We found Ith.
After a quick breakfast the group and I returned to the room where the animated table had formerly been. The room still reeked of smoke, a giant pile of ash at the center. A door along the Eastern wall lay unexplored, so we went that way. Although this door was stuck in place, Ari managed to pry it open with out the help of Sandstorm or his pick.
The room inside was long and narrow, a small balcony in the Northwestern corner with a door on the North and Eastern walls. But besides that, the room was sparse. Ari and Sandstorm cautiously entered in the room first, as per usual. Following them went Cinna and Malazhar, with me taking up the rear. As Malazhar passed through the threshold he disappeared. Gone faster than in the blink of an eye. (Sometimes he plane shifts at the most inconvenient moments, I swear by the Queen…)
I shivered as I entered in. The area just beyond the door was colder than an ice box. So cold, I could see steam rise from my lips as I exhaled. I ventured to the balcony to get a closer look at it and to hopefully find a slightly warmer spot. (Which, thankfully, it was.) Ari and Sandstorm had already begun examining an odd skull atop the balcony. I felt a sense of dread upon seeing it. Its eye sockets were filled with pitch black onyx.
“I think this skull has a soul bound to it.” I cautioned. I looked over my head and saw Ari bolting for the Eastern door. Steam rose from my mouth again. “Most likely the very skull of whomever or whatever soul is imprisoned inside.”
“Should I smash it?” Sandstorm asked me, gripping his pick.
I shook my head. “It won’t matter if you do or don’t.”
Sandstorm shrugged and was about to smash it regardless, but his swing got interrupted by Ari’s blood curling scream. The rogue was on the floor, completely covered in green ectoplasm. Sandstorm put away his pick and summoned his mind blade as all of us sprinted over to help. Sandstorm reached down and grabbed a chunk of the stuff and began pulling. He grunted and fell to the ground, knocked over by something none of us could see. He slashed at the air around him, picking himself back up onto his feet as he did so.
“Um, guys…” Cinna gestured behind us, eyes wide. In the center of the room even more ectoplasm slunk along the floor. It amalgamated together forming a giant green blob vaguely in human form.
I ran over by Cinna. “It’s an astral construct!”
Sandstorm dismissed his mind blade and got the pick off his back. He ran up to the construct and swung mightily, cleaving its arm clear off. Before the arm fell to the floor a new crystalline one replaced it. Which was odd. No astral construct I’ve ever heard of should’ve been able to regrow a body part that rapidly.
As Sandstorm backed away to get out of range the construct tripped him with the ectoplasmic ooze all around it. I took a deep breath and summoned a large lance of sonic energy. By then the construct was more crystalline than not, so sonic energy should easily tear it apart. I aimed and threw. The lance pierced the construct right through its chest. Well, if you could say it had a chest. The creature shrieked and its arms fell off for good. Cinna followed my lead and struck it with a sonic ray which did it in. As the tiny crystal slivers touched to the ground they turned to dust. My breath no longer steamed, and the room felt significantly warmer.
Ari, still on the floor, finally freed herself from the goo surrounding her. She glowered at us as she walked past towards the balcony, probably displeased we hadn’t helped her more. The rest of us kinda shrugged it off and looked about the room for anything valuable.
The skull shattered. The onyx gems, like the construct, crumbled to dust. Ari stared at the thing unflinchingly like she hadn’t heard a thing. I could see the glimmer of gold and silver just beneath the base of the broken bone. Cinna, Sandstorm and I dashed over to her. We gathered the goods and moved on, passing through the Northern door.
The door led us to a short hallway and another door. As Ari fiddled with the lock she suddenly stopped and stood up straight. She placed her hand on the knob. “We’re coming in my lord!” The rogue proclaimed in a booming voice. Sandstorm smacked her on the back of the head and pried her away from the door. “What the hell are you doing?” She snapped.
“Shut up!” The half giant snapped back. He shoved her aside and smashed the door open.
The room had a high vaulted ceiling at least fifteen feet high. Chained to the wall was Ith, emaciated and sullen. His armor and weapons were gone. Chained with him was another prisoner, a thri-kreen who looked even worse off than he did. They too lacked armor and weapons. Fresh and old wounds alike covered their body. With a sick and twisted sense of humor I saw two chests also chained up with them, which I imagined contained all their belongings. But worst of all, just like those yanki said, the chains bound them to the Master we’d heard about.
A yanki with piercing dark blue eyes and dark yellow skin sat in a chair, two crossbows loaded and at the ready pointed straight at us. “Welcome!” He greeted us in a sickeningly sweet voice. “You must be the party I’ve heard all about. Come in, come in!”
Suspicious and pick still out, Sandstorm cautiously went in first. Ari walked straight past the half giant until she was half way between Sandstorm and the yanki. She froze. To everyone’s horror a ghostly figure stepped out of her and approached the yanki. The figure bowed curtly to the Master and vanished.
The yanki smirked. “I’d promised if he alerted me to your presence I’d set him free. By the way, where’s your yanki friend?”
“He’s around.” Sandstorm shrugged.
My eyes darted to the thri-kreen and Ith as Cinna and I walked into the room, keeping to the Northern wall. While the yanki wasn’t looking the thri-kreen cut through their bonds with a golden yellow mind blade, then once free slashed the chains off of Ith. The yanki, still smirking, rose from his chair. Sandstorm charged at the Master, Ari right behind with swords drawn. The yanki didn’t move a muscle as the half giant barreled toward him. Just as he went to swing the Master vanished. The crossbows dropped to the floor. Sandstorm smashed them angrily.
The whistling of arrows and a sudden pain in my chest haltered my attention. Crossbow bolts stuck out of both my chest and Cinna, who still stood beside me. The force of the hit pushed the both of us against the wall. Cinna’s breathing became labored and she struggled to stand. I felt a strange, almost numbing sensation spread over me but I held on. I couldn’t die, not here and not now.
“Cinna…Cinna!” I screamed hoarsely. The syand’s eyes rolled into the back of her head and she slid to the floor.
My gaze darted back to Ith and the other prisoner. He’d found the chest with his belongings and began to put on his armor.
The thri-kreen was doing the same, smiling at Ith. “Hi, my name’s Ishitari. I’ve been here for three months.”
I shifted my gaze to Sandstorm and Ari. Both swung at an enemy we still couldn’t see. In the midst of their swings two swords appeared, slicing both of them. The swords vanished just as quickly as they appeared. Ari reached into her bag and tossed flour at where she assumed the yanki might be, but if he had been there she’d missed him.
Sandstorm yanked one of the beads off the necklace of fireballs and muttered “Dull fire!” A massive explosion blew up in his face. Smoke surrounded him and I felt fire completely cover me. My skin singed in the heat of the blast. I could even smell it burn. I screamed in agony and collapsed to the floor beside Cinna. Not even she was safe from the blast, her skin red and raw. I gently grabbed her arm and began dragging her toward the door. I ripped out the bolt still lodged in my chest and tossed it aside. As I pulled her to safety I rummaged through my backpack and got out my water skin. I chugged down all of its contents to the last drop. I felt a rush of relief wash over me. The stench of my own burnt flesh subsided. Thraenor grabbed onto Cinna’s other arm and helped me move her. Thank the Queen dre was unhurt by the explosion.
We managed to reach the doorway as the smoke cleared. Ith ran up to us. “Why don’t we just leave?” He said frantically.
“What the fuck?” Ari cursed. From the door I couldn’t see whatever had happened.
The thri-kreen trotted up behind Ith, a mind blade in two of drer four arms. In the third arm was a shield, and in the fourth a peculiar large crystal. Dre looked up to the ceiling, “What if he’s up there?” Dre looked back down at us. “I need more flour!” Sandstorm, whom thank the Queen was surprisingly not as hurt by the blast, threw flour at the ceiling. The thri-kreen was right. I saw a faint humanoid outline standing on an overhang on the Western wall.
I turned to my creation. “Thraenor, could you go ignite the flour?” Thraenor nodded and flew up to the cloud of white power. Just as Thraenor reached the flour a bubble surrounded drer. The bubble and the flour completely obscured my view of my creation.
A sharp pain in my chest knocked the wind out of me. “Thraenor!” Unable to do much else I shakily tapped the tattoo the human back in Veseeld had given me and cloacked myself with force screen.
Ith twirled his sling. A pebble whizzed past me for the lip of the overhang. The wall right underneath crumbled from the impact. Out of the corner of my eye I saw Ari slip in front of the door way. She slid along the floor completely immobile. Her face blank, her body stiffer than a body in rigor mortis. The thri-kreen disappeared from view with a jump.
With a jump on par with Tyler’s when he fled Veseeld, the thri-kreen cried “I will not be captured again!”
My strength returned somewhat, I rose to my feet. How dare that yanki hurt Thraenor. No one harms my creation. Never again. Not after what the Council did. Furious I ran closer to the Western wall. I summoned a mass of sonic energy around me and shaped it into a lance. I flung the lance at the yanki, whom by now was no longer hiding himself. He floated in mid-air a few feet from the overhang. To my chagrin my lance collided with the wall instead.
Another rock whistled past me. The yanki hissed and dropped one of the swords in his hands. I heard the weapon hit the ground with a hard plunk. With a battle cry the thri-kreen jumped off the overhang, but as dre swung at the Master he vanished once more. The thri-kreen passed through exactly where the yanki had just been only a second before, hitting absolutely nothing. Dre fell to the ground and landed with a grace about them. The thri-kreen held up that peculiar crystal wedge, ready for a possible sneak attack. When a few minutes passed and nothing happened the thri-kreen sighed and put away their weapons. By the time dre put away their weapons both Ari and Cinna were up and moving again.
My attention snapped back to Thraenor still stuck inside the bubble. “Thraenor! Thraenor can you hear me?”
I heard the thri-kreen talking to Ith. I missed most of what was said though, except that dre is a general of Thorumak.
Five minutes passed and Thraenor still wasn’t free. I was getting frantic. “Can someone help me get Thraenor down!” I cried.
“It shouldn’t be much longer now, a few minutes at most.” The thri-kreen assured me, or I should say Ishitari. “What are you doing with that ring and sword?” Dre said to Ari in the midst of me waiting.
Ishitari was right once again. Less than a minute later the bubble finally burst, my terrified creation looked positively dumbfounded. “Thraenor, are you okay?”
“Yeah I’m fine!” Thraenor smiled and flew down to give me a hug. “But it was really scary in there. I couldn’t see or hear anything!”
I hugged dre back. “I’m just glad you’re alright.”
With Thraenor safe my attention shifted back to Ishitari’s conversation with the others. “My scouting party came here in search of a safer route to Almendra from the North before we were ambushed by the Cult. But there’s no use heading back. Everyone should be moving South by now. Even the xeph and some of the virathians are fleeing to Almendra.”
“Why?” Sandstorm wondered.
“The illithids are planning to invade soon. My people and the xeph should reach Almendra with in the month. By the way, do you know the way out of this place?” Ishitari asked us.
“Well enough.” Sandstorm replied confidently. “And do you know what’s in that room over there?” He pointed to the Northern door.
Ishitari shook drer head. “Nothing really. Just a stable for the animals.”
“Wait,” I interjected, “Do you know if the dromites of Osdon, my city’s Sister City, are coming South with the xeph? Osdon is pretty close to the xeph’s homeland. Or they might’ve gone through the portals to Nefir…” My voice trailed off.
“I’m sorry,” Ishitari’s antennae sagged sadly, a deep melancholy in drer voice. “But Osdon has been taken over by the illithids.”
My eyes widened in terror. “What?” I shouted incredulously. “No, no, no, that can’t be true. H-how would you even know? The people of Osdoan fear the surface just as much as the people of Nefir do!”
Ishitari couldn’t look me in the eye. “I contacted Osdon not too long ago.”
“Y-you contacted Osdon?” I squeaked, “How did they not kill you right when you got there?”
“I went to warn them of the incoming illithid invasion. After much debate I eventually coaxed them in to coming to the surface. They were going to leave the city…but it was too late. The illithids got to them before they could escape.”
“Then I need to warn my people! My Life Bond!” I sighed angrily. “Queen dammit, they probably won’t believe me…but I need to warn them!”
Ishitari looked at me quizzically. “Why wouldn’t they believe you?”
“I’m banished. They won’t believe a word I say. If I get to say anything at all before they either kill me or send me back up here.”
“Let me go down there then.”
“No, they’ll kill you!” I said, frantic. Tears blurred my vision. “They kill any surface dweller who enters the city, and if I go with you they’ll kill both of us for sure! I’d be violating the cardinal rule: if you bring an outsider in to the city, you are put to death.”
“If I can convince Osdon, I can convince Nefir.” Ishitari assured me.
“I don’t know. My people are absolutely terrified of the surface. And if Osdon has been overrun by mind flayers, I fear they’ll be even more stuck in their ways…This confirms all their reasons why the surface should be avoided.” I sighed again. A few tears rolled down my cheek.
“Can we go to Aradi first?” Sandstorm interjected. “I haven’t seen my family in awhile.”
“We could, yes. I don’t see a reason why not.” Ishitari replied.
“Just to warn you” Sandstorm began, “Aradi is at war with Chor so my people don’t like thri-kreen very much. I can’t guarantee your safety.”
“That’s fine. I won’t have my weapons out then.”
“The portals!” I butt in. I paced back and forth frantically. “What if it’s already too late? What if the illithids have already gone through the portals? But I’ve got to warn them. Nefir needs to know…My Life Bond needs to know…”
A felt a hand gingerly squeeze my shoulder.
“Calm down.” Ishitari said soothingly. “We need to get out of here first before creating a plan. Thorumak teaches us to be patient.”
I wiped the tears from my face, my body still shaking. “I guess you’re right. I want to get the hell out of here.”
Ishitari smiled and gently patted me on the back a few times. Back through the Eastern door we went. We sprinted down familiar hallways and rooms until we returned to the place where the phthisic had been. I heard dozens of footsteps all around us, and to my dismay the all too recognizable shrieks of githyanki.
“Run, they’re after us!” Ishitari yelled. “Orachiman!” Dre bellowed as we approached the entrance way. I recognized the word as lock down in Dwarven.
On command the same fire elemental emerged from its rune. “Oh, I haven’t heard that one in awhile.” It exclaimed in surprise, “But okay!”
We ran past as fast we could. The ground beneath shook violently as the large entrance doors sealed shut behind us. The closed even quicker than they had opened when we got here nearly two weeks ago. (By the Queen were we really in there for that long?)
The group of us sprinted for some distance away from the ruins before we stopped to catch our breath. Sandstorm said he’d lead us safely through the desert to Aradi, although we’d have to go around Chor. It would be a few more hours until we set up camp.
As I sit here writing this the truth about Osdon still hasn’t quite sunk in yet. How could this have happened? How? I’m sure Osdon is just as paranoid as Nefir about telling outsiders where the entrances are. How’d they know where the entrances are? Did the illithids follow Ishitari? Have they gone through the portals yet? By the Queen they better not have.
I feel so helpless. But I am tired, and should get some rest. Aradi is still a few days away.
I can only hope my city and my Life Bond are okay.