The Pincer Closes
The sounds of boots edge closer, and the Crimson Blades quickly take defensive positions against the oncoming pincer attack. The adventurers move east from the apartment into a large guardroom, with Nox and Arlynn in the lead while Irabeth holding up the rear. Earth-Egan senses five armored humanoids approaching from the northeast and another half dozen figures approaching from the northwest. He calls out a warning in Terran, which Zandu hastily relays.
The gnome druid glides through the wall towards the first group and makes the first strike by unleashing a flame strike upon the squad of Gray Maidens waiting in the next room. The conjured flame blasts through the Maidens, badly scorching all but the lightly armored commander, who seems least affected.
Nox charges down the hall and into a reading room, where the five warrior women are recovering from Earth-Egan’s fiery blast. He cuts one of the Maidens down with Vigil, letting out an intimidating war cry. The Maiden commander, an arcanist, responds by casting wall of fire upon and around Nox’s vicinity. The flames billow up around him, his flesh starting to burn underneath his armor. Arlynn feels the heat of the flame and rushes to Nox’s side.
A Cloud of Death
In the rear, Zandu casts greater invisibility on Irabeth, and Flint steps behind her, reading his bow to unleash a torrent of arrows on the next creature that appears. Another squad of Maidens, led by the corpulent Togomor, moves into position in the recently vacated small parlor to the west. Flint catches a glimpse of the obese mage and unleashes a flurry of arrows.
Kyra also takes this opportunity to throw her returning dagger at a nearby Gray Maiden she glimpses at that moment. The arrows seem to have done a fair bit of damage to the mage, but he seems unfazed by the attack.
Laori also unleashes a flame strike at this moment, and while it causes screams of pain from the Maidens, but again Togomor seems unperturbed yet again. Togomor casts spell that produce a rolling cloud of green fog the fills the large parlor, obscuring vision and leeching at the fortitude of the party.
Zandu and Egan sense a large creature in the room with Togomor and the Maidens, also casting a spell. Ashla senses a spell being cast by the creature but can’t get a fix on its position. The thre of them call out a warning. Irabeth moves out of the cloud, still invisible, and ducks into the doorway to Togomor’s apartment to wait for an opportunity to strike.
Earth-Egan glides through the castle stone into the northwest wall of the parlor, where the druid casts ice storm at Togomor and his squad. The small parlor is suddenly filled with a maelstrom of sleet, hailstone and snow, battering the Gray Maidens. Togomor again seems unaffected as hailstones smack against his bald head.
Nox emerges from the wall of flames, and bats away a Gray Maiden’s attack, sending her sword flying across the room. Ignoring her, he raises his shield to deflect the readied arrows from two Maiden bow women from flanking their commander.
Nox cleaves into the Maiden commander, striking her down. He continues to make himself an imposing figure, and the remaining Maidens are continuing to be shaken by his imitating presence. At that moment, three darkly beautiful winged women teleport into the room, armed with burning longbows.
“Arlynn,” Nox calls out to the paladin, “it looks like Remmy’s torturers have arrived.”
Arylnn, torn between the melee in front of her and the chaotic sounds of spells and battle behind her, weighs the options and curses under her breath. She knows she is needed in both fights and feels that by aiding one leaves the other group at risk.
“Iomedae, aid them…” she prays aloud as she leaps through the conjured fire and immediately deflects an armored gauntlet from the swordless maiden. She counters with a mighty blow that leaves the maiden incapacitated.
The Harsh Light of Truth
On the other side of the field, Earth-Egan notices that there is a small discrepancy between Togomor’s movements and the sensation of vibrations Egan senses through the stone floor. The vibrations are traveling instantaneously every time the obese wizard shifts his feet, instead of lagging a fraction of a second as they move through the stone. Egan realizes this is because the vibrations are all being created in his own mind—Togomor isn’t even there!
“Togomor is an illusion!” the gnome calls out in Terran, his craggy voice echoing through the sleet storm.
“Damn you, Togomor, you coward!” Zandu shouts in Common from within the poison cloud. “Show your real self!”
“Motherfucker!” Flint shouts. “My arrows were worthless!”
Togomor calls out for them to abandon their foolish fight against enemies who “far outstrip your paltry capabilities.” Ashla laughs in response.
Zandu, armed with the lantern of revealing, emerges from the thick green fog in to the sleet and snow raining down on the parlor. Piercing through Egan’s ongoing ice storm, the lantern reveals a huge horned devil lurking in the corner near Togomor. Zandu ducks behind Irabeth, who also stands revealed by the lantern. Flint follows Zandu’s lead and emerges from the poison fog as well, catching a glimpse of the horned devil as he takes position behind Zandu. The archer immediately looses an arrow at a Gray Maiden, killing her.
Soon after, Ashla emerges from the cloud and sloshes through the wet snow to challenge the devil. “You have stupid horns!” she shouts.
The fiend, realizing he has been revealed, lets out a fearful scream of frustration and whips Ashla with his massive spiked chain. The weight of the chain feels heavier than it should as it strikes her, almost disorienting her. She responds with a strike from her longsword, and while the blade doesn’t do any damage to the devil it does cause pink sparks to scratch off its scales.
Kyra creeps out from the poison fog soon after, and seeing the current situation, decides to tumble through the melee into the hall behind them. Now thoroughly covered in snow she does her best to blend into the background.
Finally, Laori bounces out of the green mist and into the sleet of the ice storm. She gushes over the spiked chain, calling dibs on it for herself as she moves into position to strike the horned devil. She cheerfully stepping into the same space occupied by the Togomor illusion, almost entirely vanishing into its tremendous girth.
The storm-lashed image of Togomor calls for our heroes to surrender, casting a spell that unleashes a rainbow colored spray of magic at the party. A ray of yellow light flashes toward Ashla but in a split moment she is able to dodge with her uncanny reflexes. A ray of blue light blasts toward Flint, but miraculously he manages to ducks at the last moment, discovering that Zandu had already been ducking behind him. The orange ray of light strikes Egan, delivering the familiar tickle of acid against his resistant earthy hide. Irabeth does not fair so well, taking the full effect of the acid attack.
Taken aback by the relative ineffectiveness of his spell, the illusion of Togomor commends the party for being as resilient as they are but again calls for their surrender as he notes they are severely outmatched. At that moment, six figures take shape in the shifted poisonous fog, which Zandu, Egan and Ashla recognize by sound to be more bearded devils.
“You bearded devils, I hate you!” Ashla hollers over her shoulder.
The Great Goad
The Horned Devil lashes out with his spiked chain, shouting “Rip the veils of fasciae, Flesh Shredder! And flood the way to truth with waves of healing blood!”
Ashla sharply responds, “Incoherent babble will get you nowhere, fiend!”
The strikes slam into Irabeth, dealing devastating damage to the junior paladin. She stands strong against the assault, but her wounds do appear to be taking a toll. The devil then lets out a terrifying roar, but the party resists, maintained by Irabeth’s aura of courage.
Egan launches his stony fists into the devil, landing a solid blow with his left hook.
The Lasso of Coercion
On the other side of the battle, Nox takes a step towards one of the archer Maidens, and cuts her down with three devastating strikes. One of the dark angels lets loose her lasso, which lands near Nox and starts to coil around his leg, but he manages to shake free of it. The rope, however, remains limber like a snake ready to strike. The two remaining angels take aim with their fiery bows, unleashing a torrent of arrows at him. Fortunately for him, only one arrow seems to get close enough to glance his visor, the remaining arrows either ping off his armor or are deflected with his shield.
Arlynn marches toward one of the angels, effortless parrying the glancing swing from the unarmed Maiden as she strikes a solid blow against one of the winged creatures. Nox smiles underneath his visor, as he knows the fallen angels have clearly underestimated the true threat in the room.
Meanwhile, Zandu casts haste upon the adventurers around him. The image of Togomor raises a finger to blast a green ray of light at Earth-Egan, but although the spell sears away a chunk of the druid it doesn’t appear as effective as he had hoped. He is definitely frustrated by this, and swears to find a way to strike true against the druid.
Flint takes stock of the situation and looses a torrent of arrows against the horned devil. Several of his shafts strike true, but are not as damaging as he had hoped.
Ashla goes toe to toe with the great fiend, unleashing a flurry of strikes from her longsword and shortsword. Her strikes cut long gashes in the monster’s scaled hide, although only her mithral short sword seems to be stabbing deep into its flesh. Her storm of blows appears to leave the devil bloodied.
A Surprise Guest
Earth-Egan senses an unfamiliar figure quietly stalking up the corridor from the mess hall to the parlor. As the stranger creeps closer to Kyra’s position in the hall, Egan remembers a recent conversation he had with Nox about battle tactics.
“Always use your unique traits to your advantage, Egan,” Nox had sternly instructed, “If you feel you can get the opportunity over someone who is attempting to get the upper hand on you, you must always take it! It may mean the difference between life and death in a fight.”
With this advice firmly in mind, the druid strikes out at the newcomer with his huge stony fists, catching the unsuspecting and previously stealthed Freya off guard. The attack causes her to curse loudly at the wall and Egan, revealing her presence in the hall. Embarrassed, Egan rumbles an apology in Terran.
Kyra reflexively throws herself against the wall, trying to evade detection from the alerted Gray Maidens. The halfling takes this opportunity of still being unnoticed and deals two devastating stabs at the maiden in front of her, severing the poor maiden’s femoral arteries, causing her knees to buckle as she expires.
At this point, Zandu has a realization about the illusion that is serving as a conduit for Togomor’s spells, and relays to Egan in Terran that he could potentially dispel the illusion. Egan acknowledges and states he will try. Togomor takes this opportunity to attempt to hit Zandu with a spell, of which he manages to shrug off the effects. Frustrated, the obese wizard quickly follows up with a couple of magic missiles at Ashla, who had been taunting him these past few intense moments.
The bearded devils emerge from the fog, as the green cloud starts to drift away from the adventurers. The new devils move up to reinforce their larger compatriot. Ashla and Laori get in a couple of strikes against them, but the blows don’t hit as hard as they intended.
The large devil growls out towards Ashla as he prepares to strike at her with his chain whip, “You shall embrace the enlightenment of agony.”
“It doesn’t work that way,” Ashla venomously spits back.
“Ummm…actually it kind of does,” interjects Laori, raising a hand.
“Whose side are you on?” exclaims Flint.
The enormous spiked chain lashes out violently against her, the first blow stunning her initially but as she shakes it off the remaining blows slam into her. Ashla is still standing and holding her own but is badly injured.
Irabeth channels another burst of positive energy, healing herself and her companions.
Earth-Egan casts dispel magic upon the image of Togomor. The attempt is successful, and the image distorts and then shatters like glass, revealing Laori. The elf maiden notices this and shouts gleefully, “Ta-daa!”
Where Angels Fear to Tread
Meanwhile, Nox steps forward again between the Angel and the Maiden. He unleashes several furious strikes at the Angel, and the combined force of Vigil’s deep cuts and a slam from Ovis bring down the winged warrior. He carries his swings around to strike the Maiden, battering her badly but not quite enough to bring her down.
The remaining Angels retreat into the stairwell and begin casting. Arlynn manages to take an opportune strike at one, cutting it down, the other teleports away. The remaining Gray Maiden, keenly aware of the dire situation she now faces, attempts to flee upstairs. Nox catches her and runs her through with his sword.
Arlynn begins to head back toward the others when she catches a glimpse of the remaining Gray Maiden, dying but still flickering with life. Without a second thought she bends down and stabilizes the woman’s condition.
“This one still lives—Iomedae has seen fit to spare her,” she says softly, her gaze briefly shifting toward Nox. He nods in agreement, to which she replies, “I’m glad I didn’t have to convince you. Come, we need to reach our allies in all haste.”
The battle rages fiercely on the other side of the fight. Laori swings at the horned devil with her spiked chain, but the fiend catches the chain and yanks it from her hands.
“Hey, that’s mine! I called it!” she cries. Furious, she turns to the bearded devil behind her and wraps an arm around its neck. “C’mere you, I need a hug!”
She rams the devil’s face into her chain-clad bosom, impaling it on one of her spikes. Disgusted, she lets the devil’s body fall to the snow-strewn ground, where it vanishes.
“You’re no fun,” she says, balling her fists.
On the other side of the sleetstorm, Ashla courageously tries to fend off the devils despite being surrounded. But she takes several punishing blows—including a stray arrow from Flint. She is rendered unconscious and dying.
Irabeth tries to intervene and heal her, but is interrupted by one of the bearded devils.
Earth-Egan sinks into the floor and travels beneath half-elf, touching her with the restorative power of nature to heal her completely.
During this, both Freya and Kyra sneak up to one of the bearded devils that took Ashla down, and their precise strikes bring it down.
Zandu, enraged by seeing Ashla taken down launches a barrage of magic missiles at one of the bearded devils, helping Flint’s attacks take down one of the bearded devils.
Set ’Em Up, Nox ’Em Down
Nox rushes forward through the wall of fire again, taking damage as he rushes past, and is soon faced with a trio of bearded devils down the hall.
Hunkering down, he calls out to them, “Nice of you to set yourselves up for me, now prepared to be knocked down!”
The trio looks at each other in puzzled manner. With unnatural gusto, Nox barrels into the two in front of him, his brashness catching them off guard and knocking them prone. The third awkwardly tries to hit Nox as he runs by with its glaive, but misses horribly and hits one of its allies.
Just a few steps behind the fight, Arlynn runs into the hall and raises an eyebrow at notices Nox’s handiwork. She steps over the fallen devils, while they claw at her ineffectually as she moves past.
You Wouldn’t Like Her When She’s Angry
The horned devil, senses the battle is going poorly by the sounds coming from the other side of the battle and casts a spell. The party members surrounding it try but are unsuccessful at striking blows to disrupt its casting and the devil vanishes. Egan surmises that it was a greater teleport spell.
Laori starts cursing in Elvish as she realizes the devil took her spiked chain with it. Irabeth is also cursing, in Orcish, having taken a beating without ever landing a single strike against the vile fiend. She immediately starts tromping towards the hall where Nox and Arlynn are finishing off the remaining bearded devils. The two senior warriors each cleave one in two, but leave the third prone devil to the furious half-orc. Flint joins in by picking up the final bearded devil, grappling him and reading him for a killing blow from Irabeth.
She looks at her senior paladin and the two fighters and growls, “Don’t patronize me!” as she unleashes three hate-filled strikes from her longsword, cutting off its head with the third. Flint is startled a bit when the summoned devil goes poof and disappears.
“You’ll get used to it,” Nox says to Flint, fanning away the smoky traces of the demon.
There Will Be Blood (Probably)
With their foes fled or vanquished, the party gathers together for Arlynn and Egan to dispense healing, and then dispersing to loot the bodies. They strip the wounded gray maiden of her armor and then lay her out on Togomor’s rank-smelling bed. The adventurer’s then scour Togomor’s apartment, where they discover a hidden stash of platinum coins and the wizard’s spellbooks. Not only do the books contain a wealth of powerful magic, they also hold notes on constructing various sinister constructs, including the creature that hunted Remmy and something called an “akaruzug” that requires the soul of a freshly slain corpse to sustain it. Upon learning that, Arlynn and Nox fear for the fate of Ishani Dhatri.
Togomor’s books also contain speculation about Ileosa’s plans to achieve immortality, plans she has apparently not shared with the wizard. Flipping through the texts, Nox notices that random pages will be dedicated to half-finished sketches of a strange worm-shaped creature with three heads at one end and a gaping maw at the other. The adventurers cannot identify the monster to any degree beyond suspecting that it is some kind of devil.
Adjacent to the guardroom, the Crimson Blades discover the Arabasti family archives, which record the histories and decrees of a century’s worth of Arabasti rulers of Korvosa. They notice that no new documents have been entered into the archives since the death of King Eodred II. Ashla notes that this further weakens the Queen’s legitimacy.
Within the reading room, they find a map of Korvosa marked with plans for a grandiose series of monuments to Ileosa. Beneath it is a chest full of maps, including one with annotations by Togomor that appears to be directions to a ruin called the Sunken Queen that lies in the swampy Mushfens northwest of the city.
News from the Home Front
After making these discoveries, the party also asks Freya what she is up to. She explains that after letting the Hellknights into the city, she took stock of the battle and decided to follow the party’s path into the castle to update them. Ashla is skeptical of the Ulfen rogue, but is placated by Arlynn’s assurance that the blond woman seems to be speaking the truth.
Freya explains that Sabina’s raid on the Longacre Building has been a success and a large number of Gray Maiden defectors have joined the rebels. The Hellknights, meanwhile, have captured the old Guard headquarters in Citadel Volshyenek. This has spurred the Great Houses to start deploying their house guards against the Queen’s forces, although violence has also broken out between the Ironsoots and House Arkona’s troops. The regime forces still hold the Great Tower and other sections of the city, but momentum seems to be on the rebels’ side. Three treants have also been seen striding through the city in the direction of the castle, news which heartens Egan.
The adventurers decide to send Freya back to Cressida with the information they had learned of Ileosa’s plans. They also urge her to tell Cressida to keep the Arkonas and Ironsoots apart from each other. Nox adds that she instruct the Hellknights to try to take the lower levels of the castle if the opportunity arises. The adventurers also note that Cressida should look into seizing the blood vials collected by the Temple of Asmodeus, as they may play some role in Ileosa’s blood magic scheme.
They ask her to return to the castle when she is able, as they may have additional messages for her to carry. Freya says she is happy to return “as long as you look first before swinging fists.”
“Don’t worry, I recognize your footsteps now,” Egan assures her.
Nox wishes Freya good luck, as she does to him before fading back into the shadows.
Cast Off Your Chains
While the rest of the party goes about their business, Laori remains in the snow-strewn parlor. The elf priestess stares at the spot where the horned devil had disappeared—with her chain in its clutches.
“This is ZK punishing me,” she moans. “The spiked chain was his sacred weapon…”
“Do not be afraid, Laori,” Arlynn reassures her. “Your courage lies within your heart, not your weapon, and you’ve friends who will always stand by your side. Nor is the Midnight Lord is the only god to watch over us. Do you recall when the Inheritor blessed Slim’s crossbow against one of the Scarwall ghosts? The bearer always matters more than the blade.”
“While I understand that spike chain is special to you,” Nox says, handing her a Gray Maiden’s longsword, “these always cut. Just like your spikes, don’t they?”
“Spikes kinda poke more than cut, really,” Laori says, holding the sword by the pommel as if it were unclean. As she takes the weapon from Nox, however, it starts to glimmer with a holy light reminiscent of the kind that often surrounds the blades of Arlynn and Irabeth. The elf maiden is surprised, but grips the sword hilt more firmly and makes some practice swings.
“You see? Zon-Kuthon isn’t the only one who has your back,” Arlynn grins.
“More so than that, I think,” Nox says. “Just like the one you saved in the other room, it looks like Iomedae has her eye on somebody else.”
“Are you sure she isn’t going to, y’know, do a double take?” Laori asks skeptically, glancing down at her hook-studded black chainmail and the skull-faced unholy symbol hanging from her neck.
“I don’t know what that means,” Ashla declares. “So probably not.”
“Oh, a double take is when you look at something and you look away and you look again and you’re shocked because you didn’t really notice it the first time,” Laori explains. “It’s part of a comedic routine that, like, these acting troupes in Riddleport would sometimes do and we’d hit them with rotten fruit. It was so much fun!”
“Are you saying Iomedae made a mistake?” Ashla asks.
“Yeah, and I’ll probably get hit with rotten fruit.” Laori says, casting her eyes down. She flexes her grip on the glowing sword. “But, maybe not, maybe not.”
“If they try I’ll block it with my shield,” Nox assures her.
“And I’ll block it with my fists,” Egan adds.
Size Matters Not
“Aww, that’s so sweet,” Laori squees. “I knew I could count on you guys!” She tries to grab Nox and Arlynn into a big hug. The one spike that impaled the devil’s eye has a malicious gleam, but the heroes shrug and enjoy the embrace.
“Go Team Super Blood Explosion!” she shouts upon releasing them.
“Team Super Blood Explosion?” Nox repeats skeptically.
“It was our Blood Pig team name,” Ashla helpfully explains.
“What’s Blood Pig?” Nox asks warily. “Oh, wait, you can just tell me later.”
“It’s a sport so awesome that we won it and now they don’t need to play it anymore ’cause we won it so awesomely,” Laori blurts out. “Also, they’re out of pigs.”
“Those were the good old days,” Egan muses.
“Um, you’ll have to tell me this afterwards,” Nox says.
“I got thrown down a hole,” Kyra grumbles.
“That doesn’t surprise me,” Nox says. Kyra’s eyes narrow.
“Not because you’re small, but because there was apparently pigs,” Nox continues.
“Yeah, thanks,” Kyra grits. Across the room, Ashla snickers.
“Well, you’re about the size of— I mean, not in that way, but I meant just—” the fighter stammers as the halfling’s fingers drift towards her dagger hilt.
“Nox, just stop talking,” Egan advises, stepping between them.
“Listen to the reasonable one,” Kyra says, bowing her head at the gnome. “You don’t want to say anything you can’t take back. Because when you do, I’ll remove your tongue. Not like right now, but a like year from now. When you’re sleeping. Remember how I got my ring.”
“I do,” Nox says with a solemn nod. Kyra cocks her head at him, then shrugs and drifts back over to Zandu’s side.
You Have Reached Level Two
After drying out a bit from the sleet storm, the adventurers consult the map of the grounds that Sabina and Neolandis prepared for them. With Togomor’s whereabouts unknown, their next target is the Queen, likely to be found either in the throne room or her quarters on the second floor.
Rather than the central staircase, they take a smaller set of stairs up from the reading room to reach a storage room adjoining the gallery.
Mysteriously, the storage chamber is heaped and stacked and piled with chairs of all shapes and sizes, from simple stools to elegant armchairs.
From overhead, a voice faintly whispers…