"Are you sure we should be taking out the top hinges?"
"Well, the lock's stuck, so…"
Shard and Bree looked up from their discussion about the lock to find Darg pulling hinge-pins out. When he pulled the second one, the door settled onto its remaining damaged hinge with a CLUNK. Shard slapped his forehead and whispered to Thea for a moment. She grinned, grabbed the door, and hoisted it as hard as she could. Bree knelt by the door, plucked the hinge-pin out, and gestured the universal sign for "I have removed the hinge-pin; you may now pull the door back away from the doorway." Thea took a few steps back and stood in the hallway.
The man inside looked old and tired, and sat at a small writing desk, dropping tiny white marbles into a crystal jar full of black goop, and writing in a large book that was open in front of him. He seemed surprised to see them… and they were surprised to see Katya's team laid out on sarcophagi around them. Immediately the questions flew: who was he? What ritual was behind the magic circle? He spun an unlikely yarn: his name was Aladar (presumably the fled alchemist) and he was trapped in the ritual circle on pain of arcane torture by his master. He told them of Garon, Kral's champion, who roamed the halls and would certainly destroy them, urging them to turn back and strike Garon down before they tried to free their friends. Lenora explained patiently that they had killed Garon, at which he scoffed. For a moment, a panicky look of grief flitted across his features. Then he praised Garon's might and expressed doubt that the adventurers had done any such thing, at which point their suspicions began to congeal into real hostility. Thea listened to the conversation from behind the iron door, holding it steady, waiting for her moment.
Terciel continued to take in the surroundings, looking for a trap or evidence of double-dealing, and he recognized the crystal jar on the floor: it was a match for the jar they'd taken from the Witch Doctor's trunk. Terciel whispered to Darg "jar! the jar!" and drew an arrow, letting fly at the jar and smashing it to pieces. Black goop leaked all over the floor, and teeth and fingerbones spilled out.
"Well," said the old man. "I suppose you're not going to leave me alone until I kill you. But I think I'd rather have Garon do the killing. So: I think you must face the WRATH of my RISEN CHAMPION, GARON!!!"
Faster than they could protest, Garon emerged from behind a narrow pillar, blade at the ready. Gloves, cape, and even his flaming skull were all intact, despite the fact that Darg had the gloves, helm, and cape in his backpack. Rache looked at Garon and immediately sensed something amiss. Bree and Terciel scrambled out of the doorway just as Thea came charging through, still hoisting the steel door. Roaring from the gut, she slammed the door into Garon so hard that the flames from his burning left hand were visible through the steel for a split second. Darg squinted and cocked his head, puzzled. Then Garon roared, and the thunderous echo broke their concentration; Shard, Darg, and Lenora involuntarily fled back through the doorway for a moment, their morale shaken.
Then Lenora looked back over her shoulder. She saw Shard, terror for his friends written on his face, and realized that she might well be the only one here who could rally all of them. She whispered, "Hey, Shard. We're going to go get your friends out. Follow my lead." She echoed Garon's yell with one of her own, the syllables indecipherable but the meaning clear, and then she leaped, arms outstretched, over Thea's shoulders. Her shield hit the doorway between Garon & Thea high, and as it began to pivot over his head, she tucked into a roll, slid past the top edge, and landed behind Garon. She ducked under the door as it crashed noisily to the ground, then turned back and swung ferociously with her flail: "Why! Won't! Anything! In! This! Hellhole! Stay! Dead!" she screamed, punctuating each shout with a blow from her flail. Garon dropped to one knee before her assault, and Thea laid into him as well.
Terciel covered for them, firing a flurry of arrows, but Kral (for it was he, not Aladar, who had been working the ritual) summoned a portal as soon as he was hit, and tried to disappear through it. Rache put an end to that abruptly, summoning an invisible hand to unceremoniously yank him away from the portal. "Try escaping again, you craven. Just try it." He opened his eyes wide in panic and disappeared, but Rache detected the tell-tale signs of teleportation.
"What a crappy huckster. Might as well put him out of his misery."
Shard was still staring at the doorway where Lenora had just gone. He decided that a leaping tuck-and-roll through a crowded hallway, while it might ordinarily be just his style, was probably more than his legs and back had left in them. He felt the fatigue of the long day and so he jogged to the doorway and started taking potshots. His friends were in there, and he was no good to them if he didn't at least try to stay alive for the assault.
Rache and Bree moved around to the right, examining the gnome on the sarcophagus and the magic circle that linked the bodies.
"This is… some kind of carnival foolery. There may be a larger purpose but as far as harming us now, this circle is… Hey! Guys! The circle's harmless." She stepped over the line and checked the gnome, but decided against moving her for now. She looked carefully at the faceand noticed three orbs of red, gold, and blue fog swirling around her head. The orbs shot out of a nostril, an ear, her mouth, or even from her eyelid, and swirled around the head for only a split second before popping back in a different orifice. The three whooshed about, in a blur. Darg might be able to wake her with his spells, and perhaps Bree or Shard had hands quick enough to snatch the blue orb… of course. The blue orb. "Guys! It's the blue orb. Pull the blue orb and you can break the spell. And, ah… don't touch the yellow or red ones if you want them to live."
Bree scampered through the titanic struggle in the doorway, distracting Garon momentarily, and then snatched the blue orb from Chelya's nostrils, waking her momentarily. She relaxed her grip on Terciel, and then her eyes rolled back into her head and she fell unconscious again. Shard ran to help the gnome, and woke her easily enough. Darg and Thea continued to fight Garon in the doorway, but something about his movements didn't sit right with Darg. He shook his head like a horse beset by flies, and finally saw it: when Garon's claw hit Thea, it appeared to sink into her armor but left no visible damage. When his sword rebounded off the handle of her greataxe, it
left no notch. He walked, carefully, through the flailing undead illusion, and joined the hunt for the necromancer.
Kral, far from being gone, seemed to be skulking around the perimeter of the room trying to turn Katya's people against the interlopers. Bree went for Katya, but as she reached for the blue sphere, she stumbled, and the red and gold spheres smashed into her hand."DARG!" she yelled, "I'm going to need a hand here…!" Katya flailed on the table, gasping, and then fell all too silent. Bree's face blanched but Darg hurried to her side. He pinched the blue sphere away, placed two fingers on her tongue and his other hand across her forehead, and mumbled a quick prayer to Moradin. Bright white light shot down his arms, infusing her with an almost lifelike glow for a moment, and she sat up awake. "Hello, friend dwarf!" she said. "I didn't expect to see you h…" and she fell back asleep exhausted.
Darg and Bree moved counterclockwise while Shard moved around the other side of the room, snatching the orbs away. Lenora, Terciel, and Rache stalked through the center of the room, searching behind pillars for Kral. Thea bashed away at Garon, trapped in a standstill. As the three hunters pinned Kral into a corner, Thea yelled "Oh, MAN. Guys, this isn't Garon. This is some kind of trick. The whole thing is FAKE!" and kicked Garon's shins, annoyed. She turned her back and headed towards Kral to get some real thrashing in… and with a horrid howl the illusory Garon disappeared. Lenora and Rache staggered back for a moment as a thick cloud of psychic feedback whistled through the air towards Kral. It shot into him like lightning, and in an instant he felt every blow Thea had landed on his projection. He collapsed to the ground, then rose to one knee and with a flourish tore his face off: worms! Writhing worms! ... Bogus illusory worms! Oooga booga!
They weren't buying it. Cornered, he tried in vain to teleport away, summon portals as distractions, misdirect their attacks into the walls. Finally, he got clear: a safe spot, behind a pillar! He teleported, gathered his strength, and turned toward the door to run… and there was Terciel, bow drawn. "What IS it with you people?" he whined, and Terciel loosed on him. This time there were no worms, no lightning, no portals, no fancy stage magic: he just died, and his dagger clattered to the floor at his feet with an all-too-mundane sound.
Moments later, Darg and Shard had herded the survivors to the center of the room. Katya's squad was intact, and with the exception of the gnome they were all conscious, if a little groggy.