I take a deep breath and calm myself. No. I can’t do this right now. The more I looked, the more I saw the overlap, and I wondered if Cera could watch. I got fidgety as she talked, but we did have questions… and she wasn’t actually reticent to answer them.
She came from the Abyssal Plain, which is beyond the layers of hell. She rose through the ranks of the army to serve her Queen. Malz’hara said that she was a fragment of Malz, now contained in a—what did she call it?—“wretched meat bag prison.”
“Please teach me of these levels of hell,” Jakauf said. “We have a chalkboard in other room for you to do useful diagram.”
“What? Okay,” Malz agreed.
“Motherfucking… guys, if I wanted an education, I wouldn’t have been born in abject poverty,” I snap. But we stop by there, because we were currently using Malz void eyes to find secret doors, and she wanted to teach Jakauf about the levels of hell and the abyss. Seriously, though, those eyes went beyond creepy. I tried to make eye contact with her once for a full thirty seconds and dissociated briefly.
We go down the stairs. I nervously pluck out the tune to the 'don't touch everything' song I'd written as we get to a small opening, but Cera and T’homm start arguing about who got to go first. It went on for long enough that I actually got peeved and raced forward.
Oops. Seven monsters face me.
I instinctively wave my staff (somehow) and cast a wall of ice between me and the monsters, spearing some in the thick sheet of crystal. I flee. As I exit, T’homm begins to shut the door behind me.
“No!” Cera… Malz yells. “There are tombs back there!” She apparently still wanted to touch these fuckers. She ran forward to stop Thomm and tripped. On her way down, she grabbed the paladin. The two of them fell backwards.
The huge stone door slid closed, thanks to the combined efforts of T’homm and Malz’hara. “Fuck,” Malz hissed. “Okay. What’s the plan?”
Plan? “No plan, hun. There is a nice thick door separating us and I’m totally alright with that,” I say.
“Full same,” T’homm echoes.
“You wanna fight this, fine. I like to be a bit pickier. I’ll be upstairs if you need me.” With that, I walk away. Jakauf stays, but I hear T’homm’s solid steps follow me.
Anvyre nervously joins us as we walk upstairs, though she looks guilty. The moment we hear fighting, she breaks and runs back downstairs to help. I hold out a hand as if to stop T’homm, should she wish to do the same. “Hey. We need to talk.”
We both head upstairs and onto the landing. “Listen. You’ve never asked or cared about my forgiveness, so I doubt you care, but we have better shit to worry about so. I’m done. It’s annoying to avoid you and I have to set some things aside.” I have to raise my voice a couple of times to get over the shouting.
Listen, I love a good shock value, and T’homm’s face is a nice level of surprised. It doesn’t last, but it’s fun while it does. “That’s big of you,” she says. And stops.
I look disappointed as I hear the sounds of fireballs behind us. “Nothing, no sorry, no explanation? Come on, you’re cooler than this. Give me something.”
“We could have died.” I stop bitching long enough to see that T’homm’s gone serious, arms folded in front of her. “We weren’t ready for that fight. I was more willing to have you mad at me, than have you dead, so… sorry not sorry.”
A pause stretches between us. “…I can accept that,” I say, mad that T’homm got me back on the surprise factor. A scream echoes from the stairs, and we turn to look. “So. Malz’hara.”
“Yeah,” she says.
“She’s a thing.”
“What are we gonna do?”
I laugh. “Oh fearless Lady T’homm, lead us!”
“I’m serious! This is… weird. She’s evil and I don’t like evil stuff. But is Cera in there? What if we do end up having to turn on her? What if she kills us? I like not being dead.”
“…yeah.” I sigh. “So. Wait and see?”
“Maybe we can bring Cera back.” That was enough to convince me. T’homm looks up. “Oh, I think the fighting is dying down.”
[Player’s note: we literally left the room to have our chat. We didn’t pay much attention to the fight except snippets. I took some liberties with dialogue cuz I wrote nothing down. I have no clue what happened.]
We head back downstairs to see Malz’hara, Jakauf, and Anvyre [also Luco wasn’t here for some reason??? Cera turned evil and he went to take a nap, I forget] seemed to be slightly scratched up but otherwise okay. The door was open.
Seized by a fit of pique, I walk forward and slap my hand on the nearest sarcophagus before anyone can move.
Suddenly, I feel what the others must have felt: an evil presence seep into my mind and whisper in my ear. “I offer you the dark powers of—“
I snap my hand off the sarcophagus and feel its magical energy go dark, forever. “Rejected, asshat,” I say.
“Rude,” Malz says behind me. She runs forward to touch a sarcophagus, and I see the transaction happen. When she turned back and smiled, she was… completely toothless.
T'homm had seen what I did and stepped forward. Her reaction wasn't as fast, listening to that dark voice I know only she could hear. There was a long enough pause that my heart skipped, fingers clenching on my staff. Then she stepped away, and from what I could see, wasn't any different. Only a little of the tension left my shoulders.
As we start to head back through the temple and out, Malz’hara happens upon a giant hold in the ground that we’d seen the prior day. “What’s in here?” she says, peering down.
“Donno, but that apprentice guy told us this was dangerous,” T’homm says.
“Dibs,” Malz says, starting to climb down the hole.
“Oh my GOD,” I start. Then the hole is lit up with fire, and Malz falls.
There’s going to be a fight, if Malz isn’t already dead. “I’ll help!” T’homm says, going to jump directly in.
I hear the crunch as she lands on Malz, hard, and wince.
“Oh, gosh,” Anvyre says. I watch open-mouthed as she also jumps in the hole.
More crunching. I wince harder. I poke my head down there. “Guys, what—“
Suddenly there’s fire in the hole.
Jakauf takes this moment to jump down. Into the fire.
I pause. “Um. Guys? I’m gonna… stay up here,” I say, looking down into the fiery pit. Not. Enough gold. In the world. Just in case, I lay down at the edge of the pit and look over, trying to pick out as much fighting as I could.
More fire. Evil cackling. Loud yells and sounds of pain, followed by the smells of searing flesh and hair. More fire. I could see a body, charred beyond belief—had to be Malz. Death by squish, damn.
T’homm moves into my field of vision and I perk up. However, she looks damn hurt. I panic. “Uh. T’homm! Just go with it!”
Then she’s a bear.
She roars in confusion, apparently unable to a) realize she’s a bear and b) fight back, but it gave her some temporary health while I tried to figure out how to help. Finally I sigh and pull out a handful of copper. “Fly, my pretties,” I say, and release them. T’homm shifts back to human, just as confused as she’d been as a bear.
As my coins fall, they zip around the corner and begin to attack whatever was causing problems. Within a bit, some of the fighting dies down. I think?
Suddenly a naked lady appears in front of me. “What the fuck?!” I yell.
“Stop killing me!” she screams.
“I don’t know what’s going on!” I scream back.
Finally the fire dies down. The naked human levitates the group out of the hole, and Anvyre takes off her cloak to rest it around the woman’s shoulders. “Who the fuck?” T’homm says. She turns to us and grins. No teeth.
The body she’d left when she reincarnated (one of the dark gifts, I presume) had Cera’s soul in it. Had, operative word, as we look at it when Malz levitates it up. It’s charred beyond recognition, and definitely beyond a restoration. I step forward and respectfully request to keep the body in my bedroll for now, and Malz accepts. There’s not much left and it fits easily in my makeshift bag. My fingers tighten on the cloth before tying it to my pack, the group talking in low tones about what to do. T’homm offered Malz her noble clothes she’d abandoned for snow gear, and though it kind of fits, we’re left with the prospect of figuring out how to bring Malz out through the bitter cold outside. And I can’t bury Cera in this frozen butthole of a place. I fucking hate Barovia.
“Oh, wait.” I jump into the hole, twisting my ankle hard on the process, but gather my copper coins, because waste not et cetera. I pop back into existence with the group, grinning as I pocket them. “Sorry. Errand.”
“…I can see why she liked you,” Malz said, raising an eyebrow.