Chapter 27: Of Drow and Demons

Walking through the Demonweb, the three elves and the werewolf followed the branch where the Llothian priestess appeared. Of course, she could have been there for any number of reasons, but the fact that she seemed to be guarding that portal and understood their speech meant that she was at least magically prepared to discourse with intruders. Daerazal hoped that meant the Guallidurth gate was somewhere behind her. Faced with more webbed branches to choose from, the Drow stayed to his right, peering down each branch before entering, trying to see if there were any other clues worthy of exploration.

Rindaalyn easily picked up on the Drow's methodical logic in trying to figure out the right path through the webbed maze and copied his actions on the left side of the tube. They found more inanimate objects trapped in odd places in odd ways, indicating random portals somewhere nearby. And there were more lifeless creatures wound in cocoons, strung up like some macabre decoration ... or feast, but occasionally they found something new.

After a second Llothian-patrol attack, they followed the branch behind the priestess to find a suspended, web bridge that swayed uneasily over murky black water. How the water came to be suspended without origin or end defied logic, but that didn't stop slimy, multi-appendaged chaos beasts from reaching up through the webbing to try and pull them into depths below. The elves' attempts to avoid being dragged under and drowned swayed the unstable bridge even more, so they were grateful when it connected to the solid web again.

Another encounter with a Llothian patrol led them to climb a sloping web that resembled a rope ladder. As the top leveled off, the tube flattened into a narrow, meandering path that ran between red-silhouetted cliffs. Like the water, the cliffs rose out of the bottomless Abyss defying logic. But as the elves passed between and around various floating rocks, they discovered the cliffs housed hundreds of bat-like cloakers. The flat, black creatures struck at them mercilessly trying to drive them away, but they couldn't be seen at all unless they swooped close to the webbing.

Trying to outrun them was impossible because the path was too sticky, narrow, and curved. Instead the elves had to resort to crawling. Digging their fingers between the strands in the ground webbing and holding on for dear life, they tried to avoid toppling over the edge, as they endured multiple bites and tail lashings from the bat-like beasts.

The party was growing weary by the time they encountered their fourth Llothian patrol, but following the branch behind them led them into a webbed tunnel with ordinary-looking wooden doors. And behind those doors, they found more branches, more trapped things that didn't belong there, and many one-way exits straight down into the Abyss.

One of the chambers had a vampire lair, complete with a harrowing vampire and the skeletal guardians that had once been her victims. But as they continued down the tunnel, they began to see lots of half-eaten corpses littering the passageways indicating the vampire wasn't the only predator that lived there. Some of the bodies were cocooned and strung just like the previous ones, but all were pale, empty husks—dry and brittle. The predator never showed itself, but they could feel its eyes upon them.

"Why won't it just go ahead and attack? I know it's following us," Kielanai whispered, gripping and re-gripping the hilt of her katana. She looked in all directions expecting the doors to pop open so something could jump at her.

"Remember the dremora?" Daerazal answered. "Creatures of dark desires feed on fear before they feed on their prey. They want power over you more than they want you. Don't let them smell your fear."

A short distance ahead of him, Rindaalyn held up a hand signaling everyone to stop. Two doors down, a red light could be seen stretching from the crack under the door across the webbed tunnel. "Azura Almighty, please don't let it be another vampire," he muttered under his breath. This place was beginning to unnerve him, too.

Daerazal sneaked close to the door and put an ear to it. There were voices within, and they were speaking Drow. It was too low for him to understand what was being said, but sobs and moans could be heard intermittently above the conversation. Something terrible was happening within. Hesitating to barge in without knowing what was being said, he returned to his friends. "Llothians—at least one male and one female. Maybe I should attempt to find out what's going on first."

Rindaalyn nodded and moved to one side of the door, while Talvalo moved to the other. "We'll rush the minute anything goes wrong. Kielanai, are your defensive spells working properly yet?"

"No. It's this horrible place. Magic is strange here." She had sporadically tried to heal the worst injuries after their encounters, but her restorative magic was almost worthless now, taking practically all of her magical energy just to heal a couple of bad wounds.

Daerazal had no idea how long they had been wandering, but he could see the fatigue in her face. He was beginning to wonder how much longer she, or any of them, would hold out without proper rest and nourishment, considering everything they had been through. "You're versatile. Be ready with whatever you can manage." He placed a hand on her shoulder and encouraged her to wait back against the wall. Then, he returned to the door, sheathed his spider sword, and pulled open the latch to enter.

Purple and red faerie fire lit the chamber just enough for him to see blood stains on the floor, walls, and alter. Sickening, thick incense filled the air, and a large obsidian statue of the demon goddess's half-Drow, half-arachnid body loomed large against one wall. The statue's tongue and the basin beneath it bore similar stains, and her face bore a frightening expression. One of the statue's Drow arms and three of her spidery legs reached forward, as if to grab anyone that came too near. The other arm was bent to her breast ... her hand clutching a glowing stone that pulsed with magic.

Against the wall opposite the altar of Lloth stood another webbed portal, similar to the one they had previously come through. And beyond it were blurred images of tall, faerie fire lamps in a room with magical markings on the floor—a summoning chamber. Daerazal couldn't believe his luck. He had found both the source and the gate.

"What do you want?" a Llothian priestess demanded of his intrusion.

Daerazal recognized she had been speaking with a Drow arachnemancer—a mage who specialized in spider magic. They were about to deliver their latest offering to the goddess of chaos, a gaunt gold elf, chain-bound on the lower half of the obsidian altar behind them.

"Don't make me remind you, male, that you are speaking to the Second Daughter of House Nardool," she growled in warning.

Daerazal's eyes were so set on their elven sacrifice, that he almost forgot Drow etiquette. Averting his eyes from the female priestess, he bowed his head. "I bring a message concerning the portal, Jabbress."

The priestess absently tapped the flat blade of an enchanted, black, spider-shaped dagger at her chin as she assessed the warrior. "The Akavir portal?"

"Third Daughter Auniira has been killed."

The priestess's eyes narrowed. "What?" She wove her way around the arachnemancer to confront the messenger more directly. "Who killed her? Awai-Hebi?"

"There was a rebellion. He was slain, too. The Akaviri alliance is in ruins, and the Tsaesci may consider a Guallidurth invasion to avenge their fallen leader."

Considering the dire news, the priestess no longer seemed upset. In fact, the latter part of the message seemed to make her feel better. The Priestess turned to the arachnemancer with a pious laugh. "Did you hear that? Both Auniira and the snake have been slain," she happily repeated.

"This is good news indeed, Jabbress Iraekha," the arachnemancer agreed, like a puppet.

Iraekha faced Daerzal once more. "Where are the rest of Auniira's guards? Have they fallen back?"

"All lost, Jabbress. You could send spies to confirm it, but if the Tsaesci retaliate first ..."

Iraekha paused to consider how battle-weary he looked. "No witnesses except you?"

"None that would be a threat to your security if the Akavir gate is destroyed," Daerazal responded, pacifying her desire to remain free of accusations toward her sister's death.

"Hm, an unfortunate blow to the expedition, but an excellent move toward securing what's been won." She touched the back of his bowed head with gentle strokes to let him know she would consider rewarding him later for looking after her interests. "Perhaps the gate no longer serves our best interests … particularly mine."

"Then, you will not kill me?" the sacrificial gold elf dared to ask from his bound position on the altar.

The priestess approached him with a grin and bent to speak, pressing the tip of her black spider-dagger against his cheek. "We have the Eilistraeen traitor. We no longer have to pacify the snake's demands. And now I have one less knife in my back, since my younger sister was conveniently disposed of. I'm feeling ... generous. I might just let you return to the dungeon."

"No!" he cried and tried to move within his twisted chains. "Don't send me back! Just go ahead and kill me! Please ..." He broke down into miserable sobs.

"Then again," she calmly continued, "Lloth has delivered us from having to complete our contract with the snakes. She deserves our thanks. To take away her offering may displease her."

The arachnemancer's lips curled into a sinister smile as he moved to stand behind the priestess. "If I may make a suggestion, Jabbress Iraekha. Celebrations are good occasions to offer thanks."

"True." Iraekha contemplated the mage's idea as she twirled the dagger tip absently on the prisoner's cheek, boring a shallow hole into his golden flesh. "I should call for a feast to honor Lloth's cunning betrayal of the snakes. We can use this slave for entertainment during the feast and then offer him to the Spider Queen as his final act . That way, Matron Drael and all the nobles of House Nardool can see how Lloth has blessed me, but taken Auniira among the damned."

She stopped twirling the dagger and pressed it further into the gold elf's cheek cutting deeper as she leaned close to his ear. "What kind of entertainment shall we have, hm? Do you like to dance? Sing? Heard any good jokes about gold elves lately?"

Withdrawing the weapon, she turned to Daerazal. "Take this prisoner to the dungeon until I have arranged our celebration. I will let Matron Drael know that the Akavir snakes have been defeated by a rebellion, and poor Auniira was lost in the process," she smiled.

"NO! Please! No!" the prisoner cried again and struggled to pull free from his chains, reopening the dirty, bloody wounds on his wrists.

"By your command, Jabbress." Daerazal was in pinch now. He couldn't go back for his companions because he had been ordered to go into the house. But he couldn't go into the house because he couldn't leave his companions. He went to unchain the gold elf from the altar as he debated what to do.

))((

Outside the door, Kielanai, Rindaalyn, and Talvalo were able to overhear the conversation, thanks to Daerazal having left the unlatched door partially open. Without the translator charm, no one could understand what was being said. But just when the bard thought this nightmarish realm couldn't get any worse, she saw that they had found a sacrificial chamber. And she saw Daerazal doing something to a chained gold elf on the altar. Her heart felt as if it were going to break hearing the tortured cries of the prisoner.

"What's Daerazal doing to that gold elf?" Rindaalyn whispered, from his position spying through the crack in the door. "He's not going to kill him, is he?"

"He wouldn't do that. He's going to try to free him, so he might need help." Kielanai readied her katana.

On the other side of the door, the werewolf's ears flattened with a soft growl.

They were all in agreement, then.

))((

As he was pulled from the altar, the gold elf sobbed pitifully and stumbled to the floor. But when he looked up at the door, he was astonished to see the face of a female gold elf hiding behind it. And she was armed.

"You! You've come to save me!" Full of hope for freedom for the first time since his capture, he tried to sit up in spite of his chains.

))((

Kielanai put a finger to her lips to warn the prisoner to be quiet, but it was too late.

The Drow priestess turned to see what the prisoner was babbling about. "Darthiir!" She snatched the prisoner's chains from Daerazal and pointed to the door. "Plynn ilta!"

Kielanai threw the door open and faced the Drow with a frown and a drawn sword. Talvalo stepped in behind her with a snarl, and Rindaalyn was already setting an arrow in his bow.

))((

Daerazal was bewildered by the kill command until he turned and saw his friends in the open doorway. The game was up. The Drow warrior cursed under his breath and drew his swords, but then turned on the Drow priestess.

Only mildly surprised that an unfamiliar warrior would report an assassination before betraying her, Iraekha thrust a hand toward him with a magical command that threw him across the room with force. The priestess then cracked her whip against the floor, sending vibrations through the webbing to call the local predator to her aid.

And as the three intruders rushed into the room, the arachnemancer summoned three huge spiders to intercept them. Then, he cast a Spider Climb spell on himself and used the webbed walls to climb to the ceiling where he could safely hang and cast more magic.

Rindaalyn aimed for the bulbous head of the giant spider on the left. Talvalo grabbed hold of the spider on the right and went after its eyes, much the same way he had the first over-sized arachnid they encountered. This time, however, he got caught in its mandibles. Kielanai lunged sideways to dodge a stream of silk webbing from the spider in the middle and slashed clean through one of its front legs. As it fell, she severed the head.

The arachnemancer, seeing that this trio would soon dispose of his spiders, cast a spell to reanimate the corpse that the bard had beheaded, then he crawled across the ceiling toward the archer. As the undead spider pulled its feet back underneath itself, the mage shot a web spell at Rindaalyn to interrupt his missiles. The sticky stream was strong enough to push the youth back against the wall and glue him to the Abyssal matter that trapped the damned souls.

Daerazal scrambled to his feet with a snarl and rushed forward, ready to take on the priestess again, but a black cloud of magic that not even Drow eyes could penetrate dropped over his head completely blinding him. The warrior didn't panic, though. These spells were common tactics among his kindred. Training with them was the reason he fared so well in the Azura quest vampire fight, but he still hated blind fighting because it forced him turn all offense moves into defense, listening and trying to sense movement in the air near him until the spell dissipated.

))((

Rindaalyn struggled to free himself, but it was no use. He tried to summon a spirit to his defense, hoping Masahiro would answer this call, but to his dismay his magic warped, too. A withered hand from one of the trapped souls directly behind him punched through the softening, clear matter and groped at his shoulder and neck for some kind of leverage to pull the rest of its body through.

The arachnemancer grinned to himself and crawled closer, drawing his dagger, but then halted in his advance, just as pleased to watch the damned finish off the archer for him.

"Rin-kun!" Kielanai cast small fireballs around the sticky webbing, trying hard to control their size, so as not to burn him.

))((

The werewolf used his teeth to crunch through one of the sharp mandibles of the spider that held him. Talvalo fell to the ground, but grabbed onto a leg. Pulling with all his unnatural strength, he tore it away from the spider's body, but then the undead spider the bard had killed turned on him, too, trying to grab him with two of its clawed feet.

Having mangled the first arachnid enough that it couldn't fight back, he climbed over its body to tackle the second in the same manner.

))((

"How dare you interrupt my rites!" Iraekha shouted at Daerazal. "Who put you up to this? It was Auniira, wasn't it! I should have known she sent you to assassinate me!"

Seeing she was going to need all the divine favors she could muster against her sister's supposed plans, the priestess hooked her whip back in her belt and dragged the gold elf prisoner back to the altar of Lloth. Pushing him down onto the black marble slab and turning him over, she raised the sacred spider dagger and thrust it into his chest.

))((

The slave's scream tore Kielanai's attention away from her nearly complete efforts to free Rindaalyn, but she was appalled to see the priestess cutting out the gold elf's heart. She felt compelled to do something, but death was already upon him. She was helpless to reverse it.

))((

Iraekha quickly finished her ritual by holding the throbbing heart high toward the statue of the demon goddess and then dropping it into the basin. Blood from the heart was magically drawn through the statue to drip down its long tongue onto the magical stone in its hand, making it pulse with renewed energy.

The Drowess then turned on the magically blinded, cautiously still warrior and raised the dagger, ready to take his heart next for his treachery, when she became aware that something else had come to join the battle. Smirking, she ran for the portal, abandoning the fight.

))((

As Rindaalyn pulled free from the web spell and the groping hands, he grabbed an arrow and let the missile fly toward the Drow mage, interrupting any further casting plans. Another arrow ended them completely. Then, facing the ghost that now had a shoulder and head through the wall, he grabbed Kielanai's enchanted katana and brought a premature end to his own harmful summoning.

))((

Kielanai had been so shaken by what she witnessed with the Llothian ritual that she stood motionless as Rindaalyn and Talvalo continued to fight. But as she watched the Drowess escape, she was the only one to notice the large, mottled, spider demon standing in the doorway. The bard came out of her daze with a loud gasp and grabbed her sword back from the scout. "Look out!"

The bebilith's barbed, spindly legs moved forward, and its mouth opened with a hiss to reveal green, steaming goo dripping from over-sized fangs.

Talvalo and Rindaalyn immediately cleared out of its path, but a stream of silk webbing from its abdomen completely covered the blinded Drow warrior, netting him to the floor.

Daerazal struggled to cut his way through the sticky blanket, but it hardened with each passing second.

As the bebilith crossed the room to cocoon him, Kielanai cast a fire spell, but the bebilith's web did not burn. She cast a disintegrate spell, but it did not dissolve. Frustrated that all these webs had too many irregularities to figure out, and desperate to defend the warrior while he was helpless, the bard finally whirled and cast a fire spell at the demon spider instead. It was a huge, direct hit, but the bebilith repelled the magic and faded from sight.

"Kielanai! Behind you!" Rindaalyn shouted and pointed.

The bard whirled to find that the spider demon had plane-shifted past her to poke a clawed foot through its own netting and hook the neck of the Drow's cuirass.

))((

Daerazal's vision cleared just in time to see green, poisonous goo dripping onto his armor with a putrid steam. One grip, one tug, and the cuirass was sliced wide open.

Kielanai ran underneath its abdomen and used her enchanted katana to puncture the mottled chitin, spilling black ichor over her shoulder. Talvalo leaped onto its back and grappled its front arms, trying to pull them away from opening the Drow's chest the same way that it had his armor. And Rindaalyn joined the bard underneath the monster, using his katana to pry away the cracked chitin and expose its vital organs.

Kielanai struck the vulnerable area that Rindaalyn had opened, and only then did the bebilith finally fall to the ground. The two elves crawled from beneath the heavy arachnoid monster and paused to catch their breath, but the Drow still trapped under its net.

"It's no use. This stuff is indestructible," Daerazal spoke, giving up and dropping his sword to the ground. "Get the stone from the altar and go on without me. Guallidurth is on the other side."

"There has to be some way to destroy this stuff." The bard tried to cast her disintegrate spell on it again, but it resisted her magic.

"Kielanai, this isn't ordinary spider silk; its demon webbing. Like the rest of this place, it's permanent."

She ignored him and used Itai Kokoro to try to cut through the iron-like strands. And when that didn't work, she drew out a dagger to chip and saw at the material.

"Stop it!" Daerazal hooked his dark fingers in the strands of his white cage. "Go find Chizrae and get her out of here!"

"We're not leaving you behind!" she argued, but turned away in order to think. Crossing the chamber floor to stand before the altar, she stared angrily into the statue's blood-thirsty face. Kielanai reached to the pulsing stone and started to snatch it from Lloth's stone-cold grasp.

"Don't take the stone until you're all ready to pass through that gate!" Daerazal urgently reminded her. "You know what happened when you touched the sigil stones in Obilvion. The same thing may happen here, and you'll find yourself in House Nardool—alone."

))((

Kielanai stared down at the mindless slaughter beneath the treasure and let her hand drop. The frustration, the exhaustion, and the brutality of the gold elf's murder threatened to bring tears to her eyes once more. And when she looked to her companions, it seemed all of them were feeling just as defeated. But just like her very first Oblivion run, she couldn't stand the thought of leaving any of them behind—not one—especially not Daearzal. No error; no pity didn't apply here ... or did it?

"Talvalo, we need your magic," she spoke. "Possibility for error might be the only thing that actually works in a realm of chaos. As wild as your spells are under normal conditions, they'll be even stronger here." She walked to the dead arachnemancer who had fallen to the floor and stripped the indigo, spider-rune robe from his body to drape over the werewolf's shoulders. "You must know of some magic that can help."

Talvalo sighed with worry and turned his back to his friends to force his body through the changes necessary to return to his natural form. When he was through with the painful change, the elf slipped his arms through the borrowed robe and pulled it around himself to tie the belt in place. Then, he turned to face them again. "If your magic is out of control here, mine will kill him."

"Daerazal will be the next one on that altar if we leave him."

"You mean if they can break him out of that."

She went to the trapped Drow and knelt beside him. "I'll try to shield him," she quietly added, knowing it probably wouldn't do any good.

Daerazal shook his head at her persistence, but reached to make contact with her as much as the netting would allow and braced himself to endure whatever the battlemage threw at him.

"Wait," Rindaalyn interrupted with an idea. "You know how I said Kielanai was like our versatile glue? Well, spider silk acts like glue, too, right? But glue softens when it gets wet. Kielanai used fire and ice magic to give us water in the desert, so if you cast an ice spell and follow it with a fire spell, maybe the water will weaken the webbing, yet lessen damage enough to spare him."

Talvalo was thoughtful. "Worth a try. Daerazal, stay under your cloak and don't touch the webbing."

Kielanai drew upon the remainder of her magical energy, concentrated hard, and unleashed as many resist magic spells over the Drow as she could. Then, she backed away and waited, hoping they would be strong enough.

Talvalo concentrated his destructive magic only on the bebilith's silk strands. The blast of ice completely coated the area, and Daerazal's cloak froze solid. One of the resist spells was lost, leaving the Drow shivering with sudden chills, but he remained unharmed.

The battlemage concentrated again, drawing a white-hot ball of fire between his hands. This time, the explosion rocked the room, but the flames licked away the ice with a steamy hiss. The extreme temperatures, raw energy, and water combination made the silk soft and sticky again. Nothing burned away except patches of Daerazal's cloak, but the webbing on which they stood was also softening to a consistency more like the walls. "I can't do any more. The floor might give way beneath us."

Kielanai used her own cloak to smother the small flames. "Are you okay?" she asked of Daerazal.

Another resistance spell was destroyed, but the Drow was alive. "I'm okay," he coughed.

"See if you can cut through it now before it starts to dry and harden again." Rindaalyn knelt to give it a try with his dagger.

"Wait. Give me one more try." The battlemage drew the other two elves away and crouched in front of his brother-in-law. "Stay completely under the cloak," he firmly reminded him.

"You mean what's left of it?" Daerazal snorted. "I don't like being your target practice, Talvalo."

"Then do as I say so you can kick my ass later." Talvalo placed his hands on the webbing and cast a disintegrate spell, but it was an amplified version of what Kielanai had tried. The final resist spell dissolved, but the webbing above it finally began to dissolve, too.

"It's working!" Rindaalyn started cutting away the strands and clumps that melted.

The Drow grabbed his dagger from his boot to aid the scout making the opening bigger, until at last, he was able to squeeze through. Kielanai pulled away the remainder of his destroyed cloak and helped him stand. She gave him a hug to let him know she was glad he was safe, but then backed up to let him peel out of his ruined cuirass. "Thanks for that ... everyone."

When he had exchanged it for the lightweight one from his travel pack, he recovered and sheathed his dropped sword and dagger. "Does anyone need to rest? We can stand two watches at the portal and the door for a few more minutes."

"I can't rest in here." Kielanai cast a sad glance toward the bloody, Llothian altar. "Let's just go on."

"Wereform again?" Talvalo asked with an resigned sigh.

Daerazal considered what might have to be done and frowned to himself. "No," he quietly answered. "Your magic should function normally once we leave the Demonweb, and we may need it."

The Drow walked to the altar and looked down at the mutilated body of the gold elf slave. So many things ran through his mind, but he didn't want to give voice to a single one of them—not yet. He hoped he wouldn't need to.

Talvalo reached into Daerezal's bag and removed his own. He proceeded to change into his own clothing, armor, and mage robe, and then the other two elves joined them at the gruesome altar.

"Why do they do it?" Rindaalyn spoke. "Why do they treat people this way?"

"That's just it. They're not people. They're slaves," Daerazal answered, giving the Ashlander a meaningful glance.

Kielanai slipped her hand into the Drow's hand and then Talvalo's. Then the battlemage placed a hand on Rindaalyn's shoulder, and the scout placed his hand on the bard's back. Their circular link complete, the Drow reached for the magical stone and pried it out of the demon goddess's grasp.

The statue cracked and split as magic snapped and crackled around it with ferocity. Support for the dimensional border collapsed creating a whirling vortex that was already familiar to the bard and the warrior. Bright light burst from portal as they were sucked through it and spit out on the other side, apart from one another. The gate itself flamed violently, cracked, and then exploded sending shards of construction flying all around them.

When everything silenced except the remaining flames, the four elves uncovered their heads from their guarded positions and saw that the Guallidurth gate was finally destroyed.

"Well, if that didn't announce our presence, nothing would." Talvalo sat up to look around. Faerie fire lamps and braziers gave the conjuration room a sinister, red glow. Arcane runes shimmered on the black marble walls and floor in violet, circular designs. They caught the battlemage's attention immediately—not just the ones to summon the portal, but others as well. "Curious ... What kind of pets do Drow usually summon into their homes?"

Rindaalyn winced at a stabbing pain in his leg and sat up to tend to it, when his attention was drawn to a pair of shapely, raven-black female legs instead.

"Drow summon demons, darthiir." The priestess that had escaped the previous battle stood in front of Rindaalyn and looked at the magical stone in Daerazal's hand, but answered Talvalo. "Demons ... and the dead." Iraekha had been waiting for them, and she had brought a friend. Behind her, towering above her head, was the purple, green, and black scaled body of a very large, very long snake. Half-way up the snake's naked torso, however, was an ebon-skinned Drowess with six arms. The half-snake woman smiled with a hiss and flexed all six arms to display her beautifully jeweled weaponry—three scimitars, two sabers, and one battle axe.

"Tsaesci? Here?" Rindaalyn was stunned at both her presence and her sheer beauty.

"Marilith," Daerazal warily corrected the youth. "She's not a snake, Rin. She's a demon—and a cunning one at that. Put your tongue back in your mouth and back away." The Drow hooked the Ashlander's armor to pull him away as the marilith sheathed two weapons and stretched two arms to summon more demons to her aid. Two massive, toad-headed hezrou materialized to flank her.

Iraekha laughed. "I'll take my stone back. Now, thank you." She held out her slender hand as she moved toward Daerazal and lashed her whip at him.

His armor absorbed more of the sting than he did this time, but Daerazal gritted his teeth and endured the strike in order to tuck the magic stone safely into his cuirass. But, when he grabbed her wrist to prevent her from delivering another strike, the snake heads rose in fluid unison and wrapped around his arm delivering simultaneous pain. The warrior gritted his teeth at the raw, magical pain that shot through his nerves. But Iraekha grinned and raised her sacred spider-dagger to cut out his heart while he remained bound.

))((

The marilith hissed at Rindaalyn, baring her fangs, and swung all six of her beautiful weapons in a quick, fluid wave, ready to dice him to pieces. Behind him, Talvalo cast a Burden spell on all six of her treasures, making them almost impossible to swing ... making it possible for Rindaalyn to dodge.

The scout rolled away and pushed himself to stand, but his leg was in pain because a gate shard had struck him. With an injured leg, he wasn't capable of the stable footing necessary to fight with a sword. Nor was he cable of running away fast enough to gain distance for a summons or bow. The youth found himself facing death six different ways in a fight he could not hope to win.

Talvalo drew his sword and prepared to back him up when one of the hezrou thundered toward him and rammed him sideways into the damaged portal. The battlemage scrambled to his feet and closed in quickly to drain the brute's strength, transferring it to himself. The creature tried to hit him again, but the angry battlemage used his borrowed demon strength to slice halfway through its thick hide. "I've come this far for Chizrae. I am not giving up to a giant toad!"

))((

The remaining hezrou slammed its hulking fists into the floor, jarring the elf before attempting to mash him and the bard to a pulp.

Kielanai dodged the heavy attacks and slid behind it to run toward the Llothian priestess. Haunted by the memory of that black spider-dagger carving out the other elf's heart, she wasn't going to give the Drowess the satisfaction of doing it again.

))((

Angry that the battlemage had cursed her speed, the marilith lunged forward with three strikes in succession. Rindaalyn's katana met each strike, but when she came at him again with three different strikes, she threw him off-balance, onto his stomach. The marilith wrapped him in her tail and started to constrict it as she lifted him closer.

Reversing his katana so the blade was vertical and facing out, the scout began sawing through the coils. Spitting, hissing, and more angry than before, the marilith was forced to loosen her grip, but struck at him again as he wriggled free. Behind her, out of reach of all those blades, was the place he needed to be. The scout cast his bow to the floor to improve his mobility, but as he did so, he saw the solution to his problem.

Snatching his spare bowstring from the quiver, he sheathed his katana and used what strength his leg had left to spring from the bleeding coils of her tail onto her arms and back. Without proper use of her lower tail, the marilith lost her balance and dropped two weapons, using two hands to break her fall. The Tsaesci-Ashlander hooked the bowstring under her chin, then hissed next to her ear, displaying his own fangs.

))((

Talvalo attempted to attack the second hezrou in the same manner as he had the first, but this one wouldn't let him have the chance to cast magic. It kept close, always trying to stomp him, always trying to crush him with his fists. The battlemage was still able to deal some powerful strikes with his sword, but his borrowed strength was melting away.

As soon as he saw that their fight had carried them close to a flaming brazier, the elf backed the hulking demon into it, pushed him in, and gutted him. Talvalo wanted to pause and catch his breath, but his attention was drawn by a shout from Rindaalyn. Scolding himself for leaving the youth alone with the marilith, the battlemage ran to help.

))((

Kielanai caught a fistful of the Llothian priestess's intricately woven hair and jerked her head back. Then, reaching for the Llothians' dagger-wielding wrist, the bard twisted the priestess's arm behind her back. Even after Iraekha dropped her whip and released Daerazal, Kielanai continued to keep a white-knuckled grip on her, bending the priestess backwards until she had space to deliver a snap-kick to her spine.

Iraekha grimaced, dropped to her knees, and started swearing a string of curses at the bard. The Llothian's free hand reached behind her and dug sharp, steel-tipped nails into the bard's exposed thigh.

Kielanai gritted her teeth and strained to force the dagger toward the Drowess's own throat. "You like blood sacrifice so much, how about offering your own soul to your damned Spider Queen!"

))((

Daerazal fought to untangle himself from the writhing, snapping whip and cast it to the ground. Trying to shake the lingering pain, he drew his spider sword, and moved around the two female elves locked in combat, intending to take the Drowess from the front while Kielanai held her from behind. But the bard suddenly pushed the priestess forward, snatched her back by the arm, and punched her.

The warrior was surprised at bard's choice of attack, but the fact that the priestess was knocked out cold from Kielanai's punch was nothing short of amazing. When he approached to say something about it, however, she whirled and nearly punched him as well. The warrior dodged, caught her fist in his palm, and frowned at her.

Kielanai winced in agony at the pain in her broken hand, but then her eyes widened and filled with tears. "Oh no! I'm so sorry. I thought you were another Llothian. I can't let them use that dagger again. I just can't! These people don't need to summon demons. They are demons!"

"I know," he quietly agreed and gestured for her to calm down. The Drow made no attempt to defend himself against the bard's accusations regarding his former kindred.

"Speaking of demons ..." Talvalo spoke from across the summoning chamber. He was crouched, hands folded on the hilt of his vertically poised sword, waiting for them to notice Rindaalyn.

The scout sat straddle-legged on the back of the dead marilith with her throat, arms, and torso wrapped in bowstring. He had killed his first demon, all by himself, but he looked like he was about to pass out from the effort.

"Rin-kun!" Kielanai ran to his side to heal his bloody leg. Her magic worked properly this time, so she cast a restorative spell on her broken hand as well.

Daerazal picked up the jeweled weapons around the dead marilith and offered them to the scout. Perking up a little at his new weapon options, Rindaalyn lifted two of the jeweled scimitars. The Drow cast the Dunmer a flat expression and promptly took back the unenchanted one. "Who do you think you are, Drizzt Do'Urden? You don't even know how to use dual blades." The warrior put the remaining weapons into his magical pack.

"I will someday." Rindaalyn extended his arm to admire his new scimitar. The Ashlander had a fine magical weapon at last, but he had come a little farther than Vos to get it.