Raphael takes the kettle from the fire, wrapping his hand in the folds of his robe as he does so. He pours a cup of coffee for Jugg.
Raphael hands the coffee cup to the newly awakened.
Jugg takes it into his hands, savoring the warmth - even the burn. It was leaps and bounds better than the bitter cold he had felt in the clutches of that... thing.
"Obliged," he says with a nod.
After a few sips he sighs and inches nearer to the fire. He looks to Raphael.
"So, how'd I do?" He grins a painful grin.
The Nose nods and gives a thumbs up.
"Wee migh' gotta gitcha ah betta blahd, buh tha' Dalver's johb."
While Jugg is trying to parse through what in the world Raphael just said, a great deluge of water - easily a hundred gallons or more - comes splashing down from the hole in the ceiling in the center of the great dining hall. It takes some time for it to stop. Both adventurers were awake when Argus led Feruq up there earlier.
"Every normal man must be tempted, at times, to spit on his hands, hoist the black flag and begin slitting throats." - H.L. Mencken
"Thisah gon' beh rullee bahd o' rullee funneh."
The Nose adjusts his robes, preparing himself for whatever comes next.
"Do you walk in the Valley of Kings? Do you walk/In the shadow of men who sold their lives to a deeam?/Do you ponder the manner of things in the dark?" - Barns Courtney, "Glitter & Gold"
Collecting themselves as best they can, Argus and Feruq make a final sweep of the former Count's bedchambers then exit the room. The carpet is already dry but as they move out into the hall the floor is still damp enough to be able to follow the trail the water made before it splashed down into the dining hall. The torrent must have collided with one of the doors in the hall with truly tremendous force, if the condition of the door now is any indication; it's significantly damaged and barely hanging on its hinges. Peeking in, Feruq notes this must be the library Dalvar and Raphael were looking for, and he anticipates they will want to come up here when the party is finished exploring. But it would be prudent for them to mind the large hole in the center of the floor in here. A window on the far wall is completely shattered, a bit of wood frame here and there still dangling by a splinter. Thinking back to the encounter with the tongue devil earlier, Argus thinks this must have been where it was lurking before it dropped down to ambush the Heroes. He doesn't want to get too close to the edge of the hole to find out for sure, but if his mental blueprints of this place is correct, they should be standing right over the hall now.
Across the hall from the library is the last remaining unexplored room in the Keep. There were a few other doors here or there, but they were ajar when the party discovered them and a quick glance inside revealed nothing of note (storage areas or supply closets for the custodial staff). Argus leans into the final door after listening intently, and hearing nothing shoulders into the room as gently as he can manage. He and Feruq spy another spacious bedroom, most likely belonging to the blind boy Lyntern. The window on the far wall is shattered in here just like in the library, but unlike that chamber, the wall around where the window was is also significantly damaged.
A feminine form, draped in wispy, silken white, stands at the shattered wall looking out ove the hills behind the Keep. She turns to regard the Heroes, but her face is obscured beneath a veil. There is something ethereal about her appearance; it is difficult to focus on anything in particular and when one brings his attention back to that place, its appearance is subtly different. The fabric wrapping her slender frame looks very much like it would be nearly transparent in the right light, but it remains frustratingly opaque. Any clue about her identity is hopelessly concealed. Feruq doesn't understand why he wants to see more and he finds the leering impulse jarring.
Before he can say or do anything to see if Argus shares his discomfort, however, she turns back to what is left of the window and steps out onto the rubble on the ledge.
Argus has a momentary bout of unease about the whole affair. His first impulse is to stop the woman from getting any closer to the edge, whether she really intends to harm herself or not. The whole scene is very dreamlike and it isn't clear if she is even aware of where she is or what she's doing. For that matter, it occurs to the ranger that it isn't clear if HE knows what he's doing. He had a very bizarre experience earlier in the infirmary, after all - bizarre enough not to share the details with anyone else. Based on something Dalvar said earlier, he probably isn't the only one.
It is that split second of hesitation that prevents Argus from leaping to the stranger's aid, and he cries out helplessly as she tumbles back from the edge, her arms flying up in surprise and fear. No sound escapes her lips, and there is no sound of her hitting the side of the hill or crashing into the battlements below - when the pair of Heroes make it to the ledge, they can see this is because there is no sign of her having fallen down there at all. It may be that she was never there; or, if she was, that it was so long ago they were only seeing a psychic echo play out before them, and it would not have mattered how quickly they sprang into action no matter what they did.
One can hope.
"I am... not liking this place," comments Feruq. He looks tired, drained.
From his place by the fire with a hot cup of coffee and a newly wakened companion, Raphael yells in the general direction of the hole in the ceiling.
"Aye yas! Yas ded o' ambulatin?"
"Well, it'd be difficult to keep clean and I'm not the kind of person to have liveried servants, but it is spacious."
After a long period of silence as he studies (and studiously ignores Raphael's eccentric behavior), Dalvar remarks, "Creatures like the one that attacked you appear to have a history with the site of this castle. The young count was trying to unravel the mystery, but it sounds as if there is something buried underneath it. It looks as if there was a cluster of attacks some one hundred and twenty years ago. I think we may be able to consult with someone who can share secondhand accounts. There is an exceedingly old man residing in Milborne. Dirkaster is his name." Meditatively, he continues, "Six attacks in the space of a single year would have been enough to cause talk. He would not have been born yet, but he may still have heard of the matter from his parents or grandparents. It is a slender thread, but the best I can find to explain what we have found. What luck have you had?"
Wæs se grimma gæst Grendel haten,mære mearcstapa, se þe moras heold
With every bloodstain and blemish washed away with copious amounts of soap and water, Raphael simply looks ugly and haggard rather than a horrifying example of what could happen to students who don't devote themselves to their studies. He replies in the tongue he shares with Dalvar.
"There is an extraplanar object underneath this keep which caused the original architect to lose her grasp on sanity. Given access to a skilled architect, we may be able decipher these sketches and uncover the location of the object and the method by which it caused her to slip into hysteria."
"Assuming it does not drive us mad as well, of course."
Raphael inhales sharply through his nose. Only his left nostril flares.
"I do not suppose your colleague Dirkaster is a skilled engineer?"
"He is a retired innkeeper," Dalvar replies, before observing, "That there is some kind of oddity beneath the castle is indisputable, since we have seen evidence to that effect with our own eyes." Thoughtfully, he probes, "What leads you to believe that the object is extraplanar in origin?"
"I saw something similar, once. Way up north. It had a similar dream inducing quality that the architect who built this place countenanced."
Raphael flips open his book to the first mention of the architect's dreams. He puts one finger on the beginning paragraph and hands it to Dalvar.
"It may be a coincidence that there are buried structures which cause a degree of insanity in architects who discover them, but I do not believe whatever extraplanar forces bothered to construct them did so for the laughs."
Dalvar peruses the indicated section of the book, frowning in thought, then flips back several pages and reads the preceding section and the bits that follow after. He doesn't comment further, though.
When Dalvar digs back into the stacks to see what else he can find, almost immediately he comes up with a dusty old proclamation dated from five years after the Mindwar began in earnest. It is authorization from the Count for the hanging of a man "by his neck until death" for sedition. The name catches his eye - Joswa Venit. Only a few weeks ago, Dalvar and the other Heroes traveled with another man named Joswa from Blackstar. He accompanied them as far as Milborne then parted ways, claiming he had family in Harlaton (the cozy little backwater north of town, nestled in the Patchwork Hills). He can't recall the man's last name but he is certain it was not Venit. Still, a curious coincidence. The man mentioned in the proclamation apparently lived in Harlaton, too. Dalvar recalls that the farmers Balford and Bill, whose overturned cart was used as part of the charade the villain Carlanis used to lure Deventer to his death, also call Harlaton their home.
Anyway, it's a pretty safe bet that a charge as serious as sedition during the early years of the war had something to do with minders. Dalvar is pleased to discover just an hour later evidence to that effect, identifying the aforementioned Joswa Venit as a charter member of the Society of Freethinkers. This almost certainly meant he was psionically endowed himself and not just sympathetic to their cause. But it wasn't his affiliation with the traitors that got him lynched. It was the publication of his essay, "On the Fevered Dreams of Those Who Hear Voices From Beyond The Stars," in which he explains the collective subconscious communication from visitors who traveled to this realm from other worlds are not, in fact, extraplanar creatures at all. They're literally traveling from different planets, most of whom doing so using some kind of technologically sophisticated and psionically powered conveyance. Joswa claims there are multiple sites just like the one, it appears, Parlfray Keep was built on top of, all across Damark where individuals and entire communities report similar phenomena to the strange visions and intuitions poor Gerdr suffered. He also makes reference to a crystalline structure of rose quartz, "as wide as two men standing abreast and three times as tall" partially buried in a secluded canyon somewhere in the Great Rock Dale. According to Venit, the stone doesn't match any of the other rock formations nearby and this is because it was deposited there quite by accident, claiming it is likely part of one of these vessels capable of celestial travel. Further, he insists that the relic is alive, and that communication with it would yield far greater rewards than simply carving the thing up to craft dorjes or power stones. Alas, even at that time, the gnolls and ogres who lived nearby prevented any serious study.
Dalvar assumes that the alien, sentient rock in the Great Rock Dale and the Rosestone of Sarenrae are in fact the same artifact. Joswa's description corroborates what G'haz-kuhl told him and also supports the general consensus among other psions whose treatises on the subject the wizard has read.
Unfortunately, the fragment of "From Beyond The Stars" Dalvar now has in his possession was obviously partially burned and consists of only a single page. But even if Venit's family was forced to relocate during the Mindwar, change their name or both, perhaps they have since returned to Harlaton. If they did, it may be that they have a complete copy in their possession and that it might shed more light on the subject of what lies beneath Parlfray Keep.
Raphael thinks such a strange place with so many secrets must have had multiple arcane researchers coming and going over the years to investigate the mysteries surrounding Parlfray Keep. To no avail. His eyes and mind weary with the strain of long hours poring over dusty old tomes, the hobo is just about ready to throw in the towel when he stumbles upon a set of correspondence, spanning from 360-365 (about fifty years ago). It appears to be a series of letters sent between members of the Sylvan Circle, which is a network of druids, rangers and nother stewards of Nature who watch over the wilds of Haranshire. Raph has never met any such individuals, but it may be that the Heroes have (although given the dates in the letters it would be unlikely any of the current membership were active or even alive when they were written).
The locals refer to any particularly cold winter here as a "bitewinter" but THE Bitewinter occurred during the time period the letters were passed around the Circle. That is ostensibly why the first letter was written - a period of particularly brutal, life-threatening chill during the wintry months. But it would seem that each of these particularly cold winters was preceded by a spring of exceptional thunderstorm activity (not unlike the one Haranshire appears to be experiencing in 412).
This quickly replaced the relevance of the Bitewinter, which as an aside was also when all of the winter wolves and worgs came howling out of the north and rampaged across the countryside. The Sylvan Circle's main task at that time was devising strategies to harry and divide the packs to disrupt their assaults on Milborne and Thurmaster, and subsequently marshal the locals to lead them in counterattacks. If the correspondence can be believed, literally hundreds of wolves were butchered during this time, and the Bitewinter (which really refers to this period of time and not a single cold year) marked the beginning of Haranshire's collective distrust and even outright hatred of wolves and other lupine creatures.
Anyway, the storms appear to coincide with disappearances along the Churnett River that flows west to east before turning south at what used to be Thurmaster. What is more exceptional than people traveling alone going missing in such a perilous rural area is that sometimes, also during a thunderstorm, said individuals spontaneously reappear, apparently having no recollection of anything that transpired since they vanished. This appears to have occurred at least five or six times during the period of the Bitewinter, just about once a year.
The Circle didn't appear to have any success unravelling this mystery, nor could they account for the inexplicable change in personality when the recently-disappeared men and women were reunited with their families. It doesn't seem like many of them were able to acclimate to their old lives without some difficulty - marriages suffered, work declined in quality or ceased altogether, and without fail those who had gone missing but miraculously returned later in the season were given to brooding and melancholy although, at least in one case, the subject was regarded as something of a local prankster and devil-may-care buffoon.
Both phenomena - the Bitewinter itself and the corresponding period of unusually violent thunderstorms along with the rash of missing persons cases - is something else Dirkaster at the Baron of Mutton might be able to shed some light on, since it actually transpired during his lifetime.
Raphael looks up to Dalvar.
"I have to spend more time here. I am increasingly concerned about an unusual temporal disturbance that may be upon us."
"It may be temporal, it may be fae. Possibly extraplanar. There are too many possibilities. We have to keep reading."
He doesn't laugh. He doesn't chuckle. He is simple, straight to the point, and buries his nose back in his book.
"You have until an hour before sunset, then," Dalvar replies. "We would be fools to remain here overnight. Better to leave and return in the morning. Or in a few days from now." The wizard pauses to scrawl a note before adding, "I theorize that the structure underneath this castle fell from the sky at some time in the distant past, that it is a vessel of sorts. An ark. My findings, as well as your recent encounter with that . . . " he grimaces, and settles on, "tentacle monster, lead me to the conclusion that it is inhabited, and that its denizens are stirring to wakefulness. Best if we are not here when they get out of bed. I know that I am never in the best temper when I get up in the morning."
"We should scour this library to see what books should be present and are not. It may prove fruitful."
Raphael puts the soap away, his cleansing complete.
"Would you like some coffee?"
"No, thank you," replies Dalvar. But he seems agreeable to Raphael's suggestion, and pitches in to help with the inventory project.
While perusing the books, Raphael finally notices that the time is approaching to leave. Disappointment evident, he remarks:
"If we are preparing to leave, I should probably restore our companions a little bit. I have quite a few memories of healthier times available today."
Raphael nods while flipping a page in his book.
"I cast spells, just as you do. You chant words, the Ninth Legion prays, and I remember things."
Annoyed, Raphael closes the book and puts it back. "There are extremely basic theological texts missing from this library. How odd."
"The young count was conducting research here on other topics, and there were texts missing as well. We can put him to the question over supper, and perhaps come back in the morning."
Raphael nods, grabbing books and stuffing them in his bags as he walks out.
"I wanna tell you a story; ain't got no characters in it but me/I wanna sing you a sad song, most of it I don't expect you to believe/It starts off just the Whiskey & Wine, on some miles of travel and some real good times/but it ends in a dark corridor, where there ain't no windows and there ain't no doors
Well, that's me. Just a'drinkin' off this bottle and a-driftin' out to sea/Well, that's me. Just a-sittin' here starin' and a-shakin' like a leaf/Well, that's me. Just a-leanin' on my shovel in this graveyard of dreams.
Yeah, that's me." - Devil Makes Three, "Graveyard"
The investigators descend to the second floor and find most of the party in the infirmary across the mezzanine on the western wall of the keep. Argus, having instructed Feruq in the basics of tending to the wounded in a well-stocked facility such as the one they find themselves in, has withdrawn to the stables to look after the animals housed there. Under his careful ministrations, the party should be free to depart at first light at full riding strength. Presently, Jugg and Thunk are resting in the beds available in the clinic, awaiting further instructions from Dalvar about when it would be safe to escort Lyntern upstairs from the bowels of the fortress.
Raphael's eyes go wide as he has an epiphany.
"Dalvar, if we leave now, we're going to return when the Tormented," he emphasizes the word, "are sufficiently rejuvenated to be a problem. We have a window of time now where we could forestall their torture. Incidentally, it happens to be a tad more comfortable as well."
"They were not much of a problem today, so I have little concern about coming back when they are feeling well-rested tomorrow," the wizard replies, seeming pretty cold-blooded about the whole thing despite Raphael's emphasis on the spirits' suffering. "If you want to try to put them to rest then, I have no objection, but at the moment I am of the opinion that we are best served by getting out of the castle, resting as safely as we can, and dealing with tomorrow's problems tomorrow. I am concerned that if we remain within these walls, trying to learn everything that can be learned and address every problem that can conceivably be addressed, we will not live to see morning."
He concludes, with some conviction, "Besides, the only survivor of the atrocities that took place here is dependent upon us if he is to live out the week, and the safety of the living outweighs the concerns of the dead."
Raphael shakes his head.
"The haunts we have depleted are unable to affect us now. They are recovering their malefic energies. They likely will do so if we return tomorrow. It would be prudent to thwart their reconstitution by remedying at least a few of the wrongs so we do not encounter their wrath again. Even a minor effort can prevent us from dealing with more serious threats later."
Raphael turns to Argus. "Didja see wherent a lassie's biddy fell?"
"I will not remain within these walls tonight. Of course you and the others may do as you please, and if you are still alive I will see you in the morning," Dalvar replies, with finality.
"Yes, I saw a woman throw herself from a balcony. As far as resting in the castle, I don't believe there is much danger - less in fact than in the woods beyond. If nothing else, this place has survived the types of storms that suddenly seem so frequent. With solid walls and a posted guard, we're safer in a castle than in the open."
Raphael nods. "Imma bettin mahn anna bettin iffa wee givah righ' propa send off ta that biddy, we gonna nap a wee bit betta."
Raphael stands and dusts himself off.
"Dalvar, I understand if you must go. There may still be horrors present besides the Tormented who lurk here. I had not considered the weather that Argus references, but I am concerned about the abductions that occur during the tempests. I believe there are horrors within and without these walls. I know how to resolve the horrors within, so I will do so. Before you depart, can I offer you a restorative memory?"
"Thank you for the offer, but it would be a waste. I am entirely uninjured."
"Old headstones, old buried bones, just layin' round cemetery deep/I'm burnin' matches for the sake of makin' ashes, just tryin' to get some sleep/You can't save everybody; no word, no deed, no praise/You can't save everybody. Everybody don't want to be saved." - Kieran Kane & Kevin Welch, "You Can't Save Everybody"
It would appear the rest of the party has an accord, excepting Raphael; even Argus eventually relents when it is clear the wizard isn't budging. The ranger and Feruq begin shepherding the animals out of the stables and down the road, only to circle around the base and ascend again to a summit nearby. It should be suitable according to Dalvar's specifications - ascent isn't impossible from any direction, exactly, but brush and skidding rocks would make it exceedingly difficult to scale and assault the party without alerting them to an attacker's presence. It should be simple enough to ward the easiest route to the top with magic or other contingencies.
Meanwhile, Jugg waits in the dining hall while Raphael makes his preparations. Little is said, mostly because the dwarf doesn't particularly like him but also because he recognizes the look on Raph's face. It's the same look Dalvar has - he's certain he's right and isn't interested in hearing any different. Maybe that's something all human wizarding types have in common or maybe Jugg has just had the unique misfortune of being saddled with two of them. When Dalvar and Thunk return from the depths escorting young Lyntern Parlfray, Jugg falls in line behind them. Bunny, the wizard's mule, is in good enough spirits now that it has some food and water in its belly, and is more than capable of hauling Jugg's pack for him.
The Heroes converge on the appointed hilltop with their animal train in tow and try to get as comfortable as possible before sleep takes them. The moon is only half full tonight, but it provides enough illumination under a cloudless, starry sky such that even the humans in the party can see easily without the benefit of a campfire. Assuming nothing awful happens inside the Keep when The Nose tries to exorcise the vengeful undead cultists haunting the place, this may be the best night's sleep any of them will have had since arriving in Haranshire.
"All the children they were doomed, they were born with no names/They were cursed inside the womb the day the end finally came/All the birds escaped their cages and all the dogs broke their chains/And that is how it all went down, the day the end finally came" - William Elliott Whitmore, "The Day The End Finally Came"
Back inside, Raphael lays out what is left of the redheaded woman a few feet from the hearth. He has decided that the proper means of disposal here is probably incineration, which will require piling up enough logs that are burning hot enough to cause her remains to combust. He hooks a large long with the end of the firepoker adjacent to the fireplace and starts dragging it toward the body, beginning his invocation in the Devil's Tongue.
"In the name of Asmodeus, I call you to heed me. I am Raphael, known as the Nose. I do not know your name. Yet I am in possession of your body, and your body holds you here. You are in violation of the laws of Baator. All contracts filed in the City of Dis demand that you surrender your soul at the moment that it becomes untethered from your mortal shell. I know this, and you know this, but yet you remain. Under the laws of the Tyrant Below, which you bargained with of your own free will, you must comply with your obligation."
The fire roaring in the hearth dims, then sputters and abruptly goes out. For a moment, the entire hall is plunged into darkness, then just as suddenly it flares back to life, this time a sickly greenish yellow. The fire blossoms and explodes out and up, its tongues licking the ceiling briefly before receding again. Sconces along both long walls burst to life with the same unearthly flame, and the great double doors at the far end of the room swing shut seemingly of their own accord.
Seemingly undeterred, Raph drags the log over next to the corpse and sets it down so that its smoldering surface is in direct contact with the voluminous red hair adorning her head.
"Asmodeus plays the long game. He invests in you now. He loans you power. He grants you your wishes. In the end, his payment comes due. Sometimes, that payment is fair. Sometimes, that payment is unfair. Asmodeus does not cheat because Asmodeus knows that you will, one way or another, pay back your loan."
The doors along the gallery upstairs, as well as those on the ground floor (excepting the main entrance out into the courtyard) begin to clatter open and shut randomly, as if the Keep itself protests the witch's invocation.
Raphael tries to ignore the poltergeist's shenanigans as he trudges back to the fireplace, snagging another log and dragging it across the stone floor as he continues,
"You didn't know me. You never had the chance to ask me if the loan was a good idea. You probably wouldn't have cared what a seminary drop-out had to say. If you had asked me, I would have told you that it didn't seem like a good idea to me. Instead, you followed your own desires and are subjected to the natural outcomes of those desires. Payment for services rendered."
The ground begins to shudder as the hair on the corpse's head starts to smoke then ignites. Raphael thinks the whole building might be shaking, actually; he looks up and can see dust falling like tiny motes of snow in the garish green illumination that floods the room.
Pulling the log into position, Raphael lowers it to the floor and presses it firmly against the other side of the woman's head. Stopping a moment to catch his breath despite all that's going on, he eventually stands up straight and wipes his brow.
"The burning you feel, that's fire. Fire is omnipresent in Baator." Raphael thinks. "That's not right. Fire is in a lot of places in Baator. Importantly, fire is now consuming your body, which I have here in my possession. Your body, which you have vacated, is not long for this world. All that remains is your legacy and what you did with the loan you took from the devils of Baator. All that remains is the fire of the Tyrant Below."
A faint orange glow emanates from the floor in the center of the sundered summoning circle. It looks almost as if an ember from the pyre Raphael is trying to construct around the woman's body might have been blown over there and is flaring to life again, but suddenly the red light fills out the lines drawn by the cultists previously, casting beams of light that trace the shape of the pentagram up through the clouds of dust falling from the ceiling. A low, rumbling din begins to reverberate through the floor beneath Raphael's feet.
It is not quite so loud in the great hall yet that Raphael can't hear himself over the din, but it's getting close. Raising his voice, he declares in Infernal,
"I can't say I envy you. I can't say you're going to like it down there. I can say that you told the forces of the Tyrant Below that you would go to him when you were done here. I don't judge you, like He will, but I do understand that you are supposed to do what you said you're going to do. Don't worry about this place anymore. Worry about Baator!"
The ground within the pentagram is beginning to crack and crumble. More orangish-red light filters up from below, and through the haze the Nose can discern that the butchered zombies and smashed skeletons who forced the door earlier today are starting to move. Not of their own accord, that much is clear - more like the constituent pieces are twitching and breaking apart even further, but to what end it is impossible to tell. One zombified arm is flopping around like a dead fish, apparently trying to reorient itself for some unspeakable purpose.
The undead remains appear to be trying to converge together in a single space, but it is slow-going; they aren't able to move like people or even pieces of people any longer, and it looks much more like some malevolent sentience is plying the various odds and ends of bone and flesh with telekinesis, like some kind of obscene puppet show.
Raphael cannot help but laugh at it all, even as the cracks in the floor in the center of the pentagram widen and pieces of the floor begin to break off and tumble away into the void. The low, dull roar in the room grows louder as a hot, sulfurous wind rises from the depths, swirling dust and smoke all around the chamber.
Redoubling his efforts, the witch continues to pile more logs around the body, hoping enough heat is directed inward for the corpse and the wood to really burst into flames. The sooner that happens, the better, though Raph still isn't certain whether the same entity is responsible for the extraplanar anomaly in the center of the room as well as the dancing jumble of Undead arms and legs (or if what he's seeing in front of him is even really happening at all).
What Raphael sees before him is unlike anything he has ever seen or even heard of happening to someone else. The jiggling, flopping pieces of meat and lengths of bone begin to congeal and stretch to accommodate all the rest, working as one to form some new kind of abomination.
The air begins to sting his eyes as he tries to squint and observe what's going on with the pentagram. Much more of the stone making up what used to be the floor in its center has shattered and tumbled into the abyss. The room begins to tremble again and one of the windows high up on the wall must have broken, likely due to the strain the ritual is placing on the structure; a few shards of glass clatter and break into a thousand smaller pieces upon striking the ground. Raphael isn't standing anywhere near any of the danger areas if more of the glass starts to fall from the windowframes, but it is something to be mindful of.
Hastening to put a few more logs in place, Raphael attempts to choke back the urge to retch at the smell as the woman's hair has completely burned away and the skin of her face is starting to bubble and peel. He knows from witnessing such things firsthand that when burning someone alive at the stake, usually the fire stoked below the platform they stand on gets so hot that before the flames even touch him or her, the victim's fat begins to cook beneath the skin. This is not what has happened here, obviously, because of the lack of resources to erect a real funeral pyre by himself. He is beginning to think it would have, perhaps, been more prudent to hack her into more managable pieces and just toss them into the hearth along with the firewood, but that ship has sailed.
Stumbling as he hauls back one of the lengths of wood, Raphael is startled by the sound of all the windows lining the great hall shattering inward at once. The red energy beaming from the pentagram in the center of the chamber grows impossibly bright, forcing him to shield his eyes; this almost costs him his life, as he barely manages to duck and shuffle out of the way when the hearth belches out a huge gout of greenish yellow flame in his proximity. The fire really does reach the rafters this time, and outside the Heroes who have yet to fall asleep can see the light show from their nearby perch. An unearthly howl reverberates throughout the halls of the Keep and filters out into the open air outside, reaching the party's ears, before the flames abruptly snuff out and the infernal luminance is cut off.
All is silent for a moment in the Great Hall and entirely dark, but for the dim orange light shed by the smoldering logs; Raphael looks down and can see, to his horror and eternal regret, the woman's eyes flutter open. She fixes her deathgaze on the witch and croaks in Infernal,
Argus looks at the lights dancing in the keep. "Dalvar, I admit it. You were right and I was wrong."
"I would be gratified if I were not concerned that we may still be in danger."
The wizard sighs in resignation. "There is not much to be done about it, at the moment. Wake me if it escalates beyond a light show. If Raphael survives this mess, we will need to be very cautious of him. It may not be him anymore."
Raphael hurriedly but flawlessly launches into an incantation, his voice rising and falling with the rhythm of imperceptible tones that form the melody of all the planes of existence moving in harmony. In the gloom, something ponderous and heavy lurches into motion, shuffling along the floor amid a chorus of groans and gasps as if a dozen or more people are being smothered under some immense bulk. Suddenly, the stench of dead flesh and brimstone waft under Raph's nostrils, forming an altogether different harmony. It is all he can do to keep the words filling the air between him and whatever this new horror is, hoping six seconds will be enough.
The Nose lives up to his name and takes the stench at full strength like a bag of bricks to the face. His first impulse is to cover his mouth as the contents of his stomach come hurtling back up his esophagus, but the witch is able to keep a level head even in the grips of gastrointestinal dread. Instead, he leans forward, almost doubling over as the vomit projects out in a long stream to splash over whatever it is lurking just beyond the range of Raphael's vision.
Tears flood his eyes as another mouthful of bile and partially digested food rockets back up to be fired in defiance against the latest monstrosity the Keep has devised to throw at him. It is almost enough of a distraction to prevent Raph from hearing the beam supporting a section of ceiling over his head being dislodged; almost.
To his great fortune, most of the masonry clatters down all around him, completely obliterating the cultist's corpse in the process and finally plunging the room into total darkness. But the beam itself plummets down and collides with his shoulder, shunting him out of the way as it crashes to the floor but not sparing him a nasty bump on the head as he falls.