“But it’s soooo much better hand-to-hand.”
Milacent was objecting to the way the party had just finished off the chardas, boxing them in with Walls of Force, then using the Sihedron to rain ice storms upon them.
“There’s no reason to get that close,” Theodora countered, “not when we can destroy things from afar with magic, at no risk to ourselves.”
“Well that’s good for you, because you’re a coward, but I’m sick of not being able to kill things myself.”
Theodora was just about to object to the disparagement of her character when they all heard a voice in their heads. It was Scratchy, magically sending a message from where he was scouting up ahead. “Guys,” he said, “there are things in the water, and they’re following us.”
The water in question was a deep canal to the left of them, one of many such channels that had formed as the island had risen out of the sea. Whatever was in it was shadowing the party as they made their way to the black citadel at the island’s center.
“Ok Milacent, let me cast some … Ow! Hey!” Theodora didn’t finish her sentence as Milacent shoved her out of the way and strode purposefully toward the canal. Her approach was rewarded as three merfolk rose out of the water.
“Greetings, land dwellers,” they began, “are you responsible for the raising of this island?”
“No, we’re not!” Theodora shouted back from a safe distance, “are you?”
“Alas no,” the merfolk answered, “but we would discuss this with you. Come closer.” Milacent was already doing just that, and the rest of the party followed cautiously behind her. A few seconds later, a twisted smile stretched across the lead merman’s face. “Now you are ours!” he pronounced, and swirling, hypnotic patterns of colored light stretched out toward the party.
“You’ll have to do better than that,” Milacent muttered, and charged through the lights toward the merfolk. Helanda, back with Theodora and Zelcor, looked at them for approval that she soon realized she didn’t need, and began sprinting after Milacent. The other merfolk began to cast spells, but were interrupted by Scratchy’s arrows slamming into them. He had used the Sihedron’s power to turn himself invisible, and unlike normal invisibility, this form persisted even as he attacked. Thus everyone was treated to the sight of Fleabait rushing toward the merfolk as arrows appeared from thin air above him.
Theodora was close enough that she could cast one spell, Confusion, before Milacent got into melee range, and immediately two of the merfolk turned upon each other. The third looked upon its comrades with consternation, but soon had other things to worry about as Milacent plunged into the water, spine flail thrashing. She pulled the Nightgaunt mask down over her face so she wouldn’t have to breathe, and a Ring of Free Action they’d purchased for her meant she was totally unimpeded by the water. As she plunged into the water she saw that the forms of the merfolk above the surface were merely illusions; their actual bodies were directly below the images, directing them. The merman she was attacking recoiled from her approach, then its image shifted in the water to reveal its true form: a huge three-eyed creature with four tentacles that it used now to lash out at the terrible land creature now striking at it.
Helanda reached the edge of the water, but lacking the proper magical items was relegated to mostly watching the thrashing surface, hoping something would come close enough for her to stab. Theodora and Zelcor arrived shortly after, just in time to witness Milacent come wading ashore, dragging the corpse of the tentacle creature behind her. Theodora held down her disgust long enough to walk over and touch it.
“This … this is an aboleth!” she exclaimed, “They’re only supposed to exist in the deepest ocean! What are they doing here?” Then she had an idea. Another of the Sihedron’s abilities was unlimited Charm Monster spells, and she used them to take control of the remaining two aboleths, which had by now dropped their merman disguise. “What are you doing here?” she demanded of her new “friends.”
“We are here at the command of our mistress,” they answered, “Do you not do the same? Who is your mistress?”
Everyone pointed to Milacent, but Theodora had other things she wanted to know. “And where is your mistress?” she continued.
“She has gone into the palace of black crystal. To seek the dead king.”
Theodora leaned back and let out a low whistle. If there was a powerful aboleth inside the palace, that could greatly complicate their efforts to destroy the king once and for all. Further conversation confirmed what she had suspected: these creatures were merely guards, placed out here to keep others from entering the palace. Their mistress had gone in alone because they wouldn’t be of any use inside the palace, suggesting that their mistress was powerful indeed.
Theodora left them with instructions to continue their mission keeping watch outside the palace, and to the other party members she warned, “Their mistress in the palace. Be careful.”
Minutes later they were at the palace itself. Imposing from afar, up close it resembled nothing so much as a jagged collection of black spires, with thick dark smoke smoldering from its apex. It boasted no windows or doors, but there was a single grand archway that would’ve been the entrance, except that it was blocked by a blank obsidian wall, with neither a handle or hinges. A Knock spell solved that problem, but as the wall turned into an open door crystal slivers shot out from its frame. There was a brief glimpse of a bluish skeletal figure, and then it was gone.
The party, long accustomed to traps, had positioned themselves away from the door so they were unharmed by the slivers, but the apparition was cause for concern. Nevertheless, it had disappeared and now it was time to enter. Peeking into the entrance, they saw a triangular room with dull, blackened crystal walls that once must have glittered with mirrored reflections. Now they oppressively absorbed light and sound. There was muted light, however, coming from four glasslike globes that hovered near the ceiling. On the floor were the shattered remains of other globes, now extinguished, and along the walls cracked crystal statues stared vacantly toward the door.
Scratchy scanned the statues with his scarab, expecting golems, but the guardians of this room were something different altogether. As they party watched, three subtly glowing runic assemblages slowly etched themselves in the floor of the chamber. Glowing dust rose up from these, and quickly coagulated into tall humanoid forms dressed in impossibly complicated raiments. They began to speak, each of the three speaking one part of a sentence.
“Greetings, please …”
“… state your business …”
“… at the palace.”
Theodora cleared her throat and said in her best formal Thassilonian, “We are here to see the King. Who are you?”
“We are …”
“… the chamberlain.”
“The King will …”
“… see you…”
“… when he …”
“… is ready.”
“But the King is dead!” Theodora objected.
“… has …”
“… been …”
“The King …”
Milacent looked behind the creatures and saw another obsidian door, which they were effectively blocking. She waited impatiently while Theodora tried unsuccessfully to get the creatures to let them pass, then whispered, “Can we kill them now?”
“Go ahead,” was the answer.
Milacent and Helanda proceeded to charge in, with the others attacking from the doorway. The chamberlain instantly transformed into three shifting masses of golden crystalline dust, mathematical symbols and equations floating in their midst. The two fighters struck at them, but it was slow going, as their weapons did little damage against the glowing columns of dust. Magical attacks had more success, and the creatures responded with lightning bolts and cube-shaped bursts of energy. For a few frantic minutes the air in the room sizzled with magic spells flying back and forth, but in time the chamberlain too was defeated, and collapsed into three perfectly symmetrical piles of dust on the floor.
“Axiomites,” Theodora announced, “creatures from the outer planes of law.”
“Is that why their ‘corpses’ are so orderly?” Zelcor asked.
“Well …” Zelcor began, then ran over and kicked the piles into sprawling messes all over the floor.
Theodora sighed, turned to Milacent and asked, “Are you happy with the amount of fighting you’ve done?”
“I don’t know, maybe. Why?”
Theodora turned and pointed to the door that had been behind the axiomites, now opened. Beyond it was a massive hall under a 100-foot-high cathedral-like ceiling. The walls were of blackened crystal, but the floor was clear, revealing a water-filled chamber filled with hundreds of rows of metal soldiers. Above the floor, in the hall itself, two rows of similar soldiers formed a path to a throne of jagged black crystal. Upon it sat a man who closely resembled the ghost that had tried to take the shards from them, except that this man appeared to have been mortally wounded, with both legs and his right arm blasted away and charred black, and embers still glowing amid the horrible burns that covered the rest of his body. As the party watched, he stirred slightly and muttered to himself, “Traitors, assassins, murderers … I’ll kill them all.”
“I don’t think this is going to go peacefully,” Scratchy whispered to the others.
Milacent just picked up her flail and grinned.