Inside the fortress, Asha huddled miserably under a great altar in a large room. It wasn’t an ideal hiding place, but the creatures were scouring the fortress high and low looking for her, and she figured a small space in plain sight might do for a while. The altar was what appeared to be a huge dragon skull sculpted from marble, but the concave of the creature’s and her slight frame made it a relatively simple matter for her to squeeze into hiding.
But the tight conditions and her current predicament were not the cause of her misery (though it did help). She had failed. She didn’t know why she failed, or how precisely she even KNEW that she failed, but an overwhelming sense of despair had taken over her and that was one thing she could not hide from. Tears began streaming down her face and she stifled a sob – and a good thing too, for as she chocked back her grief, the door to the room opened. She heard the soft squelch of the rancid creatures’ footsteps as they moved into the room, and the duergar’s soft breathing. Every so often he would mutter to himself in the duergar’s twisted language. As they drew nearer to the altar, which was really the only major feature in the room, the duegar’s muttered comments, while still in what passed for duergar language, became clear to her.
“Search the bloody fortress with only two stinking lemure for comp’ny,” the duergar was muttering. “All’s ya’ gotta’ do is find one tiny wisp of a girl, but don’ kill her, oh no. Take her alive so the Great One can do the honors…”
The duergar was close. So close, she could smell the stink of his unwashed body and the alcohol that lingered on his breath. She tried to quietly wedge herself lower into her hiding spot, but all the duergar would have to do is look down…
Another door slammed open, snapping the duergar’s head around, away from Asha. She let out a mental sigh of relief, but she still wasn’t breathing.
“Get you gone!” called the Great One’s rough and accented voice in Common. Asha pondered briefly why he didn’t speak in the duergar tongue, but concluded that perhaps he couldn’t be bothered. Whatever the reason, the duergar and his lemure charges cleared out in a hurry, muttering apologies to the Great One in typical sycophantic fashion. As soon as the door closed, Asha heard the Great One moving toward the altar. He plopped something wet and squishy down atop the representation of a dragon’s skull and flaming reddish liquid flowed over the edge, spattering on the floor mere inches from Asha’s hand, sizzling and steaming as it landed. Asha pulled her hand away.
As the Great One spoke, he spoke in a language that sounded like a series of hisses, pops, and snarls, but all the same she understood him. Perhaps the altar had some kind of translation spell on it. Not that it mattered, Asha would have been just as happy not to have heard what the Great One had to say.
“Oh most beautiful and powerful of all the Furies, my mistress, I beseech you come! I have discovered something that you will find of interest, and offer you the sacrifice of this unique white lion as pittance for my blasphemy in calling you here!”
Tivor! Asha’s despair threatened to consume her as the sobs rose in her throat again. But if Tivor is dead that must mean… she tried to stop the thought, but it came unbidden. The others are dead too.
The Great One continued, ignorant of her presence, let along her grief. “Please, mistress! With what I found we could… we could…”
“What?” came a feminine voice, but so full of hate and loathing that it cut through Asha’s grief. A brilliant flash and a crack like the settling of the world was the harbinger to a presence unlike any other Asha had ever known. She could not see what appeared, it hovered over the altar above her, but she could feel it. Cold and burning, hatred and divinity… it defied description. “You are a fool to waste my time, Grxynik!”
“I am not!” groveled the devil formerly known as the Great One. “You see?”
There was a pause. “It is a control rod.” The woman said finally. Asha couldn’t read her tone… it was still full of hate, but it contained something else. Vexation perhaps? Whatever it was, the woman was at least intrigued. “What of it?”
“Study it closer,” prompted Grxynik.
Another pause. Then: “It is a primary control rod,” the woman amended. Now her town was definitely interested. “You have done well, Grxynik.”
“And my reward?” he asked, his tone full of hope. Asha could feel the rising tension in the moment as the woman was silent.
“No,” she said at last. “For you see, Grxynik, while you have provided me with this wonderful toy, you have also failed me all the same.”
“How?” Grxynik guffawed.
“You failed to notice the little bitch-ling hiding beneath the very altar you used to summon me!” the woman screamed, and Grxynik bellowed in pain… a bellow that was cut short. Asha scrambled out of her hiding place and ran for the door with all her strength. She had almost made it when a beautiful black-winged woman bedecked in obsidian-colored plate armor touched down directly in her path. Waves of malice poured off of the woman’s form, overtaking Asha, ripping at her flesh and wrenching her stomach. Asha dropped to her knees, unable to fight, unable to move….
To be continued…