After a bit of a pause, during which the group take on supplies and enjoy a quick meal, the crew form up and begin exploring their very strange surroundings. The building seems to be the home of a magus of no small power, whose name Moz remembers as Murlynd. In exploring the house, they find this Murlynd’s library and study. Ismek finds and pockets a strange book which Arturus identifies as “hey, that’s about my home”.
In short order, the party finds themselves at the front door of the place. Without further delay, they proceed outside and into the pleasant afternoon sunlight of a tranquil clearing. From outside, it’s clear that this house is very luxurious indeed. Its grounds trail off into a path that leads east towards a garden, flowers of enormous size plainly visible even from this distance. Moz forms the party into a marching order and they troop off towards yon garden. The garden itself is beautiful and very well tended, even in the absence of its master, the archmage. Without exploring the garden, the group changes path and heads for a hill that is visible to the south.
After pausing briefly at the hill, the group decided to head further south, towards what seems to be a river and an island beyond. Only to find themselves back at the garden of giant flowers. Several more attempts are made at going further south past the hill, only succeeding when they determine to head north instead. Arriving at the river, they peer across at a square – obviously well groomed – island of copses and grassy patches, all neatly arranged in perfect squares and bounded by rivulets. With time passing all too quickly for Moz’s pleasure, they try and find a way across and are interrupted as Goh finds and then waddles over to a partially concealed boat.
The boat easily large enough to carry the entire group, everyone scrambles in with only a moment’s pause on the part of Arturus to inquire as to what, precisely, a boat was. With Brother Joshua manning the oars, the party progresses against the current for a distance before allowing it to bring them around. After wild rapid ride with the current, protested greatly by the company’s august ursine, one and all find themselves beached with the boat taking on water at the edge of what seems a vast ocean.
In the distance, but approaching at a decent clip, a pair of most unusual companions – the walrus and the carpenter. The crew disembark their sinking vessel and draw down on the seemingly harmless duo, who explain promptly that they are the victims of a most cruel geas. Unable to carry their work of harvesting pearls due to having transgressed against one of this place’s archmagi. They are now completely unable to come within ten feet of salt water, and are much saddened by this. With some amount of persuasion, Moz – accompanied by Ismek and Arturus set out to sea by a spare boat which the pair had used previously.
Once out to a rise in the ocean’s shelf, the clams become clearly visible. Moz and Arturus dive in, leaving Ismek to cover their flanks from the boat. In moments, the pair become embroiled in a life or death struggle to survive as the clams attempt to grapple and drown both the bear and the dwarf. Faring well against their molluscine opponents, though taking a fair clip from the bivalves, they surface with two extraordinarily high quality pearls just as Ismek has decided to dive in after.
Back ashore, the rest of the party find that their innocuous ‘friends’ aren’t what they seem. The walrus begins the festivities by magically _suggesting _that Aika go in after her friends and find out what’s taking them so long. Shaking off the compulsion, Aika promptly draws on the pinniped and attacks. As Moz and company return, the fray is joined in earnest and blood is spilt all around. Nonetheless, the heroes win the day and render the walrus incapacitated and his companion dead before moving quickly on. Claiming the pair’s boat as spoils, the crew climbs aboard and begins to row up the coast as the sun begins to set.
After a brief pause for Arturus to catch some fish, the band find themselves approaching a beach. On the beach and perhaps sunning itself is a creature unlike any that they have yet seen, a mock turtle. The beast approaches diffidently and with a pleasant explanation that it is the victim of a demented archmage’s anger. Once a true dragon turtle, the poor creature is now equal parts dragon turtle and gorgon. Moz approaches very cautiously as the turtle further explains that it would like its original form back – entreating the crew to aid in this restoration. In return, they may keep whatever treasure they find in its lair, bringing back only a stoppered flask which will supposedly return the turtle to its original form.
With direction from the mock turtle, Ismek and Moz partake of some magical seaweed and gain the ability to breathe water as air and set forth to find the turtle’s underwater lair and its treasure. With little event, save a minor scuffle with a quartet of giant crabs, they find the lair and its attendant treasure chest. Per previous instruction, the rest of the coterie dive in after thirty minutes have passed and arrive as Moz and Ismek finish a survey of the lair. The cover for the chest is slid back and the treasure within revealed. Much in the way of shiny objects are within, as well as the flask containing the mock turtle’s ‘cure’. After claiming the bulk of the treasure, and the flask, Moz delves deeper still and finds a second flask. Uncertain of intentions and reality itself in this place, he secretly pockets this flask and tells noone.
As one and without event, the group return to the surface to find the turtle – and unseen, its companion griffin – awaiting. In fairly short order, the Captain uncorks the flask and frees its captive marid. The genie awaits instruction, holding its wish until Moz directs it to restore the mock turtle to the form of a true dragon turtle. It does and then dissipates into the waves as the turtle thanks Moz for his integrity before swimming peaceably away.
After a short break, everyone is directed off the beach and towards a southern path that cuts through the intimidating treeline which borders the beach in an otherwise unbroken line. Upon taking the path, the party soon find themselves in a pleasantly moonlit clearing with the griffin. Said griffin explains that this is his home and while he appreciates the party’s successes in restoring his friend the turtle, he knows they want to be on their way. He provides a bit of information and the group hurry along.
Reaching an intersection of paths, one leading towards an imposing building and the other towards a clearing, Moz pushes the party towards the clearing. Aika, however, catches a subtle movement in the trees lining the path mere moments before a pair of lycanthropic rats waylay the party. Sounding the alarm, Aika joins the melee with her usual eagerness. The shifters split and tear into the group, one meeting Aika’s assault while the other scores a bite on Goh. With the marching line in slight disarray and quickly folding in on itself to respond to this threat, another bite is scored on Brother Joshua. The fight is short and brutal, but the party suffers no significant loss. Moz explains a bit about lycanthropy and Brother Joshua offers succor to Goh before the group resumes marching order and makes for the clearing.
The clearing ahead seems idyllic and more importantly, empty. Rose trees line the main expanse and Moz takes a moment to examine an odd little hoop in the grass. While entering the clearing, Ismek notices that the roses born on the surrounding trees have a certain metallic quality to them. Investigating further, he finds that one of the blooms is made of pure gold! Without a second thought, he uses his blade to cut loose the blossom…
In the distance, though clearly heard by all, a voice cries out “THIEVES!! Thieves in the Queen’s Garden!” Moz looks up from the croquet hoop which had held his attention but a moment and Brother Joshua sighs, remarking to his Captain “Where’s Ismek?” From the path they had just quit, the sounds of many booted feet can be heard. Thinking quickly, Moz orders Brother Joshua to step to with him while directing the rest of the band in the opposite direction. As the first foot soldiers – humans dressed in strange livery with the markings of playing cards – breaches the path, Aika’s contingent find an archway into a long hall.
Within mere seconds, the first wave of soldiers fall. Brother Joshua bandies forth that he feels superfluous in comparison to Moz before the sounds of reinforcements coming up the path can be heard. As Aika takes to wing to investigate the combat, now over but soon joined again, Arturus scoops up Goh and Ismek takes to a run as a throaty woman’s voice cries out “OFF WITH THEIR HEADS!!!” A certain feeling of deja vu grips Moz as he readies for the next assault.
Brother Joshua and Moz square off with determination against the three approaching enemies. A woman in plate and the insignia of the Queen of Hearts emblazoned thereon; a gnome with a proper crown upon his brow; and a grimly attired man wearing an executioner’s hood and carrying an ebony greataxe. In the first seconds of combat, the captain and the paladin strike several significant blows. The Queen becomes more and more apoplectic with each passing moment, reaching forth with a gauntleted hand to seize Moz’s arm. The feeling of death’s proximity washes over the dwarf, a sickening and wrenching feeling which he throws off with the grim determination which has allowed his expansive lifespan to continue.
As Aika approaches, intent upon cutting the gnome in twain, she feels a curious gripping sensation wash over her as he gestures in a manner most arcane. The feeling fades quickly even as she brings the sword down in a massive arc, sadly missing as the small man sidesteps and readies another spell. Seconds later, the remainder of the party rushes in – leaving only Goh to mind the flank in her delicate state. The crew surges forward, victory seemingly assured. Nonetheless, Aika is subjected to her greatest nightmare, courtesy of the King’s illusions. Wildspace reaches out to surround and engulf her, smothering her to the verge of death before the resilient warrior woman finds her fortitude sufficient, shaken but by no means dead. A moment later, even as Brother Joshua flails ineffectually at his opponent; Moz lands a solid series of blows; Ismek moves to flank Joshua’s foe; and Arturus to flank Aika’s – the Queen discharges a burst of holy energy and restores precious life to the wounded of both sides.
At this moment, the tide seems to change. Aika is struck blind mere moments before Arturus rushes her opponent but nonetheless Moz finishes the Red Queen in a flurry of wrathful strikes. Arturus, however, fares less well against his own personal nightmare. In an illusory strike of parn, destructive insects from his homeworld, the mighty bear falls dead of fright. In a commanding voice backed by the power of wish magic, the King promptly restores life to his fallen Queen and the battle resumes. Ismek and Joshua seem to have the executioner well under control, only to find the fell power of his axe is that it can easily carry out the Queen’s orders. Brother Joshua’s head is cut clear of his neck, rolling in the grass as would a child’s marble. Ismek does his job, despite his fear, and finishes the hooded man with a thrust of sword into vitals as Aika takes the sky to try and rid herself, in vain, of the blinding magics of the King.
Moz again returns the Queen to a nonliving condition and looks around to find Arturus apparently napping; Joshua decapitated and the King having vanished. Unleashing a blast from a wand of ice storms, he sounds the retreat even as reinforcements can be heard again on the path. Bundling the corpses of bear and Brother alike, the party falls back to the long hall as Goh provides suppression fire quite literally to make good their escape.
Once in the hall, it is merely a matter of figuring out which door goes where before the party are swept up into the egress from Dungeonland and deposited, much to Moz’s consternation, at the base of an elaborate staircase. The rest of the party being so deposited and the landing secured, Ismek hears the approach of music and sounds the alarm. Moz takes the stair, still partially convinced they are still within the demi-plane holding Dungeonland. A creature heretofore unseen, with the torso of a beautiful woman playing a harp and the lower body of a brightly colored serpent, welcomes them to the Infinite Staircase and explains calmly that she has been expecting them…