The room flickers with as flames burn the mould away on the surface of the pool.
Ignoring the side doors we clearing the pile of skulls away from the main doors, scooping them reluctantly into the water. The double doors open to a short junction. Each end terminates with a cell, sealed with a portcullis and each containing an ominous circle of shimmering runes.
In one circle a pile of red ash, in the second, the huge emaciated frame of a Demon, prone and crumpled within the confines of the invisible ward that imprisons it. We think it dead until it’s barrel like ribcage heaves ever so gently with life.
Then it rises to face us.
My immediate urge is to run it through, while it is vulnerable… But Mahd, steps forward to stay my blade. Keeping the conversation short we learns that this Demon, Avaxial was entombed here eons ago by the Thessalonians ruler Karzoog and unsurprisingly. Wants us to free him. I almost laugh but it’s clear he knows why we’re here… and claims that in return for his freedom, he and he alone can help us repair the dam and prevent the impending catastrophe!
I’m thankful we’re agreed to refuse his offer and leave him, hoping that somewhere behind us is an answer that doesn’t involve a choice between freeing this horror, or allowing a flood to kill thousands.
The doors outside open to a small chamber with a magnificent site. A scale reproduction of the dam, too perfect to be a mundane, even showing the eastern breach. We barely have time to wonder at this marvel when a chitinous form emerges like a nightmare from the skull carved walls- A Giant Scorpion made of bone!
Whether guardian or vermin I know not, but it immediately strikes Athene with its tail, and lifts her off the ground, arms pinned with a long fore-claw.
I step forward swinging but the creature’s plates deflects every blow!
Mahd steps back with a scroll, and lightening arcs across the room, sparking off its shell.
Though injured, it still has Athene in its grip, and strikes me this time with its tail.
Head spinning from the caustic poison, I rush forward a little recklessly and take off one of its legs!
Mahd summons her tentacle trap but the oily limbs can’t get a grip on the composite bone shell.
It clamps tighter down on Athene, blood spattering the floor she goes deathly pale.
I call on Iomedae’s healing energies giving Athene back vital energy and purging the poison from our systems.
Mahd casts another spell, and a cloud of bright glittering particles explode in the room, stunning the creature!
It releases Athene who drops to the floor.
And grabs me instead!
I flail overhead, stuck as fast as Athene was moment before.
She drags herself off the ground, retrieves her greatsword and attacks!
The first blow takes off its tail, then she stepping in close she drives the blade down, through it’s thorax, pinning it to the floor.
It shudders, releasing me and crumples in a heap.
We investigate the model, hoping that it might help us reverse the damage but it appears that this device is a skrying tool, not a controller… and that the demon is indeed the key to this dilemma. In order to save many, I may have to truck with Demons.
We return to Avaxial’s cell who waits patiently with a knowing smile. Athene using her uncanny ability to discern lies, we interrogate the fiend for an hour, hoping to find another way out…
Held in place and drained slowly of their life force, the very souls of he and his now dead companion were being used as a kind of battery to power the mammoth gates above us. When his cellmate could take no more, he and allowed the magic to consume him. Avaxial himself has precious little willpower remaining to endure.
It is a compelling account that draws pity even from the Inquisitor. I would too if this was not a hellspawn! I must watch her more closely.
When it seems there is no other option, I use my diplomatic arts to negotiate the terms of a possible contract. This creature, particularly in his current state seeks only to return to his own plane and we agree to free him in exchange for the information we need to repair the dam and carefully assurances that he will not cause harm to anyone on his release. When it seems we may all be in agreement, the Demon fixes me with his fiery gaze…
“Very well mortals, I will agree to your terms but I will only exchange my oath with her!”
The Demon can see my purity as I his evil. He knows what I am and that even in this, cannot, will not lie.
But this is a promise will only make after careful thought.
As Mahd scours the room one last time for a last minute reprieve from this deal, I back out of the room, find a quiet alcove in the pool room, and in the light of the dying flames, kneel down and pray for guidance this time, rather than forgiveness.
Does making a deal with a Demon constituent Sin?
Is such a deed inherently corrupt, even evil? Even if it’s the only way to save hundreds if not thousands of innocent lives?
I can see the dam, now throbbing with demonic energy.
I can feel the pressure on my ears of the surging water level against the broken gate.
I can hear the screaming of those who flee in vain from the floodwaters….
And then the sun breaks through the clouds.
Then, a blinding figure against the backdrop of Skull’s crossing is Iomadae.
She is not smiling but she only nods in ascent.
I stand and return to the cell decided.
Athene seems impatient but wary.
Mahd it muttering something herself.
“I Silva Thann, pledge upon my honour to release you Avaxial from your prison in return for the knowledge to stop the breaching of the Dam and your own vow to return immediately to your plane without directly or indirectly harming another creature on this plane and should you dis honour this oath I promise that I will hunt you down and destroy you."
The demon grins and swells, a sulphuric smell washing over us
“As I will you, Paladin… Agreed”
“The only way to stop the dam breaching is to feed these Runes another soul, someone or something must take my place”
I should have known!
And yet I had no other choice. I cannot be angry.
I wrack my brain. Perhaps a stock animal? No, I can feel the power of this Demon, even in his state, I can see it will take more…
When the Demon is gone, it will be my turn to take his place.
I only hope my sacrifice will hold the gates.
Perhaps Mahd will think of a way to release me one day…
I step to the lever which will release Avaxial from his cell.
Athene looks unsure what to do…
The Demon stretches his wings, as best he can in the confines and looks hungrily at the passage out.
Then Mahd is chanting magic.
A charge in the air, a flash of light, is that a summoning spell?
A dire badger stands in the empty cell amidst the ashes and snuffles a sneeze at the cloud it has thrown up.
I ask out aloud, “Mahd?”
“NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!” The Demon howls.
Athene and I look at each other confusedly as Mahd turns around with a smug look on her face. There is a sudden pulse of energy in the room, blue light glowing from the Runes.
“NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!” The Demon howls again.
I implore with Mahd to release him…
Then the Badger squeals and convulses.
The Demon arches his back screaming in pain, an unparalleled agony.
His corporeal form starts to disintegrate skyward, like an upside-down hourglass.
He points at me and bellows…
_ “YOU, you’re to blame for this!”_ and is gone in a swirl of acrid ash.
Then the Badger stops squealing and the dam shakes.
A grinding noise echoes throughout the corridors and the rumble of surging water stops.
We rush into the model room and the dislodged skull gate is back in place, a steady but gentle stream of water where a great torrent once was.
I look over at Mahd, a satisfied look on her face.
I don’t know how I feel…
Guilt? Betrayal? Shame? Shame that I feel relieved?
I feel like I should berate her, or chastise her… But…
What I really feel is like I had my cake and ate it too…
She made no Oath with this Demon, nor did I think to include her in mine. And luckily, neither did the Demon!