Part the eighth: Wherein deals are made and demons encountered

Later in the afternoon as he walked about Iriaebor Shadow Flame spied a large keep like building with mesh enclosures perched upon it many spires. These mesh cages contained various flying beasts; griffons, hippogriffs and even a Pegasus. He had always wanted a griffon or similar flying mount for himself so he decided the check it out. The sign at the gate of the walled entrance marked the shop as "Give me Wings to Fly" and they did indeed sell these exotic beasts as mounts. Shadow Flame started looking about and was quickly spied by the keeper who approached him and introduced himself.
"Well met my fine friend! My name is Herduval, proprietor of Give me Wings to Fly. I see you are interested in our wares and am happy to offer any assistance I can."
"Well met to you my friend. I am indeed interested in your more exotic mounts. How much for them?"
"We have a few mounts, well trained and ready to serve their new master. Currently we have a pair of Griffons which would set you back 35,000 gold each, four Hippogriffs at 25,000 gold each, a single Pegasus, a beautiful specimen if I say so myself, for 40,000 gold and a single Aerial Steed, our most in-demand animal for 50,000 gold."
Shadow Flame blanched a little at the prices, "why such a massive cost?"
"My friend," replied Herduval, "these beasts are rare. They are difficult to capture young enough for them to be trained, and the training itself is time consuming and difficult. A good deal of time and effort goes into providing these beasts for sale to those such as yourself. We really are not making a large profit on them individually."
"Well I am very interested and would very much like to take one of them for a test flight, so to speak."
"Ah, I must apologize my friend. We do not allow such things. These are not like horses where you could ride them around the lot to test their performance. The opportunity for those of less than honourable intention is too much. Now of course all of our animals are fully guaranteed, and if you are not completely satisfied we offer a full refund of all monies, assuming the animal is returned in the same condition it was taken."
"OK, I understand," replied Shadow Flame. "Would it be OK if I spent some time looking at them?"
"Oh, most certainly! Take all the time you need, and remember, I am a short call away if you need any assistance."
Shadow Flame walked off and began looking at the animals. They were all in apparently good condition, if a little listless from being confined in such small areas. Each mesh enclosure was constructed of a shiny heavy metal that Shadow Flame did not recognize. As he was studying the griffons he noticed a flash of light from the centre of the cage. The hindquarters of what he guessed was a horse had just seemingly teleported into the centre of the cage. The two beasts fell upon the meat and began eating it, biting at each other to ensure their fair share.
Shadow Flame went back to speak with Herduval, asking him about the teleportation of the animals food.
"Yes, it is a teleportation," answered Herduval cautiously.
"Why is it done that way?" asked Shadow Flame.
"The cages do not open as such," the shop keep answered, "it is as much for the animals protection as it is for ours."
"Then how are they brought from the cage?" continued Shadow Flame.
The shop keep narrowed his eyes suspiciously, but he answered the tieflings question, "when the purchase is finalized they are teleported to a location just outside of Iriaebor."
"Seems like an expensive way to go about it."
"We do what we deem necessary to conduct our business."
"So I wouldn't be able to get into the cage to see the animals close up? You know, pet them, make sure they are strong and healthy?" pressed Shadow Flame.
"See with your eyes friend, not with your hands. The mesh provides ample opportunity to observe them and that's all you need to know."
"But what if I were to buy an animal and it did not perform as advertised? Say it had some hidden problem that I could not see from outside the cage?"
"As I said earlier, all our animals are fully guaranteed if you are not satisfied, but I am confident you would be very happy with any of them. We have not got our reputation by selling poor quality animals."
"OK then, thanks for your time," Shadow Flame cut the conversation short, sensing the increasing aggravation of the shop keep. He spent some more time looking around, checking the various beasts that were for sale before leaving to meet the party at the Black Boar.

Zulik Kor'Shek
The party met up back at the Black Boar, and a little before the evening meal they headed down to the Wandering Wyvern to meet with Zulik Kor'Shek of the Planar Trade Consortium. As was usual the place was packed with folk from all walks of life busily settling for a night of drinking and eating (and maybe a little wenching if the mood struck). Zulik was good as his word, and even though the party did not know what a Githzerai was, they found him easily enough as he sat alone at a large table, and those at nearby tables sat as far as possible from him. Their reasons were obvious; Zulik had a long, thin, wan face, his features were very Mongolian in appearance. He wore a long mustache and goatee and his head was shaved apart from a top-knot that was tied back in a pony tail. He had a high forehead which bore a tattoo of an eye set within a shining sun, his skin deeply tanned. He was wearing worn leather armor and a billowy brown cloak was wrapped around him, and each shoulder was covered in a metal guard with long fluted spikes protruding from it. He looked nothing like any of the races folk of Iriaebor would be familiar with and as such was treated with a healthy caution and disrespect by the tavern patrons.
The party walked up to the table he was sitting at and it seemed he immediately recognized them.
"Greetings my friends, please, be seated. Would you like something to drink? You can order anything you like, really."
The party sat and his table and told him what they wanted to drink. He clapped his hands and a waiter was immediately at his side. After giving the young man his order he turned back to the party.
"As you no doubt have surmised, I am Zulik Kor'Shek. Welcome. I will not bandy words with you; I have a business proposition for you and I assume you would have me get on with it?"
The party nodded their agreement.
"I am a representative of the Planar Trade Consortium, a vast conglomeration of trading houses that have banded together for mutual profit and safety, and as such we are the largest and most successful merchant coster in the planes. Recently some of our members have turned their attention to the Prime; it is a rich realm, ripe for the taking. We have access to goods that are unavailable here, good such as foods and spices, clothing, furniture and art objects that we have found those of the Prime worlds will pay well for. I work for one such merchant, Estavan - I assume you know of him?"
Again the party nodded.
"He has taken a particular shine to your Prime world of Toril," continued Kor'Shek, "and until recently has made handsome profits from trading with those native to these lands. Also of recent time, another trading coster has made some inroads into Toril, I believe you know of the Three Wheels?" he asked rhetorically. "Estavan has approached their leader in this world, Silas Coldstone, to see if some arrangement could be made. Estavan has offered to buy the weasel out but has been refused on more than one occasion. Estavan is used to getting what he wants. The Three Wheels have recently been expanding their business to include the trading of goods that Estavan sees as his interests; items such as tapestries and finely crafted rugs and carpets imported from all the known Planes. As further insult, this Silas Coldstone passes them off as rare items from remote areas of your world, as if he needs to do so," Zulik scoffed, "but it does cheapen our trade if your people think our goods are inferior Prime specimens when they are not. So, since we do not take to open warfare as a matter of course we find ourselves looking for more discrete ways to damage the Three Wheels. Which is where you come in."
Zulik paused as the waiter returned with their drinks, and he placed a single platinum coin on the mans tray as he laid the last drink on the table. Without a word of thanks the waiter hurried off quickly leaving them their privacy once again.
"Now I'm sure you understand our need for caution here, and I am going to trust you on your word as I ask for it," Zulik continued.
The party nodded their agreement.
"So I can trust you not to pass these words to any interested third party? I trust you have a strong enough dislike of the Three Wheels not to give away our plans to them, but to others I am not so sure."
Once again the party reiterated their agreement to maintain the Githzerai's secrecy.
Satisfied that their word was good, he continued. "Recently we had received information that Silas has made some discovery in a hidden lair in the sewers, he has stumbled upon a long abandoned chapter house of an organisation calling itself the Readers of the Scrolls, or the Black Cult of Ahm. Our investigations bare this out. Before making my proposal I would give some background information so that you are better informed to make your decision. The Readers of the Scrolls are, for the most part, a scholarly organisation who have dedicated themselves to learning and recording all they can concerning the Abyss. They collect and study the writings of a sage known as Tulket nor Ahm, a man who lived centuries ago and who wrote the most extensive and in-depth treatises on the Tanar'ri and the Abyss. Now, as with all who traffic with such creatures Tulket nor Ahm was killed and his writings, many of them magical in nature, were taken by the Tanar'ri or scattered to the far reaches of the planes by protective magics. We believe that Silas has discovered a chapter house that contains some item of import to the Readers. We can't be sure exactly what it may be, and our sources have not been able to gather this information either, but Silas has expended some effort to recover this item so we believe it is valuable. We intend to take this item from the chapter house before Silas can. So, with that said, I must ask for you to commit to this job now before I say anymore. What say you?"
The party looked at each other for a moment before Shadow Flame spoke up. "I am curious my friend. Why have you asked us here? It seems that there would be many who could undertake such a thing."
"Your question is fair," replied the Githzerai. "Generally it is our way not to directly involve ourselves in these matters. We are after all a simple trading consortium, not a group of adventurers such as yourselves. It is often advantageous to distance yourself from those you employ to undertake less than honourable tasks as failure becomes a matter of simple denial. As to why we have come to yourselves in particular. It is known that there is little love lost between yourselves and the Three Wheels," he nodded to Jean as he spoke the last. "It seemed the most logical choice and the choice with the highest chance of agreement between parties."
Satisfied with his response each party member in turn agreed to do the job he was asking. There was of course little love lost between them and the Three Wheels, and this was a good opportunity to make a powerful ally.
Kor'Shek smiled, "very good, I shall continue. The reward to you for doing this for us will be your choice. We can of course offer monetary compensation, or if preferred, we have access to a great deal of magic that you could also claim. The payment will of course be made once you have the item, but the details will be negotiated at that time. I believe this works in your favour as, at that point, you will be in possession of something we desire, which you can use as a guarantee of good faith."
"What if we desire information?" asked Unagi.
"Information is of course a valuable commodity. If we are able to provide answers to your questions then we will consider them as payment for your success."
"So each of us may name our own price?" asked Shadow Flame.
"Yes," was their curt answer. They all indicated that they were happy with the terms and the Githzerai continued.
"The chant that has reached us indicates that the reasons Silas has not already retrieved this item is because there is a powerful guardian stopping his men from obtaining it. We do not know the nature of this guardian but I believe, given the nature of the Readers of the Scrolls, that it is most likely a Tanar'ri."
"Tanar'ri?" exclaimed Unagi, "that is a demon isn't it?"
He raised his eyebrow with an accompanying glint in his eye as the Githzerai nodded to his question. Shadow Flame too leaned forward, his interest piqued.
"Further," continued Zulik, "I would also assume that this guardian is probably beyond your abilities to combat. To this end we will be supplying you with a scroll containing the spell Holy Word that you can use to send any extra planar creature you encounter back to where it came from."
"That is nice," said Silvara, a slight edge to her tone, "but I do not possess the knowledge or skill to cast such a spell."
"It doesn't matter," said Jean, "it's a scroll."
"You are both correct," interjected the Githzerai smoothly, "but this scroll is different. As pointed out, scrolls allow arcane and divine magic users to cast spells they do not normally have access to, but as you know," he nodded toward Silvara, "reading such a spell scroll carries the inherent danger of the magic failing, or even worse, having the reverse effect. This scroll does not carry that risk due to its enchantment. However, the words must be carefully intoned and it will take some time for you to complete the reading..."
"So we have to hold off the target long enough for Silvara to read the scroll," Unagi interrupted.
"Indeed," finished Zulik. "Before we go any further there is a stipulation on that scroll. If for any reason you do not return the item from the chapter house, the Planar Trade Consortium will consider you to be in their debt to the sum of 25,000 jink. Failure is not an option, but then again, we do not expect you to fail," he smiled.
"I don't agree to that at all," said Shadow Flame, "it was not part of the agreement."
"Then you had best succeed. The deal has been made and the terms are non-negotiable with regards to the scroll. It is an item of considerable power," he raised an eyebrow at Silvara who nodded her agreement to the party. "We are in the business of making money after all."
Shadow Flame began to object again but the rest of the party was comfortable with the arrangement so he let the matter drop.
"The location of this hidden chapter house is shown on this map of the sewers," continued Zulik as he handed over a piece of parchment with a crude map drawn on it. "The entrance marked on the map can be found at the corner of Old Blade Road in the lower city. My suggestion would be to watch your step as no doubt Silas has guards watching these entrances to make sure no one tries what you are going to try. Further, once you are in the sewers you are advised to stick to the path indicated; the sewers of Iriaebor tunnel through the tor and wind in and out, up and down. A cutter could get lost for days in those tunnels and end up doing naught but feeding the rats."
They took the parchment map and the scroll and again indicated their understanding with a nod. "So the deal is done," finished Zulik. "Once you have the item I may be contacted here, the waiter who served us earlier will know how to get hold of me, but I think it will be just as likely that I find you. If you are so inclined I can answer any questions you may have, the night is young and you must have much on your minds."
Shadow Flame seemed quite pleased at the offer and took advantage of the Githzerai's apparent amiability. "Tell me of the Planar Trade Consortium," he asked, "I would especially like to know more about Estavan, is he the owner of the consortium?"
The Githzerai smiled as he was more than happy to talk about his employer. "We are an alliance of merchants and traders from all planes of the Great Ring. The consortium has as its members all manner of beings with representatives of most races - even those you might find objectionable. Estavan is not the owner of the consortium, indeed, it has no owner, but to be sure he is a high up and his word carries a good deal of weight. The Ogre Magi has proven himself a capable blood on many occasions and his loyalty and motives are above question. You would do well to earn his respect."
"Where is the consortium based? Sigil?" Shadow Flame continued.
"We do have a strong presence in the cage. Estavan himself bases his operations there, but the headquarters, so to speak, of the consortium is the gate town of Tradegate."
"And where is Tradegate?"
"The outlands," answered Zulik.
Not wanting to press the Githzerai for a full history of the consortium nor a general geography of the planes, Shadow Flame let the matter rest there. He had enough information to base further inquiry upon.
Unagi used the lull to lean forward and ask, "what do you know of those creatures who attacked the Three Wheels the other day. Githyanki was it?"
The Githzerai sneered at the mention of the Githyanki and he spat on the ground, his hand reflexively reaching into his cloak to grasp the hilt of his sword. His hatred was obvious and he barely contained his rage. "I will not speak of them. Suffice to say they are hated above all others."
"Why? What have they done? It's just that you sort of look like them..." the gladiator paused at Zulik reaction. Shadow Flame shook his head. The Githzerai merchant stiffened noticeably, fixing the gladiator with a cold stare. Shadow Flames hand dropped to the hilt of his own sword in anticipation of a violent reaction.
After several seconds Zulik relaxed somewhat and said to Unagi, "because you are nothing but a clueless berk I am not going to kill you. Suffice to say that if you had said that to any other Githzerai you would be dead by now. My advice to you is to bar that talk and learn your place."
Unagi began to speak again but Shadow Flame put his hand on the gladiators arm and subtly shook his head. The big man took the hint and let the matter drop.
Shadow Flame broke the uncomfortable silence by asking, "what of the Three Wheels? Can you provide any information on them, after all, it is their discovery we will be stealing."
Zulik nodded to himself and answered, "they are new to the game, nothing more than a bunch of cross-traders really, but the chant is they have powerful backing."
"Such as?" Shadow Flame prodded.
"Keep in mind it's just chant," replied Zulik, "but word is the Three Wheels is backed by a trio of Arcanaloths who have been seen in Sigil doing business at the least on behalf of the real owners. There is no definitive word."
"And Silas?"
"Yes, what do you know of Silas?" interjected Unagi, "we don't take kindly to slavers."
Zulik ignored Unagi but smiled at Shadow Flame as he answered, "Silas...I have not met him, but I do know something. He is not as he appears to be. That is to say, he is not human." Turning to Unagi he continued, "I do not think you could kill him between you. He masks himself in powerful illusions, mostly to make his business smoother on the Prime, but I would guess also to hide his true self. I would not guess as to his true nature but I am certain he is not human. As to the attacks by the Githyanki, well I can't be sure. I will say it is known that he conducts business with the Illithids, it would fill me with a certain happiness if they all got written in the dead book," he did not try to hide the hatred he felt for those of both races.
"You know of this staff?" Jean asked, motioning at the staff of knowledge.
"I know of it," replied Zulik, "it is not something I find to be of great interest, but I am aware that others do. It is the reason I would warn you to watch yourselves around Silas. At the moment you are likely little more than an annoyance, the symbol of a minor failure. Assuming you accomplish what you have agreed to do this evening, then you can expect that to change."
"What of Anthraxus? Surely you know something of him?" she continued the question.
"Now you are stretching my knowledge. I know of him, and as with most I have heard the rumours, but I am certain you know a good deal more about these things than I. If indeed he has returned, which seems likely, then I do not foresee that interfering with my business."
The party sat and considered all that had just passed as they sipped at their drinks. Looking to his friends first Shadow Flame stood and said, "I think we have all we need. I thank you for answering our questions. We will begin the job tomorrow and come to claim our payment once it is done."
The rest of the party stood and said their goodbyes and they left Zulik and the Wandering Wyvern for the night.

Marpenoth 29th
The previous evening, after hey had returned to their room the party had agreed to set to work immediately. Time did seem to be of the essence, so they awoke just before dawn and headed off to the manhole marked at Old Blade Road. As they closed on the manhole they slowed and approached with caution, taking the advice of the Githzerai that it was probably being watched by people loyal to Silas. Around the manhole were several shops, but most were closed as it was still well before the city woke up. A small tankard house was right in front of the manhole, trying to cash in on the new tankard house craze in Berdusk, and there were still several patrons drinking or falling asleep from the nights drinking. A small open area at the front had several tables and chairs that patrons were using and there were several perched at a bar table that rested upon a window just next to the entrance to the bar. They walked casually past the tankard house and took up a position in a nearby alley where they could watch those at the tankard house without being easily spotted themselves.
After watching for some time it became obvious that there were at least 2 men seated outside who were not drunk and who were also not drinking a great deal. They paid far more attention to the surrounding area than those who were nursing half empty tankards and falling asleep in their seats. The party began discussing their options for getting into the manhole without drawing any undue attention. For a while the two leading proposals were for either Jean to use her feminine wiles and charm the men into a position where the party could jump them, or at least distract them long enough for the party to slip down the manhole. The other proposal was for Unagi to simply find a reason to start a fight with them. Both had the obvious flaw of drawing far more attention than they could afford, and even if the men were distracted it would still be fairly obvious to anyone nearby if a group of 3 adventurers opened the manhole and filed down. So they sought some quieter means. Jean suggested that she could use the staff to project an illusion of the street, essentially making them invisible and providing the appearance of the manhole cover not moving. It would even be possible to simulate the correct sounds, and to remove the sound of the manhole cover being moved if she studied the surrounds for long enough. All agreed that this was easily the best idea, so jean stood and surveyed the surrounds until she felt confident enough that she could pull the spell off.
When she was ready it was a simple matter of calling on the power of the staff and indicating to the party to move. Trusting to her knowledge they quickly moved over to the manhole, opened the cover and descended down. The men in front of the tankard house did not make any move, nor did they appear to notice the party at all. As they reached the bottom of the ladder down they found themselves standing on a small raised walkway at the side of the sewer channel. Light filtered down from above and from other manholes but it was not enough for them to travel by. Jean took out her wand of light and invoked its magic providing the party with a bright light that bounced down the sewer illuminating their way. The sewer tunnels were big at around 10 feet wide and 15 feet high. The stench of waste was almost overwhelming, but it was to be expected and there was little they could do about it. A strong breeze of fetid air traveled down the tunnel, the noise it made provided some small amount of cover for the sounds they made as they moved forward.
Shadow Flame called Ixxizigut out of his invisibility and told him to scout the tunnels ahead according to the map that Zulik provided. Without any word the imp blinked back to his invisible state and flew down the tunnels. The party waited several seconds before moving off after him slowly so as not to catch up with him and alert any guards. They traveled for a short while when they heard the flapping of the imps wings moments before he appeared in front of the party.
"Master," he addressed Shadow Flame, "one guard up ahead. It is lightly armed but has a gong standing beside it."
"A gong hey?" mused Unagi, "probably so he can alert other guards."
Everyone turned to look at him, their expressions all reading "way to state the obvious Nug". The big guy just smiled and shrugged stating, "hey, think of me as the narrator."
"I'm going to go up for a closer look guys," said Shadow Flame.
"What if you make too much noise?" asked Silvara. "We can't very well afford for him to raise the alarm. I know you have the skills Flame, but, and don't take this the wrong way, you haven't always been a reliable ghost."
Shadow Flame began to object but realised she was right - most of the time wasn't going to be good enough in this situation. "Well, what do you suggest then?" he asked Silvara.
"If you tell me how long you think it'll take for you to get close enough to the guard to put him down, I can cast a spell of silence on the gong, so even if you're spotted he won't be able to raise the alarm."
The party agreed this was a good idea. "OK then," said Shadow Flame, "give me a minute or so to get into position then cast your spell."
He moved off quickly and the party soon lost sight of him amoung the shadows. After a count of sixty Silvara began intoning the words to her spell, and as she finished the area surrounding the guards became deathly silent. Shadow Flame wasted no time. As soon as the blanket of silence fell over the guard he moved out of the shadows and thrust his sword deep into the mans back. The guard staggered but managed to draw his sword and swing around at Shadow Flame. Due to the guards injury the tiefling was able to easily dodge it and finished the guard off by plunging his dagger into the mans chest. As the guard fell the rest of the party rushed up to Shadow Flames position.
Once again Shadow Flame sent Ixxizigut forward to act as scout. The imp returned in short time providing the location of another guard. The plan fell much the same way except this time they would not have the benefit of magical silence. As Shadow Flame started to move off Silvara remembered something and quietly called him back. She pointed out that since the silence spell moved with the object it was cast upon that if Shadow Flame took the gong with him it would provide the same benefit as before. The gong was easily small enough to carry, so Shadow Flame strapped it to his back and moved off to take out the next guard.
As he approached the guard the man noticed something odd. It was the silence spell - it affected a roughly fifteen foot radius around the focus and clearly the guard had noticed the silence fall upon him. Even though he was alerted by the sudden silence he did not see Shadow Flame step out of the shadow and hit him hard from behind. The guard staggered but recovered much better than the previous guard and swung back at Shadow Flame catching him with his sword. Seeing Shadow Flame forced into melee with the guard Unagi drew his blade and charged forward down the sewer tunnel. However Shadow Flame was able to quickly put the guard down before Unagi made it to him.
They continued through the sewers for a time, slowly getting used to the stench that assaulted them at every turn. It was not long before the imp again dispelled his invisibility in front of the party and spoke to Shadow Flame.
"Master, guards are ahead. Ixxizigut counts 4 guards in a big room that was smashed out of the walls. They are stupid guards master, all sitting and playing card games."
Shadow Flame thought about it for a few moments. The silence spell had long since ended and Silvara did not have another one available without wasting healing magic, so there would need to be a different approach. Stealth was still a priority as they couldn't risk that there were other guards stationed nearby so Shadow Flame proposed that he sneak his way to the guard point and try to assassinate at least one of the guards before the rest could react.
"And what then?" asked Unagi. "Fight 3 men until the rest of us can catchup?"
"I can handle them," replied Shadow Flame with a wink.
"I don't like it," added Jean. "I think we need to get as close as possible as a group and then rush them. I think it's worth the risk."
Shadow Flame was outnumbered as Silvara agreed with the party, preferring to just jump the guards rather than leave anything to chance, confident they could handle any additional guards that were close enough to hear the fighting.
They continued moving forward and very soon they saw the large hole in the sewer wall that indicated the location of the guard post. Not bothering to wait Unagi simply charged forward, his armour clanging as he ran forward. The rest of them followed close behind, weapons drawn ready for combat. As they came into the room the Three Wheel had carved into the sewer wall they found the guards scurrying to arm themselves. It appeared that they were not aware of the parties presence until right before they rounded the corner, and the fight was on before the guards even had a chance to grab shields.
It was over quickly, the guards were no match for the party, really nothing more than a small group of hired street thugs. Shadow Flame went back to the sewer tunnel and waited for a few moments but there was no sign of any approaching guards, nor any indication that they had been heard. They started looking through the room. It really was a excavation, carved right through the sewer wall until it broke through into a small room that had several sets of free standing shelves and a large wooden door that was barred from their side. The rails that held the huge wooden bar had been hastily installed recently, and it was clear to the party that they had been put in place to keep someone or something in rather than keep someone out.
"I don't like this," said Shadow Flame. "If this is all as important as the Githzerai said, why were there only half a dozen guards watching this place?"
"Probably for the same reason this bar is here," said Unagi. "Whatever is on the other side is likely thought to be a big enough deterrent without wasting man power."
They all recognized that the gladiator was probably right, and as the big man lifted the bar from the rails they prepared for what was waiting beyond the door.
The door swung outward revealing a narrow corridor about 30 feet in length with doors set into each wall. As they moved into it a bloody scene revealed itself - drying, congealing blood lay pooled around the floor. Large splatters of blood decorated the walls, and a long trail of blood, made by what appeared to be bodies being dragged along the floor lead to the door set at the end of the corridor. Moving to the door at their left the party found it was locked. Shadow Flame set to work trying to pick it while Jean went and tried the other two doors. Both were unlocked, but she left them closed waiting upon the results of Shadow Flames skill. It took several minutes of tense waiting as the tiefling went to work but he was finally forced to admit defeat - the lock was strong and too complex for him to open. Unagi stepped up and shoulder charged the door, a technique known as the Unagi method, but there was little result apart from a loud bang; the door held fast. Shadow Flame decided to try his shoulder as well, but again the door stood strong. Each of them gave charging the door a shot, Unagi several times, but whatever was holding it closed was too strong for them and after a few minutes and sore shoulders they gave up and moved to the opposite door.
As they moved across to the door Shadow Flame motioned for the party to be quiet. He turned his head toward the door they had entered through and motioned for them to follow him and to be quiet. The party fell in behind him as he lead them back to the entryway they had fought the guards in. As they neared the sewer corridor the whole party heard what Shadow Flame had - the sounds of people walking and talking. From the sound of it several more guards approached as the sound of their armour echoed through the sewer corridor. The party fell in behind the wall, hiding themselves from the approaching guards and waited for them to close. As the sounds of their movement and talking grew close enough Shadow Flame and Unagi jumped out of their cover, blades already swinging. There were four guards standing in front of them; two of the guards were caught flat footed while the other two were quick enough to draw their own blades. Shadow Flame moved behind the man in front of him as he swung his blades at him, catching him with two well placed blows, and making room for Silvara who came out of cover to stand before the first guard. Jean finished casting a spell of magic missiles and a small swarm flew and struck the guard standing at the back. Unagi, taking advantage of the guards surprise hit him hard once and followed up quickly with two more blows that sent the guard crashing to the ground dead before he had a chance to half draw his sword. Shadow Flame pressed his attack at the rear guard finding some purchase on the man with a smooth swing of his dagger but received a wound of his own in return. The guard who had been hit by Jeans magic missiles let out a surprised yelp as the tail of Ixxizigut pierced his neck sending a lethal dose of virulent poison into his bloodstream. The man gurgled once and dropped dead the ground in an instant. Silvara was having little luck hurting the guard she was facing, but he was likewise unable to hit her, but once Unagi moved across to provide some help the battle quickly went in favour of the party. Shadow Flame and Ixxizigut were able to quickly dispatch the guard they faced, and combined, Unagi and Silvara brought the other guard down with only some minor wounds received by Unagi. Once all the new guards were dead the party dragged the bodies back into the alcove that had been dug into the wall to hide them from plain sight should any more guards come along. With the final guard neatly hidden from sight of the sewer corridor they returned back to the door opposite the one they could not budge and turned the handle.
The door swung inward silently and they moved in. A short corridor set with several doors - 2 doors upon each wall to the left and right and a door at the end. In true adventurer fashion they moved to the first door on the left, and after a pause for Shadow Flame to see if he could hear anything beyond they stepped into a small room that had clearly been a bedroom. The air was stale and the cloth of the bed covers gave off a musty odour, but hardy adventurers worry not about musty smells so they immediately began pouring through the rooms contents. The room contained simple furnishings; a bed, a wardrobe, a table and a large wooden chest. They spent several minutes rifling through everything but found little of note apart from some old, unwashed clothing (which isn't really that noteworthy after all). Returning to the corridor they entered the next room. It was a similarly furnished bedroom but this one had an occupant; or at least what was once an occupant. Lying on the bed draped in old, stained brown robes was a body. Unagi went over and examined it; the race was hard to determine - it had decayed to a large extent before drying out and becoming a shrivelled mummified husk, and there was no indication of how it had died. Pinned to the brown robes was a small iron brooch fashioned into an partially unrolled scroll bearing the symbol of infinity pierced by a downward arrow. Unagi took the brooch and showed the party, but none of them recognized it. Resting upon the desk in the room was an old wand of ash, thin and brittle, its purpose unknown. Jean took the wand carefully, trying to discern any markings it may have, but there appeared to be none. Shadow Flame searched through the chest which was full of old clothes, but resting at the bottom he discovered a small corner of parchment marked with a single word: "kagarion".
Symbol of The Abyss
He looked up at Jean and said, "looks like we have a command word for you new wand". He smiled as he handed her the small section of parchment.
Jean smiled back and took the parchment, putting it and the wand away until they worked out what the its power was.
They moved on the the door at the end of the corridor, and entered after a brief inspection to ensure there were not traps or other surprises waiting for them. Again the room was a minimally furnished sleeping area, so they again set to searching through its contents. As Shadow Flame was rummaging through the chest Silvara realised that she had so far neglected to thoroughly search the wardrobes in the previous two rooms, so after searching through the one in the current room and finding nothing she returned to the previous rooms to look through the wardrobes there. After a few moments Shadow Flame turned up a small leather chest, and after ensuring it wasn't trapped he opened it. Inside were several short necklaces; each was nothing more than a leather strip with 12 golden coins threaded onto it. The party recognized them as coin chains -  a popular method of carrying money in some cities of the heartlands, and really nothing more than a dozen gold pieces each. The small chest also had a small iron brooch, the same as the one found on the body in the second room.
"You reckon your imp might know something about that?" asked Unagi of Shadow Flame.
"Maybe, can't hurt to ask," he replied. "Ixxizigut," he called sharply. The imp popped into view just in front of his face and curled its lips into what might pass for a smile amoung its kind.
"Yes master," it said in a sibilant whisper, "what can Ixxizigut do for master?"
Shadow Flame held the iron brooch out in his palm, "what do you know of this symbol?" he asked.
The imp studied it for a second before answering, "infinity and the downward arrow. All planes have symbols master to identify them between creatures with no common tongue. Infinity and the downward arrow is the Abyss, but the scroll is not normally part of it."
"Probably something used by this Black Cult," suggested Jean.
"Maybe," Shadow Flame mused as he dismissed the imp back into invisibility and silence.
Silvara came back into the room holding out a long bronze scroll tube. It had been opened and Silvara held the scroll in her other hand out to Jean.
"Found this in the wardrobe of the first room. Had a bit of a look. Seems to be a bunch of wizard spells because it's definitely not divine magic." Jean thanked her and put the scroll in her pack - there would be time enough to read it later as she did not have the necessary magic to decipher the markings in her mind.
The next room in the circuit was another bed chamber similarly furnished with a bed, wardrobe, desk and chest. The pickings were minimal  in this room with only the chest surrendering up a smaller leather case to Shadow Flames search. Inside were a pair of reading glasses, very well made bi-focal lenses, they were quite a rarity on Toril and most likely very valuable. Shadow Flame handed the glasses to Jean who put them on and tried to see if she could make any sense of any of the magical writings they had found. While the glasses did not provide the expected benefit of reading magical writings Jean did notice they improved her vision in the low light of this sewer house, providing enhanced vision similar to infravision but an enhancement to normal vision rather than the heat patterns that infravision made visible. They searched the final room in the area and found nothing besides the old clothes and robes of the other rooms. The overall feeling was off a series of rooms that functioned as both sleeping and study quarters for some of the Black Cult members.
They walked back to the initial corridor, and ignoring the door that would not open for them earlier they opened the door under which the thick blood trails lead. It opened into a large room with several tables and chairs placed around its perimeter. Of more immediate concern however was the large statue in the middle of the room. Standing around 8 feet tall it appeared as an ancient warrior, heavily armoured in old style full plate armor, a heavy visor closing off an ornate helm with fluted spines down its center. More alarming for the party was the fact that it turned toward them as it entered the room, and after a moment of surveying them from behind its inscrutable helm it quickly rushed across the room toward them raising large fists in preparation for a bashing.
Unagi wasted no time drawing his katana and leapt toward the statue with a speed and grace normally reserved for smaller men. Shadow Flame and Jean both began to call words of magic to their lips while Silvara took the smoothed footman's mace, blessed by Selune, and joined Unagi in melee with the stone guardian. For all his speed in movement Unagi was unable to move quickly enough as the warhammer sized fist of the statue came arcing down and landing forcefully on his shoulder. Unagi almost buckled under the weight of the blow and had to radically adjust his attack to avoid stumbling. Silvara stepped in under the statues arm and thumped her mace into the statues side with a dull thud. The body of the statue dented in as if it were made of a soft clay, the mace leaving a small rounded dent in its side. Unagi brought his katana up in a skillful maneuver which would have eviscerated any normal man, but against the statue his katana made no mark, not even a scratch to show where it had hit. Jean and Shadow Flame finished casting their spells and a united burst of magic missiles streamed forth from their hands striking the statue in several places. It gave no sign of having noticed their magical sortie and there was no outward sign of injury from the attack either.
"My blade makes no mark in this damned thing," Unagi cursed.
Shadow Flame reached over his shoulder and grabbed the black handle of the whip they had taken from the demoness in the Home of the Dead. "Nug!" he called as he tossed it to Unagi, "that should be able to hurt it." Unagi looked at the handle a bit puzzled - after all, he'd never used a whip before, but he was well versed in many weapons after spending many years in the gladiatorial arena and quickly worked out how to make effective use of the weapon. Jean had begun to cast another spell as Silvara swung again at the statue, dent its soft clay-like body with another blow from her mace. As Unagi raised the whip to strike at the statue it brought its fist to bear against him again delivering another crushing blow that echoed through the room. He stumbled back, badly injured by the statues fist and quickly asked Silvara for some help. Shadow Flame drew his blades and ran forward, covering the big man as he stepped out of the battle to try and tend to his injuries.
Jean finished casting her spell, a defensive magic, and took the wand she had found in the bed chamber earlier, and holding it out spoke the command word, "kagarion". The statue paused in its attack against Shadow Flame and looked across at Jean.
"Tell it to stop attacking for the gods sakes," Shadow Flame called out.
Jean nodded and stepped forward saying "Stop Attacking!". The statue immediately stopped attacking and stood up straight without moving.
"I can't believe that worked," Jean exclaimed wide eyed to the party.
With the statue now just a passive observer they began to look through the room. The most obvious starting place was the middle of the room - several bodies were piled atop one another, clearly dragged in from the corridor the party had entered from. Silvara cast some of her healing magic on Unagi as he was seriously hurt after being hit only twice by the statue, but the magic failed. Silvara knew there was nothing wrong with her spell, it worked exactly as it always had - it something about the wounds themselves that prevented the healing magic from working, and since he did not want to take the chance that one of his potions would also fail and be wasted, Unagi had little choice but to wear the injuries until they could find out how to remove whatever curse or magic was preventing them from being healed.
The room itself appeared to be a multi-use room; several tables and chairs were placed around the rooms perimeter and a large blackboard adorned the eastern wall. It was devoid of any markings but there were several pieces of chalk. Three other doors exited the room, one on each wall. Jean and Shadow Flame began trying the doors while Unagi searched the bodies in the room and Silvara began trying to find any hidden compartments or doorways the room might be hiding.
Only the door in the western wall was opened; the door to the east was locked and of a similar make to the one they could not open in the corridor, while the door on the north wall was a heavy iron door, eight feet tall and half that wide. Finding nothing on the bodies of note, nor any hidden areas they moved over to the only open door. Unagi turned the handle and the door swung easily inward to a long room that was both a bed room and a study room. On the wall opposite the door rested a crumpled body clothed in heavy black robes with golden embroidery in the shape of the symbol of the Abyss upon a half unfurled scroll. Unagi went over to search the body. It had clearly been there for some time, the skin dry and shriveled from the dry musty air of the place. Whoever it was they were once human and the injury that caused its death was obvious - the left side of its head was caved in, most likely the result of a very large blunt object. As Unagi moved the robes back he noticed they had, in several places, the appearance of being melted, perhaps the affect of some mild acid. The body was male, and as he continued to search Unagi found that the mans left arm had been shattered, broken in many places. He wore an amulet of bronze fashioned in the shape of a billowing cloud around his neck and upon his fingers he wore a silver ring shaped as a coiled oak leaf, and a gold ring set with tiny star shaped black gems of some kind. Unagi took them all.
Silvara had moved to the south end of the room and searched through a large wardrobe of polished oak decorated with scenes of mountain peaks and flying birds. It contained little of obvious value, but the robes and gowns inside gave a hint that this roomed belonged to a scholar. Several blank parchments sat upon shelves and inkwells that were long dried rested with ornate gold and platinum writing styluses. The bed was also of superior quality and clearly very plush, but it contained nothing of any value to a band of adventurers.
Shadow Flame and Jean went to the northern end of the room where a large teak desk and oaken bookcase were placed upon a lush deep blue shagpile carpet. Well drawn maps of the western heartlands of Faerun were set upon the walls at this end of the room, and as best as Jean or Shadow Flame could discern they were very accurate, likely to fetch a decent price to someone interested in cartography. Shadow Flame approached the desk while Jean inspected the bookcase. The desk was well made and clearly valuable; it had a single inkwell on it, the ink long since dried out and resting beside the inkwell in a small funnel was another of the gold and platinum styluses that Silvara had discovered in the wardrobe. Shadow Flame examined the front of the desk and found that there were 2 drawers. He had a good look at them, checking for traps or other protections and, finding none, he opened the top drawer. Several flattened out parchment papers were in there, each clearly correspondence of some kind. He took the letters out and placed them upon the desk, discovering another of the iron brooches in the process. Turning his attention back to the drawers he attempted to open the second one. As he pulled upon the handle a brief crackle was heard, the sound of dry wood crackling in a campfire, as flame erupted from the drawer like a geyser. The flame washed over the tiefling who was caught flat footed and took the full brunt of the magical trap, stumbling back under its force and falling against the wall. He sat for a moment making sure that he hadn't received any bad injuries from the gout of flame, and finding mostly minor burns and singed hair, he pulled himself to his feet muttering about hidden magical traps to himself. A little wiser this time he again tried to open the drawer but found it locked. Cursing to himself in frustration he knelt in front of the drawer and began to work the lock with his pick set.
Jean stood and looked at the bookcase; it was a large oaken bookcase edged with carvings of mischievous woodland creatures such as pixies and satyrs hiding and playing amongst stylized leaves and boughs. The doors had large glass panes built into them and hung upon heavy iron hinges. She tried the doors but found them locked. Not one to waste her time she swung the staff of knowledge at the doors to break the glass, however, as the staff collided with the glass it simply bounced back off it as though the glass was actually steel or some other hard metal. She tried once more with the same result, and, rather than define her insanity, turned to Shadow Flame and asked if he would pick the locks on the doors open. As Shadow Flame had his own lock to attend to at that moment she began looking at the tomes through the glass trying to read the spines to see what awaited them.
Shadow Flame opened the second drawer without too much difficulty - the lock was high quality but he had opened better in his time. He slid the drawer out revealing a single tome placed within, bound it dark green leather with a gold mark of two crescent moons joined at their backs. He took the tome from the drawer and placed it on the table, opening it so as to quickly glance at its contents. As he began to read the first page his demeanor changed - rather than casual browsing his reading took on a more urgent quality. He moved and sat at the bound leather chair behind the desk and began pouring over the contents of the first page as if possessed. Jean noticed his change in attitude and tried to get his attention.
"Flame!" she said to him, and then "Flame!" much louder this time as the tiefling continued to ignore her. "Uh Nug, Silvara, something is going on here," she warned the party.
Unagi and Silvara walked over to the table and also tried to get Shadow Flames attention as he continued to read, enraptured by the green tome. Their attempts did not rouse him from his reading, he was  a man compelled, enspelled to read the tome. Unagi leant over and made to grab the tome, and, whether it was this action or a choice of Shadow Flame, the tiefling stopped reading then and looked up at Unagi with a slightly glazed look in his eyes. As he stared at the gladiator Shadow Flame slowly came back to his senses and looked back down at the tome as he rose from his seat.
"What was that?" Unagi asked him.
"Really not sure," he replied, "just all of a sudden felt it was very important to read the book, then, as I got to the end of that first page it felt as though I had been released. I heard you all calling to me, but it was distant, unimportant." He looked back at the tome, "very interesting" he said, to himself more than anyone else.
"Well, what is it?" asked Jean.
"Libram Infernus," answered Shadow Flame. "Seems to be a book discussing the calling and binding of lesser fiends as well as some discussions on the inhabitants of some lower planes."
"So, are its influence now?" asked Silvara with some trepidation.
"I feel normal," answered Shadow Flame, "but we should probably investigate the book a bit more once we are out of this place."
They all agreed quite strongly with Shadow Flames last sentiment before Jean reminded him about the locks on the bookcase. Shadow Flame went across and picked the locks with no trouble and opened the doors. Several tomes were stacked on the shelves; a large, heavy tome identifying itself as "Concerning the Abyss: A Treatise on the nature of the Abyss and the Tanar'ri". There were also several think ledger like books all written in some unidentifiable language, or, as Jean speculated, code of some kind. There were several historical texts concerning the Readers of the Scrolls of Ahm, apparently delving into the history of Tulket nor Ahm and the Cult that sprung up around his writings and teachings. They also discovered two tall tomes of deep red leather bearing a sigil of a bell with sweeping blades attached to it, and a quick glance from Shadow Flame and Jean identified these two tomes as spellbooks.
"Also," began Shadow Flame as they returned the books to the bookcase with the intention of retrieving them on their way out of the sewers, "I found several letters in this desk."
"OK," said Unagi, "let's hear them then."
Shadow Flame picked the letters up from the desk and began going through them:
  • A letter from someone named "Tireless" talks about a recent success for the cult chapter house based in the gate town of Plague-Mort whose members recently discovered a new layer of the Abyss they have decided to call "Shadows Holme" after the  large number of undead and shadow fiends they found in its perpetually twilight lands. The letter claims that the Guvners will name it as the  684th layer. He invites reader Haszantz to a lecture discussing the new discovery.
  • A letter from "Singulus the Crafter" congratulating Reader Haszantz on his recent purchase of a Clay Golem and telling him to be sure and give the deactivation command to those he trusts so that they are not attacked while the automaton is in guardian mode.
  • A letter from someone named "Kaylias" inviting him to a meeting to discuss some rumours surrounding someone known to them as "Verin". The meeting is to take place somewhere called the "Hall of Speakers" in a private room.
  • A letter from someone called "Hearsten Chuul" who claims to have an item that Haszantz will be interested in and asking to meet him at the Old Talking Ox Inn to discuss some sort of arrangement.
  • Another letter from Hearsten Chuul confirming that the item is indeed a copy of the Mors Mysterium Nominum.
  • A letter from Kaylias expressing his excitement over the possibility of getting their hands on a copy of the Mors Mysterium Nominum.
  • A letter from someone named "Bron" confirming that the license to operate in Iriaebor for the Black Cult of Ahm has been approved by the council.
  • A letter from Tireless expressing his concern about the disappearance of Hearsten Chuul and the implications it could have for Reader Haszatnz' Chapter House.
  • A letter from one "Benkath Alluthikus" of the merchant house of "The Silver Branch" letting Haszantz know that the deal is off and the protection of The Silver Branch has been withdrawn.
"Well that was all terribly enlightening," said Silvara.
"Maybe," replied Shadow Flame smirking at her sarcasm, "maybe not. I think it's reasonable to assume we don't need the wand for that golem out there, seems that command word was for the golem and not for the wand. It's probably enough to just have the command word."
"Maybe," Jean replied in kind. "I think I'll keep it in my hand, you know, just in case."
"Fair enough," said Shadow Flame, "we'll leave all this stuff here and grab it on the way out, yes?"
They all agreed with him, and with Jean leading the way, wand in hand, they went back out into the large room. The statue continued to stare impassively into nothing as they set about checking the other 2 doors. The large iron door in the north wall was their first target; it was a heavy door, designed to keep things out. There was no lock, no handle and no obvious way to open it; they spent some time trying to think of a way to get it open but after a while with no success they gave up and moved to the other door. This door was as sturdy as the one in the corridor, and the lock proved just as effective against Shadow Flames attempts to pick it, so the plan fell back to the Unagi method. The big man was able to get the door a bit lose on its hinges after a couple of charges but it was pretty clear that knocking the door down would take some time and cause some shoulder damage.
As Unagi tried to break down the door Jean had been trying to talk to the golem. She wasn't having much luck, the golem simply remained standing where it had stopped attacking and staring straight ahead to every question she posed it. She was about to give up when a wave of inspiration washed over her.
"Open the door," she commanded of the golem. It immediately came to life, walked over to the door Unagi had put so much effort into breaking down, turned the handle, and opened it.
"Great," the gladiator said, "why didn't you do that before I tore my shoulder out trying to bash it down?"
Jean just smiled and shrugged as she walked over to the door.
"Tell it to open the other door," suggested Shadow Flame.
"See if you can do it," replied Jean, curious to see if she was the only one who could command it.
Shadow Flame shrugged and then walked over to the golem and said "kagarion".
It turned to ward Shadow Flame as if it was awaiting instruction so he commanded it "open the north door".
The golem did nothing so Jean tried the same thing with the same result. Clearly the golem was not going to open the large iron door, but they knew now the wand was not part of the control mechanism for the golem.
"Ah well, worth a try," said Jean, "we can come back here if we need to, I'm kind of curious to find out where that door goes."
"Well, judging from the map the Githzerai gave us, my bet is that it's the front door and will likely just lead back into the sewers," said Silvara, "but no reason not to see for sure once we've done what we came here to do."
They all moved into the newly opened room which was simply a narrow corridor that joined back up to the door they couldn't open initially and a door on the opposite wall. Unagi went and tried the door they had attempted to break down before and opened it without issue. Cursing to himself for wasting so much effort trying to break it down earlier he walked back to the party who were opening the new door after spending a second listening for any sounds beyond. The new door also opened into a long narrow corridor with a single door at the opposite end. They cautiously moved into the corridor, Shadow Flame leading the way making sure there were no traps along the corridors length. They reached the door and found it locked so Shadow Flame quickly set to work and had it open in fairly short order. They opened the door, again with caution, and looked into the room beyond. It was a large square room thirty feet to a side and lit with a pale white light that emanated from the ground. The party moved into the room to get a better look but remained close to the door.
The light emanating from the ground was coming from a large circle of power that had been carved into the stone of the floor and inlaid with metal, most likely platinum by its appearance. The circle was huge, at least fifteen feet across, and the symbols and runes carved about its circumference were powerful conduits obviously crafted by a powerful summoner. The party moved into the room further, skirting the circle of power so as not to cross its edge, and approached a small plinth at the opposite end of the chamber. A short column of well crafted stones rose from the floor in a square around four feet tall and 3 feet square. Atop this plinth sat a cube of glass about three feet square encasing a large parchment. As they approached the plinth the party could see the parchment was almost shiny in appearance. It glistened in the light and seemed to be coated in a brownish yellow slime and periodically it gave off what looked like a puff of spores as if it were a swollen fungus. There appeared to be no way to open the case so Jean and Silvara began to search around the plinth while Shadow Flame looked over the parchment, calling on Ixxizigut to see if the imp recognised any of the runes or symbols that adorned it. Since he couldn't read and wouldn't be any help Unagi decided to start looking around the walls for secret compartments or doors.
The party studied the plinth, the glass case and the parchment for quite some time. No way was found to open the case, and the only familiar marking on the parchment itself was the symbol of the Abyss which was present only once. Since they did not want to risk anything unwelcome happening, such as a guardian Tanar'ri or similar disastrous event they we careful not to remove the case from the plinth (if that was even possible) nor try and smash the glass.
"Hey check this out," Unagi called. "Secret door."
Shadow Flame looked over at the gladiator who was standing in front of an open door that blended in with the wall when closed. He stood with a smile of victory, like a cat who has caught a mouse and motioned them across.
"Nice one Nug," he said as they stepped inside, leaving Jean and Silvara to continue trying to find a way into the glass case containing the slime coated parchment.
The secret room was as long as the room it adjoined but only around eight or ten feet wide. It seemed to be some kind of armoury or storage area; there was an armour stand at the end of the room with a suit of chainmail on it, a long sword was mounted on the right hand wall and a large table on the left wall held 3 large chests, a smaller leather chest and a narrow black case. Unagi went over to the long sword at took it down from the wall while Shadow Flame went to inspect the various chests and cases. As he moved down the room Shadow Flame noticed there were several sliding panels set into the wall adjoining the scroll room, at around head height for a man. He tried to slide one open and it slid easily revealing an outlook, or perhaps an arrow slot or similar defensive mechanism looking out into the room containing the scroll and the circle  of power.
The longsword was forged of cold wrought iron, heavy and dark, the cross piece fashioned as two outstretched reptilian claws, the pommel housing a clear crystalline gem. It's weight felt good to Unagi, it was a strong blade, heavy enough to be precise but not enough to interfere with his attacks. All the chests were locked, not with high quality locks, but good enough that it would take some time for Shadow Flame to pick them all.
Jean and Silvara continued to inspect the case containing the scroll, and even after a thorough inspection of the plinth and the glass they could not determine a way to reach the scroll. As they stood pondering their next move Silvara detected a foul odour floating into the room. It was unfamiliar to her, carrying a hint of decay and of disease, of the rot of autumn, but foul and corrupt being carried ahead of something terrible. She grabbed Jean and they both quickly went through into the secret room closing the door behind them.
"Hey guys, something is coming, something ugly. I can smell it, and it doesn't smell like anything I want to be around to deal with," Silvara explained.
"Can you smell anything imp?" Shadow Flame asked of Ixxizigut who popped into visibility in front of his master.
"No master, Ixxizigut smells nothing."
"Well," continued Shadow Flame, "we have these arrow slits in the wall we can watch the room and see what happens. Nug, can you keep watch while I try and open these chests?" The big man nodded and moved across to one of the slides and began to keep watch. "Silvara, I think you might want to have a look at that chainmail," said Shadow Flame as he began working the lock to the first chest.
"Uh, you should all probably come and watch this," Unagi said to them before they had much of a chance to do anything. They all found an opening in the wall and watched as a new player entered the summoning room.
Stepping through the door was a creature with grey leathery skin sporting a long grey tail with black tousled hair sprouting from the end. It walked on goat-like legs covered in dark blue hair that similarly sprouted from it's horned head. It stopped just inside the door leaving enough room for 4 chain clad, well armed humans to follow in. They surveyed the room for a few moments then stood to the side of the door. The scent that Silvara detected became much stronger, heralding the entrance of a lower planar fiend. Standing around 7 feet tall, the creature was covered in hard, off white chitinous plates and glared out from behind sickly green multi-faceted eyes perched atop it's elongated head. It carried a long halberd of dark green steel in its long thin hands that gave off a pale radiance. The fiend was immediately recognizable as one of the chitinous insectoid fiends from the murals in the ancient tomb where the party first encountered the aspect of Anthraxus, and Jean also knew it from her staff induced visions. It did not waste any time looking around, it knew it's purpose and began to stride purposefully across the room, straight through the platinum circle of power toward the case holding the foul scroll.
Ixxizigut let out a barely perceptible yelp and the party turned to look at the now slightly pink imp, much paler than it's normal dark red color.
"You know what that thing is imp?" whispered Shadow Flame.
The imp nodded slightly, eyes wide with fear and whispered in return, " Mezzoloth", before turning invisible.
Shadow Flame opened his mouth to call the imp back out and then stopped, instead turning back to look at what was transpiring in the room with the rest of the party. The Mezzoloth strode up to the glass case, hefted its halberd back and swung it with great force at the glass case. The halberd hit the case with a thud, and apart from some high pitched ringing as the case vibrated, nothing happened. The glass was unmarked, not even a scratch marred it surface. The Mezzoloth, clearly not one to be discouraged, swung back and struck the case again with much the same effect. As the fiend continued to swing at the case the room dulled noticeably and the pale radiance issuing from the platinum circle grew a little brighter. A thick yellowy-green mist began hissing forth from the circle, growing quickly in size and thickness until it filled the circle. Silvara blanched as, even through the wall, the smell of sickness and corruption roiling from the cloud assaulted her senses. A weak ripping sound, like thin paper could be heard coming from the circle a moment before the mist began to dissipate. The Mezzoloth continued to hack at the case, heedless of the working of the summoning circle.
"Who violates this sanctuary?" as deep voice echoed through the chamber, wet and cold, like the voice that mud would have if it could speak. The Mezzoloth stopped its ineffective assault and turned to face the speaker. Hulking over it, at least 9 feet tall was a cold, black monstrosity, it's skin cold and slimy and it's head resembling nothing more than a frog, it mouth filled with long serrated teeth taking up half of it's head and its eyes morbid yellow boils. Sizing up it's opposition it seemed to smile as it said, "ahh excellent. It has been so long since I have been able to destroy, your intrusion is most welcome."
The room exploded into action as the frog-like demon and the Mezzoloth screamed their hatred and joined in battle. The grey skinned tiefling shouted orders to the humans to attack the guardian and all four of them quickly drew their blades and ran in to help their monstrous ally deal with this newly arrived threat. The blue furred tiefling began intoning the words to a protection spell as the Mezzoloth swarmed forward, blurry images of itself swarming around it hiding it's true location. The frog demon began clawing and biting at the Mezzoloth, slowly whittling the dancing images down, waiting to get a shot at the fiends true form.
Unagi was surprised by the new long sword he found. At the arrival of the frog like monstrosity the crystal in the pommel had burst into light, a deep red light about the strength of torch light. Shadow Flame began picking the lock of the nearby chest, after all it was likely they would be facing off against the winner of the battle in the next room and if any of these chests could provide some help it would be foolish not to take advantage of it. With much the same idea in mind Silvara began stripping back her armor so that she could wear the chainmail sitting on the stand at the end of the room. Unagi and Jean kept watch over the proceedings outside just in case things took a turn for the worst for the party.
The tiefling mage, his body now the texture and color of stone let fly with a bolt of lightning at the frog demon striking it full on in the back. The electricity crackled briefly and then dissipated harmlessly, absorbed by the creatures innate resistance to magic. The Mezzoloth, still swarming with mirror images, made a small downward gesture with its claws, and an orange wound appeared in the roof above the demon, swelling with rolling flames that exploded downward in a column of fire, engulfing it. This time the beasts magical resistance failed and it bellowed in agony as the fire washed over it leaving black scars over its bloated body. It continued to swing at the Mezzoloth, and as it was momentarily caught up in calling forth the flame column it exposed its true location briefly - it was enough for the demon who struck twice with sweeping swings of its long clawed hands.
The fighters arrived at the battled and surrounded the demon, who ignored them as the insignificant specks they were, releasing a noxious puff of spores into the air to deal with them. Three of the fighters dropped to the ground, gagging and vomiting as they breathed in the spores, their faces turning red under the violence of the pestilence unleashed by the frog demon. The fourth man managed to move out of the spores area before breathing in, but seeing his comrades removed from the battle so quickly he paused, contemplating whether or not to simply flee.
Shadow Flame opened the first of the chests, and opening it, found four long, smooth brass scroll tubes sealed at each end with wax and bearing an unfamiliar rune. Knowing he would need a read magic spell to learn the rune and open the tubes he quickly moved on to the next chest and began working its lock. Silvara was standing, almost naked, at the end of the room, removing the chain from the stand, preparing to put it on. She was struck by the lightness of the material, it appeared to be heavy polished steel but the suit weighed little more than a similarly sized suit of leather armour. Jean and Unagi watched the battle continue in the other room, Jean resting her hand on Unagi's as she saw the gladiators hand slowly grasp the pommel of his sword, anticipation building as his urge to join the battle began to overtake his senses. At Jeans touch he eased off a little and kept watching, but it was clear he was aching to join the battle in the other room.
The fourth guard stood for a moment, torn between fleeing the stinking hulk that had dropped his friends so quickly and the blue furry tiefling who he knew wouldn't take to kindly to him fleeing from battle. In the end he drew his sword and struck the frog demon in the back, his blade bouncing ineffectually from the behemoths slimy skin. Briefly distracted by the meaningless attack the hulking fiend closed its eyes briefly, opening a gateway between this world and the Abyss and summoned forth several small, green creatures with bloated bellies and long pointed elfin-like ears over their droopy faces. Three of them answered his call, and though little more than 4 feet tall they scrambled toward the last remaining man, the lust for mortal blood shining in their eyes.
Taking the chance offered when the demon opened the portal, the Mezzoloth decided to do the same thing. With a sweeping gestures it traced a pattern of complex runes into the air that seemed to sear into the fabric of reality itself, renting a dark scar into the air that swelled and burst open in a puff of acrid smoke. Stepping through the gateway was another Mezzoloth, this one darker and taller. It was unarmed but it was clear the creature needed no weapons to join the fight. The tiefling smiled from the back of the room and unleashed a sortie of magic missiles at the frog-like demon that screeched across the room, battering the beast, its magic resistance failing to stop them from hitting home hard. They were the least of its problems though and it ignored them in favour of stepping up the fight to the Mezzoloth.
The lock to the second chest popped and Shadow Flame opened it quickly, and looking inside found four more brass scroll tubes, similarly locked with wax as the last ones, but these ones bearing a different pressing into the wax. He did not waste any time moving to the third chest and began picking the lock on it. Silvara managed to slip the suit of chain on and began putting on her robes over the top. The chain was very light and felt like nothing more than an extra layer of clothing, flexible but strong.
A Dretch
The short gremlin like beasts swarmed over the last man, working with surprising speed and cooperation they dragged him to the ground and began biting and clawing at him as he waved his sword around trying to get them off. The grey skinned tiefling ignored the cries from the fighter covered in stinking Tanar'ri and unleashed another flurry of magic missiles at the hulking fiend, cursing as they popped ineffectively against it. The Mezzoloth abandoned its magical attacks and swung its halberd in a sweeping arc at the frog demon who batted it casually to the side, swiping at the Mezzoloth and removing the last of its misdirection magic leaving it standing there unprotected. The summoned Mezzoloth quickly took stock of the situation, and furious at having been summoned to the fight turned on its brother fiend and began clawing at leaving long scars across its body that began to ooze viscous grey blood. It screamed in rage, a high pitched shriek that its summoning had turned against it, but it did not waver from its goal and continued to swing its halberd at the foul fiend from the circle.
The third lock clicked open and Shadow Flame again found himself looking into a chest containing four scroll tubes, sealed with the same mark as the first pressed into the wax sealing the tube closed. He cursed under his breathe and moved on the the leather case, working the lock on it. Silvara walked over to the slot that Jean and Unagi were still monitoring the battle from and join in spectating. With Silvara there to keep Unagi from doing something crazy, like opening the secret door and charging into the fight, Jean went over and inspected the last small case on the table with the chests. It was long and narrow and, more importantly, unlocked. She reached down to pick it up, but from the corner of his eye Shadow Flame noticed her and whispered to her not to touch anything until he had had a chance to make sure there were no traps.
The frog demon and the summoned Mezzoloth continued to claw at their foe who was beginning to look a little worse for wear being beaten from both sides. The small demons continued swarming over the fighter on the ground, clawing and biting as the mans strength started to give under their constant attacks. So as to preserve some of his more powerful magic, the tiefling grabbed a wand that was hanging from his belt, he pointed it at the demon, and as he intoned the word of command an arcing bolt of lightning streaked from the wand, striking the demon in the back again. Once more the creatures innate resistance to magic foiled the blast, and it continued on ignoring the tiefling who heard a wet gurgle come from the direction of the smaller demons. He looked over and saw the man was dead, his throat ripped out, blood spreading about the floor under his body. The Tanar'ri wasted no time with the dead man, and as one they starting scrambling across to the grey skinned warlock with high pitched yelping sounds. He turned his wand on them as they ran toward him and again lightning streaked from it, hitting one of them square on. Lacking the resistance to magic their more powerful brother possessed, the creature danced under the power of the electricity flowing through his body for a second before dropping to the ground a gaping cauterized hole in its chest. The others did not slow at all and charged into the tiefling claws flailing, looking for purchase so as to bring him down, the protection of the stone skin provided by magic his only defense against the vermin.
The Mezzoloth continued to fight on without regard for itself even in the face of two foes where there should have been only one. It landed a strong blow from its halberd upon the frog fiend, but it was still not enough. The creature could take some punishment. The summoned betrayer also continued to work on it, slicing open several wounds with powerful strokes of its claws, it was supremely strong and the wounds were deep, leaking that greyish blood over the chitin of the unfortunate summoners body. The tiefling finished the words to another spell and, like the Mezzoloth before him, was immediately surrounded by swirling copycat images of himself that made it difficult to tell which was an illusion and which was his true form. The little demons did not pause to consider it of course, they simply continued to press their attacks, swing and biting at anything that looked like it might bleed.
Shadow Flame opened the leather case, the lock proving to be no match for his skill, and looked inside. Several small round glass globes sat in deep soft cushioning, each appearing to have a swirling orange-red fire roaring inside them, motes of golden light swam within the flames like faeries, and it was obvious these globes were highly volatile, so he quickly but gently shut the case containing them before moving over and inspecting the long thin case that Jean was looking at.
The mirror images of the tiefling were disappearing fast; the little gremlin-like Tanar'ri may have been small but they were fast, all teeth and claws and the protective magic was quickly running out of steam. He ignored them for now however, the hulking form of the frog-like Tanar'ri was the main target - kill it and these little fiends would no longer be a problem. Once again he fired the wand at the demon and once again his magic fell harmlessly upon it, swallowed by the strong resistance to magic it possessed. It continued to ignore everything but the Mezzoloth, and in the end it paid off; grabbing the insectoid fiend in both it massive hands it lifted it off the ground as it struggled pointlessly, its arms pinned to its sides, exposed to attacks from both the demon and the other Mezzoloth. The frog demon pulled the helpless form of the Mezzoloth close to it and opened its impossibly huge maw exposing rows of serrated razors that it sank deep into the Mezzoloth throat. It jerked its head violently to the side tearing the soft flesh of the creatures throat and chest unprotected by the chitinous plates that covered the rest of its body. A geyser of grey blood burst up from the creatures neck as it tried to scream, but lacking a throat all it could do was gurgle weakly as it died. The demon tossed the body of the Mezzoloth to the side as it turned to the other Mezzoloth. It looked over at the body of its kin which had begun to steam, lines of vapour rising from the body as it shrivelled in on itself, finally collapsing into a pile of ash with a small puff. It had already made its decision, this was not its fight, and it disappeared with an audible pop as the air rushed into the spot where it had been standing. The two remaining bloated gremlin demons continued to scratch and bite at the tiefling as the behemoth turned around, the grey blood of the Mezzoloth still rolling down its chest and distended stomach, and looked at the blue haired tiefer. He was not in any mood to press on, there was nothing to be gained from dying here, and uttering the words to a quick spell he disappeared with little effect. The huge Tanar'ri chuckled deeply in its throat as it walked over to the still choking and gasping forms of the guards. It leant down over one of them and reached out grasping the mans head with both hands before twisting violently and casually breaking the mans neck. He looked over to the next one and rose, walking slowly over to him, savouring the moment.
Shadow Flame opened the final case revealing a long thin wand of oak bearing several runes carved along its length. Besides the long sword and the chainmail there was little of immediate use to the party so they slid the arrow slots shut and quietly discussed their next move.
"Silvara are you ready?" asked Shadow Flame.
Silvara nodded and produced the scroll containing the Holy Word from her robes. She unrolled it and began looking over it.
"I think the plan is pretty simple," said Jean. "We just need to keep that thing off of Silvara long enough for her to send it back to where ever it came from."
"Yes, that's true, but how are we going to do that?" asked Shadow Flame. "I think that the easiest course of action is to unleash the Nug..."
"Nug rush?" interrupted Unagi.
"...upon that thing while Jean and I cast at it with Silvara standing behind us. That's a couple of levels of protection for Silvara." They all nodded their agreement.
"Ixxizigut," Shadow Flame whispered, but the imp did not appear or respond. "Useless imp," cursed Shadow Flame.
"How about if I stay back," began Jean, "and throw a fireball through one of these slits into the room before you begin to charge Nug? That way we get our most powerful offensive magic off as well as the almighty Nug rush."
They all agreed, and once they were all certain about the plan Jean moved across and slid open the slot closest to the secret door while Shadow Flame, Unagi and Silvara waited for her signal. The Tanar'ri had finished off the remaining humans who lay dead at the perimeter of the circle of power, and as it turned to walk back to the centre of the circle Jean gave the signal and Unagi burst through the door, long sword in hand and rushed the fiend. At the burst of activity that heralded Unagi and Shadow Flames arrival the great fiend turned and regarded the onrushing gladiator, smiling a half moon smile as it said "welcome intruders."
Shadow Flame followed closely on Unagi's tail stopping just outside the secret door and preparing the words of a spell. Jean stood inside for a moment, and was about to intone the words to unleash the fireball when she realised that if she did actually cast the spell that Unagi would be caught in the blast. Swearing to herself she quickly rushed past Silvara who stood just past the doorway behind Shadow Flame, and joined the tiefling creating a wizardly defensive line. As Silvara began reciting the words to the Holy Word the slime fiend conjured a small ball of acid and hurled it at the onrushing form of the gladiator. It lengthened out taking on a form similar to an arrow before striking Unagi square in the chest. The pain was excruciating but he did not slow, in fact the pain enraged him driving him forward even faster as he met the fiend in melee. Shadow Flame and Jean both simultaneously unleashed a series of magic missiles that arced across the room at the Tanar'ri whose magic resistance swallowed them up like pebbles. The two gremlin Tanar'ri scrambled across the floor, through the circle of power for a chance to slay more mortals, charging toward Unagi. As Unagi joined the fiend in combat it conjured a small flaming sphere out the air, holding it in its palm for a moment before sending crashing into the gladiator who was swinging his long sword with all the power he could muster. The sphere of fire hit Unagi hard, bursting into a shower of sparks as it hit his armor and spreading over it caught in his flesh, beginning to burn under the armor. He yelled in pain and fury as the long struck home on the foul, slime covered frog fiend, but the blade simply rebounded without leaving a mark. Unagi swore loudly as another sortie of magic missiles screamed in from behind him, this time several of them piercing the creatures resistance causing it the yell with fury.
"This damned blade is not strong enough to hurt this thing," Unagi called out, "I've got nothing that can hurt it."
Shadow Flame sprung into action drawing his dagger and silver longsword and charged in against the fiend hopeful that at least his dagger held a strong enough enchantment to pierce the fiends skin. Unagi, thankful for the help, moved across and let Shadow Flame fight the Tanar'ri and he engaged the smaller demons whom he hoped would not have the same level of resistance their master did. Jean finished speaking the words to a spell similar to the one used by the frog-like demon, and a green arrow of dripping acid flew from her hand across the room, but she lacked the necessary accuracy and it went wide, striking the wall behind with an audible hiss. Silvara continued reading from the scroll steadily, making sure she spoke each word true for the result of failure was death for the entire party. Unagi swung quickly and accurately at the small demons, striking them both with single attacks each, injuring them horribly as their blackened blood ran free from the wounds, but they did not slow down - it was as if they were unable to feel pain. Shadow Flame on the other hand was not immune to physical pain, and he grunted under the power of blows from the great Tanar'ri who had abandoned magic in favour of a more personal attack form. This also allowed it to more effectively parry the attacks from Shadow Flame who was having a difficult time landing an attack on the hulking beast as it tore into him with fists and fangs. Silvara was almost finished reading the scroll when the Tanar'ri began to take notice of her. It seemed to recognise what was happening and stepped up it's attacks, using magic to remove the threat of Shadow Flame and Unagi. A feint yet visible wave flowed from the creature, similar in appearance to a wave of shimmering heat. It washed over Shadow Flame and Unagi, and, as the gladiator killed the remaining smaller Tanar'ri, both of them were possessed by a deep and powerfully irrational fear. Neither even attempted to flee from it but instead simply dropped to the ground and curled into the fetal position, rocking gently back and forth.
Jean watched as their only real defense against the Tanar'ri fell to the ground, shaking in fear. She turned quickly around and saw Silvara was still intoning the words of the scroll. With nothing more to do she grasped the Staff of Knowledge with both hands and stepped forth to fight, hopeful that she could hold it off long enough for Silvara to finish reading the scroll. She strode boldly forward, looking the Tanar'ri in the eye, as the demon simply stood and watched her come. Jean walked three steps before she saw the Tanar'ri smile, and without further trace of movement disappear. Not sure exactly what had happened she quickly swirled around to check on Silvara, who was still reading, and saw that the creature was now standing behind Silvara raising its fist to strike. Jean swore loudly, the demon had let her step out just far enough that she now had no chance of reaching it before it could strike Silvara and interrupt her reading.
As the Tanar'ri prepared to strike Silvara stopped reading and looked up. Momentarily confused at the apparent absence of the Tanar'ri, she wrinkled her nose and turned around. The demons fist was arcing down toward her, but rather than protect herself or try and move out of the way, she spoke a single word - the last word of the spell. The Holy Word. White light washed out from her carrying the power of the Holy Word. Jean felt it swarm past her as a rush of warm air as it swept out in all directions, swamping over the Tanar'ri as it began to howl in pain and fury. It screamed harsh words, foul and  dark words, and while they did not understand them the meaning was clear enough. The light flowed over the Tanar'ri, seeking purchase on its flesh as it buried into it, driving through its mouth, its eyes, its ears. The creature shrieked its fury one final time as the light burst from its body, piercing its flesh, disintegrating it from the inside as it was hurled back to the Abyss in an explosion of divine wrath.
Jean and Silvara stood for a moment simply staring at the scorched ground where the Tanar'ri had stood only seconds before. Shadow Flame and Unagi both stood up, free of the debilitating fear magic of the demon and walked over to Jean and Silvara.
"Well, holy shit," said Unagi, succinctly expressing what everyone was thinking.
They stood and looked at each other for several minutes revelling in the closest possible victory.
"Ixxizigut!" Shadow Flame almost yelled, "show yourself now!"
After a few seconds the imp appeared flapping its wings excitedly, looking around with trepidation. "Yes master," it said, its voice just a little shaky.
"I am willing to forgive your cowardice in this manner, I never really expected much more anyway, but you should tell us everything you know about what just happened."
"But master, Ixxizigut knows nothing of those fiends. Well, not why they were here or what they were doing."
"Then tell us what you know of those creatures, all of them."
The imp paused a moment, stretching Shadow Flames patience for as long as possible before saying, "Tanar'ri, they were Tanar'ri."
"What kind," snapped Shadow Flame, his patience with the little devil at its end.
"The big one," Ixxizigut quickly explained, "a Hezrou. A true Tanar'ri, one of the most powerful of its kind. They are usually used to marshall the armies of the Tanar'ri. Ixxizigut has seen them before, slaying many Baatezu. It could kill Ixxizigut with one hit," the imp explained, foregoing its usual bravado. "The little ones are Dretches, weak and stupid. Not much smarter than manes, but they are real Tanar'ri, swarms of them like rats, mindless and hateful."
"And, what was it, Mezzoloth? What of those?" prodded Shadow Flame.
The imp turned a little pale as it explained, "they are the lowest Yugoloths, foot soldiers, they make up the Yugoloth armies. They are powerful but very stupid, Ixxizigut stays away from Yugoloths, I hates them."
"I know how you feel," said Jean, "this was all a little bit crazy. If you hadn't have found that secret door Nug I think we might not be around to tell this tale."
They all agreed, it was a good thing the gladiator had taken the time to look.
"OK then," said Silvara, "let's work out how to get this bloody scroll and get the hells out of here."
"Good call," said Shadow Flame as they walked across and began to inspect the case and the stone plinth. Jean and Silvara explained that they had given it a good look but had found no way to get at the scroll before. Shadow Flame crouched down and began having a close look at the stones of the plinth, pushing and tapping the stones looking for anything that moved or sounded hollow. After a short while he discovered a stone that went into the plinth when pushed, so he pushed it in. Nothing happened, and after several seconds the stone slid back out settling flush with the other stones around it. He tried to wedge his dagger in and draw the stone out but it would not come, it was connected to the interior of the plinth somehow. He continued searching around and after a few moments found another stone on the opposite side that did the same thing.
"Jean, on the count of three push the stone on the other side in, OK?" he asked.
Jean nodded and crouched down in front of the stone. Shadow Flame counted to three and they both pushed their stone in. The glass of the cabinet slid down into the plinth exposing the scroll to the air. A feint sickly smell wafted out into the room causing Silvara especially to screw up her face as she held her nose closed. Shadow Flame took the scroll. It was lightly slimy in texture, slippery and lumpy, but no residue came off on his fingers so he simply rolled it up and placed in it their bag of holding.
'Right, well, I say mission accomplished," said Shadow Flame. "Lets grab all those scrolls and globes from the room and head back to grab all those books and tomes."
They quickly grabbed all they could from the abandoned chapter house and returned to the surface, about to get a little richer with any luck.

Continue to page 8...