Dear Diary….last stand of the Slave Lords

Talk about dramatic! I’ll try to do it justice.

Using Mikael’s idea, we headed back to the metal door that shocked Ezekiel, and tried opening it again with protection. There wasn’t exactly a handle on this side, though, so in the end Ezekiel hammered it with his rod of smiting. Only took about five blows to bend it back from the hinges.

By that time, we figured anyone along this passage knew we were coming, so there wasn’t much sense in sneaking around. Advancing down the passage, we found another door – that opened into a tall throneroom.

We couldn’t pass the threshold at first…Ezekiel tried, and knocked his hand against an invisible wall of energy. Beyond, we could see nine people – armed warriors, men in wide-sleeved, embroidered robes, and one woman with ebony skin and stunning white hair…nine people staring and pointing and laughing at us. They all sat on thrones, but they had to twist and lean over the backs of their chairs to look at us, since – once again – we came in the back way.

We couldn’t hear them through the wall of force, but we could see the spell casters waving their hands and chanting while the warrior-types tightened their armor or gulped potions. Mikael took the opportunity to heal Ezekiel’s burns, Raven to close his eyes and center himself, and me…well, I’ve always got an arrow on the string.

Ezekiel still wanted to try the “talking” method…you know, where we use the papers we had to try and turn them against each other. I never had much confidence in that plan (partly because we do subterfuge like an ahnkeg does opera), but as it happens I didn’t need an opportunity to talk him out of it. And I certainly didn’t get one.

First, we noticed we couldn’t hear each other. Next, a flurry of daggers flew past, glancing past Mikael’s face with flashes of red blood.

Raven, as usual, reacted first. He whipped past us in a blur, the ring on his finger flashed…and he vanished, reappearing a couple feet to the side – in a perfect position to palm-punch a man in a red cloak. (This man didn’t wear armor, just robes; and I think from our notes he was probably Brother Millerjoi…but he didn’t do much. He pretty much stood there and blinked his eyes and shook his head for the rest of the fight.)

They’d done something else strange to us, too. I drew my bow and sent a couple arrows into the closest ones, and Usin ran past me to join Ezekiel at the front lines…but quicker than I would have thought possible, the enemy recovered themselves and struck again. The leader – a tall, broad-shouldered man; Eanwulf, according to intel – flung an ax past Usin (I briefly worried about Lydia, then remembered she was still missing). Another hail of daggers flew past Mikael (missing him this time). I couldn’t seem to draw my bow fast enough to keep up with their movements. (Raven, of course, didn’t seem to notice, and flitted about among them like a giant hornet of death.)

Then – one of the best things we did that day. Ezekiel lobbed the instant fortress. It expanded – almost comical in its incongruity – and squashed two of the Slave Lords right away. One of them – a mage – managed to roll free, with his robe and staff clutched to his chest. If I had been farther into the room and able to hear anything, I’m sure I would have heard him cursing.

He did raise his hands (I checked in the notes afterward, and I think it was Ajakstu) and move his mouth in something a bit stronger than a curse. Fire exploded just inside the room, just ahead of me. Usin dropped to the ground, tunic burning…and Marie Ant-oinette, who had just pinching an enemy in her big insect jaws, shriveled up like string in a blaze. At least she died valiantly defending her “queen”…I didn’t see the rest of the animals at all.

A primal scream seemed to rip through the room – though I’m not sure how that could work, when all of us in the corridor were in silence. Maybe that’s why I ignored it. While Ezekiel put his hand on Usin and made his wounds vanish, Mikael waved his one hand, and a bunch of the chairs suddenly flew across the room, smashing against the wall. Ajakstu’s wizard staff flew from his hand, and Raven materialized beside him and punched him off his feet.

A couple of my arrows seemed to be getting side-tracked before they could reach Eanwulf. I thought maybe Mikael’s spell had interfered with them…until an invisible person suddenly became visible, waving a sword and showing off a big black cloak, complete with a sinister hood to cover his face. This brooding figure swung at one of us (probably Raven – he gets around) and drove his sword into one of the wooden chairs that Mikael didn’t throw across the room.

I wish I could have kept track of everything that happened. Some creepy stalker melted out of the stone wall (Ezekiel says it was the priest, Stalman Klim). Rocks fell from the ceiling, fire erupted from the floor, and that rude barbarian Eanwulf kept dodging away from my arrows with little boogey steps.

At least it wasn’t just me – he was giving Ezekiel and Usin trouble, too. In fact, Ezekiel was bleeding from a lot of places, and kind of weaving on his feet.

Then came another of the best things we did. Usin raised his hand, a ring on his finger flashed – and blinding stars shot Eanwulf right in the face.

That was all the distraction I needed to do the best thing I did today. I charged forward through the frenetic enemies, grabbed Ezekiel with my free hand, and dragged him into the fortress.

When we got there, I had a gash on my arm I didn’t remember from before – but that was immaterial at the moment. Usin was on the ground again, and Mikael wasn’t looking much better. A fence of dancing, slashing knives suddenly appeared in front of the fortress door, and Raven dove and rolled, trying to get free.

As for me, there’s one thing I do. Throw pointed sticks at high speed. I kept doing that, and Eanwulf finally stopped moving around so much (Ezekiel says, “You’re welcome”).

The black-cloaked man was still trading blows with Raven (when he wasn’t wrestling his sword out of the chair), while the priest stood back and healed him. But we outnumbered them now (we outnumbered them before, if you counted the animals…but they didn’t do much), and between me and Raven, and Ezekiel singing encouragement to us, we took down the angst-cloak fighter…and the priest Klim fled somewhere.

Finally, it seemed quiet, and Ezekiel and I climbed down the side of the fortress while Raven put the stunned enemies out of their misery. Ezekiel got Mikael and Usin back on their feet, while Raven and I checked the entrances – a spiral staircase going up, and a second door leading to another corridor. Heiron came in about that time – he was herding the pets or something – and we counted up bodies. Seven. We got seven of the nine.

Ezekiel was just saying that we did pretty good, all things considered, and Heiron checked that Usin was all right, when things – started – getting – really – weird.

First, the floor was shaking. Then stones started falling from the ceiling. Mikael had a funny, faraway look, and he kept muttering, “He’s not happy…someone’s not happy…” to himself.

Ezekiel retrieved the instant fortress, and went to loot the bodies…but we decided he didn’t have enough time. Usin said the passageway behind us (where Heiron and the animals just came from) looked collapsed, and when Raven opened the other door, and cloud of dust and debris blew over him. So Ezekiel unfolded the portable hole and dumped the bodies in there.

The northwest corner of the room gave way – and even though I’m pretty sure we were underground, the walls seemed to crumble outward, into a space that glowed red. Dark, bitter smoke leaked into the room, curling along the ceiling, and heat seemed to radiate from that corner across the room.

Just when we thought things couldn’t get crazier – a man stepped out of the gap in the wall (I think he was wearing a brown robe, but I was a bit distracted) and strolled over to Mikael.

To Ezekiel’s questions, he said his name was Elhanan, and he’d been looking for Mikael. He handed him a large crystal vial (Mikael had to break out of his revery to grip it with his one arm) – with a bright-glowing, pink lizard floating and twitching inside it. Elhanan told Mikael to study the lizard, then shape-shift into its form. Then one of us would have to trim off the tip of his stump-arm, and he’d have to stay in that form for a month. He said the water was special, living water from the Plane of Fire.

Then Elhanan glanced around a bit, apologized for leaving us in such an awkward situation, and walked back into the oozing lava, sinking down to return to the Plane of Fire. Druids are nice and all, but sometimes they’re just plain weird, too.

All that took maybe two minutes – but I think it could’ve been two seconds, and it wouldn’t make that much difference. Stones and dust were rolling down the staircase toward me, and not even the rope of climbing could get us through a blocked staircase. I remember thinking it was just like the Slave Lords to leave some kind of petty trap to destroy their stronghold once they died, while Raven and Ezekiel scratched their heads and talked over each other with brainstorming solutions.

Then as if things couldn’t get any more weird, Lydia stepped out of the air and made a tsking sound with her tongue. The next couple minutes are a blur, as Ezekiel 1) assumed it was the real Lydia, 2) assumed she had a portal open just behind her, and 3) bundled us all through said portal with minimal bent noses and squashed toes.

We more-or-less charged into the hidden room in the cellar of the Welcome Wench, with the more dexterous of us stepping over and around Ezekiel, who had slipped onto his butt in a pool of blood. Not his blood (though he had plenty of bruises and barely-closed cuts) – but we didn’t get an explanation until Lydia joined us through the portal and made some adjustments to her mirror (I guess so lava didn’t leak through it, maybe?).

She explained that, no, it wasn’t her blood, either. And it wasn’t Agnar’s, either – though he was sitting in the corner with his arms crossed, glaring, and mysteriously missing his armor and sword.

Several hours ago, Lydia began her tale, she was focused on watching things through the mirror – when suddenly the room went silent, and a couple dark-masked characters grabbed her and tied her up. They gagged her and shoved her against the wall…but they didn’t seem interested in any of her stuff. She wasn’t clear if they were guarding her, waiting for a signal from outside, or what… They couldn’t use the mirror, it seems – and she couldn’t overhear them discussing their plans because the room was silenced.

She thinks it must have been an object, like a ring of spell storage, that gave the effect – since the two characters were all got up in black leather and daggers – not wizard dress at all. Never one to take defeat lying down, as soon as Lydia felt her ears pop, and heard her captors’ breathing, she peeled a couple war dogs off her magic robe and sicced them on her attackers.

The dogs surged forward, yapping and howling. The strangers reacted quickly, whipping out their blades. They killed the dogs – but then they seemed to sit around and wait again…and that was their fatal mistake.

Master Osler heard the barking of the war dogs, and before a half hour passed, Master Elmo and Lord Otis appeared in the secret room…and the assassins’ blood coated the floor.

I don’t like how those two were able to find Lydia so easily – and how easily they could open the secret door. Master Osler brought more bad news – someone (maybe these two?) killed Wimple Frump in the fort prison. I am getting fed up with these assassins. We’re just lucky they didn’t finish Lydia off, nor put Master Osler on their threats list. It’s bad enough that Frump was under the protection of the fort, and they got to him…I’d be absolutely sick if anything happened to Master Osler and his family.

Anyway, Lydia got right back to her job, and found us in the mirror. That must be about the time we were wandering through the sewers and trying to draw an accurate map. She noticed Agnar wasn’t with us, and located him – a prisoner, in the slave barracks! We’re still not entirely sure how he got there (he’s not talking about it), but together they were able to take out the guards. Then Lydia nipped over to Verbobanc and visited the druid who helped us before, and together they evacuated all the slaves in the dungeon to a safe place.

Then she checked in with us again…just in time to be the dea in the machina and rescue us from the volcano. So she might be disappointed that she missed the big battle, but I think we’re all glad she got the slaves out of there before things started blowing up (she checked in the mirror again, and says the island isn’t visible anymore!). Also, she gets to look all smug for arriving in the nick of time and saving us from crispy crushing.

Since Agnar lost his stuff when he got captured, Heiron gave him a flame-tongue sword. Agnar still looks kinda grumpy, but I hope the gesture mollifies him…he’s got to choose to be our friend now, and we sure don’t need any more enemies.

While the rest of us swapped stories and let the adrenaline wear off, Ezekiel opened up the portable hole and had Raven hand him bodies. Time to dishonor the dead by despoiling their remains.

Find the previous entry here.

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