Secrets of Mystara

Post One (Character Creation)
Character Creation

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Go ahead and open the Characters menu – use the + button to create and save a character. At this point all you need is a name, and even that as a placeholder since you can change it later. Then come back here and read up about your choices.

Permitted Races (4):
Human, Elf, Dwarf, Halfling
(Experienced gamers who want to use a more exotic race please e-mail me and discuss)

Permitted Classes (7):
Elf, Dwarf, Halfling (note that these are simultaneously class AND race).
For Humans; Fighter, Mage, Thief, Cleric.

Rolled Stats (6):
Strength (Str), Intelligence (Int), Wisdom (Wis), Dexterity (Dex), Constitution (Con), Charisma (Cha).

Now think about your initial stats for your character. You have two choices:

Choice One
Roll 3d6 for six ability scores, and then ASSIGN each of them to the ability of your choice. This is for if you KNOW what class and race you would like to play. By assigning them in the order you want, you can be reasonably sure you will get stats that let you qualify for your desired class and race, and perhaps even excel in it. Because these scores are lower on average than the second method, you will likely have a few low scores in areas that are not essential for your class.

Choice Two
Roll 4d6 for each stat IN ORDER (as above), and KEEP the highest three rolls of the 4d6 (drop the low roll for each stat). [For example, if I rolled a 2, 3, 4, and 6 I would drop the 2 and total my ability as 13] This is for if you are not sure what you would like to play, but want to see what your character could naturally fit in as. By taking this method, your scores will be higher overall, but you will be somewhat constrained into playing what you would be good for, not something you chose yourself.

Even after you have set your scores, they still can be adjusted slightly – more about this in another post once you have rolled your initial ability scores.

Scores and Qualifying for Classes

Humans do not have minimum scores for any class. Certain abilities will earn them bonus experience points (that is, they will level faster).

(Human) Cleric: Bonus experience points if Wisdom is at least 13.

(Human) Fighter: Bonus experience points if Strength is at least 13.

(Human) Mage: Bonus experience points if Intelligence is at least 13.

(Human) Thief: Bonus experience points if Dexterity is at least 13.

Demi-Humans have minimum scores needed to qualify for their race/class. Certain abilities will earn them bonus experience points (that is, they will level faster).

Dwarves need a minimum Constitution score of 9. They earn bonus experience points if Strength is at least 13.

Elves need a minimum Intelligence score of 9. They earn bonus experience points if Strength AND Intelligence are BOTH at least 13.

Halflings need minimum scores of 9 in BOTH Constitution AND Dexterity. They earn bonus experience points if Strength AND Dexterity are BOTH at least 13.

Once you have chosen your rolling method and rolled your ability scores, go ahead and add the scores to your character, as well as a note on which method you used. If you are not sure what class you would like or what the abilities will be used for, ask me a question on the character page (or leave a comment below) – I will be reading those soon.

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Post Two (Setting)
Setting

I have added a map to the “Maps” page, showing the city of Selenica and its environs. Your characters will start in this city, so they are either from there or have as part of their back-story an explanation of how they got there.

Selenica is a semi-autonomous city at the eastern edge of the Republic of Darokin. Darokin is functionally a plutocracy with large merchant houses in control of feudal estates. The good farming land and most of the population in Darokin is off the map to the west; Selenica exists as a trading center on a long caravan route that extends to the nations east of Darokin.

The “whited out” portion of the map is the interior of the Canolbarth Forest, which is controlled by elves and divided into petty principalities. The elves of the Canolbarth have generally friendly relations with Darokin and trade them exquisitely crafted goods in return for the courser supplies they need from the outside world. If any of your characters are elven, it is most likely that they are from the Canolbarth.

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Post Three (The Adventure Begins)
The Adventure Begins

“Morgan, sign ’em up and show ’em the ropes.”

“But sir, I really think you should at least talk to…”

“I said sign ’em up,” Haldimar interrupted. “They’re your people, they’re your job.”

The merchant master abruptly turned and strode away from Morgan, leaving her with the nine people, applicants to the caravan, in the muddy fields just outside the walls of Selenica. By “your people”, he had meant “adventurers”, that is, “people without proper station, position, or reputable occupation”. Morgan’s face burned until her cheeks were the color of her dark red hair – she was not an adventurer – she had a steady, regular job as a caravan guard, even a sergeant of sorts for Haldimar did trust her. But still he saw her as an outsider. Just like everyone else. Growing up in an elven village as Morgan Silverthorn, her playmates had taunted her by using “your people” to mean humans. Now that she worked as a caravan guard under the name Morgan the Red, Darokites used “your people” to refer to elves. And here was yet another use. All of them designed to show that for whoever was speaking to her, Morgan was always considered “one of them”, never “one of us”. She had been an outsider all her life. So it didn’t take her long to master her feelings, not long for the color to fade from her cheeks. She turned to look at the nine applicants.

That Haldimar liked to have adventurers along in his caravans she had long known. As she had worked with him, she came to understand why. Regular guards had to be paid, and wages were fixed by merchant house custom (which, in Darokin, was akin to saying by law). But adventurers made private contracts with the merchant master, and Haldimar paid food for the passage, a spot by the fire, and nothing else. Sure, he always promised “and a share of any treasure taken,” but what did that mean? He kept the adventurers on a close rein and “treasure” rarely meant more than a handful of coppers from the pockets of a dead bandit. By using adventurers to help secure his caravan, Haldimar could hire fewer guards and turn more of a profit for his house. And making a profit for his house was the nearest thing to divine grace that was to be found in Darokin. So here she was, supposedly “interviewing” applicants but in reality with a mandate to accept any and all comers and it falling on her shoulders if any of them didn’t measure up.

Wolfbane, Odleif, and Hazrad she simply told to bivouac with the other guards – their acceptance was a formality since she already knew them. Wolfbane was a contracted Darokite mage, and had been with the caravan ever since it left Darokin City. Young and inexperienced, she was free to work as a caravan guard. If she survived long enough to become powerful, her house would surely reassign her to something both safer and more lucrative. Odleif was a taciturn woodsman from the Canolbarth. They had picked him up soon after they had entered the forest and he had proven a capable and trustworthy scout.

Hazrad she had met just the day before. Although Morgan had worked the caravan route between Darokin City and Selenica for more than a year, she had never been farther east than Selenica, and now they made to cross the Alaysian Desert. She had insisted to Haldimar that she wanted someone who knew the way (he did, of course – but what if he were incapacitated?). Haldimar had given her permission to recruit a Ylaruan and she had wandered the foreign quarter of Selenica all the day looking for “the right one” before finding Hazrad. He did attest to knowledge of both the route specifically and to navigation by stars in general, so he seemed a good choice. Other than that, she didn’t much like him. She supposed he thought himself courteous, after the manner of his people, but she just found him obsequious. She had obtained from Halimar permission to pay him the pittance of a copper a day in addition to his food, as recognition of his status as guide. When she had said to him, offhand, that she was sorry it was not more, he had protested. “No, no, no, my lady. I am grateful for every coin, al-Kalim be praised!” and then had bowed so low she was embarrassed. ‘My lady’ indeed. She had heard what the other Ylaruai had called her when she found Hazrad in the tea parlor that doubled as a gambling den when the imams were not looking. Precious few words in Ylaruai she knew, but “demon” was one of them, for that is how they referred to elves. Doubtless he felt the same, though his “manners” would never permit him to show it to her face. Again, she was “the other”. No matter.

Morgan turned her attention to the seven remaining people, interviewing them each in turn. Ember was a priestess from the northern Jarldoms, and was accompanied by a hulking brute who watched over her. “He is Thrud, ya?” she smiled, “he protect me,” and Thrud grinned foolishly. Then Ember reached forward to take a handful of Morgan’s hair and hold it to her own forehead. Aghast at the woman’s forwardness, Morgan backed away, and the young priestess frowned. “It is a sign of the goddess, no?” she said. Morgan would later come to learn that Ember was a priestess of Glöð, the Jarldom’s goddess of home, hearth, and fire. For her, Morgan’s red hair was a sign that she had been “touched by the goddess.” Although Morgan then understood her actions, it didn’t make her less uncomfortable with the stranger having the audacity to touch her person like that. No wonder the Darokites considered the northerners to be barbarians.

After the pair of northerners, Morgan spoke with the Atruaghin, Jon Speardragon. It wasn’t a long conversation, as Jon’s mastery of Common was monosyllabic and his Darokite was non-existent. She supposed he fancied himself a mercenary, if that was what “I kill thing – make heap gold” meant. He was handsome enough, anyway. She permitted herself a wry smile.

“Heel, Spell, heel!” a young woman’s exasperated tone broke Morgan’s meditation on the man’s copper skin. “Mal chien!” The robed woman was struggling with a massive war dog, who looked like he wanted nothing more than to chase after the dog of another one of the adventurers, an elf. Finally the elf, realizing that Morgan was waiting, gave a short and throaty bark, at which the young woman’s dog winced and settled down. Morgan touched her fingertip to her temple, a sign of respect for the elf’s skill, and the elf nodded back. Oblivious to the exchange, the human woman continued to speak. “Spell, ’e is not like thees, non? ’e is bon chien, I promise! We go to desert, oui?”

“Glantrian?” Morgan asked the woman, though her accent made it obvious.

“Oui…I mean, yes!”

“Mage?” Morgan continued, though again, her robes and lone dagger were unmistakable.

“Yes, yes!”

“Alright, put your tent over there,” Morgan gestured at where she had sent the others. “And try to stay near the priestess. Some of these guards have rather mistaken notions about the morals of women from Glantri.”

“Oh, I know! Theese men, they ar’ ’orrid, non? I have been in caravan for months now, and they are all the same! This is why Spell, ’e sleep in my tent!” The woman bustled off, dog following. Was that a cat peeking out of her backpack? It wasn’t until later that Morgan learned the woman’s name – Hope – or, as she said it, ’ope.

Morgan turned to the halfling woman, trying not to stoop as she spoke. The Hin hated that. “And you are?”

“FluffyKitten,” said the halfling, grinning broadly.

“Well, Miss Kitten…”

“No, no Miss Kitten. No family name. No family. Mama, Papa, dead.” She shrugged. “Just FluffyKitten. Me cook. Me mend. Me use this, sommy time.” she said, patting the blade in her belt. Morgan pointed her to the camp.

There was just one woman left, an elf. Morgan had deliberately saved her for last, though she wasn’t sure why. She fell into Elven to address her; it had been a while since she had used the tongue. Her name was Iris. Her dog lounged peacefully at her feet, a marked contrast to the Glantrian woman’s frantic hound. She was an Alfheim elf, though of a different clan than Morgan’s mother. Her coming-of-age vision had told her to travel to Selenica. Now she was here and didn’t know why. She couldn’t stand another day in the ugly, noisy city but she hadn’t learned whatever it was she was supposed to learn about humans to fulfill her vision, so she figured signing on with the caravan and leaving the city behind was a good idea. “Although,” she said, incredulous, “have you seen the way they treat the mules and camels? Just strapping those heavy loads to them, without even asking them? It’s so cruel! Honestly, I just don’t understand…”

Morgan braced herself, preparing for the inevitable, “your people”.

“…those people.”

Morgan smiled. It was the first good thing that had happened to her all day. Maybe this desert crossing wouldn’t be so bad after all.

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Post Four (Lost in the Desert)
Lost in the Desert

Note: New map, “Caravan Trail” on map page.

Day 1 – Leave Selenica on caravan trail. Pass through farmland, then vineyards. Camp at the edge of the hills.

Day 2 – 5. Up into the rugged, wooded hills along the caravan path. Clouds and frequent mists.

Day 6. At an intersection of the caravan trail with a dwarven road, the party finds a dead mule, and follows a trail to where a dwarven noble, his party assaulted and his guards killed by goblins, lies exhausted and with a sprained ankle. They bury his companions and he agrees to accompany them to Ylaruam City, where he can recruit guards or find another caravan to take him to Selenica (his destination). By the end of the day, the caravan has passed the high point of the caravan trail and is beginning to descend.

Day 7 -9. Down the caravan trail. The farther along, the drier it gets. Forests give way to stands of scrub, then trees are lost altogether. On the last day, the steep mountain walls flanking the trail open up, and before them are open grassland slopes all the way down to the floor of the desert. The native Ylaruai (who work as porters, haulers, and teamsters) celebrate.

Day 10, 11. Down the caravan trail through the grasslands of Makistan.

Day 12. The caravan arrives at the walled town of Parsa, Makistan. The caravan proper camps outside. Haldimar, the merchant master, enters and barters for provisions and the right to fill waterskins at local wells and springs. Bhelgarn the dwarf considers trying to find a group returning west, for his ankle is by now fine. Hazrad counsels him that Parsa is not a safe city for a solitary dwarf, and he will have better luck continuing on to Ylaruam City and finding a return caravan there.

Day 13-15. Crossing the open sands between Parsa and Sulba. There is no longer a clear route, and Haldimar and Hazrad both work to keep the caravan headed in the right direction.

Day 16. Haldimar orders Morgan to take a party ahead and scout a small oasis he has seen. Morgan chooses Hazrad, Bhelgarn, Thrud, Ember, Wolfbane, Iris, Odleif, Jon, and FluffyKitten. Hope she asks to stay with the caravan for the moment. The group is halfway back when a sandstorm strikes. By the time the storm lifts, there is no sign of either the caravan or the oasis. Whole dunes have been shifted by the massive winds, and there are no familiar landmarks. Hazrad attempts to lead the group, but by the end of the day there still has been no sign of the caravan.

Day 17. After breakfast the group is without food or water, except for the salted herring. Hazrad has given up on finding the caravan, and is attempting to lead them in the direction of Sulba.

Day 18 – 19. The group travels through the desert, seeing nothing but sand, sky, sun, and stars. The songbird dies. The cats grow delirious. If they do not find water by the end of the next day, some of them will begin to die.

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Post Five (The Lost City)
The Lost City

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Midway through the next morning, Hazrad finds a few large stone blocks sticking out of the sand. Continuing on, the group finds the remains of a city, worn by wind, sand, and time. Most of it is buried by sand, and only the higher buildings and walls stick out. In the center of the city is a step-pyramid, with at least five layers, each 20 feet high, although the last one is more than half buried. On top of the highest tier are three 30’ high bronze statues.
There is a bearded man with a balance and lightning bolt, a winged child with a wand and a handful of coins, and a beautiful woman with a sword and a sheaf of wheat. Hazrad says that the child is a god from pre-al-Kalim times, the Nithian god of magic. These ruins must be at least a thousand years old.

On the south side of the pyramid are a broad flight of stairs, leading all the way to the top. Summoning their last reserves of energy, the party climbed the stairs and methodically searched each layer for a means of ingress, while Pooches waited listlessly in the shade of each layer. Finally, on the uppermost layer, Iris found the desiccated body of a hobgoblin with a bolt in its chest propping open a secret door. The party was grateful to enter the cool shade, although Morgan quickly triggered the unloaded crossbow trap and gave them to realize this was not exactly a safe haven.

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The entire interior of the first layer was a single room, with bronze cylinders from floor to ceiling as the bases of the statues above. They had doors, but opening the door of one made a floor block fall into the chamber below. Odlief spiked the door to the exterior, as well as the door to one of the cylinders, open.

The chamber below housed a foundry with oil, a forge, and spare parts for the maintenance of the statues above, which could move by means of levers and gears and which had speaking tubes. Three doors led out. Exploring this level, the party found three empty and abandoned rooms, a room with a giant lizard, a room with sprites, and a room full of green slime. The big find, however, was a complex of three rooms housing ten men and a hive of giant bees. The men all wore blue tunics under chain armor and gold masks with the faces of the bearded man on the statue. The party made a surprise assault on them – although most were put to sleep immediately, their leader proved to be a fierce fighter and nearly slew Hazrad. He remains unconscious under the care of Ember. Seven of the men were slain – the three remaining, including the leader (who was captured by means of Jon’s net), have been locked in the cage surrounding the bee hive.

Now the party has found a place to truly rest, and have food and water for at least a week. They have discovered both a trapdoor down and a staircase. They do not yet know who these strange people are nor why they are here.

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Dreams and Whispers

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Ember is pleasantly surprised to find herself in the Great Temple garden. She remembers that she needs more healing herbs, though she is unclear on why. She finds old mother Hilda among the beds, and she is filled with the warmth of friendship. Hilda is an emeritus priestess, too old and frail to instruct, but an important confidant for Ember. When Ember arrived at the Temple, shy and insecure at 14, it was Hilda who first made her feel welcome, and the crone has over the years been a key figure in keeping Ember secure and grounded when faced with the challenges of her lessons, the petty rivalries of the other girls, and her crises of faith.

“Doter Ember, what brings you to the gardens?”

“Moter Hilda, I do not know! But something is troubling me.”

“Walk with me, let us learn together.”

Hilda takes Ember’s arm, and allows the young woman to support her, as they walk inside. They are in Hilda’s private chamber, where a little coal stove heats the small room. Shouldn’t they have had to walk more to get here? Never mind – the woman is speaking. “Now, dear, what is it that is wrong?”

Ember tries to say, but her thoughts slip and swim around.

Hilda opens the door of the stove as if to add a coal, but leaves it open. Ember stares at the fire inside while the old woman murmurs. As Ember watches, the flames seem to surround her, until all she can see is their orange…and red. Red. Red like the flame-red hair of Morgan. Red like the vicious slash across the neck of the man with the blanket. And the man in the doorway – the helpless man who was sleeping when Morgan slit his throat. Red like the blood gushing forth from the guts of Hazrad – Ember’s hands, both pressed firmly on the wound, trying to staunch the flow of blood. Ember’s hands, covered in blood.

“Moter, there is much violence in the world,” says Ember, hoping the old woman can still hear her. She has treated wounds before, of course – the priests and priestesses of the temple spar daily with clubs and maces – there are always bruises to poultice, bones to set, joints to relocate. But so much blood! She has never seen the like.

“Yes,” says the voice of the crone.

“How do I know what is right? I mean, those men, we just cut them down! Should we have talked? And Morgan! She is so cold! Is she wicked? Or is she the only thing keeping us alive?”

The old woman hums softly, and the flames recede – Ember can see the room again. “Aren’t you too big for these questions? Do you remember your catechism?”

“Yes, reverend moter,” says Ember, embarrassed.

“Tell me the verse of compassion and conflict.”

Ember recites: "Have compassion, always.
Seek to help others, always.
But when there is conflict, remember where your loyalty lies.
First, with your family, your bound hearthmates.
Next, with your guests, those under your roof and your protection.
Third, with your clan, those with whom you share blood.
Last, with the outlanders – those with whom you share the common bond of humanity.

Joined we are with all, and all are one – but some stand closer to our hearth and some are held closer in our heart."

“Good,” the old woman smiles. “So what is Morgan?”

Ember wishes to say outlander – for she is not of the north, this strange, fierce, half-elf warrior-woman. But that is wrong. That is not honest. Finally, she says “Guest. We are met under one roof. Our fates are bound together, though we are not family.”

“Good,” says the woman. “So now you know.”

“But, reverend moter, though we are bound together, I cannot just let her do as she wills? How can I control her, if I need to?”

“Think you again on the Teachings. What does Glöð do when Logi rages and burns? What does She do when Eysa and Eimyrja hurt their playmates?”

Ember recites: “Against unstoppable force one can do nothing. Get out of the way, save oneself, save one’s family. Treat the wounds and mend the goods later. But against petty wickedness, one intervenes. Hide the ale. Withhold the hearth. When the children are hungry, they will listen to reason. When the husband is met with an empty bed, he will bend.”

“So what power do you have to convince?”

“My healing. If they want my healing, they must listen to me – for I can withhold it. But moter, I remember now – I was in the garden because I am out of healing herbs.”

“Hjerte bedringens vei,” says the old woman. "Remember this: “Hjerte bedringens vei. This is the charm of heart-mending. With this you can heal, by the grace of the Hearth Mother.”

When Ember awakes later, in a strange bed, the first thing she sees is three forlorn-looking men in a cage, their faces vaguely illuminated by the wan moonlight chancing through the bee-hole in the side of the pyramid. It is not until then that she remembers Hilda died last winter.

[Ember now knows the Orison of Heart Mending.]

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Post Six (Deeper into the Pyramid)
Deeper into the Pyramid

For the next day the party waits. Their only hope of communicating with the prisoners is if Hazrad regains consciousness, and his wound was great indeed. Fortunately, Glöð has bestowed upon Ember the divine power to heal. This, in addition to her natural healing and herbalism skills, will have him conscious and restored to full health in roughly a day. Most of this time the party waits, taking turns on watch. At first they drink and eat their fill from the masked men’s stores. The food is an odd mix of obvious and unrecognizable. Dried mushrooms predominate. There is also dried fish and some cubes of what might be dried pork. There is a soft, crumbly flour of unknown origin. Later, sated but exhausted from days of dehydration and wandering, most of them drift off to sleep, some on the beds where they are and some dragging mattresses into the “bee room”.

Before too many of them are lost to Morpheus’ embrace, Morgan organizes a body detail. The seven slain men, stripped of their gear, are taken to the empty cleric’s quarters across the hallway from where the giant lizard was seen. The bodies are curious upon inspection – alabaster skin, more pale than that even of Thrud and Ember. Pupils so large that no iris is visible and almost the entire eye is deep and dark. Each man has a lightning bolt tattoo on his left shoulder.

For all their food, the masked men seem to have no sources of light. Most of the group, when awake, stay in the bee room where the faint light filtering in from the long access hole provides some illumination. Throughout the night, a lantern is kept lit but burning slowly, so as to conserve oil.

Chamberpots are found and used by the party, but there is no obvious sign of a latrine. Morgan suspects that the trapdoor in the floor of one bedroom is used as such, but weights it down with several suits of chain armor just in case. Someone suggests emptying the pots in the green slime room, and after a day’s accumulation everyone is ready to do so.

The prisoners are given half rations of food and water, but mostly left alone. They wait stoically, occasionally conversing in low voices.

Bhelgarn claimed the leader’s fancy helm for his own, and no one objected. However, when he donned it, the queer sensation it gave him was obviously magical. His suspicious dwarven nature impelled him to abandon it immediately, whereupon it was taken up by Thrud.

In the early morning hours of the next day (day 21 since they left Selenica), when Hazrad is beginning to slip in and out of consciousness, most of the party is waiting in the bee room. Jon sits alone in the lower bedroom, humming Atruaghin songs to himself in the darkness. He hears the door open and the pad of unshod feet enter the room. Grabbing his new sword, he charges at the noise while shouting for the others. Battle is joined in the hall, with Morgan, Bhelgarn, Odleif, and Iris eventually coming to his aid. The scuffle is brief as seven goblins fall to the party. They are clad in filthy rags and bear rusty blades. Iris searches them but finds nothing for her trouble. Their bodies, too, are moved to the clerical room, whereupon the party finds that several of the men are already eaten, and bloody lizard tracks in abundance.

Several hours later, in the early afternoon, Hazrad announces that he is feeling fit to travel. While he stretches and regains his balance, the others, under Morgan’s direction, break apart one of the bunkbeds, wrap the wooden fragments in torn bed linens, and soak them in the thick machine oil recovered from the foundry. Each member of the party takes several of these makeshift torches.

Hazrad then has a brief conversation with the prisoners. There are a few simple words exchanged and much gesturing. In the end, the leader simply kneels and stretches out his open palms, in some gesture of supplication. Hazrad explains that these are evil cultists, and that they worship the lightning god of the statue above, whom they call “Gorm”. He says their source of food is lower in the pyramid, but it seems somehow connected to the helmet, which the leader is asking for. No one in the party believes it is a good idea to return an obviously magical item to the prisoners. Hazrad also cautions the party against eating the mushrooms among the food stores, and says the men appear crazed to him and the mushrooms may be part of the reason.

Morgan announces that with Hazrad well and having confirmed that they need to explore deeper, there is no reason to wait longer. This sets off a debate among the party as to whether it is less cruel to leave the men, knowing that they face dehydration, starvation, or possibly attack by lizards, or to simply kill them outright. Voices are raised and the exchange goes back and forth. Jon, oblivious to the finer parts of the discussion, simply draws his sword and asks, repeatedly, “Stabby-stab?” In the end no consensus is reached, but among those who oppose the killing none are willing to step forth to prevent it. Hazrad affixes the blade to his pole-staff and approaches the cage. The men, sensing that their end is near, exchange words briefly, the leader enjoining them to be brave. The two cultists kneel by the edge of the cage and are dispatched as quickly as possible. The leader points to the bodies, holds his hands forth pleadingly, and says “Zargon.” He then moves forward to the bars. As he too is slain Hazrad offers him some words in Ylaruai. Even as he slips into death’s coil, his eyes go wide in shock.

Jon and Bhelgarn lead the way down the trapdoor, where an iron ladder takes them to the third layer of the pyramid and a small, empty chamber. To Morgan’s relief, it is not a latrine. Bhelgarn cannot find an exit, but when Odleif lowers his lantern, Jon finds a loose stone that triggers the opening of a secret door.

The party files in to a large, almost empty room – the largest they have seen yet in the pyramid. The walls and ceiling are all painted sky blue. Directly across from where they entered, there is a large golden marble alter, set with precious metal candleholders and a bowl of water. A single door leads out – a hinged iron door, with a lock and handle, the first such door they have seen in the pyramid. When they approach, lightning plays across its surface. Though they spend many minutes searching, they can find no way to disable the electricity, even by throwing the bowl of water at it.

Finally Bhelgarn ties the key for the cage above to the end of his pole and Iris dexterously inserts it into the lock. With a deft click, it turns and the door opens – although the door still sparks and glows. Carefully passing through, Jon leads the way down a long stone corridor ending at one of the standard stone doors.

This time, however, a row of eight buttons is beside the door. Jon presses four in turn, and after each one a rough grinding noise is heard, but the door cannot be pushed open. Finally he tries one that allows the party access to a short hallway. Fearing a trap, Odleif spikes the door open as the others walk past him. Jon and Iris are the first out the door on the other end.

The elf spots a secret door and entreats Jon to open it, but the Atruaghin ignores her and continues down the hall, lighting his way with one of the candles he removed from the altar of Gorm. Undaunted, Iris shows her door to the other party members as they enter. They pass through and find a small chamber with another door and a large wicker basket.

With the rest of the party far behind him, Jon enters a room at the end of the hall and is immediately set upon by a giant draco lizard. As the creature mauls his leg in its huge jaws, Jon screams and then passes out from shock. The rest of the party comes running, with Bhelgarn managing to drive the lizard away from Jon’s body before he, too, is wounded and unconscious. With two mighty cleaves of his battle-axe, and a bit of assistance from Hazrad, Thrud dispatches the reptile and Ember and Iris attempt to rescue Jon, who is on death’s very doorstep. A quick search of the room finds a half-eaten body behind an altar – the body has a full water canteen and a sack of coins.

“Why was he off by himself?” asks Morgan, but receives no reply. Muttering disgustedly, she takes Odleif and Hazrad and returns to the room with the basket. She tips the basket over, and immediately they are set upon by giant pit vipers. Although the snakes are deadly poisonous, Morgan’s sword proves quicker and deadlier still. In the bottom of the basket are a tumble of coins and even a few gems.

Morgan opens the door and is met by a bare chamber with another door. As the three of them search for possible secret doors, Morgan steps on a stone that locks the doors and begins to flood the room with water! Their frantic search for a means to turn the water off is useless, and their poundings on the door have no effect. Fortunately Thrud, having heard the fight with the snakes, was already on his way. No hearing their desperate struggles, he manages to smash the thin stone slab of the door, shattering it and destroying his war hammer with the same blow. Water floods the basket room.

Possibly in response to the noise, a scrabbling and scratching can be heard at the other door. Hazrad opens it with his spear, and a cloud of giant bats enters. He immediately allows it to shut, keeping more bats out but already five are with them. Thrud is bitten and falls to the ground before all of the bats are slain.

With three men down, even Morgan agrees it is time to rest. Odleif spikes both the button door and the bat door closed, and the entire group retreats to the far room where Ember is still systematically washing and bandaging Jon’s savaged leg.

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Post Seven (Deadly Spores)
Deadly Spores

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The party passes a day while Ember heals Jon, Thrud, and Bhelgarn.

It is the early morning of the 22nd day since they left Selenica, with Jon still unconscious. Iris and Odlief are on watch duty while the others rest. Iris, with her keen elven hearing, notes the approaching tramp of boots approaching. She hisses at the others for quiet while she moves behind the door and draws her sword.

Thrud, now conscious, moves to stand in front of Morgan (who has just roused from sleep and is busy putting on her ring mail). FluffyKitty moves behind the alter, so that just her shoulders and head peak out, and puts a stone in her sling. Odlief readies an arrow and Hazrad his throwing knife.

Suddenly the stone pivot-door swings open. Two hobgoblins storm into the room and are met by a barrage of missile fire; an arrow, a slingstone, a handaxe, and a throwing knife. Hazrad moves forward to engage as Iris stabs at a second rank of hobgoblins entering. After a brief but intense melee, only one hobgoblin is left, and Thrud has fallen defending Morgan, who now stands, armed and armored, against the halfling. The last hobgoblin decides to flee – he is running back to the door when Wolfbane finishes her sleep spell, catching him, Hazrad, and (as Iris later discovers) two hobgoblins still outside the door.

Morgan and Iris dispatch the three sleeping hobgoblins while Odlief searches for their means of entry. The snake-basket room still has a flooded floor, and there are no wet bootprints in the hall, so it is presumed that they have entered by the button-door, spiked closed as it is.

Iris searches them – they have a day’s worth of water each in flimsy leather skins, but nothing else of value. However, their goods are considerably better quality than the goblins previously encountered, they have leather boots (not bare feet), leather armor (not rags), and their swords and clubs are in good repair, though not as good as what the party already possesses. None carry shields. FluffyKitty is inspired; she strips one of its armor, then retreats to the temple room to tailor. Odleif and Morgan carry bodies to the end of the hall and pile them against the button door. It may not stop entrance, but hopefully it will delay and make noise. As they examine them, they see that all of the hobgoblins have their foreheads marked – some in dye, some tattooed – with the symbol of an eye surrounded by eight wavy rays.

While Ember takes over care of Thrud, Morgan expresses her impatience. She is concerned that another such patrol will wound them faster than Ember can heal them, so that they will become trapped here. She wishes to scout ahead for a safer resting place. Odleif, Bhelgarn, and Iris agree to go with her.

Morgan is a reluctant magic user, dating from when as a pupil she was always behind her elven peers. So she was surprised when Wolfbane’s sleep spell affected the two hobgoblins in the hall, passing through thick walls of rock. While she may not have known that vefore, she does now, and is ager to put her new knowledge to use against the bats. She leads the away team back to the water trap room and readies her spell while Odleif listens at the door. He shakes his head to indicate that he does not hear scratching, then slowly pushes open the stone pivot door. No bats fly out.

The woodsman shines his lantern into the room beyond, illuminating it. The room is filled with shelves, covering all of the wall except for a passageway in front of the secret door on this wall and a normal stone door on the opposite wall. The shelves are mostly empty, but a few contain crates. The shelves and crates both are covered in thick dust and a vile-looking yellow fungus that grows in large, thick clusters.

Morgan examines the floor – while the mold encrusts the stone in radii extending from the wooden shelf posts, it does not completely cover the floor, especially in the center of the room. She and Odleif delicately pick their way across the room. Next up is Iris, who tells Pooches to heel and then follows her adventuring mates across the room. The dog, however, stops to sniff at a patch of mold. Immediately that section shoots out a cloud of delicate golden spores, and the dog inhales deeply. Two seconds later he begins to cough, then to whimper. Iris drags him back to the water trap room. He begins to wheeze and cough up blood. Iris scoops him up and runs back to the temple room, leaving Bhelgarn staring at her retreating form.

Iris begs Ember for help, but the nordic cleric says that this is more like a disease than a wound – it is beyond her meagre power. Iris reminds her about the healing honey, and seeing the reluctant look on her face, reminds her that it is only because of Iris’ knowledge of animal lore that they have the honey in the first place. Ember acquiesces and opens the flask. Pooches laps at the honey in between coughing fits. Eventually his coughing slows and he falls into a fitful sleep, head in Iris’ lap.

Meanwhile, Morgan and Odeif hear Bhelgarn shout that he will guard the door. They advance down the corridor, coming to a T-intersection. One way leads to another button door, the other to a normal door and a ruined temple. They return to the fungus room. Looking with her infravision Morgan sees that the patch of fungus which shot spores is still warm. Looking with his lantern, Odleif sees that the air is still filled with a fine golden haze of spores. Holding their breath, the two return across the room, join Bhelgarn, and then the main party in the temple.

After a few more hours of rest, both Thrud and Jon are conscious and ambulatory. Morgan tells everyone to pack up. She leads them to the fungus room and cautions them to cross carefully, single file, and not to touch anything. Iris wraps Pooches in blankets and carries him. He whines and shivers as they pass.

Morgan leads the way into the ruined temple. It has been looted and deliberately wrecked. The stone altar has been smashed, and no ceremonial equipment can be seen. A word has
been scrawled on one wall in large letters; Hazrad recognizes it as the proto-Alaysian script but he cannot even read the modern form.

Odleif lengthens the wick on his lantern and studies the floor. The stone is covered in dust, but he detects a faint trail leading down the center of the room, and then curving behind the alter. They follow in single file, Pooches walking on his own now, sporting leather barding courtesy of FluffyKitty. As Morgan rounds the alter she steps on a section of floor and feels it start to give way. She withdraws, and it rises again. She steps again, and sees that a 20’ long, 10’ wide section of the floor has been counter-weighted to serve as a ramp to the next lower level of the pyramid. The group proceeds.

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Post Eight (Welcome to the Tombs)
Welcome to the Tombs

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On the 24th day from Selenica, the party descends to the next level. The huge limestone blocks that make the walls are the same, but the air here seems a little more stale, the darkness a little deeper.

Painted on the walls of the room are court scenes showing a King and Queen being entertained by a dwarven jester. The paintings are faded and not detailed; it is unclear whether the jester is an actual Dwarf or a small human. A small coffin rests in a niche in the east wall and in each corner of the room is a large brass jar.

Jon immediately explores the nearest brass jar. Holding his candle over it, he peers into its depths, then drops the candle inside. Next he takes his trident and pokes the butt end around inside the jar. When FluffyKitty comes over to observe, he tries to communicate something to her with gestures. Leaving the jar, Jon moves to the coffin, but the rest of the party ushers him away.

Odleif takes his rope out of his sack and drapes it over the end of the ramp. When the last of them steps off, it slowly rises to the ceiling, but the rope ends hang out and can be pulled down. The group assumes their marching order and steps out into the hall.

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It is soon apparent that this layer, in keeping with the form of the step pyramid, is much larger than the previous ones. Long stone corridors quickly become a maze of numerous branching passageways.

Choosing one seemingly at random, the party proceeds. Morgan and Odleif lead, with Jon and Hazrad in the rear. At the end of one passageway, the door to a room is scorched, as is the end of the corridor. The outline of a man-sized humanoid form is etched into the scorched wall section. The door to the room is slightly open, but not enough to see into the room.

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“Dagon?” whispers Jon, presumably giving the Atruaghin word for dragon. No one in the party is desirous of trying the room, and the corridor nearby seems to twist and turn without plan or reason. They decide to return to the nexus of hallways they passed. Unbeknownst to them, their light and noise have attracted the attention of three spitting cobras which glide soundlessly up behind them.

At the grand intersection, the party tries the next room. Inside, a mummified human in plate armor and holding a halberd stands at attention against the west wall. Grouped around the mummy are nine skeletons holding swords, also at attention. As the first people step in to the room, the skeletons animate, and begin moving toward the door. The party quickly retreats, calls upon Ember for support, and re-enters the room.

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The fight is brief, largely due to Ember turning away half of the skeletons, so the party needs only to engage them in two smaller groups rather than as one large force. Still, several people receive minor wounds before all of the skeletons are laid to rest. Pooches gnaws on rib bones as the party searches the room.

Meanwhile, Hazrad, Wolfbane, and Jon have remained outside the room, not partaking in the fight. Jon is growing increasingly disenchanted with the situation. Superstitious of disturbing the dead, frustrated by his inability to communicate, and offended that he has not been healed to the point where he could assist in combat, he lights another candle and returns down the corridor of the scorched doorway. Perhaps there is something of importance in the room?

Before he reaches the room, however, he is confronted by the three cobras that have been trailing the party. His candlelight plays along their shiny scales as they rear back and spread their hoods.

Jon turns and runs, but not back to the party. Rather, he runs toward the room with the ramp up. Unfortunately, his new chain mail armor slows him – he runs, but the cobras are faster. He is nearly at the door when they catch him, one cobra sinking its fangs deep into his calf muscle. Jon falls to the ground as the poison courses through his body. Hazrad and Wolfbane watched Jon’s retreating candlelight in frustration, then see it snuffed out as he turns and runs past them, screaming. A second later, they see the snakes. Hoping to assist, they follow, but when they round the corner he is already on the ground, unmoving. Wolfbane casts her sleep, and Hazrad quickly chops the snakes into pieces. By the time they reach Jon’s side, Hazrad feels no pulse.

Wolfbane strips his pack while Hazrad arranges Jon’s form as if for burial, but then carefully coats his clothes with tarry oil from his torches and sets them ablaze. It is not enough to consume the corpse or turn it to ash, but the hair and skin will certainly be seared off.

Just as the main party returns to them, smoke and the smell of burning flesh are billowing down the hall. Morgan demands to know what Hazrad is doing. “Should it please the servant of my master,” says the ylaruai, indicating the bodies of the snakes, “we tried but could not save him from the poison. Considering where we are, and that you were already engaged with unholy skeletons, I thought it better to destroy the body before it could turn on us.”

“And,” says Wolfbane brightly in Darokite, “I have his stuff!”

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The party continues down a hallway to the next door. The room beyond appears to be empty except for an odd-shaped mound in the southwest corner of the room. Rustling and faint
squeaking noises seem to come from the mound. After a few moments of watching it, a long pointed nose pokes out. Morgan leads half the party to the other door, pushes it in, then waits for the swing back to grab and hold it open from without. Inside, Pooches is set to dig on one side of the mound while arrows are shot into the other. In a few moments rats of unusual size, each three feet long or more, come pouring out, and are herded out the open door and down the hall. Their pattering feet recede into the distance – Morgan thinks she counted ten in all.

While Ember rests, the others use poles to stir and probe the rats’ nest – a pile of stolen fabrics, broken crockery, dirt and earth, and bits of half-gnawed leather. Three hundred gold coins and four gems are recovered over the next several hours. The nest covers a crack in the wall between two crumbling stone blocks, but it is too small for even FluffyKitty to enter. Iris’ cat is sent in but quickly returns, dusty and with bristling fur.

After Ember heals a few minor wounds, the group decides to press on. Many are still wounded, but no one is comfortable resting in the rat room. Before they leave a full vial of oil is used to set the remainder of the nest on fire, as a deterrent to that rats’ return.

The long hallway out the other door, down which the rats ran, passes out of sight. There is a door, however. When this door is opened, the first sight is that the room beyond is filled with light. Before anyone can fix on details, however, a cry goes up from the rear of the party. From the nearby corner, a wall has slid back, revealing a giant boulder, stone-carved to perfect roundness, which even now is barreling down on the party! Without a thought to what might be in the room beyond, the party begins piling through the door as fast as they can. Hazrad is in the rear – he can see the boulder approaching, feel the floor starting to shake, but still there are people in front of him. He can see the flashes and hear the scraping as the boulder careens down the hall and ricochets off the walls. Finally the way is clear! He dives through the open door, feeling the rushing air tug at his cloak as the boulder passes. Several heartbeats later, there is a distant thud. No one feels the impact, but dust falls from the ceiling.

Picking themselves up off the floor, looking about, the party regains their composure. A sarcophagus rests on a dais in the center of the room. The dais is 10’ square. From each corner of the dais rises a slender, 6’ tall column. The tops of the columns meet the corners of an arched dome above the sarcophagus. On the dais at each end of the sarcophagus is a brass jar from which flames dance. Finally, the walls of this room are painted with scenes from the life of a noble lady.

Ember is intrigued – the flames from the brass jars seem to have no source – they truly are eternal flames. These people may have worshipped strange gods, but it seems they did know something of the truth. Morgan suggests opening the coffin, but is practically shouted down. No one wants to deal with whatever curses or undead guardians are summoned – they may be adventurers and opportunists, but apparently they are not grave-robbers. She has to content herself with searching for secret doors, as many several others then proceed to do.

Hazrad examines the sarcophagus – not to open it, but merely for inscriptions or clues. He finds nothing, then tries to shift the brass jars – they appear to be bolted to the floor. Behind one of them, however, he finds a bronze tube with a parchment inside. Ember and Iris are immediately interested. They take out the parchment – there is a map in faint ink, marked with an “X”.

The room appears to have no more secrets to yield, so the party leaves by the other door. Long, turning hallways lead back to the room with the skeletons. Of the four-way intersection, there is now only one hall down which they have not explored. Before they start, Bhelgarn quickly examines the alcove from which the boulder came, thinking it might lead somewhere. Alas, it is a simple chamber with a ramped floor to give impulse and a sliding wall. He admires the workmanship – this civilization knew stone.

At the end of a long corridor is another stone pivot-door. Listening at it, the party can hear low grunts inside. They burst in, prepared to fight. The room has scenes of warfare painted on the walls. It also has a large wooden sarcophagus standing upright along the south
wall. Painted on the outside of the sarcophagus is the picture of a warrior in armor. Squatting on each side of the sarcophagus is a large ape with dirty white fur.

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The party moves forward to engage, but the apes prove incredibly tough. The one faced by Morgan takes several terribly-punishing sword-strikes before finally collapsing, while the other takes hits from half the party before it is dispatched. One ape stumbles and falls against the sarcophagus and it opens – a mummified body tumbled out. The party catches their breaths, but the body does not stir. It is a human in plate armor, with a sword. The leather straps of the plate are rotted away, the armor itself tarnished and rusty. The wood and leather of the scabbard are crumbling – but the sword beneath looks a bright and polished as the day it was forged!

Morgan claims the sword, and none object. The group is at the end of a long hall in a seemingly deserted part of the pyramid, in a room with a single door, and without a filthy rat’s nest. They decide that here at least is a defensible place to rest.

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Post Nine (The enemy of my enemy is my friend?)
(The enemy of my enemy is my friend?)

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As the party rests in the ape room, they discuss their plans. The toughness of the apes, and the presence of undead skeletons, has sobered them. They know that ultimately they must go down to find the Undercity and accumulate enough food and water to leave the pyramid – but what if these tombs do not lead to the Undercity? The deeper they go, the tougher the monsters they face. Should they perhaps return to the third level of the pyramid to see what they missed? Points are made on each side.

The debate does not rage – rather it takes place in innumerable hushed conversations between pairs while the spell casters rest. It has been nearly 24 hours since they fought the apes. It is now the 25th day since they left Selenica, and their 6th day in the pyramid, if they have kept good track of time. It has been several days since they have seen sunlight, so their margin of error is growing, but Bhelgarn assures them he could be underground a month and not be off an hour. The party has adopted the practice of having two people on watch – someone with infravision just outside the door, and someone without infravision inside, caring for the lantern.

It is during the watch of Bhelgarn and Wolfbane that a lone figure, bearing a torch, appears at the end of the hallway. Bhelgarn cracks the door and whispers to Wolfbane to prepare her spell. The figure advances cautiously and near-silently, but does not seem to have noticed the dwarf waiting in the dark. Just as it slows, then gives a start of recognition, Wolfbane slips out into the hall and casts her spell. The figure slumps to the floor.

Bhelgarn bears down on the figure and recognizes it as a human male – he quickly binds the man with rope, slings him over his shoulder (jostling him awake in the process), and carries him into the room. Wolfbane turns up the light of the lantern while the others gather around. The man is dressed in the clothes worn by the caravan guards but his face is hideously disfigured, scarred over by a terrible fire. Hazrad recoils, seemingly in fear or shock. The man claims to be a guard who was separated from the caravan during a bandit attack which followed the sandstorm. Bhelgarn remains suspicious and refuses to untie him until Morgan rouses and recognizes the man as a guard who signed on in Selenica.

Morgan and the others press him for information – he reveals that he has seen areas of the third level the party has not, and that there is a group of robed cultists who he says attacked him. He also has explored much of the fourth level and says that some of the coffins are empty so they should be wary of undead. (“You opened the coffins!” exclaims half of the party, incredulous).

News of another group of cultists on the third level seems to unify the group – surely these people have a store of food and water. They resolve to work their way back upstairs.

Leaving the ape room, the party retraces their steps to the room with the ramp, passing the barely burned body of Jon in the hall. The air is still heavy with the scent of smoke and burned flesh. The ramp room has been disturbed – the lid of the coffin has been thrown halfway across the room. A crudely painted wooden jester’s head, on a brass spring, rocks gently over the coffin. The rope, used by Odleif to secure access to the ramp, is nowhere to be seen. Asked about it, Remmy the caravan guard says there was no rope when he descended by the ramp. Odleif looks in the brass jars but finds nothing. The coffin has ashes and nothing more.

Morgan examines the faded painting on the walls, explaining that if people routinely come up from this level to the next, there must be some mechanism of gaining entry. She does not find anything, but Iris takes up her idea and locates a door in the painting that looks somewhat offset from the wall itself. Iris borrows a 10’ pole and presses firmly on the “door” stone – there is a click, and the ramp slowly lowers about half way before rising again. It is caught by party members and lowered completely to the floor.

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The group ascends to the second level and proceeds immediately to the button door. In front of it are a few hobgoblin bodies – one that looks like its head has been crushed and dragged along the wall. “I did that,” says Remmy nonchalantly.

Bhelgarn takes a look at the door and nearby wall. “We already suspected that this corridor moves, or spins, somehow,” he says. “I am thinking that these are the hobgoblins we killed and stacked in front of the door, but that when the hallway spins they are dragged along…” A closer look at the door reveals that it is spiked closed. They can push it open easily enough, but Odleif doesn’t fancy being trapped on the other side. He tries to pry out his spike, but it doesn’t budge. He settles for breaking off the head so that it no longer blocks the door.

Down the corridor the party goes, passing through the other button door at the end. They are now in a part of level three that they have not seen before, though Remmy says he has been here. Given his pronouncement about the hobgoblins, his words are taken with a grain of salt.

The corridor turns right, and then right again. Morgan goes slowly, drawing on her elven ancestry to see the faintest of cracks in the stone walls. She stops about three-quarters of the way down the hall, her fingers tracing a fine line on the north wall. She puts her shoulder to the stone, leans and tests, and finds that it does, indeed, move. “Ok,” she says, facing the party, “who’s going in?”

To everyone’s surprise, FluffyKitty comes forward, holding her hand out to Odleif for his lantern like a child asking for a sweet. He shrugs and hands it to her, then pushes on the wall just enough for her to slip inside. Remmy slips in after her.

After a few minutes, the halfling squeezes back out. Smiling at the group, she sets down the lantern and spreads her arms wide. “Boxes, many, yes! Crawlies, BIG crawlies! Crunch boxes, crunch crunch crunch!”

Odleif motions to FluffyKitty to pick back up the lantern while he nocks an arrow. Morgan draws her sword. They charge the door with FluffyKitty behind them providing light.

The 30’ square room is filled with crates and barrels. Four large brown beetles, each about 3’ long, are breaking into the containers. As FluffyKitty shines her light, illuminating each of the beetles, they ignore her and keep working at the crates. Morgan nods at Odleif and runs forward while he shoots. The fight is brief as, two by two, the party enters the room and engages. The beetles are quickly slain, but not before Odleif is sprayed directly in the face by a searing oil from a strange gland atop the beetle’s head. As he brings his hand up to protect his eyes, another beetle sprays him with the blistering fluid.

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The fight is over before all of the party have even entered the room; Bhelgarn and Hazrad remain in the hall, guarding the party’s rear (and trusting to Bhelgharn’s infravision, for they are without light). Inside, Iris has a look at Odleif’s blistered skin. She nods sagely. “Oil beetles, for sure. Those blisters will be on there for a day or so, but you should recover without any serious damage. Don’t pick at the scabs, though.”

Suddenly Hazrad hears padding footfalls and low whoops. “Bhelgarn?” he whispers. Bhelgarn attempts to push the man toward the secret door, but the corridor erupts with hoots and howls. The noise of the beetle fight has attracted a wandering troop of baboons.

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The rock baboons swarm over the dwarf and the man, biting, scratching, clubbing with fists. Hazrad makes it to the secret door and is trying to pull himself through, but a baboon is on his back, biting his neck. More are in the hall. He and Bhelgarn stumble into the lit storeroom, with Hazrad yelling, “Sleep! Sleep!” to Wolfbane.

Once inside, Bhelgarn leans back against the door, trying to hold it against the press of apes. In a second, Iris joins him. The dwarf slips and falls and the door comes open – baboons start to invade the room. Wolfbane aims her spell at the hall beyond the opening, but completes it just as Iris heaves backwards to shut the swinging door. The spell fills the room, putting two baboons to sleep, but also Morgan, Remmy, Bhelgarn, and even Wolfbane herself!

Hazrad has used the brief respite to fix the blade on his lance. He and Thrud surge forward to the door, with Pooches at their heels. In the hall are four more baboons but two of these have been put to sleep as well, so the three warriors make short work of them.

In the end they pause, panting and straining their ears. There is the distant sound of leathery bat-wings, but no more monsters approach. The party turns their attention to examining the barrels and crates.

The crates are full of water; the boxes, food. It is of the same type as the Gormites had; mostly dried mushrooms, but also dried meat and some sort of ground meal. The room is full – it is more food than the party can carry, even if they don’t take the mushrooms, and certainly enough to leave the pyramid and make it to the nearest desert city! They begin packing food and filling waterskins.

However, a feeling of creeping unease comes over them. One at a time they start to look around – the shadows seem menacing; a growing sense of dread is mounting. Hurriedly stuffing a few more food items into their packs, they leave the room through the other door, which appears normal. Once free of the room, their unease retreats.

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The short corridor beyond ends in a T-intersection, with the right branch having a button door and the left a large statue. Eight feet tall and bronze, it is of a winged child with two snakes twined around its body. It holds a wand in one hand and a handful of coins in the other. The statue appears firmly connected to the floor. Remmy tries to take the coins but they are cast bronzework. Morgan looks for secret doors – she is reasonably sure the wall behind it slides, but cannot find the mechanism. Remmy discovers that the wand of the statue is movable. He starts to move it, but the whole of the party yells "No! and retreats down the hall. Shrugging, he pulls it to the left – and the wall behind silently glides out of the way, revealing a corridor beyond.

The party notes that the corridor is well kept – clean and freshly swept, not like the outer corridor which is generally littered with debris, dried blood, and lizard dung. There is a near door to the right and a far door to the left. Remmy cracks the near door enough to see inside.

Along the north and west walls of the room hang large tapestries showing the major constellations of the night sky. Thirteen figures in rainbow-colored robes and silver masks stand or sit in front of a stone, star-shaped altar. The masks match the face of the middle statue on the pyramid, or the statue in the hall; the winged child. The center-most figure of the group wears a silver crown, and he walks among the others talking softly. The whole room is illuminated by the glowing alter, but there are deep shadows in the corners still.

Meanwhile, Morgan looks in the other door. Unlit, she sees beds and trunks and little else, though a few of the beds are warm as if recently slept in.

“These are the cultists who attacked me!” hisses Remmy. “It is time for revenge!”

“No,” warns Ember, “we do not need more enemies – let us go in talking.”

“Oh, we’ll talk, says Morgan, returning, “after I put them to sleep.” She and Remmy slip into the room while the others remain in the hall outside, quietly but vehemently debating the merits of talking versus attacking.

Morgan and Remmy keep to the shadows at the edge of the room. Remmy gets a bead on the leader with his blowgun and fires – but at this range the dart is simply lost in the crowd. Morgan begins casting, keeping the words of power as low as she can. By the time she is heard and heads begin to turn their way she is nearly finished. The leader points at her and people rise to their feet – and then collapse. Eleven of the men are on the ground, just one man and the leader remain on their feet.

Hoping to prevent a throat-slitting massacre, the rest of the party begins to enter the room, bringing with them the lantern. Wolfbane gestures to the leader hoping to reassure him, but he assumes she is beginning a spell. FluffyKitty is awestruck by the rainbow robes – “Pretty, pretty! I want!” she squeals. Remmy fires again, and this time the dart pierces the chest of the leader, who winces but does not fall.

The leader completes his own spell, and a streak of flame shoots from his finger to the middle of the party before exploding in a blast of light. Iris, Hazrad, Pooches, Bhelgarn, and Thrud fall to the ground, hair and clothes on fire. They desperately roll before passing out. Morgan and Wolfbane are non-plussed. They have seen fireball spells before – where is the wave of heat, the blast of concussive force? This must be an illusion. Morgan shouts at her fallen comrades, “You’re not on fire!” but they do not respond.

The second cultist is shaking and slapping the sleeping men. One staggers to his feet, completes his own sleep spell. Morgan, Wolfbane, Remmy, and FluffyKitty pass out.

As two more men are roused, Ember and Odleif, who had been guarding the rear, come in to the room. A few seconds ago they had been hoping to prevent a slaughter of the cultists, but now they are desperate to save their own people. With a flash of light, Ember is magically blinded. A second later, realizing himself alone, Odleif lays down his bow and surrenders.

The men who are awake take Odleif’s weapons, then begin tying up the party members. The knots are firm, but do not evidence much familiarity with trussing prisoners. Soon everyone is awake, cultist and party member alike, though of all the party only Odleif is free. Those of the party who thought they had been burned alive are now aware that they are unharmed save for a bruise or two from falling and rolling on the stone floor. The party’s weapons are taken, and their bags searched – all of the food and water is removed. The leader spies Thrud’s helmet, and that is confiscated as well. Morgan notes with satisfaction that, inexperienced as these men are, the knife inside her boot has been missed.

A few men guard the party, daggers drawn, while the leader and another man withdraw with Odleif. Odleif hears the leader’s words in his mind, as if he was speaking Darokite, and the rough rural Darokite of the woodsmen at that. Odleif returns soon after, and addresses the bound party in Common.

“These’r the magi of Usamagares. They kin that we are from the outside world, and are not followers of Zargon, whoever th’ devil that be. They asked me why we were attackin’ them, and I said we warn’t, which I reckon is mostly true. They said that since we didn’t kill nobody, no harm was done, an’ they’r willin’ t’ let us go, unner some conditions.” He pauses to let his words sink in. Morgan nods at him to continue.

“They say we must need food an’ water bad, else we wouldna stole it from their storehouse. They’r willin to give us a day’s worth a food an’ water iff’n we go talk with the “warrior maidens” n’ git them ta leave this level of tha pyrmid. They say that’ll prove they can trust us. Then we can attack the Zargonites. Iff’n we do that, they’ll give us as much food an’ water as we can carry. They want to know iff’n we agree to these terms."

There is a conversation among the party, but it is brief. Those who had hoped to talk with the mages are satisfied with the outcome, and those who wished to attack them do not have much choice but to accept. “We agree,” says Morgan.

Odleif again hears the voice of the leader in his head. “They’r gonna leave our weapons an’ such near the maidens. I am allowed to untie one of you at a time, an’ you hafta leave through that door. Once we have our stuff, we are to go to the maidens. Iff’n we can get ‘em ta leave, great. If they attack us, we can bring back their masks. Either way, they don’t want us coming back for at least half a day. Oh, an’ they’r keeping the helmet. Sorry, Thrud.”

Some of the men carry the party’s gear out the door. They are gone several minutes before returning.

Morgan nods. “Me first,” she says, and Odleif unties her. She walks out the door indicated. For a second she can see by the light from the altar through the open door – she is in a short hallway, which has been painted black, floor, walls, and ceiling, with small points of light that look like stars in a night sky. Then the door closes and she has only her infravision. In the darkness, she draws the knife from her boot. Several moments pass and she is joined by Thrud, then the others, one at a time (except for the pair of Pooches and Iris who enter together).

Odleif is the last one out, and he comes bearing his lantern in one hand and a scrap of papyrus in the other. On the papyrus are drawn three symbols, which he says are the ones needed to open this door, and the two doors that lead to the warrior maidens. This button door doesn’t open until he presses the symbol indicated by the magi, and then it grinds into place.

At the other end of the revolving hall is the party’s gear, dumped in a pile unceremoniously.

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Once the party is equipped, they talk. Wolfbane and Morgan are out of spells, and many of them are wounded from the fights with the oil beetles and the baboons. They are in no condition to face the maidens. They agree they need to hole up for a few hours at least. Morgan remembers the button used to get them to the draco lizard room, and to her satisfaction it does just that.

During their rest, Hazrad asks to address the group. He pauses thoughtfully between each sentence, choosing the words in Common carefully. “We go now to face the followers of Madarua,” he says. “I believe this is a local name for Isiris, the pagan goddess of love and fertility. If the magi did not truly want to harm us, I think these maidens will even less, so long as we approach them correctly. If Gorm was the god of the Father, and Usamagares the Child, Madarua must be the Mother. I propose that we approach them with only the women of the party. May it please al-Kalim, they should be more inclined to speak to us then.” No one in the party is eager for a fight, so they agree to adopt his plan.

Morgan, FluffyKitty, Wolfbane, Iris, and Ember are placed first in the marching order, though Hazrad accompanies them as the only one with a chance of communicating. They first choose the button leading to the northeast.

The door opens on a pair of 10’ tall statues flanking both sides of the hallway. They wear masks with the faces of the goddess from the top of the pyramid. Their spears are outstretched, forming an arch. It appears that the only way down the corridor is in single file under the spears.

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FluffyKitty shrugs and skips under the spears. Hazrad winces but lets her go – and nothing happens. He and the remaining females proceed down the hall, while Bhelgarn is stationed at the statues to watch, and the other males are around the corner near the door.

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Arriving at the far door, Hazrad finds it of iron and locked. Bhelgarn produces the key from the temple of Gorm, but it does not fit the lock. Remmy offers to pick the lock, but the party agrees they will try the other door first and return only if they must.

Adopting the same order, the party approaches the eastern door. This is stone like the other doors of the pyramid. Pushing it open, they find a large chamber. Ten women are in the chamber. Chairs are placed around a large table, but the women are standing and facing the door as if expecting the party. Their weapons are drawn, but they do not advance. They wear bronze chain armor over green tunics, and bronze masks of Madarua. All of them have swords, but a few also have spears – the first wooden weapons the party has seen on pyramid natives.

Hazrad takes half a step forward. In one hand, held up so as not to threaten, he holds his flail, in the other, his throwing knife. Slowly he kneels and lays these on the floor to either side of him. He takes out the blade of his lance and lays it in front of himself, then bows low and touches his forehead to the floor.

One woman, half a head taller than the others, strides forward confidently to the party. She regards Morgan with a level gaze, then says something in an unfamiliar tongue. Hazrad responds, haltingly, his voice muffled by the stone floor. The woman does not turn, does not acknowledge him, but continues to speak to Morgan. Hazrad’s voice comes in Common, “I need you to nod.” Morgan does so.

After a few more words, Hazrad says, “Now I need you to say ‘Gorm,’ and ‘Zargon’, and make it clear they are bad.”

Morgan says “Gorm” with distaste, and then “Zargon” and spits on the floor. The woman’s body betrays no reaction, but several of the other women visibly relax and lower their weapons.

Hazrad whispers hurriedly, “They are glad we have defeated the Gormites but ask for proof. They are asking to see the helmet of the leader, and I told them that the mages stole it.”

The woman turns from Morgan and moves to FluffyKitten’s side, bends down and tousles her hair as she speaks. Hazrad continues, “She is glad to see so healthy a child.” FluffyKitty beams and curtsies (as well as one can curtsey in chain armor). The woman lays her spear down on the floor in front of Morgan.

“Am I supposed to lay down my sword, or pick the spear up?” Morgan asks.

“She didn’t say…” Hazrad hesitates. “I think pick it up…”

Morgan obliges, and the woman turns to the others, still at the table. They sheathe their swords. She walks to the table, speaking over her shoulder.

Hazrad says, “Morgan and Fluffy are invited to the table – the others should wait in the hall… You need to follow her, but first point to me and ask a question.”

Morgan grins, “Are you having as much fun as I am?” she asks in Common, gesturing to Hazrad, and then walking forward. At a word from the warrior woman, Hazrad crawls forward on his hands and knees to the side of the table.

Morgan and FluffyKitty sit. They accept food and drink. Hazrad continues to ‘translate’, though he does not always have a chance to inform Morgan of what he is saying, and she makes up inanities about the food they are eating as her supposed end of the conversation. Finally, he concludes; "They would like to ally with us against the Zargonites. They offer us food and drink and a safe place to stay. The women may stay in this room, the men in the hall outside, until we are ready. They have asked to have the “child” stay here under their protection, but you have persuaded them that she is looked after by all the women of our group."

Morgan smiles. “We accept.”

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