Delian forced himself to look into the eyes of the succubus as he awaited the creature's reply. He could hear the chains around her wrists rattle as she tossed her head and smiled. "It will cost one of you your soul to use that circle. It matters not to me whether Baelzra lives or dies. Either result brings me great pleasure. Come to me and I'll show you the same."
Delian looked at Helia and Nenia and sighed. He could tell by the look in their eyes that they had all reached the same conclusion; this creature couldn't be trusted and wasn't going to help them. They were wasting precious time. The devils outside the building would soon renew their efforts to breach the portcullis. It was time to move on. The three companions moved away from the Baelra's doorway and made their way to Ethan seated in the next room over.
"Getting the sleep out of your eyes yet Ethan?" asked Nenia. She stopped several paces back. No use inflicting more damage on the two of them if the phoenix items they carried came in too close of proximity.
Ethan retorted, "Any devil who sticks it's snout near those grates will find that out quick enough." Yet another reason to finish this mission and get home to his sister. Falling victim to the unhallowed evilness in Baelzra's room was frustrating. At least his new armour served as some consulation. "Don't worry about me. We need to figure out how to get over that bridge, defeat those bloody beasts on defending it, and somehow raise two sets of portcullis so we can fight our way through anything inside and somehow find the phoenix items. Should be a piece of cake. Let's get Braddoc to smash this gate and get to it."
Braddoc smiled as he walked up in his new armour. "Now that is my kind of plan. The direct approach. Oh, by the way, the slaves in the other room aren't going anywhere. I could probably tie them upside down and swing them around the room and they wouldn't react. There's no life in their eyes. The devils would have been kinder to simply toss them into the river outside."
Helia sighed. "Braddoc. I hope you are kidding. I've lived with dwarves for too long to not know that statements like that are not always jests. One thing is true about your statement though. There is no life in their eyes. After examining them carefully I have concluded that their very souls have been removed. How and why I can not say but it is a truly horrible fate. I hope we can discover a way to reverse the process on the other side of the river. Nothing here seems to give a clue on the process or even if it is possible."
Nenia spoke up. "I believe I can take an educated guess on that my small but valiant friend. I've been studying these cubes. The runes on the side are similar to those used in the binding of summoned creatures. There are also symbols of life. I surmise that these cubes are designed to hold souls as some form of energy. It would definitely explain how Baelzra was able to make use of the teleportation circle so quickly - not to mention the cube shards we found there. Unforunately I have no idea how to power the devices. Nothing I've tried has seemed to affect them."
"If that is correct Nenia, then we we've stumbled upon something truly evil. Every sentient creature is at risk of becoming a power source. We need to stop this. Unfortunately, that just adds to the list of things we need to accomplish in this vile place. We need to think this through and come up with a plan. In the meantime I'd suggest we fortify ourselves some more."
Braddoc gave a warning signal from his watchpost by the gates. A small devil was coming. With weapons at the ready, the party warily observed the creature use a long pole to push a scroll through the two gates separating them. Nenia picked up the parchment as the creature turned and left. A moment later she turned to the party. "It seems a new option has been presented to us. Someone named Nephigor wishes to call a truce. He offers safe passage across the bridge in order to parley. His messenger will return in exactly one hour for our reply."
Braddoc bristled. "Why should we make the trip into the devil's den? Let the bugger come here if he wants to talk so badly. I think we've put some fear into him."
"I agree.", said Helia. "The beasts have not proven themselves to be as horrible at negotiations as Delian here. Going there will not end well."
Delian took a deep breath and put his hand on his holy symbol.
An hour later the party's reply was sent.
Another hour passed and the creature returned. The parchment it delivered read: "I give you my word that this is no trick. I ask you to present yourselves to me for negotiations in good faith and nothing more. Once an agreement has been reached you can be on your way."
On the far side of the bridge the massive shocktroop devils were preparing equipment that was obviously intended to force open the portcullis barring their way.
Nenia spoke up. "As much as I hate to say it, I think we should go to see this Nephigor. Assuming he is also a devil, they are held to their word quite strictly. That is also my guess as to why Baelzra's succubus is unable to assist us directly. She is most likely sworn to her master."
Delian stood. "Well, we need some bargaining chips. Once we leave this place they aren't going to simply let us come back." He opened his bag of holding and proceeded to fill it with the cubes from the nearby crates. Nenia summoned a floating disc and did the same. Hopefully the threat of destroying their precious devices would give them some much needed leverage.
An hour later the shocktroop devils lifted the pair of portcullis and the party made their way over the bridge.
Once across the messenger nodded to one of the large creatures guarding the gate winch and the gate closed behind them. "As a display of good faith, you may keep your weapons. However they must remain sheathed. Any drawn weapons - or spells - will be regarded as a hostile action and my master's promise of peace will end. Also, the stolen devices upon your floating disc must remain here."
Reluctantly the party did as they were bid. They were then lead into an opulent waiting room. Four fountains of water cascaded along the main access through the room which led to an ornate set of double doors which proved to be locked. Luxurious couches and several tables laden with fresh food and drink lined the wall to their left. On their right were three doors. Beyond them were bedroom chambers and three succubi who offered their services to the party. The offer was declined quickly.
The messenger indicated that Nephigor would summon them when he was ready. He then exited the room the way they had came. The party heard the distinct sound of a lock from the far side of the doors. They were locked in.
The party waited impatiently for nearly forty five minutes. During that time only Helia washed herself in the fountain and refreshed herself with the food and drink. When nothing obviously horrific seemed to befall her, the other party members began entertaining the thought of doing the same. Before that could occur though, the far doors opened and they were summoned before Nephigor.
The creature was obviously some sort of undead devil. It smiled as the group entered the room and stopped short before the four hellfire hounds lining the carpet to a large throne. Four very large statues flanked the party to either side. "Thank you for coming. I am Nephigor. The Mouth of Zul'bar. What is it you seek here?"
Delian took the lead. "We came hear seeking some items that we believe your are in possession of. However Baelzra's tolls proved too high. She should be a little more reasonable with her potential customers."
Nephigor chuckled. "By her account it was you who struck first. Perhaps it is you who could use a lesson in open-mindedness." He waved his hand dismissively. "Never mind that. Baelzra is paying the price for her failure in this matter. I would like to know what is so important to you that you took over one of our buildings and have stolen some items of great importance." As he spoke his eyes fell upon the bag on Delian's back. It was obvious he knew about the cubes contained within.
"Fine.", replied Delain. "We seek two items. Both are engraved with the symbols of fire and the phoenix. One is a ring and the other is a belt. We would like to trade for them."
Helia noted that Nephigor's eye widened slightly are the mention of the items. Nephigor replied, "Ah. I know of these items. They are very precious to my master. He will not let them go easily. what would you offer in trade?
"We offer the cubes in this bag." responded Delian.
Nephigor's laughter cut through the room. "You break into our keep. You slay our forces and steal our items and then you have the audacity to offer those stolen items as trade? Are you a fool? The cubes are not leaving this building. Make another offer or this discussion is done and you leave empty handed."
"In that case, we offer the mask upon Braddoc's face for both of the phoenix items. The mask is was created specifically with Zul'bar in mind. It should easily meet your requirements."
"Bring it forth so I may study it dwarf. I give you my word that I will return it unharmed."
Braddoc strode forward and handed the mask to Nephigor. For the next few moments the devil held his hand over the item and chanted while he tried to ascertain it's worth. Once he was satisfied he returned the mask to Braddoc.
"It would please my master to possess this mask. However I will only offer one phoenix item of your choice in trade. In addition, you will empty your bag of the devices you took from the other building. This is my first and final offer. You may retire to the waiting room if you wish to discuss this among yourselves. "
Realizing that the Mouth of Zul'bar would not budge on his offer, the party returned to the waiting room.
Ethan opened the discussion. "We need both items. What good is all this effort if we don't get them both. I say no deal."
Helia responded quickly. "Right now we have neither. Gaining one of the items is a great start. We can figure out the rest once we rest and regroup ourselves." Delian nodded and Nenia nodded in agreement.
The discussion went on for several minutes with Braddoc taking Ethan's side until they heard the unmistakable sound of stone sliding against stone. It came from the throne room. "Probably a secret door leading to the items.", conjectured Ethan. "Listen. I don't agree with you but it seems the majority is willing to take the bastard's offer. Let's get this over with."
The party knocked on the door and entered the throne room. Delian was beginning to offer to make the trade when they they discovered the source of the sound they had heard. The entire left wall had slide down into the floor revealing a large room. In the centre of the room between two pillars was a large rune carved into the floor. In the centre of the rune kneeled Baelzra. She was bound and muttering. It was obvious she was in extreme pain.
However, this was not what Braddoc, Nenia, Ethan, and Delian were staring at.
In front of one of the pillars was Ragnolin Dourstone - or the stone version of him at the least. Ethan looked at Delian and spoke volumes with his eyes. Pulling his dagger from his belt he deftly slipped his way through the hellfire hounds and around the back of the throne which he scaled with ease. From there he plunged his weapon into the back of Nephigor. "For Ragnolin!" he cried. Helia reacted as quickly and flew into Nephigor where she dealt a massive blow to his face. "By Moradin! Who the in the nine hells is Ragnolin?" she shouted.
The battle was joined.
After Delian gained the attention of the hounds, Nenia pushed all four of them against the left wal. She then raised a magical wall around them which effectively caged them in. Braddoc rushed to the only opening in the magical wall and began to bring his mighty axe to bear against the beasts.
Meanwhile Baelzra let forth a mighty scream. Her bonds broke and blood poured from her eyes. The four mighty statues crumbled to dust as energy from within them absorbed into Baelzra's body and the rune beneath her. With an unworldly cry she summoned forth a creature with mighty fists which proceeded to attempt to grab any of the heroes it could reach.
The ferocity of Ethan and Helia's attacked quickly dispatched Nephigor. As Nephigor's corpse his the floor the rune beneath Baelzra began to pulse.
"My master comes!" cackled Baelzra. "Your doom is at hand!"
While Braddoc deftly kept the attention of the hounds, the rest of the party set upon Baelzra. The magic flowing within her empowered her greatly. With her guardian's assistance they set upon the heroes.
After a moment Delian instructed Ethan to try to open the double doors beyond Baelzra's rune. Ethan discovered that the doors were magically sealed. On the face of them was the imprint of a hand. "I can't open this. Can you give me a hand?" (rim shot!)
Baelzra smiled. Blood poured from the many wounds that the party was inflicting upon her. Suddenly she deftly slid through some openings in the battle and brought both of her spiked chains down upon the corpse of Nephigor. The entire upper half of his body was mashed to a bloody pulp. She was still smiling as she turned and died upon Ethan's dagger. Her guardian fell beside her.
"Good riddance.", he said as he turned to Helia and Delian. "Now to get that door... " He paused mid sentence as they all came to same sudden realization.
"That bitch just destroyed the hands we needed to open those doors.", Nenia stated.
The pace of the rune pulsing on the floor quickened.