Secrets of Mystara

Post 19 (Trades and Negotiations)
Trades and Negotiations

Pendant_Festos_faistos_phaestos_-2.jpg

Upon their return to the Enclave, the females meet with the Great Mother and High Priestess. They reveal that they have been successful in their quest and recovered the cure. The Madaruans are elated and naturally curious about the quest, but they respect the party’s spiritual journey and do not press them for details. They thank the party sincerely for tending to the maiden who was wounded during the ambush.

Ember does reveal that the cure is in the form of a small, white flower, and that she was told that when placed in water, it will make the water capable of curing any addiction, without reducing the potency of the flower. She recalls that there is an underground lake that is the water supply of the city, and asks whether she should put the flower in the lake and and thereby cure everyone.

The Madaruans respectfully ask her not to do that. The party has assuredly braved many perils to recover the flower – they deserve the honor and recognition of bringing the cure – the cityfolk should know who they have to thank. In terms of strategy against the Zargonites, it will be valuable for people to come to the Maidens looking for the cure, rather than simply finding themselves cured without cause. Furthermore, they might be cured without even knowing it, and then fall prey again to the vision-mushroom addiction the next time they visit the Zargonite drug dens. The Madaruans believe that they should start by curing only those who wish to be cured, only those who are actively opposed to the Zargonites – this will enhance the status of the Maidens, and the acceptance of the party among the cityfolk.

Ember recognizes the wisdom in their words and agrees – she says that she will turn over the flower to them, to administer the cure as they see fit. The High Priestess takes a bronze chalice, filled with holy water, from the altar, and offers it to Ember, who places the flower within it. The Priestess than says that they party should have the honor of the first use. Each of the women drinks in turn from the chalice – Ember, Morgan, Iris, Wolfbane, FluffyKitten. The Great Mother says that word will be spread by their sympathizers in the city that the cure is available to any who would visit the Maidens.

Ember says that one of the men in their party went missing, in the tunnels beneath the towers, and asks whether they know anything about them. The Great Mother responds that no Maidens have entered those tunnels within her lifetime – the Mausoleum that guards the catacombs is a sacred place for the Maidens, and while they patrol the outside, they seldom venture inside the building and never in the towers.

Ember says that now that the cure and the maidens are safely back in the Enclave, they must search for their missing companion. Morgan has been wounded, and Ember asks whether the Maidens can heal her before they set out. The High Priestess says that they could heal her – but would prefer to wait. Given the number of Zargonites involved in the ambush, and its failure, it is possible that there may be a reprisal – the Zargonites could attack the city, or even the Enclave. The Maidens wish to reserve their healing in case it is needed for those situations. If Morgan will be going out on another mission, putting herself into obvious danger, they will provide healing, but would prefer to wait and see what develops.

Ember and Morgan say that they understand – Ember agrees to provide what healing she has to Morgan, and then stay and rest in the Enclave while Morgan leads the search for Hazrad. FluffyKitten says (in strangely perfect language while under the influence of the Maiden’s communication spell) that she will not be going on the search expedition and she would be perfectly happy if Hazrad was never found, and that it serves him right.

Ember and Morgan quickly return the conversation to strategy against the Zargonites. They remind the Maidens that their long-term goal is to unite the factions, and ask about which faction they should approach next – The Gormites or the Usamigari, and how they should negotiate.

Although the Great Mother has said “Zargonite” and “Zargon” repeatedly in the past, she pointedly refrains from using the names of the other two True Gods. Rather, she says that the Magi will be far easier to approach than the Brotherhood, emphasizing the groups’ secular names. The Brotherhood respect only strength, and that while recovering the cure is of huge religious significance, to them it will rank as less important than beating Zargonites in an open combat. She discourages the party from approaching the Brotherhood until they have the Magi in a firm alliance, as the Brotherhood will be much more likely to respond once the party is negotiating from a position of strength.

Furthermore, continues the High Priestess, the Brotherhood operates under a strict hierarchy. None of them will be permitted to speak with the party until their highest leader approves of it, regardless of the feelings of anyone else. Whereas among the Magi, if there are some who oppose negotiation with the party and some who are in favor, those in favor will be able to do so, regardless of their rank.

“Very well then, obviously we start with the Magi,” says Morgan. “What is our strategy? What do they value?”

“Before the fall of the City Above”, says the High Priestess, “the Child God was not only the patron of magic-users, but also of merchants, thieves, messengers, travelers. He represented anyone who made their living through social interaction. Whereas the Storm Father represented interactions within closed authoritarian institutions like the military or the government, and Our Mother oversaw the organic interactions of people within their families. Because the Magi honor free social interaction above all else, they are traders and negotiators. Approach them asking for something of value – and offer something of value in trade. They honor such free dealings and exchanges above all else.”

Simultaneously, Wolfbane and Iris jump in. “Spells! We need spells and they have them!”

Morgan nods in agreement. “And in exchange, what do we have that they would want?”

“Well,” says Ember smiling, “we have the cure…”

  • * * * *

In the compound, Ember provides Morgan with four heartmendings, and then retires to her tent to rest. FluffyKitten “stands guard” to keep her from being disturbed, but it is not even a full 20 minutes before she is drawn into the games of the children. Leaving her chainmail behind, she is soon completely absorbed in “Blind Maiden’s Bluff” and “Mother May I”.

Morgan organizes the six others and requests the gate be raised enough for them to leave, with Bhelgarn providing a halting translation. There are more Maidens on the wall then before, and the atmosphere is tense. It seems not only the Great Mother is expecting a reprisal from the Zargonites.

Returning to the Mausoleum, the away team finds a group of maidens busy dealing with bodies left over from the ambush. The hobgoblins are left in place – their bodies will feed the cave centipedes and feral pigs and their gear is worthless. The humans, however, could be recovered and re-animated by the Zargonites, so their bodies must be removed. Their bronze armor, swords, and daggers will make valuable additions to the Maidens’ armory, as they have no forge or smiths of their own. As to what the maidens actually do with the bodies, here Bhelgarn’s translation fails.

Morgan takes them into the first tower, the one the spellcaster used in the ambush. With the bronze door closed behind them, Bhelgarn lights a torch. “Odleif first,” says Morgan. “What do the tracks tell us?”

The woodsman studies the impressions in the thick dust. “Two sets onna stairs up – comin’ an’ goin…too many ter count onna stairs goin’ down.”

“Two sets on the stairs up? Is one of them Hazrad’s?”

“Not tha’ I kin reckon – Hazzerd’s got sandals – both these fellers ‘re wearin’ boots.”

Morgan indicates that they will ascend, Odleif in the lead. Up they go in a stone spiral staircase, eventually coming to a landing and then a short iron ladder to a trapdoor. Odleif points at the floor of the landing. “One a’ ter fellas stays here, waitin’ – only t’other one goes up ter ladder.”

Just Morgan and Odleif ascend. The trapdoor leads to a battlement above, with a great view of the city – at least for Morgan. Odleif sees only darkness and occasional points of wan light. The Zargonite fortress is ablaze – lights going in many of the windows, and shadows passing in front of them incessantly. “I guess we stirred something up there,” she mumbles with satisfaction.

Collecting the party, they descend to “ground” level, and then lower, beneath the “floor” of the cavern, into a tunnel system. Over a length of the narrow tunnel, Odleif is eventually able to pick out five sets of tracks – Bhelgarn, Thrud, and Hazrad, plus the two sets from the tower stairs. He notes that while the first three are placed slowly and carefully, the second set are far apart and on their toes, indicating that they were running.

The party passes down the tunnel, Odleif in the lead. He stops, motioning them to keep back, lowers his face to the floor, scratches his head, pulls at his beard. Finally he tells Morgan that here is where Hazrad…disappeared. The two men from the tower ran on ahead. The three men from there party walked to here – but only Bhelgarn and Thrud returned. Hazrad didn’t go on, and he didn’t come back – he just vanished. Thrud looks about fearfully, half expecting a spirit-Hazrad to be there yet.

They continue on, finding no branches, a single exit to a stone staircase up at the end. The same two tracks of the men, running up and out, the bronze door open. Carefully checking the area outside the tower – just a slung stone’s distance from the Zargonite fortress – the same two tracks, headed for the fortress. A torn bit of fabric on the ground, Odleif’s arrow (shot by Morgan). The tower stairs up – no tracks at all, a thick carpet of dust. The same battlemented top, a closer view of the activity at the fortress, though all internal – no forms moving about outside.

Aboveground, behind the Mausoleum to the next tower – the same doors, stairs, tunnels, battlements. No tracks, no signs of Hazrad. The final tower, closest to the Zargonites – still no sign. Morgan leads the party back to the Enclave.

Back at the Enclave, Ember uses another seven heartmendings to bring Morgan to full. Then everyone retires to tents to rest – everyone but FluffyKitten, who after playtime took a nap before the main party returned. She is sought out by one of the maidens, who saw her playing and now wishes to include her in the weapons training given to the older maiden girls.

First they practice drills; cutting, slashing, and stabbing with dull stone knives. Then one pair at a time is given blunted bronze daggers for dueling. When FluffyKitten is called for her duel, she easy outmatches one girl, then another. The maiden presiding halts the duels and calls another maiden over, this one in full armor.

She escorts Fluffy to where the adult maidens are having their own weapons practice, with bronze short and longswords. Fluffy indicates by gestures that she wishes to use a dagger. The instructor pairs her with some of the less experienced maidens. She appears intrigued – FluffyKitten has obvious skill, and easily outmatches the incautious maidens who charge at her. With rolls and dodges, she lets them stumble past her and then runs her dagger across their grieved legs from behind.

The instructor then pairs FluffyKitten with more seasoned opponents. Rather than rush in, they take their time, circling and using the longer reach of their weapons to hold Fluffy at bay until an opening arrises. Now it is FluffyKitten who fares poorly, taking many more hits than she delivers. The instructor calls a halt to the duels, sets the women to drills, and brings FluffyKitten to her. She gives her a second dulled bronze dagger, shows her how to stand when holding one in each hand. Using another maiden to attack, she shows Fluffy how to block and parry with the first blade and strike with the second, how to switch roles between them, how to control the rhythm and tempo of the fight. After some demonstration, she sets FluffyKitten to work practicing the steps, and trades maidens out as partners. At the end of the session, Fluffy is exhausted but smiling. The maiden instructor presents her with a real dagger – belt, scabbard and all. Fluffy draws it half out of the scabbard- it is iron! One of a few iron weapons she has seen among the maidens. The instructor points to her head and says one of the few words in Cyndician that Fluffy knows; “Zargonite.” Fluffy curtsies politely, and awkwardly buckles on the belt – that will have to be adjusted, as it is lacking holes for the size of Fluffy’s hips. FluffyKitten draws the blade, waves it in the air. “Stabby-stab Zargonite!” she says happily, and the maiden smiles broadly.

While FluffyKitten is training, and the rest of the party is resting, Morgan wakes from her sleep. She does sleep, yet another thing that separated her from her mother, from the elves of her village. She seldom dreams, but when she does it is more like the lucid trancing reverie of the elves than the dreams of men. Just now she woke from trance, and remembers her trance – the words of a spell danced on a page, moved and arranged themselves in front of her eyes – until they made sense! Symbols she understood separately now revealed their interdependance, their conjoined meaning – she understands! Morgan lights a candle, grabs her spellbook, opens it to the page where, in her own handwritting and Ember’s ink, she copied Iris’ magic missile spell. She traces the lines slowly, then with gathering speed – yes, yes, and here, yes! By the end, she is convinced that she has learned the spell that had eluded her before.

  • * * * *

The party gears up and prepares for their initial expedition to the Magi. When Bhelgarn asks where the entrance is to their building, the maidens shrug. “No entrance, just walls.” Thrud is positioned at the maiden’s gate, ready to cover a hasty retreat. Morgan ascends the wall, watching the party with her infravsion and covering them with Odleif’s bow. Certainly from this side, there are no openings visible, doors, gates, or windows, in the wall that surrounds the Magi’s complex.

The other seven members slip under the half-raised gate and make their way to the cavern wall, and along it to just behind the Magi. Once in position, Remmy moves ahead to the wall. He can’t see his hand in front of his face, but he can see the looming wall against the backdrop of lights from the Zargonite temple. Doing his best to move silently and remain hidden, he slips along the wall, running his hands up and down the smooth stone, searching for any entrance. When Iris and Bhelgarn see that he is halfway along the wall, they move the party to the corner behind him and follow at a distance.

Done with the “rear” wall, Remmy turns the corner and starts along the wall facing the Gormites. When he reaches the end of that, he waits for the party to catch up. They hold a hushed conversation. None of them wish to try the wall in full view of the Zargonite fortress, but are at a loss for what else to do.

“Maybe we should just knock,” Remmy says flippantly, and taps twice on the stone wall. Twenty feet back from the corner, a pale yellow glowing circle appears at chest height along the wall. Astounded, the party hustles over to it, and Remmy touches it. Instantly a woman appears before them, translucent and “standing” a few inches above the stone floor. Within the yellow circle, a palm-sized silver disk appears, then falls to the ground. Bhelgarn picks it up cautiously, looking at the many carven runes on its surface.

Pendant_Festos_faistos_phaestos_-2.jpg

“Greetings,” says the woman, in perfectly accented Dwarven. “My name is Alyria, and I am the Gatekeeper for the Magi. What you hold we call a communications disk – it will allow you to understand me, and me to understand you. Please make sure that only the person addressing me is holding it, so that I may understand what you are saying.”

The party pass the disk around, introducing themselves one by one. They explain that they are travelers from the light-void, recently come to the city, and that they are interested in acquiring scrolls. At this Alyria hesitates, but it turns out she does not understand the word “scrolls” – when it is explained that the party is desirous of learning new spells, she bids them continue.

When they finish, she replies that while she is not authorized to grant the party spells herself, she will certainly relay the message inside. She tells them that the Magi value silver for ceremonial reasons – it is important in their faith. They know that there are many treasures of silver, and caches of silver coins in the upper pyramid, and doubtless many more that they do not know of. While she cannot agree to any specific spell, she suggests to the party that they might consider a trade of 2500 coins of silver for a first level spell, or 5000 coins for a spell of second level. After some further polite conversation, she thanks them and asks for the communication disk back. When Ember hands it to her, it slips through her incorporal hand and falls to the ground. She says something in Cyndician, then, after Embre retrieves the disk, apologizes. “I’m sorry – I quite forgot you were dealing my my projection, not myself. You may leave the disk near the wall, under the illuminated circle. I hope to see you again. Follow your path.”

The party returns to the Enclave and explain to Morgan and Thrud what transpired. Morgan thinks for a few minutes, and then addresses them. “Who among us has not been saved by Wolfbane’s sleep spell? Who among us will not benefit from her having more potent spells at her disposal?” When no one answers, she continues. “Okay, silvers out then – go through your bags and pockets and see what we have. We are not keeping track of who puts in what, this is a community expense for a community good.” Then, eyeing Bhelgarn and Remmy, she says more firmly, “And we all know we are not walking out of here with silver. There is more valuable stuff to take with us in a hike across the desert than silver coins, they won’t be worth their weight.”

In the end, Morgan puts in 577 silver pieces; Iris adds 60; Ember and Wolfbane put in ten each. Everyone else claims to have either switched out their silver for gold in the tapestry room or to have left their coins in the former Gormite base. Morgan frowns.

“Well, I was afraid of that. My sack included, we aren’t even a third of a way to a first level spell. Of course, we will negotiate – their price is ridiculous, but even so, we need more.”

She lets the others think of the obvious answer before she states it.

“So it looks like I’m going back to the tapestry room. There was easily thousands of silver pieces there, even before the rest of you dumped yours.” She sighs. “Just to that room, and no higher in the pyramid – I don’t want to waste more time or risk more encounters than we have to. Who’s coming?”

Remmy, Ember, Iris, Odlief, Thrud, and Wolfbane volunteer. Bhelgarn and FluffyKitten say that they will stay, and Iris says her animals will stay behind as well. “Just as well,” says Morgan. “We want to travel as light as possible, so we can divide up all those coins between us. I’m not running past those statues carrying a chest. Leave anything not immediately useful behind, and give Bhelgarn an accounting of it. He will be in charge of guarding our stuff. And apparently Fluffy is in charge of playing hopscotch.”

FluffyKitten puts her hands on her hips indignantly. “No! No hoppyscratch! No can see stone, silly-billy! FluffyKitty play Bluffyblind! And Stabby-stab! Now TWO stabby-stab! Ooooh!” she says, drawing and waving both daggers in the air.

Morgan turns away from the halfling. “Bhelgarn, by my count we have enough torches to get us to the tapestry room and back – but then we won’t have enough to ever leave this place again. I’m sure we’d all appreciate it if you lent us your sword – once we are out of the city I don’t think it will be a problem to use.”

The dwarf eyes Morgan carefully. “Lent in exchange for yours.”

“Of course.”

As a final preparation, Morgan asks for two maidens to guide and accompany them. Once volunteers are found, they leave the way they arrive, around the far side of the Enclave walls and then the outside wall of the cavern, all the way to the entrance.

They are not far when Morgan spots several human-sized forms ahead; standing about as if guarding the entrance to cavern. She asks the maiden next to her about it with gestures, but the woman acts as if she doesn’t see anything. They continue to creep ahead, the whole group trying to be silent. When they have closed half the distance the maiden stops as if in sudden recognition of the forms ahead. She calls the other maiden over and, crouching, they watch for a while. Finally Morgan whispers to them, “Zargonite?” but the maidens shake their heads. One of them points upward.

“Up?” whispers Morgan. Without Hazrad or Bhelgarn, they are not getting anything besides gestures from the women. “Surface dweller like us?”

“No,” says Ember softly. “The Sky Father. Gorm.”

The women nod, and say what sounds like “Ohunwe,” which might be the Cyndician word for Brotherhood. Apparently neither one of them will use the words “Gorm” or “Gormite” either.

Morgan points to her sword. “Fight?” she asks the maidens, and again they shake their heads. “Then what are we waiting for?” She calls to the party to stand up, then leads them striding boldly and directly toward the cavern entrance. The Gormite men draw weapons…and then put them away as the group approaches. And then, as Morgan keeps going, they give way and move aside. It is hard to judge facial expression with just infravision, but Morgan would not be surprised if what she was seeing was surprise and respect. She also notes, for future use, that her infravision, and that of Iris and Bhelgarn, is clearly superior to that of the Cyndicians. That could be of great tactical significance in any encounter with Zargonites.

The journey up through the tunnels is long, difficult, and tedious. On the way down they were kept going by the excitement and suspense of seeing the Undercity. Now it is simply work traversing stone tunnels, chasms, and shafts. Morgan continually reminds herself to pay attention when her thoughts stray. It is boring, but being surprised in an encounter would still potentially be deadly.

Hours later they finally arrive at the landing just beneath the floor of the pyramid. The maidens call for a rest, not the first on their journey. To the party’s surprise, there is no cold feeling. Later they continue through the room with the talking walls and the great temple, pausing only to fill their waterskins. They pause again outside the room with the stone statues. As they run through, Wolfbane trips, and Iris helps her to her feet before the statues can bear down on them. This time, they make it through the room with the iron statues without anyone even being hit.

In the room that had the priest’s robe, the party leads the maidens to the secret door in the wall, and opens it. The maidens are amazed. “Thousands of years, and they didn’t know this was here?” Remmy asks incredulously. He strides over to the chest, opens it. “See this?” he says as he holds up a handful of coins to the maidens. “This is our stuff! Ours, get it? Not yours!” His gestures, jerking his thumb and finger at himself and the maidens, are rapidly understood.

With several of the party acting together, they manage to tip the chest and spill out all the coins onto the floor. By the light of the sword, they spend all the next rest period sorting them by metal, putting everything but the silver back, dividing the coins among them, filling bags, sacks, backpacks, pouches, and purses. Remmy tells them that they are between them carrying over six thousand silver coins.

After a bit more rest they again venture forth. Traveling this direction the iron statues are not the problem, it is the stone ones. It is a narrow escape, but a clean one. Wolfbane makes it across the room on her own. Filling skins in the fountain, down the tunnels (not cold!), and when they finally smell the rich loaminess of the city ahead Morgan figures they have been gone half a day.

Back at the enclave, they combine the retrieved silver with the small cache of mostly Morgan’s, dumping the masses into two thick blankets. Not the best way to carry it, but it is just the next building over and the blankets will make the coins easier to display. Again Thrud and Morgan stay back, but this time the party proceeds directly to where they found the yellow circle before. Although it is not there now, they knock confidently and in a trice it, and Alyria, appear. They open the blankets and spread the coins out to be “seen.”

Alyria considers. “For all that, we would be willing to trade you one second level spell, or two first levels.”

Ember gently shakes her head and smiles. “Two first level, AND two second level.”

Alyria shrugs and shakes her head. Bhelgarn pulls forth a silver necklace, and lays it on the pile. “Two first level, and two second level.”

Alyria bends forward. “You see, it is not the value we are after. It is the silver itself – we will melt it down, use it for daggers and tablets and other religious purposes. The necklace, though beautiful and of fine workmanship, does not represent more than a few coins worth of silver. Still, it is pretty.” She feels her neck softly, probably not even noticing the gesture, though the party are keenly aware. “Two first level and one second.”

Ember lays two waterskins down onto the blankets. “The silver, and the cure for the mushroom addiction.”

Alyria’s eyes widen. “The cure! We had heard that in the city…so it is true then?”

Ember nods.

“All the silver, including the necklace, and the cure for two second level spells and one first, " Alyria proposes.

Ember smiles. “Agreed.”

Alyria touches her palm to her forehead, then holds her hand forth. A pentacle is drawn? tattooed? on the palm. “Agreed.” she says. “Do you know which spells you desire?” Now it is Ember’s turn to widen her eyes, as that had not been considered. “Then return when you know their identities.”

pentacle_I_by_arcanoide.jpg

The party bundles up their treasure and return to the Enclave to discuss. First, between Wolfbane and Iris, they manage to come up with what they think is a comprehensive list of first and second level spells. Morgan is familiar with some of them, others not. Each of them decides on one spell. Morgan, Web(2nd). Iris, Phantasmal Force(2nd). Wolfbane, Shield (1st).

With that done, they hustle back to the Magi. Alyria confirms that they can in fact provide those spells, and tells them that they will need time to create the tablets. She bids them leave the treasure outside the walls, but they balk. “Trade is built on trust,” she says to encourage them.

“Trade is built on trust,” agrees Ember. “We will leave half of the coins and the cure here. You will receive the other half of the coins and the necklace when we receive the spells.”

“Agreed – please return after a long sleep. Send only two people, at least one of them a magus.”

The party returns to the Enclave, less one blanket of coins. They are ready for a “long sleep” indeed!

View
Post 18 (Don't pay the ferryman)
Don't pay the ferryman!

Charon_by_SHadoW_Net.jpg

After Morgan and Ember withdraw, the rest of the party falls to debating their next course of action. A few, like Ember, want to stay. Most, like Morgan, could go either way – not liking the situation in the city, but unwilling to strike out on their own and waiting to see where most come down. After much talk, no one has come foreword to say that they definitely want to leave, and in the end this decides it.

Once there is a tentative agreement that they are staying, Morgan and Ember return. There are a few hasty and hushed conversations as people speak privately in twos and threes. Ember offers Hazrad healing. He is still wounded from the fight with the ghouls, some 24 hours ago. He accepts, and Ember finds that afterward she has just enough heartmending left to attend to Thrud’s last wound from the rat-men as well.

The maidens have prepared hide tents for the party, or at least ushered men out of them – the ones indicated look like they have been hastily vacated. There are hides and stuffed pillows on the floor, a basin for water and a chamber pot, but little else. One has a large stone, hollowed out to make a fire-proof hearth in which a small flame burns fitfully. Odleif tries to ascertain the fuel, for it surely is not wood or coal, and finally decides it is a dried animal dung. “That’ll heat yer dinner, but wha’ do they use ta forge metal?” wonders Bhelgarn.

Bhelgarn, Hazrad, and Remmy bunk in one tent; Odleif, Wolfbane, Iris, and Pooches in another; Morgan, Thrud, Ember, and FluffyKitten in a third. Hazrad tosses and turns in his sleep, and occasionally moans – while he wakes his tent mates, they do not wake him.

Later, when the rested party re-assembles, Morgan announces loudly, “If Hazrad is staying with us, if we are to trust him as a fighting companion, he should have his weapon back.”

Bhelgarn nods, kneels, and opens his pack. He takes out, then unwraps, the spearhead and offers it to the nomad. “Noooo!!” shouts FluffyKitten, and shakes her hands and head. Bhelgarn pauses, looks between the halfling and half-elf, and then extends the weapon again.

“No!” insists FluffyKitten. She looks imploringly at each party member in turn, but none are willing to champion her side, and she is unwilling to physically come between the dwarf and the nomad.

“No.” she says petulantly, and stomps off.

Hazrad accepts the spearhead, but leaves the wrappings around it, and in fact wraps it up again himself. He faces Ember. “I do not know why your foreign god tells you this object is evil,” he says, “but out of respect to you, and the rest of our group, I will keep it packed away, and only bring it out in true need.”

Wolfbane prepares her Read Magic spell, and then has a look at the runes on Bhelgarn’s sword (recovered from the fox-people). She shows the dwarf how there are two symbols on one side of the blade, and the same two symbols, plus a third, on the other. She says (with Odleif translating into Common) that the third is more of a modifier than an actual symbol, and tells the dwarf that on the one side it is read “Lumos” and the the other “Ex-Lumos”.

The dwarf listens and nods, but is still nonplussed as to what to do. Ember offers, “If these magic runes work like nordic runes, the magic is stored when they are written, but they have to be read, that is, spoken, to activate them.”

“But she did read them,” says Bhelgarn, jerking his thumb at Wolfbane.

“Yes, but you are holding the sword,” says Ember.

Bhelgarn stares at her blankly.

“So perhaps you have to read them,” Ember suggests.

“Yes, well, that,” blusters the dwarf. “Lumos” he says, reluctantly.

The courtyard is flooded with light. Cyndiceans scream and run about; there is a flurry of activity along the wall. After a second the party-members adjust and can see that the light is coming from the sword – equal in intensity to full daylight for about thirty feet from the weapon, and then tapering off to torchlight beyond that. The Cyndiceans seem unable to adjust, and are shielding their eyes and wincing in pain.

Ex-lumos,” says Bhelgarn, and the light is gone. The Cyndicians, however, continue to be run about, as ants when an anthill has been disturbed.

“Sorry, sorry,” says Hazrad, speaking in his best ancient Alaysian. Eventually the courtyard is restored to order.

“Well, I guess we don’t have to worry about running out of oil and torches,” says Morgan.

“Yeah, if we don’t mind alerting the whole city to our presence,” comments Odleif.

The women of the party form up in front of the Tower and ask to enter. The are told to wait, but eventually are escorted inside and up to the temple where they spoke before. Both the High Priestess and the Great Mother are there, but no guards. This time, watching carefully, Ember notes how the High Priestess touches the altar, then begins a spell to allow her to communicate, then touches the Great Mother to pass the spell to her as well.

The party tells the women that they have decided to stay and help. The relief and gratitude on the faces of the two women are obvious.

“Very well,” begins the priestess. “It is a tradition among the warrior maidens that the members propose courses of action and the leaders decide; but the leaders cannot decide on something that the members have not proposed. In that spirit we would like to offer you three possibilities of how you might begin to help. These suggestions have been made by the handful of maidens who know the prophecy – myself, the Great Mother, and a few others. We do not agree on which would be the best course of action, so please do not ask us personally, as we will not say – but rather, decide among yourselves. Once you have chosen a path, we will provide more information.”

Now the warrior takes over. "The first possibility is an immediate, direct assault on the Zargonite temple-fortress. This is not as foolhardy as it sounds, for the Zargonites are typically lax and unorganized. We believe that their priests constantly struggle for power among themselves. Those with more power head tasks such as the harvest of crops or the “taxing” of citizens, things that they can profit from. The less powerful guard their fortress and run worship ceremonies, while the least among them get stuck impressing people into work crews for things like dredging the irrigation canals. By attacking them first, before they know that you are in the city, you should meet with the least resistance. The advantage of this approach would be that you would be able to use the surprise to inflict maximum damage on them in one raid, as well as scout their fortress for future assaults. The disadvantage is that once they are attacked directly, they will likely put their petty squabbles aside, and will never be as easy a target again. And, all of your subsequent missions in the city will become more difficult, as they will surely be looking for you from that point on, so that anything else you might want to do will be hindered."

Now it is the priestess’ turn to speak. “A second path is that of building an alliance with the other factions. Ultimately this must happen – if we understand the prophecy correctly, we will overcome the Zargonites when you have united the Three True Gods. However, this may be difficult until you have achieved some successes in other areas – they have, at the moment, little reason to trust you.”

“Finally, a third option is to find a cure for the mushroom addiction that plagues the city. We all use the mushrooms to receive visions – among the maidens, it is only during religious ceremonies, and never often. But the Zargonites encourage the cityfolk to use them often and to excess. Almost all the cityfolk are addicted, and the Zargonites use this to control them. Denied access to mushrooms, the people of the city suffer horribly and soon will do whatever they are told. However, our lore speaks of a cure – the Gods have placed a magical cure for the mushroom addiction in some caves near the city.”

The warrior speaks. “If you could recover this for us, we could administer the cure to the cityfolk and break the hold that the Zargonites have over them, allowing them to rise up and resist. The advantage of this path is that it may be possible for you to complete this task without anyone in the city knowing, without the Zargonites discovering you or even knowing that you are here yet. The disadvantage is that of all of the three, we can help you the least in this effort. We can show you how to get to the cave, but we can not accompany you and we do not know what is inside besides our lore telling us that the cure is to be found there.”

Having listened to the options, the women of the party request time to discuss among themselves, and the maidens agree. As they prepare to leave, the Great Mother calls to Morgan specifically. “As you know, the High Priestess leads us in religious matters, as I do in worldly affairs, including war. If I am not mistaken, the same relationship exists between you and your priestess.”

Morgan nods noncommittally.

“As a war leader, you need to understand something about our situation. Before, you commented that you could not save us when we were not even willing to save ourselves. It is a fair criticism, but the real situation is more complex. As a war leader, you understand acceptable loss and unacceptable loss. Any one of our maidens is willing to die to overcome the Zargonites, and I have no reluctance to commit them thusly. We can skirmish with the Zargonites and, win or lose, recover. But if we lose our leaders, the maidens are done. The line protecting our culture, unbroken for centuries, would be sundered, and we would never recover. This is why we do not assault the Zargonites directly. To do so, we would have to commit all of our leaders, and the cost of failure would be not honorable defeat, but the complete extermination of our people. It is true that we are asking you to fight on our behalf, and it is a painful truth to admit. But I promise you this – in the final battle with the Zargonites, I and all of the maidens under me will fight by your side.”

Morgan nods but does not respond.

Once outside the tower, the women discuss with the men what to do next. They have been enjoined from telling anyone about the prophecy, but they trust that none of the men, maidens, or children in the compound speak Common.

None of them are particularly eager to assault the Zargonites directly. Most favor a combination of either the cure or the union. They decide to play one into the other – perhaps finding the cure for the mushroom addiction will allow them the first step in unifying the factions. Ember and Morgan return to the temple and ask to be briefed on the mission for the cure.

Scan_4.jpeg

The maiden leaders explain that the next building over from their Enclave is abandoned, but that it guards the entrance to a series of catacombs beneath the Undercity. They will send maidens to guide the party inside the building and operate the giant winch that raises a huge stone slab. Under the slab is the entrance to the catacombs, and somewhere within them is a portal to the underworld. The party must find the portal, pass through it, and receive the cure from the Gods.

As Ember and Morgan prepare to retire, the maidens send commands to assemble a guide party of three maidens. Ember says she wishes to rest and then select spells. The Great Mother says that is just as well, for they will need time to watch the building and make sure there are no Zargonite patrols about. Also, they will raise the Enclave gate just enough to allow the party to slip out, but this will make noise, so it is better to raise it and then wait a few hours before they leave.

Several hours later, the party is ready, with Ember having selected a full complement of heartmending as well as a hearthglow, and Wolfbane back at two sleeps. There had been talk of a scouting mission to the city, but this is soon abandoned when it is realized that only one of those wanting to go will be able to see. As they prepare to slip out of the gate, the maidens explain to Hazrad that it is important not to use light or make noise, because the Zargonite temple is nearby. Typically Zargonite patrols avoid their destination as an abandoned building, but sometimes Cyndiceans on bad trips take refuge in the upper stories.

There is a single door on the ground level, leading to a huge open room. In the center of the room a massive stone slab has four chains bolted to it, one in each corner. These feed through a huge pulley in the ceiling, and then to a larger chain that enters a winch. The winch has a crank and a ratchet, and looks like it will need at least three women on the crank to lift the slab. As Bhelgarn examines it, he notes that the winch mechanisms and chain are all of (rusty) iron, but that the crank handle is of bronze, a poor choice given the softness of the metal.

As the party stares at the slab, they realize that they will be unable to open it from inside, and the maidens caution against leaving it open, which would alert any patrols to their presence. Iris offers her cloak, tied to a rope. Positioned correctly, it should be able to be pulled through the gap between the slab and the floor, creating a signal. The maidens will check on the slab every few hours, and when they find the slip of cloak missing they will raise the slab.

With their plan agreed upon, the maidens set to work on the crank. The iron chains rattle and clank, and the echoes of the ratchet locking in place fill the stone building. When the slab is raised enough for Bhelgarn to stick his head in, the dwarf lies prone on the floor, then indicates for the maidens to keep turning. He slides under the slab and drops eight feet to a stone ledge, just slightly smaller than the slab itself. After a few moments, he calls for the party to join him.

Once everyone is on the ledge, Iris tosses her rope-bound cloak to the floor above, and pulls it in as the maidens lower the slab into place. The air below is cold and damp, but without the earthy smell of the undercity. “Haz light?” asks FluffyKitten, and Bhelgarn draws his sword and speaks the word of command.

The ledge floods with light, revealing that it is more like a platform high above a cavern floor below. The four sides are sheer drops, but one edge has a steep staircase carved into the rock. The party arranges themselves in single file and descends some fifty feet to the floor below.

They are in a large vault, intersected with numerous natural tunnels. One wall of the vault contains a large arch, which looks like it has been carved into the rock. Below the archway is a scene of a rocky beach on a nighttime shore. The beach is in a small rock alcove, but soon opens up to a vast, expansive sea and a black sky with no stars or moon. The scene has deep, realistic color, but is not painted – it looks more like the rock itself has been dyed somehow.

dark_sea_crop.jpg

Above the arch are carved words in the ancient Alaysian script that Hazrad can recognize, but not read. Bhelgarn probes the portal with his pole, and finds it solid enough. When the pole brushes against the archway, however, the script glows faintly and a sound, as if of a long-dead voice, reads it.

“قبل هذه البوابة، المصير النهائي. ترك الجسد وراء، لأنك سوف تجد إلى الفراغ وحيدا، يمكن أن تمر الروح فقط.”

Hazrad listens carefully, then bids Bhelgarn probe the archway again, several more times. Finally he says, “There is a word for meat or flesh…something cannot pass beyond the gate, only spirit.”

Remmy inspects the arch, checking for traps. He finds three sections where between the carved arch stones it looks like small rectangular stone sections may be removed. These don’t seem to be connected to any wires or gears, so he doubts they are traps. Pulling one out, he finds the stone handle of a stone knife, the handle carved with the symbol of a snake. The other two are also knifes, but the symbols carved on them are of a lightning bolt and a sheaf of grain, respectively.

The party experiments with various ways to enter the portal, but without success. They try walking in, walking in holding a knife, cutting their palm and then walking in. Frustration mounts. Hazrad presses the arch, hears the words one more time, and unwraps his spear head. Before anyone realizes what he is about to do, he grabs the head with both hands and plunges it through his chain armor into his heart. A second later, his body crumples to the ground.

Ember is instantly by his side, getting ready to staunch the blood in the wound…but curiously, none is produced. The faintest show of red rings the spear head, but it seems the blood itself is not leaving his body. “Look!” exclaims Odleif. Inside the archway, in the strange mural, a form is visible, standing on the shore, dyed in a pearly color. Although the form is distorted by the angular rock surfaces on which it plays out, it is somewhat recognizable as being that of Hazrad.

“Is that what we have to do? Kill ourselves?” whispers Ember, aghast. She feels neither pulse nor breath in the body of Hazrad, but, laying her hand on the chest, feels a faint and very occasional heartbeat.

“He did say that flesh cannot pass through the gate, only spirit,” murmurs Morgan.

Remmy snorts derisively. “This is obviously a trap by the maidens. They fear attacking us, so they have led us here to try to get us to kill ourselves, one and all.” And yet, several minutes later, he is the first to take the stone knife and plunge it into his own breast. One by one four other party members do so, until only Ember, Morgan, Thrud, Bhelgarn, and Pooches are left. One by one, pearly forms appear on the rock wall, even seem to jump about, almost to move.

  • * * * * * * * * * * * *

On the shore of the sunless sea, six of the party members look out across the seemingly endless black waters, and up into the black sky. They are in a rocky alcove, with water before them and walls around. The beach itself is perhaps twenty feet wide, then the water laps at the base of the sheer rock walls. Remmy finds he can climb the walls, but finds no where to go. Wolfbane ties to fly, but cannot. FluffyKitten puts her feet in the water and finds it cold.

Behind them, the rock wall has a long section as if of the back side of the arch. Light comes from it, illuminating the beach, and they can see the forms of their companions, as if through a smoky window. No amount of calling to them seems to command their attention.

“Is the water the cure?” asks Remmy, and he fills an empty vial in the sea, marveling that his spirit form possesses all the same gear that his real body did.

“But do yer body have th’ water?” asks Odleif. After several minutes of gestures, Remmy manages to get Ember to pull a vial from his body. It is difficult to tell, but the vial looks empty.

Remmy pulls out another vial and stoops to fill it, but now sees the glint of several coins under the gentle, lapping waves. He soon has gathered a handful. Hazrad examines one and finds the inscription in ancient Alaysian.

“Oooh!” says FluffyKitten and fishes for a coin of her own. “Wishy well? Makey wish?” she says, then tosses the coin out into the sea. The splash it makes echoes on the rock walls behind them, and almost instantly a boat appears in the distance, approaching slowly.

“Ahhh…PudgyKitten,” says Hazrad carefully. “No matter what we are offered from here on, do not eat or drink anything!”

“Nothing?” interjects Remmy, his lips on the second vial he had filled.

“Nothing,” says Hazrad firmly.

“I can haz cookie?” asks the halfling pleadingly.

“No!” shouts back half the party.

As the boat slowly approaches, the party can see it is a small vessel, just large enough to hold them all. There is no mast, and though a single robed boatman stands in the stern with an oar, he does not move and it is not obvious how he is propelling it. The design appears that of a fishing vessel.

Charon_by_SHadoW_Net.jpg

The boatman brings the craft within a foot of the shore, but does not beach it until Remmy holds up a coin, at which point the hull scrapes gently against the rock beach and the robed man gestures at a bench seat. Remmy has one foot in the boat already when Hazrad grabs him from behind, preventing his boarding.

Hazrad holds up his own coin for the boatman to see. “This coin is for my passage there AND BACK,” he proclaims loudly. “All of us are paying for a round trip, and we are not paying until the end!” The boatman nods silently, and gestures for Hazrad, too to take his seat.

Remmy sits near the boatman and gazes up into his cowled face, but sees only a skull looking back at him.

clash2010charon.jpg

The boatman waits until everyone has boarded, but still he does not launch. Rather, he raises his arm to point at the light section of the alcove wall. As the robed sleeve falls away, a skeletal hand is visible, pointing. On the other side of the archway, Ember feels a chill. It is impossible to tell from the mural, but she feels the boatman is pointing directly at her.

“I, I have to go…” she falters.

Thrud turns abruptly, looks at her pleadingly. “Please, Elskerinne, please! I have pledged to protect you…but I cannot follow you there…”

The priestess puts her hand on the warrior’s arm soothingly. “Det er greit, Thrud, it’s alright. You will guard my body here. That is important.”

“Yes,” says Bhelgarn coldly. “Wouldn’t want something coming out of one of those tunnel mouths and eating her, would you? That’s why I’m staying.”

To Ember’s surprise, Morgan kneels and takes a stone knife from the cold grasp of another party member. “You don’t have to…” she begins.

“Whatever,” says Morgan, interrupting.

  • * * * * * * * * * * * *

Once Morgan and Ember have entered the boat, the boatman gives a single push with his oar, and the vessel pulls away from the shore, pulls about, and starts out into the sea. The light from the archway grows smaller behind them, but can be seen for quite some time as the only source of illumination in the inky blackness. Some of the party look down into the water, or up into the sky, but no one sees anything.

  • * * * * * * * * * * * *

As the boat fades from view in the archway, both Thrud and Bhelgarn hear a voice, in the same ancient whisper as that of the arch, but in their own language. In Nordic, it says; “You have failed the Test of Faith,” while in Dwarven, it says “You have failed the Test of Trust.”

  • * * * * * * * * * * * *

It may be hours later, it is difficult to say, when an island is seen. A grey shoreline against the black water, it is visible from far off but grows steadily. It is as barren and rocky as the alcove was, but much broader. There are no rock walls or cliffs, just a flat expanse of rocky shoreline sloping gently upward inland.

The greyness of the shore is odd, for the sky is still dark and there is no obvious source of illumination, but the ground is light enough to discern a pebble-strewn path leading inland. The party follows the path. They have not been walking long when there is a distant screech, as if from a bird of prey.

As they walk on, the call repeats several times, each time louder.

The cry comes from above, from a now lead-grey sky. A huge form is circling far above with vast wings, easily eight feet long and with a twenty foot wingspan. It is circling them, but descending a bit on each rotation. The party tries hurrying forward, but the creature is flying faster than they can run without barely a wingstroke.

“That,” says Iris cautiously, “is not a natural bird.”

“Oooh! Feathers!” says FluffyKitten. “I can haz feathers!”

When it is clear that they cannot outrun it, the party groups together defensively. They look for cover, but are on a vast, flat rock plain. The creature is low enough now to be recognized as having a vulture-like head, and long clawed arms in addition to its huge wings. “Elesther shaitan…” whispers Hazrad. “A vulture demon…I think you call them vrock?”

Iris sends a magic missile at the demon. As it hits, the demon emits another piercing cry.

4th_edition_project_vrock_jaecks_3_72dpi.jpg

As the demon-bird descends, Odleif, Remmy, and FluffyKitten try to shoot at it, but they are untrained in shooting straight up, and the demon keeps in a tight circle above them. A poison dart from Remmy misses the bird, but falls and lodges in Fluffy’s hair. Wolfbane casts her sleep spell, prompting Hazrad to retreat from the group. She is fairly certain she has the demon in the range of the spell, but it seems unaffected – whether because it is a demon, because no sleep is needed in a world freed from the body, or whether it is simply too powerful she does not know.

Just before the demon reaches the ground, Morgan feels a jolt of force and she is knocked to the ground, her sword clattering away across the rocks. For the next several minutes the force pushes her away from the confrontation.

The demon tries to land near FluffyKitten, and it attacks the halfling with both its front and rear claws and a vicious beak strike. The halfling nimbly dodges all its blows, however, deftly running between the demon’s legs, or tumbling out of the way just before a strike. With the demon in melee range, it is now Wolfbane’s turn to retreat, and she runs behind Hazrad, who has his spear out, but is not advancing.

Unable to land a blow on the halfling, the demon turns and fixes on Odleif. The woodsmen fires one last arrow before pulling out his axe, but the arrow flies past the demon and sinks into Remmy’s shoulder. Ember swings her mace at the demon, but is wounded and then engulfed in a cloud of darkness and blinded.

The demon leaps into the air with two flaps of its massive wings, landing on Odleif and rending him cruelly with its rear talons. As the man collapses under the demon’s weight, its front claws rake his face and its beak plunges savagely into his neck. He is dead before he hits the ground.

Seizing the moment when the demon’s back is turned, Remmy and FluffyKitten advance. Remmy stabs the demon in its back with his magic dagger; Fluffy runs under it and slices her own dagger across its leg.

Fluffy trips over the body of Odleif, and the demon pounces on her, delivering several savage wounds. She crawls away under the cover of her comrades, and Remmy and Morgan (finally permitted to fight) are wounded as well, Morgan seriously. Things seem grim for the party, as the demon’s skin seems to turn away most blows.

Ember calls forth the fire of her goddess. Her skin shining with hearthglow, her brilliant form pierces and then dissipates the darkness around her. As the vulture head swivels toward her in apprehension, Morgan lands a massive blow, crushing one of the demon’s wings. Without the ability to hop aloft, the demon cannot use its rear talons, and seems substantially wounded. It turns and begins to back warily away from the party. Hazrad charges, impaling it with his spear, and Morgan lands another sword-blow. The demon crumples to the ground.

Ember checks Odleif, but he is beyond her aid. She uses two heartmendings on FluffyKitten, just enough to get her ambulatory again.

  • * * * * * * * * * * * *

For Odleif, everything is black, and the horrid pain is mercifully fading. A muscled, bearded man appears, and tells him that he has failed the Test of Might. He finds himself lying on the stone cavern floor, with Bhelgarn and Thrud standing over him.

  • * * * * * * * * * * * *

The party continues up the path. The ground around them becomes more rugged, with larger rocks and finally boulders that the path winds among. The sky lightens to a twilight grey, and shadows appear under the rock overhangs.

Rounding an outcrop, the party finds themselves facing a young boy, who sits cross-legged on a large, flat stone. With no greeting or introduction, he says simply, “Before the city’s fall, there were four statues, one of each of the gods, in the central plaza, all in a row. One was iron, one was bronze, one was marble, and one was stone. The stone statue was somewhere to the right of the statue of Gorm. The marble statue was somewhere to the right of the statue of Madarua. The statue on the far right was neither the statue of Usamigares nor the stone statue. The statue made of iron is somewhere to the left of the statue of Gorm.”

“Tell me, what was the order of the four statues, and of what were they made? You have three minutes.” A sand glass appears in the air near the boy, with the sand already running.

By the time Morgan, Remmy, Wolfbane, and Iris have taken paper and quill from a pack and distributed them, the sand is half out. None of them have an answer when the time has run out, though Remmy makes a guess. “You have failed the test of Insight,” the boy says in Elven, and Morgan and Iris vanish. “You have failed the test of Cleverness,” he says in Darokite, and Remmy and Wolfbane disappear.

Hazrad and Ember, drawing on their practice of memorizing lengthy oral prayers without reading, have been mumbling to themselves the whole time. When the boy turns to Hazrad, the nomad says confidentally, “At the right is the statue of Zargon, of Marble. To its left is that of Madarua, of stone. To its left is that of Gorm, of Bronze. To its left is that of Usamigares, of Iron.” Ember nods her agreement.

The boy smiles, almost imperceptibly. “You two have passed the test of Knowledge.” He turns to face FluffyKitten.

“Boy haz cookie? I can haz cookie?” she asks.

“You, little one, are in luck. Disguising yourself is a mark of cleverness – you will not be judged by this Test, but may pass.”

  • * * * * * * * * * * * *

Wolfbane, Iris, Morgan, and Remmy are back in the cavern.

  • * * * * * * * * * * * *

The man, woman, and halfling continue up the path. The boulders lessen and grow smaller, the sky brightens to the golden shade of morning. Grass appears among the stone, and the land begins to swell and roll. After an hour of walking, it is open rolling meadow land. They find an old crone sitting in the grass.

She smiles pleasantly at them but does not speak. Hazrad goads Ember into beginning. “Do you have a cure for the mushroom addiction, reverend one?”

“Oh, that,” sighs the old woman. “I have cures for all ills, deary, but what matters it? If I gave you the cure, and you took it back to the city, the people would still suffer. Under the yoke of Zargon they would still be, they would still sicken, they would still die. There is no difference. In a hundred years, you will all be dead, you and the cityfolk both, and it will be of no consequence.”

“Even if they still die, some of their suffering is relieved. There is a difference,” Ember says more boldly. “A good parent, a good mother, would want as much for her children.”

“Is that a good parent?” asks the crone incredulously. “Sacrificing for her children even if it does no good?”

“Yes,” says Ember firmly. “That is what a good parent does.”

“Very well, then.” The crone opens her withered fist. Inside is a tiny, delicate, pure white flower. “This flower, placed in water, will produce a drink that can cure any addiction. But I am cursed to remain on this spot, unmoving and undying. I cannot carry the flower to the boatman unless someone takes my place.”

“I will take your place,” says Hazrad. Immediately roots spring from the ground, wrap around him, and drag him under the turf. His screams are muffled by earth.

“Foolish man,” says the crone. “Only a woman may bear the flower.”

“Why you no go boatman and come back?” asks FlufflyKitten. “I wait here.” In a second, she too has been dragged underground by roots.

The crone chuckles. “Ah, the impertinence of youth.”

Ember stares at the crone for several minutes. “I will stay here,” she says. I will take your place, if you will deliver the flower to my hearthmates."

“You will take my place? Sitting on this grassy knoll forever? Helping the cityfolk who do not even know you?”

“Y..yes.” Ember sits on the grass, immediately feeling rooted to the spot.

The old woman rises slowly, stretches. “Then, deary, you have passed the Test of Compassion.” She hobbles off, down the path from which they came.

Ember sits and lies in the grass, lies and sits. Hours pass, but she does not hunger or thirst, tire or need to relieve herself. She supposes that is the advantage of being without her body. She is just bored…and alone. For eternity.

“Well, perhaps not quite eternity,” cackles the crone as she hobbles back into view. “Care to swap out a spell, deary?”

“But, why?”

“Much as I appreciate your sacrifice, young one, Glöð is not so keen on you taking my place. Have to keep peace with the neighbors, you know.” The crone eases her frail body down into the grass. “Now go kick some Zargonite tail for me, will you?”

  • * * * * * * * * * * * *

Ember appears in the cavern, alive and with the rest of the party. The tiny white flower is in her hand.

The party mounts the steps to the platform, and Iris pulls the rope tied to her cloak. Almost immediately the slab begins to rise above them. “Lights out,” says Morgan to Bhelgarn. “And maiden feet – make sure they are maiden feet before anyone slips out!”

The party reunites with three maidens on the ground floor. They decide to split into three groups, sending one group with Ember carrying the flower back to the Maiden’s Enclave and the other two groups covering them from the building they are in.

A maiden guide, Ember, Thrud, Morgan, and Odleif slip out the door, on the side of the building opposite the Zargonite complex. Bhelgarn, FluffyKitten, Wolfsbane, Hazrad, and a maiden stay on the first floor, with Bhelgarn at the window facing the Enclave. Iris, Pooches, Remmy, and a maiden start up the stairs to take a position in a second floor window facing the Enclave.

As the outside group rounds the corner of the building, the maiden in the lead literally runs into a figure, perviously unseen to those with infravision. Instantly the stench of decaying flesh is overwhelming, and those around her begin to hear the sounds of a struggle, as the figure gropes at her with rotting but unnaturally strong fingers.

Morgan draws her sword. “Ambush – undead” she hisses to the rest of the group, reasoning that undead creatures would be the ones most unlikely to show up to infravision. A second later, both she and Thrud are grappling with unseen assailants of their own. She manages to “slay” hers, but is wounded by it. Thrud buries his axe in the head of the one trying to bite him, and it falls to the cavern floor. While the maiden has wounded hers with her sword, it has overborne her, and is now on top of her unconscious body, tearing at her throat. Odleif and Ember have hung back, hearing the noise of combat but unable to see anything. When Morgan hisses “undead,” however, Ember grasps her holy symbol and channels the divine power of Glöð. She feels a connection to the creatures in front of her – zombies. Originally they were five, but now two have been dis-animated by damage from Morgan and Thrud. She drives the remaining three back, forcing them to turn and shamble slowly off.

“Fall back to the building!” commands Morgan. The maiden on the first floor slips by Bhelgarn in the open window and runs over to the fallen body of her comrade. Thrud lifts the body across his shoulders and enters through the window, while Bhelgarn helps Ember and the maiden through. Odleif and Morgan retreat around the corner of the building and make for the door.

By this time Iris and Remmy have done a quick scan of the second level and, finding it currently unoccupied although trash-ridden, have taken up a position in the window. From there, they can hear the sounds of the struggle beneath them. Iris is beginning to see faint forms of the retreating zombies, as their bodies get slightly warmer when they move. She sends an arrow into the one directly below the window, and is about to fire again when she sees, bright and living, five men in armor at the far tower crossing the gap to the building. Hazrad is running up the stairs, calling for the maiden with Iris to come down. Iris shouts at him to tell the others that human fighters are approaching the building.

As Morgan guides Odleif toward the door, she sees a gang of hobgoblins at the edge of her infravision, preparing to charge. She pushes him at the window, instead, and begins her sleep spell.

FluffyKitten and Wolfsbane, on the ground floor of the building, can’t see anything in the dark. FluffyKitten, however, standing by the window facing the hobgoblins, clearly hears their cries as they charge Morgan and Odleif. She runs to the mage and moves her to the door, imploring her “sleepy time outside! sleepy time outside!”

On the second story, Iris spots a man in the tower above the battle outside. By his gestures and the snatches of words that carry across to her, she is pretty sure he is casting spells. She sends a magic missile over, burning his face in a flash of light. That is enough to get him to crouch behind the parapet. As she fits an arrow to her bow, she hands three other arrows to Remmy, and he dips their heads in different vials.

Odleif tumbles through the window while Morgan backs up to it. She is now completely surrounded by hobgoblins, and takes a crushing blow from a club, knocking her to the ground just as she completes her spell. When she regains her feet, she finds that the six hobgoblins closest to her are all asleep, while four others farther off are trying to pick their way over their fallen cavemates to get at her. Before one is close enough to strike, however, Wolfbane completes her own sleep spell. It engulfs Morgan, but she resists and remains standing even while the remaining hobgoblins drop. Morgan turns and hauls herself through the window as Bhelgarn manages to light a torch.

In the light of the torch, Hazrad leads the maiden to her fallen comrade while Ember examines her wounds. She is unlikely to survive even the short journey across the gap between the buildings and arrive at the Enclave alive without assistance, so Ember uses two orisons of heartmending. She is still not conscious, but is at least stable. The torchlight also reveals that Odleif is enveloped in a shroud of darkness. It obscures his face, and he keeps repeating that he cannot see.

Bhelgarn tells him to hold still and passes the torch off to him, then returns to the window just in time to drive back a man attempting to climb in. Outside the window are five men in bronze plate armor and bearing swords. Bhelgarn uses his own sword to block the window, stabbing at any of the men who try to enter.

Iris keeps the man in the tower pinned down by sending one poisoned arrow after another at him. These fly off into the darkness, but he is unable to cast more spells at the combat below.

FluffyKitten moves to the door, then slips outside. Enough wan torchlight comes out the window to keep her oriented with respect to the building, but she cannot see the shapes of the hobgoblins on the ground. Their snores, however, make them easy to locate, and she crouches and moves among them, one-by-one slitting their throats. “Stabby-stab, stabby-stab, rainbow stabby-stab…” she sings to herself as she works.

The man in the tower is shouting directions down to the armored men, and some move past the window and around the corner. Hazrad and Thrud move to guard the door. One man spots FluffyKitten among the hobgoblins, even though she kneels and tries to hide behind a pile of one hobgoblin collapsed on top of another one. She sees the briefest of forms as he crosses the light of the window, but easily keeps track of his creaking, clanking advance. When she hears the whoosh of his sword, she rolls neatly out of the way and comes up at his side, burying her dagger into the back of his knee where his plate armor affords little protection. He screams and drops to the ground, but she silences him with a quick jerk of her blade across his throat. “RAINBOW stabby-stab…” she hums.

Bruised and bleeding, Morgan stumbles over to the window defended by Bhelgarn. She completes a second sleep spell, this one bringing down three of the men outside, including the one at the window. “You can’t see?” she asks Odleif, and when he confirms, she takes his bow and a handful of arrows.

The door to the building crashes open, and lifeless Cyndiceans, more zombies, begin to shamble in. Thrud, Hazrad, and Morgan bring several down before Ember forces the rest to retreat.

Bhelgarn heaves himself through the window and out into the open, dispatching the remaining warrior and then turning on the sleeping ones. The figure in the top of the tower vanishes behind the parapet. FluffyKitten, having slain all the sleeping hobgoblins, now moves among them, searching the bodies. “Coiny-coin, coiny-coin, knife!” she sings.

With the field finally free of enemies, the two maidens bear their wounded companion to the gate of the Enclave. Ember follows them closely, and slips into the courtyard of the Enclave.

Morgan, Thrud, and Hazrad leave the building. Morgan tells Bhelgarn she doesn’t want any of the Zargonites getting away, and orders him and Thrud into the tower through a large bronze door at its base. Meanwhile, she moves to the corner of the building closest to the Zargonite fortress to scan the darkness with her infravision.

Hazrad joins Thrud and Bhelgarn in examining the door. It has a simple latch, opening out, and no lock. But as Bhelgarn reaches for the latch, he feels a sense of dread roll over him – the tower is full of dark magic, he is sure of it. It is several moments before he can master his feelings and open the door. Stone spiral stairs lead up and down – from the shaft leading down come the sounds of footsteps in retreat.

Bhelgarn, Thrud, and Hazrad cautiously descend the stairs, and now the feeling of dread affects the barbarian and the nomad as well. By the time they reach a narrow stone corridor, below, all three are trembling, and they manage to get only about 30 feet down the corridor before Bhelgarn insists on returning. “Cannae catch him, too far a lead,” he mumbles, as he retreats back up the stairs.

Morgan hears a bang, then sees a figure sprint across the cavern floor, leaving the far tower and heading for the Zargonite fortress. She lets fly an arrow. A second figure emerges from the tower. She keeps shooting until both figures are beyond the range of her vision.

Thrud and Hazrad turn to follow Bhelgarn back to the surface. The torch, held by Thrud, flickers and sizzles, making as if to go out. For a second the tunnel is dark. When the torch brightens again, Thrud is alone – Hazrad is nowhere to be seen, and there are no footfalls to be heard. Thrud looks about warily, then hastily exits the tower himself.

Morgan is upset about the two escapees, but quickly organizes a search-and-loot operation. She claims one of the suits of plate mail from the fighters. Thrud and Bhelgarn look, but cannot find any armor broad enough for them. The men have no coins or other gear, but all bear rather normal-looking swords. She collects the knives and coins that Fluffy has retrieved from the hobgoblins, and does a quick search herself by torchlight. Finally, she leads a search of the third story of the building, which none of them have entered yet. It is much smaller than the first two, containing only a single room with windows on each wall. In one corner is a pile of filthy rags that served as a mattress for an emaciated-looking corpse. A small pile of rotten mushrooms is near his hand. Later, speaking with the maidens, Morgan learns that the cityfolk are forced by the Zargonites not only to grow mushrooms, harvest them, but to dry and process them as well. Occasionally one of them escapes with a bag full of the hallucinogenic kind. This is the typical result – a man finds an abandoned corner of the city to hide in, and eats only the mushrooms, tripping continually until he starves to death.

With no further avenues of investigation, Morgan leads what remains of the party back to the Enclave.

View
The Future's So Bright, I Gotta Wear Shades

Screen_Shot_2015-05-27_at_10.51.57_PM.png

As Morgan walks off, Ember’s eyes close as she falls to her knees. Faint words begin to come from her lips, “Glöð…….Moter Hilda…..please hear me now. My friends are in need, I am in need. Please hear my words.”

With eyes closed Ember puts her finger to the floor and starts drawing symbols.

Screen_Shot_2015-05-27_at_10.51.57_PM.png

Screen_Shot_2015-05-27_at_10.53.28_PM.png

Screen_Shot_2015-05-27_at_10.57.25_PM.png

(Protection, Guidance, Courage)

There is a short pause before she mumbles, “Never have I encountered so much fear, pain and oppression. The darkness of this place surrounds me like a thick dense fog. It confuses my thoughts and chokes me like a candlewick under a douter. Please give me guidance, my thoughts are confused.”

“Morgan’s words burn my ears, I too am heartsick. I feel the darkness and despair of this place reaching for the light I hold within but I am confused, does this place mean to extinguish me? Have I been pulled here to replace something long lost?”

Her mind flickers, the verse for compassion and conflict surfaces through the fog, “Have compassion, always. Seek to help others, always.”

Embers pauses. She can hear the blood coursing through her veins. The rhythmic pattern of her heart calms her senses and she clearly chimes out, “I can not leave.”

Her words are sobering and she returns to the here and now. As she opens her eyes she can see 3 familiar faces looking down at her. Thrud, Bhelgarn and Odielf all look as if they’ve had the wind knocked out of them.

“I can not leave this place in such despair. No creature deserves to live in such fear.” she says.

Ember tries to stand but her legs pull her back to the ground. Thrud and Odielf grab her arms and pull her upright. Bhelgarn quickly offers her his water skin. Each face peering at her looks concerned, worn and tired. Ember sympathetically looks at her companions and announces, “Outlanders, NO, Hearthmates! in this dark and evil place, we need to be the light that shines in dark corners. You have much to think about.”

Ember gives Bhlegarn his water skin and walks off into the darkness.

View
Confessions of a Half-Elf

As the companions sit in the semi-darkness outside the fortress of the Madarua huddled around the dim light of a lantern, a mantle of responsibility and indecision seems to settle over the group. For some this imagined weight may be welcome; others may be indifferent to it; but for Morgan, it is unwelcome and sobering.

Clearing her throat, she addresses the party. “Elendil, Friends, we are faced with a very important decision. One that we each must search our own hearts for the answer to. What we decide in the next few hours will be a decision that will affect not only our lives, but possibly the lives of the pale ones of this city.”

Looking out across the dim courtyard, Morgan continues, “I am heart sick of this place. I have not seen the sun or felt the wind on my face for too long. I feel trapped in a grave. — No, Bhelgarn, please do not tell me how far under the ground we actually are. — This place may be the death of us, and I for one want to die where the isilme, moonlight, may find my body.”

“I put little faith in prophecies. I am not a hero; I am not a chosen one; I am not a fulfiller of destinies. I am zenar – less than half. The priestess in the tower behind us sensed it in me – my halfness.” Morgan drops her head into her hands, “I am sorry my friends. It is the darkness of this place that has filled my mind with shadows and despair.”

Shaking her head as if to throw off her dark mood, Morgan continues, “ While I respect the gods, I have had little faith in them. But within the last week I have seen Ember do amazing things, all because of her faith and devotion to her goddess. She is a good person and obviously loved by Glöð. Thrud’s devotion to Ember is a rare and wondrous thing. Odleif has been a steady and stalwart companion. Bhelgarn, Remy, Iris, Fluffy and Wolfsbane have not faltered. None of us are cowards. But are we the chosen ones?”

“I am hesitant to take up the calling of another culture’s prophecy. Unlike Ember, I have no goddess watching my back. I ponder why these people cannot save themselves. I am motivated to look out for you, my companions, and myself. Who are the Gormites, Magi or even the Maidens to me!? …You may feel otherwise, and I respect that.”

“Haldamir put me in this ‘leadership’ role, but I am impulsive, impatient and make mistakes. I was the first to suggest and then execute the Gormites in the bee room. Maybe I am responsible in some part for the mess with the Magi, and joining the Maidens was only a means to an end – to get the hells out of this gods forsaken tomb. I, we, have made enemies of the ones we are to unite. How can we hope to be successful?!?”

Staring into the dim lantern light, Morgan seems lost in thought. Abruptly turning towards Hazard, she announces, “I may have wronged Hazard. My actions in the ramp room against him were impulsive, and my thoughts may have been clouded by the lingering dread of the ghosts. I thought I saw something, but this place plays tricks on the mind. Was the enemy Hazard? Was it a ghost? Was it something from the bottomless urns in that room? Was the room cursed or something in it? … Hazrad’s explanation of events could be true. FluffyKitten’s tale is a bit more difficult to understand, but it could be true as well. And it was pitch black in that room after the candle was dropped. Only the cat knows what really happened, and it is not talking…”

“It is true; I am not fond of Hazard, and we have had our differences from the beginning.” Morgan pauses and looks each companion in the eye, “But, Hazrad has saved each of our lives at least once: in the bee room, from apes, baboons, hobgoblins, rat-men, and ghouls. He has suffered grievous injuries while protecting each of us. Why would he risk himself then only to turn on a companion later? This makes it difficult for me — did he attack FluffyKitten or was it something else?…”

“And our future? If we separate, death most likely awaits us – either in the undercity or out in the hot sands of the desert. We still need each other; we still need to work together. Hazrad is the only one who can speak Cyndician, and he is the only one who knows the desert stars outside of the pyramid.”

Sighing Morgan says, “We know that battle awaits us in this dark place. And the soldier in me knows it is not right to send a man into battle unarmed. I would like to see Hazrad’s spearhead returned to him. Many of us are now armed with magical weapons that we took from the tombs — the taking of which Ember has cautioned against. Are those weapons evil? Are they cursed? Are they possessed? Are we?!? … Only the gods know.”

“Is there something about the spearhead that is different? Yes, but it belongs to Hazrad and he has used it to save our lives. If it is evil, he has carried it, understands it and controls it.” Turning to Bhelgarn, Morgan whispers, “And like the helm you tried in the bee room, does it not make you nervous – carrying a magical ‘evil’ object?!?”

Standing and dusting herself off, Morgan’s words drift over the party. “Whether we are to die in this place or out in the desert wasteland, we should be armed with the weapons that best suit each of us … ”

“There are decisions to make, so I will leave you, each with your own thoughts…I for one wish to see the sun again.”

“Abarad”, whispers Morgan as she walks into the darkness.

View
Post 17 (Mother? I'm home!)
Mother? I'm home!

Screen_Shot_2015-05-21_at_3.43.54_PM.png

The party organizes, then marches to the Maidens. Hazrad asks for guides to the room with the “walls that talk”, and then the Undercity. Pandora asks for volunteers and four women step forward; Pandora chooses three of them.

Pandora turns to FluffyKitten, then feels her forehead. Seeing the blood-encrusted robe the halfling has, she examines her side and finds the stab wound. Her tone is of great concern, and Hazrad translates that she is suggesting the “girl” remain with them. Ember decides to heal her completely, both as a practical matter and to demonstrate the power of her own Goddess – she uses six orisons of heartmending. Seeing FluffyKitten completely healed, Pandora gives her assent for her departure, but Ember declares that the party will rest before setting out so that she can recover her spells.

The maidens share their food and drink with the party and Ember keeps her lantern on low but it lasts for only two hours before her remaining oil burns out; FluffyKitten’s lantern is then lit and one quarter of her flask used before the group sets out.

The party leaves the Maidens with three of them as guides. The lantern is extinguished and torches are lit for the lead and rear of the party. They proceed down the ramp room to the tomb level, along their known route to the ladder down to the fifth level, and through the kitchen complex. They pass through the room with the iron statues, which are easy to outrun, and through the room with the stone statues, which are harder. Wolfbane trips and falls during the crossing; Iris scoops her up before the statues can get her. Thrud leaves a lit “candle” behind, and the group waits outside the door, but hears no explosion.

At the hallway intersection, the Maidens lead the party in traversing the “corners” without stepping into the intersection itself. Iris and Pooches go last – Pooches misses his jump, and when he lands on the floor of the intersection, his weight causes the floor to tilt along an axis. Iris dives, grabbing his forelegs, and the two people behind her grab for her legs. Everyone strains, and Pooches is pulled to safety, but not before Iris catches a glimpse of what lies beneath the trapped floor – a ten foot drop on to metal spikes! The party resumes their marching order and proceeds to the “Great Temple”.

[two hours, down four torches, thirty-eight left]

They pass the broken statues and descend the stairs of the dais. The maidens take deep drinks from their waterskins and then refill them in the fountain, indicating by gesture that the party should do the same.

As they fill their skins, a pair of figures approaches from along the central aisle. They approach unthreateningly, a man and a woman. The woman wears a sword, but it is sheathed. They have brightly-colored clothing, red hair, and bronze fox masks.

The maidens draw their swords, but at a few words from the woman, sheathe them again. The maidens begin talking with the pair. Hazrad listens intently, but much of the conversation flows too fast for him to follow. He does notice that the man is staring intently at one of the maidens.

Bhelgarn feels the gaze of the woman on him, and feels increasingly uncomfortable. “Time ta go,” he says, and begins to pack up.

“What?” asks Morgan.

“I don’ like them, an’ we need ta go.” The dwarf offers no further argument, but sets off. Most of the party begins to follow. Two of the maidens take their leave of the pair, but one lingers. Her two companions speak to her sharply, but she waves them off. Hazrad tries to speak to her as well. She answers him, but does not take her eyes off the man.

Hazrad and the other two maidens begin conversing, as the torchbearers retreat and light fades on the fountain. The maidens grow increasingly agitated. Hazrad takes the arm of the maiden lightly, and tries to lead her away, but she resists. The other two maidens draw their swords and start forward aggressively – though it is unclear whether they mean to menace the fox-man or Hazrad for his temerity at touching one of their own. Morgan, Iris, and Odleif had hesitated, withdrawing but not leaving with the rest of the party. Now, Morgan and Iris return, while Odleif nocks an arrow and draws. Morgan takes the maiden’s hand, replacing Hazrad, but the fox-man takes the other. For a second it looks as though they are about to have a tug-of-war, but then the fox-woman draws her sword and advances on Morgan. At that, she drops the maiden’s hand and draws her own sword. Odleif risks one shot, which flies over Morgan’s shoulder but misses the fox-woman. Then, as the party retreats further, the scene at the fountain fades into darkness.

In the dark, Hazrad grips his spear but can do little else. The fox-man begins to lead the maiden away. The other two maidens flank the pair, but do not attack. Morgan, Iris, and the fox-woman begin to fight, and with a few mighty slashes Morgan cuts the woman down, then turns and charges at the retreating fox-man and maiden. He is now moving quickly, having ascended the stairs and is making for the door. He still has the maiden’s hand in his own, but she is going with him quite willingly. They have just reached the door when Morgan catches up to them. Unarmed, and facing Morgan’s sword, the man pauses, shrinks, and turns into a fox! The maiden is left standing confused as the fox darts away to disappear among the rubble.

Screen_Shot_2015-05-21_at_3.43.54_PM.png

At the sound of combat, some in the party have returned. Light falls across Morgan just in time for those watching to see her wind up and slap the maiden hard across her face. There is a sharp intake of breath from all the maidens, but then the formerly enamored one begins thanking Morgan, rapidly defusing the situation. Morgan leaves her to talk with her sisters about what happened, while she goes to examine the body of the fox woman. There is little on it besides her mask and sword, but under her robes Morgan does find a necklace, which she turns over to Ember, though FluffyKitten clambers for it. Morgan is more interested in the sword, as is Bhelgarn. Examining it by torchlight, they find it is a fine, sharp, and well-balanced blade, with no signs of wear. Glyphs are etched along the base of the blade on both sides. Wolfbane identifies these as magic runes, and claims that she would be able to read them, had she prepared her read magic spell. Morgan agrees that Bhelgarn can carry it for the time being.

When everyone is back in order, the party proceeds through the open north corridor. After about eighty feet, it opens into the second largest chamber they have seen in the pyramid, after the great temple. The maidens assure the party that this is the room where the walls talk. The high, arched ceiling of this room is supported by a double row o f pillars. Each pillar is carved into a statue of what, from their crowns, the party takes to be a king or queen of Cynidicea . A series of mosaic pictures decorate the walls of the room. These start in the southwest corner near where the party entered and continue clockwise around the room. The maidens seem amazed by the mosaics, as if they had never seen them before. Gradually the party realizes that although they have been in and out of this room all their adult lives, they have never entered it with a light source until now.

In the center of the north wall is a pair of huge stone doors. At the base of the double doors, the floor is covered with sand. They are on the fifth level – the one that, from the outside, looked partially buried by sand. Furthermore, Bhelgarn noted the change from limestone blocks to bedrock as they descended to the next level. He is sure that they are now level with the ground, and that the doors are a second means of exiting the pyramid. However, the doors open out – after a few attempts, Bhegarn is equally convinced that they will only open if several tons of sand are excavated from the other side, first.

Screen_Shot_2015-05-21_at_4.21.12_PM.png

Remmy is left to watch the entrance, while the rest of the party examines the mosaics by torchlight. They are, in order…

(West wall)
1 . A tribe of squat, heavy-browed humanoids wielding crude stone weapons worship a lizard-headed god.

2. A large band of tall, black-haired people battle the humanoids and take over their hunting grounds.

3 . A village rises over the scene of the battle. The lands around the village are an open grasslands, not a sandy desert. There are fields of grain and vast herds of cattle sheep.

4. An army of snake-headed warriors marches on the village. A great leader arises from among the humans, uniting them in defense of their homes and fields and driving off the invaders.

5. The victorious leader is crowned king, thus founding a line of rulers. The likeness of the king is recognizable as being that of the man on the first of the pillars of the room.

6. A stone city is built on the site where the village stood. Bhelgarn spends a long time looking at this panel, and eventually pronounces his belief that the city represented is the city above, outside the pyramid. The pyramid itself is not shown, but he believes that many of the largest buildings, as well as the general layout, is the same.

7 . Scenes of the splendor of the kingdom at its height; abundant harvests, rich trade, wealthy nobles, lavish temples.

8 . The births of a king and a queen. Although depicted in their cradles, their “future selves” float nearby, presaging the rulers to come. Many in the party recognize their features as those of the ghosts they found in the tombs, which would make them King Alexander and Queen Zenobia. FluffyKitten points to the queen and says “boing, boing!” until the party realizes that she is referencing the queen in the mural in the burial room of the jester.

(north wall, west of doors)

9 . The great pyramid is built under the direction of King Alexander and Queen Zenobia. Worship of Gorm, Usamigares, and Madarua is now centered on the pyramid and the temples in the pyramid.

10. Workers digging under the pyramid uncover the foundations of a pre-historic temple. Priests exploring the ancient temple discover and begin to worship a great, tentacled being. This worship is not supported by the King and Queen but it is tolerated.

(north wall, east of doors)

11 . The death of King Alexander and Queen Zenobia and the burial of them and their court in the pyramid. Certain scenes are recognizable as being from the tomb level.

12. The worship of the old gods Gorm, Usamigaras, and Madarua is replaced by the worship of the tentacled god among most people. Even the new king and queen are shown taking part.

(east wall)

13. Life becomes a year-round carnival for the people of the city. Apparently the city now controls a vast hinterland, and the rural dwellers and trade routes are taxed so that the city folk can live in luxury. All city folk are now masked, and the pyramid becomes a permanent center of celebration.

14. A barbaric, golden-haired people contact the kingdom. Based on their appearance and weaponry, Ember believes that they are an attempt to represent the nordic peoples of her homeland.

15. The final picture is not a mosaic. It is a crudely painted sketch that shows the barbarians looting the city. Noblemen and priests are fleeing to take refuge in the pyramid.

There is room on the wall for more pictures, but the space is blank.

Odleif examines the tracks on the ground – they are a bewildering mix of human sandals and boots, snake tracks, lizard feet, and insect legs. The heaviest traffic runs along the central corridor, but few of them approach the sand of the blocked doors. Odleif pauses near the northwest-most pillar – there seems to be a heavy concentration of human feet in the area. As he carefully triangulates, approaching step by step, one of the maidens casually walks past him and pries open a stone plate from the floor, revealing stone steps leading down. She says something which Hazrad translates as, “This is the entrance to the Undercity.”

The party enters the stairwell, one at a time. Narrow at first, the stairs quickly become a broad spiral staircase, carved out of the bedrock that underlies the pyramid. The last one through is a maiden, and she carefully replaces the stone plug in the trapdoor above her. The maiden in the lead passes several turns more ahead, but then stops and sits on the stairs. Through Hazrad, she explains that it is a long journey to the Undercity, and it is traditional to rest here before continuing. The monsters and animals of the pyramid do not come this way, so they will be safe.

However, the party has not been resting long when they begin to feel a clammy coldness seeping into their bones. Several of them start to tremble from the chill. Hazrad asks the maidens about it, and is told that it is an effect of the stone that happens sometimes, not always. They say that it is best to keep moving to stay warm. The party starts up again, descending the spiral staircase for what Bhelgarn says is at least two hundred feet. Many are sweating, but despite the labor still feel cold.

Here there is a landing, leading to the side a bit, and then another staircase descent, though this one not as well-hewn. The party continues like this for quite some time, shorter descents and longer flat stretches. Natural caves and pockets appear in the limestone bedrock, and eventually natural tunnels and passageways. Eventually the cutwork all but disappears, except as necessary to link together these passageways. The result is that the pathway of descent is highly inefficient, traveling over a great distance and area to achieve a little net travel forward and down. It is rough going, for although the floor has been worn smooth by centuries of passage, many openings are narrow, stalactites hang from the ceiling, and the floor is often wet and slippery. There are several long stretches in between descents and ledges where there is a pronounced slope, and a fall would risk taking out everyone in front of the faller. Stairs are cut in the steepest parts, but many difficult passages remain. Eventually the cold sensation does subside, but it is at least three hours and innumerable twists and turns before the maidens again call for a halt.

[twenty-eight torches left]

The maidens tell the party, through Hazrad, that they are approaching the entrance to the Undercity. Sometimes it is guarded by Zargonites, sometimes not, but the party should be prepared for a fight. Furthermore, their torches will be a giveaway, alerting anyone in the city to their presence, so they ask that the party extinguish them now.

The party puts out their torches. Those without infravision grasp the cloaks, or place their hands on the shoulders of, Bhelgran, Iris, and Morgan. They creep ahead, traversing a few more twists and turns in complete darkness.

Senses heightened by the dark, everyone notices a distinct change. The air grows more humid, muggy even. There is a rich smell of loam, rotting vegetation, a slight tang of mushrooms in the air. As they round one last corner they hear or feel the tunnel open up into a vast vault in front of them – a huge open space where the sound of their shuffling feet is lost in the distance rather than echoed back to them along walls. Low but insistent are the innumerable sounds of a city – hundreds of people moving, working, speaking, singing. There are even animal sounds – distant lowing and squealing. Here and there the darkness is pierced by pinpricks of light, slits of red and yellow as of hearth fires. In the far distance is a different light – a dull red that is before and above them, as if of a vast fire on the side of a far-off mountain.

The maidens explain that the Enclave of Madarua lies before them, but that they must traverse a good part of the city to get there. The safest way is to go along the cavern wall, as far from eyes as possible. The party divides into three groups, each with a maiden as guide, a party member with infravision as leader, and two or three others holding a short length of rope pulled by the leader. They agree that they will give about five minutes time between groups, avoid any conflict, and re-unite at the Enclave.

Screen_Shot_2015-05-22_at_10.36.00_AM.png

As they work their way along the wall, the maiden in Hazrad’s group whispers what they are passing. First, the Stronghold of Gorm – a complex with a thick stone outer wall and two tall towers. Next a series of stone residential buildings, apartment complexes for the city dwellers. Third, a series of stone pillars with a thoroughfare between them. The cavern floor they tread on is rough, with stalactites to avoid. In between the pillars the rock has been hewn flat and worn smooth. Next, the Lyceum of Usamgares – a large complex with a low stone wall and corner towers no higher than the wall itself. Finally, the Enclave of Madarua.

The Enclave consists of a high stone wall with a single huge stone tower rising even higher above it. All three groups actually pass beyond the Enclave, then come back around the far side and meet up at the entrance gate, which is on the city-side of the complex.

The maidens with the party call up to guards along the wall and the gate is opened – an ancient, rusting, iron portcullis that is raised. The party proceeds into the courtyard surrounding the tower. The space is filled with hide tents and lean-to’s, and people. Several of the tents are illuminated from within – the wan, flickering light indicative of low fires, though it does not smell of wood smoke. Though a few armed and armored maidens are about, most of the people in the courtyard are men and children, with clothing only and tools, but no weapons.

The maidens speak with a woman who has the bearing of a watch officer, then explain to Hazrad that the men of the party must wait in the courtyard, but they may rest and will be brought food and water if they desire. Only women are permitted in the Tower, and generally only full members of the Warrior Maidens – an exception is being made for Wolfbane, FluffyKitten, and Ember, for some reason the maiden does not know. Hazrad starts to object that his mistress needs a translator, but the maiden tells him that that will not be necessary. The men watch as the women disappear into the Tower. Eventually they are shown to a cluster of tents that look like they have been hastily vacated by their former occupents. Floor mats and stuffed leather cushions are on the ground inside, but there is no other furniture. There is nothing to do now but wait, although Hazrad tries to make conversation with some of the nearby males.

The women of the party pass by guards at the iron door of the Tower and inside. The stone structure is thirty feet across, but the walls are easily five feet thick, so that the interior is a twenty foot-diameter circle. A single, narrow, stone staircase is set into the wall, and spirals up and around the circumference of the tower. Narrow windows are set at head height all along the spiral of the stairs but nowhere else in the Tower.

The ground floor is filled with leather bags and ceramic jars of supplies, and the maidens leading the party proceed immediately to the stairs. Ascending, they pass by three floors of dormitories. Morgan tries to count the crowded beds to estimate the number of maidens present, but they are moving fast and none of the rooms are lit. The fourth floor up is obviously a temple, and resembles the temple of Madarua the women know from the pyramid, but set in a circular room. There are two women there, obviously leaders, as well as a number of guards. The whole room is filled with a dim light of no apparent source.

One of the women, dressed in elaborately embroidered robes, says a prayer before the altar, and then turns to face the party. When she speaks, they find that she is speaking in their native language, each in their own. She welcomes the party to the Enclave of Madarua and introduces herself as the High Priestess, one of the leaders of the Warrior Maidens. She indicates the other woman, dressed in a full set of bronze plate armor and bearing a long spear, as the other leader, whom she refers to as the Great Mother.

The High Priestess thanks the party for their service so far, and says that she has learned from Pandora how the party eliminated the base of the Gormites, claimed it as their own, and defeated a priest of Zargon and his hobgoblin guards. She says that they are welcome to all the hospitality that the Maidens have to offer.

After they have been brought bronze and copper goblets with drink, the Great Mother motions the guards away – some depart to the stair above, some below. “There are things we need to speak of, which are not common knowledge among our people,” begins the High Priestess.

“I am told that you studied the walls that talk, so you know something of our history. And no doubt Pandora has spoken to you of our present. But I wish to speak of the future. I am told that you come here seeking supplies to leave into the light void, and healing for one of your own. You will receive these – now that you are here in the Undercity, you are welcome to as much food as you can carry out. And Madarua is a kind mother, and does not refuse healing to those who ask with a sincere heart.”

At this point, the Great Mother interjects. “But you must know something before you take our gifts and depart. Long have our people suffered under the rule of the Zargonites. Long have we opposed them. For more time than can be remembered. But three generations ago, in the time of the grandmothers, our wisest crone had a vision, a prophecy. She foretold that strangers would appear from the light void and that they would be able to unite the three factions. Together, we will be able to overcome the Zargonites and restore our city to peace. After this vision, we fought to retake our temple in the upper pyramid. For three generations now, we have sent maidens there, waiting for the arrival of the prophesied ones. Officers like Pandora know that they are to be watchful for the arrival of strangers, but only a few leaders of the maidens know of the prophecy.”

The High Priestess now continues. “We will not ask you whether you are the prophesied ones. Even if you were, that is no guarantee that you would know you were. But we will ask you this – are you willing to stay and aid us? No matter your decision, you are welcome to what we have to offer.”

“This is a decision of great import. You would do well to ask us questions, and speak among yourselves. Take the time to carefully consider your answer. We ask only that you not speak of the prophecy to any not of your group who do not already know of it.”

There is a stunned silence among the women of the party. The Madaruans are offering them everything they thought they wanted – but the situation has changed so much none of them are sure what to do.

“How big is the city? How do the Zargonites keep control? How many of them are there?” begins Morgan.

The Great Mother answers. “You will have to forgive us for not providing detail on some things. Tactical information is highly valuable, and highly guarded. I would be happy to share it with you, once we know that you intend to stay and help us. But not until then. For now, I can say that the Zargonites rule through fear and intimidation, through punishment, but also through reward. They organize the work crews that harvest the food-mushrooms, and distribute the vision-mushrooms. These are sacred, but the Zargonites misuse them to keep the people of the city deluded and disorganized.”

“I will not at this point tell you the number of Zargonites, or our numbers. But I can say this – although they are more than we are, they cannot stand against the three Factions united. This is the promise of the prophecy – together we can defeat them.”

Ember speaks. “But if that is such an easy conclusion, why have you not united before? Why do you need us?”

The High Priestess responds. “Ultimately, it is an issue of trust. Ever since Zargon appeared, the other two factions have been corrupt. Gorm is supposed to represent bravery and loyalty – but his followers have become blindly obedient to their leaders, who see every interaction as a contest of strength. Usamigares was supposed to represent individual will and creativity, but the Magi now are self-serving and manipulative. At least…” here she pauses, “…that is what we have been taught, and what we continue to teach. We do not deal directly with the other factions, we do not speak to them. But we sometimes do meet them in the city, do encounter them on raids. We sometimes even combine together to attack Zargonites – nothing planned, just by circumstance. I think we could work together, if we could trust one another. Sometimes, when there has been betrayal in a relationship, it takes an outsider to bring two people together again. Perhaps that is why the prophecy depends on strangers.”

Morgan asks, “If the Zargonites are stronger than you, why have they not destroyed you already? If you do not work together, what keeps them from wiping you out one Faction at a time?”

At this the Great Mother asks to see Iris’ bow. She holds it up, turns it around, examines it. “We know of such weapons – weapons that can throw things through the air – we have legends of them. But we have none of these of our own. This does not exist in the city, among any of the factions or the Zargonites. Their priests can cast spells, it is true, but most of their strength is in the swords, clubs, and whips of their hobgoblins. Our fortress is stone, and well-protected. They have tried to take it, many, many times. We throw rocks from the walls. They take great losses and leave. It has always been thus. When they find us in the city, or in the pyramid, it is different. There, we must be stealthy. There, we are vulnerable. But not here. It is the same with the other Factions. Though they outnumber us, they do not have the numbers to take our strongholds.”

The Madaruans wish the party well, and bid them discuss their feelings and return, rested and with an answer. In a louder voice, the Great Mother calls for guards, who escort the party back out of the Tower.

View
Post 16 (Looking for a lost kitten)
Looking for a lost kitten

Morgan and Bhelgarn, with their infravision, are able to see where they are running, and surge ahead of their companions. They sprint down the hall, turn right at the first intersection, and push their way in to the room with the burnt door and empty sarcophagus. Hearts pounding, they race around the room looking for another exit, too panicked to realize where they are or remember that there are no other doors. Finally they cower behind the stone slab on which the sarcophagus lays, closing their eyes, holding their breath, clenching one another and praying the ghosts do not find them.

Wolfbane, Odleif, and Remmy, stumbling in the dark, flee the scene of the apparitions. All of them are lightly encumbered, but none can see. Separately they stagger forward, crashing into walls and each other. Without knowing it, they turn right at an intersection, and right again, until they separately push their way into the room that had housed the white apes. Someone collides with an upright sarcophagus, and it topples to the floor with a resounding crash. All three scream, and their screams echo in the room. Exhausted, they collapse into whimpering heaps in the darkness.

Ember, Thrud, Iris, and Pooches pelt down the hallway. The flame in Ember’s lantern gutters and flashes as she runs, casting long shadows that heighten their terror. They continue straight at the intersection and pile into the ramp room, blood pounding in their ears. Iris, barely lucid, crashes her fist into the tiny door on the mosaic to lower the ramp, but the others are scrambling up it before it has even touched the ground. Through the ruined temple they run, heedless of helping one another, tripping over one another. Out into the hall, and suddenly Thrud veers off into the darkness, his footfalls lost to them. Ember, Iris and Pooches plunge ahead until faced with a door. Iris is about to push it open when Pooches snaps at her hand. She turns on him, terrified herself but finally able to see his fear despite her own. In the pause, Ember looks about, realizing for the first time that they are on the third level, and that the door before them is the door to the fungus room. The two women slump to the floor, spent, while Pooches whines and circles nervously.

Several minutes later, Ember and Iris hear a man’s voice shouting “Hjelpe!” Although exhausted both from panic and from running in armor, they rouse themselves. Ember tends to the lantern, while Iris looks around the corner into the darkness with her infravision. The figure of a solitary man approaches cautiously, axe at the ready.

“Thrud!” both woman call.

“Iris?” he responds, and then the three of them are together, with Pooches at their heels. Although he wants to press on, the women tell him they need to rest more. After ten minutes or so, they decide to set out for their base on the second level, hoping the others will have the same idea. The rotating corridor opens to them, fortunately, which puts them out on the side of the stairs up. They would rather enter through the gorm temple, but none of them carry the two known keys.

They cautiously ascend the stairs to the second level, pass through the room under the statues, and go around to the hall outside their base. Thrud lays his shoulder against the door they know is blocked inside by the anvil and pushes with all his might. Muscles straining, the door moves slowly inward, with the sound of the iron anvil scraping across the stone floor echoing down the hall behind them.

They pass quickly inside and let the door close behind them. As Ember raises the lantern to inspect the room, Thrud hefts the anvil. Biceps bulging, he staggers across the floor mumbling, “Løft med bena, ikke med ryggen…” as he goes, and then carefully lowers it into place. He turns to the others, “We make sign for door, ya? Sign says knock, knock?”

Iris stifles a giggle while Ember says seriously, “No, Thrud, we will be in the bee room and are unlikely to hear anyone knocking.”

A brief inspection reveals that everything is as they left it several hours ago, so they pass into the bee room and find it lit! Sunlight, glorious sunlight, unseen by any of them for at least a week, is coming in the bee slit and filling the drab stone room with a wonderful golden glow. Ember immediately turns down the wick and blows out the lantern – this is her last flask of oil and it is less than half full. They make themselves comfortable on the mattresses on the floor, share food and drink, and wait.

Wolfbane, Odleif, and Remmy sit in the dark, each straining to hear the breathing of the others and hoping that their own labored breathing cannot be heard. Finally, Odleif ventures a cautious “Who’s there?”

Remmy has flint and steel; Odleif and Wolfbane have torches. Pooling their resources, they light the torches and look about, finally realizing that they are in the room with the white apes, slain nearly a week ago. The only sign of them is bits of fur and deep stains on the floor. The wooden sarcophagus has been knocked to the floor – Morgan’s old sword is here but the body she left it with is gone, save for scraps of bandages. None of them are keen on waiting around to find out what has eaten everything. Lighting a second torch, they proceed outward into the hallway. Odleif goes first, bow drawn, and the other two follow.

They proceed through the hallways, past the skeleton room, and out into the main hall.

Morgan and Bhelgarn slowly come to their senses crouched behind the sarcophagus slab, locked in a fearful embrace. Bhelgarn seems to come to full consciousness with a start, disentangling himself and leaping to his feet. “We speak of this to NO ONE,” he says with menace.

“Speak of what?” says Morgan coldly, rising to her own feet and turning away. Relying only on their infravision, they leave the room and proceed down the hall to the intersection. There, they pause and listen carefully, each waiting for the other to suggest returning to where the ghosts were seen, but neither wanting to make the suggestion. After a few minutes they can see torchlight approaching from the north corridor and hear footsteps. They retreat around the corner and peek.

Three figures, bearing torches and spoiling their infravision, come into view. One has a bow and could be Odleif, but it is hard to tell. Morgan and Bhelgarn toss coins toward the figures, hoping to attract their attention without being seen, but the figures seem not to notice. After a few minutes, they proceed east toward the ramp room. Bhelgarn hisses Odlief’s name and then the figures stop. They move toward one another and become a group of five.

Morgan, Bhelgarn, Wolfbane, Remmy, and Odleif proceed together to the ramp room, ascend, and wait twenty minutes on the upper level to see whether any of the other five appear. Finally they continue on. In the rotating corridor, they select the button leading to the gorm temple, and Bhelgarn uses his key to enter. They proceed up the trapdoor into their base, finding it undisturbed. Thrud, Ember, Iris, and Pooches are in the bee room, meaning they are missing only FluffyKitten and Hazrad. Everyone’s sense of time got a little hazy during the flight from the ghosts, but they estimate it has been about two hours since their flight, perhaps seven or eight since they originally set out.

Their rest is broken only by eating, and once when Remmy leaves to check on the things he has hidden in the secret room. They have all been at base perhaps an hour and a half when the trapdoor opens again, and Hazrad enters. They rush to greet him, but immediately ask about FluffyKitten. He shakes his head ruefully. “She was with me a while, after you all ran. She went ahead of me into the darkness – I heard her scream, and nothing more. I looked for her a while, but then thought it safer to return here.”

Ember announces that they will finish a rest period for her, then immediately return to the Tombs to search for FluffyKitten. However, she has not been three hours resting when, even from the bee room, they hear a frantic pounding on the anvil door. As they rush to the room next door, Thrud says contentedly, “I tell you, ya? Knock, knock!”

With weapons drawn, they surround the door but go no farther. The desperate pounding continues, accompanied by shouts. Hazrad exclaims that they are cries for help in Cyndician (as the pyramid dwellers call their language).

At that, Bhelgarn moves the anvil and the door swings open. Five humans push in as fast as they can, then help Bhelgarn to close the door. They wear tan-colored robes and masks with long camel faces; there are three men and two women. They babble excitedly before Hazrad can get them to speak slowly enough for him to understand. Finally, he says incredulously, “They say the hallway is full of snakes, more snakes than they could count.”

Members of the party start shouting questions at Hazrad – “Where are they from?” (Morgan), “What do they want?” (Odleif), “Will they serve as our beasts of burden?” (Remmy).

With much back and forth, Hazrad leans that they left the Undercity on a journey, but that they were plagued by snakes the entire way. They would like to rest here, safe from the snakes before the next stage of their journey. When pressed about where they are going, and what is the next stage of their journey, they will say only that it is the journey itself, not the destination, that matters. Few in the party feel comfortable with five strangers staying at the base, even friendly-but-delusionally-philosophical strangers. Bhelgarn opens the door to the hall, prompting the camel-people to cower. He swings his sword about (seeing nothing) and comes back in, then asks one to have a look. The man says he appreciates that Bhelgarn killed a few, but that the floor is still covered by snakes. Shrugging quizzically, Bhelgarn and Morgan both go into the hall, walking up and down, swinging their swords for several minutes, and even adding in sound effects that they imagine slain snakes would make.

The camel people look in to the hall, then cautiously move out. “Oh my,” translates Hazrad, “The carnage! The absolute carnage…” They continue talking among themselves until they are out of earshot.

With the camel people gone, Ember completes her rest and prays for spells, while Morgan takes stock of their supplies. They have plenty of food and water left from what they captured in the gorm ambush. The problem is light. Bhelgarn has a full flask of oil and Ember a nearly-empty one; less than eight hours’ worth. They fill their empty flasks with the machine oil they had stored at the base, but Bhelgarn cautions them against using it in the lanterns – it is thick and tarry, and could easily gunk them up. Instead, they plan on using the torches they made from the bunk beds. At one point they carried six each (except for Remmy); Hazrad used his to burn the corpse of Jon. Odleif’s group used three in their return from the Tombs. That leaves forty. Burning two at time; not quite a days’ worth. Although she does not express her concern to the party, Morgan is wrestling with the problem of what they will use for light in two days’ time.

With Ember ready, and torches apportioned, the party proceeds back down to the tomb level. Upon entering the ramp room, Hazrad goes immediately to the door, opens a bag, and lets a cat out into the hallway. At the same time, Pooches starts acting strangely, cocking his ears at a vase in the corner and whining. Then he yelps, and it is all Iris can do to keep him from slinking off, whimpering. Ember, Thrud, and Odleif make for the corner, and gasp when they find FluffyKitten’s body, her side damp with blood.

Ember drags her out to the center of the room and finds her breathing. At the same time, her torch dims unnaturally, then Morgan charges at Hazrad and strikes him with her sword. The room erupts in chaos. Several people try to come between Morgan and Hazrad, while she drops her sword and attempts to wrestle him to the ground. He slips out the door and begins sprinting down the hall. Iris lets go of Pooches (who slinks away into a corner), and then tries to take Ember’s torch.

Morgan pushes Remmy out of the way and bolts out into the hall, casting her sleep as she goes, and manages to target Hazrad just before he rounds the corner. By the time she retrieves his sleeping body and carries it back to the ramp room, Ember has cast two heartmendings on FluffyKitten. She oversees Hazrad’s hands being bound, then demands to know what is going on from both of them.

Morgan begins. “He looked like he was casting – the torches dimmed. I hit him with the FLAT of my sword to keep him from casting. What the hells was he doing with Fluffy’s cat?”

Hazrad’s tone is level, unemotional. “As I said before, I heard FluffyKitten scream just before she disappeared to me. I found her cat, but didn’t want to look for her until I was with the party. Now that we are together, on this level, I let her cat go thinking we could use it to find her. I didn’t know she was already here.” He darts a resentful glance to his former employer. "What mistress calls “casting” was me praying that the cat would help us find the halfling."

Ember considers the words of both of them. “Fine. Take his weapons, and keep his hands bound, but leave his feet free. Hazrad, I will want to cast a spell on you, but when we get back to base.”

After returning to their stronghold on the second level, Ember casts Glöð’s Wise Discernment. To her surprise, the spearhead of Hazrad’s staff glows bright blue, but she picks up nothing from the nomad himself. She speaks slowly and carefully; “Mother Glöð is revealing to me that you mean me no harm – but your spearhead has been evilly enchanted – can you tell me why?”

Hazrad shakes his head. “No, I do not know.”

“I think we must remove it from you, at least until we learn more.” Bhelgarn, nearby, takes the spearhead from the shaft, wraps it in a cloth, and puts it deep into his backpack.

Ember then turns to the unconscious form of FluffyKitten, laying on hands and praying through another four heartmendings. When FluffyKitten comes to, her eyes open wide. She sits up, and seeing everyone’s attention on her, points at Hazrad. “Hazzard stabby-stab a me! Stabby-stab a me!”

“Can you tell us more of what happened?” asks Ember.

“Oooooooh! Ooooooh! Then, pretty candle. Looky-look with Hazzard. Looky-look for don’t tell doors! Don’t tell! Then, come home. Come home, come home, but Hazzard stabby-stab a me!”

Her words seem incriminating, but also unclear. Ember says she needs to rest more, and wonders aloud what people want to do next. To her relief, no one is in favor of returning to the tomb level, magic weapons or not.

“The Maidens spoke of a room where the walls talk, on the way to the Undercity. I think we need to see that before we leave,” offers Morgan. There is general agreement to visit this room first, then proceed directly to the Undercity.

“At last, al-Khalim be praised! We have known for a week that this Undercity is the source of these heathens’ food. Let us be done with grave-robbing, find the Undercity, and get enough supplies to leave this accursed pyramid,” says Hazrad.

Ember indicates with a gesture that Hazrad’s hands are to be unbound, and then goes off to rest. Hazrad rests and prays, but more than one person in the party is watching him surreptitiously. FluffyKitten keeps herself as far from him as possible without leaving the room. The light coming in the bee slit indicates that it is late afternoon passing in to evening, and the walls turn red before going to black. Ember puts her lantern on low for the last two hours of her rest, and by the time she is ready to depart has less than a quarter of a flask of oil left in it. Morgan feels better, for having recovered FluffyKitten they have another full oil flask and six more torches, but she still counts out torches before they head out. They have forty-two, having used two in the process of recovering the halfling.

View
Post 15 (Long live the king?)
Long live the king?

When the party is ready to set out, Thrud and Bhelgarn are sent to fetch FluffyKitten. Once everyone is at the gorm base, there is a brief conversation about the next course of action. The consensus is that they will explore and open tombs on the fourth level in an attempt to obtain magic items.

Ember is against the idea of “tomb-raiding”, but is not willing to go against the others in their goal of equipping the party. She understands that Thrud may “turn”, and that they may encounter other creatures, more powerful than rat-men, who are harmed only by magic. She does say however, clearly and emphatically, that her goddess will not support thieves and looters. Anyone who wishes her ministries must take only items that are needed, not simply wealth, and anything that is taken must be replaced with something of equivalent value.

Once she has made herself clear, the party checks the anvil, then descends through the trapdoor. They pass through the gorm temple, the revolving passageway, and into the ruined temple. There they find the bodies of the gormites are gone. A quick examination shows that they were dragged out into the hall by others, but there the trail is lost as the party itself has just passed over and obscured it.

Down the ramp they go and to the fourth level, that of the tombs. Morgan declares that they will be searching the place WELL. She organizes the marching order, with herself and Bhelgarn on one side of the hallway, Iris and Remmy on the other. They will pass down the hallway examining the walls, with both people checking each side so as to have some redundancy in case one of the pair misses a door.

In front of the “searching square” are Odleif, Ember and Bhelgarn, looking ahead for hazards. In back are Thrud, FluffyKitten, and Hazrad, protecting their rear. They travel to just beyond the skeleton room before starting. Going slowly and carefully, they cover about a foot per minute, and it is nearly three hours later when they have reached the chamber with the ever-burning flames. They remove the stone lid from the sarcophagus. There is a mummified body inside, but no weapons or other items. Remmy notes that the bandages around the neck and forearms have been cut open – someone has already looted the jewelry.

Leaving the room, the party works their way back up the hallway toward the rat room. They are perhaps halfway back when Hazrad hears the sound of footsteps dragging along the stone floor. FluffyKitten turns up her lantern, shining it down the hall and revealing three once-human figures. Their clothes are in tatters, they have long claws and fangs, their bodies are covered in festering wounds, and their eyes glow evilly.

Bestiary_Ghoul.png

Hazrad is stunned for the briefest of moments, then fixes the spear-head on his lance. “GHUL!” he shouts at the top of his lungs as he charges forward. As his cry echoes down the stone hallway, he impales the lead ghoul squarely in its chest with his lance.

The creature looks down at the wound, then grins malevolently. Grasping the shaft of the lance with its clawed hands, it leans forward and strains, until with a great ripping of flesh the spear blade erupts from its back. Hand over hand it pulls its way down the nine-foot shaft, threading the lance through its body until it arrives at Hazrad. One swipe of its hand across his face, and the nomad is frozen rigidly in place. The other two creatures sniff greedily at Hazrad, but the impaled one snarls at them and they turn and advance on the party.

Meanwhile, the party has begun realizing there is a threat to their rear. Iris has stopped searching and has pushed her way to the back of the group, saying, “Ghouls! Paralysis! Elves are immune! Let me through!”

Once clear, she and FluffyKitten begin taking shots at the two advancing ghouls, she with first a magic missile then her bow and FluffyKitten with her stones. Behind them, Thrud readies his axe but does not charge in front of the missile fire.

By the time the ghouls reach the party, one has been wounded by the _ magic missile_ but the arrow and stones have missed wildly. The ghoul on Hazrad has spent most of the time stripping off his chain armor, but has begun to feed hungrily upon his flesh. A glancing blow from a ghoul paralyzes FluffyKitten, but Iris and Thrud make short work of the two ghouls. Then Thrud charges the remaining ghoul, his wild battle axe blade coming within inches of Hazrad’s face, lopping the ghoul’s head clean off, and spattering the paralyzed nomad with gore.

While most of the party listens carefully for any other monsters drawn by the sound of combat, Ember tends to FluffyKitten and Hazrad, using her healing skills on both and an orison or two on the nomad. Soon thereafter, they become able to move again. Hazrad sinks down to the floor, leaning his back against the wall. He points feebly at the ghoul-corpses and whispers, “the bodies…burn them…”

Bhelgharn arranges the three bodies in a neat row and liberally coats them with an entire flask of his oil, then sets them alight. The smell of searing, putrid flesh and a dense, acrid smoke fill the hall.

Morgan surveys the burning corpses and mentally ticks off their remaining resources. “One flask for the ghouls, and at least another one while we were searching…so much for slow and careful. I was sure their were secret rooms on this level, but our priority now is using what oil we have left on the rooms we know are here.” She looks over Odlief’s map. "Okay, we haven’t looked in the “dragon room”, or seen the end of the passageway beyond it. Hazrad, let us know when you are ready to travel."

Eventually the party gets moving, on beyond the ramp room and down the hall, around the corner and to the room with the burned outline of a human shape still on the wall. This time they actually enter the room. Along the walls are paintings of a priest performing ceremonies. On a raised dais in the middle of the room lies an open bronze sarcophagus. Bhelgarn and Remmy are first at the sarcophagus, checking for traps. They report that whatever body was once there has been torn apart – all that are left are bits of cloth wrappings and small fragments of bone. They find no treasure or weapons.

Screen_Shot_2015-04-26_at_11.55.01_PM.png

A quick search of the room concluded, the party continues down the twisting corridor, farther than they went before. After a long straightaway, they are approaching yet another corner. Suddenly, the shimmering, ghostlike figures of a man and a woman appear before them. The translucent figures are dressed in costly clothing, and both wear golden crowns. The man raises his hand and gestures for them to stop. Every member of the party finds themselves rooted to the spot, unable to move.

“Go no further,” he warns, “lest the curse of King Alexander overtake you!”

“I am Queen Zenobia,” the woman says. “Turn back; only death awaits you!”

(Later, when conversing about this, the party discovers that for each of them, the figure seemed to speak in their own native language, whether that be Hin, Dwarven, Elven, Darokite, Glantrian, Nordic, or Ylauri.)

A wave of terror overwhelms them all – as the figures fade, they are released from their paralysis but barely can contain themselves. Hazrad and FluffyKitten collapse on the floor, trembling in fear. The others turn and bolt pell-mell back up the hall, unable to think of anything but their desire to flee.

View
Post 14 (All your base are belong to us)
All your base are belong to us

PZO9041-Gecko.jpg

The party rests with the maidens a complete day, with Ember both tending wounds, changing dressings, and other mundane care, and curing people magically every four hours. At the end of the day of rest and recuperation, everyone but Thrud is at full health.

Besides peppering Hazrad with questions for Pandora, the party discusses their next move. The consensus is in favor of establishing a base on the second level. After rest, most of the party proceeds to ready themselves. Ember remains resting with the maidens, Thrud guarding her, and FluffyKitten playing at being a kid, but the others set out.

With the new notes to decode the revolving room symbols, it is easy to find the corridor leading to the Gorm Temple. From this side, the door is not electrified – until the party nears it! Bhelgarn tries his old trick of securing the key to the end of his pole and gets the door open. The Temple is little changed – but three bodies, wrapped in sheets, lie in front of the altar. After an initial scare, the party approaches. The bodies don’t move. The party recalls, some guiltily and some not, that although most of the slain gormites were fed to lizards, the three executed after interrogation were left locked in the bee cage. These could be those three bodies, removed and laid to rest in a more dignified manner.

Up the ladder and through the trap door, the party enters the complex of gormite rooms. The place has been disturbed – the cage is open and empty, the chain mail suits have been neatly piled, and the general mess and disorder left by the party in destroying the bunk beds for makeshift torches has been tidied. The rooms are otherwise empty, though. After some discussion, they decide to double-spike the bee-room door and one of the dorm doors, and leave the other dorm door open for access.

The team starts by having Bhelgarn and Odleif exit the bee room to spike the outside of the door. However, they are no sooner through the door when they see three giant centipedes in the room. Bhelgarn’s thrown axe cleaves one in two, but Odleif misses with an arrow. The remaining two centipedes scuttle away hurriedly and squeeze themselves under the far door. After securing the door, the pair do the same to one of the exterior dorm doors, so that only one dorm door, the one closer to the statue in the hallway, is free to open and close. They then unpack a bit and make camp.

Screen_Shot_2015-03-25_at_12.15.35_AM.png

After a brief break, they return to the central room where the ladders lead to the first level. This time they go through the items carefully, with an eye toward anything that might be useful. Leaving behind gears and other mechanisms, they come away with a sealed clay pot of thick oil, a set of tongs, two rods that are perhaps axles, and a large anvil that can only be carried by two of them at a time. All of these are returned to their base complex.

A second foray is made to a room that Iris has been in, but no one else. In it are bales of long-rotted cloth, and crates of what might have been food centuries ago. In the arid environment it has dry-rotted rather than moldered.

Continuing down the hall, Odleif cautiously opens the door to the room that had housed the pixies. They are nowhere to be seen, but the boxes and crates remain. Odleif is so intent on finding the pixies, that he fails to notice how the door scrapes the stone floor at the end of its arc, generating sparks which ignite a thin trail of powder on the floor. Bhelgarn though, just behind him, sees well enough. He pushes past the human and dashes into the room, stamping on the quickly burning powder until it is out, and then kicking the unburned trail to disperse it, a trail which led to one of the crates.

Opening all the crates, the party removes what they find from the sawdust packing and consolidates them all in one box. They carry the haul back to their base. It consists of 19 small sacks full of powder, 23 “candles” of powder wrapped in waxed paper (like the ones taken previously), 16 candles that are longer, slimmer, and have a wooden holder or support stuck in them, and 45 strings set with little clusters of cylinders, somewhat like bunches of grapes. Many of these strange items are leaking powder, have their paper rotted through, are cracked, etc., but some are intact. Bhelgarn believes that he could sort through them and separate out the good from the bad. Although they appear to be designed to be lit, he is not quite sure what would happen when a “working” one is lit.

After that they quickly check on the green slime room. The slime is still there, so they have a means of waste disposal for their base.

L2_north.JPG

They again pass through the central access room and into the east corridor. They first check the room that had been abandoned, where they had stored the dead bodies. Before there had been bits and pieces of bone and flesh about, and lizard tracks in blood. Now there are just faded stains on the floor. Although they searched before, they confirm that all the furniture is empty and worthless, the sleeping pallets are dry rotted and useless, etc. For the last door on the level, they prepare to open the room that had a giant gecko lizard in it before. Two people can stand in the doorway, so Odeif presses himself against the great stone door to open it. Iris kneels and prepared her bow. Morgan stands above and behind her, with a bow borrowed from Odleif. The size difference between the two women is enough that they will both be able to shoot.

With the door open, they can clearly see the gecko behind the bed on the far side of the room, with just its head and tail sticking out. Iris’ arrow sinks deep into the mattress, raising a cloud of dust. Morgan’s arrow pierces the lizard’s tail, enraging it. It climbs over the bed and charges the door.

Iris shoots (again hitting the bed), then moves back; Morgan barely has time to set down her bow and draw her sword before the thing is on her, sinking its peg-like teeth deep into her arm and holding on. She slices at it with her sword, but it thrashes its head violantly, further opening the wound on her forearm. Blood flows freely and Morgan passes out from shock.

PZO9041-Gecko.jpg

Pooches leaps over the scrambling Iris and bites the gecko in its flank, getting it to drop the unconscious and slumped Morgan. As the lizard turns to the dog, Pooches goes for its throat, and now it is the lizard’s turn to collapse. As Pooches savages the body, Iris binds Morgan’s wound and then listens for her breathing.

“She’s ok for now,” Iris pronounces, “but we need to get her to Ember.”

Bhelgarn volunteers to carry her, and Hazrad to guard him, since the dwarf’s hands will be occupied. Both the ladder and key for the electric door seem impractical, so they elect to go the not-yet-used route down the stairs and then look for the room of the maidens.

Meanwhile, only four of the party (not counting Pooches) remain on the second level. Odleif, Iris, and Remmy stride boldly into the gecko’s room, ready to claim its treasure. WolfBane waits outside in the hall, thank-you-very-much. They are halfway across the room to the bed when a second gecko drops from the ceiling in their midst and begins snapping at them. Although startled at first, in the room with space to maneuver, they soon have that beast slain as well, and Remmy has now learned of the power of his magical dagger.

Remmy finds a gold-inlaid mask of a bird-creature behind the bed, but nothing else of interest in the room. Besides the bed, there is a writing table, a chair, and a chest, but all are aged and worthless. The chest holds only rotting linens. “There aren’t even candles,” muses Iris. “I wonder how they wrote in the dark?” That is not something even elves with their infravision can do.

“I’m athinkin’ this room is from afore they can see in the dark, from afore they stopped writin’,” suggests Odleif.

Remmy adds, “I’ll bet someone took all the candles already.”

L2_east.JPG

With the last room on the level clear, the four remaining party members retreat to rest in their base complex while they wait for Morgan. After several hours, Ember is able to use all of her healing on Morgan, restoring her to fighting readiness. Morgan tells Bhelgarn and Hazrad to return to the base via the gorm temple and ladder, rouse the others, then wait 15 minutes and set out from the west doors of the central room. She will take three maidens with her to come up the stairs, and they will meet in the middle. Thus, they will know the level is secure and will be able to show the maidens where their base is. Ember and Thrud go with Bhelgarn and Hazrad, but remain in the gorm base. FluffyKitten remains with the maidens, playing in the dark and eating as much dessert as she can beg and wheedle from them.

The timing works out well and Morgan and the maidens are halfway up the stairs when they meet the party coming down. The upper party turns around and they all make to return. As Morgan walks down the hall, she turns and asks, “Has anyone checked this door?” indicating a tracing of cracks in the stone on the north wall.

Remmy listens at the door and declares that he hears birds. Odleif opens the door a crack and sees pigeon-sized creatures with leathery bat-like wings flapping or roosting about the room. They all have a single long proboscis rather than a beak. He lets the door close as rapidly as he can: although some of the creatures were flying toward the door none make it through.

Stirge_crop.jpg

Everyone agrees that Wolfbane should come to the fore. She casts her sleep spell, but in the middle of it she grimaces and recoils. Years of apprenticeship have honed her concentration, however, and she is able to complete the spell. Remmy, ear to the door, confirms that small bodies can be heard falling to the floor.

Wolfbane explains that during her casting of the spell she felt her mind contacted, nigh-invaded, and it was all she could do to complete the spell correctly. Now, however, the malign influence seems to be gone. “Kin those things cast spells?” wonders Odleif, but Iris shakes her head.

“Based on your description, I’d say they were stirges. And no, stirges can’t cast spells.”

Still, the party carefully arranges themselves at the door before they open it, and carefully look inside before they enter. All of the stirges indeed appear asleep. Bhelgarn and Remmy are the first in. In the midst of crushing their tiny heads with his great dwarven boots, Bhelgarn spots three gems loose on the guano-strewn floor. He collects them, and makes as to tuck them away in a belt pouch when Iris, next to enter the room, interjects. “That’s party treasure, that goes to Ember.”

The dwarf harrumphs. “I’ll give this to Ember when everyone gives their treasure to Ember.” He stares hard at Remmy.

The man returns his stare coldly. “Since I joined you, I’ve split up equally among us all the coins I’ve found. The only thing I have found that can’t be divided is a mask in the lizard room. It’s true I still have that. But if I recall correctly, you have a mask of your own from that woman who was killed by snakes.”

The dwarf mumbles under his breath in dwarven, pulls out the gemstones, and thrusts them rudely at Iris. “You can give them to her, then.”

“Do anyone else smell that?” asks Odleif.

“What, bird shit?” huffs Bhelgarn. “It’s hard not to.”

“Nah, fresh desert air,” says the woodsman. “An’ I swear I feel a draft.” He raises his lantern and begins scanning the stone walls. On the west side is a small opening, tall and narrow and no larger than the one in the bee room. It slants upward and goes in deeper than can be seen. Sticking his head right up to it, Odleif says wistfully, “I kin see stars.”

L2_south.JPG

After the others have had a turn at the slot, they take the maidens into the room where the dead hobgoblin was found, right up to the spiked door of the bee room. Hazrad explains that the party will be camping on the other side of this door, and that the maidens are to pound on it if they need to contact the party. They say they understand.

Once the maidens retreat down the stairs, the party goes the long way around to the open dorm door. Odleif pounds a stake on the outside, so the door can’t be pulled open from without (or pushed open from within), and then the party retires to their suite of rooms, setting up bedrolls where they wish through most choose the bee room. The recovered anvil is moved into position to block the door. In theory, the last door could be pushed open from the outside, but only by something strong enough to move the weight of the massive door plus slide the anvil across the stone floor.

The rooms, and apparently the level, secure, the party shares a meal together from the store of foods captured in the gormite ambush, sets up a watch schedule, and rests, secure in their new base. A few of them wonder out loud whether they should get FluffyKitten, but no one volunteers to go.

View
Post 13 (A day's worth of questions)
A day's worth of questions

While the party is resting with the maidens, Hazrad translates a number of questions for Pandora…

History
In the beginning the Three Gods, Gorm, Madarua, and Usamigares, were allies, and the rightful rulers of the people. This was as far back as history itself. The Gods cooperated so that the people had good lives. Madarua was the most important – she ruled over the natural cycles of life – birth and death, growth and decay. Gorm and Usamigares ruled over the people’s social and personal lives. Gorm was the power of working together and collective action, Usamigares represented individualism and creativity.

Then Zargon came, creeping out of the dark – void. This was long, long ago – before the grandmothers of the grandmothers. The evil of Zargon corrupted the people, and corrupted two of the three Gods. Only Madarua was able to resist it. Evil men became priests of Zargon and seized control of the people. Under the influence of Zargon, Usamigares and his followers have become selfish individualists – they use magic to attain personal power, and don’t care for anyone else. Under the influence of Zargon, Gorm and his followers have become mindlessly uniform, unquestioningly obedient to authority, and punish all dissent. Although all three of the Three Gods oppose Zargon, only the Madaruans do so for the right reasons, with the good intent of helping the people. (Madarua, and women, are more resistant to evil because, being mothers, they have compassion in their nature – they care for their children. Not all men are evil, and not all women are good, but it is far easier for a man to fall to evil than for a woman.)

Pandora only knows a little bit of the history. There are older, wiser women in the Madaruan Enclave in the undercity who could tell more. Also, there is a room off of the Great Temple on the first (lowest) level of the upper pyramid, near the entrance to the way to the undercity. It is said that the walls of this room talk, and speak of history. That is what is said, although Pandora has been through the room many times and has never heard the walls talk.

The Pyramid
The Pyramid (or what Pandora continually calls the “upper pyramid”) was built as a contact point, as a gate between the people and the light – void. People travel from the undercity to the light – void through the Pyramid. Before the coming of Zargon, the Pyramid was populated – many people lived there, but now it is mostly monsters.

The Pyramid contained many temples, like the Great Temple on the first (lowest) layer, the Common Temple on this layer, and the individual temples on this layer. The priests lived in quarters around the temples, like where the Madaruans are right now.

When Zargon came, his followers attacked the temples in the Pyramid. They destroyed the Great Temple and the Common Temple. They built a temple to Zargon on this level. At first, the followers of the Three Gods retreated to the Undercity. In the time of the grandmothers they were able to retake parts of the Pyramid.

The first level (lowest level; what you call the fifth) of the Pyramid is where the entrance to the undercity is. (It is in a room near the Great Temple.). This level is the base of operations for the Zargonites in the Pyramid, which you destroyed.

Pandora thinks that in “the tomb level” (or for her, the second level of the upper pyramid) are the remains of the court of rulers of the people from a time long ago, from before the coming of Zargon. She thinks their names were Queen Zenobia and King Alexander. She has only used it to travel through.

The third level (for you, the third level as well) is the level of the Three Gods. All of the factions have temples on this level (including gorm, the zargonites (though their temple is abandoned) and the Common Temple (now ruined). The Maidens and the Magi also have their dorms on this level.

The fourth level (for you, the second) is where the gormites have their dorms – or had them, until you destroyed them.

The fifth level (for you, the first) is where the door to the Light – Void is.

[Hazrad is unable to translate the word “map” to anything that Pandora understands. Ember shows her the map of the tomb level, and Hazrad says “marks on a paper to show a place.” Eventually Pandora understands that you mean a drawing symbolizing a real place. While she gets this, she seems unable to grasp the concept that a person could actually MAKE this. You might find such a drawing, you might read or understand such a drawing, but a person could not make one. She gets that Ember want to know where things are, and keeps falling back to “we can show you, and you will learn – then you will know.”]

To work the revolving door, from without, you press the symbol that matches where you are. This summons the door. Then you step within. Once within, you press the symbol of where you want to go. This brings that part of the pyramid to you and then you can leave. Or, you can walk to the other end and be at the opposite part of the pyramid.

Screen_Shot_2015-03-19_at_4.11.30_PM.png

S – The stairs to the next level up

SW – The storeroom of the Magi

W – The Temple of the Magi

NW – The Temple of Zargon

N – The Common Temple and the ramp to the next level down

NE – The Temple of Madarua

E – The Dorms of the Maidens

SE – The Temple of the Brotherhood

The Light – Void
[“Outside” the pyramid is not a concept that Hazrad is able to translate. Pandora calls it the “light – void” and seems to think of it as a vast, empty space that touches the topmost level of the Pyramid]

Pandora and some of the more experienced maidens have been to the top of the pyramid and looked out into the void. Sometimes monsters come from the void and occasionally food animals. People have never come from the void before – your group is the first.

The Undercity
The undercity is in a large open cavern along the shore of a great underground lake. There are many buildings and many, many people. There are mushroom fields and animal pens and fishing boats for the lake. [Pandora does not know the word for “tree”]. The largest building is the Temple of Zargon, but each of the Three Gods have fortifications as well. Most of the people live in individual or communal houses and there are civic buildings as well. People sometimes trade with each other, goods or services or coins, but there is no market. Anything of value is quickly noted and appropriated by the Zargonites.

Most of the population of the undercity are common people. They do most of the labor, grow the food, etc. They are controlled by the Zargonites. They are punished for disobedience and rewarded for compliance. Typically the reward is with mushrooms, so most of the citizens do not have a clear distinction between the dream world and the real world. The Madaruans use mushrooms to have visions, but only sparingly in religious ceremonies, when Madarua herself can guide what they see. Because the common people over-use the mushrooms, they are often very confused and live out fantasy lives (and here one of the maidens suggests the men you found who thought you were demons and they were priests). Their masks relate to their own inner fantasies, and all adults wear them. The children typically learn crafts and trades from their parents or the other adults around them.

The followers of the three Gods have sympathizers and spies among the common people. When they see that a youth is strong, is willing to reject the lash of the Zargonites and the escapism of the mushrooms, they arrange to have them taken by one of the groups and raised by them. Most of the Maidens are actually born as maidens, but many of them were born as commoners. Female children become maidens, but male children can become lesser members and still live within the Enclave of Madarua. The Madrauans have a spiritual leader (High Priestess) and a secular leader (Great Mother). The secular leader is chosen by a consensus of the adult maidens. The spiritual leader is chosen by Madarua.

Healing
The priestesses of Madarua can heal the sick and wounded and can make potions of healing, but Pandora has no experience with that and does not know how one would identify an unfamiliar potion. Hazrad struggles but cannot translate “lycanthrope” – there is no specific word for it in his Alaysian (it is just called “cursed”) and he does not know what the word might be for them, if they have one. When he tries to explain literally a person turning into an animal, Pandora gets confused and believes he is referring to the masks and mushroom-visions. When he asks about whether Madaruan priestesses can cure curses in general, Pandora says that Madarua can cure any ill, but the execution depends on the skill of the priestess and the worthiness of the cause.

Miscellanea

Morgan: Do the Magi have a place where they keep scrolls?
Pandora knows little specific about the Magi.

Morgan: Do they have extra shields?
The people seem familiar with the concept of armor, but not shields.

Most animals in the undercity are food stock animals, but some commoner children keep smaller versions of them as pets. The maidens allow children to keep animals as pets as it encourages the development of their compassion and maternal instinct, but when they become adults they are expected to care for other people, not animals.

The words for “vegetables”, “fruit”, and “mushrooms” all seem interchangeable, or at least to have subtleties of meaning that are lost to Hazrad. As for milk, “children get milk from their mothers, or foster-mothers.”

They understand “bad air” and “good air” and that the candles cannot be kept going too long or the good air will become bad air, but they fail to see the problem inherent in Fluffy’s question.

The masks express who they are, or who they are trying to become, but don’t help them see out. They can see in the dark. It is actually easier for them to see in the dark then in the light – bright light is painful and disorienting. Low light is important for religious ceremonies and sometimes for fine work like sewing but little else.

View
Post 12 (Return of the Prodigal Daughters)
Return of the Prodigal Daughters

Screen_Shot_2015-03-16_at_1.38.44_AM.png

Reasoning that the treasure has gone undiscovered centuries, the party makes camp in the secret room. First they roll up the tapestry creature and carry it outside to the kitchen area. Morgan donates her robe as a drop cloth to catch the ooze still seeping from its wounds. Once free of the creature, there is just enough room for them to sit side by side in the small chamber.

Four hours pass. There is little to do but sit in the darkness and try not to think of their hunger. It has been more than a day since anyone has eaten, and they have fought in several desperate combats, and marched up stairs and down halls in armor. At one point a snuffling and shuffling step is heard outside. Hours later, a heavy step, and a sound of tearing flesh. Finally Ember says that she is ready to pray. Her usually serene demeanor has become snappish.

After eight orisons Remmy is conscious and the party is in much better shape. He is given the dagger that Hazrad was holding in trust. Remmy notes that the coins in the chest are more than they can carry, but are worth more than the silver that many of them are currently weighed down with. As a party, they decide that this treasure will not be divided up – anyone is free to take as many coins as they want, and it will become their personal treasure. If they wish to leave silver behind in order to carry more, it is with the understanding that whatever they leave behind is no longer theirs, and is subject to division later as if newly found.

Ember tells them that evn though Remmy is now mobile, she will be resting again. Hungry voices object. Ember insists that they are not yet in a good condition to traverse the tombs. After a few brief objections, people settle in to wait. Ember tries to clear her mind and rest despite the gnawing in her stomach. When she last prayed, Glöð revealed to her a new spell, useful for turning spoiled food into healthful nourishment. She feels loved and supported. She tries to focus on that feeling, despite the grumblings around her.

After four more hours she allows the group to emerge. The carcass of the tapestry creature is gone, but pieces of its flesh are scattered in a sticky pool. Ember had thought to use her new spell on it to make it edible, but so much the better to get everyone moving. “There will likely be food for us at the Maidens,” she says in a voice that is meant to be encouraging but sounds chiding.

It is just a short walk to the ladder that will take them to the level of the tombs, but already an argument is brewing about who will haul up the dog. Fortunately Bhelgarn was able to find the mechanism that opens the stone trapdoor from below. A number of them feel dizzy or feint after the ladder climb. Back through the long stone corridors, and the room of bone. A curious thing – someone has cleared a path through the room, from door to door, so that it is not necessary to walk on the bones.

More hallways, the room with the jester coffin, activating the ramp. The party is halfway up the ramp when shouts sound out and they are pelted with rocks. Fist-sized pieces of rubble, taken from the broken altar above, rain down on them – one strikes Odleif, two Pooches. Morgan gets her sleep spell off, centering it on the room above, and the attack ceases. A few seconds later, WolfBane completes her spell and a body or two more hit the ground. The lead party members rush up the ramp.

By the time Ember makes it to the ruined temple above, most of the men are dead, throats slit by Morgan and others following her example. Only a few are left. Some of the party members are searching the bodies, a few are arguing about whether to kill or tie up the leader. The group appears nearly identical to the Gormites from the level above – same chainmail, blue tunics, gold masks. Eleven of them. As Hazrad mounts the ramp and attains the room, he seems shocked by the carnage. “In a Temple,” he mutters darkly, “Desecration! Doom!”

Ember shakes her throbbing head and calls Bhelgarn over to bind the men left alive, but in so doing catches Thrud’s eye. His face is ashen, his eyes wide in fear. “Blod…så mye blod…” he whispers, then turns and flees out the door. Ember, Odleif, and Morgan sprint after him. As Odleif pushes open the stone pivot door, Ember and Morgan simultaneously turn to the remainder of the party, “Stay here!” they both command, then dash out.

Thrud is far down the hall ahead of them, but they do see him turn the corridor toward the revolving passage, and not the yellow mold room, thank Glöð. He is ahead of them through the door as well, and by the time they reach it the door will not budge and they hear the grinding of stone against stone. “Go after him?” says Morgan.

“No,” says Ember, though her voice is choked with emotion, “we are in no condition to pursue and we have no idea which way he went. It could take us hours to search and the rest of the party needs us.” They return to the vandalized temple with heavy steps.

By the time they get back all of the gormites have been slain. Apparently they were camped out here – there are a few days worth of food and water, and a few bedrolls. The food has been gathered up into a pile and the others are clustered around it greedily, with no watch set on either the ramp or the door. Hazrad is arguing that the mushrooms have to be separated, but few are listening. “That’s alright,” says Ember soothingly, “Glöð has seen our need and has granted me a spell to protect us.” She begins her benediction, waving her hands generously over the assembled food. Later, as everyone is eating lustily, Hazrad is still picking mushrooms out of his share and throwing them bitterly on to the floor.

Having eaten, drunk, and rested, the party is in much better order. Morgan takes a gold mask from one of the men and encourages anyone without one to do the same. Iris relieves the apparent leader of his sword.

They move out and down the hall. Odleif studies his notes and with a push of a button is able to summon the revolving passageway, but Thrud is not inside. Odlief thinks he is pressing the button to the room of the Magi but the party finds themselves opening the door to the entryway of the Maidens. The males, less Hazrad, wait in the hall while the women enter.

Pandora is pleased to see the party, and overjoyed when they show her the dented Zargonite helmet. She congratulates them all and, through Hazrad, invites them to formally join the Warrior Maidens. “What do we have to do, and what’s in it for us?” demands Morgan, leaving it to Hazrad to translate more diplomatically.

With much back and forth, Hazrad explains that there would be a religious ceremony wherein the female warriors of the party would pledge their loyalty to the Goddess Madarua. Those of the party who are not female, or who are not warriors (WolfBane), or who are not of age (FluffyKitty) would be allowed to become lesser members. Once the party has been accepted into the sisterhood, the Maidens will supply them with food and drink, and will guide them anywhere in the pyramid they wish to go, provided it does not compromise their mission of guarding the upper level against the Gormites and the Magi.

Speaking of Gormites, Pandora relates that the Maidens who accompanied the party to the fifth level returned just before the Gormites did, and were able to warn their sister Maidens. Only because they knew the usual way was blocked, and that they would have to go around, before the Gormites realized it. The Gormites returned to their dormitories on the second level and found all of their comrades slain. They sent parleys to the Maidens and the Magi demanding to know who did it and the Maidens told them that it was the party. The Gormites demanded the return of the helmet and the Maidens told them that the party did not have it. They were very angry and vowed revenge upon the entire party, and threatened to attack the Maidens if they helped the party again. The Maidens sent them on their way. Pandora regrets that she was not able to warn the party, but the Gormites took to walking the halls and camping in rooms in large numbers, so that she did not think it was wise to send out Maidens in small numbers. She was worried that the Gormites might try assaulting the Maidens in revenge and she needed all her people together.

FluffyKitty interrupts the long and complicated narratives with “Cookie? I can have cookie?” pleadingly. Pandora waves her hand and maidens carry the “child” to the table to feed her, and offer the others food and drink as well.

At the end of the discourse, Pandora again offers membership in the maidens to Morgan, Iris, and Ember, and lesser membership to the others. Remmy shakes his head, Ember, WolfBane, and Odleif politely decline, but the others agree. Once they understand that Morgan and Iris are to join, there is much excited talking among the maidens, and Pandora sends three of them out. She explains that they must retrieve supplies from the Undercity for the ceremony, and that it will take half a sleep or so for them to go there and back.

While everyone waits, Hazrad continues to field people’s questions for Pandora. Many people want to know where the food comes from, and Pandora explains that it is all grown in the undercity. Because it needs to be brought up by maidens in small groups, Pandora can feed the party while they are here, but can’t really turn over a large amount at a time. She can request that the next time a relief group is sent up, and the next time and so forth, that they each carry some extra food, so that the party could build up a supply over time. In perhaps four tens’ worth of sleeps you could have enough for a week without re-supply. Water is available in the undercity, but it is too heavy for such a long journey, so it is fetched from the fountains on the fifth level to supply the maidens here.

Many people ask about the masks. This is harder, and it is unclear how much Hazrad is translating directly and how much he is filling in as best he can. Concrete items like food and weapons seem to have good correspondencies between the Alaysian he speaks and these people’s language. Theology and spiritual matters are not as obvious. He believes that the masks are totemic – that people wear the masks hoping to attain the powers of the thing depicted on them, though whether these powers are real, spiritual, or psychological is not clear. The maidens wear the face of the Goddess to become like the goddess. Other people have animal totems, and Hazrad says there is something in her tone for these people – something between pity and derision. Pressed about the rat-men, Pandora does not seem to indicate that wearing a mask can make you actually turn in to the creature, though her language is frustratingly vague. The masks are worn during all waking hours, except for eating.

Asked about Thrud, they say they have not seen him. Odleif asks whether he can keep the Zargonite helmet, and Pandora agrees.

The maidens who were sent for the ceremonial items have not yet returned. The party organizes a search for Thrud, delayed by Iris vacillating about whether she will or will not come with. This time, they do ask for two of the maidens to accompany them. They look first in the abandoned temple, where the draco lizard was slain. Thrud is behind the altar, with a tapestry half over him. He is weak from hunger and fear, and has dark circles around his eyes, but is quite human and is not wounded any more than when he ran off.

On their way back down the hall, the party is met by a group of humans in robes. Their masks are of leering, horned, but humanoid faces. They carry, and swing, incense burners. At the sight of the party some begin to chant, others to shout aggressively. Morgan looks to the maidens. They are hard to read, since their masks betray no facial expressions, but their bodies are relaxed, not tense. Morgan holds up her hand for the party to halt. The robed men advance on them, their chanting growing more fervid. “Hazrad, what’s going on?” says Morgan.

After a brief exchange with the maidens, Hazrad says, “Too many mushrooms. They think they are powerful clerics, and we are demons. They are trying to turn us. If we react accordingly, they should leave us alone.”

The party “cowers” as they slip by the “priests”. They seem quite satisfied with themselves, having “driven out the demons” and proceed on their way to the temple. The party returns to the maidens’ dormitory.

Some time later the maidens who were dispatched to the undercity return. Morgan asks whether the males of the party may stay in the dormatory rather than the hall. Pandora replies that they are welcome to move inside, but that she would like to use party members as guards (along with the maidens) on a rotational basis. The guards mostly wait in the hall outside and listen for the rumble of the revolving corridor. Morgan agrees.

Pandora and all of the maidens, as well as the party members who will be participating in the induction ceremony, leave. Ember, the recuperating Thrud, Remmy, Odleif, Pooches, and WolfBane remain in the maidens’ living quarters. Pandora sets the revolving corridor to the northeast, goes first under the statue archway, and presumably unlocks the door, though no one in the party sees her. The maidens remove their shoes and leave them just inside the door of the temple. As the last party member enters and does the same, Pandora locks the door behind them.

As the ceremony begins in the temple, those left in the dormitory can hear chimes and smell incense. Once he is confident that the ceremony has begun, Odleif asks WolfBane to accompany him, slips out, and manages to use the revolving passageway to attain the star-filled hallway before the temple of the Magi. After knocking on the door, Odleif feels his mind contacted. The Magi leader says that the lives of everyone in the party were spared in return for their promise to rid the upper pyramid of the maidens. Odleif acknowledges this, but points out that they also were promised a week’s worth of food for destroying the Zargonites, and that they did do this. He has brought the helmet to proove it. The Magi leader says that he is appreciative of this, but it does not make up for the betrayal of their promise to evict the maidens. He is inclined to call the whole deal a draw. Odleif and WolfBane leave the helmet outside the door and return to the maiden dormitory.

Screen_Shot_2015-03-16_at_12.53.48_AM.png

Near the northeast corner of the Temple of Madarua is an altar covered with a green and white cloth. On the altar sits a 3’ tall statue of a woman holding a sword and a sheaf of wheat. To each side of the statue is a large white candle, and these are promptly lit. In front of the altar itself are three small braziers with incense, and these are next made to burn as well. White drapes hang on all the walls and the floor is covered by a green carpet. The room is dust-free and has been scrubbed clean – it is easily the cleanest and most orderly room in the pyramid, and nothing betrays that it is hundreds, perhaps thousands, of years old. Even skeptical Morgan feels a sense of ease and peace here.

Hazrad, Bhelgarn, and FluffyKitten are kept back while Morgan and Iris are led to the altar, so no translation is possible. The maidens join hands in a circle around them, with Pandora behind the altar and the others forming a complete ring. They chant in unison and then pray, each saying something in turn. They release hands and demonstrate, by gestures, that Morgan and Iris are to draw their swords. As both women do, there are low gasps from some of the maidens. In the candle-light both blades are bright and reflective, Iris’ every bit as much as Morgan’s, both blades looking newly forged and keen-edged. Again by gestures, the women are given to understand that they are to cut their finger and smear the blood along the length of their blade.

That being done, they lay their blades on the alter and face the statue of Madarua. Pandora says words, slowly and carefully, and the woman repeat them. Iris’ diction is clear, though she has no idea what she is saying. Morgan’s pronunciation is terrible – almost deliberately so. Is it any less a sacrilege to swear to a god you don’t intend to worship if you deliberately blunder the oath? Or does that just make your transgression the worse?

[Later, in response to Iris’ query, Hazrad will tell them that she said “I swear to uphold the honor of Madarua, even with my own blood if necessary.”]

From behind the altar Pandora produces a green tunic and a bronze mask, one for each of the women, and fits them carefully. A maiden leaves the circle and goes to the three others, each in turn, fastening on them each a simple bracelet with a bronze bead carved into the image of a woman’s face. Pandora produces a short length of iron with a shape at the end, and holds it over one of the candles. In a few seconds it glows red-hot as if it were in a forge. With this she brands each of the women, and they come away with a sickle and sheaf of wheat on the inside of their left wrist.

Screen_Shot_2015-03-16_at_1.38.44_AM.png

The maidens join hands again around Morgan and Iris and offer closing prayers. After that the decorum of the ceremony is over, and the maidens rush to embrace their new sisters. “Yeah, yeah, I love you too,” says Morgan snarkily, “but I need to get drunk now so let’s go home.”

Once back in the dorm, Morgan uses Hazrad to request a fermented drink, and is pleased to find they they indeed have a store of a kombucha-like fermented mushroom-water. She tilts her newly-placed bronze mask back as she drinks. “Ugh, Alfheim red that’s not.” Then later, “Okay, I’m getting used to the taste, but it’s pretty weak. I’m going to have to drink an awful lot of that to get drunk.”

Hazrad uses her running commentary as an excuse to “translate” to Pandora. He asks her what the maidens expect of them now. Pandora says that while orders might come from her superiors in the undercity, she herself has no further requests – the party has completed everything she might ask of them. He asks if the party should go to the undercity, and she answers if that is what they want. He asks about whether the party should set up their own lair, rather than imposing further on the maidens. He hints that it might be helpful to them to control some place higher up in the pyramid. Pandora agrees, that it would be strategically valuable to have more pyramid territory under the control of the maidens. Now that the party has defeated two groups of gormites, securing their old quarters would be a great idea. If between the maidens and the party they can convince the gormites to abandon the upper pyramid, then they will all be more secure and will only have to worry about the Magi.

Hazrad turns to the other party members. “If we could clear the second level, the maidens would be happy to have us use it as our base. We would have to deal with the fairy-folk and maybe some lizards, but I think we are up to that, now. Then we would be near the surface and it would be easy for us to leave. We can amass the supplies we will need and store them there. We can either wait there and have the maidens supply us a little at a time until we have enough, or we can have them guide us to the undercity and we can haul out all the food we need in one go.”

Morgan nods and pulls at her drink. “Or,” she thinks to herself, “We can just make a quick raid on the Magi’s food stores and then high-tail it out.”

View

I'm sorry, but we no longer support this web browser. Please upgrade your browser or install Chrome or Firefox to enjoy the full functionality of this site.