“Demonweb pits?” Joris asked, perplexed.
“What exactly does that mean?” Talan added. “Then again, maybe I don’t want you to tell me.”
“It’s the 66th layer of the Abyss, the domain of Lolth,” Haden said.
“66th?” Sheen asked. “How many layers of the Abyss are there?”
“No one knows,” Haden said. “It’s not called the Infinite Layers for nothing. There are as many layers as there are types of evil.”
“The Guvners stopped counting around seven hundred,” Hexla explained.
“If Tulio is here, he’s probably in trouble,” Sheen said grimly. They walked down a sticky tunnel that seemed to have been spun out of layer upon layer of thick webbing. The floor was vaguely tacky and stuck to their boots as they walked. Talan crouched and began examining the webs, gently nudging aside countless tiny spiders that seemed to inhabit them. He began to walk, slowly, the others following. A faint light from somewhere deep within the webbing illuminated the tunnel vaguely. Then it darkened abruptly as a large shape moved above them and vanished into the distance.
“So. Spiders.” Joris said quietly.
“Again,” Talan added.
“Big spiders,” Haden muttered. Sheen groped for his hand and he held on to her tightly. The tunnel soon opened into a vast chamber studded with immense crystal shards that gave it an almost subterranean character. A tower of purple crystal loomed over the path, emitting a low, eerie hum.
“Well, there’s our Crystal Tower,” Haden said. They climbed the short path to the base of the tower. Sheen scratched at the crystal, finding the faint outline of a door with the tips of her claws. She searched, but could not find a mechanism or other device for opening the door. Frustrated, Sheen pushed at the crystal. It gave slightly under her weight—very slightly.
Bracing her feet as best she could on the gooey floor, Sheen put her shoulder against the door. Talan and Joris scrambled to help, Joris’ armored shoulder rasping against Sheen’s cheek as the three of them struggled. Finally, out of breath, Sheen turned around to look at Haden. “Were you planning on helping here at all?”
“What, me?” Haden asked. He winced slightly at Sheen’s resulting expression. “All right, all right, I’m pushing.” Talan grinned as the aasling slammed his back against the crystal and all four of them heaved one more time. Very slowly, as though it begrudged each inch, the portal opened.
The inside of the tower was a single circular chamber, an open shaft that extended into a confusion of purple haze above. Balconies of strange construction hung precariously over the room. The tiled floor sloped gently downward, to where two drow females were leaning over a stone table. Behind them, a heavy rack held a variety of implements, all clearly designed for no other purpose than inflicting pain. The females looked up as the adventurers piled through the door but they did not seem surprised or perturbed. They left their task and moved forward, their movements casual and easy.
“I do not know how you came here,” one said, “but I’ll send you back all the same.” She gestured and darkness boiled from the folds of her clothing, surrounding her in a foul, seething nimbus. Joris swung his mace toward her head as she came into reach, but she simply leaned backward and the blow passed her completely.
Sheen gasped as a third drow appeared without warning and drove a dagger toward her face. She kicked out, spoiling the drow’s aim, and the assassin vanished again. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Talan engaging the drow priestess with sword and dagger. A lightning bolt ripped past Sheen’s shoulder and discharged into the tower wall, making the entire edifice ring like a bell.
“Sorry!” Hexla said. Sheen blinked the sparks out of her vision and dodged around Talan, to engage the other visible drow, her claws rending through chainmail and leaving bloody gashes.
The priestess snapped one of Talan’s blows aside and slammed her hand against Joris’ shoulder. “BEGONE!” she bellowed. Her black nimbus flared and Joris vanished in a cloud of smoke. She smirked in triumph for a brief moment, then her smirk turned into a look of shock as crystal shards impacted on her armor. She collapsed.
Sheen attempted to press her advantage but the drow rolled her eyes and dissolved into a cloud of oily green smoke. Sheen coughed as she breathed the foul stuff. Swords rang behind her while Talan struggled with the drow assassin. Magical missiles impacted the cloud all around Sheen, making it writhe with what might be pain.
Haden looked around the room, not certain what he should do. The drow assassin had vanished again, and the cloud of smoke looked to be invulnerable to his weapons. “Are you all right?” He asked Sheen. She nodded, still coughing. Skirting the edge of the fight, Haden fetched up against the table and looked down. Tulio stared up at him, wide-eyed with terror. The young man’s rib cage gaped, exposing his straining lungs and a hole where his heart should be. Haden found his gaze drawn along the table to where a lump of pulsating meat sat in a small dish.
“Shit,” he said. “What do I do about this? Hang in there, kid. I’ll figure something out.”
The cloud of smoke coalesced into what looked like a tower of half-molten wax with a single staring red eye. Thin tendrils whipped out to lash at Sheen, Talan, and Hexla. Sheen screamed, more in pain than in rage, and Haden’s head snapped up. “Look out!” he yelled as the assassin landed on Talan’s back, burying her knife in his shoulder.
Talan ducked his head and flipped the assassin over his body, nearly taking her arm off with his sword in the process. The assassin kicked him, hard, and sprang to her feet even while her arm sprayed blood. She seemed oblivious to the pain. Sheen attacked the demonic monstrosity, trying to find purchase in its glutinous shifting flesh.
Hexla sat up and pointed a finger at the assassin, unleashing another lightning bolt. This one found its target, launching the drow into the air. The corpse landed on the tiles in a smoldering heap.
Gritting his teeth, Haden picked up Tulio’s heart and tried to place it back in the human’s chest. A tendril whipped past him as the yochlol continued to fight, and he heard a thump as Hexla hit the ground. The heart seemed to writhe in his hands, nearly making him lose his grip, but once it was in position the various arteries and veins reattached themselves automatically. Haden snatched his hands back as Tulio’s ribcage began to retract, closing and sealing before his eyes.
Behind him, there was a terrible scream as Talan’s sword caught the yochlol just below the eye and cleaved it in half. “The goddess will come for you!” it keened. “Her ten thousand children will devour you!”
“Yeah, whatever, bite me,” Sheen muttered, reeling sideways until she fetched up against the side of the table. She was covered with lash wounds, but they were already closing themselves as she fed psionic power into her body. Talan picked up Hexla carefully.
“Is that Tulio?” Talan asked, breathing hard. “And what happened to Joris?”
“It’s Tulio,” Haden said, finding the straps that were holding the thief down and releasing them. “Joris was banished.”
“Banished?” Talan asked, perplexed. “But he’s not an extra-planar being.”
“He is here,” Haden said. “He’ll have reappeared in whatever Prime you folks come from.”
“That could be bad,” Sheen said.
“We have to worry about ourselves first,” Haden said. “We can’t stay here.”
“Can either one of you help Hexla?” Talan asked. Haden cast healing over the witch and she opened her eyes again. Then the bard picked up Tulio. Sheen gathered up a few loose items that might prove useful, and they left the tower as quickly as they could manage. Small spiders were already beginning to stream down the walls of the cavern, converging on the tower. They ran toward the passage as the chamber darkened with millions of tiny black bodies.
“Take Tulio!” Haden said and thrust the human into Sheen’s arms. He turned back to face the tower, the crystal now almost invisible beneath a living blanket. He concentrated—the ambient hum in the chamber began to change, rising in pitch and volume until it reached the point of pain. There was a tremendous cracking noise and the tower exploded into glittering dust, burying and crushing many of the spiders. “Hah!” Haden said. “If Lolth was angry before, let’s see her try this one on for size.”
Talan waved the key in front of the arch and they barreled through, landing in a heap in the Temple of the Abyss. Sheen pulled herself to her feet, looking down at Tulio.
“Sorry, I didn’t mean to squash you. Are you . . . all right?”
“You . . . you saved me. I didn’t think anyone would come.”
“Heh, you’re lucky to be alive,” Haden said. “Because of you, one of our friends got banished to who-knows-where, the rest of us almost got eaten by a yochlol, and now a minor deity is mad as hell at the lot of us.”
“I’m s-sorry,” Tulio stammered. “It’s not worth much, I know, but I’m sorry.”
“Let’s go on home,” Sheen said.
Book reviews, art, gaming, Objectivism and thoughts on other topics as they occur.
- ► 2014 (26)
- ► 2013 (84)
- ► 2012 (26)
- ► 2011 (26)
- ► 2009 (92)
- ▼ August 2008 (12)
- ► 2007 (107)
- ► 2006 (177)