“What’s going on?” Sheen asked, joining the group in the shadow of the Glass Pearl. Joris was praying loudly. Haden, Talan and Mal all cast a few spells over themselves. “Getting ready for a fight?” Sheen asked. Haden nodded, so she closed her eyes and began concentrating, directing psionic power throughout her body to bolster her natural abilities. She flexed the claws that had grown from her fingertips and smiled.
“We think we’ve tracked down whoever kidnapped Hexla,” Haden said. “Presumably Baltazo. We thought you’d want to be here for whatever happens.”
“Are we planning to just storm in and attack him?” Mal asked.
“We may have to,” Talan growled.
“He’s a wizard,” Haden added. “If we don’t attack him immediately, there’s no telling what he may do. Let’s go before he realizes we’re here.”
They ducked under the “closed” sign, passing down a narrow corridor into a large wide tiled hall. The air was warm and humid, and the tiles formed into an elaborate mosaic: two dolphins swimming intertwined. The walls were lined with niches where visitors could place their belongings. A passage to the left was marked “Male”, with another passage opposite it marked “Female”. A wide marble counter stood at the end of the hall, with what looked like another exit behind it.
“Can we . . .” Haden began, but instantly a hideous bellow shook the room, followed by another. Two hulking figures leaped the counter and landed with a crash: fiends with metal plates bolted to their flesh. Black blood oozed around the bolts, staining their armor. Rotting tusks sprouted from their lower jaws, and their howls seemed composed equally of rage and pain.
“You look like you’ve had a bad day already, friend,” Haden said. “Better to turn back before it gets worse.” He drew his rapier as the fiends howled again and started forward. Sheen charged them, ripping armor plates with her claws. It knocked her aside with a massive spear, only to be confronted by Talan’s swords. The other fiend closed in on the ranger while Sheen struggled to her feet.
Mal held up his hands and bellowed an arcane curse, causing the second fiend to shriek and stagger away from Talan. Ari growled and snapped at its legs while Haden shaped a storm of psionic power into a blast of sharp-edged crystalline shards. Then Sheen was in front of it again, taking another blow from the spear but keeping her feet this time. Toothy worms sprayed from the wounds she inflicted as Joris scrambled into the fight, making everyone rear back in disgust and pain.
Ferocious spear attacks slammed Sheen and Talan to the ground again as a lightning bolt exploded across the room, striking Joris in the chest. Haden started forward, half-deafened, hoping he could at least distract the fiends, when something impacted his ribs with incredible force. A mass of animate water had boiled up behind him and was reaching out with dripping fists.
Mal chanted another spell and the water elemental paused, then slowly turned its attention to the wizard. A bolt of eldritch power struck it, making the water sizzle as it lurched forward. Haden fought to pull himself upright. Sheen and Talan had downed one of the fiends, and Joris was back on his feet. So where . . . Haden heard a step, or what sounded like a step, not far away from his head. He snatched one of the beads off the necklace he wore and flung it across the room, curling himself in a ball as fire erupted. Someone screamed.
“Baltazo!” Talan yelled. Haden thought he heard a voice mutter, “Damn!”, then footsteps running away. He held up a waving arm, trying to point Talan in the right direction. The ranger jumped over him and came down with a scream of rage on a patch of apparently empty air. There was a complicated moment of raking swords, and Baltazo went sliding across the floor, now very visible and trailing a cloud of blood.
There was a loud meaty noise as Sheen ripped off the remaining fiend’s arm, followed by Mal chanting and an explosion of light. The water elemental boiled across the floor and vanished into a drain.
Talan stared down at Baltazo’s corpse, breathing heavily. “We got him,” he said. Then Ari started barking. They limped and staggered into another room, where Hexla was sitting behind a desk, bound and gagged.
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- Cold Blood: Haden and Cerellis
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