We open in a circular room, with Gato and Otto staring at each other. “Stay back!” said Gato, brandishing his knife and looking terrified. His eyes are filled with confusion, and Otto backs down, facing the other direction to try and calm him down while ensuring no other creatures come up behind them. But the rest of group tried to figure out what was wrong – ever since the illusionary Deskari had knocked him unconscious, Gato had been a very different man than the one that the party had met back on the plateau, days ago.
No one was sure what the illusion had done to him. Finally, Fflasheart decided to try and calm him down.
“Gato? Are you all right?” Fflasheart stepped into the room behind Otto, eyebrows arched with concern.
“My name’s not Gato! Who are you??”
“I’m Fflasheart,” he said calmly. He wagged his shield bearing the symbol of Iomedae on it. “Fflasheart of Iomedae. You know me.”
“You’re a paladin of Iomedae?”
“Are we safe?”
“It’s not safe yet, but your friends are all here…”
“What is your name?” asked Fflasheart.
“My name is Lini.”
“And how did you come to be here?”
“I have no idea.”
“What’s the last thing you remember before this?”
Gato – Lini – started to speak, but a look of confusion passed over his eyes, and when he spoke, he seemed different – standing straighter, voice lower. He put the dagger away, and slowly drew his elvish sword, keeping the point downward.
Gato, it seemed, had returned. The group questioned him – what happened? What do you remember? – and Gato admitted to some lapses in memory, but beyond that he knew nothing of what they described. Fflasheart tried to Cure Disease, but it had seemingly no effect.
With Gato apparently back, their knowledge insufficient and their magic Ineffectual, they got back to the business at hand: finding the banner. The took another look around the room:
A five-foot ledge runs the length of this circular pit. A second elevated ledge stands above the ledge with a short series of steps rising to a small platform ahead of it. To the southeast, a giant statue of a six-armed woman with a serpentine body rises out of the pit. It looms over each ledge with outstretched arms bearing an intimidating array of exotic weapons.
The group began to investigate the room, examining the pit (10 foot deep, no bones or stains), the statues (a marilith, potentially Aponivicius herself?) and any exits (a double door round the other side, heading east). Gato began to circle the pit on the higher platform, but everything was seemingly benign.
But no. With an audible “ooof,”, Storm’s serpentine neck pivoted to watch Gato come flying off the ledge, flying akimbo down into the pit… and disappear.
Suspecting an invisible malefactor, Illendar cast See Invisibility on Storm, but she could not detect any invisible creatures. Farina uncoiled a length of rope, and watched it pass through the (probably illusory) floor in the bottom of the pit. Bardos cast communal Spider Climb on everyone, then Storm unfurled her wings and glided down into the pit.
“Get me out of here!” yelled Gato from below the floor, an edge of panic in his voice. Storm flew past the floor (which indeed proved to be an illusion), grabbed his upraised arms, and started flying him upward.
“There’s a pit, and something at the bottom,” yelled Illendar. “No one go down here!” Farina pulled up her rope and found it to be partially eaten at the end, a glob of greenish slime crawling up the weft.
“Drench me with water!” yelled Gato from below. “Get this stuff off me!” Then his voice changed, and he started struggling with Storm, trying to get loose.
Fflasheart, demonstrating that when all you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail, laid a Cure Disease mercy on a screaming Gato, apparently killing the slime and restoring some of the dissolved flesh. Bardos then cast Web across the pit, in hopes of keeping the slime inside.
Carefully picking their way around the pit, Fletcher, Illendar and Fflasheart met up at the door. It proved to be locked (somewhat disconcertingly, from *this* side). The lock picked and order of entry chosen, the FUP entered the room. It was large, with niches containing what looked like large nyahydrian crystals on pedestals. And at the far end of the room, on a slab of stone, lay a large, red banner.
The room was filled with magical darkness, and the party employed a variety of methods to beat that back (and thereby avoid the concealment penalties – the FUP knew the guardian of the Sword of Valor was a shadowdemon, and expected a fight.
And a fight they got – not one but THREE shadow creatures, materializing like coalescing smoke, appeared. They seemed to be targeting the people who’d entered the room individually, one each against Fflasheart, Fletcher and Storm.
Battle commenced, but it wasn’t long before Farina, her arrows passing through the shadowy creatures, posed the possibility that these creatures could be illusions – there had been several illusions that the party had already faced,, some with powers beyond that of the normal glamer.
The feeling that the creatures were indeed illusions grew among the party, but they kept taking damage and found themselves unable to hurt the creatures in turn. Weapons, even Radiance, just to just pass through them without delivering damage. Storm rushed over to the long-neglected banner, while Illendar cast Detect Magic. The drow was nearly overcome by the power of the banner – it’s magic outshone anything he’d ever seen, and Illendar had seen Menzoberranzan.
A swirling cone of shadow magic burst from one off the niches, catching Fflashear and Fletcher and abrading them with black magic. Farina and Otto began knocking the crystals off their pedestals, in hopes they were somehow connected to the illusory creatures, while Storm nabbed the banner and ran it over to Fflasheart.
“Iomedae! We have recovered your banner!” Fflasheart yelled, loosing his shield and taking up the banner from Storm to hold it high. “Aid us!” Several things happened at once: the banner, the Sword of Valor, began to glow with a pure white light; Radiance, still in the paladin’s hand, glowed even brighter. When the Sword of Valor’s light touched the shadow creatures, they were vaporized, and both Fflasheart and Fletcher felt the wounds, delivered to them by the shadows, healed by the power of the banner.
The elation was short-lived, however. In the corner, the sound of malignant laughter was heard, growing louder until it was all anyone could hear.
“Storm, everyone – we have the banner, let’s go!” yelled Illendar in a rare moment of lucid thought. But it was not to be. “I am released,” said a dark voice in response. Then next to Gato appeared a huge creature, a devil made of shadow and oil, 12 feet tall with glowing crimson eyes. Almost casually, it reached into Lothar’s chest and, with icy efficiency, wrapped an incorporeal hand around the Erastilian’s heart.
Fflasheart charged to Lathor’s aid: “In the name of Iomedae, I denounce your very existence!” he yelled. “I banish you from this plane!”
The demon’s hand withdrew from inside Lothar, and the priest saw that, where it was once incorporeal and made of oily smoke, it as now instead quite substantial indeed. The reddish eyes narrowed and looked at Fflasheart.
“I smite thee, vermin!” the Iomedaen screamed, laying into the demon with Radiance. Lothar stepped back, then whirled and threw a spear of golden light – a Spear of Purity. It pierced the demon and it hissed with pain, surprise and anger.
The light from the spear blasted the demons eyes, and it became clear that it couldn’t see. Illendar cast Enlarge Person on Fletcher, who grinned mirthlessly and stabbed his greatsword past Storm and Fflashheart toward the shadowdemon’s heart. Fflashheart stabbed it with Radiance, who seemed to sing with joy, and the demon staggered backward, confused by it’s corporealness, maddened by the temerity of these… these mortals, who dared to challenge him.
Lothar chanted a Prayer to Erastil, the sounds of which further enraged the demon. But moments later, several things occurred: first, the demon took a step back and collapsed to the floor, like a marionette with its strings cut. And second, a large black gem on the wall above the marble slab where the Sword of Valor had once lain and which Farina and Otto were trying to destroy, now lit up with some sort of magical force.
Fflasheart put Radiance through the creature’s skull, ensuring it did not rise again. Black oil vomited out of the wound, and slowly the creature’s flash wafted away like ashes from a fire.
The demon gone, the banner in hand, Illendar examined the gem. It radiated necromancy magic. “I think it has something to do with the shadowdemon,” He said. “Perhaps like a lich’s phylactery.”
“Don’t destroy it,” said Bardos abruptly. “I don’t know that we should destroy it here – we should take it outside this place. We should examine it.”
“We have no time to examine it,” said Farina.
“We have the banner,” Bardos said simply.
Farina turned to Illendar. “What do you think?”
“I trust Bardos,” Illendar said.
Farina put away her scimitar and pulled a dagger, the better to pry the gem from the wall.
“Perhaps it’s something we can use,” Bardos observed. “Give it to me, and I will examine it.”
Farina loosed the gem from the wall, Spider Climbed down to the floor, and handed him the gem.