Sunday, May 21, 2017

[Pathfinder] Wrath of the Righteous, part 15: Finding the Fragment

May 21, 2017

Character level: 5th

The group of Crusaders were all weary and depleted of magic by this point, but no one suggested leaving the Gray Garrison for another night. There was too much at stake. While Asami drank a healing potion and Runa took out a wand to heal more of her own injuries, Jiro took several of the mongrelfolk with him to make sure no more enemies waited in the five rooms on the garrison's second floor. Zosta walked into the long room from which the winged creature had emerged, finding a long table and the bodies of several people, both cultists and ordinary citizens of Kenabres, whose hearts had all been torn out. Asami also saw this disconcerting sight when she followed Zosta. There was a map of Mendev on the table.

Jiro returned to report that he had seen no enemies, so the group members decided to investigate all of the rooms for any clues or useful items. Runa and her mongrelman companion trailed along at the rear of the group, as she felt weak and sick in the aftermath of her near-death experience and could hardly move in her heavy armor.

The party found that the demon cultists had destroyed what they could not use. A barracks room held several overturned cots and an empty lockbox. Across the hallway lay a room with a hexagonal table strewn with texts and tomes about geography, history, and military tactics, including information on Mendevian troop movements both past and future.

At the end of the hallway in the room where Zosta had fought one of the demon-creatures they found evidence that it had once been a library, but all of the books it had contained had been burned to ash except for a few that lay on a small table. One of these could not be read by anyone present. Next to the library was a room containing several empty bird cages and writing materials, indicating that message birds had probably been housed there, but the evidence suggested that no birds had occupied the room for some time. In one corner lay a small closet enclosing a window through which the birds could be released. After a brief look around the aerie, the party members searched for another secret room like the armory they had found downstairs on the previous day, but they discovered no evidence of such a space on the second floor.

When all of the other rooms had been examined, only one room that hadn't been opened during the fight with the defenders remained. The door proved to be securely locked. Jiro attempted unsuccessfully to pick the lock, then used his magic chime. But the door remained stubbornly barred against them. Asami suggested that Jiro speak to the spirits as he had done at the weaponsmith's shop a few days earlier, but Jiro responded that the spirits would avoid a place where so much blood had been spilled. He tried putting out a bowl of milk for the spirits anyway, but the milk instantly soured. Asami then put her hands on the door and asked the wood to give way, without success. Finally Aegronius took out his greataxe and began chopping at it, with little success until Jiro reminded him that his adamantine morningstar might be more effective, and he began to bash at the door with the morningstar, sending splinters of wood flying. Zosta then picked up the axe Aegronius had dropped and joined him in attacking the door.

Working together the two of them soon chopped a hole through the door, through which they saw what appeared to be a zombie.They finished destroyed the door and as the last bits of wood were destroyed they could all see five zombies inside the room. The zombies had already gathered around the doorway, attracted by the noise. The one closest to the doorway hit Zosta in the face. Zosta dropped the axe and kicked the zombie's legs out from under it, then stomped on it twice. The zombie disintegrated into a cloud of dust. Jiro touched a second zombie with a curative spell and it also turned to dust.

Irabeth walked unheedingly through the cloud of zombie dust and went inside the room. Two of the zombies attacked her as she passed them. Runa stepped over to Zosta and used her wand to heal the damage the zombie had done, while Asami used her own wand to send three missiles at one of the zombies. Zosta knocked down another zombie and pummeled it into particles, and her mongrelman comrade shot another zombie with an arrow that hit so precisely it knocked the onyx powering the zombie out of its body. Irabeth grabbed the remaining zombie and pushed it away from the others, as she had recognized the zombies as a variety known as plague zombies that could cause disease, and she knew that when the zombies disintegrated their dust could infect anyone who breathed it in. Zosta had already begun to cough after inhaling a mouthful when she destroyed her latest zombie opponent.

Aegronius exchanged the morningstar for his preferred weapon, his ranseur, and ran into the room to chop the last zombie into two pieces. Irabeth, whose divine blessings made her immune to diseases, inhaled the zombie dust and spat dismissively. She then explained that they were plague zombies and told Zosta what to expect: symptoms would not appear for a day or two, she would begin to experience weakness, and if she died of the disease she herself would transform into a plague zombie. Zosta was relieved that she wouldn't become ill immediately.

With the zombies destroyed, the Crusaders could look around the room. It held an ascending staircase in one corner, and against one wall stood a large alabaster basin, which was currently filled with bloody entrails. Along the edge of the basin were images of knights around a sun. Asami realized that the basin was sacred to Iomedae and that it was ordinarily full of enchanted water. Looking at the state of the basin, Aegronius asked, "Should we destroy it?" Asami answered, "No, we must cleanse it."

Jiro summoned his invisible servant to remove the offal, and Runa repeatedly conjured water to rinse the basin. When it was full of clean water, the water glowed and shimmered and something appeared in it, showing everyone close enough to view it a scene of a different room with torches in two alcoves, which was also occupied by a minotaur whose blood-red hide and glowing eyes indicated it had fiendish blood. The view moved to a second room adjoining the minotaur's location, where a woman wielding a scythe stood next to a sturdy cage holding a glowing white stone. Then the view descended a staircase and showed the Crusaders standing next to the alabaster basin. After this vision vanished everyone turned to look at the stairs in the corner of the room.

As they realized they would have to climb up and fight the minotaur to reach the Wardstone fragment, they heard the blast of a horn from above them. They knew the minotaur was waiting for them. Everyone began to climb the stairs. Aegronius went first and entered the room to face the minotaur, who immediately struck him a harsh blow. Zosta darted past Asami, who was ahead of her, and avoided the minotaur to get behind him, though her presence didn't seem to provide the usual advantage. Runa took a potion from her pouch and handed it to Irabeth, for she felt too weakened to be of much use in combat against the minotaur and she knew the potion would grant the paladin additional protection.

The minotaur appeared to be focusing its attacks on Aegronius in much the same way that Irabeth could focus on a foe. The beast had a huge axe. Aegronius dropped his ranseur in favor of his own great axe, and Jiro stepped up behind him to lend his healing energy to both Aegronius and Zosta. The minotaur struck them both, rendering Jiro's healing almost useless, and Aegronius collapsed. The minotaur then gored him despite the fact that he was lying unconscious on the ground.

Asami could see none of this. She could only hear the grunts of the minotaur and the clash of weapons. Kirara whispered in her ear, "Don't go up there. It smells bad," which Asami knew meant that there was something evil in the room upstairs. While Asami tried to decide what to do, Runa moved into the room to pour a potion into Aegronius' unresisting mouth, which revived him. Jiro raised his staff, prepared to strike the minotaur after reassuring himself that Aegronius would not die just yet.

Asami murmured to Kirara, "I cannot just wait here," and climbed up the stairs to the entrance of the room. To her surprise, Kirara exclaimed, "I'll run interference!" and leaped out of her pack, darting past the minotaur, who swung at her but missed the little white cat. Kirara came to a stop beside Zosta. This distraction allowed Asami to avoid being the minotaur's next target when she stood in the doorway. Asami pointed her wand at the minotaur and the three missiles struck the creature, though they didn't appear to do it much hurt.

Irabeth drank the potion Runa had given her and entered the room, taking up a position near Zosta. The minotaur swung at Zosta, dealing her a terrible blow that caused her to spin and fall. Kirara barely avoided having Zosta land on top of her. Runa gave more healing to Aegronius, which restored him enough to move, but he was now as weak and sick as Runa, and could not stand up without risking another attack from the minotaur. Instead he struck at its leg while still lying on the floor. At the same time Jiro hit the minotaur with his staff, which he had enhanced with magic, and the minotaur slumped to the ground. Bohgong, who had been beside Asami on the stair, raced into the room and jumped on Zosta. A moment later she regained her feet and the white monkey retreated to the safety of Jiro's pack.

Jiro mentioned that he thought the nose ring worn by the minotaur might be magical, and Asami cast a spell to determine that it was indeed magical, as was the musical horn the minotaur carried. There was no time to examine them further so she picked them up and joined her friends at the door to the next room where the fragment awaited them.

A second time they found the door securely locked. This time Jiro used his chime immediately. After four or five attempts, the lock finally clicked open, and the chime disintegrated, depleted of magic. As soon as the door opened they saw the woman from the vision in the basin, holding a ball of flames in her hand that she hurled at them. Slowed by their weakened condition, Aegronius and Runa were burned worse than the rest of the group. The woman then chanted another spell, and Asami saw a hellish vision overlay the contents of the room. Her knees trembled with fear and despair, but she did not run. Her eyes remained on the cage's contents, the glowing white stone, which stood on a pedestal beneath a domed ceiling. Aegronius said to her, "Let's take the stone while the rest take her," and she nodded in agreement.

Zosta moved to face the woman, knocking her to he floor and punching her in the face, but the blow did less damage than she expected. Irabeth moved toward the cage. Jiro ran around behind it to join Zosta in attacking the woman. Though she still lay on the floor the woman returned Zosta's attack viciously, doing her serious harm. Asami waited for Aegronius to shamble toward the cage, but then decided instead of following at his restricted pace she would use her wand to strike the cage. Her missiles did mar it, but the damage was minor. Meanwhile Runa used a wand that Jiro had given her to summon a tetsubo of force to attack the prone woman. While the tetsubo attacked, Runa cast a spell on Aegronius to increase the damage done by his morningstar, which he had brought out again. Jiro abandoned preparing to strike the woman if she tried to cast another spell and instead healed Zosta. This left the woman free to speak the words of a spell Asami recognized, as she had found it in the spellbook that had appeared unexpectedly in her room at Defender's Heart. A wave of blood flowed out from the corner of the room next to the woman, shoving the demon worshipper against the cage. It pushed Irabeth, Zosta, and Jiro away, and knocked Jiro, Runa, and Aegronius off their feet. Asami was spared because she was still outside the room.

Jiro was made ill by the foul blood. Aegronius tried to stand again but slipped and fell. Asami fired more missiles at the cage, and Irabeth began slamming the sword Radiance into it with great force. Jiro managed after two attempts to get back on his feet, but Runa gave up on this and crawled toward the cage, barely able to overcome her disgust at the blood on the floor.

The woman tried to touch Zosta when Zosta returned to stand over her, but Jiro had cast a spell of protection on her before ascending the stairs and the attempt failed. Zosta decided to grab the woman and hold her so she could cast no more spells. She and the woman struggled, the woman repeatedly pulling free of Zosta's grip only to be grabbed again a moment later. Aegronius got up and moved to the cage with his morningstar ready as Runa again granted him Iomedae's divine power. The blood had vanished, and Asami walked over to stand between Aegronius and Jiro, drawing the rod Quednys had given her from her pack and holding it at the ready. When the woman glimpsed her holding it, she shouted, "No! No! You don't know what it will do!"

The woman again tried to touch Zosta when she got her hand free, and though Jiro hit her with his staff he couldn't prevent her from cursing Zosta, which left her struggling even more to hold on to the woman. Aegronius began to smash at the cage with his morningstar. This caused the woman to scream in rage and try casting another spell, but she failed to protect herself from being held by Zosta and thus expended the magic without effect. Irabeth became frustrated by how little damage her sword was doing to the cage and picked up Aegronius great axe to swing at the metal bars, which ran both horizontally and vertically and were too close together for Asami to insert the rod between them. Asami waited for her comrades to break open the cage, taking care not to hold her wand too close to the rod lest its magic be drained and the rod rendered useless.

Aegronius struck the cage a mighty blow and it flew open. At that moment, the woman on the floor managed to cast a spell, not at Zosta but at Asami. Asami was seized with fear and ran out of the room, desperate to escape. She heard Jiro shout, "Stop her! Don't let her get past!" The mongrelfolk, who were at the head of the stairs still, caught hold of Asami as she tried to run past them and barred her from fleeing down the stairs. Jiro came up behind her and took the rod from her hand as she struggled with them.

While Asami was still trying to flee, a wave of golden energy rushed out of the room when Jiro touched the rod to the stone, accompanied by the sound of angelic beings singing. Then thousands of razor-sharp shards of crystal shot out from the shattered Wardstone fragment, shredding the demon-worshipper, who had already been rendered unconscious by a blow from Irabeth. The shards did not touch the Crusaders or their faithful mongrelfolk comrades. As the golden energy touched them, everyone but Irabeth and the mongrelfolk began to glow with the same radiance. They felt all of their wounds heal and every weakness or sickness or terror affecting them fade. All of the spells Asami had expended that day were restored to her mind, and she knew that she could use her splintered spear again just as if she had rested overnight.

Then her mind entered a dream-like state. She saw visions that she understood to be the history of the Wardstone. She knew what year each scene occurred during, and the names of all the people and beings she witnessed even if she had never seen them before. She observed thousands of demons being destroyed and others fleeing as a wave of power flowed out from the other Wardstones still linked to the shattered fragment, in a last burst of energy before all of the Wardstones became inert. Her vision showed her the witch Areelu Vorlesh planning a vindictive strike against Asami and her friends for foiling her plans. She watched the Wardstone being made by celestial beings, saw a young Lord Hulruun having witches executed before it at the start of the Fifth Crusade, saw the demonic Storm King defeated and nearly slain by the dragon Telendrev at the beginning of the Fourth Crusade, watched Irabeth fighting the traitor Staunton Vane beside the Stone before Vane summoned a flying creature and fled. She saw the creature called Minago putting the stone in this very room, where the woman used a powerful spell granted by Minago to create the cage around it. She also saw a vision of something that would now never come to pass, when Vorlesh planned to corrupt the stone and use it transform all of the Crusaders into part of her demonic invasion force. As this vision came to and end, everyone present, including Irabeth, saw Vorlesh using the nahyndrian crystal. Then all of them saw babau demons appear inside the room with them, and they knew this was not a vision. The Wardstones were no more, and they would have to be ready to use their restored magic and strength to fight again.

Next: Part 16, Victory and Loss

Game Review: The Dresden Files Cooperative Card Game

Tonight my friends introduced me to the Dresden Files cooperative card game from Evil Hat Productions. This is a quick to learn, fast to play card game using the Fate system, which is also used for the Dresden Files tabletop roleplaying game. Players play characters from the Dresden Files series of urban fantasy novels, including protagonist Harry Dresden himself, and try to defeat various enemies and obstacles that Harry and his friends face in the books. For our games tonight we played using the cards for Stormfront, the first Dresden novel. My review is based on my experience playing three games tonight and shouldn't be construed to give a 100% accurate description of the rules.

 The game allows players to choose which character they want to play, but one player must play Harry Dresden. Each player gets a set of Action cards specific to their chosen character to use on their turns. There are four types of actions: Attack, Investigate, Overcome, and Take Advantage. All characters get some cards of each type, but each character gets a different number of cards of each action category. For example, the characters Billy and Georgia the werewolf couple are geared more toward attacking, so they get more Attack cards than they do cards of the other three action types. But because Karrin Murphy is a police detective, she gets more Investigate cards.

Players start play with four Action cards in their hands. Each Action card has two values: Fate cost, which is described below, and Range. Range is the number of spaces the card can reach on the board. A Range of 1 means the card can only be played against cards in position 1 on the board (see more about the board below). Attack and Investigate cards have a third value, which represents either the amount of Attack damage the card does to a Foe, or the number of Clue points the card is worth in an Investigation. Once an Action card has been played, it must be placed on the player's discard pile. Players cannot draw any more Action cards from their deck unless a Stunt, Talent, or Advantage card allows them to do so.

In addition to Action cards, each character also has a Stunt card and a Talent card. A Stunt card can be played once per game instead of an Action card, to allow the character to do something special like make an extra attack, do more damage, or increase the range of an Action card. Talent cards are similar to Stunt cards, but can only be played after a player discards an Action card to regain Fate points.

The game provides a preset pool of Fate points, which are represented by cardboard tokens and are shared by all players. Action cards all have a Fate point cost to play them. Different cards cost a different number of Fate points. Some cards also require a player to roll a dice in addition to expending Fate points. These dice are specific to the game; instead of numbers or pips, the six-sided dice have two plus symbols, two minus symbols, and two blank sides. Some Action cards require a player to roll one or two dice to determine how many Fate points it costs to play that Action card. If the player rolls a minus, then the Fate cost is reduced by one for each minus rolled. If the player rolls a plus, the Fate cost increases by one. If the players run out of Fate tokens, they can't play any more Action cards and will probably lose the game. Fortunately, they can discard Action cards from their hand to regain a number of Fate points equal to the cost of the card. Discarding an Action card in this way also triggers the player's Talent card to be activated.

In addition to the players' cards, there are cards representing what enemies the characters are fighting and what mystery they're trying to solve - after all, besides being a wizard, Harry Dresden is a private detective, and several of his friends work for the police department. There are four types of these cards: Advantage, Foe, Investigation, and Obstacle. Players must play a Take Advantage card against an Advantage, an Attack card against a Foe, an Investigate card against an Investigation, and an Overcome card against an Obstacle.

At the beginning of the game, twelve of these cards are randomly laid out on the board in two rows of six. The six positions are numbered, and cards must be removed from the board beginning with the two cards in position 1, although some Action cards will allow players to take on cards that are in other positions. When the cards in position 1 are removed, all the other cards are shifted one space to the left so that position 1 is never empty until the board is cleared. While the purpose of the game is to remove all the cards, it's most important to solve the Investigations and remove those first. If players run out of Fate points or Action cards while there are still cards on the board, they move to the Showdown phase. Too many Investigation cards still on the board it will make it very unlikely for them to win the Showdown.

The Foe and Investigation cards have a point cost that the players must overcome to remove them from the board. These aren't Fate points, but instead represent Attack and Clue points, which each have their own set of cardboard tokens. If a player plays an Attack card that does 3 points of damage to a Foe card, three Attack tokens are placed on that Foe card. If the Foe card has a point cost of 11, it remains on the board until it takes 11 Attack points. The Investigation cards work the same way using Clue tokens. There are some Foe and Investigation cards that are linked, so that one can't be removed until the other card is off the board. For example, in the Stormfront set there is a Foe card that can't be attacked until one of the Investigations is solved.

The Advantage and Obstacle cards don't have a point cost. If a player plays a Take Advantage card with a range of 1 and there is an Advantage card in position 1, that player can remove the Advantage card from the board and gain the advantage that is described on the card. Some Advantage cards allow players to draw additional Action cards or take a second turn. Obstacle cards can be removed in a similar way, but instead of giving the players advantages, removing an Obstacle card removes a penalty or limitation from the players.

Advantage and Obstacle cards don't count toward winning the game; players need to remove them from the board in order to gain access to the Foe and Investigation cards, especially if those cards are located in positions 4, 5, and 6. Though the cards are laid out randomly on the board, the game rules specify that Advantage and Obstacle cards can't be placed in position 6. Most Action cards only have a Range of 1 or 2 spaces, so the players will have to get rid of Advantage and Obstacle cards to move the Foe and Investigation cards within range of their Actions..

Players can pass on their turn if they can't decide what Action to play or want to wait for the other players to take their turns first, but passing costs one Fate point. A player who runs out of Action cards also has to pay a penalty of one Fate point each time her turn comes and she's unable to play a card. With only four Action cards per player, it becomes quite a challenge to ensure that there are enough Fate tokens left to afford the Action cards while also making sure players don't run out of cards to play. There are some Advantage cards that allow one or more players to draw another card, but these cards don't allow all players to draw a card. It really is a cooperative resource management game. There's no benefit to ignoring the other players or trying to outdo them.

All three of the games we played tonight ended with Foe and Investigation cards still on the board, forcing us to try to win by winning a Showdown. Unfortunately each time we did poorly on the dice rolls required to resolve the Showdown, and we lost to the game board. Despite this, it was a lot of fun to play the game. The rules sound complicated when described as I described them up above, but it's really not a difficult game to learn. Our games took place over a period of about two and a half hours, including time to explain how the game mechanics work.

While a lot of my favorable impression of this game comes from playing it with close friends, I feel that the ease and speed of play would make this a good game for anyone, especially a Dresden Files fan who doesn't have the time to get involved in a more complex roleplaying game. I give this game four stars out of five.

Monday, May 1, 2017

[Pathfinder] Wrath of the Righteous, episode 14: Return to the Gray Garrison

April 29, 2017

I've noticed a tendency in my previous posts to detail out the combats, but without much personal information about the characters. I'm making a change to the style of these posts that I hope will make them more entertaining to read. I'll be focusing on the viewpoint of my character, Asami the wizard. Sometimes Asami won't be able to see what's happening to the other player-characters. I hope this won't make it seem like no one else is doing anything. That certainly isn't true.

From her vantage on the stairs Asami could only see a small portion of what was happening in the room at the top. Irabeth was standing in front of her near the head of the staircase. She could glimpse a little of Jiro and several of the mongrelfolk who had accompanied them, and she could see Runa’s head above the heads of the cultists who had emerged from side rooms to attack her. Of Aegron and Zosta she could see nothing at all.

Suddenly more people entered the main room from side doors, and Asami saw Runa fall, vanishing behind the swarm of cultists. Asami raised her wand, directing two missiles from it at one cultist near where Runa had fallen, and a third missile at another figure standing near her first target. A wave of energy spread from where Jiro stood, which Asami recognized as his healing hex. Then a figure appeared in the midst of the cultists, standing over what Asami assumed must be Runa’s prone form. It was a white-furred creature that looked like Jiro’s spirit animal Bohgong, but it was much larger than the diminutive monkey. The unusually large monkey also appeared blurred. Asami saw the giant-sized Bohgong lift Runa off the floor and then leap out of sight toward another room that lay above the stairs and behind Asami’s current location.

Relieved that Runa had been taken to a safer place, Asami sent more missiles from her wand at a cultist who stood directly in front of Jiro. Just after she did this another figure appeared between Jiro and the cultist. It was a ghostly form dressed in the style of apparel common in Tian Xia, which led her to assume that Jiro must have summoned it – or perhaps Bohgong had, as Asami suspected there was more to the white monkey than a mere spirit animal. This spirit guardian standing before Jiro did not bear any offensive weapon, but used its staff to block attacks by the cultists that were aimed at Jiro.

Asami did not know what was happening to most of her comrades at this point, as she could only see Jiro and several of the mongrelfolk. Irabeth had run up the stairs and disappeared into the other room. Asami climbed up to the top of the staircase but still could not see anyone else. The rest of her friends were behind her on the other side of a wall as best she could surmise. Because Jiro and his spirit guardian were facing a large number of cultists, Asami pointed her wooden sword at several cultists in the corner of the room she faced and a wave of energy in the colors of autumn leaves spread out from the sword’s point. She had targeted four enemies, but the magic affected only one, the other three managing to resist its power. The fourth cultist’s eyes rolled up and he slumped to the floor.

Asami heard Irabeth shouting fiercely from the other room in the language of the orcs, which Asami was not able to translate. She shifted around the corner behind Jiro to see what was happening in the next room. Her gaze immediately fell on Runa, who was on her feet but did not look well. Runa appeared to have withdrawn from the demonic goat-horned creatures that Irabeth was fighting in order to heal herself. Asami stepped up behind Runa, laying her hand on Runa’s shoulder, and said in a low voice, “Accept the magic,” into Runa’s ear. Runa nodded slightly in acknowledgement. Asami held the flat of her wooden blade toward Runa and moved it from Runa’s head to her feet as she murmured the words of the spell. An insubstantial shape of green energy formed around Runa, surrounding her completely at a foot’s length from her body. The energy took the shape of a sturdy tree. It would protect her from the attacks of evil creatures, and creatures summoned to this place by magic would not be able to approach her. When the spell was complete, Asami took a potion vial from her pouch and handed it to Runa, telling her, “Drink this.” It was the strongest curative potion she had in her possession, and Runa needed it far more than she did.

Now that she had entered the second room, Asami could see that Aegron and Zosta were also there, at the opposite end of the chamber. She watched over Runa’s shoulder as Zosta tripped one of the goat-horned beings and knocked it to the floor. A moment later the creature got back on its feet and stepped backward through another doorway. Zosta followed it and it attempted to gore her with its horns. A second creature of the same kind was engaged with Irabeth and Aegron, who was using his ranseur to fight it. Runa and Irabeth both turned to look toward the wall to Asami’s left. Asami sensed that they had seen something, but before she could get a glimpse of it, the entire room was plunged into impenetrable blackness. Asami heard the sound of bowstrings twanging, and something wet spattered the floor nearby and Runa made a small exclamation of disgust. Then there was the sound of a door closing from the opposite end of the room where Zosta and her opponent had been. Kirara could see no more in the darkness than Asami could, but the cat poked her head out of Asami's pack and whispered in Asami's ear, "Smell no enemies near."

Behind Asami, Jiro said, “I’ll try to dispel the darkness.” She waited as he recited the words of the spell, but when he finished nothing happened. Asami felt slightly foolish that she hadn’t thought to do so first. She spoke the spell herself, gesturing with her sword to encompass the room that she couldn’t see. As she pronounced the last syllable, the darkness vanished and the room was visible once more. But she hardly had time to draw a breath before the room went black a second time! She heard a sound like something spitting and felt the burn of acid on her exposed skin. A large shape approached, causing Kirara to hiss fearfully, and then something bit her painfully in the arm.

Asami heard the sound something being dropped on the floor followed by the metallic grating of a sword being drawn from its sheath and guessed that it must be Runa, as Irabeth was already wielding her longsword and Aegron did not customarily use a sword. Behind her there was a rustling as Jiro moved, and she heard him murmuring. Light suffused the room, driving away the unnatural darkness. Jiro held up his lantern on the end of its pole. The lantern’s magical, never-ending illumination had overcome the darkness. In its glow Asami could see that in the room with her and her companions were two creatures that resembled flies but were as large as men and wore man-like faces. Asami raised her wand. Three missiles from the wand slew one of the fly-like monsters. Aegron killed the second one. But there was a third fly-creature in a narrow hallway that led off from the left side of the room, and this spat on Irabeth, Runa, and Aegron. One of the goat-horned creatures was also still in the room, and it used its halberd to slash past Irabeth, aiming at Aegron. Irabeth thrust her sword into the creature and it dropped.

Jiro called out to Bohgong to seek Zosta, who was nowhere in sight. Asami moved to the end of the small corridor and stroked her sword, drawing green lightning from the wooden blade. The lightning shot down the hallway at the third fly-monster and another of the horned demons that stood behind it. But to her disappointment both creatures appeared unaffected by the lightning. Runa put a hand on Irabeth, who seemed unsteady, and murmured a prayer to Iomedae to heal the paladin’s wounds. Irabeth was still weak and withdrew from the area where she might be threatened by the demonic creatures’ attacks. Runa handed her a potion and Jiro used one of his hexes to provide her further relief from her injuries. Asami pointed her wand at one of the demons that remained in the room, but the tiny missiles of magical force bounced off its hide.

Zosta emerged from a room at the far end of the chamber, tripped another horned demon, then slashed it with her bladed gauntlets. Several of the mongrelfolk archers, who had been busy eliminating the last of the cultists in the other room, now aimed their bows at the fly-thing and brought it down. Aegron charged past where it had hovered to get to the demon in the hallway. It was close enough to where Asami stood that she could stab at it with her spear, but her blow failed to connect. Then Aegron broght his greataxe down on it and nearly cleaved it in two. After it died it vanished in the manner of a creature that had been summoned from another plane. There were no other cultists or creatures sharing the space with the attacking force from the Eagle's Watch.

But there were still side rooms that they had yet to explore, and they had not located the Wardstone fragment. Runa and Irabeth both looked weary and were still wounded. Asami assessed the spells she still had in her mind. Her ability to hurl lightning at her foes or dispel magic they cast were gone, and she could not grant anyone else the same protection against evil creatures that she had placed on Runa. That magic would last a little longer, but how much was left of the Gray Garrison to examine? Would they need to leave it and replenish themselves a second time? She had a magic pearl in her pouch that would let her recover one spent spell, but it could not be used to recover the lightning spell or the spell to dispel other magic. As she thought of this Asami could feel the weight of the enchanted rod Quednys had given her, pressing against her back. The stone must be destroyed before the demon lords could use it to fully open the Worldwound. Thinking of the Worldwound made the peculiar Seeker’s Spiral birthmark on the back of her neck tingle and raised memories of her lost parents. She and her friends must prevent the Worldwound from being opened further, no matter what the cost.