The room Bliks appeared in was dimly lit, with a much shorter ceiling than the inn making her flinch without need. Looking around she easily made out the benches, but she instead of the two figures she had seen before, who had seemed to have been resting, she instead saw a little more than a dozen cloaked figures all seated on stone pews facing away from her. In front of them knelt another figure in a depression in the ground, the top of their hood barely visible over the congregation. On the far wall was a disk of what appeared to be painted shell depicting the arched opening to a cave, with a glimmer of gold in the darkness.
It took her a few moments to break down the symbol’s meaning, mines and hidden wonders, and then she quickly deduced the associated deity, a narrowly worshiped angel, one of the Lords of the Empyrean.
“A follower of the clockwork goddess finds solace in the house of Benorus, and may he guide you in the dark to find and preserve the secrets of the deep.” She said, bowing her head as she drew her holy symbol out from underneath the folds of her cloak.
There was a stir in the room, but the figure at the front spoke first, “Well said, stranger. For without He Who Delves in Beauty what could you possibly …” then gasped and shouted, “uplander!”
Who she assumed was the priest was looking at her, his hood still covering his face, pointing, while the room burst into chaos. The seated figures shouted or screamed, trying to dash from the room through a door in the side wall of the shrine. “Wait! No, what?” Bliks tried to say above the commotion but was drowned out.
Then the priest threw back his hood, revealing a nightmarish creature, seemingly stitched together from half a dozen different races. His jaw and most of the right side of his face was elongated like a hyena, while the remainder sagged like the bones underneath were too small for the flesh to stretch over them. The hand he pointed with was scaled, while his other hand, drawing a mace from a belt loop, was hairy, having only three powerful fingers.
The room emptied, leaving Bliks and the stitched together man facing each other, but the silence did not last, as there were cries of “Guards!” and “Intruder!” slipping in from the outside.
“You spoke well, and I apologize for my shocked response, but now you must speak quickly.” The man said in a hushed tone, gesturing towards the door.
Bliks blinked and then began to ramble, “I mean your people no harm, I am looking for some injured … uplanders … somewhere nearby, I must have miss teleported, my name is Bliksemani.” Then the door burst in and two humanoids pushed into the shrine, each sharing the priest’s amalgam of body parts, but instead one looked like a kobold, with that creature’s draconic features mounted on a dwarf’s legs, while the other had the wide carnivorous fish head of a sahuagin attached to an ogre’s body.
The short one ran to interpose itself between Bliks and the priest while the larger one grinned, its mouth a field of incisors growling “Submit uplander! Your kind aren’t allowed into glorious Neathholm!”
“Drago, Bronk, please.” The priest said as calm as possible, patting the short one, Bronk it seemed to Bliks, on the shoulder as he stepped past the diminutive guard. “This uplander is lost. She is not one of those who consort with the traitors.”
Without turning his head, Drago rolled one eye to take in the priest while the other remained fixed on Bliks. “Paesonius you are too trusting, these uplanders only bring trouble!”
“Drago my pup, she appeared amongst us like the seam your brother struck into, unexpected but glimmering.” Paesonius replied, “Besides, look at her. Her body is like ours, not whole. Her hair! Her eyes like pools of silver. It is a sign from Benorus, a glint in the darkness.”
Drago considered Bliks for a moment, then leaned towards her, his mouth gaping. Having regained her composure, she stared at the towering man, fingering a wand in her cloak. He then huffed, his breath thick with the scent of fish, “As you say Paesonius. But Sull will want to see her nonetheless.”
The priest smiled, an odd expression between the two sides of his face, “I’m sure our guest would be happy to meet with Chieftain Sull,” he replied, turning to Bliks, “Wouldn’t you?”
Matching his smile, Bliks said as cheerfully as she could, “Of course I would! It would be an honour to open a dialogue between the surface and the people of Neathholm,” trying to subtly emphasize ‘people’ without sounding condescending. The quiet Bronk merely nodded and led the group out of the shrine into the small community of Neathholm.
From a variety of perspectives the mongrelmen, as Bliks reminded herself they were called in polite company, had founded their community in an auspicious location. On a small island at the centre of a moderately sized cavern whose lake stretched to its edges, it would have been hard to attack but also could control movement through the chamber, allowing it to act as a trade hub. If the water was actually a slow moving but wide river, it would provide both a source of fresh water and disposal of wastes, and even if it wasn’t, might have fish or other game available in its depths. Overhead and covering the walls were sheets of luminescent fungi, providing a background lighting similar to the moon at half fullness, which was supplemented by lights in each of the more than a score of small stone buildings.
Trying to sound at peace with this unexpected turn of events, Bliks asked “Drago, where did the people of Neathholm quarry the rocks for their houses?” A small crab head peeked out behind a curtain, a mongrelman child, and the wizard waved cheerfully at them.
Bringing up the rear, the large mongrelman noisily sucked in air through his teeth saying “Our people can only transport the smaller rocks across the waters of Beorhtnanmere, those we use in walls, while larger slabs we dig from the stone beneath us. So long as we seek, Benorus provides.”
“Well said! So you have not forgotten all the lessons I taught you.” Paesonius beamed, his voice almost jovial.
“You also taught us Benorus blessed us to seek his hidden wonders, that we had no need to seek the surface, that the uplanders could not know the great Delver.”
“Yes, well, that was,” the priest replied as Bliks could almost see him mentally leaf through his holy texts for a proper reference, a look she had often seen with other members of the faithful, regardless of faith.
His consideration was interrupted by Bronk knocking on the door of the largest building on the island, situated near its centre at the top of a low rise. A lispy but deep voice called out, “Shend them in!”
The thin stone door swung open with the assistance of some kind of creaking pulley system revealing a room that seemed to serve as kitchen, dining room, and parlour, with a hearth on one wall, a table with a handful of stools, and a large stone couch mounded with blankets and pillows in a wild variety of colours. Sitting on one of the stools was an obese human, his silver hair unkempt, but with a face more akin to a ratfolk than any Bliks had ever seen on the surface. Sull smiled broadly, showing only four prominent incisors with a gap on either side having no other visible teeth. Gesturing towards the couch he said, “Come, make yourshelves comfortable!”
“Chieftain, this is the uplander we discovered in Benorus’ shrine …” Drago began before Sull cut in.
“Well of courshe she ish, of courshe she ish. Shse would shtand out wouldn’t shse?”
“Yes chieftain, but she may be dangerous …” Drago tried again but was again interrupted by the fat man.
“Calm yourshelf loyal, loyal Drago! Shince thoshe tremorsh, we have had much more importansh thingsh to worry about, yesh?”
Drago looked warily at Bliks then back to Sull, “Yes chieftain.”
“Good. Good!” The rat faced man said, slapping his side, “After I havesh shpoken with our guesht I will shend for you. But if you witsh you can waitsh outshide.” Lifting his gaze away from the others, Drago nodded once, then quickly twice more, before placing a massive hand over his eyes and backing out of the room. Bronk tilted his head to one side, nodded to Sull as well, and turned and followed the large man outside.
Shifting his bulk slightly on his stool Sull asked, “now then Paeshoniush, who ish thish?”
“This is Bliksemani, a worshiper of the clockwork goddess Brigh,” the priest replied after gruffly clearing his throat. “She appeared in our chapel after our morning service.”
“I shee, I shee.” The chieftain eyed Bliks with his one good eye, the other white and clouded. “And whatsh your shtory Missh Bliksemani?”
Not having joined Paesonius on the couch, Bliks bowed slightly saying “My full name is Bliksemani Volgeling, and I am a visitor to the city of Kenabres from Numeria. There has been an attack on the city by demons. My companions and I sought to render aid and comfort.”
“Ah yes, she did say she was looking for some more injured uplanders Sull.”
“I am seeking friends of an ally, and where they are must be similar enough to your shrine that when my teleport missed, I ended up here rather than there. I humbly ask for your forgiveness for this unexpected and unwelcome intrusion.”
“Unwelcome? Unwelcome? Did I shay you were unwelcome?” Sull replied with a disconcerting smile, “I dedushed that there wash trouble upland, but haven’t had thesh time to confirm. I actushually exshpected vishitors shooner.” He tapped the side of his malformed head, “I’m not in charge hersh becaush of my belly. Now you shaid demonsh?”
In short order Bliks told the two mongrelmen of what she had seen since arriving in Kenabres, from the great trenches and gouges in the land to the blasted and collapsed buildings. Sull seemed particularly interested in her description of both the cultists they had fought and the corpse of a Vemerak. When she informed them that the leader of the remaining crusaders was not only a half-orc but also a Paladin, that information seemed to truly please him.
“Tidingsh! Tidingsh good and bad.” The chieftain finally said, “To hear the children of orcsh may fight under Iomedaesh banner, liftsh my shoul,” punctuating that final point by pulling the sun and sword holy symbol from one of his gown’s many pockets. “Shome of ush shtill follow the old godsh.”
Then with a lurch he stood and began pacing across the room, his bare feet slapping against the smooth stone. “I have heardsh of theshe beashtsh, like ush, not quite inshects, not quite fishes, not quite men, but sho not like ush. Twishted, hateful, deshtructive. And we have sheen cultish like thoshe.” He threw a small pouch onto the floor at Bliks’ feet, a brass bulls head tumbling out. “One of Dragosh patrolsh found theshe near here. Uplandersh had been working wish traitorsh, unclean kin of oursh, but we didn’t know they were cultish until after the tremorsh.” Then his voice boomed, “they are both affrontsh to our purity!”
The burst of rage seemed to take a sudden toll on the old mongrelman, who staggered back onto his stool, “Dragosh ish shtill waiting for our alliesh to marshsall sho we can crushs them both. On the gravesh of our brave crushader anshestors we will clenshe theshe hallsh of their taint.” He then waved his hand at the priest, who immediately took up the narrative.
“You see, we are the children of the Last Crusade. Our parents’ parents’ parents heard the call and flocked to the upland of Mendev, driving the demons back into their pit. They built fortresses and cities to watch the rift, like the great crusaders of the upland of Lastwall before them.” Paesonius explained, “but the Abyss had seeped into their bodies, and the bodies of their children, making them as we are now. Their spirits were not corrupted, so they fled here to raise us far from the eyes that could only see the flesh.”
Bliks raised a hand, giving the priest pause, “The Last Crusade? It pains me to say that it was not the last, there have been three more since, but none have achieved as much as what your ancestors did. They were the best of us.”
This revelation hung in the air, as the two mongrelmen seemed to be lost in thought or grief. Then the chieftain called out, “Drago! Drago, I needsh to shee you.”
The bulky carnivorous fish headed man entered the room after a brief pause, “Yes chieftain?”
“Show her your weaponsh.”
Drago nodded and drew an axe whose head was made of chipped sharp obsidian. He then stowed that to display a short blade made of flint. Finally he turned to display a pouch filled with throwing spears crafted of unnaturally long bone.
“I think I understand,” Bliks said with a sigh.
“Yesh, yesh! We have the will, the purity, but not the meansh. Cultish, traitorsh,” Sull exclaimed, with Drago snorting at the mention of traitors, “they die eashily, but demonsh need deep iron. If our anscheshtorsh did not defeat them, we will rejoin the crushades in their honour.”
“But, but we are not ready yet. Ash I shaid, we are gathering our alliesh. You are a powerful mage are you not? Perhapsh you could prove your intenshonsh and we could aid you ash well.”
Bliks looked down, considering facing unknown enemies without the support of Hex or Eryno. Each time she had done previously it had not turned out well, even if they were only seconds away. Still she replied, “What do you propose?”
“Our schoutsh know theshe tunnelsh and could find your friendsh, and you know magic and could clear a way to the shurface … through the traitorsh and cultish.”
“Alright. What can you tell me about them?”
“We have not seem many of them in our tunnels,” Drago replied, “but we know they hunt far and wide beyond that. One of them joined our tribe a years ago, told us that they were not many in number. She said their lair was three levels, with their entrance into our tunnels on the second and their leaders living on the bottom. Then there are these cultists. We don’t know much about them except more showed up recently.”
“So Blikshemani, do we have a deal Blikshemani? And you shaid your friendsh were hurt? Paeshoniush can heal them when we findsh them or if yoush get hurt fighting the cultish.”
Nodding the wizard considered her options. She could only hope that the cultists weren’t accompanied by demons as her spell reserves were starting to thin out. “We have a deal”
“Exshellent. Exshellent! Loyal Drago, have one of your guardsh take her acrossh the lake to the Traitorsh Tunnel.”
“That won’t be necessary,” Bliks said, floating slightly off the ground, her clothes and hair billowing in an unseen wind, “just tell me where to go.”
While the mongrelmen had a series of primitive docks made out of quarried rock around the narrow shore at the edge of the lake, they kept their woven fungus rafts on the island, further enhancing their security. Halfway across the water, Bliks dropped a feather from her components pouch into the water and watched it intently. There did seem to be a current, flowing towards what she assumed was the west, where the West Sellen lay. Not knowing her depth underground it still seemed reasonable to her as Kenabres was several hundred feet up a cliff from the river. That would mean that, given the directions, she would be heading in a southerly or south easterly direction.
It wasn’t a long trip down the darkened tunnel. To Bliks experienced eye, the walls and floor showed evidence of erosion, so it might have been some tributary stream that used to feed into Beorhtnanmere that had found a new channel. They said it’d be a short walk, but Bliks took no chances and hovered along the corridor, wary of making sound or falling into a simple trap. Soon enough the tunnel began to narrow and signs of picks and chisels carving the walls became apparent. Here the path straightened, continuing to push through the rock.
While Eryno had always been their scout, Bliks had tried to learn a few of his tricks to little success, so when she first saw the edge of a barricade of heaped rocks and wooden boards, she rose to the ceiling and stopped moving. ‘Either there’s no one guarding them or we have the same range of vision in these conditions.’ She edged forward a few feet, her cloak scraping against the rough ceiling, until she could make out the entire guard post. ‘Only two guards and a wooden door … this might be overkill’
‘But if I don’t expend these spells, I’ll lose their potential anyway, and Hex has been reminding me that I need to stop holding out for perfect opportunities.’ She nodded and the mongrelmen at the guard post hardly had a chance to call out into the darkness before she was hurtling towards them.
In that moment, Bliks thought of her mother. Her father had said she had been an Abasheen, a refugee from her home on the Elemental Plane of Air, fleeing the underclass status her race had had there. That her natural abilities suggested she wasn’t of pure Abasheen stock further isolated her; she had lacked her fellow’s ability to influence others but instead had powers more like but weaker than the Djinni.
In the next moment Bliks thought of her training. Metal was said to be subservient to Earth, in the eye of elementalists but, as her teachers repeatedly said, “Do we not dig the soil with metal? Do we not break apart the rock with metal? There is so much we discard from the earth and yet seek out metal. How can metal be lesser to nearly everything else that the ground has to offer?” And their focus on spells. Shocking Grasp. Defensive Shock. Lightning Bolt. Thus it was no surprise to Bliks then that they spent many afternoon classes watching storms or venturing out under the peal of thunder.
And so the two came together, as she became lightning. Not sheathing herself, not conjuring it to do her will, but ceasing to be flesh and bone, embracing her heritage and her studies to ride the lightning.
She blasted past, over and through the flimsy barricade, the guards stationed there, and the weak wooden screen separating that room from the next, arcing across the width of the next chamber, smashing through a second screen, and continuing until she came to a stop at a solid wall. The small room had slabs of meat hanging from a rack and at the centre of the room were the remains of several barrels exploded by her passage. Behind her, she could see scorched bodies and a hail of splinters now littering the floor of what seemed to be some kind of sleeping quarters. Floating over the smoking corpse of some kind of lizard, she re-entered the larger chamber and was hit with the disgusting scent of long unwashed bodies; the mongrelmen of Neathholm had much better hygene.
She had only a moment to take in the room, its piles of blankets, animal furs, a fire pit, when she saw a door to her right open slightly, and then she was once again the flash and thunder, her electrified body searing someone in passage along with the door they were peeking through. This new room was parallel to the tunnel leading into these warrens but perpendicular to the sleeping quarters and seemed to serve as some kind of trophy hall with shelves and daises of taxidermied vermin. The sound of the crumpling body of the cultist was joined with a sharp intake of breath in surprise of a second as they reached in vain for their glaive. In a heartbeat Bliks reappeared behind the now dead woman, while one of the stuffed creatures burst into flame. Another quick survey of her surroundings made her aware of a short tunnel on her right, across from the door she had sundered, with a ladder going up at its end, and a door just behind her.
The distinct call of alarm rang out from the sleeping quarters and Bliks dashed back to look down the length of that room from the trophy hall. A blue skinned mongrelwoman, some aberrant mixture of human, lizard scales and tail, and jutting insect legs was drawing back a slender longbow before Bliks once again vanished. She felt the arrow sear through her in the instant it took for her to cross the room but its former owner merely collapsed, her body still arcing even in death. Pulling her robe aside, she looked at the painful pattern the arrow had left as it burnt up, but she didn’t have time to spare and so flashed down the length of the room to the ladder she had seen earlier.
‘If their leaders are below, best to clear out the upper chamber, deprive them of reinforcements’
It was pitted with rust but she didn’t even touch it as she rose into the most foul smelling room she had yet found in this complex. The pungent scent of ammonia and a massive pile of shredded cloth barely had a moment to conceal its oversized rat occupants before Bliks had thundered past them, setting their nest, hair and skin on fire.
She continued down a hall, her destructive flight stopping only when an iron door blocked her passage. It was embedded in a more professionally quarried wall and like the ladder, was coated in a thin sheen of rust. Around her blazed another guard post and its former attendants.
‘Sewers this deep?’ Bliks thought then shook her head, ‘You don’t know how deep you are silly. Lets finish clearing this area.’
While the door was heavy and rusted, it seemed to have had recent use and swung open easily. The door was set high in the wall with a ladder reaching down to the floor and a small catwalk surrounding the room. The floor of the chamber seemed slick and Bliks glanced upward to the barrel vaulted ceiling and spied a grating. ‘Some kind of cistern maybe? Or an overflow vault? Father would have known.’
Then her eyes were drawn to a brick structure on the floor of the room. It was tall with a wide entrance, but appeared to lead into a series of short corridors and turns that concealed the rest of its interior. It stretched from one wall to the other, blocking the entirety of the room opposite the door at which she stood, and she could hear some kind of gibbering laughter emanating from it.
“Hey! Come out you beast. You’ve got a tasty treat right here!” Bliks shouted, ‘Best to draw whatever it is out, fight it in the open. Wait …’ she glanced towards the catwalk where she thought she had seen movement, ‘… keep your eyes open.’
‘EatYouChopYouFlayYouPlayWithYourBones’ the voice slammed into her mind unbidden, ‘SpitYouOutEatYouAgainWearYourSkinCutYourEyesPutThemBackIn’ then the horde poured out of the brick structure.
Dretches. Hundreds of them. Falling over each other, their bloated bodies, spindly limbs, distended humanoid shape, and slavering maws blending together into a massive writhing carpet of Abyssal flesh. An unnatural tide flowed across the slime on the floor, cresting into a massive wave that reached to the ceiling, breaking towards the stunned wizard. As the nearest reached out to slash her, Bliks let her skin harden, forming a shell impenetrable by the mass, yet they grabbed her firmly and dragged her down like a leaf caught in a whirlpool. Finding her garments as hard to rend as its wearer, she could feel them pressing down on her, threatening to crush her with their disgusting weight.
These, the lowliest of demons, shared their kin’s invulnerability to electricity and had a significant tolerance to acid. But the caustic explosion that spread from Bliks was unlike that to which they were resistant and their bodies burnt and melted under its spray. The spatter struck even the door, corroding the ladder beyond use, and almost reaching the ceiling.
The liquefied remains pooled around Bliks and she added to their volume with her vomit.
Focusing, she cast a quick Prestidigitation, cleaning the filth from her skin and clothes as she rose above the thickening slime. ‘That would have been an unwelcome surprise.’ She thought the back of her throat still stinging.
‘No no no, we can’t have that, now can we,’ the subtle voice whispered into her mind, ‘They were my friends, yes they were. And now they’re not.’
Bliks looked around, trying to find the source of the telepathy but could not see anything. Then panic struck her but she fought back the magically induced emotion, yet still feeling it gnaw at her resolve.
‘You’re not too big are you, not so interesting,’ the voice almost sounded regretful, ‘But you’re different, and different is good enough.’
Through gritted teeth, Bliks drew out the syllables and cast True Seeing, panning her eyes across the chamber, but her view did not change, the voice’s source was not revealed.
‘Shall we play first? Everyone likes to play. What is it you want to play with? Worms? Is that your favourite?’
Out of the viscera of the dretches, a ringed tube stretched itself clear, entrails and slime dripping off of its body. It was unnaturally large, a sickly brown and yellow, and was quickly joined by half a dozen just like it. But she saw through the illusion for what it was, and they faded suddenly.
‘Not fair, you don’t want to play! We’ll just have to TAKE you and MAKE you play.’
Never having been on the end of a possession, she found the experience to be unique. It was like she was pushed backwards, away from her eyes, away from her hands, her feet, but also pushed away from her back. Every sense retreated, sounds became dim, light started to flicker out, and it felt, for a moment like she was suspended in air, naked, but with no familiar body to hold her in. She was grand in that emptiness, filling its vast space, but trapped, hearing the faint laughter of her assailant in her own voice.
Then she was back, suddenly, harshly, like being thrown from a horse or running headlong into a wall. Her head ached but she strained her eyes open, seeing a bat winged cloud scream as it flew out of the chamber with a harsh scream.
“Bath’tanath, what do you MEAN she resisted you?” Hosilla pressed her point home as she lanced one of its wings with a cold iron stiletto. The creature squirmed in pain, held there only by Uziel’s semi-incorporeal shackles.
The faintly demonic human yanked on the chain, “The lady asked you a question, whelp!” Uziel growled.
“No whelp you shell!” the shadow demon spat back, “I’m sure you will see soon.”
“Pathetic.” The tall tiefling grumbled, letting the demon retreat slightly as he gave the shackles some slack.
They stood in the ruins of their former spies sleeping chamber, the body of blue skinned Wenduag against one wall and more of her kind scorched and dead amongst the wreckage. ‘That witch even killed Snap.’ Uziel thought to himself of his former pet lizard. ‘Still … might make good eating.’
Hosilla yanked her blade free, holstering it and then said, “so she comes in here, kills my minions, melts your wretched buddies, and then gets away from you. Is that your failure you want me to tell Vorlesh when she comes?”
“Pathetic mortal, my failure?” The demon strained again at the shackles, “Vorlesh will see YOUR failure!”
‘Vorlesh is it?’ the voice whispered in Hosilla’s ear. The cultist waved to Uziel to stop toying with the demon.
“She’s here,” she whispered to her compatriots adding, “redeem yourself demon,” as she uncoupled the shackles. In a laughing puff of smoke, the creature vanished, teleported away. Hosilla spat a curse in Abyssal.
The voice whispered again, ‘That wouldn’t be Areelu Vorlesh, would it? The woman who supposedly opened the Worldwound in the first place?’
“Come out wizard and I can tell you the whole tale,” Hosilla replied, directing Uziel to search the room; it was clearly a simple Message spell so she must be close. Her demon blooded bodyguard strode through the room, swinging his blade, searching for the likely invisible mage.
‘I’m surprised she’s not dead yet, that was over a hundred years ago.’
“The faithful of Deskari are well rewarded!”
‘And yet you lower yourself to working with them. Are the Templars not strong enough on your own?’
“When the hordes of the Abyss swallow this world, I shall watch your soul contort and dance until I feast upon it myself!”
‘I suspect my rewards will lie elsewhere.’
“Oh, did the demon tell you? There’s something wrong with you, mage. It had you in its clutches, but then it said it got pushed out, like there wasn’t enough room in you. You’ll not be going to whatever rewards you dream of, you’ll scream like the rest of the rabble.”
Uziel had finished clearing the room and so stepped into the trophy hall to continue his search. She didn’t have to see him to know the effects of the thin green ray that lanced across the open doorway, turning her lover into a fine ash. Two untrustworthy allies gone, the cultist screamed in frustration.
‘So is it Areelu Vorlesh?’ she heard the whisper again, but this time both in her ear, and from the centre of the room. She called out the incantation to purge the room of invisibility and the sylph mage Bliks popped into view, floating a couple of inches off the ground.
Bliks only had enough time to raise her hands defensively before the glaive sliced through the air, cutting her in two, but leaving her unharmed. Spinning in place, Hosilla had enough time to see the illusion mimic Bliks’ incantations as she stood in the guard post beyond. Then the wizard spread her arms, balling her fists and then brought them together.
It had been an interesting calculation when she had done it, several months ago. Two spheres of rock, over a dozen feet in radius, hurtling together. How much did they weigh? The result of several thousand tons amazed her.
After the shattering crash, Bliks saw that the room had been filled with crushed rock, which did not suit her purposes. Again she conjured up the spell she had used earlier, changing the mass into dripping mud that seeped into all of the surrounding corridors. She followed its main movement as it slopped down a hole in what appeared to be a kitchen. Briefly surrounding herself in a gale of wind, she held the mud back like a plug before coming clear of the hole and drifting past another now abandoned guard post. The next room had the air of some importance, with coal lit braziers hanging from the walls and a well wrought stone table standing in the centre.
Two more rooms led off of this apparent dining chamber, and while the one seemed to be some kind of abattoir, with corpses of people mixed in with bits of rats, fish heads, and insect carapaces, the other was a relatively neat bedroom. Along the walls hung a variety of weapons, but of more interest was a lockbox that she rescued from the thickening layer of mud. This she slid, unopened, into her backpack before the bed was itself swallowed. She then proceeded to cast her usual set of detection spells, searching the space above the rising muck for anything valuable, swinging back through room after room.
‘For Templars they were woefully under equipped,’ she thought, cataloguing the meagre supply of wands, potions, and scrolls. Even their leader had only high quality not magical equipment on her, but she did have a key and a note. After cleaning it of blood and mud it read:
You will remain, for the time being, in Kenabres, but know this: the city’s days are numbered. Seek a place of safety-the underground den of your mongrel lackeys should suffice to keep you safe from the devestation to come. I shall assume command of Drezen shortly, and once Vorlesh has finished with the wardstone and Kenabres is no longer of interest to us, you are to return to my side. Excellent news regarding the salvage of Yaniel’s sword from the museum as well-bring it with you, for I believe this weapon could be quite useful, once we corrupt it. Before you leave for Drezen, stop by the three safe houses (Nyserian Manor, Topaz Solutions, and the Tower of Estrod-the passphrase remains’I’ve new material for the archives’ for now) to ensure no evidence remains behind.
May Lord Deskari and Lord Baphomet watch over you! S. V.”
‘Too bad they seem to be working together,’ she thought glumly, recalling her conversation with Hex and Eryno earlier, ‘but it still would be useful to see if we can turn them against one another. And S.V.’, she paused to wrack her memory, ‘S.V … Irabeth mentioned a Stauton Vhane. It’s unlikely but could be the same person. And what’s this about Yaneil’s sword?’
Suddenly in shock, she flew as fast as she could, up the now cleared hole and back down the passage towards Neathholm until she had passed the mud’s spread. Throwing down her backpack, she hauled out the lockbox, its corner straining against the mouth of the dimensional storage space. The key fit. Inside was a pouch which, shaken, suggested gems, but what caught her eye was a long darkwood case that barely fit diagonally. This she tentatively opened and then rocked back on the ground.
The pommel was a gold cap, embossed with sigils of both good deities and empyrean lords, with a comfortable grip of untanned red hide wrapped in cold iron. The crossguard was an elaborate swirl of mithril, but it was the blade itself that cemented its name. Glittering even in this darkness she could see its gold sheen, the finely sharpened blade of the assassinated crusader paladin Yaniel, Radiance. ‘How many demons fell to this blade’, she wondered, refusing the urge to even touch it, ‘and yet it almost fell under their influence. The crusade has fallen far.’
Standing, she left the lock box behind, its contents more easily fitting into her satchel. It was a quick trip back to Neathholm, which she chose to walk until she reached the lake which she floated across. Bliks was pleased when Sull seemed surprised at her return.
“Lesh than an hour, only gone an hour!” the overweight chieftain exclaimed, “Are they truly gone, the traitorsh and the cultish?”
Nodding Bliks replied, “The place is a mess, but your path is clear to the surface. Looks like you’ll be coming out into the sewers, but I’d wait until the crusaders have accepted your offer before making the journey.” She then thought of the mess in the cistern, “In fact, it might be in everyone’s best interests to wait a few days.”
“Of courshe, of courshe. Now I shpoke with Opoli, our seer, and he shays he thinksh he knowsh where your friendsh might be. Here, let me show you.” He punctuated that last remark with a grand wave of his hand towards an unfurled chart on his kitchen table. It appeared to have been skinned from the hide of some fish creature, as the markings on it dribbled off into scale shaped impressions. A detailed map of the local tunnels, marked boldly in ink, seemed to confirm Bliks’ earlier compass orientation, but on the fringes, areas were drawn in frequently scuffed charcoal markings. In one of these areas, somewhere to the north east, was a small symbol.
“Shaid it wash a shrine he shaid,” Sull explained, pointing a fat finger to the symbol, “something like oursh. But with theshe tremoursh many tunnelsh have collapshed.” He then pulled back from the table, turning to the door, “I’ll have a guide take you.”
Bliks passed a hand over the map, stretching and closing her fingers. “That won’t be necessary, I can find my way. I’d rather not delay. The demons and their servants are on the move.”