Black Ichor

The Hateful Wars: Chapter Twenty-Five

Thomas Kelly

Picking herself up from beneath the fallen stone jars, Kristryd unsheathed her dagger and tried to make sense of the sound of commotion around her. “We should have brought a holy knight!” she exclaimed.

“Should have brought an army of holy knights!” Bamadar’s voice agreed from near at hand. A tidal wave of numbing terror washed through the room. Kristryd froze paralyzed numb with fear; her only thought to flee. As suddenly as it had come, the terror lifted, and with it, the darkness. Light returned to the room, revealing a scene of chaos. The six-armed serpent-woman radiated an aura of such revulsion that Kristryd felt her stomach lurch. A retching stench hung in the air and assaulted her nostrils. She tasted excrement on her palate.

A Desperate Fight

Alton the halfling priest stood atop one of the polished stone tables, holding his holy symbol aloft, uttering a prayer of adjuration which seemed to wrack the fiends with pain. Bagbag’s illusions no longer disguised the two elves. Peralay had already unsheathed Gnoll-Cleaver and leapt to the attack between the slashing blows and cutting swings of the librarian’s six-blades. Bagbag raised an unseen magical shield to defend from spells and attacks. Small winged fiends, previously concealed in alcoves above, leaped from the balconies to join the fight. The two unsuspecting guards posted outside the hall rushed in, swords unsheathed in and lances hand, to join the confusion. When they saw the monsters, they shouted bravely and ran forward, striking sturdy blows against ape-like demons. “Only an enchanted edge will bite this one’s flesh!” Bamadar warned over his shoulder as he joined Peralay in the battle with the six-armed fiend.

Blasts of flame and magical fire scorched through the room as spellcasters and tenar’ri exchanged their strikes. Another wave of fear swept through Kristryd. The two dwarven guardsmen fell back, as if struck by an unseen blow. The small winged fiends swooped and smote at their prone forms with cackles of glee.

Xaxalander’s enchanted blades struck at the librarian from behind, and the clutch of the paralyzing fear broke again. Kristryd ran into the fight, letting her own short sword take its fill of tenar’ri flesh. Black ichor stained the blade. Heavy stone tables, of such immense weight that a half dozen dwarves would have struggled to move them, abruptly flipped up into the air of their own accord and smashed one into another, cracking and shattering. Stone jars hurtled from the walls like missiles, smashing down on the party. The librarian’s serpent tale wrapped around Xaxalander and began to squeeze the life out of the elf. The relentless slashes of Gnoll-Cleaver continued, severing an arm, and then a second arm. Black ichor splurched out from the wounds. It took three strokes of Bamadar’s axe to free Xaxa from the coiling tail. On the third blow, he completely severed it from the female torso. Ichor poured from the flailing snake’s tail. As the creature’s torso fell free, she dropped her weapons, using her hands to break her forward fall. Gnoll-Cleaver came down in one clean stroke and cleaved her head off. Foul and stinking gore puked out of the wounds. The remaining scholars winked out of sight, vanishing into thin air, and the cackling of the small flying fiends ceased as well. The twitching parts of the librarian dissolved into black goo and then faded from sight. The party found themselves alone in the Hall of Scrolls.

“I did not expect a reception of that caliber,” Bagbag muttered as he checked himself for injuries.

“When Onselvon sent us on this quest,” Xaxa complained, “He neglected to mention anything about tenar’ri.”

All members of the party still stood and still breathed, some with broken bones and bleeding wounds. As for the demons, even their foul odor dissipated. Alton turned his attention at once to the art of healing, using the powerful divine gifts of Ehlonna to repair shattered bones, close jagged wounds, and mend torn flesh. Only the two sentries could not be helped; they had both been savaged by the flying imps.

Bamadar examined the curved and cruel blades the librarian had been wielding. Unlike the creature itself, the blades remained. “Those are evil weapons, heavily cursed, and they radiate evil,” Alton warned. “Take a care not to touch them.”

“But finely forged and exquisitely crafted nonetheless. These are dwarven-made or I’ll cut my beard off!” Bamadar exclaimed.

In Gretyll’s Study

“Search the hall for secret doors,” Bagbag instructed. “And beware traps, wardings, runes, and magical symbols.” While the others recovered their strength and their wits, Xaxalander conducted the search. His efforts quickly revealed a cleverly concealed door set behind a shelf of ancient tomes. Bagbag examined the entrance and found a large glyph of warding clearly displayed, but also a hidden line of script above the lintel. “These glyphs are meant to keep out the fiends, not us. But the door is also warded with hidden runes,” he said. “Unless one knows the password, opening the door will release some spell to strike us.”

“Then undo the enchantment,” Kristryd said resolutely. “For we must assuredly open this door.”

Bagbag opened his own book of spells and rifled through it until he had found a dweomer he considered sufficient to the task, then he set about it. The entire affair took far too long, and with every passing moment, Kristryd expected guards to burst in on the Hall of Scrolls or fresh fiends to appear. When at last the work was complete, Bagbag admitted, “I have done my best. The rest remains in the hands of the gods.”

“So be it,” said Alton the halfling. He invoked the protection of Ehlonna while Father Furduch called upon Ulaa’s grace. Bamadar stepped forward, heedless of the danger, and pushed the portal open. Kristryd flinched involuntarily, expecting a fireball or some withering spell, but Bagbag’s measure availed. The line of script above the lintel faded. Bamadar called for light, and Bagbag spoke a cantrip to ignite the lamps inside the room. “She is not here,” Bamadar announced. “Unless she be invisible.” The thought made Kristryd shudder. They looked around a small study strewn with magical accoutrements. Books, potions, magical trinkets, crystal balls, scrolls, charts, diagrams, and various arcane clutter lay in heaps. A summoning circle at the center of the room revealed the type of work ordinarily performed in that study.

“Touch nothing, take nothing. A sickness on this pilfer, a curse upon this filth,” Father Furduch warned. Bagbag’s eyes fixed upon a single brassbound codex marked with strange symbols and glyphs. “Now that will be a potent book!” he muttered. “That’s no dwarven magic; that’s a summoner’s guide.”

“And what is this?” Xaxalander asked, holding aloft a wondrously made brass birdcage which contained a tiny three-inch-tall living dwarf, shouting silently for release.

“Weren’t we just told not to touch anything you damned fool?” Bamadar scolded.

“By the gods,” Kristryd exclaimed. “That is the undermountain king in the cage.” Bagbag produced a magnifying lens and looked closely at the urgently gesturing, tiny dwarf locked inside. “So it is,” he affirmed. “This is Thane Redmod Buddoken or I’m a halfwit.”

“We must release him!” Kristryd demanded. “Release him at once.”

But that proved to be a difficulty. The door of the cage could not be opened, the bars could not be bent, and no magic seemed sufficient to unfasten the lock. “The secret to opening the cage will be found somewhere in these books,” Bagbag said, looking around at the heaps.

“Alas! That could take hours, days, to find!” Kristryd objected.

“Yes, but I expect the matter is explained in this devilshine tome,” the wizard said, gesturing to the cursed summoner’s books with the brass bindings. Kristryd nodded her assent.

The Brassbound Book

Bagbag unfastened the brass clasp that bound the book and opened the tome. A hairless demon with a pointed skull and ears turned backwards leapt up from the opened pages, taking full form in a long-limbed crouch overtop the brassbound book. “Here’s a kiss from Tasha,” the Rutterkin snarled, and then it struck the dwarf a terrific blow, knocking the spectacles from his face and sending the old wizard tumbling across the room. His body crashed into the wall and blood ran from a broken nose. Before the Rutterkin could leap away, Peralay skewered the unclean creature with one quick thrust of Gnoll-Cleaver. Bamadar leapt up onto a stool and swung a wide arc with his axe, severing the abomination’s pointed head from its shoulders. Black ichor belched out from the wound, but the Rutterkin moved equally quick. The headless corpse pulled itself free from Gnoll-Cleaver and leapt through the air with long arms extended, catching the tumbling head before it hit the floor. Then the guardian vanished from sight.

“We need to be more careful,” Bagbag murmured groggily as he sat up. He returned his spectacles to his face and staggered back over to the open book.

“Let me help you,” Xaxa offered.

“Unless you can read the magical scripts too, you can be of no help, no matter how keen the eyes of the elves,” Bagbag refused. While the old wizard studied the vile tome, the priests prayed and invoked the gods for protection. It took him more than an hour, but at last the trueheaded old loremaster’s eyes lit upon a page titled “Prison of Zagig.” He carefully deciphered the magical writings, wrote out a copy of the page, and then committed the spells and command words to memory. “It is a simple matter,” he exclaimed closing the book and latching its clasp. “Bring me the cage!”

Xaxalander set the brass cage down atop the closed tome. Bagbag spoke a command word. A door in the cage popped opened and the tiny dwarf vanished. In the same instant, the undermountain king appeared, full size and in the flesh, amid his liberators.

“Blessed be Ulaa!” the king said. “Blessed be Moradin who hears the prayer of the prisoner and releases the one bound in darkness.”

“How long your Majesty?” Kristryd asked.

The undermountain king shook his head, “I know not. Only that the hag trapped me in her cage on the first night of Richfest in the last year of the century.”

“More than a year and a half, Your Majesty,” Kristryd did the math. “Today is the first of Growfest in the year 501 of the common reckoning. Meantime some doppelganger in your guise sits upon your throne and commands your kingdom.”

“That will be the old hag,” the undermountain king said. “She deceived me, fool that I am, with promises of power and strength. Come with me to the smithies, and I will reveal her deviltry.”

By then the hour had grown late indeed. The party gathered themselves and prepared to leave. Bagbag opened his pack and dropped the brassbound book inside and the brass cage as well. “Before we leave this cursed place, we must take away her power of summoning, lest she bring all the powers of the Hells and the Abyss down upon us,” he explained.

“I’ve done my part to disarm her as well,” Xaxalander laughed, shaking a canvas bag bulging with magical items, potions, and valuable looking things he had pilfered during their stay in the witch’s study.


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