:: Dungeons & Dragons - The Threshold Party - The Thyatian Sewers ::

Lana in the Thyatian Sewers

or

Something Whiffy This Way Comes

Before her incantation was complete, she sensed something wasn't right. The feeling was familiar, though she couldn’t immediately say why.

The smell assailed her nostrils before her eyes could register that she was in utter darkness. She gagged and felt her stomach heave, ready to expel the breakfast she had consumed an hour earlier. Through force of will she fought to repress the urge.

"Luminate," she spluttered through her convulsions. The darkness remained. It occurred to her that her Teleport spell had been interfered with in the same manner as had happened to Gedaryl… she wondered whether a field surrounded the Collegium Arcanum deterring those who would enter via magical means. She too might be surrounded by ghouls such as those which had beset the Forester. Talons could rake her unprotected flesh at any moment…

"For pity's sake - luminate!" She pronounced the command word clearly and forcefully and if her dagger had ears it heard as the amber in its pommel began to radiate.

She grimaced as her surroundings came into view. There were no ghouls, or at least none were apparent. As expected, she was standing in a sewer, up to her knees in raw human effluent. She noticed a raised walkway running along one side of the circular, sewage-lined tunnel and managed to step out of the mire but by this stage her robes were very much worse for wear. A perfectly good set of robes, she thought miserably, ruined. Why could she not keep clothing intact? At least it had been a nondescript set which she hadn't worn since her early adventuring days. She had selected the drab garment as she wished to attract as little attention as possible during her stay in Thyatis; relations between her homeland and the Empire were strained to say the least, Stefan Karameikos having crowned himself king in what many considered a two-fingered salute to his old friend Thincol Torion, when the latter most needed support.

Matters of state were far from Lana's mind as she used the flat of her dagger to scrape layers of slime from her sodden garments. She felt a creeping dampness on the inside of her boots. They too would need to be discarded, she thought miserably. By some miracle she had managed to not vomit though the urge remained. She forced herself to breathe only through her mouth; the stench lessened slightly that way. Though not submerged, the pathway was wet and slippery and she took pains to tread carefully lest she find herself back in the foetid, muck-filled channel.

She raised her light source and surveyed her surroundings; the radiance extended thirty feet in two directions. Both were unremarkable. She recalled watching Gedaryl in the moments following her attempt to transport him to the Collegium; was it this same stretch of tunnel along which he had fired his lightning bolt, she wondered, when the ghouls had attacked? As if conjured by her memories, a shape rose from the slurry to her left - a figure which might have passed for human but for the long yellow tongue which emerged from under the layer of slime and flicked, snakelike, in Lana's direction as if detecting her scent.

"I am NOT in the mood for this!" Lana said loudly, before uttering words of magic. No fewer than a dozen amber shards formed by her side, and at her command shot straight at the ghoul. Upon impact it stiffened and fell backwards into the mire, disappearing from view.

Lana drew shallow breaths in the moments that passed, expecting further undead to rise from the vile stream, but none did. I should thank Gedaryl for clearing the path, she mused, though it had been months since the Forester had fought for survival in the same tunnel along which she now trudged.

Selecting one of the two directions at random and trekking onward at a painstaking pace, a tunnel could be seen branching off from the main sewer a short distance ahead. She approached and found that the floor of the side-passage was dry compared to the channel in which she had materialised; it looked to be an overflow route which had seen no recent use. Further up the main passage, Lana thought she discerned the outline of something mounted on the wall. Approaching, she found a rusted but solid-looking ladder, its rungs ascending to what appeared to be a grating around twenty feet above. Surely that could only be street level, she imagined… a way out!

As opportune as this discovery was, and despite her unpleasant surroundings, something compelled her to not depart just yet. As her hand reached for a low rung of the ladder, she recalled missed opportunities from recent times. First there had been the Darokinian town of Ansimont, controlled by one of the Master's sorcerer minions, backed by powerful and unquestionably evil dragons. That had been one avenue she had failed to explore. Then there'd been the red dragon lair which she had attempted to cajole Granistax into helping her investigate. Another missed opportunity. Add to that the black pudding she had hoped to capture inside Don Fernando's gold mine, in addition to the forgotten dwarven mine, only she had become fatigued and hadn't been able to make the return trip she had been meaning to. Presently she was in no rush to get to the Collegium nor anywhere else on her list of errands. Vile and dingy though the sewers were, she knew the Thyatian undercity was a sprawling network and might conceal a great many secrets. A sense of anticipation stole over her as she settled on a decision. She would indulge her curiosity.

The passage led onward fifty feet, following a curving path which led back toward what Lana thought would be her point of origin. Her decision to investigate proved to have been the right one, when the light from her dagger illuminated markings on the floor at her feet. Scarcely visible under dried slime, a line of runes had been etched into the flagstones from one wall to the other. Curious, she thought. She cast a spell to decipher the runes' meaning. They were magical, certainly, and seemed to suggest a spell of containment. Something was being kept in, or out of, the area she was entering. Given the proximity to the Collegium, she wondered whether there might be some means of accessing the institution's basement. It occurred to her that she should keep her wits about her, for there was every possibility she might encounter a fellow wizard in the area.

The curve of the passage altered and led on another fifty feet before broadening into a long chamber. Recesses in the floor lay empty - evidently cesspools in case of overflow. Again these looked to have seen no recent use. There were at least two exits from the chamber. Lana selected the nearest and ventured along it. After just twenty feet she found the way barred by a massive iron grill, blocking the entire width of the tunnel. There was a door within it, secured by a locking mechanism. Lana ran her fingertip along the crease between the grill and its lock and the door sprang open. She stepped through and passed into the tunnel beyond.

"Turn back!" cried a man's voice unexpectedly from ahead of her, beyond her light. Her heartbeat quickened as she heard words of spellcasting being spoken. A wizard, she realised. She peered into the darkness but could not make out whoever had called to her.

"Hello?" Instinctively she mouthed words of protection, making motions behind her back with her free hand. As her spell completed, she noted with interest how the radiance from her dagger diminished, its radius shrinking from dozens of feet to just an inch. She could see nothing beyond the aura, and she theorised that whoever was within the darkness would not be able to see her light at all. Relying on the protection of her spell, she let her dagger clatter to the floor at her feet. Its radiance resumed but did not illuminate whoever had spoken.

"Leave now," the voice said, "this is your final warning."

"I would like to know who is presuming to warn me?"

"You are intruding in my home. Be gone."

"These are public sewers. Unless you have a deal with the Emperor, anyone may come and go freely."

"You are wrong, these are my tunnels. I claim them by right of magic and you leave me no choice if you refuse to leave." Three bolts of darkness hurtled out from the dark. Lana flinched instinctively though in actuality she was at no risk. The arrows evaporated harmlessly as they hit the barrier of anti-magic which she had woven around herself.

"If you wish to provoke a confrontation," Lana shouted, "then I will indulge you. But you have no idea who you threaten. Or what level of power I wield."

"You mean the cantrip you invoked, as any apprentice might, to deny my missiles? You got lucky. Let us see how your protection serves against greater power." The voice spoke ominously, causing a jet of flame to shoot from the dark. It impacted against the tunnel wall at Lana's side, blossoming into a fiery inferno which filled the passage. Lana stood amid the blaze, uninjured, and thought as the brightness faded that she made out the outline of a single individual just five feet beyond the sphere of light.

"But…" the voice faltered, "how is… that's not possible! Unscathed…"

"I told you," Lana said menacingly, "you do not know who you are dealing with. You will force me to retaliate if you do not cease your aggression toward me. Step into the light if you wish to stay my hand."

Begrudgingly, the man did as he was bid. He appeared on the fringe of the light from Lana's dagger. He was around the same age and height as she was, and very thin with sallow skin and dark circles under his eyes. His dark hair had a greasy sheen which suggested it hadn't been washed for some time. Equally his robes of charcoal grey bore dark stains.

"Satisfied?"

"Tell me your name."

"There is power in knowing a person's name. I would know yours if I am to tell you mine."

"That is a fair exchange. You may call me Lana."

"I am Nicodemus."

"Your dialect…?" Nicodemus screwed up his face. "What part of the Empire do you hail from?"

Lana was relieved that she had managed to conceal her Karameikan accent, as she had hoped to by emulating Imperial Thyatian, though somehow she doubted whether her nationality would matter much to one who chose to live in a sewer. Still, she told herself, there was no harm in being careful.

"From Machetos," she fibbed. "Though I often spend time in the city. And at the Collegium."

"I don't recall seeing you in the Collegium."

"Oh?" Lana feigned surprise. "Are you a student there also?"

"I was," he sneered.

"No longer?"

He spat. "That place which is a greater cesspool than those which surround us? I think not. But we will see how that changes over time."

"We must be close to its basement," Lana said, unsure what the man's last comment meant. "I was wondering whether there might be a way through, down here, somewhere."

"Indeed there is," Nicodemus replied. "I can show you, if it interests you?"

Lana eyed the man carefully. In that instant she recalled the vulture-headed librarian in Aasla who had attempted to lure Karnus and Teldon and her to their dooms. "I would like that. Would you accompany me?"

"Of course." Nicodemus gestured back down the tunnel past the grill. "It's back the way you came."

Lana retreated beyond the metal grill; Nicodemus seemed relieved that she did so, and lost no time in closing the grill behind them though it seemed he did not secure the locking mechanism. "I would warn you about the golem," he said caustically, "but one so powerful as yourself has little to fear from such a creature."

His words stirred Lana's memories; she recalled the weeks she spent researching her Ice Storm spell at the Collegium, when she had heard talk that the basement might be patrolled by a golem or two.

"So," Lana said, "you don't study at the Collegium but you're knowledgeable about it and you practically dwell in its basement."

"Correct."

"Why do you choose to live down here?"

"I spent time at the Collegium but it was not to my liking. The dues they demand were excessive, among other annoyances. Here I have peace and quiet to pursue my studies, and my project, with relatively few interruptions." The last barbed comment was clearly intended as being particularly relevant to Lana.

"Peace and quiet when there are golems at large?"

"Did you fail to notice the solid iron gate? I find it works well to keep the constructs at bay, as well as the wererats and other lowlife which dwell down here. But for now the golems are my main focus."

Lana took this in. "What do you mean, for now? And why are they your focus?"

The wizard said nothing for a while, seemingly balancing thoughts in his head. To Lana he seemed conflicted; part of him might have been tempted to divulge information, thereby bragging about whatever endeavours he pursued, another part was desperate to keep the information to himself lest he divulge too much. "I am working on a project which I intend to complete without utilising the Collegium's resources, without support from anybody else. I will publish the findings of my research to make a name for myself and elevate my standing."

"Oh?" said Lana, genuinely interested. "What is the research topic, if you don't mind me asking?"

The man gave her a thin-lipped smile. "That will remain secret, for now. I will not suffer anyone to plagiarise my ideas or my methods." The smile disappeared from his face as he glanced forward. "Have a care."

Something huge was distorting the light at the front of the circle around them; a cubic expanse of clear jelly swept into the sphere of Lana's light.

"Stand aside!" Lana said urgently, thinking frantically how to combat the creature. It occurred to her that it was impervious to cold and lightning based attacks, therefore her most powerful offensive spells would be useless. Nicodemus had dived aside and was backing away, seemingly unwilling to make a stand against the creature.

Lana spread her hands and five dazzling arrows burned through the air toward the cube, searing its nearest side. To Lana's horror the thing withstood her assault and advanced further into the light. She grabbed her dagger and readied it to plunge into the cube as it drew near. She had just enough time to glance over her shoulder; Nicodemus was standing idly, waiting to see how events would unfold. Unimpressed, she turned her attention to the cube which was now within stabbing range, and thrust her glowing blade deep into the clear mass. It had suffered considerably from her magical attack, she knew. The wall before her gave way and its insides splurged outward through the laceration hewed by Lana's blade. She turned angrily on the charcoal-robed mage.

"Is that all you could do? Stand there while I put myself in harm's way?"

Nicodemus' eyes betrayed him; they had been roving across Lana's belongings such as the rings on her fingers, her dagger and the wand at her belt. "You're a more powerful spellcaster than I, remember? You seemed to have the situation under control. I had your back in case things turned nasty."

"Somehow I doubt that," Lana muttered, sheathing her dagger. Her annoyance lessened as her gaze fell on the puddled form of the vanquished cube; within the clear mess glinted assorted objects - silver coins plus a few small gems - around five pieces of quartz, though they were hard to see being translucent against the equally translucent jelly, and a couple of garnets. She stooped to separate each item from the jelly, which stung her fingers as she pulled the objects loose.

"In case you were wondering," Lana informed her guide while she pocketed the small haul, "I'll be keeping these. All of them."

"Do as you wish," Nicodemus replied curtly, "though you forget it was I who alerted you to the presence of the cube."

Lana gave him an exasperated look. "Let's go."

The pair crossed the room to one of the exits on the far side. As they entered the tunnel Lana noticed a further sequence of runes inscribed in the flagstone floor, more visible than the previous set since this corridor seemed devoid of slime, dried or otherwise. The spell she had cast to decipher the previous runes remained in effect; these bore the very same dweomer.

"Those markings," she murmured to Nicodemus, who she was careful to let walk slightly ahead, though he remained visibly wary of her doing so. "What is their purpose?"

"To confine the golems," he said simply. "Were they to somehow pass this barrier there's another stronger one toward the main sewer. You probably passed over it before you infiltrated my base."

"So we're getting close to the Collegium," Lana said.

"We've been underneath it this whole time."

"I meant its point of entry." Pedant, Lana thought.

Nicodemus did not reply. They continued thirty feet before entering a broad, circular chamber. There were no cesspools here, and the floor appeared cleaner than it had elsewhere within the complex. No doubt the gelatinous cube had done much to rid the area of debris, perhaps the Collegium staff had placed it here for that very purpose.

"There you have it," said Nicodemus, louder than seemed necessary. He gestured toward a passage on the opposite side of the chamber. Lana advanced and shone her dagger light into the passage, which was little more than a recess seeing how it extended a dozen feet before coming to an end.

"That's the way into the lower levels of the Collegium?"

Nicodemus nodded. It seemed to Lana that he was mildly ill-at-ease. While she too was uneasy in his presence, any time she wasn't looking directly at him she took care to monitor him via her peripheral vision; he was constantly looking around himself.

Lana drew a wand from the folds of her robe, which was sodden and caked with muck along its hem. She waved the instrument at the alcove; it did not register anything untoward. No traps, she concluded. That was a relief. She wished she had taken a detection spell in case the alcove bore any enchantments.

"It seems safe," she announced. Glancing back, she noticed that Nicodemus had retreated to around twenty feet away from her. "Are you going to show me the release mechanism?"

"It's within the alcove," came the answer, "hidden. I don't know precisely where. You'll just have to search for it."

"And what will you do?" Lana asked.

"I'll keep watch." Something about the wizard's tone continued to leave her unsettled.

"Very well." She stepped into the alcove, suffering no ill effect, and began running her hands over the stone surface in search of any kind of switch. Glancing backward she noticed that Nicodemus had withdrawn into the darkness.

"Are you still there?" she called. There came no response.

"Nicodemus?"

Still there came no response, only the sound of dripping echoing along the tunnels from the nearby sewers.

"Nicodemus, answer me!" Lana willed herself to remain alert despite her growing nerves. Her diligence paid off moments later when she grew aware of a shambling sound coming from outside her sphere of light. It shuffled closer and closer, growing louder all the while. Then it became visible - a six foot monstrosity of bones bound in an imitation of human form, save for the added limbs. Each one grasped a weapon - it bore two axes and two swords. It had been years since Lana had encountered such a creature... indeed in her first encounter with such a creature she and her companions had sustained heavy injuries and had been forced to flee for their lives.

Instinctively she pointed her finger and invoked a torrent of lightning, which tore through the creature. A moment later the bolt rebounded off the chamber's far wall and returned along its path, thankfully stopping short of Lana but engulfing the golem a second time. To no avail. Its bones groaned and creaked but suffered no visible harm; the creature had clearly been enchanted to be resilient to attacks of this type.

Enchanted, Lana thought. Of course, there was no need to engage the creature. As the golem bore down on her with its weapons brandished, Lana mouthed the words to a spell and felt the comforting aura envelop her body. The golem closed to within feet but kept its weapons raised, as if it frozen. A minute or so passed, then it shuffled back into the darkness.

"Nicodemus!" Lana called for a third time. "I demand that you show yourself!"

In response there came the sound of spellcasting. The air around Lana sparkled briefly and to her horror she realised that she was being stripped of her protection. Her concern increased tenfold as the radiance emanating from her dagger dimmed then ceased, plunging her back into darkness. She could see nothing, not even the outline of her hand before her eyes. She backed away in the direction of the alcove, reaching into her bag of holding in a desperate attempt to locate a torch and her tinderbox since she had no other means of summoning light.

"No other casting of your light spell?" came Nicodemus' voice through the dark which remained. "Nor do I imagine you had the forethought to take a second casting of your protection spell."

Lana could only resign herself to the man being correct, though she blocked out his mocking tone while she invoked what other defences she could - Mirror Images. In the dark she had no means of determining how many replicas of herself had come into being. The spell would not prevent the golem from resuming its attacks, but she had bought herself some time nevertheless.

"Allow me to now reveal to you the nature of my research project," the wizard continued. "The golems which inhabit this place have come to call me master."

"How can that be?" Lana demanded. "You did not create them, nor have you the power to create others of their type." She willed the nerves to withdraw from her fingers which had managed to locate the rectangular outline of her tinderbox within her bag, but not a single torch.

"True," came the response, "yet I have devised a means to assert control. And it is that control which will cause your demise."

Lana laughed. "Even if what you say is true. How do you intend for the golem to find me in the dark? It is known that they cannot see in the dark, nor I imagine can you." For that matter, she found herself kicking herself that she had not memorised the Infravision spell earlier that day but had not imagined that she would have cause to use it.

"I am capable of shedding illumination on the matter," came the haughty response. "And I will relish the spectacle as you meet your fate at the hands of my servant."

"Wait," Lana said sharply before he could begin casting his spell. "What will the target of your spell be? If you illuminate me, you will leave yourself alone in the dark. We are some way from your base. What dangers might befall you, I wonder, while you try to find your way back in the dark?"

"I command the golems," Nicodemus said defiantly, "they will not touch me."

"You forget the other inhabitants," Lana said, "There are other gelatinous cubes, no doubt, and giant rats, not to mention ghouls and didn't you say you have wererat neighbours?"

"If you are trying to trick me," Nicodemus said, "into giving away my location by lighting myself then your attempt will be fruitless. Do not underestimate my wits."

"I do not," Lana said. "But I can easily discern your location from the sound of your voice. Illuminate yourself and you will come to no harm, I give you my word."

"Surrender? When it is I who has the upper hand? I think not."

There came the sound of spellcasting, Lana braced herself for another Fireball or perhaps a Lightning Bolt but realised the youth had already cast two powerful spells within the last hour - a Fireball and the dispel effect. Unless those had come from a wand or scroll, he would have depleted his memorised spells. Instead, the area around Lana (including, it now became apparent, three replicas of herself) illuminated in a chill, white light. She realised that to stay within the light would make her an easy target for spellcasting. As quickly as she could she seized her bag of holding and dove out of the light in a random direction.

"What a shame," she said once she had returned to the dark. "You've wasted your spell."

Nicodemus said nothing. Might he have been concentrating? Moments passed. Something swung at Lana through the dark, making a swooshing sound. The golem! Might one or more of its blind attacks have connected with her images? She had no means of knowing.

"You should know," she called as she scrambled to get away from the golem, "even the most thoroughly tested control devices can be unstable. I shudder to think what your experimental device might be doing to your mind. Or how it might backfire. It would be an easy matter for you to lose focus and for the golem to turn on you."

"Silence!" came the response. She counted herself lucky that she had drawn the response she had been hoping to. With any luck, for the youth to have spoken would have required him to cease concentrating on whatever spell or device he had access to. "You have no means of knowing what tuition I have received, nor what findings my research has generated."

Lana had resumed rummaging inside her bag, as quietly as she could while hoping that if the golem were near it wouldn't be able to cancel any more of her images. Her fingertips brushed against a glass flask which was too large to be a potion… oil!

"… the Collegium took a dim view of my preferred branch of the arts, none there had the intellect to match the individual from whom I was proud to learn, a tutor who has relocated to the foremost wizarding country of the world. It was he who pointed me in the right direction, he who taught me secrets so that I might further our shared craft, but it was I alone who unlocked my tremendous potential…"

By all means keep prattling on, Lana thought as she used her dagger to cut away a strip of her robes, douse one end in oil and stuff the other into the flask. She took hold of her tinderbox and began striking sparks to the oiled fabric. After several attempts one caught. She hurled the flask in the direction of Nicodemus' voice. It illuminated a path as it sailed across the chamber; by chance it missed the wizard just slightly, smashing on the floor beside him and sending up a pillar of spiralling flame. In the brief glimpse she obtained, Lana saw that the young wizard was wearing something on his head. Within a heartbeat he dove aside, retreating into darkness. Lana knew she had to act quickly for the oil would not burn for long. Between the sphere of white radiance which Nicodemus had summoned, and the flaming oil which she had created, there was only a limited area of the chamber where her opponent could be. She also had to consider where the golem might be. Its swords and axes had swung at her on the far side of the globe of light. She took a chance, turned from where she thought Nicodemus might be, and spread her hands wide. Inches away a curving wall of ice came into being, dividing the chamber in two. She had needed to work from memory in approximating the chamber's dimensions. Seconds later there came a thud. The golem, or so the sound led her to believe, was somewhere on the far side of the wall. Moments later she heard the smashing sounds of weapons hammering against ice. The golem, or the person controlling it, was determined to not let the barrier stand in its way.

"So this tutor," Lana called into the shadows, needing to refresh her awareness of where Nicodemus might be, "despite your so-called potential he abandoned you?"

"He did nothing of the kind," came the response, sounding outraged. "He will send for me once I amass sufficient power. There is still much for me to achieve here, my master has bid me seek certain parties once my research is complete. My power will soon grow, after which time I will depart Thyatis."

"Nah," Lana said, trying to sound unconvinced, "it definitely sounds like he's abandoned you."

"You're wrong!" the wizard screamed. "When I reach Glantri you will be but bones and dust, I will own your treasures and your spellbook which no doubt I will find inside that sack you carry, when the golem finishes with you and I loot your bleeding corpse!"

"Glantri?" Lana echoed, momentarily distracted while the golem continued hacking at her frozen wall. "Your master is from here, but relocated to Glantri?"

"Your assumptions belie your lack of intellect," Nicodemus said sharply. "I never said my master was from here."

Lana reached a realisation in that moment as she pieced various clues together. The attempts to control a bone golem, of all types of construct. The strange contraption atop Nicodemus' head. His dark robes… there was nothing to say for definite, but she thought she could hazard a guess at who the 'international' wizard might be. Her heart sank at the possibility.

"Your master's name," she said, "might it be…"

"That is not your concern," the wizard interrupted her. "Now prepare to die."

She gave a quick prayer to the Immortals and cast a spell of Holding, the lesser of the two such enchantments she had memorised that morning. She had only ever targeted visible opponents before; as she cast her spell into the blackness she realised the chances of catching Nicodemus in the effect were probably slim. She sighed silently. If only her wand of enemy detection still bore charges, she thought. This farce could have been over sooner.

But of course, she thought excitedly. She was forgetting her wands! She drew her Wand of Cold and released a blast ahead of herself and slightly to the right. The effect went unseen though the sudden chill caused the skin of her arm to prickle with goosebumps. There came no sound either. Realising this, she wasted no time and expelled a second blast, this time ahead but to the left to cover a different area.

"Nhnng!" A gasp sounded, followed by groaning, around ten feet ahead in the dark. Nicodemus had been caught in the icy blast and for all his apparent weediness had managed to survive. Lana immediately cast her second spell of Holding, visualising four individuals within the area ahead of her. Hopefully one of those imagined persons might be occupying the space in which Nicodemus stood. She was not counting on success, yet there came a second groan which she could only hope was the result of her enemy's limbs seizing unnaturally. The noise ceased after just a moment.

The golem would be through her Wall of Ice any second, she knew, for she could hear chunks of ice hitting the floor a short distance off. She had no desire to face the construct in the dark therefore she made a beeline for the illuminated alcove. Just as she was entering the light the Wall gave way and the hairs on the back of her neck rose sharply; the creature was after her. At the entrance to the alcove she wheeled to find the golem ten feet behind her. Acting defensively she shouted the words to a spell and gluestrands thick like rope formed around the construct, pinning its weapons to its sides. The creature possessed sufficient strength to have hacked its way through her Wall therefore she knew the webbing would not hold it for long. She reckoned she had time to cast one more spell before the creature broke free. At a loss to think what other spell she might cast which would achieve a practical benefit, she reluctantly raised her Wand and expelled a third charge - freezing the webbing solid while encasing and blasting the golem for good measure. A thick layer of ice gleamed in the cold white light. She had bought herself at least a couple of minutes.

She resumed rummaging inside her bag and brought out an item which had seen no use for years - her old adventuring lantern, battered and scraped but still in working order. It was no bad thing that she cleared out the bag's contents so infrequently. She located a second flask of oil and poured half the contents into the lantern's base, making sure to drench the wick, then struck a spark from her tinderbox. It lit on her second attempt. Now at least she had a light source. She progressed into the dark and found Nicodemus' frozen form after twenty feet. He was wearing a strange contraption on his head - it resembled a crown of sorts, fashioned from bones of various sizes all fused together. A drawstring cloth bag hung at his waist, empty. Lana raised her lantern to get a better look at the crown, which she could only presume was the control device Nicodemus had referred to. Frozen by her magic, he could only stare into nothingness as she carried out her inspection.

"You planned to let the golem hack me to pieces," she said calmly. "I daresay you've an enchantment in place to prevent the construct from attacking you. It will wane. By the time it does I will be past the runes which keep the construct confined within this area. As for you," she lifted the crown of bone from Nicodemus' head, causing his pupils to shrink sharply though the rest of his body remained frozen, "you are not my concern."

She let the crown fall to the stony ground and brought her foot down upon it. The only other sounds to be heard were the faraway dripping of the sewers, and the closer cracking of frozen webbing. Without further ado she raised her lantern and departed the chamber.

As much as she felt justified, it felt odd abandoning a living being to what would inevitably be a grisly death. She wondered whether on any level a golem might feel anger once its control ended, as an elemental would if its summoner lost concentration. In any event it would be hostile and she knew Nicodemus' protection charm would give out before her Hold effect did the same. She told herself she was guilty only of inaction rather than direct action, and that Nicodemus had caused events to unfold as they now would. She had afforded him the opportunity to surrender. Had the shoe been on the other foot, as it nearly had been, her opponent would not have shown her any mercy.

She resolved to not think about it any more. More immediately, she found her way back through the chambers and tunnels which led to the iron grill which she surmised was the entrance to Nicodemus' lair. The door through the grill had been left slightly ajar, and she slipped through quietly. She waved her Wand of Trap Detection and was glad to have done so, for a ghostly aura surrounded a flimsy tripwire just ten feet into the tunnel. She stepped over this gingerly before continuing along the passage. After twenty feet she reached a curtain of thick fabric which she drew aside to reveal a room around twenty feet square. She shone her lantern to get a view of the interior. An unmade bed and writing desk stood against opposing walls. At the centre was what appeared to be an enormous dining table, made of sturdy oak. Lana might have been tempted to transport the table back to her tower which was still in need of furnishings, had it not been for the trio of corpses laid out along one end. They were all naked and had been sliced lengthways along their abdomens. The skin of all three bodies was yellowish and the air smelled strongly of embalming fluid. Beside the bodies were an assortment of jars into which organs had been placed, alongside a variety of knives and other instruments. The far end of the table was strewn with parchments.

Lana sidled away from the vile spectacle and moved to the smaller desk. Much of its surface was covered in candles, all of different sizes and shoved into holders made from the remains of various animals - she identified the skulls of cats, dogs and giant rats. A few handfuls of gold and silver coins were piled on the desk, which she pocketed although there was little more than would pay for a few nights' board and lodgings at a decent inn. There were three drawers also; she waved her wand and was glad that none appeared to conceal traps. The top drawer yielded a scroll written in Thyatian but which nevertheless bore a magical aura - a scroll of protection against undead. The second drawer contained two other scrolls, rolled inside one another, and to her delight these were written in magical script. She decided to decipher their contents at a later date. She then opened the lowest of the three drawers.

"Oh my." From out of the third drawer she brought the single largest gemstone she had ever laid eyes on. She turned it in her hands, holding it close against the lantern to get a good look. Drewen would have had palpitations, she thought. It was a topaz, bigger than her clenched fist. She wondered what price the stone might fetch on the open market but immediately dismissed the notion as vulgar. The thing was far too beautiful and impressive to be parted from. And now it was hers. Shame it's not an amber, she thought, but the coloration wasn't dissimilar. She stuffed the gem into a pocket of her robes.

She glanced back into the bottom drawer, realising that in her excitement over the topaz she had nearly missed something else. She drew out a piece of parchment which had been folded neatly into a square. She opened it; it was a letter written in Thyatian.

My apprentice, the note read, if I may I call you that. It is a label which will expire quickly, for I have reason to believe your ascension to power will occur rapidly. Events have overtaken my being here though it was never my intention to remain in Thyatis. It is a shame beyond telling that we must part in such circumstances however I will call you to the Principalities once it is safe for you to join me. In the meantime, you have tasks to accomplish and I have informed you of the names of those whom you should seek in the places we discussed. I will not write their names here lest since this parchment should fall into the wrong hands. Do not seek the ancient ones too soon, they will not detect sufficient power within you for you to be of use and will view you only as a means to sate their hunger. Crucially, Nicodemus, reveal to nobody the secrets I have imparted to you. It would spell disaster were such power to fall into the wrong hands.

Until we next meet.

M.

"Well, well," Lana murmured to herself. She surveyed the note incredulously, the realisation dawning on her that she recognised the handwriting. From no less than two journals which formed part of her library. She fully extracted the drawer which had contained the gem and the letter but found nothing more inside it nor any hidden compartments. She hurried to the larger table and began sifting through the parchments it bore, but found nothing more which related to the author of the note. The parchments all contained algorithms and formulae scribbled in another hand - presumably that of Nicodemus, as part of his research into the control mechanism which Lana now hoped more fervently than before that she had destroyed.

She thoroughly inspected the remainder of the chamber's contents, making sure to give the dissected corpses a wide berth, but found nothing else of interest. It struck her as peculiar that she had not located Nicodemus' spellbooks, nor any personal diary. She concluded that they must be hidden within the chamber or elsewhere, however she had no wish to linger. Drained of practically all the spells she had memorised that morning, she decided enough was enough. She exited the hideout, being careful not to disturb the tripwire on her way out, and returned to the metal ladder along the main sewer channel. She ascended to a metal grating, which took all her physical strength to push up and aside. Daylight blinded her and she blew out the flame from her lantern as she emerged into a busy street running alongside the Collegium Arcanum. Barefooted slaves in plain tunics and a pair of passing guards gave her odd looks but did not bother her. She drew her dagger, cut free the last sodden parts of her robes and tossed the rags into the sewer before replacing the grating and going on her way.

The robes definitely need replaced, she thought. And the need to blend in with the locals was paramount. She could justify purchasing some local attire.

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