Melastasya was treading water in a giant pool of blood, surrounded by seventeen sharks and one, quite-dangerous, vampiric merperson. Doing the only sensible thing, she beat feet and vanished--teleporting to the farthest corner of the room and hiding with great aplomb.
At that same time, Ash waxed heroic again and stepped back through the ethereal gate into the pool of blood. He tried to use control water to whip the blood into a whirlpool, but found his efforts blocked by similar control be exerted by the mervamp. Just then, Traithe bombarded the mervamp with a barrage of magic missiles, disrupting its concentration. Ash finally established control, churning the pool into a swirling mass of blood and sharks.
Fortunately the force of the whirlpool swept up all of the sharks. Unfortunately, Ash himself was also swept up into the sharknado. Ash was battered, bitten, and abraded by the rapidly swirling sharks that whipped past and into him. Kevorkian stepped through the ethereal gate and healed Ash, barely avoiding getting swept into the vortex himself, and managing to petrify one passing shark with his basilisk's gaze. Grimnir, still safely in the ethereal, blasted the mervamp back against a wall of the pool then bludgeoned him with the petrified shark using his eldritch blasts.
More sharks converged on Ash, swimming with the flow of the whirlpool, intent more on devouring him than escaping the pummeling tide. Near death, Ash teleported himself out of the pool and through the ethereal gate. His control of the liquid ended when he crossed the planar boundary, causing the whirlpool to collapse and sending a number of very disoriented sharks tumbling through the portal after him as they were ejected from the vortex. Moments later the rest of the pack swam through after him, under direction from the mervamp.
Ash, Traithe, and Kevorkian engaged the sharks, Traithe wailing away with his sword and Ash scooping them up with the soul-sucking urn. Grimnir continued to fire at the banished vampire. Mel, wisely, remained hidden the whole time.
Ash took several more shark bites, eventually collapsing only to be brought back by Kevorkian moments later. Finally the sharks were eliminated and the mervamp, unable to reach his prey and heavily injured by Grimnir's assault, fled to the wall and opened the stone archway, vanishing into it and slamming the door closed behind him. Perhaps most disturbing about this occurrence, was that the mervamp completely vanished from the perceptions of the party members still in the ethereal, as if the space on the other side of the arch was somehow not coterminous with that plane.
Grimnir leaped through the gate, blasting sharks away as he went and met Mel, who had finally broken cover, by the gate. Traithe and Kevorkian mopped up the last of the sharks and the rest of the party were not far behind them.
Mel opened the archway and they went up to find the domed chamber cloaked in fog. Mel reached the top of the stairs first to be met by two thrusts of the vampire's trident, which she easily dodged. Ash dispelled the fog to reveal the vampiric merman coiled near the top of the stairs, much healed. His lower body flopped like the beached fish that he was, but his torso still had sufficient control to stab Traithe twice, though nowhere near as hard as when in the water.
One round of concentrated fire from the entire party put an end to their aquatic aggressor, and they took the extra step of cutting off its head and burning the body. Their resources spent, the party closed up the archway and slept the night in the chamber, under the false stars, amidst the torn tapestries and the smell of burned, rotting fish.
After waking, they headed back down the stairs and back out into the blood pool with the intent of searching the ethereal. Of course, eight hours is plenty of time to set up an ambush...
Melastasya tore free of the snake squeezing her, punching it in the head until it hang limp, then turned to see where Grimnir had gone. Kevorkian did likewise, and they both, with their heightened perceptions, saw the Medusa waiting in the ethereal, and they both began to turn to stone. Ash teleported free of the snake constricting him and stepped through the ethereal gate only to be petrified himself. Mel shook off the effect and charged through the portal, where she and Grimnir proceeded to beat the vampiric medusa to a pulp, then cut off her head and shoved it in a bag where it could do no more harm. Traithe finally killed the snake he was engaged with, as well as a few others, then the rest, free of the vampire's control, lost interest and swam away.
Of course, by this point, Ash and Kevorkian were statues. Grimnir used the soap of abrasion to scour Kevorkian clean and cure him of the petrification. The act of holy cleansing in turn gave Kevorkian sufficient magical power (by virtue of his unusual faith) to return Ash to his normal state.
Once everyone was fully mobile again, they regrouped and looked around their ethereal environs. They could see the faint outlines of a vast complex in the material realm, of which they had only been able to access a single room. It was clear that there had once been a door to the rest of the complex leading off of the stone pier, but it had been sealed on the pool side to resemble an unbroken stone wall. Numerous creatures milled about the material rooms. Within the ethereal they saw only the vast, empty plains of multi-hued mist, save for three landmarks within visible range: a gargantuan head carved of greenish-brown stone, a twenty-foot tall pile of burning coals, and a giant mass of webbing that seemed to exist in both the physical and ethereal realms simultaneously.
Curious, they headed to the giant head first. The head was nearly eight feet in diameter, with blank fashioned of shiny, silvery metal. Ash pointed out that it looked like the head of one of the colossi that once flanked the gates of Myth Drannor and also of its vassal-city, Hillsfar. Kevorkian examined it and decided that it must be hollow, and pointed out that the eye covers, which were made of mithril, had been added later and were obviously hinged, like doors. Mel floated up and pried one of the eye covers open to find a hollow, filled almost entirely with dirt, with a space behind the eyes just large enough for a man to lie down. She climbed in and dug through the dirt (Kevorkian of course tasted a bit of it as well) but found nothing save for a few flaked off scales similar to those on the recently slain medusa.
As they examined the head, Grimnir noticed three large spiders coming from the direction of the web. Given the distance though, he was able to dispatch all three before they got close enough to pose any kind of threat.
They moved on to the pile of coals, but could find nothing unusual about it (other than its existence). The smoldering pile was more than twenty feet high and burning unusually slowly, though they detected no magic. Ash used his magic to dig into the center of the pile, where some coals were still glowing white-hot, but could still find nothing of value, nor anything dangerous save for the glowing coals themselves.
The last stop then, was the webs. The gargantuan mass was shaped roughly like a sloping triangle in the corner of a rectangular room, extending into the “solid” region of the adjacent plane. Amidst the web were four cocoons, each roughly the size and shape of a man, as well as seven ornate chests and coffers. Suspended in the center of the web was a black marble sarcophagus, unmarked save for the sunken relief of two cross-hilted longswords joined at the pommels.
Grimnir was quick to suggest that they take care in removing the webbing, saving as much as possible to be hauled away (figuring that silk able to coexist on multiple planes simultaneously had to have some practical magical applications). Once the webs were cleared, they dug into the chests and the cocoons. The cocoons each held the dried husk of a human corpse, their bellies filled and writhing with phase spider eggs nearly ready to hatch. The chests themselves were works of art, carved of weirwood, teak, ebony, or sandalwood, with fittings of silver, platinum, or even mithril. Within they found a trove of gold bullion, collected numismatics, rare books, and magical items.
The sarcophagus, on closer inspection, appeared to have no lid, with only a single finger-sized hole at the point where the two sword hollows met as an opening. Stranger still, Melastasya's enlightened senses allowed her to see that the sarcohpagus somehow existed on all planes simultaneously in this exact, coterminous point. Sufficiently creeped out, the party looked around for a way to stopper the hole or otherwise seal or destroy whatever was inside.
It was then then that Kevorkian noticed something leaking out of Dame's bag. He realized that it was bits of the ashes they had collected from the pedestal on which the soul-devouring urn had rested. He opened the bag and reached in to extract the rest of the ashes, only to have the ashes swirl away from him as if blown by a strong wind and pour into the sarcophagus through the small hole.
Having dealt with enough vampires, Ash drew a magical circle around the sarcophagus to trap whatever was inside. They then piled the cocoons on top of the sarcophagus, and then heaped the burning coals from the pile on top of that, hoping the heat would at least deter, and hopefully destroy, whatever was inside. Then they did the logical thing...
They grabbed all the loot they could carry and ran.
They ran back to the ethereal gate, through it, and up the stairs on which they had first appeared, hoping that "up" would also mean "out". They climbed stairs for almost an hour, only to find a solid brick wall at the top.
To be continued...