Following their battle with the vampires guarding the entrance to the great fortification, the companions paused to reflect and take stock of their dire situation. They stood silently in an empty chamber, carved from the black stone of the vast stalagmite that was House Morcaine. All about them was blackness, lit feebly by the bluish glow of Tecumseh’s sunrod, which seemed only to heighten the oppressive darkness rather than dispel it. From the walls leered obscene carvings and bas reliefs, drawn from the depraved imaginings of ancient drow artisans. Hideous demons twitched and danced in the pale light as Tecumseh moved about the chamber, carven spiders seemed to leap and scuttle in the shifting shadows. The cool, dry air smelled of strange and vaguely unpleasant spices from the shattered remains of the vampires’ three coffins. In the silence the party keenly felt the crushing weight of the untold tons of stone and earth that separated them from the sunlit world they had left so long ago.
After a brief debate, the small group decided to continue onward and press what little advantage of surprise they currently held. In silence they proceeded down lightless corridors, following the bizarre angles and lines favored by the dark elves. Despite the sheer size of House Morcaine, the party felt strangely claustrophobic, huddled in a single file line within the meager glow of the sunrod, surrounded by the almost palpable darkness. After an indeterminable time, the hallway ended in a wooden door, set in an oddly angled wall. Silent as the shadows around him, Liad crept to the door. He listened intently for several seconds, then carefully checked the frame and latch for any signs of traps or alarm mechanisms. With a smile and flourish, he stepped aside to let Tecumseh kick the door open.
A nameless panic filled the party as they entered the huge hexagonal chamber. Grotesque tapestries adorned the black walls, depicting disturbing scenes of death and torture. Elves screamed upon the rack, forests of humans skewered on pikes, Brow flayed alive, all in dedication to Kerianselee. And always among the horrific images of death, bloated corpses were shown walking about, their skin showing a mottled sheen of pestilence, their eyes soulless, yet burning with malevolence.
Finally, the companions split apart to search the room more effectively. The high vaulted ceiling reflected no light, and the hideous tapestries absorbed even the sounds of their footsteps. Each felt alone and adrift in a vast sea of blackness. Kerrick, Chrono and Wiggy guarded the entrances with readied spells and long bow, while the others carefully examined the walls behind the tapestries.
Tecumseh was the first to make a discovery. A massive stone block lay near the south wall, covered in black felt, serving no doubt as an altar. Behind this Tecumseh had felt a rectangular shape on the wall beneath the tapestry. Hein joined his comrade in examining this new mystery, and together they both pulled the wall hanging down from its hooks to reveal Tecumseh’s fit
A large cloth-covered frame hung from the south wall, its lower edge slightly below head level. Kerrick was instructed to use his spear to remove the cloth, while the rest stepped back to cover him as best they could. In keeping with Kerrick’s skill with this spear, his first attempt missed, scraping noisily on the stone wall. The second attempt was more successful, the spear tip catching in a fold and pulling the covering down.
The group stared speechless as a huge silver mirror was revealed, much like the ones that they had come across so many times in the past. Tecumseh ran forward, grasping the frame in both hands to pull it from the wall.
Suddenly the mirror’s surface began to ripple, the images within shifting and distorting. And then the reflection slowly began to clear, showing a lavish room nothing like the party’s current surroundings. But most disturbing of all was the hooded and cloaked figure in the foreground, gazing out at them with a look of annoyance.
“Now what would you have of me, Doreena?” the figure demanded in a thickly accented voice. The accent of Huel, which the party had left so long ago.
Tecumseh cleared his throat hesitatingly. “Doreena couldn’t make it,” he said haltingly. “So she sent us instead.”
The hooded figure seemed to look about the chamber carefully for the first time. He made an almost casual gesture with his right hand, his image seeming to float from the surface of the mirror itself, forming a shimmering wraith that hovered in the still air of the chamber. Silently the form drifted down to the floor, its eyes seeming to glow as it scanned each of the small group intently. Finally, the hooded figure let out a low chuckle, maintaining it far longer than the needs of merely good humor might dictate. “To think of all the time and resources I have wasted in my search for you. And now you simply deliver yourselves to me.-
“You have the advantage of us,” Tecumseh replied. “We deal with so many self-important cloaked types that it becomes difficult to keep them all apart.”
Another icy laugh emanated from within the stranger’s hood. “I believe you have always referred to me as the Master. Please continue to do so.”
At this, Chrono stepped forward accusingly. “Do you think we work for you?” he demanded.
“Silence!” The Master snarled. “I will assume you have slain Doreena. That is of no import. Which of you insects is the leader of this pathetic group of misfits?” Kerrick leaned against his spear. “Actually,” he began, “we’re more of an autonomous collective…” Heian stepped forward. “What do you wish to say?”
The Master’s head swiveled slowly towards Heian, eyes still blazing. “I merely wish to inform you that my minions are speeding your way, even as we speak. By tomorrow at this time the Items of Power you’ve managed to gather will be in my possession.”
Tecumseh scoffed openly. “And have you hired a new batch of minions? The current crop has seemed less than effective.”
The dark figure of the Master gave a slight tilt of his head. “I look forward to continuing this delightful conversation in person. I believe tomorrow will suffice.” The image then dissipated like so much smoke or haze.
“I think that went quite well,” Kerrick said brightly. “And since the Master believes we have already destroyed Doreena, I would hate to disappoint him. Perhaps we should see to her as quickly as possible, and then seek out the Inverted Tower. As they seem less than thrilled with the followers of Kirianselee, perhaps they will also object to any alliances they have formed with the Master.”
In lieu of any more concrete plan, it was decided to quickly track down Doreena, the female drow that had led the assault against the family of Morcaine. Leaving the nightmarish chamber, they eventually came across one of the stalagmite’s outer perimeter corridors, shaped again in the form of a giant hexagon. From here they ascended a ladder, seeking their enemy on the next level.
The ladder stretched upwards a considerable distance. At its top, the party found themselves at the end of yet another narrow corridor, this one stretching off in a smooth arc into the darkness.
Once again forming a single file line, the party continued down the lightless passage. After a brief time, the air grew thick with the stench of rot and decay, a charnel smell of dead things left long unburied. All heads turned suspiciously to Heian. “What?!” he shouted defensively. “We’re in a house of the dead! It isn’t always going to be me!”
The narrow corridor suddenly opened into a vast chamber, the party halting in horror at the scene before them. “I suppose this is where the defenders of House Morcaine made their final stand,” Tecumseh observed solemnly. Countless bodies lay strewn in the bizarre poses of violent death, sightless eyes staring into the darkness, expressions of rage or of horror frozen on their faces. In the absence of scavengers, most had begun to liquefy in their decay, as if they were all melting together to form some hideous monument to Kirianselee. All wore the trappings of House Morcaine, and many of these bore the spider symbols of Lolth. Tecumseh joined Wiggy in the grisly task of decapitating those bodies with recognizable heads, attempting to thwart any attempt by the followers of Kirianselee to use these corpses for their dark purposes.
The significance of the chamber’s shape slowly began to dawn on the party. The vast room was composed of two huge circular chambers joined together, one somewhat larger than the other. An alcove closed off by an ornate iron gate let off the smaller of the two, the gate now hanging twisted and useless. The curving hall the party had entered from was merely one of eight entrances to the larger of the circular chambers, four archways opening in from both sides. Standing in the center of the larger chamber, the room took on the shape of a vast, bloated spider. “I’m going out on a limb with this,” Heian said dryly. “But this might be a chapel to Lolth…”
Wiggy had progressed to the gated alcove at the head of the great spider. Through the twisted bars she noticed an ornate marble altar, intricately carved to appear made of rope-like strands of web. Atop the altar lay the twisted form of a drow cleric, her body pierced with dozens of small crossbow bolts.
Grimly she tugged at the decaying body, to slide the head over the edge of the altar. As she pulled, a great split opened in the rotting torso with a wet ripping sound. Wiggy staggered back retching, as a sickly yellow cloud belched from the opening, as if the corpse still contained one unnatural exhalation in its rotting chest. The cloud loomed above Wiggy, taking on a malevolent, anthropomorphic shape. Tendrils of greasy ectoplasm shot from the vague form, entangling Wiggy’s left arm and torso.
A strange feeling of cold crept up Wiggy’s arm, with a rapid sensation of falling. In desperation she lashed out one-handed with her battleaxe, driving the heavy blade through the wispy tendrils that were slowly drawing the life from her. Tecumseh charged forward, heavy longsword whistling in a great arc that completely dissipated the foul shape. Filled with rage, Wiggy took her axe to what was left of the drow cleric, not stopping until she was trembling with fatigue.
The larger portion of the chapel contained yet another altar, hidden between two low, curving walls. Dark, rust-colored stains on the rough granite surface of the altar bore mute testimony as to its vile purpose. As the group moved to approach this second altar, the wispy form of a female drow began to take shape. Coldly beautiful, the translucent image stared in silence at the party.
And then, like melting wax, the flesh seemed to peel from the apparition’s face. Its jaw dropped open far wider than what should have been possible, revealing rows of needle-like black teeth. With a deafening shriek it flung its arms to the sides, rising up from the floor to spin in frantic circles above the heads of the horrified companions.
Wiggy, Kerrick and Chrono found themselves unable to resist the unearthly wailing. Spirits broken, they fled into the shadows of the small alcove at the other end of the chapel.
The apparition continued its mad circling, its piercing shrieks finally forming words. “The defilers!” It screamed. “Kill the defilers!”
Tecumseh looked narrowly at the apparition. “You want us to kill…them?” he asked hesitatingly, pointing in the direction his friends had fled.
“The defilers! Downstairs! Kill the defilers downstairs!” The tortured wails took on a tone resembling annoyance.
That makes far more sense,” Tecumseh nodded. The party regrouped, and made its way back to the ladder leading to the lower level of House Morcaine.
Liad led the way as the companions retraced their path through lightless corridors, coming at last to the vile chapel of Kirianselee. As they tried an unexplored corridor opening from the hexagonal chamber, they soon again detected the stench of rotting flesh. “It’s still not me!” Heian growled.
Liad raised his hand to bring the party to a halt. In the darkness ahead he detected a faint shuffling noise approaching. In the bluish glow of Tecumseh’s sunrod, the corridor turned sharply to the right. As Liad motioned for his companions to approach quietly, a twisted shape turned the corner to confront him.
In life it had been a proud warrior for House Morcaine. The tortured look of horror on its nightmarish face spoke of the dark rituals of Kirianselee’s clerics, and the vile magics that trapped just enough of this creature’s soul to animate the broken and twisted body. All of its skin had been removed – whether before or after death the party had no interest in discovering. Its muscles and exposed organs glistened with a coating of ichor, leaving a trail of viscous slime on the floor and walls it brushed against.
Liad gave the creature a brief wave of farewell, using his other hand to cast an enchantment rendering him invisible to the undead. For a brief moment the creature seemed to look in puzzlement for the missing rogue, and then turned its baleful gaze onto Tecumseh, the next in line.
Liad slid nimbly behind the monstrosity, turning the corner to find yet another shambling corpse approaching. Pausing to make rude faces and an obscene gesture to the unknowing creature, Liad proceeded down the hallway to an open doorway. Entering, the rogue found himself in a lavishly appointed bed chamber. As the room’s occupant spun to face him, Liad gave a low bow. “Good evening,” he said with a flourish.
The once-dark hallway now seemed filled with blinding light. Tecumseh stood his ground against the two abominations, lightning crackling and arcing from the blade of his great longsword. Kerrick stood several paces behind him, eyes glowing eerily as his draconic blood began to boil with arcane energy. Dazzling bolts of purplish-white light shot forth from his hands, tracing intricate, entwining paths as they dashed to either side of Tecumseh to blast chunks of decaying flesh from the shambling corpses.
The rest of the party scrambled through an open door to their left, attempting to give Chrono enough room for his more damaging spells. Kerrick was backing to the exit himself when a soft scrape made him spin around. Directly behind him were two more of the skinless creatures, their lidless eyes burning with mad hatred. A clawed hand shot out, and only the tough leather of Kerrick’s armor prevented the blow from gutting him. Kerrick directed a dazzling stream of arcane force against the lead creature, staggering it back. The second one, however, vomited a stream of black bile into the face and eyes of the sorcerer, blinding him and sending him stumbling against the wall.
Tecumseh sensed his sudden vulnerability. Slamming his shield into the opponent before him, he lashed out suddenly with a vicious swing of his sword to his flank. The corpse shuffling up behind him staggered back, jawbone severed cleanly from its rotting face.
Grasping his fallen companion by a strap of his leather armor, Tecumseh backed to the exit. As he and Kerrick entered the side chamber, Heian immediately began screaming at Chrono. “Fireball!” he shouted, gesturing to the open doorway.
Unfortunately, before he could cast, Chrono fell victim to a spell from some unseen caster. The room began to spin around him, and his hands began to tremble violently as a myriad of images flooded his mind. He looked pleadingly at Heian, who continued to scream and gesticulate. Finally, he raised his shaking hands before him, calling upon the words of power in a quivering voice.
Kerrick’s vision returned just in time to see Chrono struggling with his spell. Seeing the casting go awry, he had just enough time to shout a warning to his companions as he flung himself backwards. The next instant, the chamber was transformed into an inferno as the spell detonated in the party’s midst.
The dark elf cleric spun at the sound of Liad’s voice. Her eyes widened at the sight of the fey creature approaching her, longsword in hand. Then with a cruel smile she raised her hands casually, preparing to incinerate this intruder with a single spell. She began to shout out her vile cant to Kirianselee, then instinctively placed a hand at her throat as no sound came forth. Liad gave her a pleasant nod, acknowledging what was no doubt her appreciation of his enchantment of silence.
Face contorted in rage, the drow snatched up her weapon – the massive two bladed sword favored by the followers of Kirianselee. Thinking to make short work of this insolent creature, she sent the blades whirling in an intricate pattern above her head, charging to attack.
Liad sidestepped the charge nimbly, jabbing her with the tip of his longsword in passing. With a soundless shriek she spun, blade whistling in a decapitating arc. Liad deftly leaned out of range, sword flashing in again to trace a line of blood on the drow’s dark skin.
The dark elf s rage became consuming. Thrusts that should have skewered her opponent were turned aside by deft parries and ripostes, slashes that should have gutted him met nothing but air.
As Liad tumbled back from yet another swing, he caught a hint of shadowy movement from the corner of his eye. Glancing to the doorway, he saw the silhouettes of two more flayed corpses stalking into the room, their eyes glowing balefully in their ruined features.
Liad dismissed his spell of silence. “I regret we must end our dance so early,” he said giving the cleric a slight bow. “But you can’t have me to yourself all night – others await.” His sword spun a rapid figure eight before her face in a quick feint, and then thrust forward quickly. The dark elf shrieked, her left eye a bloody min. Liad ran to the wall at her left, kicking off and tumbling nimbly behind her. He tossed his sword up as he landed, deftly catching it in a reverse grip. With a backward thrust, he drove the point between her shoulder blades.
The dark elf looked blankly at the length of sword protruding from her breastbone with her one good eye, and then sank wordlessly to the floor. Liad brought his blade up in a defensive position as the two snarling creatures began to approach. He was about to somersault between them and run for the exit when he noticed another shape in the doorway. A second female cleric had just entered the room.
Kerrick shook his head to clear his sight of the fiery afterimage burned into his vision. With considerable relief he saw the rest of the party pulling themselves to their feet, brushing out smoldering patches of leather and cloth on their armor. His smile faded as he noticed the charred remains of Chrono lifeless in the center of the huge scorch mark, blackened arms still upraised in the final act of casting.
Trembling with rage, Kerrick spun to face the door of the chamber. Three of the flayed corpses were beginning to shuffle through the archway, noxious slime oozing from exposed muscles. With a fluid-sounding cough the lead creature directed another stream of foul black liquid towards Kerrick.
Kerrick arched backwards nimbly, letting the evil-smelling bile spatter against the wall behind him. Eyes again glowing with arcane energy, Kerrick snapped his head towards the vile creatures. “Now I believe it’s my turn,” he whispered.
The sorcerer seemed to waiver for an instant as if behind a layer of heat distortion. Words of power screamed from his lips as nine bolts of orange and red shot forth, bursting into torrents of flame as they struck the first two corpses. A strange moaning rose from the creatures, as fluid in their rotting lungs began to boil, sending noxious vapors rushing over long-unused vocal chords.
Wiggy rushed in as soon as the first creature ignited. Heedless of its wild flailing, she brought her great battleaxe around in a vicious arc, severing the corpse’s leg just below the knee. Dodging back, she aimed another blow to the back of its head as it fell. It lay twitching on the floor, still burning, as Wiggy finished her grim work with her axe.
Heian engaged the second, both short swords flashing out to trace intricate patterns before him. With an acrobatic tumble, he rolled beneath the creature’s blind slashes. Two blades flicked out in unison, severing hamstrings. The loathsome creature dropped to its knees, the flames consuming it licking the high ceiling. Heian swiftly crossed both swords before him, then shot them both out in a scissoring X, cleaning decapitating his opponent. A kick between its shoulder blades shoved it motionless to the floor.
The third creature now charged through the archway. Tecumseh met it with a charge of his own, slamming his left shoulder into the oozing torso of the flayed corpse. With a bellow of rage, Tecumseh drove the thing back through the doorway, bringing the point of his longsword into the creature’s stomach. As they both slammed into the opposing wall of the corridor, the sword punched deeply into the monster’s vitals. Tecumseh kept the thing pinned there with his shoulder, his face inches away from its snapping jaws. Grunting with effort, he shoved his sword further in and down, eviscerating the foul thing. As the evil light dimmed its eyes, Tecumseh stepped back, letting it slide slowly to floor.
Sounds of battle echoed faintly down the corridor. Gesturing for his companions to follow, Tecumseh charged down the hallway, hoping desperately to reach Liad in time. Turning a corner, he ran through an open doorway, skidding to a halt
Bleeding from dozens of deep claw marks, face purple and swollen from contusions, Liad still fought fiercely against two more of the flayed corpses. Even the nimble rogue could scarcely dodge two of the creatures, while a female Brow cleric stood directing their attack.
Turning to face this new threat, the dark elf began a low chant. Tecumseh watched warily as she held her right hand out, almost in a gesture of giving. A point of light came into being above her outstretched palm, casting a sickly yellow glow. With a sudden shriek she lunged forward, seeking to touch Tecumseh with whatever vile enchantment she had called upon.
Tecumseh threw himself desperately to the side, narrowly avoiding the cleric’s grasp. Suddenly she shot upright, staggering back with wild jerking motions. Faster than the eye could follow, four arrows sped past Tecumseh from the doorway, each one slamming the Brow another step back. An expression of surprise forever frozen on her face, the cleric fell backwards lifelessly onto the bed. Spinning, Tecumseh saw Wiggy framed in the doorway, lowering her bow.
As Wiggy snatched up her battleaxe, both fighters charged in to engage the two remaining creatures. Kerrick was next into the room. Running forward, he cast a quick protective enchantment on Wiggy, sending his familiar to do the same to Tecumseh.
Tecumseh felt a light touch on his leg. Glancing down, he saw Kerrick’s familiar looking up at him, the ferret’s eyes glowing eerily. It bared its tiny fangs in a hiss as it cast the enchantment, then scurried off to rejoin its master.
The air of the chamber suddenly took on the sharp smell of ozone. A bluish arc of lightning shot from Kerrick’s hands, tracing a blinding web as it bounced and ricocheted about the room. The deadly energy passed harmlessly through the party members protected by Kerrick’s earlier enchantment. The sorcerer trusted in the rogue’s ability to dodge any such spell to keep him unharmed.
The flayed corpses, however, jerked in a bizarre dance as the electricity burst through them repeatedly. Already dead, the creatures’ muscles still twitched involuntary as the current flowed through them, blasting through blackened holes as each arc left them.
Tecumseh and Wiggy made short work of them. Ignoring the crackling energy dancing around them, they waded in, axe and longsword whistling in deadly arcs.
As they fell, Liad slumped against the wall in exhaustion. He pulled a curative potion from his backpack, raising it in a mock toast to the female drow sprawled lifeless across the foot of the bed.
Heian entered the room shortly thereafter, pulling Chrono’s remains behind him using a cloak as a makeshift sled. Surveying the party, bloody and battered from combat, he leaned wearily against the wall with Liad.
“At the risk of understatement,” he said softly, “Perhaps we all need some rest.”