Cram plunged into the darkness. His running footsteps echoed back up the secret corridor to his fellow heroes and allies clustered in Paldemar’s chamber, followed by a noise of muffled impact.
“It comes to a dead end,” protested the incredulous barbarian. “No, wait. It’s a door!”
Light spilled into the far corridor when Cram got the door open, and the chase for the traitor wizard was afoot.
It emerged from an indistinguishable section of wall in that great hall dominated by the mass of umbral shadow. A metallic boom echoed from the away to the right, as the great black Gates of Orcus swung closed.
Everyone piled out after Cram: Surina, Elana and Varris, followed more hesitantly by Denoa the shadar-kai and Borran the cunning-man, and dodged between the pillars of bones, where vengeful skeletal hands still twitched at the sense of the living.
Cram reached the metal doors and shouldered them open, and Surina dashed past him at a full sprint, Denoa close behind. She was met by an utterly unexpected prospect: in the middle of the circular antechamber there now stood a tree — or rather a bipedal tree with a face and womanly protruberances. But where others of the Fairy Ring might have recognized and been given pause by the sudden appearance of a dryad,1 this was Surina the Firebrand.
“Trees burn!” she snarled; and hurled forth a blast of hellfire.
And the dryad was simply gone. Surina blinked and saw her billow of flame strike the far side of the chamber as though nothing had been there at all.
“Beware illusions,” she warned Denoa and Cram.
But Denoa shook her head. “Shadow Reflections,” she stated flatly, gesturing at the dark polished mirrors on every side. And then she held up a hand for silence, stopping Cram in his tracks. She mimed listening and pointed out a spot halfway down the stairway out of the room.
Cram gave no thought to subtlety. With a running start he reached the top step and launched himself into midair. A tree-like form halfway down one wall was silhouetted by the glowing light of the magic circle below, and Cram swung his fullblade into it as his leap carried him several steps beyond.
For a second time a dryad-image melted before the party’s attacks. But where Surina had banished a reflection of this one, summoned as Paldemar passed through the mirrored chamber, Cram now banished the desperate guise adopted by Paldemar himself. A stray branch knocked aside from Cram’s tumultuous path proved to have been an ineffectual last-ditch swipe of the wizard’s staff at the airborne barbarian.2
For a moment Paldemar regarded Cram between him and the magic circle, with the sound of many feet announcing the arrival of Cram’s friends in the room above. Then with a desperate, almost incoherent No!, Paldemar fled up the stairs. It cost him a wrenching effort to lurch out of range of Cram’s swinging fullblade, but he reached the mirrored room and looked around at Surina, Denoa and Elana, and Varris and Borran in the doorway.
“Servants of Orcus, step forth and puni—” Denoa brought darkness into being and wrapped it like a cowl about his head. His invocation was punctuated with a whimper. “— punish this intruder!” he finished in a strangled tone, pointing at Surina. Standing right before him, she was the only one he could still see.
From the nearest mirrored wall stepped the crabbed form of a dragonborn, scales mutilated with the scars of untold harm and face contorted with hate.
Varris had pause; suddenly there were two Surinas in the room. But he remembered the power of these mirrors and the horrible misrepresentation of himself that Kalarel had brought forth not an hour before.
With a distorting shift of perspective, the shadow-reflection tilted and elongated and tried to clutch at Surina and hold her fast,
but in a flash Varris was upon it with a double-slashing move left and right. As soon as his longsword bit, the reflection winked out; his scimitar swept through empty space.
Elana hefted her staff but, before closing upon Paldemar, gave a yell of pure channeled wrath.
“Here’s your quarry, Ringers! Paldemar: y i e l d !”3 The very force of it rocked him.
Cram charged back up the stairs and swung his mighty sword in another attack, which though met by Paldemar’s staff had enough power to smash him bodily into the pillar at his back. Denoa, hands blossoming with black flame, appeared around the other side of the pillar, forcing him away again.
“No,” quavered the harried Paldemar, “you have no idea. The Demon Prince has no mercy for those who fail him.”
Lightnings struck out from his staff, forcing his attackers back.
And then everyone turned as an immense creature flew in through the Gates of Orcus from the hall beyond — a great eagle of metallic gold which backed its wings, sending a great gust of wind through the room. Shrieks of surprise were stilled at the sound of Wjizzo’s voice in incantation. The Eladrin sat astride this eagle, imperiously holding aloft his wand and orb.
The eagle landed with a jarring crash but Wjizzo sprang effortlessly clear and landed with perfect poise. Paldemar stared, oblivious of the giant floating hand of ice that manifested in the air behind him, until he was abruptly seized in its merciless grasp.
Varris was the fastest then, and dashed the captive wizard upon the head with the flat of his scimitar. Their victim slumped inert in the clutches of the icy hand, to a cry of jubilation and victory from the heroes of the day.
But with a burst felt only by Varris, the Shadowfell power of the lifedrinker weapon stole for him a measure of the fallen wizard’s life force. With a start he realized that this could still mean the death of the prisoner! In a last bout of action Varris urgently ordered Wjizzo to release the grasp of his magical hand, caught the limp Paldemar as he would have fallen and — not without misgivings — ensured that he would live to face his fate. The wrath of Orcus would have to wait; first would come the questioning of his captors and the Mages of Saruun would also doubtless have an interest in what should be done with him…
HERE ENDED THE GAMING-SESSIONS OF H2, THUNDERSPIRE LABYRINTH
1 Wjizzo the Eladrin, Varris the Elf, or Elana the fey-pacted worshipper of Corellon
2 It was a Hare Strike.
3 Stirring Shout, the Leader-power of target-designation, run-together with a representation of Elana’s also having urged that he be subdued rather than killed.