The party organizes, then marches to the Maidens. Hazrad asks for guides to the room with the “walls that talk”, and then the Undercity. Pandora asks for volunteers and four women step forward; Pandora chooses three of them.
Pandora turns to FluffyKitten, then feels her forehead. Seeing the blood-encrusted robe the halfling has, she examines her side and finds the stab wound. Her tone is of great concern, and Hazrad translates that she is suggesting the “girl” remain with them. Ember decides to heal her completely, both as a practical matter and to demonstrate the power of her own Goddess – she uses six orisons of heartmending. Seeing FluffyKitten completely healed, Pandora gives her assent for her departure, but Ember declares that the party will rest before setting out so that she can recover her spells.
The maidens share their food and drink with the party and Ember keeps her lantern on low but it lasts for only two hours before her remaining oil burns out; FluffyKitten’s lantern is then lit and one quarter of her flask used before the group sets out.
The party leaves the Maidens with three of them as guides. The lantern is extinguished and torches are lit for the lead and rear of the party. They proceed down the ramp room to the tomb level, along their known route to the ladder down to the fifth level, and through the kitchen complex. They pass through the room with the iron statues, which are easy to outrun, and through the room with the stone statues, which are harder. Wolfbane trips and falls during the crossing; Iris scoops her up before the statues can get her. Thrud leaves a lit “candle” behind, and the group waits outside the door, but hears no explosion.
At the hallway intersection, the Maidens lead the party in traversing the “corners” without stepping into the intersection itself. Iris and Pooches go last – Pooches misses his jump, and when he lands on the floor of the intersection, his weight causes the floor to tilt along an axis. Iris dives, grabbing his forelegs, and the two people behind her grab for her legs. Everyone strains, and Pooches is pulled to safety, but not before Iris catches a glimpse of what lies beneath the trapped floor – a ten foot drop on to metal spikes! The party resumes their marching order and proceeds to the “Great Temple”.
[two hours, down four torches, thirty-eight left]
They pass the broken statues and descend the stairs of the dais. The maidens take deep drinks from their waterskins and then refill them in the fountain, indicating by gesture that the party should do the same.
As they fill their skins, a pair of figures approaches from along the central aisle. They approach unthreateningly, a man and a woman. The woman wears a sword, but it is sheathed. They have brightly-colored clothing, red hair, and bronze fox masks.
The maidens draw their swords, but at a few words from the woman, sheathe them again. The maidens begin talking with the pair. Hazrad listens intently, but much of the conversation flows too fast for him to follow. He does notice that the man is staring intently at one of the maidens.
Bhelgarn feels the gaze of the woman on him, and feels increasingly uncomfortable. “Time ta go,” he says, and begins to pack up.
“What?” asks Morgan.
“I don’ like them, an’ we need ta go.” The dwarf offers no further argument, but sets off. Most of the party begins to follow. Two of the maidens take their leave of the pair, but one lingers. Her two companions speak to her sharply, but she waves them off. Hazrad tries to speak to her as well. She answers him, but does not take her eyes off the man.
Hazrad and the other two maidens begin conversing, as the torchbearers retreat and light fades on the fountain. The maidens grow increasingly agitated. Hazrad takes the arm of the maiden lightly, and tries to lead her away, but she resists. The other two maidens draw their swords and start forward aggressively – though it is unclear whether they mean to menace the fox-man or Hazrad for his temerity at touching one of their own. Morgan, Iris, and Odleif had hesitated, withdrawing but not leaving with the rest of the party. Now, Morgan and Iris return, while Odleif nocks an arrow and draws. Morgan takes the maiden’s hand, replacing Hazrad, but the fox-man takes the other. For a second it looks as though they are about to have a tug-of-war, but then the fox-woman draws her sword and advances on Morgan. At that, she drops the maiden’s hand and draws her own sword. Odleif risks one shot, which flies over Morgan’s shoulder but misses the fox-woman. Then, as the party retreats further, the scene at the fountain fades into darkness.
In the dark, Hazrad grips his spear but can do little else. The fox-man begins to lead the maiden away. The other two maidens flank the pair, but do not attack. Morgan, Iris, and the fox-woman begin to fight, and with a few mighty slashes Morgan cuts the woman down, then turns and charges at the retreating fox-man and maiden. He is now moving quickly, having ascended the stairs and is making for the door. He still has the maiden’s hand in his own, but she is going with him quite willingly. They have just reached the door when Morgan catches up to them. Unarmed, and facing Morgan’s sword, the man pauses, shrinks, and turns into a fox! The maiden is left standing confused as the fox darts away to disappear among the rubble.
At the sound of combat, some in the party have returned. Light falls across Morgan just in time for those watching to see her wind up and slap the maiden hard across her face. There is a sharp intake of breath from all the maidens, but then the formerly enamored one begins thanking Morgan, rapidly defusing the situation. Morgan leaves her to talk with her sisters about what happened, while she goes to examine the body of the fox woman. There is little on it besides her mask and sword, but under her robes Morgan does find a necklace, which she turns over to Ember, though FluffyKitten clambers for it. Morgan is more interested in the sword, as is Bhelgarn. Examining it by torchlight, they find it is a fine, sharp, and well-balanced blade, with no signs of wear. Glyphs are etched along the base of the blade on both sides. Wolfbane identifies these as magic runes, and claims that she would be able to read them, had she prepared her read magic spell. Morgan agrees that Bhelgarn can carry it for the time being.
When everyone is back in order, the party proceeds through the open north corridor. After about eighty feet, it opens into the second largest chamber they have seen in the pyramid, after the great temple. The maidens assure the party that this is the room where the walls talk. The high, arched ceiling of this room is supported by a double row o f pillars. Each pillar is carved into a statue of what, from their crowns, the party takes to be a king or queen of Cynidicea . A series of mosaic pictures decorate the walls of the room. These start in the southwest corner near where the party entered and continue clockwise around the room. The maidens seem amazed by the mosaics, as if they had never seen them before. Gradually the party realizes that although they have been in and out of this room all their adult lives, they have never entered it with a light source until now.
In the center of the north wall is a pair of huge stone doors. At the base of the double doors, the floor is covered with sand. They are on the fifth level – the one that, from the outside, looked partially buried by sand. Furthermore, Bhelgarn noted the change from limestone blocks to bedrock as they descended to the next level. He is sure that they are now level with the ground, and that the doors are a second means of exiting the pyramid. However, the doors open out – after a few attempts, Bhegarn is equally convinced that they will only open if several tons of sand are excavated from the other side, first.
Remmy is left to watch the entrance, while the rest of the party examines the mosaics by torchlight. They are, in order…
1 . A tribe of squat, heavy-browed humanoids wielding crude stone weapons worship a lizard-headed god.
2. A large band of tall, black-haired people battle the humanoids and take over their hunting grounds.
3 . A village rises over the scene of the battle. The lands around the village are an open grasslands, not a sandy desert. There are fields of grain and vast herds of cattle sheep.
4. An army of snake-headed warriors marches on the village. A great leader arises from among the humans, uniting them in defense of their homes and fields and driving off the invaders.
5. The victorious leader is crowned king, thus founding a line of rulers. The likeness of the king is recognizable as being that of the man on the first of the pillars of the room.
6. A stone city is built on the site where the village stood. Bhelgarn spends a long time looking at this panel, and eventually pronounces his belief that the city represented is the city above, outside the pyramid. The pyramid itself is not shown, but he believes that many of the largest buildings, as well as the general layout, is the same.
7 . Scenes of the splendor of the kingdom at its height; abundant harvests, rich trade, wealthy nobles, lavish temples.
8 . The births of a king and a queen. Although depicted in their cradles, their “future selves” float nearby, presaging the rulers to come. Many in the party recognize their features as those of the ghosts they found in the tombs, which would make them King Alexander and Queen Zenobia. FluffyKitten points to the queen and says “boing, boing!” until the party realizes that she is referencing the queen in the mural in the burial room of the jester.
(north wall, west of doors)
9 . The great pyramid is built under the direction of King Alexander and Queen Zenobia. Worship of Gorm, Usamigares, and Madarua is now centered on the pyramid and the temples in the pyramid.
10. Workers digging under the pyramid uncover the foundations of a pre-historic temple. Priests exploring the ancient temple discover and begin to worship a great, tentacled being. This worship is not supported by the King and Queen but it is tolerated.
(north wall, east of doors)
11 . The death of King Alexander and Queen Zenobia and the burial of them and their court in the pyramid. Certain scenes are recognizable as being from the tomb level.
12. The worship of the old gods Gorm, Usamigaras, and Madarua is replaced by the worship of the tentacled god among most people. Even the new king and queen are shown taking part.
13. Life becomes a year-round carnival for the people of the city. Apparently the city now controls a vast hinterland, and the rural dwellers and trade routes are taxed so that the city folk can live in luxury. All city folk are now masked, and the pyramid becomes a permanent center of celebration.
14. A barbaric, golden-haired people contact the kingdom. Based on their appearance and weaponry, Ember believes that they are an attempt to represent the nordic peoples of her homeland.
15. The final picture is not a mosaic. It is a crudely painted sketch that shows the barbarians looting the city. Noblemen and priests are fleeing to take refuge in the pyramid.
There is room on the wall for more pictures, but the space is blank.
Odleif examines the tracks on the ground – they are a bewildering mix of human sandals and boots, snake tracks, lizard feet, and insect legs. The heaviest traffic runs along the central corridor, but few of them approach the sand of the blocked doors. Odleif pauses near the northwest-most pillar – there seems to be a heavy concentration of human feet in the area. As he carefully triangulates, approaching step by step, one of the maidens casually walks past him and pries open a stone plate from the floor, revealing stone steps leading down. She says something which Hazrad translates as, “This is the entrance to the Undercity.”
The party enters the stairwell, one at a time. Narrow at first, the stairs quickly become a broad spiral staircase, carved out of the bedrock that underlies the pyramid. The last one through is a maiden, and she carefully replaces the stone plug in the trapdoor above her. The maiden in the lead passes several turns more ahead, but then stops and sits on the stairs. Through Hazrad, she explains that it is a long journey to the Undercity, and it is traditional to rest here before continuing. The monsters and animals of the pyramid do not come this way, so they will be safe.
However, the party has not been resting long when they begin to feel a clammy coldness seeping into their bones. Several of them start to tremble from the chill. Hazrad asks the maidens about it, and is told that it is an effect of the stone that happens sometimes, not always. They say that it is best to keep moving to stay warm. The party starts up again, descending the spiral staircase for what Bhelgarn says is at least two hundred feet. Many are sweating, but despite the labor still feel cold.
Here there is a landing, leading to the side a bit, and then another staircase descent, though this one not as well-hewn. The party continues like this for quite some time, shorter descents and longer flat stretches. Natural caves and pockets appear in the limestone bedrock, and eventually natural tunnels and passageways. Eventually the cutwork all but disappears, except as necessary to link together these passageways. The result is that the pathway of descent is highly inefficient, traveling over a great distance and area to achieve a little net travel forward and down. It is rough going, for although the floor has been worn smooth by centuries of passage, many openings are narrow, stalactites hang from the ceiling, and the floor is often wet and slippery. There are several long stretches in between descents and ledges where there is a pronounced slope, and a fall would risk taking out everyone in front of the faller. Stairs are cut in the steepest parts, but many difficult passages remain. Eventually the cold sensation does subside, but it is at least three hours and innumerable twists and turns before the maidens again call for a halt.
[twenty-eight torches left]
The maidens tell the party, through Hazrad, that they are approaching the entrance to the Undercity. Sometimes it is guarded by Zargonites, sometimes not, but the party should be prepared for a fight. Furthermore, their torches will be a giveaway, alerting anyone in the city to their presence, so they ask that the party extinguish them now.
The party puts out their torches. Those without infravision grasp the cloaks, or place their hands on the shoulders of, Bhelgran, Iris, and Morgan. They creep ahead, traversing a few more twists and turns in complete darkness.
Senses heightened by the dark, everyone notices a distinct change. The air grows more humid, muggy even. There is a rich smell of loam, rotting vegetation, a slight tang of mushrooms in the air. As they round one last corner they hear or feel the tunnel open up into a vast vault in front of them – a huge open space where the sound of their shuffling feet is lost in the distance rather than echoed back to them along walls. Low but insistent are the innumerable sounds of a city – hundreds of people moving, working, speaking, singing. There are even animal sounds – distant lowing and squealing. Here and there the darkness is pierced by pinpricks of light, slits of red and yellow as of hearth fires. In the far distance is a different light – a dull red that is before and above them, as if of a vast fire on the side of a far-off mountain.
The maidens explain that the Enclave of Madarua lies before them, but that they must traverse a good part of the city to get there. The safest way is to go along the cavern wall, as far from eyes as possible. The party divides into three groups, each with a maiden as guide, a party member with infravision as leader, and two or three others holding a short length of rope pulled by the leader. They agree that they will give about five minutes time between groups, avoid any conflict, and re-unite at the Enclave.
As they work their way along the wall, the maiden in Hazrad’s group whispers what they are passing. First, the Stronghold of Gorm – a complex with a thick stone outer wall and two tall towers. Next a series of stone residential buildings, apartment complexes for the city dwellers. Third, a series of stone pillars with a thoroughfare between them. The cavern floor they tread on is rough, with stalactites to avoid. In between the pillars the rock has been hewn flat and worn smooth. Next, the Lyceum of Usamgares – a large complex with a low stone wall and corner towers no higher than the wall itself. Finally, the Enclave of Madarua.
The Enclave consists of a high stone wall with a single huge stone tower rising even higher above it. All three groups actually pass beyond the Enclave, then come back around the far side and meet up at the entrance gate, which is on the city-side of the complex.
The maidens with the party call up to guards along the wall and the gate is opened – an ancient, rusting, iron portcullis that is raised. The party proceeds into the courtyard surrounding the tower. The space is filled with hide tents and lean-to’s, and people. Several of the tents are illuminated from within – the wan, flickering light indicative of low fires, though it does not smell of wood smoke. Though a few armed and armored maidens are about, most of the people in the courtyard are men and children, with clothing only and tools, but no weapons.
The maidens speak with a woman who has the bearing of a watch officer, then explain to Hazrad that the men of the party must wait in the courtyard, but they may rest and will be brought food and water if they desire. Only women are permitted in the Tower, and generally only full members of the Warrior Maidens – an exception is being made for Wolfbane, FluffyKitten, and Ember, for some reason the maiden does not know. Hazrad starts to object that his mistress needs a translator, but the maiden tells him that that will not be necessary. The men watch as the women disappear into the Tower. Eventually they are shown to a cluster of tents that look like they have been hastily vacated by their former occupents. Floor mats and stuffed leather cushions are on the ground inside, but there is no other furniture. There is nothing to do now but wait, although Hazrad tries to make conversation with some of the nearby males.
The women of the party pass by guards at the iron door of the Tower and inside. The stone structure is thirty feet across, but the walls are easily five feet thick, so that the interior is a twenty foot-diameter circle. A single, narrow, stone staircase is set into the wall, and spirals up and around the circumference of the tower. Narrow windows are set at head height all along the spiral of the stairs but nowhere else in the Tower.
The ground floor is filled with leather bags and ceramic jars of supplies, and the maidens leading the party proceed immediately to the stairs. Ascending, they pass by three floors of dormitories. Morgan tries to count the crowded beds to estimate the number of maidens present, but they are moving fast and none of the rooms are lit. The fourth floor up is obviously a temple, and resembles the temple of Madarua the women know from the pyramid, but set in a circular room. There are two women there, obviously leaders, as well as a number of guards. The whole room is filled with a dim light of no apparent source.
One of the women, dressed in elaborately embroidered robes, says a prayer before the altar, and then turns to face the party. When she speaks, they find that she is speaking in their native language, each in their own. She welcomes the party to the Enclave of Madarua and introduces herself as the High Priestess, one of the leaders of the Warrior Maidens. She indicates the other woman, dressed in a full set of bronze plate armor and bearing a long spear, as the other leader, whom she refers to as the Great Mother.
The High Priestess thanks the party for their service so far, and says that she has learned from Pandora how the party eliminated the base of the Gormites, claimed it as their own, and defeated a priest of Zargon and his hobgoblin guards. She says that they are welcome to all the hospitality that the Maidens have to offer.
After they have been brought bronze and copper goblets with drink, the Great Mother motions the guards away – some depart to the stair above, some below. “There are things we need to speak of, which are not common knowledge among our people,” begins the High Priestess.
“I am told that you studied the walls that talk, so you know something of our history. And no doubt Pandora has spoken to you of our present. But I wish to speak of the future. I am told that you come here seeking supplies to leave into the light void, and healing for one of your own. You will receive these – now that you are here in the Undercity, you are welcome to as much food as you can carry out. And Madarua is a kind mother, and does not refuse healing to those who ask with a sincere heart.”
At this point, the Great Mother interjects. “But you must know something before you take our gifts and depart. Long have our people suffered under the rule of the Zargonites. Long have we opposed them. For more time than can be remembered. But three generations ago, in the time of the grandmothers, our wisest crone had a vision, a prophecy. She foretold that strangers would appear from the light void and that they would be able to unite the three factions. Together, we will be able to overcome the Zargonites and restore our city to peace. After this vision, we fought to retake our temple in the upper pyramid. For three generations now, we have sent maidens there, waiting for the arrival of the prophesied ones. Officers like Pandora know that they are to be watchful for the arrival of strangers, but only a few leaders of the maidens know of the prophecy.”
The High Priestess now continues. “We will not ask you whether you are the prophesied ones. Even if you were, that is no guarantee that you would know you were. But we will ask you this – are you willing to stay and aid us? No matter your decision, you are welcome to what we have to offer.”
“This is a decision of great import. You would do well to ask us questions, and speak among yourselves. Take the time to carefully consider your answer. We ask only that you not speak of the prophecy to any not of your group who do not already know of it.”
There is a stunned silence among the women of the party. The Madaruans are offering them everything they thought they wanted – but the situation has changed so much none of them are sure what to do.
“How big is the city? How do the Zargonites keep control? How many of them are there?” begins Morgan.
The Great Mother answers. “You will have to forgive us for not providing detail on some things. Tactical information is highly valuable, and highly guarded. I would be happy to share it with you, once we know that you intend to stay and help us. But not until then. For now, I can say that the Zargonites rule through fear and intimidation, through punishment, but also through reward. They organize the work crews that harvest the food-mushrooms, and distribute the vision-mushrooms. These are sacred, but the Zargonites misuse them to keep the people of the city deluded and disorganized.”
“I will not at this point tell you the number of Zargonites, or our numbers. But I can say this – although they are more than we are, they cannot stand against the three Factions united. This is the promise of the prophecy – together we can defeat them.”
Ember speaks. “But if that is such an easy conclusion, why have you not united before? Why do you need us?”
The High Priestess responds. “Ultimately, it is an issue of trust. Ever since Zargon appeared, the other two factions have been corrupt. Gorm is supposed to represent bravery and loyalty – but his followers have become blindly obedient to their leaders, who see every interaction as a contest of strength. Usamigares was supposed to represent individual will and creativity, but the Magi now are self-serving and manipulative. At least…” here she pauses, “…that is what we have been taught, and what we continue to teach. We do not deal directly with the other factions, we do not speak to them. But we sometimes do meet them in the city, do encounter them on raids. We sometimes even combine together to attack Zargonites – nothing planned, just by circumstance. I think we could work together, if we could trust one another. Sometimes, when there has been betrayal in a relationship, it takes an outsider to bring two people together again. Perhaps that is why the prophecy depends on strangers.”
Morgan asks, “If the Zargonites are stronger than you, why have they not destroyed you already? If you do not work together, what keeps them from wiping you out one Faction at a time?”
At this the Great Mother asks to see Iris’ bow. She holds it up, turns it around, examines it. “We know of such weapons – weapons that can throw things through the air – we have legends of them. But we have none of these of our own. This does not exist in the city, among any of the factions or the Zargonites. Their priests can cast spells, it is true, but most of their strength is in the swords, clubs, and whips of their hobgoblins. Our fortress is stone, and well-protected. They have tried to take it, many, many times. We throw rocks from the walls. They take great losses and leave. It has always been thus. When they find us in the city, or in the pyramid, it is different. There, we must be stealthy. There, we are vulnerable. But not here. It is the same with the other Factions. Though they outnumber us, they do not have the numbers to take our strongholds.”
The Madaruans wish the party well, and bid them discuss their feelings and return, rested and with an answer. In a louder voice, the Great Mother calls for guards, who escort the party back out of the Tower.