There are two entrances into the shrine. In the middle of the south wall is a small iron door, no more than three feet tall, where Sebastien crouches in the hearth. The northeast corner has been left open. Thick, dark vines hang like curtains on the left and right sides of the opening, but the center has been left exposed.
An iron rod and chain suspend an iron cage over the roaring waters of the icy underground stream.
The chamber itself is a shrine to Bane, the Lawgiver. The northwest corner is dominated by a huge iron altar, adorned with iron accoutrements and icons of Bane. Shelves bear other items, some appearing to be tools for the worship of Bane, others perhaps trophies brought here from victims of the clergy.
A number of iron sculptures also stand about this room. Two are almost identical. They appear to be small, metallic canines. Their bodies are made of overlapping iron plates. The third, and larger, structure begins moving as soon as the iron portal swings open. It moves in a variety of whirs, clicks, and other mechanical sounds. As Sebastien watches it releases a hissing sound and a cloud of steam. The air is alive with static, and the heroes in the living room can see the flashes as sparks dance around it and the blade of its implement.
The heroes have activated the guardian of the shrine to Bane--a mechanical golem. Electricity fills the living room, crackling through the iron door where Sebastien crouches.
A woman's scream pierces the air, echoing from the second floor of the house, beyond the library. Moments later the heroes hear a series of thuds and thumps on the second-story floor. The bodies hung from the vines and chains in the shrine to Loviatar have begun to drop, and move.
Melza Blythe lunges into the fray, hurrying her minions to defend the first-floor shrine. It is the last thing she has that was of value to her beloved Tobias Thorn.
David and Gwendolyn are gone, trapped in the chronal tunnel as Annoura battles to save them from the minions of Bluetspur. Now, the heroes' enemies reach out to take away two more of their number.
Time slows. Even the pulse of lightning from the mechanical golem grinds to a near standstill.
The living room of Thorn House softens. What was distinct becomes hazy, as if seen distorted through a glass of water. Through the haze, some things appear--or feel, or sound--differently. Sebastien's shadow becomes that of the woman who visited him in his dream. Beatrice feels Kyler the Wanderer's hand on her shoulder. Dechan hears the mealy-mouthed sounds of the creatures who haunted his dream.
Worse, dark-nailed hands emerge from folds in space, becoming more substantial even as Kyler and Anson seem to fade. The shrill cackle beyond those hands speaks of hags, and the brothers are quickly being dragged out of sight. With every inch traveled they become harder to see, more insubstantial.
Something else that appeared differently, though, was the couch where Alliama had been convalescing. A woman has manifested there, not so much brought into being as revealed by the strange thinning of reality. The woman has milk-white skin and silver hair. She rises from Alliama's side, drawing a basket-hilted longsword as she rises.
Shouting, she rushes after the brothers, and as they disappear, so does she. And, simultaneously, reality snaps back into order.
Kyler and Anson are gone.
Alliama's eyes flutter open.
The mechanical golem's lightning pulses again.
It is a much smaller group who must face the unleashed horrors of Thorn House!
Sebastien pulls back enough to ask Bea what they should do.
Beatrice takes the opportunity to duck past her armored friend. She lunges into the shrine to Bane, and in her state of heightened awareness she picks out every object on the altar, every item on each shelf, every detail of every statue.
She spots the dagger that Dechan saw in his dream. She grabs it, but the golem is rolling towards her, and she knows she cannot spend the time to grab even one more item. With her treasure in hand, she tumbles back into the living room.
As she is doing this, Dechan shouts that the arrow is upstairs. He rushes to the tower, followed by Ivy and quickly surpassed by Garlock. Big, now assured that Alliama is well, leaps to his feet and races up the main staircase, bounding across the balcony to meet the others at the library doors.
What follows is a battle on two fronts, which is both terribly weighted against the heroes and also full of shocking twists.
In a flash, the mechanical golem emits a pulse of lightning and electrical force that blasts apart the massive stone hearth, and the wall around it. The heroes left in the living room are showered with stones and laced with burns.
The mechanical golem rolls into the wreckage, raising its arm-blades as the electical current begins to rebuild.
Sebastien prepares for battle but then looks beyond the golem and sees the open northeast corner in the newly exposed shrine. He changes his foot, and when Alliama and Beatrice realize what he's planning, they join his flanks; then the three hesitate.
Carrie, who had taken cover behind the couch, rushes into the middle of the ruined living room. She shouts for them to go through with their plan, and the three heroes bull rush the mechanical golem.
The wheeled thing resists, trying in vain to push forward. It's lightning conducts through Sebastien's armor, burning him, but the three do not let up. They push it five feet back, to the old hearth.
Then Carrie pushes it another five feet with a force invocation.
With the momentum gained, Sebastien, Alliama, and Bea push the golem another five feet...driving it over the edge in a brilliant flash as it vanishes into the icy waters flowing under Thorn House!
The heroes take a quick look around the shrine. They spot the two canine statues, also made of iron, and decide to take no chances. Alliama drags one to the opening, and while Sebastien hefts the other and both plunge into the water after the golem.
The heroes have no time to catch their breath. There is still a fight going on upstairs, and it is not going nearly as well!
Garlock quickly outpaced Dechan as they entered the library on the second floor. Dechan shouted for the monk to hurry, but he couldn't have expected Garlock to pull so far ahead that he stood alone in the door to the shrine of Loviatar as a horde of the undead emerged around him.
Garlock stands his ground amid at least a dozen zombies and a trio of skeletal arms that fly through the air and wield rusty swords. Worse, some force within Thorn House is granting bursts of alacrity to the zombies. At intervals--far from random intervals--individual zombies take swings at the heroes of which they should not be capable.
Dechan and Ivy race through the library as Big bounds along the balcony, all converging on Garlock's position.
Dechan leads with his holy symbol, blasting the undead with holy power, destroying undead flesh and bone alike with the Morninglord's blesssing. Before joining the fray more directly, though, Dechan stops to pray for Garlock's healing, which keeps the old man on his feet throughout the battle, albeit at Dechan's own expense.
The worst wounds come to Dechan when Melza Blythe reveals herself. As Dechan predicted, she has inhabited the form of her heart, though the thing has bloated a two-foot diameter, and it scurries along on eight, spider-like bone legs. It also has a mouth.
Melza Blythe strikes from above, taking advantage of invsisibility, to inflict a bleeding wound on Dechan's neck. When Ivy tries to bring the battle to Melza, the heart takes a single, minor injury, and then vanishes.
Moments later, the profusely bleeding wound on Dechan's neck spurts a torrent of blood, and Dechan falls. He was in the middle of opening a potion of healing, which Ivy grabs up and pours down his throat, bringing the priest back around, albeit with grievous wounds and a wrenched back from the fall to the floor.
Big and Garlock are joined by all of the remaining heroes, and a second burst of divine energy nearly ends the battle except for Melza Blythe. She reappears to make another attack, but she is pushed back and her heart body is broken.
Bandaging and healing prayers are necessity, but the heroes have little time to spare. They know that Ivy will not allow them a chance to rest, and so what resources they have must carry them through the Stone Walk and whatever lies beyond.
Alliama attempts to communicate with the thorny vines shrouding the house. They are revealed to be aggressive and angry. They demand that Alliama and her friends leave at once, or face the wrath of Bane and Loviatar.
When Dechan suggests that Carrie should use her divination to detect magic on the items in the two shrines, the heroes agree to gather all the items in one spot.
Sebastien walks into the shrine to Loviatar. He gathers up every item on the shrine except for the icon of Loviatar, which Dechan says--presciently--should be left behind.
With Carries aid, the following items are found and sorted:
The heroes divide the magic as best they can. Many of the grisly trophies they leave behind, but Beatrice pushes for the return of the icons of Bane. Dechan confers with Garlock, who concedes that the Churchs of Bane and Delios see eye-to-eye on many things, including returning possessions to their rightful owners. The heroes divide the heavy iron icons among themselves to carry them home.
Dechan also carefully wraps the collection of holy symbols in cloth. When Sebastien asks whether he intends to return all of them, he replies that he will return some of them, and likely see to the destruction of the others. He is intrigued by the holy symbol of Ferris, in particular.
Bea and Alliama divide the arrows, and Bea willingly agrees that Alliama, the better archer, should carry the arrow of utter destruction.
With the treasure divided and wounds bandaged, the heroes know that Ivy will wait little longer. They must return to the Shrine to Bane and summon the sea hag.
They refresh their own memories as they fill in Alliama regarding what they learned from the books in the upstairs library.
Dechan volunteers to summon and interact with the hag.He tosses one of the three stones that Kyler painted into the underground river. The stone bears the sigil of the Vigilant Fist of Bane, as depicted on Tobias Thorn's suicide note.
When nothing happens, Carrie suggests that he may need to call her.
The water begins to boil, and a whirlpool forms below the suspended iron cage. The sound of croaking frogs grows louder, and the heroes see the surface of the stream broken by the heads of five enormous frogs. Human shapes float to the top, limp and bloated, drifting along with the circling current.
Then, buoyed by a pillar of water rising from the heart of the whirlpool, a woman rises. Warts, bony protrusions, and patches of slimy green scales dot the sickly yellow skin of this terrible crone. Her eyes are red with large, black pupils. Long, seaweed-like hair hangs limply from her head, covering her withered body.
As she rises so her clawed feet hover at the level of the churning river, the frogs fall silent. She speaks, "Who calls me in Bane's name?"
Dechan does not answer her question.
The sea hag obeys. She descends into the water, but the whirlpool remains in place, reveal finished stone far below. There is no sign of the hag, but the heroes know what they must do.
They climb into the iron cage and lower themselves into the underground river, with its waters still rushing all around them, hungry to embrace them.
From the edge of the shrine to Bane the heroes could see that the river bed was some manner of worked stone. Now that they are positioned above it, though, they can clearly see the ornate circle of carefully carved and ornamented stone that lies below. The Stone Walk.
When all of her travelers are in place the hag steps from the side of the whirlpool, dripping wet and pouring water in rivulets that make a viewer wonder whether it is river water that spills from her or just fluid from within her own repulsive body.
She steps to the center of the stone and reaches out a hand to Dechan.
It is not necessary to hold Ethel's hand. She merely takes a sadistic glee in tormenting those who force her to travel with them. When Dechan instead hand her a second stone painted with the sigil of the Vigilant Fist of Bane, she scowls.
Then she barks a command word that is partially obliterated by a rush of wind and electricity, and the world turns black.
The heroes arrive in a great, dark chamber. Two campfires burn on opposite sides of the Stone Walk. They stand on a Stone Walk that appears identical to the one that brought them here, but their destination is very different from the underground river behind Thorn House.
The floor is dry, finished stone. The flagstones are each some ten feet in length, speaking of incredible strength--or ingenuity--used to place them. Pillars some ten feet in diameter lead into the gloom in every direction. If there is a ceiling it is lost far overhead. Like everything else, there is the sense of incredible distance.
There are no walls or ceiling visible from where you stand. Only the massive floor tiles and the pillars that seem to form two columns leading away from the Stone Walk in opposite directions.
Dechan does not let Driftwood Ethel leave without a final command. He offers her the third stone, but she sneers and lets it fall. Nevertheless, she heeds the command.
Driftwood Ethel informs the heroes that the whirlpool will remain until the sun next rises over Thorn House (roughly noon), and then it will close again. She speaks the command word, which is again half-lost in the rush of wind and electricity that accompanies her teleportation back to the underground river.
Alliama and Big search for tracks. The heroes have yet to find any of the crude beast men that they followed off the King's Way. The trail there was broad and clear, and spoke of abused prisoners, rubbish cast off without a second thought, and wanton destruction of nature.
These same creatures apparently treated Thorn House gingerly.
Any mess they may have left here, though, has apparently been brushed away. By absolutely massive pads, like the feet of a duck capable of swooping down from the fathomless darkness overhead, and wiping the floor in broad swaths. There are no tracks here, aside from the smudges and smears left by those enormous paddles.
Alliama stands from studying the floor to spot the silver-haired lady emerging from the shadows. It is the woman that she remembers from her time unconscious in Thorn House. This woman fought the specter of Melza Blythe, keeping Alliama safe until the battle in the shrines distracted Melza and drew her away from the battle.
The woman greets the heroes, but she says that she cannot stay long.
The woman explains that this place exists within the Nightmare Lands. It is the lair of the Banite heretics known as the Withershadow Combine.
When Dechan says that the heretics are a lawful sect, the woman agrees. She adds that the best place to hide from a lawful order, and Dechan finishes her sentence by saying, "would be in chaos."
She explains that Thorn House exists in a place where reality is thin and pressed against the realm of dreams. The house sent out dreams when the heroes slept on the ridge, drawing them nearer. At that point she sent a warning dream to Dechan, telling him of the mechanical golem and also of the arrow and dagger that could destroy it.
When the heroes slept inside the house, the horrific allies of the Combine were able to reach out more directly. She was able to erect barriers to protect some of the heroes, but not all. She apologizes to Dechan, warning that the denizens of Leng will remember him if they meet again.
This place is anchored within the Nightmare Lands, but the essence of the land of dreams cannot be subjugated completely. The Withershadow Combine has mastered this place and used that mastery to bend it to their will. The heroes, she warns, cannot face the Combine--they must flee if they come into contact.
She also says that she cannot tell the heroes how to find Duncan, Kaolus, or Curtullen Rank. On one hand, she has not entered this place for fear of discovery. On the other, she is in a position much like Keradre Androlov. If Keradre aids Alliama, then the War of the Fey could spill into the Lands of Mist. If this woman were to lend aid, then "players who aren't on the board yet," would become involved.
Alliama asks again for the woman's name, and this time, she cannot persist in keeping her identity a secret. She shares with the heroes that she is Vatusia Caldwell's adopted daughter, and at the sound of her name, Bea murmurs that that explains the dream Sebastien had in Thorn House.
Blasse says, again, that she must leave, but her regret over failing to shelter Dechan's dream seems to get the better of her. She steps forward and touches his shoulder as she offers another apology. She says that, at least, she can heal him. Dechan's wrenched back is healed.
And then Blasse is gone.
When Ivy insists the heroes press on, Alliama turns the conversation back to her. This is a place in the Nightmare Lands; therefore, it might work best for Ivy to focus wholly on her father. Then, follow her intuition to see which way the heroes should go.
Ivy is not convinced, but she ultimately points south, the opposite direction that they faced when they arrived on the Stone Walk.
The heroes set out following the pillars in that direction.
After some twenty minutes burning one of Alliama's three torches, the heroes see something other than limitless darkness and massive pillars. Ahead they see a distant stone wall that rises towards whatever passes for a ceiling overhead. The last two pillars before the doors are somewhat different from the others they've been passing for the last several minutes.
First, these pillars are largely intact, rising out of sight. Second, each has a shelf carved into its side, overlooking the path, at about ten feet off the floor.
Each skull seems to refract and multiply, taken on the appearance of numerous images of itself overlaid upon its position. At the same time, each bursts into the green flame of the Lawgiver.
The heroes are not sure what to make of this until the lead two heroes--Ivy and Sebastien--are blasted by green flame.
When the skulls float off their shelves and begin hurling smaller bolts of fire, and even shooting rays of flame from their eyes sockets, the heroes race for the doors beyond the final pillars.
The double doors are stout wooden doors. They are unlocked and do not have any sort of locking mechanism or bar. The heroes pull the doors shut and wait until they are sure the skulls will not follow.
When they check, they find the skulls floating in the pillar chamber, staring after them.
The corridor, which is some twenty feet wide, opens after about sixty feet into an octagonal room. This room has four identical exits, leading into additional passages. The center of the chamber is dominated by a tall pillar, ornamented with sigils of Bane.
This chamber is a magical trap designed to confuse those wandering about the lair of the Withershadow Combine, and the heroes spend over two hours wandering the same stretch of corridor before they find a way to overcome it.
Detecting the trap is difficult; there is a single stone over each exit archway that can be removed. After what feels like a thorough search of the chamber and the four halls, Dechan stumbles upon this detail by using the Bartholomew Medallion.
Removing the stone reveals a series of clockwork gears and wires, all inscribed with magical runes. Beatrice is able to rearrange the gears, triggering the magic and allowing the heroes to proceed to a room other than the haunted pillar chamber.
There is a brief conversation about whether to go into this region of the lair. If it is the lair of the Withershadow Combine, and not the prison where the heroes hope to find Duncan, Kaolus, and Curtullen Rank, then this is the specific spot that Blasse warned them to avoid. But if it's not, then Ivy insists that they could grab a prisoner and interrogate them for better information on the lair. Avoid irritating delays like the magical trap behind them.
The door reveals a flight of steps that descends to a region of what appears to be truly ancient stonework. At the bottom, some twenty feet below, stands a heavy stone door.
Opening the heavy stone door requires exertion. The stone is so heavy and the seal so tight that heroes would have had to listen carefully to hear the sounds of four gray maidens sparring in the practice room beyond.
The heavy stone door grinds open onto a twenty-foot square entry chamber. The far side of the chamber stands open to a much larger room that appears to be some manner of training room. A pair of women in gray platemail armor are sparring in the center of this area; at the sound and motion of the vault door grinding open, they stop their exercises and turn to regard the heroes.
It takes only seconds for one of the guards to shout an alarm. Just the fact that their sparring has stopped unexpectedly, though, is enough to bring the remaining gray maidens and their leader from their chambers to inspect what has happened.
Garlock leads the charge, and Ivy and Big follow. When the heroes shout for a retreat, neither Ivy nor the monk--who is intent on finding his brother--cooperate. Instead, as a pair of archers and the gray maiden leader join the fray, the heroes must press the offensive or let their allies die. The heavily armored warriors prove formidable; between their armor and their shields they are nearly impossible to injure, and they prove more than adept at delivering blows with their swords and arrows.
The archers prove easier targets, without their shields and standing alone on the far side of the room. Alliama and Beatrice fire magical arrows from cover, both the new arrows taken from Thorn House and the acid arrows won outside of Moondale. Carrie makes her way into the battle as well. After arrows fell the first archer, Carrie steps out of hiding with her father's flintlock, walking towards the drawn bowstring as she casts a divination to guide her shot--and succeeds in blowing the head off of the second archer. This frees Alliama and Bea to join the others in the frantic melee on the practice room floor.
Sebastien sees that Alliama is able to find weaknesses in the leader's defenses, and so he grants Ezra's boons to Alliama. Garlock is able to snap the neck of one warrior, but that turns out to have been a lucky blow, as the skilled warriors position themselves and rebuff his ensuing attacks. For a moment Dechan captures the attention of the enemy with an illusion of Reiks-Dommer Ignaz, clad in his full armor and wielding his hammer, but after a moment the sharp-willed leader cries out, "Wizardry!"
The illusion continues to operate, though, distracting other gray maidens who could not clearly see what their leader had seen.
Two more maidens, roused from slumber and unarmored, fall quickly before the heroes. Ivy and Big make short work of them, with some help from other heroes. The first dies, outraging Ivy, who still wants a prisoner. The second she knocks unconscious. Seeing that, at this point, the heroes have brought the fight down to just one warrior, Ivy drops on the defeated fighter and binds her wrists together.
Dechan attempted to defuse the battle before it could start by casting the same charm he had used on the priest below Darkshelf Quarry. Garlock, Ivy, and Big struck so rapidly, though, that it was evident to the maidens that they were under attack. Their training and tight bond caused the spell to fail.
Now, with a prisoner but no enchantment to ease the conversation, Dechan must coerce the captured gray maiden into sharing information about Withershadow and their prisoners, without losing the grace of Delios. It is evident that the gray maiden invites torture. The worse her violent death, the greater her rewards when she is elevated in status in the fires of Dis.
While Darius works with the prisoner--and Ivy stands to one side, waiting--the others perform a quick search of the barracks area.
When Dechan realizes that death is what the gray maiden seeks, he creates a strategy. Drawing on his skills with religion, information gathering, fast talking, and persuasion, he convinces the gray maiden that he will not kill her. He will not allow any of his companions to kill her. She will be left alive, a failure, forever denied her place in the armies of the Second Hell.
Over time, the strategy works, and the broken gray maiden begins to share information on the complex.
The way forward is clear. The heroes have found the path to Duncan. Ivy will not tolerate going another direction.
When the heroes begin to discuss the risks--and Blasse's warning about facing Withershadow--Ivy becomes irate. She repeats her warning that this is not about whether her father is rescued but how. She says again that the heroes will not like the alternative if they fail her and Duncan. She continues to level threats, becoming more irate by the moment, until Sebastien speaks.
He draws on the power of the dream, and his shadow changes to that of the woman he met while sleeping in Thorn House. His voice becomes calming, impossible to deny. Ivy listens, and she tears up.
Seeing that this cannot lead to Kaolus, or Curtullen Rank, Garlock says that he must leave. He suggests that the heroes may be about to attract the full attention of the Withershadow Combine. If that is the case, then he may be able to reach his brother and affect a rescue. The heroes are heartbroken by the thought of leaving their friend--and Darius Androlov's mentor--as he enters the lair alone, but Garlock is confident. He reminds the heroes that Kaolus is a powerful monk in his own right, and that there were caravan guards taken among the prisoners. Garlock says that the first few beast men he kills will provide weapons for the prisoners he frees.
The heroes listen, knowing that they must choose between Ivy and Garlock. Garlock makes it easier on them, painting a picture of how he will free his brother and the warriors, and then lead them back to the Stone Walk.
In the end, they can only wish him well.
The heroes are far fewer in number than when they first gathered in the Enclave. But they realize that they cannot go forward as a team.
After some discussion, they concoct a plan where Alliama will dress as a gray maiden and trigger the portal in the training room floor.
Then Beatrice, under cover of invisibility, courtesy of Carrie, and with both spider climbing and invisibility to the undead, courtesy of Dechan, will descend into the inner sanctum. The heroes will wait, while she braves the deadliest reaches of the lair in an attempt to find Duncan Anders.
When she finds him, she will use the power imparted to her during her dream in Thorn House--the power to teleport a short distance one time--to get Duncan to safety.
Ivy is overcome with emotion. She makes a cryptic promise to Beatrice.
Bea asks Ivy what she could say to Duncan to let him know who has come. She will be invisible, and Duncan will probably be wary of tricks.
Ivy tells her, in effect, to just be honest.
Too nervous to press Ivy for details, Beatrice braces herself for what is to come. The heroes give her items that might help her on her way, including Carrie's Elixir of Luck. And then spells are placed on her, and Alliama speaks the command word.
The training room floor dissolves into mist, which burns away to reveal a broad, deep flight of stairs spiraling out of sight. There is no apparent light source, but the heroes can see steps as far town as their curve allows. There is some manner of unnatural, ambient light.
Bea wastes no time. She has only a short duration on several of the dweomers placed on her.
The steps emerge through the ceiling of what appears to be the pillar-lined entry hall. She must be two hundred feet up, with no railing on the spiral staircase as it concludes its descent. Even from here, though, she can see that something is different. There is no Stone Walk in the center of this room. Lit by campfires, an oasis of light amid the darkness, you see the distant shape of what appears to be a vistani vardo.
Nothing challenges Beatrice as she approaches the vardo.
As she draws closer, though, she emerges from a bank of mist that she hadn't realized was around her. In the clarity surrounding the vardo, she realizes there are many figures. Most are human, tall and muscular. They bear curving blades. Among them stand trained bears clad in garish performance costumes and growling dogs taller than children. One more human, farther back than the others, is clad in the vestments of a priest of Bane, dominated at the waist by a wide leather belt set with a single blood-red carbuncle, and complete with iron fist holy symbol and a coiled whip. Her right arm and left leg have been amputated, however, and replaced with iron versions of human limbs. A silver rod circles her body at shoulder height, forming an elliptical orbit.
Bea freezes, but then she realizes that these vistani are unaware of her.
She starts to avoid the camp, following the pillared walks into the darkness, but then she thinks better of it. She returns to the vardo and peers into the windows. The vardo is dark inside, and the darkness stirs.
Bea opens the back door, surreptitiously, not alerting the camp to her presence. Inside, she sees that she has come to the top of another spiral staircase no different from the last. The vardo is not a vardo; it is a portal.
The steps circle down to a stone passage that travels just a short distance to a closed iron door.
The door opens on a small chamber, some ten feet square, with an identical iron door on the far side.
In the center of the floor lies a bear, shaved and skinned down to bloody muscle, and with all bones apparently removed from its body, as well. As Beatrice watches, the gelatinous thing rolls its pain-filled eyes. But it does not seem to notice her.
Bea moves silently, and carefully, to the door on the far side of the chamber.
The door opens to reveal a long, oddly shaped chamber dominated by a number of strange fountains.
In the center of the right wall, a flight of steps climbs to a balcony, under which cuts a passage into a region of the lair that she cannot see. That, Bea will later understand, is where the on-duty gray maidens are housed.
Steps at the far end of chamber, guarded by iron statues, rise to a second level overlooking this chamber. The far end of the second level is dominated by large windows filled with a gradually throbbing green light. Silhouetted against the green light is a trio of humanoid figures who have sacrificed limbs and flesh for iron replacements. These are the Withershadow Combine.
More pressing is the creature that skitters across the main floor of the pool chamber. It is more steel and iron than flesh and bone. Once a man, his face has been mashed and rebuilt, with an iron plate covering his scalp like a cap and a crooked nose that speaks of many traumatic injuries. His eyes are sunken. Steel rods run the length of his arms, reinforcing his muscle and bone, affixed to his flesh by wires that penetrate the flesh. His legs are gone, replaced by four iron spider legs that carry him in jerky yet swift motion across the floor.
And then there is Duncan. There is no sign of any other prisoners in this room, but Beatrice does see one man whom she recognizes from her dream. He lies, unmoving, in the farthest fountain, one that is overseen by the statue of a jackal-headed figure. Duncan's face is concealed by a mop of long, dark hair, but Bea can see from here that his flesh is ashen.
Beatrice has come within eighty feet of Ivy's father, but she stands at the foot of the Withershadow Combine, watching their seneschal skitter across the chamber floor, aware of more than a half-dozen gray maidens and unaware of any other horrors that must await.
She starts forward, moving along the west wall and timing her movements to travel when the spider-creature is on the opposite side of the room. Between the clicks and whirs of the spider-creature's iron body parts, the stomp of his many legs, and the splashing of all the room's fountains, she has little concern that she will be heard. All the same, invisibility is a thin veneer when faced with such powerful foes.
As she passes within eight feet of the first pool, she sees that the surface of the water holds an odd reflection. This pool currently shows Wintersgreen House, in the town of Fal Galen. Beatrice sees that the image is not static. She sees people moving across the street, both into and out of the fountain's field of view.
As Bea moves past the first pool, to a rounded intrusion along the west wall, she sees a creature manifest in the chamber. It is a devil, roughly humanoid and skeletal, with filthy white flesh pulled taut over the bones. It has a thick scorpion-like tail that rises above its head. The creature looks about the room, but it does not seem to notice Bea where she stands, breathless.
When the creature does not react to her, she makes her way to the edge of the curved wall, which will put her back in view of the Withershadow Combine but also allow her to see Duncan again.
As she rounds that corner, a six-foot skeletal snake, made of ribs and spine and topped with a humanoid skull bearing serpent's fang, slithers out of the recess in front of her. As it passes by the nearest fountain, the water changes into a serpentine shape, splashing over the serpent and knocking it a little off course. Bea again waits, watching the serpenting shape return to its earlier appearance of an innocuous fountain.
She moves again, this time passing the last fountain between the weird serpent-water and the jackal-headed statue overseeing Duncan. This one bears a stone book that has been worked out of the same block of stone that surrounds the pool. Though Bea is intrigued, even she cannot be lured off her path to reaching Duncan now that she is so close.
Duncan is non-responsive. He is ashen and cold to the touch. He does not respond when Bea tries to deliver Ivy's message.
She briefly considers using her wand of curing on him, but she calculates that it will do nothing to help him. He is either dead or ensorceled well beyond the meager capabilities of her wand.
Bea looks back over the distance to the entrance. She could not leave it open without attracting attention, but now that it is closed she is severely limited in her ability to teleport. She must teleport to a place that she can see.
Then she cranes her neck, and she sees the image of Fal Galen in the first pool. She maintains contact with Duncan and climbs high enough onto the ledge to see the reflection of the town clearly. Then she teleports into that pool. They arrive with a splash, Duncan already regaining color and Beatrice still invisible. As she had hoped, they sink into the reflection, traveling to Fal Galen.
Duncan regains color and inhales for the first time in days. He jumps to his feet, stunned but quickly regaining his bearings.
Beatrice tries to explain what happened, but Duncan hears only that his daughter is in the place where he had been taken by the beast men. He strides away, and Bea hurries after. Duncan steals a horse, and a saddle. Bea takes another horse and leaves a stack of coins for the owner. She races after him as he gallops away from Fal Galen.
Left with a few hours on Beatrice's alchemical sunrod, the heroes have watched Ivy grow increasingly more stressed.
At length, Dechan prays to locate the Kukri of Bloodletting, but all that confirms is that it is not within a few hundred feet of where he stands atop the spiral staircase.
Sebastien knows that his magical ability to calm Ivy has run its course. She will listen to him no more or less than anyone else now. And Ivy is getting ready to run headlong down the staircase.
Alliama, forcing herself to remain calm, pulls on her training as a ranger and druid. She must sleep in arduous conditions, even when surrounded by perils. She finds that inner calm, and she sleeps, despite the strain on all those around her. Her decision proves inspired. She wakes in a wood-paneled chamber. Blasse sits across a desk from her. When Alliama entered the Nightmare Lands proper, Blasse was able to locate her and bring her to this place.
Blasse explains that Beatrice and Duncan are no longer in the Withershadow lair. They have awoken.
As Alliama begins to worry about her friends left behind, Blasse brings them, too, into the chamber. And then, without flourish, she deposits them along the King's Way, west of Fal Galen.
They hear the thunder of a rider coming towards them.
Ivy races to her adoptive father. They embrace, and she tells him that she did everything right, though there is a stutter as she says it that Duncan seems to notice, and then ignore.
She pulls back from their embrace to present him with the flintlock that she has carried since the heroes met her in Fal Galen. She has never once considered using it, even when using a pistol would have helped against the heroes' enemies. Duncan takes it with a small smile of his own, and he holsters it.
Beatrice catches up. She is not far behind because Duncan outrode her; rather, she had retraced her steps to Wintersgreen House, in hopes that she might find some way to communicate with her friends in the Withershadow lair. When that turned up nothing, she returned to her horse and chased after Duncan, desperate to make up his lead.
The heroes return to town.
Before Duncan and Ivy say farewell to the heroes, Duncan takes Beatrice aside. He says that he and Ivy need to leave soon, but he wants to thank Beatrice for all she risked on their behalf.
He tells the story of how Kyle, the Lord Wintersgreen disappeared in the mountains in this region. Duncan's friend, and Kyle's, Wrett Asept returned here many times before accepting that Kyle was gone. During his visits, Wrett established Wintersgreen House to honor his friend.
What finally gave Wrett peace, was when, just a year ago, he came to search one more time and found something. This flintlock pistol. It is unlike any ever made in the Lands of Mist, and the tag affixed to its grip is unique. It bears a shield device emblazoned with what Wrett called a "grail." This, Wrett said, was the sigil of Queen Elaine of Avalon, Kyle's home domain.
Wrett gave the pistol to Duncan when he retired, feeling that it would be better for the weapon to see limited use in Duncan's hands than no use at all in his own.
Duncan gives the flintlock to Beatrice.