The party arrived at the ruins in the afternoon and climbed easily down into the rocky indention that surrounded its central feature. A pair of stone legs, one significantly higher than the other, towered above them but, like the poet said, “nothing beside remains.” The pedestal below had the eroded remains of writing on it, but the only word still legible was "Brillig."
There was also a well of much more recent construction near the statue. Greel checked it out and found the water drinkable, noting the presence of the wooden bucket. Against the far wall of the depression, two statues of warriors with seashell accents carved into their armor guarded an archway over a pile of rubble. All three statues showed extreme wear and odd bits of coral-like growth. Several empty insets where gemstones might once have been were also evident.
While Culthwan searched the area for tracks, Zai Kren climbed down the well and used his power to enhance his senses. While he found nothing unexpected inside the well, his super-hearing did tell him that there were many more people moving around up top than their expedition could account for.
Culthwan looked up from his own discovery in response to Zai Kren’s warning and the party mobilized in time to defend themselves from a six-man Toven attack. Although no one was affected at first, Greel, upon inspecting the tattoos after the fight, went berserk and stabbed one of the corpses maniacally until Torath pulled him off and calmed him down. Culthwan wrapped up several of the Toven swords for travel and they proceeded to investigate the rubble-strewn archway.
While shifting the rubble, they discovered its unpleasant texture. It looked like regular stone, but seemed to snag and pull at the skin like pumice. Zai Kren suddenly had a choking attack and, when assisted by Torath, coughed up a pint of salt water.
As expected, there was a worked stone passage beyond the rubble. Zai Kren was able to detect occasional marks like those left by barnacles. Torath scoffed at Greel’s attempt to explain how the desert could once have been underwater.
Among the various false starts and dead ends, they found the following places:
- Mirror Room: This perfectly round room was walled with a single, seamless mirror. While they were examining the room and wondering how such a thing could have been constructed, Zai Kren spotted something out of the corner of his eye. After carefully watching it for a while in his peripheral vision, he was able to discern that it was a silvery fish-like creature that seemed to be closing in on him with every pass. Kirella, following his gaze, realized this as well and broke the mirror. Three fish-tailed creatures with clawed humanoid arms and, big, toothy mouths, and cat-like eyes flopped out of the broken shards and attacked. During the fight that followed, they tried out some of the Toven swords and Greel improvised a magical solution to the mirror fish attack, gathering up shards in his magic cloak and casting them at one of the creatures. The shards seemed to draw its essence out in all directions, each mirror fragment turning into a small, harmless carp while the larger monster disappeared. He later tried using the little fish in an attack on one of the remaining creatures, but only ended up pelting Torath with them.
- Stalactite Room: This rubble-strewn room appeared to have collapsed a long time ago and then been covered over by more recent (but still old) limestone formations. Poking around, Culthwan stumbled across signs that something long, thin, and spiny had been dragged across the ground. When they got around to looking up, they saw three long spinal cords tipped with small humanoid skulls clinging to the stalactites. Culthwan was immediately mesmerized by the glittering eye sockets of one serpent, while Zai Kren seemed to be engaging another one in a kind of psychic duel. Torath and Kirella tried arrows and spells. Getting ahold of some fallen bones, Greel attempted to use sympathetic magic against the serpents. On his second try, with a hand from Torath, he succeeded.
- Web Cell: This square room was coated with calcified, oddly filamentous formations, seemingly spread over the rock like wallpaper. Touching this stuff produced an instant panic reaction reminiscent of finding beetles in one’s hair. This elicited a disgusted, “what the hell did we come here for anyway?” from the fastidious Greel. Giving the matter some thought, they realized that none of them actually remembered why they had come here, or when they had begun their journey. Some prodding with Torath’s firebrand sword revealed a magical cloak that made the wearer’s location difficult to pinpoint, but they found no answers to their larger questions.
All of which led them finally to a grand underground throne room. It was a long, vaulted chamber with a golden throne on a dais at the far end. Behind the throne, a silvery black curtain hung strikingly still. A strange, rasping hum filled the hall. Rows of statues flanked the approach, three on each side, similar to the ones outside but in much better condition, and still flourishing their turquoise insets. Near the middle of the room, before the throne, was a wooden table with a ceramic tea set in a style that did not seem to match the ruins. A skeleton was propped up on the throne, gaping senselessly across the table.
Torath and Culthwan were immediately drawn to the throne, while Kirella started prying out the turquoise pieces from the statues. Greel, frustrated in his search for inscriptions, poured himself a cup of “tea” and discovered that it was brine. Eventually, while Culthwan was peeling back layers of gold to take home and Kirella was counting her stones, someone looked up and saw the writhing mass of insect life on the roof. The bugs, which resembled long-bodied adult cicadas with stingers, grasping forelegs, and lots of feelers, formed into a crescent shape on the roof and then dropped into the air, swarming around the skeleton and clumping against it like glistening, chitinous flesh.
Greel attempted to communicate with it, but the only expression it offered that made any sense was to point at Kirella, who was busily stowing her new treasure out of sight. Still eager to communicate, Greel offered the composite monster some tea. It then reached out towards Kirella, launching a stream of bugs in her direction as she fled the room.
Torath and Culthwan came at the creature from both directions. Torath’s broadsword did little harm on its own, but the flames left a swath of dead bugs in their wake. Culthwan dealt it what should have been a crippling blow, hacking through both ankles, but the creature’s movement was completely unaffected. Eventually, however, their combined efforts wore down its supply of bugs enough for Torath to finish it off with a pair of great fiery slashes from his bastard sword.
Behind the throne (which they completely stripped of gold), they discovered that the curtain was actually the same sort of stony filaments they had found in the Web Cell room. Culthwan pried his way into it with his dagger and could see through the hole into dizzying vistas of twisting space beyond. Zai Kren staggered back, unable to face the impossible gap in reality. After some deliberation, Culthwan shrugged his shoulders and dove through the portal with a grin. The others were hit by waves of choking panic and a feeling of increasing pressure like their ears were about to pop. Finally, everyone, even Zai Kren, followed Culthwan through the hole, feeling as if they were being hurled forward on the crest of a wave.
After a directionless plunge through the abyss, they found themselves pushing their way through layers of clingy filaments and finally, back on solid ground, surrounded by wildly patterned curtains. They were all separated and fumbling their way through the awkward maze until Greel used his sympathetic magic to tear up all the curtains by tearing up one. Staggered by the sudden rush of magic, he was surprised to see another version of himself standing among his confused companions.
They also found themselves with two women who both claimed to be Culthwan. The two looked similar, but not identical, both looking like they could have been close relatives of the original Culthwan. Although they shared hazy memories of the deeds of the original Culthwan, neither remembered being anything other than what they were.
After some puzzlement over their distorted roster, the party set about exploring their new environs. They were in a circular passage with several doors on the inside walls and only solid stone on the outside one. There was no sign of a way back to the ruins at Brillig.
The first room they explored seemed to be some sort of weapons locker, but the devices it contained were bizarre, seemingly made of some kind of crystal with odd striations twisting throughout their interior. The found one oval buckler-like device, two odd monitor screen things that apparently fit over the hand like a boxing glove, two folding stinger-shaped attachments, and one crystalline claw. While the others were at least curious, Torath immediately found the objects disturbing and proceeded to look for other ways out of the room.
Greel(1) tried on the “shield” and it bonded to his arm. Knocked himself back by banging on a wall. Had Torath hit it and was thrown back. Called it useless and got electric shock. Culthwan(2) tried on claw and worked out its function. Torath stayed clear and looks for secret doors. Zai Kren tried out screen and then Culthwan(3) decided to punch it. Zai Kren let it happen and she bashed the screen in. Zai Kren noticed that it was repairing itself. The Greels added a stinger each, giving Greel(1) an attachment on each arm. Zai Kren, using his cosmic awareness, determined that these were artifacts of a civilization based on symbiotic technology.
Torath found a patch of wall where he could push through the filaments. Culthwan(2) probed with her new claw and found secret door lever. And into the straight inner passage. The others eventually followed and found the other secret doors, including the door back to curving passage.
Next they found a lavishly furnished bedroom with a dead guy in a red space suit on the bed. As they examined the room, they noticed that he got older every time they looked back at him. Soon, he was only a skeleton. Culthwan(2) probed the suit with her bionic claw but succeeded only in completing the astronaut’s transformation into dust.
The next room had six odd suits of armor made of hard, translucent filaments with crystal circuitry modules. Torath, realizing what he was looking at, fled the room in disgust. Culthwan(2) and Zai Kren experimented with the suits. In the process, they figured out that they could remove the symbiotic weapons by willing it, and that the smaller attachments had to be put on over the suits, not under. They also discovered that they could reach through the suits to access pockets & stuff, but regular armor wouldn’t fit under it.
They finally found their way to what appeared to be an ornate but otherwise unremarkable double stairway. Upon beginning to climb it, though, they found themselves twisting through space in an Escher-like maze of up and down spirals twisting around each other until they finally found themselves descending, not rising, into a huge glass-domed room. Looking outside, they could see that they were in the top of one tower in a floating castle. All around the castle, above and below, stars glittered in a black sky. Another tower similar to the one they were in was visible across from them.
On the far side of the chamber, there was a double throne upon which two skeletons in medieval armor sat. Torath laughed with somewhat hysterical relief at the sight of the death knights, something native to the world he knew and understood.
The rest of the party attempted to communicate with the creatures, receiving a number of cryptic answers about size and relative position like “it thinks it knows where it is,” always speaking about the person, not to him or her. Whenever one of the skeletons spoke, it would turn toward the other and disappear, its voice issuing forth from the empty throne. Finally, the question, “how do we get out of here?” was answered with, “It does not know about the other tower.”
Once again interested in the tower across the way, Culthwan(2) discovered that the suits pass through the clear walls like water, but to other matter it’s solid. The others went back for the other suits, but Zai Kren and Culthwan(2) started without them, first experimenting with a rope, which was immediately severed once Culthwan(2) was completely outside while Zai Kren, holding the other end, remained inside. Zai Kren went through as well and they tried to will the suits to generate some kind of propulsion, but couldn’t, so they pushed off from the wall instead.
The others returned with the suits, roped themselves together, and went outside. Greel(1) bashed the wall with his shield to propel them across the gulf. They rocketed past Culthwan(2) and Zai Kren, then realize they were about to crash into a brick wall. Culthwan(3) thought about slowing them down and glider wings popped out of the suit to slow them down. Greel(1)’s stinger was also useful as a brake.
They stopped at a window ledge. Climbing through, they found gravity and air in an open shaft with no visible top or bottom. The walls were coated with non-stick webby stuff. Greel(2) jumped and used the glider wings. The wings were not powerful enough to completely counter gravity, but they did allow for a soft decent. Greel(2) fell a long ways, and finally ended up back where he started, this time from above. He caught hold of the wall and rejoined his party.
Zai Kren began climbing down while Greel(1) and Culthwan(2) scouted upwards. Zai Kren continued going down into the dark, but did not loop as Greel(2) had. Above, Greel(1) and Culthwan(2) found criscrossing patterns like branches and leaves moving. Zai Kren figured out how to use the suits to communicate with each other. Everyone except Zai Kren began ascending.
Six human-sized crustaceans were clinging to the walls between them and exit. They were similar to the cicada-creatures from the Brillig throne room, but wingless and possessing only a mass of feelers instead of eyes. The party fought on the walls and beat them, then continued up, Greel(1) in the lead. Greel(1) found the shaft getting smaller and smaller, finally shrinking to a tiny point of light above him. Pushing through, he found that he had ripped free of a cocoon in a similar shaft underwater. He was no longer wearing his crystal symbiotes or any of his equipment, just rags. Breathing the water was uncomfortable, but not impossible, like breathing in thick smoke. Tiny versions of the crustaceans were crawling all over the cocoons.
The others only saw Greel(1)’s suit shrivel around him as he turned into a skeleton and dropped into the darkness. They immediately started climbing down.
Greel(1) tore one of the cocoons open and released Culthwan(2). As before, the others saw her shrivel up like Greel(1) did. The same process freed them all eventually, even Zai Kren, who had been continually climbing down all along. They swam to the surface, where they exited a stone circle on a lake shore. There, they coughed up the altered salt water that was enabling them to breathe down there. Torath was particularly disturbed, wondering how they could know that any of their history together was real.
A sort of flashback effect kept their identities confused at first, but as they shook off the last after-images of dream world, they began to recognize each other and remember some of their real lives.