APoF 09: The Verdant Death
Steve, feeling somewhat betrayed by the dragoness, declares that he liked her, to which Nalaa responds by saying that she liked him too. In the next instant, Nalaa closes the distance with Zephyros and with three strokes of her mighty longsword, the gem in the pommel flashing with an emerald light, she brings the mighty barbarian low. Her eyes gleam with a mad light just as IkBroknard rushes at her but ends up colliding with an invisible wall. Perturbed, the warrior swings his greatsword, which screams against the unseen barrier, showering sparks over the ground. Steve tries to break through the wall, as well, but ultimately is unable to. In the meantime, Dr. Roth is grabbing what he can from the small hoard of treasure in the middle of the grove, recognizing that he will not be able to do anything against Nalaa and her barrier.
Oh no, no, no, you can't die yet, Zeph. We're going to have a lot of fun, yetWhile the party is stuck outside, and Nalaa has time alone with Zeph, who is struggling to hold on for dear life, she forcefully feeds him a magical berry that brings him just back to consciousness. She grabs the barbarian by his hair and drags him across the ground to the edge of the moat of poison that surrounds the central island of the grove. With a cruel laugh, she plunges Zeph's face into the poison. Zeph feels unimaginable pain as the poison not only eats into his flesh, but also floods into his mouth and nose and lungs. He struggles, squirming in Nalaa's grasp, powerless to resist her cruelty until he loses consciousness. The dragoness pulls his head out of the moat and reminds him that there is a lot of fun still in store for the two of them, forcing another berry past his lips. Nalaa drowns him in the poison a second time, reviving him just short of death to do it a third time.
I've always wanted to know what a barbarian looked like insideThe party watches helplessly until, thanks to Broknard, Steve gets the idea to dig under the barrier that surrounds Nalaa. Taking the form of a giant badger, he burrows under the barrier and up the other side, just as Nalaa flips Zeph onto his back and straddles his hips. She takes a dagger and digs into his gut, opening up his stomach and letting his entrails hang out. The agony is excruciating, but Zeph is powerless to stop it, and just as he is about to pass out from the pain, Nalaa feeds him another berry to force him to experience it. Broknard rushes through the tunnel that Steve dug and imparts a few blows against Nalaa, but she is able to turn his sword away with a flick of her wrist. Unable to bear the sight of his friend being tormented any longer, Steve draws power from the Shardscape to summon an orb of water that takes up Zeph and Broknard, the clear liquid turning a cloudy red as Zeph bleeds into it. Steve then moves the sphere out of the way, gently depositing Zeph and Broknard, both soaking wet on the nearby ground as Dr. Roth steps in to quickly treat Zeph's condition. Broknard and Steve stand toe to toe against Nalaa while Dr. Roth ministers over Zeph, even managing to force her back into her dragon form just as Avarash, having returned from the Shardscape, bursts through the foliage, bringing the druids of his people with him. A barrage of healing spells reenergize the warriors on the battlefield as they continue their assault on the self-styled queen of the Ironspike Woods.
No! NO! Insects! Insignificant pests! It can't end this way! I won't let it end this way!Enraged, Nalaa batters the group with devastating spells, but they respond in kind, the healing from the druids hidden behind the treeline enough to keep them fighting long enough that they are able to eventually take her to the brink of death. Eventually, she is struck down, but not before the rage and desperation that she has been displaying turns into a snide, almost condescending amusement. She says nothing more before the killing blow is struck. Taking a few moments to recuperate following the difficult battle, the party looks around the battlefield, taking in the spoils of their victory. Steve and Dr. Roth search Nalaa's body, finding her longsword, as well as the necklace that she wore. Steve also takes the time to search for the dragoness' heart of hearts, but her chest cavity is empty, indicating that she has disgorged her heart of hearts. The group then examines the pile of treasure and finds that there is a trapdoor hidden underneath. They move the coins aside and open the trapdoor, revealing a ladder that leads to a darkened room below. Deciding at once that it is worth investigating, the group descends and finds what appears to be a laboratory. There are stone tables with glass apparatuses that appear to have been recently used. Dr. Roth finds a tome on "Animancy," which sends a chill down his spine. In the meantime, Steve sets fire to the shelves in the back of the room. On the other side of the room, there appears to be a large mirror, with a brazier standing in front of it. There appear to be channels dug into the stonework, channels that stretched beyond the wall that contains the mirror. In the brazier, Nalaa has left a note addressed to Steve which says "Turn me on, Steve" in an almost playful tone. Steve complies and lights the brazier, which bursts into bright emerald flame. Embers fall into the channels on either side, which both catch fire with the same eerie green glow. The fire rushes down the channels and behind the back wall, slowly revealing that it wasn't a mirror they were looking at, but rather the glass panel of a tank that holds what appears to be a partially-formed copy of Nalaa's draconic body, still seemingly lacking the hard scales and the fully-developed claws. Before Steve can do anything, Zeph stalks toward the glass and, using his maul, breaks it, causing the slick, slimy fluid within to rush out into the room, taking the cloned body with it. The dragon's eyes open and she taunts the party before Zeph takes his maul and crushes the clone's head, unwilling to listen to any more from the dragoness.