in here,” Xan said, though his tone suggested little hope of that. He opened the door.
A central pillar of green marble carved in the likeness of a segmented worm supported the ceiling of this square room, which was dimly lit by a single incense burner that shed a sweet, fruity aroma. The room was lined with woolen tapestries depicting coiling green worms, and contained a bed, an armchair, and a cupboard. Near the bed were a small nightstand and an ornate, elongated trunk.
The chamber also had a single inhabitant, a rotting body seated at the table. Then she looked up at the adventurers. Before the adrenalin could start to flow, they thought they recognized – beneath the rot – a young woman that might have once fit the description of Honest Minstrel’s sister. It appeared that this was all that was left of Lahaka.