Again Balian listens at the iron door of the arrival chamber in the Hellish dimension. He still hears nothing and slowly opens it to find a corridor running off to the left with five more doors. The ranger checks the first one, then pushes it open. It leads to a small macabre office. Bones from dozens of creatures rest in neat piles on the desks, with the skulls sitting atop the rest of the skeletal remains. Hollow eyes stare from the sockets of mostly human heads, although the party recognizes other humanoid races as well, like halflings and gnomes. The desk at the back lies toppled over, the bones scattered over the floor. Elvira takes a look at some of the books on the shelves, but they crumble beneath her fingers when she leafs through them. Sjo is more interested in the skeletons, but when he disturbs a pile, he sends it crashing to the ground. On the largest of the bones he finds tiny writing scrawled over its surface. It reads:
“This is no Hall of Wards
But a Hell of Discords
No Breaching Festival
Just pure, pure evil
If you can, run, flee!
Lest you die with me.”
Startled by this ominous warning, Elvira wonders if they could even get out of here if they wanted to. She picks up a small bone and returns to the arrival chamber, where the purple portal still swirls against the wall. When she tries to throw the bone through, it simply bounces off. Just what she thought, the way back is closed! The only way left is forward.
The party moves to the second door on the right. It opens up into a torture chamber which reeks heavily of death. Chained to the far wall is a tiny figure, a female halfling. The gray color of her skin and the morbid smell leave no doubt as to her condition: she is one of the walking dead, but she moves with incredible speed. The chains seems to glide through her hands as she steps forward and swings her shackles at Balian, smacking him hard in the head. From her dry lips comes a wailing whisper: “Freeee meeee.” Remembering guildmaster Boule’s information, Elvira figures out that this is Illia Ean, the last member of the thieves’ guild to enter in the Breaching festival over a year ago. Balian takes a couple of swings at the fast zombie, but she is very nimble and he connects only once. Puk tumbles past her into a flanking position, but quickly discovers that she is too experienced in roguish combat to be hampered by this unfavorable arrangement. Her skill in sly and strategic combat becomes even more clear when she continues her attacks on Balian, first feinting him before pummeling him with terrible sneak damage. Her chains swirl around the ranger’s body and smash into his kidneys, causing massive internal bleeding. Sjo has to step up to heal his friend and Elvira, realizing that her mind-affecting spells are useless against undead, throws haste over her allies. Puk manages a few minor nicks, but Balian, dazed by this creature’s velocity, has trouble hitting home. Only one of his next series of attacks succeeds. The chained halfling presses the advantage, her shackles gravely hurt the ranger twice more, leaving him staggering on the edge of defeat. Sjo has to resort to extreme measures; he pulls out his scroll of heal to keep Balian in the fight. Enraged and empowered by the curing energy flowing through his veins, Balian growls and bears down on his tiny opponent. His greatsword sinks into her mithral chain shirt, pushing it deep into her undead skin, which spits through the links like meat in a meat grinder. Fortune now favors the party, as the undead rogue misses her final attacks before Puk and Balian strike her down.
Elvira’s detect magic reveals that the mithral chain shirt is magical and holds an enchantment that allows the wearer to increase his speed three times a day. Puk cleans it up and dons it. Elvira respectfully puts Illia’s corpse in her bag of holding, hoping to return it to the Cerulean Society later.
The next room the party explores is a library. Balian silently pushes the door wide and peeks inside. He sees a robed man with graying hair, who is standing in front of floor-to-ceiling bookcases. The shelves are a mass of pages and volumes, which seems to flutter with life, flying around the chamber and rearranging themselves constantly. The man frantically flips through a heavy tome, curses and throws it on the ground. It immediately flies back up to one of the shelves. “No, that’s not it. Where is it? Where the hell is it?” the man mutters. The companions now step into the room and Elvira eyes the mad man closely. He looks a lot like Terentius, a conjuration wizard who graduated over a years ago from the Acadamae and competed in the last Breaching Festival. The only thing is, he has aged a lot, at least three decades. The ‘old’ wizard is solely focused on the thousands of bound volumes in front of him, though, and hasn’t even noticed the party come in. Elvira calls out to him: “Terentius, it is me, Elvira, from the Acadamae … Are you okay?”
“You … who … hmm, have you seen it? Do you know where it is?” he sighs.
‘What do you mean?”
“My book, of course. My spellbook. Where is my spellbook?”
“I’m sorry, I don’t know. But are you alright? Do you remember me? I’m Elvira Campert, we were at school together.”
Picking up another book from the table and going through its pages, the mad wizard rants on: “No, that’s not it either. What do you mean, Elvira? You’re too young to be her, it’s been … well, so long … I can’t really say, but it’s been … many years. You look like you haven’t aged a day. Unless … of course, it’s YOU again, you fiend! Come to mock me some more, have you? Give me my book, I tell you!”
Elvira does her best to talk some sense into the crazed mage, but when a book flies over his head, he tries to grab it. He misses by an inch and then sets off in pursuit to the shelve where it lands. “There it is! I found it! Wait, what …? No, that’s not it at all. Asmodeus’ damnation take you all!”
“Terentius?” Elvira tries again.
“Huh, what, who are you?” As the mage resumes the conversation, he seems to have forgotten ever talking to these visitors. “Do you know where my book is? You do, don’t you? Give it to me, it’s mine!”
The man is obviously lost in his own madness. When Sjo finally suggests helping him by setting the place aflame, he reacts furiously and opens combats. A chain of lightning tears from his fingers and fries Sjo, Balian and Elvira. Since El is in the worst shape, Sjo patches her up with his magic first. The enchantress attempts a spell of her own, hideous laughter, but discovers that Terentius possesses some kind of spell resistance that proves too hard to be penetrated. Balian and Puk now close in on him and narrowly prevent him from casting an even more powerful spell. In hand-to-hand combat with two heavy-hitters the wizard stands no chance and his corpse graces the floor tiles only a few moments later. The party finds some magic items on him, as well as an infernal contract. Scanning the lengthy document quickly, Elvira sees it was signed by a devil called Chyvvom (instead of Chyvrom, as Sjo remembered it). There is something in there about “returning to Golarion”.
The last room to the right turns out to be a laboratory. Its sole occupant is a rather attractive white-skinned female with two long tentacles hanging down from the crown of her head. Her lower body blooms in a gown of writhing tendrils. Elvira knows this creature as a handmaiden devil. Balian wastes no time talking and charges forward to attack, but the devil woman is faster and summons three Erinyes devils to aid her in combat. Elvira wants to freeze the handmaiden in place with a hold person, but cannot overcome her spell resistance. Puk flanks one of the Erinyes and chops her down in a couple of seconds. His effectiveness is halted, however, when the handmaiden devil calls a mass of black tentacles into being that grapple him and his friends, locking them into place and slowly crushing their bones. Sjo and Elvira suddenly discover that these grasping tendrils make it almost impossible for them to cast spells. All the enchantress can do, is activate her aura of despair, while the two remaining Erinyes – who are also caught in the tentacles - now target the companions with their longswords. Sjo tries to hit one of them with his mace, but misses, finding his movement severely hampered by the entwining ebony limbs. Balian is the only one who manages to escape the wrestling feelers and slashes his way past a second Erinyes. The ranger breaks out of the writhing area and confronts the Handmaiden, but she is stronger than he thought. She hits him with her claws and swallows him up in the tendrils below her waist, confining him in a living cage. While Sjo and Elvira suffer several attacks from the last Erinyes, Puk finds his way out of the black tentacles, but without Balian to provide sneak opportunities, his attacks are puny against the devil’s hide. Sjo’s health is in steady decline, so he drops the shield other he cast on Balian earlier, to preserve his own life. His attempt to cast a powerful cure spell fails because of the grappling arms. His lot is slowly turning dire, so he decides to dig up a potion of cure serious wounds to hold out longer. Balian cannot free himself from the tendril cage and pulls out his dagger to cut the limbs from the inside, while Puk nicks them from the other end. The halfling is clawed in return, but a powerful cut from Balian opens up enough of the cage to squeeze out. Switching to his greatsword once more, the ranger now makes short work of the handmaiden. As her body hits the table and crashes into the vials of acid, the black tentacles and the summoned Erinyes suddenly disappear. Elvira spots no magic in this room, but she does find one interesting item on the shelves between the alchemy manuals: it’s Terentius’ missing spellbook!
The party heals up and makes for the door at the end of the corridor. Balian detects two voices arguing on the other side, but he does not comprehend the guttural language they utter. Elvira gives it a shot as well and has no trouble understanding the infernal tongue. Still, it is hard to pick up anything through the thick door, so she can only make out something about “torture” and “a contract”. Balian kicks the door open. The high-ceilinged chamber is modeled after the Acadamae’s summoning duel arenas. A pair of stairways flank the door and lead up to a balcony that encloses the room. Two summoning circles dominate the central floor, on which an agitated creature stands, locked in a heated argument with a barbed devil on the grand stairs at the far side of the arena. The large figure in the middle of the room is a devourer, an outerplanar undead who has the power to suck up souls and use their energy to bolster his own powers. This dry corpselike hulk’s chest is a prison of jagged ribs, within which a small tormented ghostly form struggles to get out. Elvira recognizes the unfortunate Illia Ean, the halfling rogue, in its facial features. The devourer’s mouth cracks into a horrifying smile: “Well, is it that time again? Travelers, I see, welcome in Belzeragna … welcome to your doom.”