Sheen held one of the red glass beads up towards the portal and it flared to life again. “So, any volunteers to find out whether this leads into a fiery pit?” Haden reached out a hand a bit tentatively. When his fingers passed through the plane of the portal there was a terrible sucking noise and he was yanked off his feet, vanishing in a flare of light. The portal itself began to waver and flicker.
Talan’s eyes widened. “As much as Haden . . . we have to go after him!”
Joris nodded and dove through the rapidly dwindling portal, vanishing in a roar of flames. Sheen sighed. “I don’t see any other way forward, here.”
“Ladies first,” Talan said. Sheen took a deep breath, closed her eyes, and held her nose as though preparing to dive into water. Then she jumped.
“Good luck,” Rindo said as Talan followed, the portal closing on his heels.
The four adventurers landed in a heap on a wide flagstone terrace. “Well, that could have been worse,” Sheen commented, disentangling herself from Joris and looking around. They stood at the base of a cliff. Above them, a narrow staircase climbed along the cliff, vanishing into the heights. Beyond the edge of the terrace, a sea of eternal fire churned.
“Not exactly your island vacation paradise, is it?” Haden asked, raising an eyebrow.
“It’s a little more tropical than I like,” Sheen replied. “Enough messing around, let’s go find Toranna.
“Not so fast, guys,” Talan said, indicating the five humans gathered around the foot of the staircase, watching them. They were armed and armored, and two of them were dressed as priests in long robes over their armor.
“Drop your weapons!”
“Oh, look, hostile natives,” Haden said. He did not appear impressed by the threat, even though the humans outnumbered them.
“I’m not sure I like your tone of voice,” Talan said. Sheen glanced over at the half elf, who was gripping his sword and dagger tightly.
“I don’t think we’ll be dropping any weapons today, thank you,” she said.
“I don’t suppose any of you would like to simplify things and tell us where Toranna is?” Talan asked.
“She awaits the judgment of the Great Eye!”
Sheen rolled her eyes irritably and concentrated, a small, curved plane of force taking form in front of her. It hung in the air, glowing slightly. Haden drew his rapier with a silken noise.
“Here stand some angry threatening berks
shouting themselves hoarse and blue.
Well, let’s give them ‘em a side of the works
to go along with their barbeque,”
He declaimed. Talen, Sheen, and Joris all winced and glared at him. He shrugged. “Well, they can’t all be winners. Anything better would be wasted on these idiots, anyway.” The five men charged. Sheen tried to dodge a man with a longsword, but his blow rebounded erratically off her floating shield and tore a gash in her arm. Talan’s swords whipped past a priest as Joris threw a spell, silencing the ferocious bellows of the enemy leader.
Joris grunted as a mace struck him in the chest, nearly knocking him off his feet. Sheen ducked backwards, struggling to concentrate on another power as Haden thrust his sword into Joris’ attacker, distracting him momentarily. Talan ducked under another longsword, driving the other priest towards Sheen with merciless blows. Sheen leveled her spear and the man staggered backwards onto it, skewering himself. She kicked his lifeless body off her weapon and looked around for another victim. Then she was knocked to the side when the remaining priest caught her a glancing blow with his mace.
Sheen glanced at Joris, busy healing himself while Talan and Haden distracted the swordfighters. Shrugging, she drove the cleric back, striking him several times with her spear while he flung his mace around her head and shoulders, ignoring the blood that ran down his armor.
Talan dropped two of the swordsmen in quick succession; the last one turned and fled for the stares. Haden lowered his rapier and gave chase, smiling grimly as he heard the heavy rattle of the man’s armor and his heavy panting. “It’s amazing, the ridiculous things people will try to do,” he remarked, taking the steps two at a time with a dancer’s ease.
Behind him, Talan ducked behind the man Sheen was fighting and stuck a dagger in his ear. Sheen sighed in relief and lowered her spear, looking around. The fleeing man hit a landing and skidded, colliding with the rail. He hauled himself around to face Haden, realizing that he was trapped.
“So, now that all of your rude friends re dead, do you want to explain what is going on here?”
The man gasped for air, looking down the stairs towards the terrace where Sheen, Joris, and Talan were collecting themselves. He dropped his sword and kicked it towards Haden, who put a foot on it. “Well? Who are you people, and what are you doing here?”
“This here’s the Citadel of Fire, it’s where they reprogram the bubbers and barmies.”
Haden rolled his eyes. “I would never have guessed. Are there many more of you people lounging about the place?”
“Yeh. Some of the high-ups left when Toranna told ‘em what happened. The rest are all ‘round the upper hall, most like.” Sheen and Talan reached the landing and stood in silence, watching.
“Where’s that?” Haden asked. The man began describing the general layout of the citadel. “Just out of curiosity, what did they do with Toranna?”
“She’s in the ‘guest chambers’, just like the barmies. Baltazo’s most like to kill ‘er when ‘e finds out she led you in ‘ere.”
“Oh, well, we can’t have that,” Haden said. “We’ll just have to go see for ourselves.”
Sheen jerked her head back towards the terrace. “Off you go, then.”
“Have you got a bead for the portal?” the man asked miserably. She tossed a bead to him and began climbing the stairs again. “Thanks, cutter. Don’t know where there is to hide from the Eye, but it’s better than endin’ up in the dead book.” The stairs came to another landing, this one with a passage leading to the left. Sheen turned and walked down the hall, grimacing at the statues of fiends in grotesque or obscene positions. Black iron doors blocked the end of the hall, carved with terrible runes and curses. The floor before them was littered with broken bones and pieces of rusty armor.
“Careful,” Joris said. “There’s a glyph of warding on the doors.” He frowned. “I think there’s a specific gesture to bypass it.”
“Which means what?” Sheen asked, examining the doors a bit more cautiously.
“Well, if we trigger the glyph, it casts a spell on us. I don’t know which spell, but I doubt it’s good.” Joris stepped forward. “Wait here, I think I can get us past it.”
“Don’t get yourself killed,” Sheen said. Joris stepped forward, drawing an arcane shape in the air. He smiled and took another step forward. A blinding flash filled the hall as mystical energy discharged. Joris yelped in surprise.
“FOOL! NOW YOU SHALL RECEIVE THE PUNISHMENT YOU DESERVE!! ADVANCE INTO THE HALL OF JUDGMENT!”
Sheen, Haden, and Joris stared at the doors, blinking, as the echoes died away. “Right,” Sheen said after a moment.
“Well, we’re all still standing,” Talan ventured. Sheen strode forward past Joris and pushed on the doors. They opened slowly, creaking like the portal of Doom.
“Are you okay, Joris?” Talan asked.
“I . . . yes. I think it was a blinding spell, but I shut my eyes in time.”
Beyond the doors, Sheen was stomping around a large hall. A throne carved out of some black rock stood at the far end from the doors, flanked by smoking braziers. The walls were covered in ominous tapestries. “I’m not impressed,” she announced loudly, as though chastising someone.
“You know,” Joris said, looking around slowly while Sheen peeked through various side doors, “if I used to be crazy, and I thought I was dead, it wouldn’t take much in the way of convincing to make me think this was the underworld.”
“They seem to have done a thorough job of it, at least,” Haden said.
“There’s an actual passageway through here,” Sheen said, and went through the double doors on the right side of the hall. “Come on, folks, I want to get out of here as quickly as possible.”
They found several disused bunks and rooms that looked to have been cleared out recently on their way up yet another set of stairs. Near the top, they opened the door into a room lined with bars, a set of keys hanging helpfully beside the door. A double row of cells stretched off beyond the iron bars. Some of the cells were occupied.
“We’re not fiends!” Sheen said, unlocking the door.
“I think you have us confused with some other people,” Talan remarked. Haden shook his head, laughing.
“I don’t believe your lies, demon! You can’t keep me from my ascension!”
“They must still be working on these two,” Joris remarked. Looking around the corner, Sheen startled another cell occupant and spotted a fourth person chained to the wall and gagged. Haden looked over her shoulder.
“Well, well, Toranna,” he said. “How are you doing? Quarters comfortable enough for you? Need anything?”
Toranna twisted one of her hands to make a rude gesture at Haden. Sheen opened the door for the third prisoner and handed him a bead for the portal. He took it blankly and listened to her explanation of how to get down to the portal.
“Well, that’s one that seems reasonably sane, at least,” Sheen said. “We’ll come back for the others once we’re sure this place is empty.”
Toranna made an indignant noise and Talan looked down at her. “I’m not sure Toranna wants to leave,” he said.
Haden grinned. “Were you expecting us to let you out so that you can get us all killed? Not likely. Here,” he said, pulling the gag out of her mouth, “now you can cuss all you want. Happy?”
“Maybe you could answer some questions for us,” Talan said diffidently.
“Fine. One way or the other, I’m done with these Illuminated berks, anyway.”
“Why all of this cloak and dagger with the barmies, anyway?” Talan asked.
“That was all Marvent’s idea.”
“And who is Marvent?” Haden asked.
“Green Marvent. He’s a wizard, or was, at least. He started the Illuminated to spread his creed.”
“Rule what you can, control what you can’t rule, and destroy what you can’t control. He tried sending agents to infiltrate the factions, but they always got found out sooner or later. Well, almost always,” Toranna said, smirking slightly.
“Oh yeah?” Sheen asked. “So what is all this ‘great eye’ nonsense about? And how did Baltazo wind up in charge?”
Toranna shrugged. “Marvent is the Great Eye—I think. Or was it all the Illuminated? I don’t know, he was a cryptic old sod. As for Baltazo, he’s an agent, same as me, slippery as a Styx eel. I don’t know what happened to Marvent, but knowing Baltazo I doubt he’ll be coming back.”
“So where do you fit into all of this?” Talan asked.
“I just passed the ‘dead’ barmies here, otherwise they would have ended up really going to the flames.”
“Have you ever met someone named Gyderic?” Sheen asked.
Toranna blinked, surprised. “The name is . . . familiar, somehow. Can’t place it, though. Marvent kept most of us well separate in case someone got scragged.”
“Are there any other portals that lead away from here?” Haden asked.
“There’s one that I know of on hte highest platform. Marvent and Baltazo are the only ones that know how to open it, though. You have to cast a particular spell at it.”
“Do you know where it leads?” Talan asked.
“No. One of the Illuminated safe houses, I guess.”
“All right,” Sheen said. “Let’s finish exploring and get out of here. Maybe we can figure out how to open that portal.” Talan nodded and they turned to leave the jail.
Toranna called after them, “I’ve been straight with you, don’t forget that.”
“Eventually, at least,” Haden snorted.
They climbed tiredly through more empty rooms to an upper terrace, the second highest point in the Citadel, ringed by thick stone battlements. At the far end of the terrace stood a stone statue of an armored man, nine feet tall at least. With a great creaking and grinding, it turned slowly to face them.
Book reviews, art, gaming, Objectivism and thoughts on other topics as they occur.
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- In Color
- Cold Blood: Sheen and Haden
- Cold Bood: Shopping
- Cold Blood: Sheen's New Job
- Cold Blood: Session 8
- Psionics Game: Sessions 14 & 15
- Cold Blood: Session 7
- Psionics Game: Council
- Psionics Game: Oren at the Order
- Psionics Game: The Thayvians Consult
- Psionics Game: The'ss'it Arrives
- Psionics Game: Session 13
- Tin Man (third episode)
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- Tin Man (second episode)
- "Smart" vs. "Hard-working"
- Tin Man (first episode)
- Psionics Game: Session 12
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