“A ring of spell storing?”
“That’s right,” said Theodora, holding up the ring they had found beneath the statue, “but that’s not even the best part.”
She waited for a minute while everyone stared at her.
“Don’t you want to know what the best par -”
“WHAT’S THE BEST PART?” demanded Milacent.
“The best part is the spell that’s on it: Breath of Life! Powerful healing that’ll even bring back the dead, if you cast it soon enough! And because it’s on this ring anyone can cast it!”
“Then I’ll take it,” said Scratchy, “since when I’m on Fleabait I can move the fastest.”
That was a good point, so Theodora handed him the ring. “Now if you’ll excuse me,” she continued, “I have some spells to transcribe.”
Everyone let her go, then got back to tending to their various wounds and patching up equipment. It had been a rough day, and they were glad for Casamir’s healing and the safety of the lighthouse. When night came, they ate a simple meal and went to bed.
For Theodora, however, the night was less than restful. She opened her eyes to find herself in a large hallway. The walls were smooth and gray, and a soft white light seemed to shine from every direction. Looking up and down the hall, she saw no doors, and no end on either side.
“I’m in a dream,” Theodora realized, and began to walk forward. There was a light mist throughout the hall, but it seemed to part at her approach. Presently she noticed a form appearing in the mist ahead of her. Approaching closer, she saw it was a tall, thin man sitting on a throne. No, not a man. He was wrapped in bandages, and on his head sat a golden crown. This was a mummy; or worse yet, a lich.
“Who are you?” the creature asked, leaning forward. “You wear the face of Sorshen, but you are no runelord.”
Many priests, in this situation, would have responded with caution and humility, but Theodora was just not in the mood. “I’m not a runelord now, but I’m going to be!” she responded.
The creature took what passed for a breath, then leaned back. “Tell me then, you who would be a runelord, what became of Thassilon after the end of the world?”
“It was destroyed. The land is known as Varisia now.”
“I see. What became of my temple of Groetus after the end of the world?”
“Uh, a monastery was built above it?”
“Has the world recovered from the apocalypse that destroyed Thassilon?”
“Yes, yes it has.”
“Is my lord Groetus still worshipped in this day?”
That seemed to please the creature. “What do you know of the elf Ardathanatus and his plans for the Doomsday Door?” it continued.
“Um, nothing, really.”
“What are your plans for the Doomsday Door, should you defeat Ardathanatus?”
“I will take it for myself and rule!”
At this it seemed to stiffen. Then it asked its final question: “Do you accept the inevitable?”
In a set of odd questions, that was the oddest. “No?” Theodora replied.
“I see,” the creature said, “I will think on this.” And with that it faded into the mists.
When Theodora awoke the next morning she told everyone about her dream, and then she went to Casamir to ask him something that had been bothering her.
“The Doomsday Door?” he replied, “According to the Groetan priests, there are many of them scattered throughout the world. The prophecy is that they’ll all open at the end of days, but it’s never been clear whether the world ends first and then they open, or if they open first and end the world.”
“The prophecy mentions ‘Doomsday Doors’: plural. But he said ‘the’ Doomsday Door. He was referring to a specific one.”
“Well, the temple below was dedicated to Groetus, so it’s possible there’s one down at the bottom.”
This was interesting news, but whether it had anything to do with Ardathanatus or the shard, no one could say.
Meanwhile, everyone else was getting ready to go back down below. Theodora made sure to prepare an Align Weapon spell, just in case they needed to strike something with a lawfully-aligned weapon. “You know, like these qlippoths we keep meeting.”
“Ha. What are the chances of that happening?” Helanda intoned sarcastically. Barely thirty minutes later, she was hacking away at another qlippoth.
“Don’t look at its eyes!” she shouted, “it’s trying to ensorcell us!”
Everyone managed to look away in time, except for Fleabait, who suddenly stopped moving and stood entranced by the creature’s shimmering eyes. Milacent, meanwhile, stepped forward to slash at a qlippoth with her spine flail. As she did a long, slimy tentacle reached out and wrapped around her, attempting to crush her before she could do any more damage.
“Here, free yourself!” Scratchy shouted, and he cast his Liberating Command spell on her. In an instant, she wriggled free of her bonds and struck hard at the very surprised qlippoth. A minute later, the battle was done.
There had been two qlippoths this time, egg-shaped things with four tentacles and a gaping maw between their eyes. They were apparently specialists in mind control, for when the party had met them they were compelling four werebears to fight each other. Those werebears had been turned against the party, but now three of them were down while the fourth was curled up in a corner muttering to himself, “I won’t fight, I won’t fight, I won’t fight …”
Theodora noticed that the other werebears were badly injured, but not quite dead. With a call to Nethys, she pulled them back from the brink of death, then went to comfort their friend. After some reassurance, she got their story from them: they had been working for the abbey when Ardathanatus and his minions had attacked, and quickly fallen under the influence of the qlippoths. They had spent the time since then being used as extra guards, but mostly being forced to fight each other for the qlippoths’ amusement. Theodora expressed her sympathy, then sent them upstairs to join Casamir and Koriah Azmeren.
“We don’t want them to come along with us?” Helanda asked once they were gone.
“They’re too weak, they’ll just die,” Theodora answered, “You saw how easily we defeated them.” There was no arguing with that.
Scratchy, in the meantime, had gone to scout out ahead. “There’s some kind of spigot in the wall,” he reported back, “but something’s fishy about it.”
Theodora went to scan it, and it did indeed possess a strong aura of conjuration magic. She recommended leaving it for now, and the party formed a single file line to pass through the hallway, sticking to the wall opposite the spigot. The ettin, however, was not one for disciplined marching, and strayed a little too far away from the wall than he should have.
Theodora saw him moving out of line and began to say something, but it was too late. There was a loud popping sound, and the spigot flew out of the wall, striking the ettin in the torso. It was followed by a jet of water that pushed him back against the wall. He was just recovering from the shock when yet another alarming development took place: the water that had spilled onto the floor was moving. Not outward, like a growing pool, but inward. It shaped itself into a pillar, growing taller as more and more water shot out from where the spigot had been. Within seconds, the pillar grew rudimentary arms and legs, the basics of a humanoid shape, and everybody prepared themselves to do battle with a water elemental.
Theodora, however, had a better idea. Even as the creature was forming, she was preparing her spell. She finished it just as the elemental started lashing out with its watery fists, and as suddenly as it began, the fight ended. The elemental pulled away from the ettin that it had been pounding, and assumed a docile stance in the middle of the hallway.
Milacent shot a quizzical look at Theodora.
“Charm Monster,” she announced. “Now we have a water elemental to help us out, or at least until the spell that summoned it runs out.”
“And that will be …?”
“Depends on who cast it, but usually not more than a minute or two. If we want it to take part in our next fight, we should hurry.”
Scratchy wasn’t keen on hurrying, but it would be nice to have the elemental helping out in their next fight, he conceded. He headed off down the hall, only to find it blocked by a door, this one secured with the same skull-shaped lock that had they had encountered upstairs.
“I wonder if the same key will work,” Theodora mused.
It did. They opened the door just in time for the elemental to lose its form and come splashing to the ground.
“Well, that didn’t last long,” Milacent observed.
Theodora just nodded. She didn’t tell anyone that summoned elementals usually don’t stay very long, and that one had stayed roughly a minute and a half, indicating a caster of significant power.
While Theodora worried about who they were going to face, the rest of the party surveyed the room they had just entered. It was a square room, with exits in all four of the sides. In each corner was a brazier glowing with magical flame, and on the walls were elaborate frescoes of a crowd of people waiting in line to speak to a blindfolded old man standing twice as tall as everyone else. From his mouth, strips of parchments scribbled with words erupted, flying up to the sky and all over the landscape.
The writing was in Thassilonian, but when Milacent read them they made no sense. She looked to Theodora for help.
“Um, they’re prophecies, about … stuff?” Theodora replied, embarrassed. If there was one thing you could rely on with prophecies, it was that they were never straighforward.
Zelcor, on the other hand, noticed something else. “Where did all these boulders come from?” he asked.
He was talking about a number of small boulders strewn across the floor. There had been boulders in other parts of the complex, certainly, but they’d mostly been parts of walls that had been damaged in the fighting. This room, however, showed no damage.
Scratchy shrugged. These were mysteries, to be sure, but neither seemed particularly relevant to the task of infiltrating this place and taking the treasure. He decided to check out one of the tunnels leading out of the room, and set off into the one to the north. He traveled about sixty feet before coming to another room, shaped similarly to the one with the braziers, but instead of frescoes on the walls this one had a mural depicting the interior of a ruined cathedral. And like the other one, it too was strewn with boulders.
Scratchy didn’t know what to make of the boulders, but he figured they’d be good to hide behind as he worked his way through the room. He stepped inside, and was momentarily struck with an impression of stepping into a place of great glory long abandoned. The impression made him feel a crushing sadness, culminating in nausea.
Quickly, Scratchy backed away. He had been around enough magic to know that sudden strange feelings were a sign of danger. As he did, one of the boulders he had been hiding behind began to move. Scratchy tried to get away, but the nausea was slowing him down, and the thing caught up to him easily. It was skittering across the ground on six stumpy legs, like a strange alien crab, and once it was close its dozen or so stalked eyes unfolded from its body, followed by four misshapen arms. Once was a humanoid arm, clutching a scimitar. Another was a mantislike claw with a sharp, jagged edge. The third was a needle-covered tentacle, and the last was a large, solid pincer. It was this last arm that reached out toward and caught Scratchy in a vise-like grip. Scratchy saw the other three arms preparing to strike, and thanked the goblin gods that he had prepared the Liberating Command spell for exactly this situation.
Then he remembered that he had already used the spell that day, fighting the other qlippoths.
The rest of the party, watching from behind, saw the arms come down and the bright red gouts of goblin blood spraying across the hallway. Scratchy wasn’t dead, but it didn’t look very good. Zelcor cast a Grease spell on him, hoping it would make him slippery enough to slide out of the creature’s grasp. Milacent and Helanda moved forward to help, and Theodora was about to send her charmed hill giant and ettin as well when she saw something moving out of the corner of her eye.
It was a boulder, moving on six stubby legs, coming down another hallway.
“There’s a second one!” she shouted to everyone, but as they turned to look at it they saw it unfold its various arms and legs into a horrific display of the kind they had seen before – from qlippoths.
Everyone that saw it recoiled. Zelcor and Theodora recognized the effects of a Confusion effect, and then watched in horror as the ettin and hill giant began swinging their weapons at party members. Even Fleabait was affected, bashing his head against the floor instead of rushing to help his master.
Zelcor was unaffected, and quickly set about trying to save the situation. He waved his arms, and brought up an invisible wall of force between the second creature and the party. That would at least save them from having to fight two at once. Theodora, in the meantime, was throwing out her healing channels. With any luck, the Confusion effect would be short-lived, and her healing would negate whatever damage the party did to each other.
Milacent was aware of the mess behind her as she rushed toward Scratchy, but had no time to help. Her brother would be dead soon if he didn’t get away, and she had to make sure that happened. She got to where they were and began striking with all her might, noting with dismay the way her flail glanced off the creature’s stony hide.
Zelcor was turning back to Scratchy when he heard the crackling sound of a Dimension Door spell. “No,” he thought, “It couldn’t be.” But it was. The second creature had bypassed the wall of force and was now standing beside him. He raised his hands to protect himself from the blows he was about to take when he saw the massive form of the ettin slamming into the thing. The confusion spell had worn off! It was a short-term effect after all! His happiness was tempered when the creature’s four arms tore into the ettin. Still wounded from the water elemental trap, he collapsed to the ground, stone dead.
Theodora was desperately trying to keep the same thing from happening to Scratchy. First she cast the align weapon spell on Milacent’s flail. If these things were indeed qlippoths, then only a lawfully aligned weapon would be able to hurt them significantly. The spell would help, but it was doubtful that even Milacent would be able to kill the qlippoth before Scratchy was crushed to death. And the thing was doing too much damage for a ranged heal to make a difference. To save Scratchy’s life, Theodora would have to get up close and touch him, which also brought her within range of the creature’s melee attacks. Realizing the stakes, she took a deep breath, stepped forward, and healed Scratchy.
The goblin took another round of stabbing and slicing attacks, but thanks to Theodora’s healing was able to survive. He made another desperate push against the thing’s pincers, and thanks to the grease that covered his body was finally able to break free. Fleabait, no longer under the effects of the Confusion spell, rushed to his side, and Scratchy jumped on his back and rode clear of the qlippoth.
Unfortunately, his leaving left Theodora as the person closest to the monster, and it quickly grabbed her in its pincer and began to stab at her with its other arms. As she cried out in pain Milacent slashed down with her now lawfully-aligned flail, and to her relief it bit into the creature’s rock-hard skin as easily as it would human flesh. If she hadn’t been experiencing blinding pain, Theodora would have been happy to see she was right about thinking these things were qlippoths.
Zelcor, meanwhile, was running toward them, away from the other qlippoth. Helanda and the hill giant were there to hold it off, but if it was as tough as the first then there was strong reason to believe one or both of them would not survive. Zelcor had already tried to restrain the creature with a Black Tentacles spell, but it had passed through them with less difficulty than walking through a curtain.
Scratchy saw all this, and realized that the only thing that was really working against the qlippoths was Milacent slashing at them with her lawfully-aligned flail. Still, as effective as was, she was only one person. Then he saw the black triangle of the Shard of Greed hanging from her belt, and he had an idea. Steeling himself, he spurred Fleabait on, shooting past the qlippoth killing Theodora to reach Milacent. As he passed her, he reached out and grabbed the shard, then focused on its special ability: granting extra speed to the rest of the party. Milacent was just beginning to protest him grabbing her shard when he realized what he was doing, then turned back to the qlippoth and attacked it twice as fast, thanks to the shard.
Milacent was right on the verge of killing the thing when everyone heard a loud crack. It wasn’t a spell, it wasn’t a trap: it was the shattering of Theodora’s spine. The priestess went limp in the qlippoth’s pincer arm as her life drained out of her body. Luckily, Scratchy had one more trick up his sleeve: the Breath of Life spell in the ring of spell storing. He rode up to Theodora and restored her to life just as Milacent was ending the life of the qlippoth that held her.
Now everyone turned to face the remaining qlippoth. As Milacent approached it tried to cast a spell on her, but the Seducer’s Bane protected her, and she advanced unaffected. With a swing of the spine flail she knocked it to the ground, six legs notwithstanding, and proceeded to slash it to death. Soon, it was no more.
Theodora sat up, somewhat the worse for wear but still alive, and told everyone what she had learned from being so close to one of their assailants.
“More qlippoths,” she said, “these are called gongorinans.”
“Where are they from?” demanded Milacent, “And why do we keep meeting them?”
“They’re from the Abyss,” Theodora responded, “but they’re rare even there.”
“And the answer to my second question?”
“I have no idea why there are so many of them here, just that they hurt.”
And with that everyone felt a little more uneasy about the days ahead.