A fine staff. The others looked around but, as is so often the case with evil castles, found no logical explanation for the room being so full of snakes.
Melastasya headed to the far door and found it neither locked nor trapped. She opened it wide to find a wide, tall corridor, with a heavily armored, thirty-foot-tall giant looking strait at her. She stammered out a greeting and Grimnir stepped up beside her, rubbing the skull of his staff of enslavement. The giant's face went slack and he bowed stiffly at the waist, greeting his new master and introducing himself as Duolc.
Mel tried to strike up a conversation with Duolc. Although he was clearly not the brightest giant in town (and giants are not generally known for their intellects) she was able to learn some potentially useful information, like the fact that the "Boss" could take a number of forms ranging from fiery demons to dragons to a fellow giant, but very definitely never a young, human noblewoman. Which, Grimnir pointed out, pretty much guaranteed that Elissa was the "Boss" (via his particular brand of distrustful circular logic). Mel, for her part, seemed rather fixated on the fact that the giant seemed unable to discern between the various races of smaller creatures, not knowing the difference between humans or elves. Duolc told them that he knew where the Pool chamber was, and that the pool was not guarded by other giants, but rather by "little folk". So, of course, they asked him to lead them there.
The way to the Pool was winding and confusing, even to the Giant it seemed, and he had to double back and choose different paths several times. Eventually though, they came to a pair of large double doors, almost identical to those in Myth Drannor, with a familiar brilliant light leaking out around the edges.
They pushed their way in to find a large, high-ceilinged, circular room, just as before, with the blindingly bright Pool in the center. Eight plate-armoured human guards stood circling the pool, looking outwards. They stood stoic and unmoving, their hands resting on massive zweihander swords. Duolc waved and the guards did not react when the party approached them. Nor did they react when the party began examining the pool, or poking, prodding, and making faces at them.
One did finally react when Ash tried to scoop up some of the water of the Pool using his soul-sucking urn. As soon as the urn crossed the line of the guards, a sword came up, impossibly fast, shattering the urn. Ash scooped the pieces, weeping for the possible loss of Zorch, back and Kevorkian repaired it with a mending spell.
Ash, not wanting to take any more chances with the receptacle that held Zorch's soul/body/form/whatever, considered blasting the Urn with lightning to see if he could resurrect Zorch again. Then he remembered that any electricity would go strait to Mel. He tried casting remove curse on Mel, in hopes of ending her plight, though further experimentation (involving tossing witch bolts and lightning bolts across the pool and trying not to hit Mel) proved the curse removal to have been ineffective.
Experiment 321 walked up to one of the guards and began poking, tickling, and prodding some more, eventually eliciting a tiny smirk. Grimnir, walked up and, stopping just at the edge of the ring of guards, placed an Asgard Rune (in this case keyed to his own home plane) on the mouth of the Pool, unmolested. As Grimnir stepped back, Ash tried one last thing to test whether the repair of the urn had worked and whether the guards incredible stoicism could be broken. He touched one of the guards with the urn.
Of course the guard died, instantly, and that finally got the others attention. Swords came up. Experiment 321 stabbed the guard she had been prodding with a sword of biting. Dame laid down a field of spikes between the guards and the party. Then the guards vanished.
Ash locked down one, countering the teleporation he was using. The guard charged across the field of spikes and smacked Ash with his sword, cutting an impossibly deep gouge. The other six suddenly appeared behind the rest of the party, striking with similar results.
Grimnir activated the rune on the Pool and blasted his assailant through the one-way portal to Hell, then used a thorn whip to yank a second through. Mel and Experiment 321 dodged their attackers and rushed to Ash's aid, tagteam sneak attacking the poor sap. Ash smacked another one with his urn. Morgianna frightened one off with a wrathful smite. And Dame called down a wall of fire over her assailant.
Despite the party's best efforts, the guards continued to take their beating and beat them soundly in return. One even flew when Grimnir attempted to evade them by perching in the air. That one was also blasted down through the portal to Hell. Dame called down an ice storm on the one being jumped by Mel and the lizard-girl, finishing him off. With two urned and three stuck in Hell, the last two were cornered and outnumbered.
The one that fled from Morgianna rushed towards Dame, through the ice, and the spikes, and the fire. He got one hit in before Grimnir dropped down beside Dame and blasted him back the way he had come. Morgianna rushed in and pinned him between herself and the wall of fire, then Traithe laid him on his back with a grease spell, which subsequently also burst into flames. The poor guard died screaming horribly, scared stiff, coated in grease, impaled on spikes, and burning alive.
The last one, sensibly ran for the door. Melastasya chased him down and, once free of the Pool's light, clubbed him like a baby seal then shadow-stepped to the far end of the hall to block his path. Concentrated fire from the rest of the party dispatched him quickly. Once the guards were dispatched, the party rounded up their arms and armor and Grimnir set about identifying the weapons that had dealt so much damage to them.
As Grimnir's portal to Hell winked out, the party spotted a red metal triangle resting at the top of the steps leading down to the pool, with a small piece of paper under it. They collected the piece, which bore the sigil of death and read the note.
If you find the others.
Meet me at the Abadon.
Ash, meanwhile, sensing the tremendous power possessed by the Pool of Radiance, took his urn with him and dove in. There was a flash of light the blinded everyone as energy surged into Ash as the soul-devouring power of the urn mingled with the absolute law of the Pool. With supreme focus of will, Ash harnessed and shaped the inflow of power before it could destroy him, focusing it back out through the sister Pool in Myth Drannor and into the Mythal. Ash watched through the Pool as time flowed backward within the Mythal, restoring the city of Myth Drannor, every building, road, stone, and tree to the state they were in immediately before the coming of the Army of Darkness.
As the spontaneous and massive undertaking of restoring Myth Drannor completed, the urn began to disintegrate. Ash cried out, focusing the last of the dissipating energies back into the urn and unleashing a bolt of lightning. Then the urn was gone. A moment later, as Ash climbed out of the Pool, he felt a jolt and a tap on the shoulder. He turned to find Zorch floating there.
As Ash and Zorch had their tearful reunion, Grimnir studied the Pool, realizing that Ash's little time-rewining trick had done nothing to deplete it's reserves of power. Wondering if the pool could be depleted, he started the Nogese ritual for transmuting water into liquefied time, then dove in himself.
Grimnir became immediately aware that the Nogese ritual was in fact how the Pools of Radiance were originally created, and that by repeating the process he had opened his mind to the inner workings of the Pools. The fact that the Pools were made of liquid time, combined with the resonance from the Mythal, meant that Ash's time-reversing trick, while it had exhausted the souls stored in the urn, had tapped only the smallest fraction of the Pool's powers.
Grimnir had previously suspected that the Pool, as a focus of pure Law, might be some extension of Tyr's power ("Tyr is the Law and the Law is Tyr") and was unsurprised to find that he was right. More surprising was to learn that Tyr was a girl, and that Tyr was somehow coterminous on some metaphysical level with Elissa Bivant. Looking deeper he saw that the metaphysical struggle between Law and Chaos was coming to a head, right here, right now. He also saw that the party's own actions had somehow awakened the key players of the last two major conflicts back.
|Distant Past (Nog)||Past (Myth Drannor)||Present (Phlan)|
|Law||The Blessed Afflictor||Garnetallisar||Elissa Bivant|
There was some debate about whether Yarash should really be on that list. Ash in particular insisted that all the others had god-like powers, while they had actually killed Yarash. Until, of course, he was reminded of how many times they had killed Yarash, and that normal clone spells do not allow multiple copies to function simultaneously...
Grimnir also saw that there were two factions that stood apart from this metaphysical conflict, but at opposite ends of a different spectrum. First the Yugoloths, led by Lord Maram, who were egging both sides on towards a final throwdown, presumably as an extension of their eternal desire to see Law and Chaos both purged from the multiverse. The second was represented by Sorrassar, and desired to maintain the status quo, which Grimnir dubbed the "Anti-Ragnarok Party".
Melastasya didn't need any more convincing, she wrote to Sorrassar and told him where they were and what was up, and asked if it was possible to destroy the Pools. Sorrassar wrote back that he did not know if the pools could be destroyed, but that they could be hijacked. He sent instructions...
Grimnir took one look at the circles of runes Sorrassar had instructed them to draw around the Pool and saw how the magic circle might be modified with his own permutation of the Asgard rune. He told the others that he could take the Pool to somewhere where it would be put to good use. Ash understood where he meant and immediately responded by suggesting that this would give Grimnir a chance to show proof of his repeated argument that devils were performing a necessary service for the multiverse by keeping the demons in check.
And so, if the road to Hell is paved with good intentions, then the intentions of this party must be the best, for that is where they went...
To be continued...