The women in the red-trimmed armor were certainly a mystery, but by the time the party was rested and healed, Scratchy had other things on his mind. “Why didn’t we open that sarcophagus again?” he asked.
“You mean the ornate white marble one radiating powerful necromantic magic?” Theodore replied, “probably because we didn’t want to face whatever horrible undead monstrosity was hiding in it.”
“Yeah, but we have a priest with us. And besides, aren’t we searching for something? The shard could be in there!”
“I seriously doubt it’s right at the entrance to the complex. That’s almost certainly a guardian of some sort.”
“Are we sure? In a fancy tomb like that? That’s where you hide things!”
“You just want more treasure,” accused Milacent.
“Well, don’t you?”
It was hard to argue with that. Which is how the party soon found itself in the room they had descended into through the darkened pit shaft, standing around the sarcophagus they had previously avoided. “Okay,” said Theodore, “you guys push back the lid just enough that I can see inside. And if anything jumps out, you slam the lid shut.” Everyone else agreed and began straining around the 600-pound lid. Slowly, with an enormous grinding sound, it began to move. Theodore peered in and saw a prone humanoid shape. It wasn’t moving, but just to be safe he fired a ray of disrupt undead at it.
What happened next depended upon your point of view. Theodore saw the shape burst from its resting place, revealing itself to be a beautiful young woman in diaphanous robes. In an instant, she grew to enormous size, then reached down with her fist to crush him. Theodore felt terrible pain shooting through his body, and then his vision went black.
The other party members saw Theodore cast a spell, then collapse to the floor, unconscious.
When Theodore woke up he was lying on his back in some sort of stone container, looking up at its slightly-opened lid. He heard voices outside shouting, “It’s killed Theodore! Quick, close the lid!” As the lid above him began to move he realized to his horror what had happened.
Milacent, Scratchy, & Zelcor, meanwhile, were struggling to close the lid when they suddenly heard banging and shouting from inside. “Faster!” Scratchy shouted, “before it gets out!”
“No! Stop! Don’t close the lid!”
“It’s speaking! It’s intelligent undead! Close the lid before it gets another spell off!”
“No, stop! It’s me, Theodore!” came the last sound, just as the lid closed.
“Wait,” said Zelcor, “did it just say it was Theodore?”
“It’s a trick,” Scratchy replied over the muffled sound of banging.
“But, it could be. Stranger things have happened when magic is involved.”
The two of them looked to Milacent. “Let’s open it just a crack,” she said.
As soon as they did the voice cried out, “It’s me, Theodore! My mind’s been transferred to the body in here!”
“How do we know it’s really you?” demanded Scratchy.
There was a short pause before the voice replied, “I have treasure.”
That was good enough. The party pushed off the lid to reveal the same young woman that Theodore had just seen crush him. She was truly, astonishingly beautiful, but more important was the expensive-looking jewelry she was wearing. “How much is it worth?” shouted Scratchy, “Is there any more in there? Were you able to scan for magic items?”
“Give me a second,” said the now-female Theodore. He looked down at his old body, lying lifeless on the floor, and then at his new one. It was that of a human female, maybe in her late twenties, and exceptionally fit. She had long, straight, raven-black hair, falling past her shoulders over her clear, smooth skin. She had lithe, supple limbs, and as Theodore’s eyes traveled over his newfound body he … wait, what was Scratchy saying?
“…we still have the brown mold from the derro laboratory,” the goblin continued. “It keeps things cold, so we could put it into the sarcophagus with your body to keep it preserved until we find a way to switch you back.”
“Uh, yeah,” answered Theodore, adjusting his/her breasts, “You do that.”
“You do know of a way to switch yourself back, don’t you?” asked Milacent, “You don’t want to stay in that body forever.”
“Um, well, stuff happens,” answered Theodore. “In the meantime, call me Theodora!” and with that he/she started pulling equipment off his/her old body and putting it on his/her new one.
Theodore Theodora now commendably adjusted to her new circumstances, the party decided it was time to press forward. They returned to the room where they had fought the incubus and pushed open a set of double doors in the room’s south wall. As soon as they did, a wave of hot, humid air rushed over them. The room beyond was a large octagonal chamber made of polished white marble, and in its center, on a raised platform, a strange gray flame dancing in a firepit.
“Trap!” everyone said in unison. They looked around the rest of the room and saw a hallway leading out on the west side, and on the east a gray section of wall, with an unlit torch on a sconce in the center. Everyone agreed that they should try to light the torch with the gray flame, but no one was eager to step onto the platform with the flame.
“I have an idea,” said Zelcor. He had a spell, mage hand, which could move up to 5 pounds of weight. Did the torch weigh less than five pounds? He decided to give it a try. He cast the spell, reached out toward the torch, and sure enough, it lifted easily out of its sconce. Zelcor smiled to himself as he brought it to the flame, lit it, then moved it back to the sconce, without coming any closer than 30 feet.
When the lit torch re-settled in the sconce, there was a rumbling sound, and the gray section of wall pivoted open like a door. Beyond it was a flight of stairs going downward. Slowly, cautiously, the party descended the stairs, finding that they ended in a landing at the base of a huge mural. The mural showed a beautiful woman with arms outstretched, and at the bottom the words, “Prostrate thyself and demonstrate proper devotion, my sweet slave, if you wish to enter my domain,” written in Thassilonian.
Milacent took a look at the dark-haired woman in the picture, then the dark-haired woman standing beside her and exclaimed, “Theodore! That’s you!”
“It’s Theodora,” the confusing one answered. “and wow, I’m gorgeous!”
“Can we just focus on figuring this thing out?” asked Scratchy.
Theodora took a break from admiring herself and scanned the mural for traces of magic. It did indeed radiate strong conjuration magic, possibly indicative of a teleport spell. “If it’s going to teleport us away, we should explore the rest of this level first,” Scratchy said, “so we don’t miss out on any treasure.” And the rest of the party agreed.
Exploring the passage on the other side, they found a series of rooms that had apparently served as bedrooms, and were maintained by permanent magic. There were beds with soft, warm sheets, floral scents lingering in the air, and all at a perfect temperature, far different from the room with the gray flame. The doors all opened at the touch of bare skin, although one was caked with a sheen of frost. Opening this one caused a freezing sphere of cold to envelop everyone near it, and beyond it was nothing but a blank wall. “Stupid trap,” Scratchy complained, “They should at least have had the decency to put some treasure behind it.
At the end of the hallway with the bedrooms was a wall with the inscription “Thou wouldst enter? Then thou must touch!” etched onto it in Thassilonian. Theodora knew a magical entryway when she saw one; she placed her hand on the word “touch” and the wall slid open to reveal one more bedroom – but one very different from the others. Where the others had been pleasant, but simple, this one was an opulent chamber dominated by a single enormous bed sitting on a raised dais in its center. The white marble walls bore frescos of a woodland scene of satyrs and nymphs chasing each other, all beneath a twenty-foot domed ceiling inlaid with mother-of-pearl. Where the other rooms spoke of a well-furnished dormitory, this was an opulent bedchamber for the mistress of the complex. “Hey, I bet she had clothes here I can use!” Theodora exclaimed. She did indeed find clothes, though all of the most scandalously revealing design. Milacent held her palm to her face while Theodora tried them on.
When the impromptu fashion show was done, the party moved on. There was another set of doors on the other side of the bedroom, and here the party found an odd set of four rooms arrayed around a central point. The first featured four benches arrayed around a starburst mosaic in the center; the party left Fleabait here on guard while they checked out the other rooms. The second appeared to be an alchemical lab, with stone counters lining the walls and a work slab sitting in the center. Upon all the surfaces was a cluttered array of beakers, jars, tubes, and tools, many of them still containing strange mixtures of ancient origin. Figuring some of these might contain valuable potions, the party began taking them, until one concoction was jostled a little too much and exploded, destroying the rest of the laboratory. Theodora healed those who had been injured, but warned that between this explosion and the cold trap before, healing was beginning to run a little thin.
The third room had six stone platforms draped with white sheets arranged around its center, and their purpose became all too clear when the party found manacles attached to each. There was a magical textbook on a bookstand at the foot of one of the platforms, and Theodora was sure to take that.
Thus the party came to the fourth and final room of this strange formation. This room had a complex circular design painted on its floor in dozens of colors, and Theodora instantly recognized a summoning circle. Scratchy and Milacent advised leaving it alone, but on the other side of the circle Theodora saw a treasure far more valuable than jewelry: a large black book lying next to an overturned bookstand. “Wait here,” he said to the others, and began moving around the edge of the room, doing his best to stay clear of the circle in the center. He made his way to the other side, then saw he’d have to move in closer to the circle to get the book. Fortunately for him, it was still a good 2-3 feet outside the circle. That would be alright, wouldn’t it?
No, it wouldn’t.
As soon as Theodora got within 5 feet of the circle there was a blast of smoke, and a horrible wormlike creature appeared in the center. Fourteen feet long, its face was a hideous mash-up of eyes and hooked jaws, and in its twin tails it held a wand and a sword. As soon as it appeared the party went into action, Milacent stabbing at it like she had so many other creatures, but this time something was different. Scratchy let out a scream as he felt Milacent’s blade sink into his flesh. He wasn’t dead, but he needed healing badly.
“Confusion spell!” Theodora shouted, “spread out so you won’t attack each other!”
Zelcor resisted the confusion effect and got as far away as he could, but he could see the others wouldn’t be so lucky. There was a thin mist spreading outward from the creature confusing everyone it enveloped, and Zelcor knew that surviving the encounter would depend on the party killing this thing quickly, before its powers drove them mad. He let loose a swarm of magic missiles at the creature, and hoped it didn’t have magic resistance.
Meanwhile, things were not going so well for the rest of the group. Scratchy lashed out at Milacent, then had a moment of clarity which allowed him to back away from her far enough to make the creature the nearest thing to her. He was bleeding badly, but felt a bit of relief as he sensed Theodora’s healing magic wash over him. That sense of relief vanished quickly as he saw the sword in the creature’s tail stab at the healer, splashing her blood all over the chamber. Theodora staggered backward and tried to protect herself as best she could. She was nearly out of healing magic, but she was still alive. If only Milacent would attack the creature, they all might make it.
The warrior woman in question, however, was still in a daze. She had attacked something, certainly, but something was wrong. She tried to attack again, then felt a twinge of pain. Did something attack her? Did she hit herself? There was the flash of magic spells going off, so something was happening, but what? Then through the fog in her mind she heard a voice. It was Theodore’s voice, or Theodora’s, or whatever the fool wanted to call himself. It was yelling something at her, something she couldn’t make out, but suddenly she felt herself possessed by a surge of anger. Later she would realize it was the magical confusion acting on her, but at that moment all she knew was a burning desire to strike down that insufferable voice. She held up her ranseur, and jabbed it straight at the sound that was causing so much outrage.
And in the process, she stabbed the creature. Theodora had positioned herself so that the creature was between her and Milacent, so even in the throes of a confusion spell, Milacent would strike at what they wanted her to strike. As soon as the blade struck, Milacent saw what had happened. She renewed her assault on the creature, striking even through the haze of the confusion spell, and soon it was lying dead upon the ground.
Milacent knelt down and took a few deep breaths to recover from the fight. Looking around, she was glad to see everyone was still alive. She saw Theodora flipping through the black book and asked, “Is it worth it?”
“Knowledge is always worth it,” Theodora replied, “but now we need some rest. If you need me, I’ll be in my chambers.”
“YOU’RE NOT HER! THOSE AREN’T YOUR CHAMBERS!”