76. Strange New Worlds

Gildor says, “Looks like there are some bodies down here.” Pointing out what he sees. “There is some writing over here too and the ladder going down, seems spaced too far for us to use to climb. I’ll cast comprehend languages and translate it all to everyone. Be careful down here we don’t know what killed these bodies and don’t touch anything.” Gildor casts Comprehend languages and translates the Illithid text.

Gildor translates the writing, only to discover that it is a series of runes and enchantments and a Read Magic spell would be needed to copy them down into his notes (perhaps as the basis for a new spell).

Gildor says, “These are magical runes my friends. Maybe harmful ones if read. It may have been what killed these creatures. I wouldn’t cast read magic unless you’re sure it’s safe. I’m going to examine the bodies to see if they all died the same way, which might give us a clue to these runes. If someone does read the runes they should do so while the others are farther away for safety.”
Gildor goes to examine the bodies without touching them and looks for how they died.

Cynan continues moving with the party his hand on the hilt of his sword. Trying not to be distracted by what is around him and focusing on any threats that may appear. He lets the others search any items or bodies, staying vigilant.

As Gildor moves towards the bodies in the western corridor, Cynan thinks he sees the ceiling just above the bodies shift slightly, as if a ripple passed through it. The paladin hisses a warning to Gildor and he stops instantly. Cynan points to the ceiling but Gildor can’t see anything strange in the gloom.

Gildor also checks to see if any of the bodies resembles the king or dwarves and if not dwarves what creatures they are. He checks for traps as he moves about.

Closer to the bodies, Gildor can see they clearly aren’t dwarves. They’re very similar to the body in the corner of the room, maybe a Kobold but too big and covered in growths of some sort. They also look shrivelled and dessicated, not much more than skin and bones.

Kalam went towards the odd looking body, carefully approaching it with his knife drawn just in case it was one of the mushroom people and not a plant. He wanted to check the body, but not at the cost of distancing himself from the others if they decided to move on.

A closer look confirms to Kalam that the body is not a Kobold but some short bipedal creature with sharp thorn-like claws and pale grey mottled skin. Its shoulders, abdomens, and limbs are fringed with leaf-like tendrils and its head has a topknot of small shrivelled leaves. It can’t be more than 130cm tall and next to it lays a mace of sorts, built from a steel shaft with a large cog on the end.

The creature seems to have been bludgeoned to death, as one side of its head has been smashed in. Oddly there is no sign of a skull visible, the damaged section looking more like the inside of a fruit, with a soft central interior surrounded by orange and pink fibrous flesh.

“What do you think?” Munin asks Cynan. “This way?” he says, pointing up the northern corridor with his axe.

“Well if somebody has any tracking skills, and before we trample all over any evidence of their passing, I would suggest they have a look to see if there is any trace in the dust and grime which coats the floor.” The gnome offers up.

Upon hearing Cynan’s warning, Gildor stops and slowly backs up saying, “Thanks Cynan.” Knowing this Gildor checks each hallway a bit behind the place on the hallway he was in that triggered the shimmering effect and asked Cynan to watch him. If if it doesn’t trigger he won’t go any further until all are ready to do so and they have decided on a route.

Gildor moves past Kalam, who’s examining the body in the corner and cautiously moves towards the northern corridor. Neither he nor Cynan see any sign of movement in the ceiling.

Gildor backs up and tries the eastern corridor this time. Again neither he nor Cynan see anything strange about the ceiling. Looking east down the corridor Gildor can see the object on the floor at the end a little clearer. It seems to be nothing more than a pile of metal poles, though the elf can see several tiny twinkling lights amid the mass.

Kradorn hears Cynan warning looking towards what he sees. Then back to the immediate surroundings, ceiling too. Bow and arrow in hand.
“What strange creatures” Kradorn comments.

Gildor says softly to the others, “I’m going to toss a coin down each hallway to see if it activates anything. Watch the hallways as I do this.” Gildor takes his 2 copper pieces and tosses one down the Eastern passage 20 ft or so while he is there while watching for any effects and if none he moves to the Northern passage and does the same thing . He then does the same thing down the western hallway making sure he doesn’t go too far and tosses a single silver piece down the hallway and watches it and any shimmering effect.

The coin skitters down the eastern corridor and comes to a halt two-thirds of the way to the pile of metal poles. There’s no shimmering or movement in the corridor, nor the northern corridor when he tosses a coin down there.

The silver coin lands close to the three bodies, bounces off something that might be a club and comes rolling back towards Gildor stopping about halfway to him.

No shimmer, no signs of movement.

Gordon examines the black box more closely, is there any writing on it or symbols? Does there look to be anything which might open to reveal contents inside?

The metal box is not much more than that, it weighs about 10lb and has on the back, the same angular script found on the walls, A tough cable is attached to the back, made from woven steel filaments. There is a small dial on the back with three positions, it is currently set to the third position. It looks identical to the box back in the mind-flayer lair.
There is no obvious way to open the box, apart from undoing the numerous screws holding the thing together.

Turning his attention to the ring on this side, formed by the silvery wire, can we see the Illithid dome from this side, or is just a corridor/wall beyond the wire and crystals?

This side of the ring is pitch black, the surface hard as mithril and as slick as wet ice. Gordon looks around the edge of the ring and can see the corridor continues for 2m before ending in a double door made from the same material as the walls with a small square window in each side. Above the door is a glowing red strip and around the door is a thick red stripe. Another smaller red square is visible on the wall next to the door, surrounding a collection of studs and small panels marked with symbols.

On either side of this short corridor are two sealed archways. On the wall next to each archway is a violet square with more studs and panels.

With Gildor off looking at the bodies and Gordon’s slightly less risk averse nature he gets a note pad and pencil out ready to note down the meaning and then casts Read Magic on the runes.

The runes are the foundation of a gate or teleportation spell of some type. From these clues, Gordon thinks he can find his way to create a blink spell after some experimentation and from there on to more advanced magics of this type.

Sergeant Gomgol starts looking about on the floor but shakes his head after a few seconds. “Too many boots and feet.” He goes east, looking for tracks and returns a minute later shaking his head.

He moves to the northern corridor and stops, calling over Munin in a quiet dwarven voice and points to a few scratches at the bottom of the west wall.

Talo watches the examinations carefully. “Well, let’s see if Clanggedin can point us the way.” If there are no problems or signs that can be found, the dwarven cleric casts detect evil and slowly examines the surroundings with a special focus down each hallway and the ceiling that was seen to change visually.

Talo detects nothing to the west, the south or the east but to the north east he feels animalistic, semi-intelligent evil, perhaps as many as six creatures but a fair distance away, more than 50m.

Cynan continues looking at the wall and ceilings the hairs on he back of his neck standing. “By the ice halls of Skoti I do not like this place at all we are out of our world here. Munin if we don’t see a trace of them, one passage is as good as another I would think. Let us make sure we mark our route if we need come back this way however. Gordon any suggestions? Kradorn do you see any signs of passing?”

“Cynan!” calls Munin “Thraim went this way.” he says, pointing up the northern corridor.

Gordon wracks his brain to try and remember what the dial back in the dome said, he can remember one was off the other max and he deduces the other must be something like ‘normal’. He tries turning the dial from its current position back to the middle position to see if that has any effect, checking the glowing crystal as well. If nothing happens he turns it all the way to ‘Off’ and checks everything again.

The dial clicks onto the central setting without any noticeable difference and when turned to ‘Off’ the light goes out completely.

Even though they have identified the direction Thraim has gone the gnome can’t help but have a look through the windows at the end of the short corridor and the glowing panels. He even casts Comprehend Language on the symbols to try and get some sort of understanding, noting down a translation from whatever they may be to gnomish. He casts his eyes around for any other signs or symbols to gather as much information as he can.

Gordon crawls through the triangular gap between the ring and the bottom corner of the corridor and moves to the double doors. He has to jump up to the window to look through. Beyond is a starry night sky with Dinlosaew waning and gibbous off to the left. Oddly Gordon can’t see the ground at all through the small window. There doesn’t appear to be any way to open the door from this side.

He jumps back down and examines the panel next to the double door. The panel (about 30cm square) is surrounded by a painted red square with rounded corners. The panel consists of two large buttons, one with a circle and the other a circle with a line running vertically through it. Below these buttons are nine smaller studs in a 3 x 3 block. All these studs have different symbols on them. Next to the studs is a panel of black glass.
Similar, though smaller, violet panels are located next to the sealed archways.

Casting his Comprehend languages spell translates the writing above the double doors as – ‘Wind Door – extreme hazard – command access only’ and on the sealed archways as – ‘Nothing armour – Heavy duty and emergency’. The nine symbols on the small studs translate as the numbers 1 – 8 and 0.

Gildor says, “I don’t detect anything shimmering north or east but there might have been some pipes and glittering stuff on the ground. Sounds like north is our path though.”
Gildor resisted the lure of shiny trinkets and stays with the group. He thinks, ~curiosity killed the cat. This place is full of death and I don’t want to die down here~
“Saphiria stay close but behind me girl. This place is alien to us. Who knows what’s down here that’s no good for us.”
Gildor will stay near the front to help the trackers and watch for traps. “Munin, I’ll looks for traps as we move forward. Let’s walk side by side if we can and I’ll watch your led and you watch mine. If I say stop there is something ahead we need heed.”
Gildor heads down the north hallway when the others are ready to go.

Kalam followed the party as silently as possible on their way towards the king. His attention was split between trying to not create any sounds and being aware of their surroundings at all times, not wishing to be surprised and cut off from the rest.

“I have seen no change.” Kradorn says with a hint of worry in his voice. He draws his blade and makes a mark on the wall and floor.

The gnome quickly scribbles the symbols into his notebook along with their translation so that he has a reference for later. Gordon then crawls back to the main room to share what he has discovered, “I am sure that we are no longer underground, we seem to be floating in some ethereal place beyond Agelen.”

Just before he joins the others he flicks the dial back to the centre setting to see if there is any change, before flicking it back to off.

When Gordon turns the dial back to the central position the gem glows green for a few seconds before box makes an odd noise, somewhat like a frog croaking and it goes back to its former state of the gem merely pulsing red then going dark for five seconds and repeating.

“I believe that this was some sort of transportation device like the one in the Ithiliad dome, almost like a mobile version to let you get home. These runes around the perimeter are some sort of teleport enchantment and the black box is somehow the magical power it needs to operate, but it’s crystal glows red now so I suspect its power may be exhausted. If you see another grab it as it may be our only route home.”

Then off down the Northern corridor with the others, the gnome takes up a position at the rear, walking backwards on occasion to keep an eye on the chamber they are coming from. He uses his charcoal/pencil to mark an arrow back towards the chamber.

“I detect nothing to the west, the south or the east but to the north east,” Talo tilts his head and squints, “I feel an animalistic, semi-intelligent evil, perhaps as many as six creatures but a fair distance away, more than 50m.” The war priest secures his shield and hefts his axe, eyeing the north and east passages.
Listening to the gnome’s assessment of where they may be Talo’s eyes widen. Being somewhere not on Agelen is upsetting to the dwarf.

“Good job Gordon” Gildor says as Gordon relays the info.
Gildor grabs the thing Gordon says will get them home if he spots one. He also marks their route on the walls with chalk as they move along.

Gildor nods at Talo noting there might be some evil creatures ahead.
“Cynan it might be best if I move forward away from those noisy group so I have a better chance of not being heard. If I spot anything I will signal you to stop” whispers Gildor. “Gildor goes over the hand signals so everyone understands before he moves ahead.”
“Saphiria please stay with the others and help them if they need it and try to be quiet too.”

“Where do you want me.” Kradorn asks Cynan quietly his hands returned to his bow and arrow.

“Perhaps we should stay at the back Kradorn but close enough to move forward if danger threatens unless you feel your skills will help us track here. I am sorry but this just seems wrong on many levels this is not where we belong.”

“I believe you are correct. It doesn’t feel right… and I think there are levels to this place”
Kradorn comments as he stands ready.

The party gather and set off up the northern corridor, Gildor leading the way, then the dwarves and Kalam and finally Cynan, Gordon and Kradorn bringing up the rear.
They pass two sealed archways with accompanying panels (though with no colour band around them Gordon notes), then two more with black squares around their panels.
By this time Gildor has reached the junction and peeks down the eastern passage. He immediately signals the party to stop, seeing a human form, possibly female, at the end of the dimly lit 30m corridor (4). Then there is a sudden noise from the longer western passage, an animal screech, followed by chaotic shouts from somewhere far down the passage. Gildor looks back east but the woman is gone. The noises from the west do not repeat and he can see nothing in that direction either.

Gildor motions for the others to come forward and whispers, “I saw a humanoid form to the east which is Talo’s direction of animalistic evil and there was a large disturbance to the west as well. I don’t see the humanoid form any more so it may have moved back. We can avoid fighting possibly but I don’t like having any evil at my back either. Should we move east and fight the evil or move west or north?”

Gildor can see no obvious doors or windows in the corridor just the blank archways with panels on the wall next to them.

Standing with the group Kradorn keeps a watchful eye on their surroundings.
“Animalistic evil….Do we have to deal with the undead again.” Kradorn gives a slight shiver as he remembers the battle with White slug thing and the undead goblins.

Gildor whispers, “Undead you say. That’s no good. You guys be quiet for a second.” Gildor listens in both directions to see if he can hear if any noises are getting closer from either direction.
If no noises and no sign of movement coming from the left hallway he says, “I going to sneak up the right hallway here a bit unless you want to go to the left then I’ll go that way. Follow me 20 feet behind as quiet as you can.”
Gildor reassures Saphiria, “It’s okay girl. stay with the others while I check things out ahead of the group. I won’t be too far though. Gildor focus’ on the benefits Saphiria gives him as he moves ahead to help him. (better sight).

Kradorn watches the opposite direction of Cynan, above and around. But follows him whichever direction he goes. He hopes the party sticks together. Since more time than not someone dies alone.

“Gildor, could you make out anything from that disturbance you detected? Did you understand the voices shouting? Perhaps it was the dwarves we are seeking fighting something off?”

Gildor shakes his head at Kalam and moves off east, down the corridor as silent as is possible to be with four heavily armed and armoured dwarves 20′ behind him.
He passes a short corridor on his right (south) then moves into the larger space beyond. There’s no sign of the woman he saw earlier and nothing much else in the space either. To the north is a double-width archway with a panel next to it. However the arch isn’t sealed, there is a 5cm gap down the centre and a space beyond. The room to the east (lounge) has what at first Gildor takes for large growths in the NE, SE and SW corners and a circular table in the centre. Around the table are five smaller growths which Gildor suddenly realises are tall cushions or seats and the things in the corners are just larger versions of the same. Everything looks worn and half destroyed and long dead exotic plants stand in pots against the walls. Hanging from the ceiling above the table in the centre is a delicate and elaborate sphere of white metal and similar smaller spheres are attached to the walls in the corners.
The place is littered with rubbish and bones. Three skulls are clearly visible, with bones and clothing scattered nearby.

Try as he might Kalam can’t think of anything that resembles the corpse he found in the room behind them.

Gildor listens for noise then Gildor quickly goes back to the party and whispers the situation so they can all decide what to do.

“Um gents?…” Talo begins tentatively, “I get the impression this place or someone in it is playing with our thoughts. Hopefully this will help you see through the clutter.” Talo casts protection from evil on the party.

Talo says his prayer but no one notices any difference.

There’s a sigh from the dwarves and they begin marching back to the main corridor “Don’t think they went down there Cynan. If they had, they’d have left a mark for us to follow.” He turns to Talo and shakes his head “Our job’s to find the king, not hunt down unknown evils. Good luck priest.” The dwarves don’t seem concerned if the party aren’t following them and when they get back to the main corridor they turn right without a look back.
The party are left standing around looking at one another in the semi-darkness.