Much to Milacent’s chagrin, Theodora wanted to see if the situation could be resolved without violence.
“Greetings, Great King …” she began, stepping into the doorway, and then things got strange.
There was a flash of light, and the palace walls faded into nothingness, to be replaced by sunlight streaming through a circle of fantastic spires looming over a large courtyard. Thousands of cheering people in extravagant clothing surged forward toward a young man in regal clothing holding aloft a a huge diamond, its inner facets gleaming with a multitude of glowing runes. His voice boomed: “A seed of power is only as powerful as the one who plants it!” Thunderous cheers erupted as he dropped the shining gemstone to the ground below. It sank into the earth, and jagged, rune-covered walls of blindingly bright crystal erupted from the ground with lightning speed. The walls dampened the outside cheers, and the man stooped, aged, and burned, becoming the charred husk on the throne as the hall returned in its current decrepit state.
Ten thousand years passed in a flash, along with all the loneliness, madness, despair, and frustration that built in all that time. The vision continued with the island rising new from the depths, and an endless legion of clockwork soldiers marching from the sea. They were led by a clattering shape that resembled a crystal display case augmented with mechanical arms and legs, and a skeleton trapped inside. The clockwork army advanced on the city of Magnimar, replacing it with a new city of clockwork and crystal ruled by Xin, the reborn king of Thassilon. Then the vision faded, and the charred version of Xin that sat upon the throne raised his head to look directly at Theodora.
“Sorshen!” he hissed, “Have you come to finish your work? You shall not succeed! I live again, and the empire with me! Guards! Kill her!” and he gestured toward her with the burnt stump of his arm.
Theodora, seeing the twin rows of clockwork soldiers before her, retreated back towards the others. As she did, she cast a spell, and a wall composed of whirling blades of force sprang into being on her left, blocking out the soldiers there. At the same time, Zelcor put up a Wall of Force to block out most of the ones on the right, leaving only a paltry three with an unblocked path towards the heroes. “We’re still going to fight them,” they explained to a disapproving Milacent. “just a few at a time.”
While the spells were being cast, however, the mechanical guards were going into motion. There was a flash of blue light, and the skeletal apparition the party had seen earlier appeared above the closest one, then appeared to fall into it. The metal man jerked to life, then pointed at the party. Four glowing spheres streaked out from his hand, and before Theodora could shout, “Meteor Swarm!” the spheres exploded in their midst.
The results were devastating. Flame filled the chamber where they had fought the axiomites, and when it cleared everyone was badly hurt, but luckily still alive. Scratchy immediately turned to thoughts of escape. He jumped on Fleabait, saw that Zelcor was near collapse, and was about to grab him and rush out the door when he noticed that the door to the outside had sealed shut behind them. Perhaps, he thought, he could grab Zelcor and the gnome could cast Dimension Door to teleport them outside, but if the walls were warded to block the spell, as there was strong reason to suspect they were, then the Dimension Door would fail and they would be in stranded directly in front of the possessed guard, fully exposed for its next attack. Scratchy resolved that there was a better way to spend his time, and turned to fire at the enemy.
Milacent, on the other hand, had to do no such calculation. As Scratchy’s arrows slammed into the spellcasting enemy, she rushed forward, knocked it down, and proceeded to pound on it until it was scrap. She and Helanda then proceeded to attack the other nearby guards, and braced themselves for the next wave of attackers.
Except that there was no next wave. Of the two dozen or so guards that stood before the throne, only six had activated, including the now-destroyed possessed one. King Xin on his throne sputtered and bellowed at them, “Useless!” he cried, “Traitors and weaklings! Obey your king!” But it was not to be. Zelcor dropped the Wall of Force so Milacent could reach the remaining activated guards and finish them off, while Theodora took stock of the cursing figure on the throne.
“It’s not him,” she concluded, “it’s an illusion generated by the palace.” She reached out and tried to dispel the image, but it was too tightly bound to the palace and the malevolent life force that dwelt within. It would stay there until the ghostly king was defeated permanently, and if he was like most ghosts, that would only be accomplished by finding and destroying his physical remains.
Milacent, curious, strode up to the throne and slashed at it several times with her spine flail. As expected, the weapon passed through him without interaction, but it was not without effect. The image of the king looked up into Milacent’s eyes, and as waves of heat radiated toward her he whispered menacingly, “Cretins. I will kill you all.”
Scratchy was less interested in what an illusion had to say and more so in the nature of the room they were in. He walked its perimeter, checking the walls and finding doors that were closed but not locked or trapped. Ominously, he noted that the walls, ceilings, and doors were all protected by a Wall of Force effect, meaning there would be no teleporting through them, as he had suspected. Also, that effect hadn’t been there when they’d entered, suggesting that the palace’s defenses were still being repaired, and the King’s power still growing. Scratchy put aside that worrisome though and continued searching. Behind the throne he found a red circle set into the floor, radiating potent magic. When he stepped on it, it telepathically informed him that it was a magical stairway that could lead up or down, depending on where he wanted to go. The party gathered around the circle and after some deliberation, decided to go up.
When they made their decision, a spiral staircase grew out of the circle, passing up through the ceiling. The party climbed it and found themselves in a large room filled with partially-assembled constructs of all shapes and sizes, but no one believed for a second that they were all inert. A little bit of scanning revealed that one of the constructs was fully intact: a clockwork dragon lying some sixty feet away from the stairway. “Let’s not fight that just yet,” said Theodora, “Let’s check out the surrounding rooms first.”
And so they did. They opened the doors and found a collapsed room with a strange iron amulet in it, of the sort wizards often used to identify themselves – perhaps before the golems they created? They found another room filled with musical instruments of all description held by clockwork arms. They found two rooms occupied by hideous monsters that attacked them, one a spider-like construct from the outer planes, and the other a mass of discarded homunculi fused together into a single hideous monstrosity. These the party defeated, but they were running out of doors and drawing perilously close to the dragon. “Well,” Scratchy asked, “do we want to fight it now?”
Milacent just stared at the thing and scratched her chin.