Around this time I collected my thoughts and snapped back to the present. We were still in the temple. Raynard had just found a hidden door leading into the center of the structure. There was another large black statue holding what appeared to be a very big, very real sword. Kalli inched around it, then we followed, eyeing it suspiciously, but nothing happened. We continued past some disturbing bas-relief sculptures in the walls, and more corpses on the floor. At the center were some steps, illuminated by glowing gems. One of the corpses moaned and began to stir, but I detected no evil ghoulishness… it wasn’t a corpse after all, but a grievously injured selkie (sort of a human-seal creature)! She groaned about “beware the living statues” and passed out again, but Kalli and I were able to rouse her once more with Ronan’s healing energies.
Once recovered, the selkie explained that she was the clan chief of the lake, that she was leading a recon party to investigate this newly-raised island, and she warned us of life-draining things that had slain her party. She gave us a small crystal arrow shard, and became incoherent, but was well enough to begin following us around as we continued our surveying patrol through the strangely symmetrical and elegantly designed temple of chaos.
Double doors of a deep red metal met us next, and there were holes by the seams, but the doors seemed to carry a powerful enchantment resisting opening, and were warm to the touch. We found another statue, and this time Blake approached, thinking to loop a rope around its legs to trip it up if it came alive… but it seemed to sense his intention and stood tall, bellowing something about being “The Gatekeeper.” Kalli responded that she was the keymaster, but the statue said that the key was “not complete.” We deduced that he was referring the crystal shard from the selkie chief… were there more pieces? The statue now stood still and silent, and we moved on.
Around the next corner, the selkie suddenly shrieked in terror and dashed off. I took off after her, but just as I was about to round the corner in pursuit, I heard a blood-curdling scream, then rounded the corner and saw… nothing! She had vanished into thin air. I muttered a blessing and returned to the party.
We now continued through a disguised door – a pivoting bas-relief wall panel that Raynard had discovered. We found three more dead selkies and an iron box. Another similar hidden door revealed a pile of dusty bones, but this time the door seemed to be talking to Hrolf… then it addressed us all! The odd portal babbled something about wanting to “eat” bodies, and offered to give us another crystal key piece and join us on our quest if we would feed it. Highly unorthodox! But my comrades put it to a vote, and our sensible spokesman Stefan informed it that we could not take it with. Nonetheless, the thing insisted, and jostled itself off of its mounting, hobbled over, and stuck itself to Hrolf’s backpack! We continued on, marveling.
Another hidden door (they weren’t hard to find once you figured out the pattern) led to a really quite tastefully furnished apartment. There was an elegant canopy bed, an oaken dining table with finely wrought chairs, and a bookshelf brimming with old tomes. But there was also a shimmering ghost of an old man looming over us! He politely introduced himself as an old arch mage, and asked us to explain our quest. He told us that some terrible events had transpired 1,300 years ago, but that then a “Great Alliance” of good and neutral forces had worked together to banish the Lords of Chaos to the bottom of the infinity lake. He explained that this dark power was in the next level down in this temple, then gave us another shard of the crystal key. Before we left, Blake felt bad for the old coot being all locked up in this tiny room for centuries, and so created an illusory nature scene around the walls, so as to give him something novel to look at for a while. The old man was delighted and granted our bard the boon of a Cone of Cold scroll.
We continued on to another secret room, which was a chamber painted all black but for a blood red circle in the center of the floor. In the middle of this circle could be seen glinting the final crystal shard. Wise Stefan, sensing a trap, barked orders to the thief to go retrieve it. Raynard tied a rope around himself and handed the other end to us, to pull him out if things went south somehow, then strode boldly in to the dark room. As he approached the red circle, the entire floor started bubbling… it was a giant Black Pudding coming out of stasis! It burbled up Raynard’s legs and gooey tendrils wrapped about him, his armor and equipment hissing as the pudding’s acid dissolved it! The rest of us immediately unleashed all manner of spells, fire, spiritual hammer blows, etc on the bubbling blob, and Raynard shrieked and fled back out the door, his legs dragging through the sludge with a sucking sound, but he was moving too slowly! Kalli gave a tremendous yank on the rope, and jerked the poor Black Fox over the threshold, the flesh on his face hideously dissolving as he screamed and collapsed on the ground. I rushed over to the writhing lawyer and did some triage to stabilize him as Blake detonated a massive fireball in the pudding room. The thing still gurgled! I continued to Cure Raynard’s Serious Wounds, saving what was left of his face, as my comrades Stefan and Hrolf turned up the heat in the pudding room with jars of oil and more magical flames. Finally the pudding was immolated and the fires burned out. We could see the ruined remains of some of Raynard’s weapons and equipment. Blake gave the now naked thief his extra cloak, and the rest of us contributed a few items to temporarily re-equip him. I don’t think he’ll ever eat pudding again without some PTSD flashbacks.
We moved on to a completely pitch black room, which somehow caused our light sources to dim as we entered. They continued to dim further as we moved further in, eventually going out… but brightening again if we retreated back the other way. Curious. We could barely make out a large, padlocked iron chest far into the room. Stefan approached it, but before he could touch it a jet of mist spurted out from the chest and enveloped him! He subsequently began to glow a bright phosphorescent yellow even in the dark room. He shrugged, picked up the entire chest, and hustled back out to the rest of us to set it down in the hall. Kalli unsheathed Francis and struck at the padlock, blasting it apart. The chest sprung open, and about 50 tiny skeletons leapt out in a wave! Kalli slammed the chest back shut before anything else could come out, but the 50 little monsters were now skittering around the floor and jumping up to claw and bite us! Hrolf and I were able to Turn several of them while Blake blasted a few apart with magic missiles, but then a few crawled up Hrolf’s pants! We all managed to crush or blast a bunch of them, but then a fearsome apparition appeared, howling “DEFILERS!__” at us as it flung a phantasmal tendril at Raynard, and began sucking away his soul! In the space of 10 seconds, the poor bastard appeared to age 10 years before our very eyes. He screamed in anguish and fled, and Hrolf and I turned out holy powers against the dark nether-thing, but it was too powerful for us! We all began to assail it with our most strongly enchanted weaponry, and this had better results and seemed to hurt the thing. In its death throes though, another sucking ethereal tendril found Stefan and aged him 40 years, until Kalli and Francis struck it a final blow causing it to dissipate at last. Raynard came slinking back. We couldn’t heal his soul-injury, but to his credit, the indomitable rogue was ready to go again!
We found the last shard of the crystal key in the chest, and paused to determine our next steps.