That night, Illyria tries again to contact her lord. She reaches out with her mind – and finds herself in a room, where a dark-haired, sharply dressed man is sitting. He greets her with his usual devilish charm.
He informs her that Hell has indeed been destroyed, but that she carries a little part of the power of Hell within her. She asks him whether destroying his enemies who are advancing on Theria will elevate her in his sight – he tells her she will become the highest of all his servants, which delights her most intensely. Unfortunately, he is rather more non-committal on the matter of whether the Vizier can be trusted.
Meanwhile, in the Feywild, Sal’s patience is rewarded by an audience with the Summer King. Jack is mysteriously also present for this briefing, in which the Summer King explains that Theria must fall. That event will cause the people of Arnest to lose faith in the power of the One and turn back to the worship of the Fey, allowing them to become the dominant power. The meeting ends, and Sal and Jack are returned to join the rest of the party in Hommlet.
The next morning there is the by now customary breakfast planning meeting in the Welcome Wench. Jack and Sal betray no hint of their meeting in the Feywild, and Illyria is positively glowing with private satisfaction, but Mortimer is troubled. His conversation yesterday with Jack, who is by now an old friend, shook him and now he does not know who he can trust. Jack apologises, and explains that he too is a servant of Asmodeus, that he has been acting a bit funny because he is so flustered by Illyria’s beauty, and that he has got to know Asmodeus through spending so much time hanging around in the Grey Wastes, which is Asmodeus’s place.
This last point seems a bit off to Mortimer and Illyria, who go off to the bar for a private discussion. They are sure that Jack is not what he seems, but decide they need more information. Returning to the group, Mortimer announces that he has decided he does not know who he can trust, and that the only way to set his mind at rest would be by reading the minds of his companions.
Illyria is happy to volunteer. Mortimer reaches into her mind, questioning her motives, and finds that she is indeed working on the instruction of Asmodeus to help defend Theria. (He also finds a lot of rather graphic and imaginative imagery involving Illyria and her Lord, but that kind of thing holds no interest for him.) As he goes round the group, everyone seems to be honest, Sal painfully so, giving him a glance into a painful childhood. Even Jack appears to be absolutely telling the truth. It’s almost uncanny just how truthful Mortimer’s mind reading reveals him to be. Sadly, Mortimer stops due to limited spell casting power before he can get round to Lobash. Mindful of Jack’s earlier words of flattery, Illyria asks if he will give her a lock of his hair – when he demurs, she gives him a massive snog, during which she takes the opportunity to cut herself a lock of his hair in any case.
None of these shenanigans are getting them any nearer to a plan to attack the enemy. The merits and limitations of continuing to whittle the enemy down through meteor strikes, as opposed to striking at the enemy leadership, are debated at length. In the midst of this discussion, some magic detection shows that someone is scrying the group. This is quickly dispelled, but it causes some worry.
Eventually, a plan is agreed. The party have previously seen an ancient red dragon flying above the horde, and the last time they attacked it seemed to take an interest. So this time the party will attack as before, bit this time wait around for the dragon to show up, and kill the dragon.This will hopefully be a significant blow to the enemy’s strength. Assuming, of course, the dragon doesn’t kill them.
At this point Jack notices another scrying point, which is again dispelled. The party decide to press on with their plan. Illyria’s scrying of the horde indicates some burning farmhouses nearby, with some hobgoblins doing some looting and whatever else it is that hobgoblins do. The party take their usual shortcut through the Grey Wastes, taking care to emerge some distance from the hobgoblins to avoid distractions, and Mortimer once again summons meteors from the sky to pummel the enemy.
After the previous attacks, the horde has now been spread out about as much as it can while maintaining unit cohesion, so Mortimer’s assault only kills about 200 hobgoblins, plus three manticores. (One manticore just manages to escape with a burning tail, flying off in some considerable distress.) Then the party spread out and wait, dispersing themselves so that the dragon’s fiery breath can’t get them all at once, and taking cover behind rocks where they can.
Soon enough, the dragon appears, flying towards them, flanked by four sphinxes. Illyria pushes back at the dragon with eldritch blasts, which slow but do not stop its advance, and her reward is to be the first target of its flame breath when it does manage to get into range. Meanwhile the sphinxes swoop down, emanating blood-curdling wails that completely spook Jack, who elects to remain hiding behind a large rock.
Illyria manages to banish one of the sphinxes, but the other three land and the melee ensues. Tuakiin’s magical blinking in and out of existence manages to frustrate both their blows and their terrifying howls, but it is a bloody battle nonetheless. The dragon swoops down at Illyria, despite Mortimer’s lightning bolt, and she catches it with her glaive and pulls it down to earth – as if the sphinx wasn’t enough to deal with. Sal and Lubash sprint towards the battle from their more distant positions, defying the terrors of the dragon and the sphinxes.
For a while Illyria is facing the dragon and a sphinx pretty much alone. Her vicious glaive and retaliatory fire blasts against the sphinx prove effective, and hurling the dragon through a nightmare dimension for a few seconds is certainly helpful, but it is when Tuakiin manages to smite the other sphinxes to oblivion and attack the dragon, followed by Lubash and Sal, that the tide begins to turn.
Lubash attempts to grapple the dragon, but this is a larger and uglier beast than the black dragon he wrestled out of the air over Rhest, and it is all he can do to pin its wing. This is enough for Sal, who subjects the dragon to a flurry of powerful blows. Eventually the dragon pulls free of Lubash’s grasp and takes to the air, severely wounded and apparently in retreat, but before it can get far Illyria blasts it into pink mist, which sprays everywhere, closely followed by small fragments of dragon raining to the ground. The remaining sphinx, wounded and suddenly very alone, flies off. Lubash manages to find one of the dragon’s teeth on the ground, to add to his collection.
Bloody but alive, the party teleports back to Hommlet.
The last sphinx reappears from its banishment, to find itself flying above deserted and very gory ground.
Azarr Khul emerges from his tent. A sphinx is there to see him. It looks the worse for wear. “They killed us,” it says, “They killed us all.” Azarr Khul’s jaws expand, his neck grows, his arms stretch out into wings, and he transforms into the largest golden dragon anyone has ever seen. His transformation complete, he chomps the sphinx up in a single gulp. Returning to human form, he announces that it is time for a change of plan.