The Temple of the Abyss loomed. It hulked. Like most temples, the architecture attempted to be imposing, to suggest some connection between this mundane structure and the timeless or infinite. Yet, it did not soar: it clawed its way skyward with bloody talons and nailed the heavens to the ground. Joris stared at the monstrosity in slack horror. Sheen reached out and squeezed his shoulder. The cleric’s hand flailed until it found hers and squeezed back fiercely.
“I sure wouldn’t want to join that,” Talan said, grimacing.
“It’s not as forbidding as you might think,” Hexla said. “They want people to come in and join, after all.”
“They like to make a big show of being terrible and powerful,” Sheen said.
“So, if I were a drow priestess, where would I keep my captives?” Haden mused aloud, walking up the stairs. He didn’t seem much intimidated by the Temple, but then he had fiendish blood. The show was wasted on him. Still, he paused briefly in front of a statue, startled. It looked so much like Kalisa that he almost wanted to check whether it was breathing.
“What does the inscription say?” Joris breathed.
“Malcanthet, queen of the succubi,” Haden translated.
“Kalisa served her, once . . . but I didn’t . . . very interesting,” the cleric muttered before edging around the statue and catching up with the rest of the group. Haden shook his head slightly.
“I haven’t met many succubi, so I can’t comment.”
The vast circular floor of the Temple was full of demons, most of them clinging to the columns and the ceiling like gigantic bats, their wings and barbed tails stirring restlessly. A few of the Cage’s more ordinary inhabitants gathered below.
“Hey, cutters,” a voice said. Sheen turned.
“What?” It was Jazra.
“Don’t you lot turn up in the strangest places . . .”
“We could say the same for you,” Sheen said. “We’re looking for some drow.”
“Wassa drow?” Jazra asked, cocking her head.
“Dark elves!” Mal announced. “Svartalvar, betrayers!”
“I thought those was made up, like snipes and catobbley-pas.”
“Catoblepas?” Sheen asked.
“They’re definitely not made up,” Talan announced.
“Well, I ain’t seen ‘em,” Jazra said. “Was they supposed to be here? You could ask Noxana, over there.” The tiefling pointed toward the altar, where a figure in deep violet robes had prostrated herself before a raging purple flame.
“She looks busy . . .” Talan began, but Sheen was already crossing the floor. The woman droned an Abyssal chant, but she trailed off when she noticed Sheen standing over her.
“Excuse me, but I need to ask you a question,” Sheen said.
“Tonight is Rhyxali,” Noxana said in an abrupt voice.
“Is that a problem?” Sheen asked.
“I thought you were going to ask which Lord we’re honoring tonight. That’s what everyone asks me. I am Noxana, priestess and consort of Lord Noshteroth of the Umber Scales.”
“Well, actually, we do have a question for you,” Talan said awkwardly, “just not that one.
“We’re trying to locate a drow priestess,” Sheen replied. “Alantavra. Supposedly she is here somewhere.”
“Those Spider Witch slaves, here again,” Noxana grumbled. “Never cared for them or their grasping goddess, truth be told. The Lords have to watch their step around her, now that she’s all divine. Her followers have a portal here in the temple.”
“Have they gone through it recently?” Sheen asked.
“I haven’t seen any for at least three days. There’s at least two of them.” Noxana was staring at Haden with a speculative expression on her face. Sheen scowled.
“Two portals or two drow?” she demanded pointedly.
“One portal, two drow. One male, one female. I don’t mean to pry, but aren’t you the fellow with the famous father who just passed away?”
“What if I am?” Haden asked.
Noxana grinned, her feline eyes glowing a feral yellow. “I have some . . . information that’s sure to be worth something to you. It’s about Fagan.”
“And how much is this ‘information’ going to cost me?” Haden asked wearily.
“Oh, I don’t know, maybe I could just call on you for a favor sometime. Nothing you wouldn’t normally do . . .”
“This is going to be trouble,” Talan muttered.
“I don’t promise unspecified favors to strangers,” Haden said.
“I’m just looking for a place to hide. I figured you might be able to help me out.”
“It depends on who you’re trying to hide from,” Haden hedged.
“From High Priest Noshteroth of the Umber Scales. I’d like to set out on my own, but I can’t with my father watching me all the time.”
“He’s your father AND your consort?!” Haden demanded.
“Ew,” Sheen, Joris, and Talan all said together.
“Ew,” Mal added after a moment.
“Keep it down!” Noxana hissed. She pouted. “I shouldn’t have said that.”
Haden rubbed his forehead tiredly. “If you want some help getting out of sight for a while, I can probably help you out.” Sheen grabbed his arm and hissed in his ear.
“She is NOT staying at the house!”
“Relax, I’ll think of something else!” Haden whispered back.
“Oh, that’d be much appreciated,” Noxana said. “Anyway, I heard a couple of the nabassu talking, and one of the Lords has Fagan as a prisoner. He’s still alive. They didn’t say which Lord, and they shut their bone-boxes when they caught me ‘dropping . . .”
“BLASPHEMER!” Mal bellowed. Noxana took several quick steps backward, but Mal was not paying any attention to her, his hand extended to point at a seemingly unremarkable patch of floor. “Tell me where you’ve taken that BOY, drow knave!” Mal scurried across the floor, eldritch fire crackling between his fingertips.
Joris waved his hands and called down a negation, revealing a rather startled male drow in studded leather armor. His invisibility spell gone, the drow turned to run, but he was too late, Mal and Sheen landed on him almost simultaneously. The eldritch power discharged and the dark elf passed out from the shock.
“Medic!” Sheen said, sitting up. A tall, sinewy demon with long fangs and glowing yellow eyes fluttered down from a column and hissed.
“Shoo!” Haden announced. “Bad demon!” It flexed its claws and growled deep in its throat. Talan reached past Haden’s shoulder and smacked the demon on the end of its nose with the flat of his sword. It squealed in pain and fled back toward the ceiling.
Joris bled a little healing magic into the drow and he stirred. “Come on, wakey wakey,” Sheen ordered. He stared at her with angry violet eyes.
“How is this supposed to go?” Haden asked. “Answer our questions and we won’t feed you to the demons?”
“I have no words for you,” the drow said in Elven.
“Why not?” Sheen demanded. “Don’t you think we’re cute?”
“I have failed my Queen. There is only damnation for me now.”
“You really should reevaluate your situation,” Talan said.
“Just kill me so I may get on with it. There is no reward for Xillian now.”
“Fine, tell us what we want to know and as a reward we’ll kill you,” Talan returned. “You know, I’ve never really understood the Drow. If you help us, we might even be persuaded to let you go. You should really be looking out for yourself.”
“Besides, odds are good that we’ll wind up killing whoever’s on the other side of the portal anyway,” Joris muttered under his breath. Xillian glanced at the cleric.
“Ask your questions.”
“We’re trying to find a human named Tulio who may have been captured by Alantavra.”
“Yes, she has him,” Xillian said. “He stole her diadem, so I brought him to her. She could get nothing from him here, so she took him back to the Crystal Tower of the Handmaidens.”
“You konw, this is a heck of a lot of trouble to go through to get that stupid kid back,” Haden remarked. “Oh well.”
“What’s at this tower?” Sheen asked.
“The Handmaidens of Lolth toil there, extracting truth from the Spider Queen’s enemies . . . and loyal subjects, if necessary.”
“Handmaidens?” Joris asked. “Do you mean the yochlol?” Xillian nodded.
Haden made a face. “Those are pretty nasty as demons go.”
“We can take them,” Sheen insisted.
Haden pointed at Jazra. “See that girl over there?” he said to Xillian. “You might want to ask her to help you out. Just don’t give her any grief.”
The doors at the end of the hall flew open as a dozen men in heavy spiked armor marched into the Temple. “What’s all this then?” their leader growled.
“Oh, look,” Sheen said, “It’s Fritzan. Hello, Fritzan.”
“Heard there was a commotion in here, and who should I find but you lot.”
“It’s under control,” Noxana said hurriedly. “These people took care of it.”
“Commotion isn’t illegal, otherwise the entire Cage would be in the cells,” Haden said. Fritzan waved a knobby finger in Sheen’s face.
“One of these days you ‘Gatekeepers’ are going to screw up, and I’ll be there to scrag you but good!”
“We always love experiencing the level of tact and professionalism you bring to your work,” Sheen sneered. Fritzan turned purple. Before the sergeant could recover, Haden grabbed Sheen’s arm.
“We were just going,” he said, and dragged her through the drow’s portal.
“Um, yes,” Talan said, and followed quickly. On the other side, Hexla looked around.
“Oh, pike it all. This is the Demonweb Pits.”
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