Bast, Brand, and Nephelle finished eating their dinner then made their way back to their rooms. The night was still young, so they decided to explore the secret passageways they had previously discovered. A short distance down the passageway there was a junction. There was a passage that seemed to head to lower levels, a passage staying on the same level they were at, and one seemed to go higher. They decided to stay true to their level for the time being and Bast’s tracking skills led them to the Baroness’ room.
Soft spokes of light were visible in the dark passageway and the group realized there were small peepholes in the walls. Looking through them they saw the Baroness slowly preparing for bed. Intense grief was obvious in her slow, mournful movements, and she paused frequently as racking sobs overwhelmed her. Uncomfortable by the sight, Bast looked away and found a set of bootprints in the dust. They had come from the opposite direction, stopped where they were at, then led away again. Judging the prints, she could tell whoever made them was about 6’3" and was heavier-set. She brought the group’s attention to this, and they set off after the prints.
The prints led them to the dining room where the murder had taken place, then continued on into the darkness. As they continue to follow the prints, the passageway began to slope downward. Soon they came upon a spiral staircase leading even lower. Quite some time passed and they descended another three flights of stairs, bringing them far below the armory and dungeons. Their path was abruptly halted by a locked, iron portcullis set into the stone. Peering through the gate Nephelle saw that the stonework was much, much older on the far side. Above the portcullis she saw some ancient elven runes engraved in the stone:
The lock requires the spoken Word or royal blood
She took her dagger, pricked her palm, and placed it on the gate. It grew slightly warm under her touch and swung open. As they crossed the threshold, the bootprints faded. They followed the passageway deeper and entered a small room. Bast’s wayward footfall triggered a trap and a door slammed shut behind them. Portals opened in the ceiling and water rushed in. There was no obvious escape, but Bast saw a shadow behind one of the waterfalls. She fired bolt after bolt into the wall, giving the group the means to climb up the wall behind the water to a niche with another door. She picked the lock and they escaped through it.
Their euphoria was short-lived as they reached another dead-end. They found two stone elves guarding a door. Their eyes glowed green and when one of the group tried to touch the door, the eyes flashed and a protective ward gave off a painful green spark of energy. They examined the area and found an engraving in the stone,
Two stand guard firmly in stone, touch the crest and the way will be shown.
Below the script were a series of runes etched into the wall. Nephelle walked back to the statues and studied them for a few moments, then saw they each bore the same family crest. She went back to the runes and spelled out the family name, touching each rune in sequence. As she pressed the last letter, the guards’ eyes flared brilliantly then went out. The section of wall between the statues and the runes also disappeared, revealing the way forward.
A short walk later, they were confronted with a choice: to go left or to go right. To the left, all they could see was darkness and Brand caught a whiff of vast amounts of stale blood. A warm, silvery glow emanated from the path to the right, and Nephelle sensed powerful adjuration magic from that direction as well.
They headed to the right and entered what appeared to be a chapel. They saw five statues of deities standing guard over a central small, domed dias: Treen, Faer-urk, Monglesh, Xuneleth, and Telnothral. They were shocked the see Telnothral included, for the god had succumbed to madness over a thousand years earlier. Stuck in the dias was a beautifully wrought sword. The silver hilt ended in a phoenix-shaped crossguard, the wings swooping up the blade. The blade was a strange triple-edged weapon with a blunted end. The metal of the blade was in constant motion as the quicksilver rippled toward the tip. The adjuration they had sensed came from this weapon, and they each heard in their head a voice, “Free me, for the beast has been loosed!”
Brand stepped forward and drew the weapon, immediately knowing its name was Illrender. He studied the blade, recognizing the mark of an ancient dwarvish forge. He instinctively knew it had been forged solely for the purpose of slaying raksasha. Strength flowed into Brand from the blade, and he felt nigh invincible wielding it. The voice spoke into his mind, “Othmontu has been released, but the binding still holds. He is still weak, but must be slain before he recovers the entirety of his power.”
Bast asked the blade if it could hear her and if it knew anything about a demon shifting into a wolfan to slay the Baron, and they heard, _"The Pantheran speaks truth – I can hear you. I know nothing of what you speak. But I know Othmontu was among the most devious of his time."
Brand asked, “Could he have freed himself?” and the sword answered, “Unlikely. But I sensed a man and a presence at the time he was released. The man was escorted by a dark presence, an apparition clothed only in gray. The two of them went down the path and freed Othmontu.”
Feeling impervious, Brand led the group out of the chapel, back to the fork, and down the left path. Bast sneaked ahead and found the room empty. As the rest of the group entered, she examined the room more closely. She found a gold, binding circle inlaid into the floor. A four-foot section of it was missing however and replacing it was nothing more than charred stone. Placed sequentially around the room were four small teepee-esque altars. On two of them were the charred remains of what looked like hearts. On the others were two more hearts, still beating. As they look on, one of the hearts started beating much faster, spewing blood before catching on fire and being consumed.
The three looked at eachother then to the last heart, each thinking that the raksasha had found another victim. Looking around the room, Brand asked Illrender if the raksasha were able to become invisible. The reply was that they were known to, but Illrender is confident of its ability to detect Othmontu due to their close proximity for so many centuries.
Nephelle closely studied the hearts in the room and sensed necromatic magic from those that were charred and conjuric magic from the one beating. There was also vague glimmers of adjuric magic from the gold circle, but it was fading. As she was looking at the remaining heart, her vision blurred for a moment and she was suddenly staring up at a canopy bed. She recognized it as the Baroness’. Her attention snapped back into focus as Brand called out a warning. Spinning, she spotted a golem emerge from an alcove in the wall, its massive body comprised of pieces from all the murder victims.
The golem launched itself at Nephelle, trying to squash her with a meaty fist. Brand threw himself between them and was able to deflect the blow into the ground, the sheer weight creating small cracks in the surface of the stone. Bast leaped through the air, slicing at the creature with her daggers. Her feline agility allowed her to land gracefully and her blades sliced free a chunk of rotted flesh in the process. The decaying matter fell to the floor, but did not phase the golem in the least.
A wave of ice shot from Nephelle’s outstretched hands, but her aim was off due to the commotion and instead of freezing the flesh golem, it frosted the ceiling instead. Brand cried out a pure warrior’s cry and struck the construct with Illrender. The magic blade tore cleaning through the creature, cutting it from top to bottom. The entire right side flopped to the floor and immediately decomposed into various pieces of the bodies they had come from.
The golem paused for a moment. If it were capable of emotion, shock would have been the prevailing feeling. Sections of ribs protruded from the wound, and Brand could see the remaining lung inflate and deflate with each breath, and the remaining three-fourths of the heart continued to beat, the ventricles sloshing blood into the massive wound. It raised its remaining fist high into the air and brought it down hard at the paladin, who deftly moved aside. The fist hit the earth, sending massive cracks splintering across the room. The gold circle seemed to stop the cracks in that direction and the teepee altars were undisturbed.
While it was focused on Brand, Bast thrust at its back with her daggers. One missed completely as her balance was thrown off by the shaking ground, but the other plunged deep into the flesh. It parted much easier than she thought and her arm followed the blade into the creatures back. From his vantage point, Brand could see the tip of the dagger poking though into the cavity he had wrought before Bast withdrew her blade, her arm covered with vitreous material.
Nephelle took care to aim before shooting her ray of frost at the creature again, but the tremors of the earth threw her off balance and the wall behind the golem turned to ice.
The golem turned to face Bast and she attacked again, aiming for the exposed heart. The keen edge of her blade tore through the sinews holding it together, and thick, sludgy blood poured out onto her.
Nephelle cast again, this time striking true. For an incredibly brief moment, the golem turned to ice, and it was in that split second Brand struck. The power of Illrender was revealed as it shattered the golem. Fist-sized chunks of already-thawing flesh exploded into the room, coating each of the three in blood and guts.
Brand watched in amazement as the gore coating the blade was carried toward the tip by the quicksilver where it was consumed by Illrender. He smiled, knowing he would never need to clean or sharpen this blade.
Nephelle saw how the cracks in the room had not disturbed the hearts on their stands, and she realized that the hearts were mere projections. It stood to reason that they were only consumed by fire when the actual heart was destroyed. Realizing too that if anything were to happen to this image of the Baroness’ heart, it would affect the Baroness herself, Nephelle cast a glamour over the heart and Brand and Bast looked over in time to see it disappear.
They looked over the room one last time then made their way back to their rooms to clean up and get some rest in what remained of the night.
As they crept up to their entrance to their room, they could hear the anger in Gwyn’s voice. They hesitated and heard the voices of Felix and Nigel, “Tell us, elf, where is the princess? She is supposed to be tracking down the murderer, but while she was off cavorting, the commander of the guard was slain!”