The party rests for four hours in the room on the fourth level they claimed from the shapeshifters. After that time, Ember is again able to heal – and brings FluffyKitten to nearly full health. Bhelgarn, however, is still greatly wounded from the shapeshifter fight. Still, many in the rest of the party are hale and hearty. The group decides to send an expeditionary team to the room that housed the gel creature (before the party set it free) while Bhelgarn recovers back at camp. Ember and Bhelgarn remain behind, as does Thrud, to guard them.
The way to the room is clear, the wedges in the pit trap hold, and the away team quickly reaches their destination. They examine the bed, the shelving, and the chest. Once wood, all of the items are scored and pock-marked as if they had been long submersed in acid. When touched, they crumble into a dry powder. There is nothing of use or value in the room.
The away team is returning to base when they are waylaid by a giant lizard – seemingly a twin of the one fought a few hours ago. It manages to take the small group by surprise and some of them are wounded before it is finished off. When they arrive at camp Ember finds more of them in need of healing than when they left.
In the end, they remain in the room, burning bunk beds and eating lizard, resting and talking, for near half a day. It is a good spot to rest, with the abundant lizard meat on hand and fresh water a few minutes away in the Great Temple. In the end, with everyone fit to travel, they decide to return to the Undercity and collect WolfBane.
The route down and back is by now familiar, and there is little out of the ordinary. They do rest a bit at their destination and wait for the mage to finish her training.
Their first stop after their return to the fifth level of the pyramid is the acid room. Wolfsbane casts levitate and then grabs Remmy – the two of them are carefully tied together by Bhelgarn, who tethers them to a rope he holds. WolfBane floats to the ceiling, Remmy hanging underneath her. Bhelgarn gives them a prod with his pole, and they drift out over the stone box in the center of the room. Their eyes sting from the acrid fumes, and they cough. Remmy calls for pushes and pulls until he is satisfied with his positioning over the vault.
Talking to WolfBane, Remmy calls on her to lower him down over the stone chest. He carefully checks it for traps, then opens the lock. Inside the chest is full of silver coins – thousands of them! Remmy probes the coins with his dagger and eventually comes up with a scroll tube, which he hands to Wolfbane. He keeps probing, but believes that only coins are left. The party is not at all interested in carrying silver out through the desert, but is open to the possibility that they could trade it to the Magi for more spells. Remmy begins filling a sack with coins. Those watching from the vantage of the doorway, however, do note that as coins are removed, the vault seems to be rising. Upon being told this, Remmy immediately pauses – there could be a trap mechanism under the acid he would not be able to search for – something that could be activated by the removal of weight from the pillar. The swiftest party members are dispatched to collect bottles from the owlbear room and fill them with water from the fountain in the Great Temple, then return.
“How long does your levitate spell last?” Remmy asks WolfBane nervously.
“This, I do not know,” she says, “It is the first time I cast her, oui? And the Magi, their units of time do not match ours – but they say it lasts a while, non?”
As bottles start arriving, Remmy places them in the vault and draws forth coins. Eventually he fills a sack and a half with coins and still hasn’t take a tenth of those available. He and WolfBane are pulled to safety.
There are only a few places left the party have not explored on the fifth level. They return past the “crashing walls” and enter the “nightmare room”. The chairs have been knocked over, but it is otherwise empty. The party never explored the doors to the north, so they do so now.
The room appears completely deserted. Here and there there is a piece of ripped fabric, a button, a bit of rotten food, but the enormous room is otherwise empty.
The party also searches the “secret” hobgoblin guardroom, as they did not have time to previously. There are eight sleeping rolls and a small writing desk, a large cask of water and some chamber pots, but nothing else. Morgan takes note of the place as an excellent one to rest if need be – the water, beds, and secret access all recommend it, but the peephole into the next room, and the natural alarm provided by the crashing walls make it ideal.
In fact, she calls for a rest then and there and examines the scroll tube recovered by Remmy. She removes the stopper and spreads out the ancient parchment on the writing desk. The lettering is in Cyndician. As far as she can recall, this is the first time she has seen written Cyndician (that is, in ink on paper rather than carved in stone or cast in metal). Bhelgarn is of no help, for he only knows the oral language. Morgan uses her comprehend languages spell, and the words rearrange themselves on the page for her. She realizes that it is actually in two parts, two different prayers. She is reading a clerical scroll, and the spells contained are purify food and drink and remove curse. The second is quite powerful, she knows, but how to use it – she can read it – but can’t call upon divine power. Ember has the backing of her goddess – but can’t read the writing. Perhaps they can trade it to the Madaruans, or (hopefully not) ask them to cast it for the party when the need arrises, that is, should someone be cursed.
While Morgan studies the scroll, Odleif studies the bits and pieces of maps he has made, joining the pieces together into a drawing he sketches on the floor. As far as he can tell, he announces, the party has completely explored the fifth level. Barring searching every corridor for secret doors, it is clear and they are done here. A cheer goes up.
The party returns to the secret treasure room near the exit to the fourth level (43). Along the way, they gather the sacks of gold coins from the ogres and urns of electrum coins they left in the room of the iron statues (47). After depositing these, and the sacks of silver coins from the acid room (52), they ascend the ladder to the fourth level, hauling Pooches up after them.
Morgan reviews Odleif’s map scraps. There are a number of unexplored places on this level, but if they work roughly counterclockwise, they can hit them all and finish where the apparitions scared the party. “And Hazzerd tried to kills me!” squeaks FluffyKitten in halfling, and Ember frowns.
The party passes down the corridor and round the corner to a door they have passed many times but never opened. There is a two foot wide hole near the bottom of it, where the stone has been broken away. Entering the room, they see that the walls have paintings of a throne room with a man giving advice to a succession of kings and queens. In the center of the room on a small dais is a wooden coffin. Large holes have been gnawed in its sides.
The lead members have not taken but a few steps into the room when the coffin lurches, and three furry creatures launch out of it and streak toward the party.
They are fast and furious, but soon lie dead. Once they stop moving, the party can examine them and find that they are giant shrews. Their coffin-lair is empty except for old droppings and tiny bones.
There is nothing else of interest in the room.
Continuing on, the party finds the embalming room that some of them entered before. Forewarned about the shadows, they enter cautiously with weapons drawn. Indeed, they are but halfway across the room, when five shadows detach themselves from the normal ones flickering on the walls and come after them. Two are formless shades, one a giant mastiff, and two seem to be making copies of party members. These prove hardier foes than the shrews, and Bhelgarn is hit before all of the shadows are dispelled. Immediately the dwarf feels chill and weak, but Ember can find no trace of a visible wound on him.
The party searches the shelves and finds many jars and casks of spices and a few with the ancient remains of organs. Ember takes a few herbs that may be useful but is dubious of their potency after so many years. There is an assorted collection of dissection equipment, but they are all ancient and rusted. The tables are large and heavy but contain nothing but ancient scratches and stains. A bin in the corner contains old linens, mostly rotten winding cloths like those used in wrapping up “mummies”. Under the wraps is a large wooden chest – Remmy removes a potion from it and a handful of gold coins, but leaves the remainder of the cold coins there.
The party retreats back down to the main corridor along the southern edge of the pyramid, then is forced to curve back north. They are expecting to find the boulder blocking their way, but instead they encounter a door to a room they did not previously know existed.
Inside, the walls of the room show painted scenes of a man signing documents and organizing tax collection. A wooden coffin that has been smashed open is lying on the floor. Six pale-skinned humans stand around the coffin – they all have wounds bad enough to kill a normal person.
As the party rushes in to the room, the dead are slow to respond. Many are already dispatched by the time Ember enters, and calls upon the Hearth Mother to incinerate the corpses of those that remain. Nothing useful or valuable is found in the room.
Exploring the corridor beyond the room, they finally find the southeast corner of the pyramid, where the boulder is lodged, blocking passage. Returning to the bone room, they are able to avoid the blocked passage.
Near the boulder is a room they have never entered. An elaborate jeweled coffin lies in the center of the room. Next to the coffin is a worm-like creature, 9’ long and 3’ high. It has
many legs and its mouth is surrounded by eight tentacles. Each tentacle is 2’ long.
The worm scurries at them, and strikes with its tentacles. They seem to do no damage, but some of the party hit by them are paralyzed! After the worm is slain, they rest briefly in the room, hoping the paralysis will go away. In the meantime, Remmy pries all of the jewels off the coffin and pockets them. Ember warns him not to remove the treasures of the dead without need, and without leaving something in return, but he just shrugs and mumbles, “Yeah, whatever.”
It is perhaps an hour later when the paralyzed can again move. Bhelgarn notices that his shadow-weakness is gone as well. Odleif has spent his time piecing together maps, and believes that they have this level clear as well – except for whatever lies beyond the apparitions of the king and queen. With more than a bit of trepidation, the party readies to travel to that section of the tombs.
When they are close, and about to enter the labyrinthine passages, Morgan casts web, completely blocking off the hallway behind them. “No retreat, no surrender,” she says mockingly – but they all know she means to catch the ones that run from fear.
Cautiously inching forward, the party creeps ahead down the hall. A chill wind blows past them, swirling the dust on the floor. The dust coalesces into the shimmering, ghostly figures of a man and a woman. They are dressed in costly clothing, and both wear golden crowns. The man raises his hand and gestures for you to stop. “Go no further,” he warns, “lest the curse of King Alexander overtake you!” His voice rings in the ears of them all, but each in their own native language. “I am Queen Zenobia,” the woman says. “Turn back; only death awaits you!”
A few of the party manage to stay, though trembling in fear. The rest turn and run, trapping themselves in the webs. By the time those remaining cut them free, they are again in control of their faculties. “Well, that went better than last time,” says Morgan, recalling when the entire party was dispersed between two levels of the pyramid, and Fluffy was left alone with Hazrad.
Collecting themselves, they begin searching the walls. At the far end, just before the corridor turns, Iris finds a section of wall that is not the huge, solid limestone blocks most of the pyramid is built from, but a mortered-over gap between the blocks. Digging at the ancient mortar and plaster, they are able to rapidly carve out a space between the blocks, soon revealing a great open space beyond.
Squeezing through the narrow gap between the blocks, the party enters a hall unlike any they have seen before in the pyramid, let alone on this level of tombs.
The floor of this long, narrow room has a colorful red and white checkerboard pattern of 2’X 2’ squares. Court scenes are painted on the north and south walls. In the east wall, there is a 2’ high opening at floor level near the southeast corner.
Bhelgarn lifts his magic sword high and casts as much light as he can. It appears that they are in the royal burial chamber. He believes that the east “wall” was really blocks designed to fall and seal off access to the royal tombs – the gap appears to be a block that fell incorrectly and got wedged in place. Human stonework, of course.
Both Bhelgarn and Remmy look about the room. The slits in the ceiling are obvious – the floor tiles, each independently mounted. It is obviously a trap, but which tiles are the trap and which are safe? The party crosses carefully, in twos and threes, the leaders tapping on the floor ahead of them and the followers attempting to walk exactly where those in front stepped. Iris tells Pooches to wait at the opening to the labyrinth, and WolfBane and Odleif wait with him.
When about half the party is across the room, someone steps on a tile that depresses with a resounding “click!”. Immediately three huge pendula fall from the ceiling, then begin a rhythmic swinging across the width of the corridor. A strange greenish goo drips from their handles.
When most of the party is on the other side of the swinging blades, Bhelgarn investigates the partially-fallen block. It looks to be about ten feet deep, but the space then opens up into the same corridor – just two blocks were dropped. He examines the stonework carefully – the blocks appear to be well and truly stuck, and have lasted so for hundreds of years or more. Still, something as slight as the movement of the pendula could have changed the pressure on the stone blocks. He swallows once and crawls under on hands and knees. He is halfway across when he hears a groan come from within the stone, but does not see anything. He stands on the far side, in the narrow space before another set of huge, fallen blocks. These shattered on impact, with great cracks running through them and their upper reaches splintered into fragments. If someone could give him a boost, he might be able to clear away the rubble…
A few more brave souls from the party squeeze under the unfallen block. Some crawl on hands and knees as he did; others lie on their backs and push themselves with their feet. When enough are assembled, the taller members hoist the lighter ones, and a passageway over the smashed blocks is cleared. This takes about ten minutes – in the meantime, the pendula have stopped swinging and have rest themselves in the ceiling.
FluffyKitten is the first over the blocks. It is just one set, then she can drop lightly to the floor beyond. “More blocks, more blocks” she calls back. “Squeezy squeeze ahead!”
The next person behind her sees what she means – ahead a series of blocks, more than one layer deep, have fallen crookedly – leaving a gap that could be traversed, or that could go back quite a ways before dead-ending. Fluffy starts ahead with confidence, though she leaves the rope around her waist that was tied there before she climbed over the last set of blocks.
Fluffy has not been through long before the rope grows slack and the sound of her voice comes back, muted by the stone twists and turns, calling “Door! Door!” excitedly.
One by one, the party squeezes through the narrow, angled gaps between the mis-fallen limestone blocks until they stand next to FluffyKitten before the doors. These are like the huge stone counterweighted doors common in the pyramid, but they are set with great brass rings to be pulled. Remmy checks them for traps, then indicates that the party should proceed.
Pulling on the rings of both doors, the party opens a large burial chamber. The room contains two large sarcophagi. Both gleam with golden highlights and have carved lettering in Cyndician. Surrounding the sarcophagi are a number of large wooden chests. The room is littered with broken objects: two smashed thrones, a broken chariot, smashed pottery, broken weapons, and torn clothing. Piles of bones cover the floor. On the walls is a mosaic showing famous events from the reign of King Alexander and Queen Zenobia, whom the party recognize both from the room of walls that talk, as well as the apparitions just outside.
The party proceeds cautiously into the room, trying not to step on the bones on the floor, though this is nearly impossible. Remmy immediately begins checking, then opening the chests. There are four, each containing thousands of coins, sorted into silver, gold, electrum, and platinum. Ember watches him suspiciously. Bhelgarn examines the sarcophagi, and finds them to be wooden, just covered with golden paint to make them appear gold. “Nae even gilded?” he says to himself, “Summit ain’t right…”
Picking up on his dissatisfaction, the party soon joins him in rapping on the walls. Along the north wall, the dwarf finds a spot where the wall behind the tiles sounds hollow. He uses an iron spike and the back of his axe to chip away at the tiles, then the plaster underneath, then a thin layer of framing wood, and finally into an open corridor behind. “Och! Noo war gettin’ soomwhare!”
A few of the party, led by Remmy, advance down the hidden corridor, which bends back and ends in a door. Through the door is a plain stone room, a marked contrast from the opulence of the previous burial chamber. An oblong box made from stone slabs lies in the center of the room. The box is 3’ high, 7’ long, and 3’ wide. There is writing all over it – Cyndician, as well as several other unknown scripts. Iris recognizes one as using magical symbols, and she casts her read magic. Translating what she reads into Common, she tells the party. “May the curse of darkness destroy all who dare desecrate my resting place.”
Remmy grabs one corner of the huge stone lid, and encourages the others to do the same, “before Ember shows up.” Bhelgarn needs little persuading; the priestess is indeed still in the burial chamber.
Inside the stone sarcophagus is a wooden coffin. Remmy grabs the lid of this and lifts, as he says “Gems and jewelry, gems and jewelry…”
Immediately the body inside lurches up, its clawed hand grabbing Remmy by the throat. Its once-fine robes have rotted to rags, but it still wears a jeweled crown over long, disheveled hair.
Remmy tries to scream, but manages no sounds. The others in the party fall upon the corpse, landing blows with their magic weapons until it lets go to defend itself. In a few moments the body goes limp. Remmy sits on the floor, a dazed look on his face, as the others run in to the room. Ember examines him, finds no wounds beyond faint scratches in his throat, but feels his skin cold, almost chill to the touch. He begins to tremble. Ember looks first at the sarcophagus, noting that there are nordic runes on it amidst the other scripts. They are of an archaic form, but still recognizable: curse, darkness, destroy, protect, holy, rest. Then she looks at the body. This is not a corpse of hundreds of years old – no such body should be so well preserved, with intact flesh and hair, sunken eyes. The body was taken over by an evil spirit and preserved, very shortly after death. The preservation is powerful – far more so than that of a zombie. She believes it is a haugvette.
Ember kneels and prays to the Hearth Mother, imploring her to bring light to this darkest of places. She is oblivious to Bhelgarn, who has recovered the crown, to Morgan, who has reached into the coffin and pulled out a rune-covered scepter, and to Remmy, who is now leaning against a wall, trying to control his trembling.
Ember does not feel the powerful yet calming sensation she does when in the presence of the Mother. But there is another spirit present – waiting, watching. It does not seem threatening, so Ember reaches out to it. Standing before her, Ember sees Queen Zenobia – but not the transparent ghost of the labyrinth or the faded portrait from the walls that talk, but a solid, regal, woman, smiling.
“Thank you,” the queen says, “Thank you, thrice-blessed priestess of a foreign land.”
“Tre ganger velsignet?” asks Ember – out loud in her vision, though the party barely notices her lips moving.
“First, that you have overthrown the priests of Zargon, second, that you have rescued my people and restored the Three True Gods, and now, that you have dispatched the evil spirit defiling my body. At last I can rest, can leave this world for the next.”
“Det er bra” replies Ember.
“Yes, it is good. But I must ask you one more boon.”
“Hva er det, dronning?”
“My royal husband, King Alexander, languishes in this plane as well – his soul captive while a spirit of sorrow inhabits his body. Please, dispatch that spirit as you did the one that defiled me. I freely grant you all our mortal treasures in return – take our grave goods. Do not bother with the items in the false tomb – they are there to fool grave robbers, such as the one that was just struck by the spirit.”
“Jeg vil gjøre som du spør. Gå i fred,” says Ember, and she feels the spirit depart.
Ember rises from kneeling and tells the party that they must find the king’s true chamber, but that they may take what they find there. She again examines Remmy, who by now has stopped trembling. He tells Ember that he feels weak, and confused – as if there are gaps in his memory – things he should know, but does not.
[DM’s note: Struck by the wight, Remmy lost one level, going from 22445 xp to 10767 xp].
Remmy asks Ember if she can cure him – perhaps after she rests? Ember replies that such a cure is beyond her power, but that even if she could, she would refuse him. What happened to him was justice for the gems he brazenly stole from the nobleman’s sarcophagus. Remmy scowls and strides off.
The party returns to the false tomb. Morgan leads the search for a secret entrance, reasoning that it must be opposite the one that led to the queen’s chamber, and they are quick to find it.
At this point, as they prepare to enter the king’s chamber, WolfBane decides that she is tired of waiting. Leaving Pooches and Odleif behind, she begins to carefully cross the checkerboard floor.
The party find the the walls of king’s chamber to be are bare. In the center of the room is an oblong box made from stone slabs. Suddenly, rising out of the stone box is a translucent, ghost-like figure. The pale figure has glowing red eyes and a large, dark mouth. Before those in the lead can cross the room, it opens the gaping wound of a mouth and keens sharply. Everyone in the room and in the hall beyond is struck by a wave of sadness and regret so intense it is physically painful.
WolfBane, standing before the brass-handled doors, hears the keening but is not affected by it. Behind her, she hears a few pebbles fall off the rubble pile and skitter across the floor.
The party leaps into action, attacking the keening spirit with everything they have. Normal weapons pass through it with no effect, but magic weapons make it shimmer, disrupting its form. It keens again, making them despair and desire surrendering on the spot. They press on, and it keens one final time before a sword slice disrupts it completely.
WolfBane hauls on one heavy door, opening it with difficulty. Behind her, the stones can be heard groaning and straining. A throbbing rumble can be felt from the floor.
In the king’s chamber, Bhelgarn and Remmy rip open the stone sarcophagus and tear off the wooden coffin lid. Morgan feels the rumbling, as they all do. “Grab it and go!” she yells, “grab it and go!”
Inside the coffin is the body of a man with short hair and a full, rich beard. He is wearing plate armor and his crossed arms hold a sword on his chest. Bhelgran grabs his crown, and at the touch of the dwarf’s glove, the body crumbles into dust. Others in the party grab the plate armor and sword, and then they all dash into the false tomb, passing Wolfbane just as she is about to enter the secret corridor. Morgan spins her around and pushes her after the others.
All through the misfallen blocks, the party can feel the trembling and hear the rumbling increasing, seeming to echo with the keening. They help one another over the rubble pile from the shattered blocks, even as split pieces begin to calve off and fall about them on the floor. Two and three at a time they crawl under the hung block. Bhelgarn is the final one through, and he can hear the shattered blocks tipping now, falling in great slabs on the floor. Dust is jetting out as the ceiling of the false tomb collapses and its doors tumble down. The huge slab above him groans, then, just as he pulls his feet free, it slams down into the floor and the ceiling of the pendulum room begins to crack and buckle.
“Make way!” shouts Morgan, but Odleif is already leading Pooches through the narrow gap into the labyrinth-hall. The party dashes across the corridor, but when the pendula appear, they are not swinging – rather they fall to the floor and clatter as they land while the floor itself bucks and shakes.
A few seconds later, and they all stand in the labyrinth hall, covered in dust but otherwise unharmed. “Och,” says Bhelgarn disparagingly. “Human stonework.”