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    In the map room, where the clear floor gave him a good view, Thunderbolt saw a large man with a spear in his hand, mounted on an enormous eight-legged horse, riding straight up toward the castle. Sleipnir was moving at a full gallop through the air, closing quickly. Odin raised his spear; light leaped from the end of it to the bottom of the cloud. Thunderbolt saw it coming, saw it burn away a chunk of the cloud. Well, we didn't need it any more; it was time to begin the descent.
    Those of us who were outside waited for the second bolt to go. Instead, over the edge of the landing area came a god.
    "What ho, varlets!" Odin roared. "Your futile resistance against our rightful Empress ends now! The ravens have so spoken unto me!"
    "Hi Sleipnir, you still working for this idiot?" Scott called to the iron horse.
    The horse whinnied back derisively, and charged.
    My goal at that point was to get the heck out of the way. Unfortunately, I'm not strong enough to operate the door. I flew up toward the control room and banged on the window to alert Talon. The castle was dropping quickly now. Under the theory that Odin was just a distraction, Scott jumped off the platform in his liquid form.
    The second lightning bolt went off, blowing a big hole in the roof of the tower. That likely got her attention.... Scott waved as he passed by. Below, several thousand gnolls looked up at what to them must have looked like doom descending.
    Phoenix Talon looked out and saw me there, then saw me get hit from behind by Odin's spear. Fortunately it only caught me in the wing, but it dragged me through the cloud wall (that hurt) and left me in the control tower as Odin's will brought the spear to a halt. Sleipnir was coming.
    "So as I was saying, Odin is out there," I told Talon, brushing myself off.
    Without reply, Phoenix Talon drew his katana, ran to the hole I had unwillingly made, and leaped out onto Sleipnir. I shouldn't have been surprised, he has a penchant for stunts like that. He was hanging off of Sleipnir's bridle and hacking at the god with his sword, and I wondered what happened if you cast Dispel Magic on a golem. Lightning spring from my palm and washed over the horse. Sleipnir plummeted from the air, hooves clawing madly at nothing.
    "Er..." Talon said.
    Odin's spear returned to him; he wrapped the other arm around his mount's neck. "Whoah! Whoah!" Talon realized that he wasn't trying to maintain his grip so much as maintain control- over the creature, as the iron head snaked around and tried to bite its rider. Talon decided to leave them to sort things out as a hoof tagged him, and got a hand on his Ebony Fly. For a moment he was in free-fall, and then they buzzed away toward the hole in the tower.
    "Fly cavalry, forward!"
    Above, Thunderbolt stared, then remembered to brake the castle. He was a little too close to the tower, scoring deep gouges in the side and sending out a brilliant shower of sparks as it came to a slow halt. He overshot a bit and had to correct to come level with the lightning-made opening.
    Scott had switched to gas form and poked a tendril into the tower; sepulchral darkness met him there, with flickering torches at intervals providing insufficient light. Nothing moved, so he continued inside. Phoenix Talon dove through on the fly. I tried my wings; they would work to get me across the gap, such as it was. Thunderbolt ran in.
    "Everybody remember where we parked," Talon said. We faced a corridor with a set of stairs leading up from it some distance way, beyond which the hall branched at the edge of our vision.
    "Any idea where your daughter is?" Scott asked.
    Below, Sleipnir had recovered his flight but was still doing his level best to kill his rider, with the spear in his teeth as they battled.
    Scott knocked a hole in the floor, figuring to see if that got us closer to Dawn. It took him a couple of attempts. After the second blow we heard a whirring noise and found a horde of small daemons charging toward us. They were only about four feet tall and ugly, but there were an awful lot of them, yelling and waving the weapons overhead. I wasn't sure if I should be worried or laugh, and settled for taking up a defensive position with my staff, ready to hold them off.
    Thunderbolt stooped down and rolled something small out of his hand, onto the floor. The corridor became much brighter as the ball of lightning continued down the corridor, growing swiftly. The daemons ran through it, unaffected.
    Scott finished smashing through the floor. Phoenix Talon dropped down through it and landed in a defensive crouch, determined that this was the wrong direction. He was in a large open area, near a wall. There were a half dozen containment circles around the room, each with something large hunkered in it.
    The daemons kept yelling, and kept coming at us in a swarm. Their weapons shone with eldritch light, and they could touch Scott. While I held off three of the things, three more were climbing over their heads to join the attack. Thunderbolt had been forced up against the wall. I made an effort to call upon Tempest's power to drive the creatures off, and succeeded in sending those besieging me away along with a handful of others—but there were dozens more waiting to take their place.
    Phoenix Talon leaped up through the hole in the floor. "Aha!" Which meant that Dawn was not in that direction. We had to get to the stairs.
    Thunderbolt hopped onto the carpet; I joined him, and we flew off in that direction. Phoenix followed. Scott laid about him with a will. "You want to lightning ball me before you leave?" he called after the departing sorcerer. He seemed adequate to the task of dealing with the things.
    The stairs seemed to go up for a very long way. We were in an alcove with a door heading further in, and doors heading left and right, and one to what should have been open space. In this place, the usual rules might not apply.
    "She's near," Talon whispered. We waited for Scott to catch up. Talon went from one door to the next. She seemed to be closer to the door that looked like it headed into the tower. Then he got nervous and went back down to help Scott out. "You guys stay put, if anything happens, scream."
    "What are you doing back here? Go find your daughter, dangit," the golem called upon spotting him; he cleared out about half of the little daemons by then.
    As he closed in on the battle, something large dove out of a side passage at Phoenix Talon. He managed to spin clear of the claws, but it had teeth as well, whatever it was, and a vicious bite. It roared as it struck but did not manage to pin him, fortunately. He slashed wildly with his sword, buying himself space to recover.
    Meanwhile, another wave of the small daemons was building down at the far end of the corridor. Scott dropped down into the room below, went to gas form and floated back up, surprised little daemons raining down into the room around him. The binding circles were all empty now.
    Above, Thunderbolt and I looked at each other. One of the doors opened, the one that should have opened onto empty space. Stephanie hissed. A large room was revealed, with lots of archways and some kind of shrine, and quite a few gnollish troops, who were pouring out directly into Thunderbolt's fireball. The first ones out were thrown backwards by the explosion. Many of them were simply disintegrated. I slammed the door shut and remembered to cast a spell immunity on myself. Where you got gnolls, you got Gretchen's priests.
    Below, many of the stupid little daemons had fallen through the hole. The rest of them looked at the big new daemon for direction.
    "After him," it commanded in a guttural voice, and many more of them fell as they continued trying to find Scott.
    Talon was working very hard at dodging, and managed to avoid the thing. However, in such close proximity, drenched in the thing's ichor, he was overwhelmed by nausea, and could not maintain his counterattack. Scott coalesced and launched himself against the thing in a blow that went all the way through the daemon. This didn't help Talon's writhing stomach, but it did keep him from having his head twisted off.
    Above, something slammed into the door and burst it asunder. Two burly axe-wielding gnolls charged through, staggering a bit because they had expected the door to be braced shut; behind them was one of Gretchen's priests, who pointed at me and finished her incantation—which had no effect. I was very glad I had remembered to do that. I tried a spell of my own, which she shrugged off with a canine grin.
    Thunderbolt raised his hands; flame poured toward the gnolls. More screaming and writhing. The priestess was chanting again; again, it failed. I smiled a bit myself. She looked a bit concerned. I decided to try my spell again; this time it worked. She took a few staggering steps, and collapsed, blood gushing from her mouth.
    Below, Scott had grabbed Phoenix Talon and was hauling him up the stairs.
    "We go that way," the monk said, pointed to a door and recovering somewhat. He spent a moment listening at the door, heard a faint echoing sound of dripping water. "What kind of daemon likes water?"
    "I'm sorry, am I supposed to have a catalog?" Scott wondered.
    "The kind that are probably immune to fire," Thunderbolt opined.
    Talon drank off a couple of potions to offset some of the bite wounds. Then he opened the door and threw himself threw it, intending to roll, and come up defensively. In midair he realized that the room was actually full of water, and he landed instead in a rather clumsy dive.
    Chains hung from the ceiling , down into the water, all through the room except for a clear area like a path. From each chain hung a corpse, in various stages of rot, hooked through the left shoulder, their heads bobbing at the surface. They were all elves. In the water long snakes or eels roved, nibbling the bodies.
    Scott reached in and grabbed him out before he could see any more, just as the wolf-headed eels reached the disturbance he had made in the water.
    "Ew," Scott said. "Is this the right direction?" It was. He floated out first to reconnoiter. At the middle of the room the path intersected with another. There were doors at all three of ends. I reluctantly used a spell to fix my wing—I normally saved that one in case something happened to Scott. The carpet would carry Talon and Thunderbolt behind me, all of us close to the ceiling and trying not to look down. I figured that I had enough nightmare fodder already, this delightful place would simply have to go the back of the queue.
    Halfway to the intersection we heard a rattling noise overhead, and chains dropped down, reaching for me with a snakelike motion. One of them glanced off my armor, the other one scratched me; I twisted aside in an excess of adrenaline, and saw more of them coming down ahead. The water below began to churn as the eels got excited. Thunderbolt moved the carpet over me, shielding me from the chains, and Talon whacked at them with his katana as I put on a burst of speed. At the crossroads, Talon hesitated, then pointed ahead; he sensed her in all three directions now.
    Some of the chains pulled back up as if confused by the humans above me. We had almost reached the door when one of the hooks pierced my armor; a bit of a cut, but it didn't catch hold. All of the heads had turned to watch. Don't go, they said. Don't go.... That one, I am going to have nightmares about.
    "We're going to try to destroy your captor and free you all," Talon told them. "We have to go."
    And then we were through the door, where things were interesting enough to put the horror out of mind for a bit.
    In the center of the room was a large translucent rock, with chains wrapped around it, and Dawn inside it. There were four statues along one wall, a table on another wall scattered with odds and ends—
    —and Gretchen.
    "Da'an has sent me to reclaim the dawn, witch-woman!" Talon announced.
    "Then Da'an has sent you to die," she replied, amused. "I never thought it would be so easy, that you would simply arrive here."
    "Maybe if you had tougher minions blocking the way," Scott shrugged.
    I had spent a long time preparing for this; I stepped forward and very quietly spoke a single word. It was Tempest's voice that shook the room like thunder; things on the table rattled, the statues shook. Gretchen covered her ears and shrieked, her voice overwhelmed by the sound. We saw the word ripple through the air, touching things we could not otherwise see—a dozen lion-sized cats with fangs and glowing eyes—and then the sound touched the wall and returned, and at this second touch the twelve hellcats were gone.

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© 2003 Rebecca J. Stevenson