Almost forgot to put one of these up. I wanted to give people a good look at Lacarsis, which I guess can be seen as a spoiler. This was also my best chance to introduce Princess Cyrena. Meant to pick a scene with more action, but I think I want to save those for when the book is out. Less than a week for that.
With a high-pitched screech, the drawbridge stirs to life and begins to lower towards the crowd. Those in the back are the first to realize that people have gathered too close to the entrance and try to move away. The retreat quickly becomes a chaotic rush to escape the falling hand, its claws stretching towards the earth. Thousands of laughing voices rise from Lacarsis when the drawbridge slams down on fifteen people whose limbs can be seen sticking out from beneath the fingers. The shadow seeps beneath the walkway and claims the dead, who drift into view and gradually sink into the darkness. A handful of the survivors continue walking towards the hills, their armor and weapons getting cast aside to create a trail. The rest show a mixture of brave defiance and uneasy determination as they march across the drawbridge and go under the archway, which is topped with metal spikes that resemble teeth.
To their surprise the entrance does not close when the last adventurer passes through, but two lines of torches erupt along the cobblestone street. The fog dissipates to reveal homes that are no different than those of other cities. Monsters of all kinds can be seen peering at the adventurers from the windows, their eyes filled with curiosity instead of fear. Tall arches appear in the distance, each one topped with a large nest for the flying creatures and act as a home to others that hang like bats. The ground shakes as a giant comes close enough to loom over the buildings and takes a moment to examine the intruders. Snorting and yawning, the intimidating beast turns away and goes back to carrying a collection of fully grown trees to a nearby courtyard. It is not until the crowd walks another block before they realize that Lacarsis is much bigger than it looked from the outside, the castle appearing to be at least ten miles away from the entrance.
Unable to wait any longer, a knight charges a nearby creature that is nothing more than a floating head. The instant he steps between two of the tall torches, he is engulfed in flames and snared in a paralysis spell. Unable to move or scream, the warrior burns silently until he is nothing more than ashes trickling out of his charred armor. No sooner has his platemail fallen to the ground than a phantom rises at the front of the group and beckons for them to follow. The translucent creature is two-stories tall and moves with long strides that threaten to leave the adventurers behind. More of the monstrous citizens emerge, the barrier and the gangly escort making them feel safe in the face of their enemies. They still keep their distance and start to gather more on the rooftops than the street, but none of them make a move to attack. It is only when the procession reaches a circular courtyard that the creatures begin talking in low growls and the phantom splits into long pieces. Each one coils into a circle that floats above the buildings and remains with an oily sheen spreading across their faces.
The citizens abruptly fall to one knee and bow their heads as one of the flying figures dives towards the adventurers. Landing on top of a grotesque statue that is at the far end of the courtyard, the beautiful woman spreads her arms to the applause of her audience. The limbs are long since they are attached to feathery wings that span eighteen feet and end in manicured hands. Her rough blonde hair cascades down to her hips, which look angular beneath her long dress of satin and velvet. Her wide feet are exposed to reveal that they are bird-like with sharp talons that leave gouges in her stone perch. The more experienced adventurers in the crowd whisper about her being a harpy, but they admit that she looks a bit too human to be one of the infamous predators. Unleashing a screech that signals the dropping of the drawbridge, the woman gains silence from the adventurers and brings in her arms to wrap herself in her warm feathers.
“The Shadow Earl has sent me, Princess Cyrena, to welcome all of you to Lacarsis,” the harpy declares in a warbling voice. With a blast of flame, the torches around the courtyard explode to create a wall that traps the adventurers. “Just a precaution because none of you have earned the right to wander our city. We need to weed out the weak and foolish in order to have our real fun. You’ll learn about that soon enough, but first I want to thank everyone for being patient. Your predecessors lasted longer than expected, so this week’s entry has been delayed. I assure you that nobody has claimed the Shadow Earl’s head, which means glory can still be yours. For those who want riches, our treasure room is bigger than ever thanks to the generosity of the dead. Now, I can see that some of you are fairly imposing with your shiny armor, pointy swords, and adorable spells. Just know that the challenge of Lacarsis is like nothing you have experienced or imagined. After centuries of being forced to live on the outskirts of society, we wish to assume our place as the center for monster kind. All of you will help us build our reputation as a place of death and misery instead of being vaguely evil. Good luck to all of you and the Shadow Earl will greet those who survive the first round. Let this week’s challenge begin!”
Cyrena grips the statue with her talons and leans to her right, which many of the adventurers imitate. She smiles as she spreads her wings and delivers on strong flap that sends a billowing gale into the crowd. A clunk echoes as her perch abruptly tilts and she begins to pull it from the ground. After a few seconds, the base of the statue is extracted enough to reveal a hideous face with horns and a long tongue. Once the image’s chin is clear of the cobblestones, the courtyard swings open and the adventurers plummet into the swirling darkness below.