At last the three wearied travelers found there way to the yawning entrance to a cavern, the walls hewn in the same dark stone they had gotten used to seeing for days now.
“Have we found the fortress at last?” Audra said quietly to her travelling companions, her green eyes wide in wondrous bewilderment.
“Seems like it,” Rhea grunted, her thick red-brown arms crossed in front of her barrel chest, “It’s about time.”
Indeed, in the center of the cavern loomed a fortress with walls the same color and texture of the surrounding rock. Though it seemed simply built, all three of the travelers could see how thick and sturdy the walls were. In addition, they could make out two armored guards standing in watchtowers on the top of either side of the wall.
“This is it,” Cerys said, turning grandly to her Halfling and Tiefling partners. “It must be. The information from Baron Markus aligns perfectly.”
“Then the princess must be inside,” Audra said.
Cerys nodded, turning back to face the mouth of the cavern, her luminous Fey-blessed gaze fixing on the guards. “I was expecting more security, though.”
As if on command, a slender Elf woman in a dark purple robe exited out of the front of the fortress. In surprise, Cerys was the first to act, banging her staff on the stone ground and casting Invisibility over herself and her companions with a single whispered Sylvan spell. Thankfully, the woman seemed to not notice the three newcomers, taking instead to lounging with her back against the wall of the fortress, as if in wait for someone.
Audra gasped. “It’s her. From the vision Liddana sent me. The Magpie Queen.”
Cerys turned to her. “I suspected so. I can sense her power even from here.”
Rhea readied her blades. “There’s still only one of her and three of us. Let’s rescue that princess.”
Audra shook her head. “We can’t just rush in, though. There are guards.”
“I think we need to take care of both guards at the same time,” Cerys said, “Preferably quietly. Then we can ambush the Magpie Queen.”
Audra looked troubled. “But my goddess sent me a vision of her for a reason. Perhaps we should reason with her, bring her salvation? Perhaps the princess is not the only one here in need of saving.”
Rhea’s solid yellow eyes narrowed at the Halfling’s words. “Not everyone is capable of salvation.”
“I’m sorry, Audra, but she’s right. And even if she wasn’t, it would jeopardize the princess’s safety to reveal ourselves to the Magpie Queen,” Cerys said. “Who knows what would happen if we lost the element of surprise?”
Audra didn’t meet either of her friend’s gazes, choosing instead to stare at the Magpie Queen. “I understand,” she said softly.
“Now, let’s take care of those guards. Audra, can you take the left guard? I’ll take the right,” Cerys said.
“Of course,” Audra said, her eyes still distant.
“On the count of three…” Cerys readied her staff, a twisting wooden relic blessed with the magic of her patron, the Archfey. Audra, in turn, clutched her holy symbol, a pendant of the NUMBER-pointed star of the light goddess Liddana.
All at once, the right guard’s watchtower began to glow red hot, the heat seeping through the soles of his boots as the stone beneath him began to warp and melt. Gasping in surprise and sudden pain, the man lept upward and toppled off the wall, landing in a broken heap on the stone floor forty feet below. The left guard, on the other hand, simply vanished in a yellow light and a pop as a hole between the planes of existence opened and swallowed him.
Rhea chuckled. “These are the only times I wish I knew magic.”
Cerys gave her a smile, but Audra didn’t acknowledge the comment. She pointed to where the Magpie Queen stood. Despite the noise and commotion of both guards, she stayed in place, staring straight ahead toward the entrance of the cavern where Audra, Rhea, and Cerys stood. Rhea and Cerys followed Audra’s gaze to view the Magpie Queen casually push herself off the wall into a standing position and ready her staff. A purplish glow surrounded her, and her eyes became illuminated with a milky glow.
Her voice boomed out, amplified by some sort of magic. “I’ve been waiting.”
In surprise, Cerys dropped the Invisibility spell. The Magpie Queen’s chuckle reverberated around the cavern.
Audra stepped forward. “We know you’re keeping the princess captive in that fortress. We don’t have to fight, if you give her up peacefully!”
Her voice, as small as her stature, seemed a whisper compared to the Magpie Queen’s response. “You’re quite adorable, but you see, I have far too much to gain from keeping the Princess to kowtow to three ragtag travelers such as yourselves. And besides, I’ve been looking forward to fighting you three ever since I received the premonition of your arrival.”
“This is ridiculous,” Rhea muttered, readying her duel daggers. Without warning, she rushed forward towards the Magpie Queen. At the same time, two silver dragon wings sprouted from the Magpie Queen’s back, and she took off into the air with a mighty flap. Not suspecting the movement, Rhea’s first slash with her dagger fell short, but she managed to catch the Magpie Queen in the thigh with her second.
“Rhea!” Audra cried, but Cerys was already rushing forward. She raised her staff and muttered a spell. Vines burst from the cave floor and curled around the Magpie Queen’s ankles, yanking her to the ground and bashing her against the rock.
The Magpie Queen screamed in frustration, and at once a storm of fire blasted forth from her staff, incinerating the vines that held her captive and catching Rhea in the inferno. She rocketed back into the air, and casted a second spell, turning her pale skin to gray, rough rock.
Rhea, meanwhile, stumbled backwards, coughing and swearing. “Cerys!” she shouted, her voice hoarse, “Cover me!”
“Wait!” Audra cried, “Let me heal you first!” She grasped her holy symbol and whispered a prayer, illuminating the cavern with a holy light that caused Rhea’s burns to slowly recede.
Invigorated, Rhea readied her blades for a second attack, but found her blows far less effective than before, skidding off the Magpie Queen’s newly hardened skin. In fact, the Magpie Queen didn’t even glance towards the Tiefling warrior’s attack, but instead focused on where Audra stood, the light fading into her pendant.
“A cleric,” she hummed, “I see.” She raised her staff in the air and shouted as a burst of orange light – harsher than the white healing light from before – beamed from her towards Audra. The sound was booming, deafening.
“We’ll see how your party fares without its cleric, hm?” The Magpie Queen smiled wickedly.
The tension in the room was palpable as Katrine studied her character sheet. “Yeah,” she said sheepishly, “I didn’t heal up enough from that last battle, so…”
“So you’re at zero?” Jade said.
“Below zero,” Katrine confirmed.
“Shit,” Melanie said.
“It was my fault,” Katrine said sheepishly. “I shouldn’t have tried to reason with her. But I was so sure Audra’s vision meant we needed to try and resolve things peacefully, so…”
“Eh, the jig was up,” Melanie said, “I mean, I even had Cerys drop the Invisibility. She obviously knew we were there.”
The three Dungeons and Dragons players turned to look accusingly at their Dungeon Master, Eve, as she casually reached across the table and snagged a potato chip from the bowl in the center of the table. “What?” she said, meeting their accusatory stares. “It’s not over yet. If any of you have healing potions you can heal her, or stabilize her with a Medicine check. Or, she could succeed her three death saving throws. Speaking of, Katrine, time for your first death saving throw!”
“Oh boy,” Katrine said, “I hope one of you guys has a potion or Medicine skill.”
Jade and Melanie studied their sheets. “Um…” Jade said.
Katrine rolled her d20.
“My blades aren’t doing anything, Cerys! I’ll cover Audra, you take care of the Magpie Queen!” Rhea shouted, rushing toward the burnt body of their fallen friend.
Without a word, Cerys readied her staff as Rhea swept past her. She fixed the floating elf sorceress in her cold blue gaze as she banged her staff against the floor of the cave. Taking a deep breath, she screamed out the words to summon a vast black sphere around the Magpie Queen. While she couldn’t see her anymore, she could feel the bitter cold of the sphere and see the wriggling black tentacles attempting to tear the Magpie Queen apart inside. However, it only took a few moments before a single pale arm burst forth from the sphere and It melted into an inky puddle on the ground.
The Magpie Queen appeared haggard but enraged. In response, she casted shards of ice, which shot through the air and slammed into Cerys, tearing at her skin. Though the wounds stung, Cerys felt an anger in her heart for Audra that wouldn’t be so easily frozen. She stood tall.
“Looking a little rough there, my dear,” the Magpie Queen said with a sneer.
“Perhaps,” Cerys said, “But the same goes for yourself.”
“Oh, don’t worry about me.” As she spoke, the purple glow flared, and Cerys watched in horror as her cuts began to close. All at once, a cold realization that she was overpowered settled in her heart.
“Give up! I’ll give you the same offer your dear cleric friend gave me. Leave me peaceably, and I’ll spare your friends.” The Magpie Queen gestured to where Rhea was huddled over Audra’s body, pouring a healing potion into her mouth. Rhea looked up and her gaze met Cerys’s, hard and determined and firey yellow. All at once, Cerys knew what to do. That yellow flash, that pop from before…
Cerys whipped back around. “Good luck stopping me from another plane!” She raised her staff and casted Banishment.
It was clear that the powerful sorceress was far harder to banish than a simple guard, but Cerys focused with all she had, calling upon her Patron and holding onto her feelings of anger and love for her friends. The hole between planes yawned behind the Magpie Queen. She laughed. “Oh, and this is going to stop me? Pathetic.”
Cerys clutched her stuff harder, her knuckles turning white. She squeezed her eyes shut, focusing on the rift she was opening capturing the Magpie Queen, capturing her, containing her. The laughter suddenly abruptly stopped, and a familiar pop sounded. Cerys opened her eyes just in time to watch the yellow light fade. The Magpie Queen was nowhere to be seen.
Exhausted, Cerys fell to her knees, still holding tight to her staff. In the sudden stillness, Cerys felt a familiar hand on her shoulder. She turned her head and found herself face to face with Audra, obviously roughed-up, but smiling.
“Cerys, that was incredible. Thank you so much,” she said.
Cerys gasped out a sob and wrapped her arms around her friend. “I’m so glad you’re alright.”
“Thank goodness I had a potion,” Rhea said, walking over to them.
Audra turned to the tall, gruff warrior and motioned to her. “Come on, you deserve to be a part of this hug too.”
“Uh, I’d rather not,” she said.
Audra giggled. “Okay fine.”
Suddenly, a loud pop sounded and the three jumped at the noise, preparing to fight again. However, it wasn’t the Magpie Queen, it was the left guard, groaning as a rift in the planes closed above him.
“Oh shit, I forgot that Banishment is only temporary!” Katrine gasped.
Jade paled suddenly. “So that means…”
“Oh, this encounter is far from over,” Eve said, laughing.
“Can I heal everyone?” Katrine asked.
“I would if I were you!” Eve said.
Audra grasped her holy symbol. “O holiest Liddana, bless my dearest friends for the battle ahead.”
Once more, a holy light bathed the three adventurers, healing their wounds and warming their souls. As they got into position, Rhea readying her blades and Cerys her staff, Audra stayed behind as another pop sounded.
The battle was far from over, but all three were eager to meet it, knowing they had far more than a goddess’s favor on their side.