“I wonder how hard these crystals are to break through,” Scratchy said as he tapped them tentatively with a mining pick. (Scratchy always carried a mining pick, because you never know when you’re going to have to break through some crystals.) As soon as he made his first substantial hit, however, there was the familiar flash of blue light and a booming voice saying, “NO!” A gigantic obsidian hand rose out of the ground to grab Scratchy, but he used his ranger trickery to get clear. The hand was followed by crystal slivers shooting out of the walls, and then an eerie silence.
“What the hell was that?” Helanda asked, as they passed around the Sihedron to heal the wounded.
“It was that blue guy,” Scratchy answered, “and he doesn’t want us to go in there.”
“He didn’t want us in the palace at all,” Milacent recounted, “but he only attacked us once at the entrance. Let’s see how persistent he is this time around.” She took up the pick and struck the crystals again, and when nothing further happened everyone joined in and they soon broke through.
The room they found beyond was circular, with no other entrances. Its dark walls dampened their lights, and even without Detect Magic spells everyone could feel the pulse of arcane power coursing through the room. On the floor, inlaid in dark crystal, was a large Sihedron rune, each arm painted in metallic sheens matching those on the actual Sihedron – black, blue-green, pale green, red, coppery orange, silver, and ivory-white.
“It’s a teleporter,” Theodora announced after a few minutes of study, “each arm is attuned to a different school of magic. Cast a spell of the proper school, and the arm will teleport you.”
“Can you tell where it’ll teleport us to?” Zelcor asked.
“Um, no,” Theodora replied.
“Maybe we shouldn’t teleport to some unknown location just yet?” Scratchy suggested, ” Maybe search the rest of this palace first?” And everyone heartily agreed.
The first thing they did was send Scratchy back into the room with the magical instruments, protected by a Silence spell from the discordant noise. He emerged with a magical horn of blasting, and one other instrument that he just wanted because instruments that play themselves are cool. Next they went back down the stairs to clear out the other rooms that the doors in the throne room opened out into. In the first they found a great dining hall, protected by creatures that looked like emaciated children with clawed hands, and that were surrounded by auras of painfully bright light. It was a frustrating fight, because the creatures had placed Symbols of Insanity on the ceiling in order to scramble the minds of those who looked up at them, the creatures themselves floating in the air above everyone’s heads. Scratchy fell victim to one, but the wayfinder he carried suppressed the insanity effect. Theodora set up an anti-magic field to protect everyone, but it also rendered their own magical attacks useless. The situation became worse when one of the creatures brightened its already bright light to sun-like intensity, blinding everyone who saw it. Milacent, with her skill at blind-fighting, still managed to strike at them, but because they floated in the air they couldn’t be tripped, and her magic weapons were considerably weakened by being in the antimagic field. When Theodora suggested that these were probably summoned creatures bound to the room, and the whole fight could be avoided simply by backing out and closing the door, Milacent for once agreed.
Helanda just shook her head.
The next room they entered was a shrine to Lissala, the Thassilonian goddess of runes, fate, and the reward of service. It contained a statue of the goddess, portrayed as a six-winged, mouthless woman holding a perfectly preserved ceremonial robe in her outstretched hands. Strange glyphs moved about the walls, and as the party moved toward the statue two of the runes crawled across the floor towards them, inflicting lightning damage on whomever they touched. Then they shifted form to become runes of weakness, draining the strength from those they attacked. Being animated magical writing, the living runes were tough to fight against, but as the party had already defeated axiomites that took the form of columns of dust, they were able to deal with these too. The things were vulnerable to Magic Missiles, and pounding them with magical weapons helped too. Soon the runes dissolved into static, glowing specks on the floor and walls.
Scratchy moved in closer to grab the robe. When he pulled it away from the statue, he found that it concealed a Symbol Of Death. The symbol’s dire magic swept across those nearby it, but fortunately that was only Scratchy and the two fighters, all hardy enough to resist the effect.
Exploring further they found another one of the chairs attuned to a school of magic (which they’d taken to calling spellwells), this one devoted to transmutation. That left two doors to check. Everyone got into place at the next one, and as the door swung open they saw a large room containing dozens of copper spheres, humming quietly as they floated at various heights. Runes engraved on their surfaces flickered chaotically, and sheaves of thin, bronze plates – or the dust of their corroded remains – orbited each sphere. Runic scripts pulsated on the room’s crystal walls, and several steps led up to a podium with stilted, spiderlike legs holding a large black shimmering crystal.
Helanda and Milacent edged up to the crystal, their forms silhouetted in its nauseating light. In seconds, it sprang to life, lunging at Milacent. She struck it as it approached, and the thing broke apart with ease. Before anyone could say, “What kind of a weak guardian was that?” The crystal sphere it carried fell to the floor, shattering and releasing the real threat.
A black cloud billowed upward from where the sphere had fallen, forcing Helanda and Milacent to retreat. In seconds it coalesced into a solid form, a ten-legged spidery monstrosity with dripping tentacles above a clutch of red eyes, and three whipping stingers to strike from behind.
“Qlippoth!” Theodora shouted, though she couldn’t identify exactly what kind. It struck at Milacent with its stingers, but as the party formed around it to strike, it shifted to present the horrific appearance that qlippoths are known for. Milacent staggered backwards, stunned, and then the thing turned its baleful eyes toward Helanda. There was a strange chittering sound, and she could feel her limbs stiffening. With horror she realized she was turning to stone, and in her last moments of fleshy existence she transferred the Sihedron from her head to Milacent’s.
In all the chaos Theodora had gotten far closer to the qlippoth than she would’ve liked, and was the next to feel its wrath. Its tentacles and stingers slashed into her, leaving her enervated and bloody and dangerously close to death. Scratchy, who’d been firing arrows from a distance so far, decided this was the time to use the Dimension Door spell that had been placed in his ring of spell storing. He rode up between Milacent and Theodora, touched them both, and then all three of them teleported away, leaving Fleabait alone to dodge the qlippoth’s attacks as he scurried away.
Zelcor, meanwhile, was a hundred feet back, firing off spells. He knew he had hurt the qlippoth, but he didn’t like the way this fight was going, so he put up a Wall Of Force between himself and the beast. “If it comes at me, it’ll hit the wall and stop,” the gnome reasoned, “Unless it can see the invisible, of course.”
Alas, it could. There was more chittering, and the qlippoth blinked out of existence, only to reappear next to Zelcor. The sorcerer shrieked at ran away, but he knew he couldn’t evade it for very long. Across the room, Milacent came out of her stunned state. She saw the qlippoth chasing Zelcor, but it was too far away for her to get to in time. Or was it? She had on boots of speed to help her run, and Theodora was there to help with Haste spells. They looked at each other, nodded, and Milacent took off towards the monster. Her magically-augmented speed brought her to it just in time to lash it with her spine flail and deter it from its pursuit of Zelcor. She hurt it badly, but it wasn’t dead yet. She lashed at it again, and again, helped by Zelcor firing Magic Missiles from a distance, and with a final strike the thing collapsed into a pile of foul-smelling ichor on the floor.
The party still had the salves of Stone To Flesh that they had taken from the medusa in Windsong Abbey, and they used it to free Helanda from her statue form. Everyone was alive and could be healed back to full strength, but the fight had been a harrowing. They looked at the last door and decided that maybe a little rest was in order first. And of course, searching for treasure. Scratchy emerged from the room where they had fought the qlippoth carrying a small coppery orrery, a bright flame burning at its heart. Theodora looked it over, but couldn’t readily identify it. Its magic did seem to have something to do with light, and time. She held it up and its light suddenly flared to the level of full daylight. Moreover, the room where it had been appeared fresh and new, with a flurry of scholars rushing about it. In the center, a visibly angry and elderly King Xin could be seen placing the black sphere on its mechanical pedestal.
The vision faded, and everyone turned to face each other. Milacent was the first to speak, saying, “Well, isn’t this going to be interesting.”