I stumbled up the stairs from the cellar into the kitchen, still invisible under the effects of the ring which I could not remove. The scene was an absolute shambles. Did these people never wash anything? Also, there were quite a few dead and dying persons on the floor. Pressing my hand against my bleeding side I watched as my companions put down the last of the ruffians. I rejoiced to see that none of our plucky band were missing--except for Uhmri, who was probably elsewhere in the house of the Lady.
The situation was still very much up in the air. There was a wounded assassin-flavored desperado and a black living statue downstairs and a witch with heaven-only-knows how many retainers upstairs. We had mere moments before they rallied and attacked from all sides. Naturally, Katherine took this as the perfect time to remonstrate with Kull for offing some alley-runner outside. Ah, sweet K. Apparently the fellow was actually the driver of the cart which brought in the new tranche of captives. However he was unarmed at the time that Kull abruptly cancelled his future career plans by stomping on his head. K was trying hard to explain about the ethical dilemma inherent in crushing the skull of an unarmed enemy and Kull was trying hard to understand why there was an ethical dilemma inherent in crushing the skull of an evil slaver. Sensing that this might take a wee bit more time to resolve than we had at present, I braved the ethical dilemma inherent in simultaneously risking annoying both of them by interrupting suddenly. So I interrupted suddenly and blurted out the situation below us, with cages full of slaves, piles of bodies, masked desperadoes, the black statue back on our trail, a powerful witch, so do try to keep up, won't you?
Brute asked, "Slavers?" "Or worse", I replied. "None leave alive", was his rejoinder.
K stanched my wound with the power of the Light. Then we descended to the cellar and arrayed ourselves for battle. Our goal was freeing the captives in the vault and to do that we would have to deal decisively with the statue and masked desperado. With any luck the battle would leave the rather decent little wine cellar nearby untouched. Kull and Uhmri faced the vault door. Knowing that reinforcements might descend from the house above at any time, Brute guarded the stairs with Katherine, and I stood by to lend my skills wherever need was most. We did not have long to wait. The statue within was already pounding heavily on the massive door to the prison vault at the end of the corridor. Despite its immense bulk the door soon collapsed into the hallway, revealing the dark figure framed against the lit room beyond.
To my surprise, Uhmri shot forward like an arrow and threw himself bodily upon the thing! Kull moved forward with his sword, ready to rain blows upon it. Seeing that the stone woman was well engaged, I dashed past as quietly as I could in my invisibility. Slipping into the room beyond I sought out the masked villain. I spotted him immediately, rising wounded and dazed from the floor. I quickly cast my old standby, Dragon Image, hoping to finish him off quickly. Alas the impertinent fellow saw through my reptilian mirage straightaway--no mean feat for a chap with only one eye. Uhmri suddenly dove past me and slid along the floor towards him in a bold and clever maneuver which actually missed the ruffian quite entirely.
Behind me I could hear Kull and the thing of stone trading blows like titans. With only my old Color Spray still uncast I drew my dagger and moved to engage the masked one. But I was distracted by the clamor of enemy reinforcements crashing down the stairs to where Brute awaited them with death in his hands. Uhmri quickly leaped forward against the masked henchman and landed a perfect kick to his gentleman's bits. The blighter collapsed nicely. A scream down the hall told me that Brute had felled the first of the intruders on the staircase. Things seemed to be well in hand so I grabbed the stricken henchman and attempted some blunt interrogation. However he fought to break free and I slit his throat with my dagger. Blood sprayed everywhere. It was an unpleasant moment. I do so abhor physical violence. I checked the corpse for keys to the cells. He had some fascinatingly ornate keys in his pocket, but then I spotted a rather more ordinary set on a peg on the wall.
K then entered the prison vault and took in the scene. I suddenly felt rather ashamed of my blood-spattered appearance as I crouched over my fallen opponent, even though I knew she could not see my in my invisible state. Then to my horror and consternation, Uhmri bent down and drank of the blood of the desperado, smeared it all over himself, and tasted of the red heart blood.
Then the Lady and her henchmen arrived in force from upstairs. She attempted some spell, which the doughty Brute shrugged off, then set two of her minions on him. With a mighty roar he cut one of them down with his first blow. Kull finally brought the dark statute down, returning it to a motionless chunk of stone. The battle was fully on.
I took the cell keys from the peg and began freeing the prisoners. Uhmri, still covered in fresh scarlet blood, followed casually and began cordially shaking hands with each of the unfortunates as they emerged. One woman staggered out and collapsed on him, smeared in the same blood.
Kull suddenly roared in outrage. I glanced down the hallway and saw that a richly equipped man-at-arms had somehow gotten into the passage (later we surmised he'd used the laundry chute) and struck the massive odd-fellow from behind.
K cast some spell, I thought perhaps to discern the presence of any magic in the room. Then she warned the freed captives to stay in the room because of the danger raging in the main hall. And indeed the situation became even more dangerous. Another noble-looking fighting man emerged from the laundry room and assaulted Brute from the flank as he battled a swordsman on the stairs. Then Lady Miranda plied her fel talents again.
All of a suddenly the two odd-fellows began screaming like madmen. Fearing some witchery I stepped over and glanced down the hallway. Kull engaged the man-at-arms with gusto. But suddenly Brute came pelting down at me howling like a banshee. I dived aside and he ran by into the vault room shouting "the horror!". Having seen Brute face the fearsome chaos beasts by the lake like a lion I knew only a powerful enchantment could affect him thus.
As Brute dashed across the vault in seeming panic, Uhmri suddenly joined him and began running about screaming in mock fear. Once again I wondered what was affecting the fellow. Were his wolf pelts possessed of some strange spirit? Was the enchantment on Brute contagious? Kull, too, appeared possessed of some animus and wrath blazed from his face like a sun gone wild. Surrounded by three assailants now Kull wielded his sword with magnificent savagery.
Brute paused for a moment in his enchanted state and I quickly offered him my last bottle of wine. A major sacrifice to be sure, but the fellow needed something and it was all I had. Several large gulps revived him and he dashed back into the fray. Uhmri then grabbed the seemingly floating bottle. I hadn't meant him to partake of my final example of the vintner's craft but in his present odd state it might help restore him as well.
Brute rejoined the combat none too soon because his hulking battle-companion just then collapsed under a rain of blows. As Brute engaged the two men-at-arms and the common swordsman by the fallen Kull, K and I positioned ourselves behind him and began casting our arcane best. Uhmri simply hung about in the vault sipping from the bottle. I thought to myself that we really must find out what was behind his odd behavior.
K unleashed an impressive blast of arcane power at the witch and caused quite an injury. Then she cast some enchantment on one of the men-at-arms and caused him to stand staring off into space. The other two fighters then rushed towards K to prevent further injury to their fel mistress. The witch cast some hex on K but it dissipated immediately, perhaps due to the Light within our plucky priestess. Brute cut down one of the men-at-arms and intervened to protect Katherine. I stepped clear of the fray, took a deep breath, and performed a lovely casting of the old Color Spray on her witchyness. Take that you wench!
To my consternation it not only failed to affect the vain trollop but rebounded from her staff and rained blazing rainbow sparks around me in profusion. The sudden turn of events took me quite by surprise and I only narrowly avoided the intensely humiliating experience of being hoist on my own petard.
Behind me Brute felled the remaining man-at-arms and minion chap with typical efficiency. K rushed over and channeled the Light into the expiring Kull just in time. Temporarily out of arcane mana I crept up invisibly on the Lady at the end of the hall. Picking a moment I thrust with my bloody dagger! Alas, once again her hidden hexes turned aside my assault! And now she was well aware of my presence nearby.
Another of the witch's armed minions leapt forward and managed to wound our Brute. The witch dashed forward to take advantage of K's momentary focus on healing the prostrate Kull. Sprouting long claw-like nails she raked them cruelly across the young cleric's back. Angered by this assault Brute dealt a cruel wound of his own to his opponent, who staggered back to the wall and slid down to the floor gushing blood. Katherine ducked away from the Lady and poured more of the Light into Kull.
Glancing past this unfolding drama in the hallway I espied Uhmri beyond. The druid was still hanging about in the vault. He had apparently finished off the last of the vintage and was mingling with the recovering people around him. To my amazement he was alternately hugging and and fondling the male and female persons indiscriminately with happy abandon. They seemed no less amazed by the behavior than I.
Alone but undaunted the witch drew out a dagger with a blade of a strange greenish metal.