The party now had free rein to loot the museum, and loot they did, finding more magical items on the reverse side of the dais.
“This is a wand of sepia snake sigil,” Theodora announced, “for guarding written works. And this is a rod of the viper. Definitely a snake theme going on here.”
“Probably something historical,” Scratchy said dismissively, “Let’s check out what’s behind this door.”
The door he was interested in was a double door in the northern wall of the room with the dais. It led to a short hallway, and then another set of doors. The party opened these to find what were presumably also exhibits, but these of a more biological nature. “Let’s not touch anything,” Helanda advised unnecessarily.
The room they were viewing had a vaulted ceiling sixty feet high, and was lined with alcoves occupied by the same faceless statues of winged women with silvery swords. The interesting part, however, was the center of the room, where four glass jars sat capped with huge metal lids. Ten feet wide and fifteen feet tall, they were each filled with a cloudy green liquid, concealing shadowy shapes that floated within.
“Not touching anything,” Scratchy concurred, and crept through the room to the doors on the opposite side. “No traps here,” he reported.
“Don’t open it,” Theodora answered, “it’s radiating evocation magic – there’s some kind of trap.” She looked up at Scratchy. “Can you disarm magical traps?”
Scratchy shook his head no. A quick look around the party resulted in similar denials.
“Wait a minute,” Zelcor piped up, “A magical trap is basically just a magical item, right? I can dispel the magic on it and we can just walk right through.”
“A permanent magical item,” Theodora corrected him, “Dispel Magic doesn’t disable it forever, just suppresses the effect for a few seconds.”
“So we walk through it while the effect is suppressed.”
“And if the suppression ends while we’re walking through? You know the duration is unpredictable.”
“The trap is only triggered when the door opens, right? Once it’s already open it won’t matter if the suppression wears off, because the activation only occurs when there’s a change in state …”
Helanda and Milacent listened to the conversation with increasing annoyance as the terminology became more and more arcane. They finally breathed a sigh of relief when Theodora and Zelcor announced in unison, “We’re going to open the door!”
And open it they did. The double doors swung open to reveal another large chamber, this one with a cascade of water falling out of a hole in the ceiling into a large pool below.
Theodora got close enough to scan it for magic, and found the whole area radiated conjuration magic, the kind you use when summoning creatures from the elemental plane of water, for example. “Everybody get through the door before the suppression on the trap wears off,” she commanded.
Everyone started to move, but it turned out Zelcor was wrong: the suppression wore off too quickly, and the trap was indeed still triggered by the doors being open. There was a tremendous peal of sound, and several very bad things began to happen at once. First, everyone in the room with the jars felt the pain of the noise reverberating in their eardrums. Second, all four of the jars shattered simultaneously, spilling their noxious contents all over the floor. Amidst the foul-smelling liquid, the shapes within were revealed to be creatures, magically preserved. One was an eight-legged badger-like creature, one was a large but very dead spider, one was a creature that resembled a large stalagmite with tentacles and a single central eye, and the last was nothing less than a small silver dragon.
Scratchy watched the scene with interest from the room with the waterfall, but was soon distracted by the final thing that happened: twin pillars of water rising out of the pool, the telltale sign of water elementals being summoned. “Wall of Force!” he shouted at Zelcor, “Don’t fight them all at once!” and with that he climbed to the ceiling, where he hoped the water elementals would be unable to reach him.
Zelcor heard him and threw up the requested Wall of Force separating the party from all the monsters except the dragon. Silver dragons were usually good, he reasoned, and if this one could be persuaded to join them it could be a useful ally.
A quick glance at the other creatures cast doubt on the plan. They were thrashing around in the liquid, clearly confused. If the dragon was confused as well, it would likely lash out against whoever was near …
A blast of freezing breath from the dragon’s mouth made the situation clear. Milacent recoiled, then with a grimace lashed out at the dragon, hitting it with the flat of her blade so as to subdue instead of kill it. It was hostile now, but maybe it could be calmed down and talked to later?
Scratchy saw none of this, fleeing as he was from the elementals. He needed to use his hands to crawl along the ceiling, so he couldn’t use his bow, but at least he was out of the elementals’ reach, as expected. They raged and howled below him, crashing against the pillars that held the ceiling up, but as long as he kept moving he figured he was safe. The room turned out to contain much more than the pool he had originally seen; down some steps to the south was an area with two globes of water floating in the air, much like the fireball they had been suspended in the air earlier. Scratchy got a little too close to one and felt a sudden sensation of being deep underwater. He got away from it quickly; this was no time to experience one of this place’s hallucinations.
Back with the dragon, Milacent, Helanda, and Togbad had just about finished beating it into submission. As soon as they had landed their final blows, the thing dissolved into foul-smelling ooze. Theodora had been occupying herself firing magical spells over the Wall of Force to kill the other creatures, but she took a moment to glance over at the rapidly disintegrating corpse. Something strange there, she thought, but she couldn’t put her finger on exactly what.
With the dragon down, Zelcor dismissed his Wall of Force to allow the fighters to finish off the other creatures. The eight-legged thing Theodora had identified as an auromvorax, and the other was a roper, a predator that lurked in caves. Both were killed, but not before the roper shot its long tentacles out at Milacent, draining her strength. Theodora promised to restore her vigor just as soon as they finished off the water elementals. With the entire party attacking, that was soon done as well.
“I told you the trap would trigger when the doors were already open, not just when they were being opened!” Theodora yelled at Zelcor when she was done healing.
“It would have worked fine if the suppression effect had just lasted a little longer. The probability of success was easily 75 perc …”
Milacent cut them off, “Stop talking and let’s just get to the next door.”
And so they did. The area they were in was no longer part of the exhibit rooms, but there was no shortage of strangeness nonetheless. The hall with the water globes had a detailed bas-relief along one wall, depicting a great city of pyramids and graceful towers, and deep beneath the city an underground sea filled with tentacled monsters, many of them reaching up to manipulate the city’s inhabitants. There was also a door, and beyond it a room with an altar that everyone agreed was best stayed away from. Beyond that room they found a skeleton laden with spellbooks and magic items, which was scrupulously looted.
And the strangeness continued. The next room had a mural: a detailed portrait of a mansion’s facade, filling one full wall of an octagonal chamber. The doors were life-size, but that was it; the rest of the picture grew increasingly distorted as it moved to the edges of the room.
But the mural paled in strangeness compared to the image in the next room. The west wall contained what appeared to be a ten-foot-wide window overlooking an idyllic field with snow-capped mountains in the distance. Scratchy, scouting ahead, saw it first and called Theodora and Zelcor up to help him figure out what was going on.
“We’re deep underground, aren’t we?” Scratchy inquired.
“Yes, and that’s definitely an illusion,” Theodora answered. Illusion or not, it was a good one, for they could even feel a cool breeze wafting in through the window.
“Let me push it,” Zelcor said, and with that he conjured a Mage Hand to apply some force to the image. As the magical hand approached, however, the image began to shift. The scene shifted from an idyllic noon-time hillside to a nightmare vista of cracked and desolate ground lit only by the yellow light of a bloated moon. In the medium distance a troop of pallid froglike monsters led a line of chained not-quite-human prisoners to some horrible fate. The mountain range was still there, its now-jagged peaks cutting the horizon, and beyond them, impossibly huge, was the head of an immense jackal-headed leviathan.
“What’s up there?” Helanda called out, but Theodora told her to stay back while she, Scratchy and Zelcor figured out what to make of this new development. While they were doing so, however, the jackal-headed titan turned its head to stare back at them.
Helanda, Milacent, and Togbad heard screams and rushed to where the others were. They found Scratchy and Theodora lying on the ground, drooling and shouting gibberish. Zelcor was standing over them, trying to hold them down.
“It’s a Feeblemind effect!” he told the others, “their brains have been scrambled!”
“Can they be healed?” Milacent demanded, panic creeping into her voice.
“Well, with a good enough healer …” and he turned to look down at the party’s healer, currently unable to say her own name, much less cast a spell. “I’ll have to teleport them back to Magnimar,” he said, “The Pathfinder Society should be able to get us in touch with someone who can help.” He held onto both of them, and uttered the words of the Teleport spell.
“Well?” asked Helanda, “When are you going to cast the spell?”
Zelcor looked around. The spell had failed, and it was slowly dawning on him that the Mage’s Private Sanctum effect that they had crossed into earlier was not just a single effect, but part of a whole suite of protections to keep people from penetrating this complex, including by teleportation.
“There’s a dimensional lock on this area,” Zelcor told the others, “we’ll have to go back to the library, fly out and teleport from there.”
Milacent looked up at the image in the wall. It was once again a picture window looking out over an idyllic grassy landscape. A cool breeze washed over her, but something about it made her blood run cold.
“Yes,” she said, “let’s get out of this place. At least for a little while.”